Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Release Day

This first appeared on Jo Fletcher's blog. She called it a tribute, and I suppose it is, but I actually had been trying to write on the topic she'd given me. She had asked to me write about the excitement of my book release. I ended up writing this.

Since another release day - the U.S. release - was yesterday,  I found myself coming back to Jo's blog and reading what I had written. I had always intended to repost it here, so here it is.

When my novel The Emperor’s Knife was released by Jo Fletcher Books the day after my mother’s eighty-first birthday.

Three weeks earlier she reminded us. ‘My birthday is coming up,’ she said, ‘I can always tell from the colour of the leaves.’ The nursing home had given her an awful room, an awful bed, but she had a nice view of a field and a line of trees, and sometimes children came to play football there. It was her favourite season; she delighted in the bright oranges and yellows of autumn, the cooling of the air from summer’s highs and the beginning of the holidays. Preparation of the Christmas cake started the process – once her province only, but in recent years done by all of us siblings together as she directed from her kitchen chair like a master of ceremonies.

‘Three weeks to go,’ we told her, thinking of how we might manage a birthday celebration within her tiny room, crowded by an oxygen tank and a wheelchair, but not too pressed yet, as we still had time to plan.

She died a week later.

My mother was a teacher, an avid reader, a lover of words and a writer. She’d had only one short story published, but she had many writing projects, scattered now across defunct computers and paper-filled boxes. She was proud of me, but she never saw my book.

I imagine most people throw parties on their release day, or at least go out for drinks. The day before The Emperor’s Knife was released – my mother’s birthday – I went down to the pub intending to eat some of her favourite foods, but I wasn’t hungry enough, and had a salad instead. It was only myself and my spouse.

I know that I have ten times the good luck of most people. To have acquired an agent and seen my book published is beyond fortunate. Everyone keeps asking me, ‘How does it feel to hold your book in your hands? How does it feel to get reviewed? How does it feel to receive money in the mail for something you wrote?’ Well, quite honestly, I feel a little numb. Everything that happens is one more thing my mother has missed, and I can’t shake the anger and regret I feel at her absence.

Anyone who has had a loved one in the hospital knows the long stretches of time in uncomfortable chairs, the constant buzzing of alarms and machines and the changing faces of the nurses and doctors who move in and out of the room. Fewer of us come to know the difference between having someone who’s barely there – who wakes up and speaks to you for a minute, or a few seconds, before fading – and having that person just disappear. How fast it happens. How little you are prepared for it.

Or the kindness of others. The nurses, your relatives, your friends. People who take anything from a few minutes out of their day to disrupting their entire lives to help you. I am astounded by the generous behaviour of those who were there for me, and I am determined to return their generosity.

I am now certain that to be present for those you love – even for a few, fleeting seconds – is the most important thing in the world. Yes, there is a lot more business involved with being published than I expected. Interviews to do and giveaways to arrange, reviews to obtain, and general schmoozing. But I try not to let it get in the way of being the person I want to be, the parent I want to be, the friend I want to be, and one day, the author I want to be. 

The Emperor’s Knife came to print at what was for me the end of an era, but hopefully it is the start of something too. At the funeral, my cousin who is also an author said something to me about writing eight books before deciding whether I liked it – a quote from someone famous that I was too drunk and grief-stricken to entirely absorb. But it has stuck with me, even in its fragmented state.

I hope that I do get to write eight books, and that I do like it, and that others like me doing it too. But here and now it’s The Emperor’s Knife that carries my hopes and its sequel that occupies my attention. I don’t know what mother would have made of my book, but I like to think that she would find some merit in it, in the the language, the characterisation, and the recurring theme of hope amid loss and grief. I hope so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review Roundup for The Emperor's Knife

For a newly published author, reviews can be a source of both excitement and anxiety. Reviewers receive a great number of books every month, and the first challenge is to earn their attention. But once they’ve chosen your book, will they hate it, love it, or worse—have no particular feeling for it at all? I have been fortunate in that The Emperor’s Knife was chosen, more than once, and that it has been well received. Here is a roundup of reviews in roughly chronological order. [If I’ve missed one, it was not on purpose: please bring it to my attention.]

“The Emperor's Knife (****) is a strong fantasy novel with a fresh setting, rich characters and an enjoyable storyline.”

“I said it at the beginning, and I'll say it again, this is an ambitious debut novel.  Thankfully, it's also a novel that demonstrates great deal of promise in its author.” ***1/2

“A debut with great potential” ****

“Compelling characterizations will keep fans of grim fantasy entirely enthralled.”

“Williams creates a twisty and enjoyable tale centred on a creepy magical plague sapping the strength from the heart of the Cerani Empire.” ****

The Emperor’s Knife has everything a fan of epic and high fantasy may need. It has mystery, intrigue, amazing characters both to love and to hate, and original magic systems.” ****1/3

“This is the first novel by Mazarkis Williams, though it doesn't feel like it.  I would highly recommend checking it out when it hits shelves on December 6th.  It's the first in a trilogy, but stands easily on its own.  It has all the elements of a dark fantasy that give a story that heavy realism without going over the edge being so dark that that it starts losing sight of that realism again.” ****

“The characters are all believably complex, with desires, regrets and fears.” *****

“Although it boasts an engaging premise, an interesting  magic system and a refreshing setting, The Emperor’s Knife is not without its problems. . . .  That said,  there are plenty of tantalizing ideas here – the patterning disease and Prince Sarmin’s accidental discoveries within it, elemental mages,  an ancient temple found in the desert, not to mention all the overly polite courtly cruelty,  it all keeps me interested to see what happens next.”


Fantasy Book Critic [Mihir Wanchoo & Robert Thompson]

"Overall, I enjoyed The Emperor’s Knife for telling a story of people broken by the psychological nature of past events and their striving to do the right thing."

"Even though the novel could have benefited from improvements in the areas mentioned above, The Emperor’s Knife as a whole is a very impressive debut by Mazarkis Williams, who immediately ranks among the year’s most exciting new fantasy authors."

Book Monkey 
"Despite my negative points discussed in this review, I do think Mazarkis Williams shows promise as a writer. This novel isn’t perfect, but as far as I’m concerned they are teething problems that can be sorted out by the time it comes to the next novel in the series. Williams has created some wonderfully imaginative ideas that will intrigue you and keep you reading."***

.bibliophile. .anonymous.

"It's a mixed bag for The Emperor's Knife for this fantasy fan."***

Popcorn Reads [MK] 

"It's a highly complex novel, filled with devious sub-plots, and enough twists to satisfy even the most demanding reader."

 Tim's Book Reviews [Tim Lewis]

"Replete with political intrigue and mystery, The Emperor’s Knife is a story I will remember and that will keep me thinking after the book is closed." 

Paperless Reading [Ken Wong]

"Reading the book is like watching a chess match, the pace is slow and you don't always understand why the players made that move but at the same time, you're intrigued by the maneuvers and intend to wait out till a player pulls out a checkmate move."

The Founding Fields [Bane of Kings]

" I strongly recommend this novel to any fans of fantasy that are looking to try something new." ****1/2

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What, exactly, is dark fantasy?

The trend towards darkness is often discussed and sometimes lamented in fantasy circles. But what exactly is it? For myself, I realize I have lazily been accepting whatever label is applied to a particular book. If a book is referred to as 'dark' then I consider it so, without knowing who made the call, or why.

I began to wonder about it only when I noticed Teresa Frohock's MISERERE being referred to as dark. MISERERE, in case you don't know, is about a man who has committed a terrible betrayal and is seeking redemption.

So I did some research.

There seems to be some variation on the definition of dark fantasy. It is either

* Fantasy with elements of the horror genre (SOUTHERN VAMPIRE series, for example);

* Fantasy with ambiguous heroes or antiheroes (Locke Lamora, Thomas Covenant);

* Fantasy that is violent or gory or depicts unpleasant realities in vivid detail (gritty fantasy like PRINCE OF THORNS);

* Fantasy in which the protagonists die, become evil, or lose hope; or

* some combination of the above.

This would pull a lot of books into the 'dark fantasy' classification: Abercrombie, Bishop, Lynch, Donaldson, Lawrence, King, Harris, Hulick, Durham, Morgan, Moorcock, Gaiman, Wolfe, Bakker, Brett, Weeks, Jones, Rice, Hamilton, Friedman, West, and even Martin, not to mention lots of others I'm forgetting or haven't read. That is surely a trend. But given all the different definitions, do we all mean the same thing when we say 'dark fantasy'?

For me the loss of hope would be the most devastating thing to read in a fantasy book. I can live with violence--thought it bores me sometimes if there's just a lot of stabbing for the sake of stabbing--and moral ambiguity makes the characters more believable and interesting. But the loss of hope tears at me.

Some of the books referred to as 'dark' hold on to that thread of hope, that bright glimmer in the future that keeps the protagonists moving forwards. One such is MISERERE. Others do not. Others show the protagonists become bitter and twisted, unable to rise above the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves.

In short, if I had to guess what made a book dark, I would be wrong. I feel a bit more informed today, but still don't know exactly what others mean when they use the phrase 'dark fantasy,' or whether I, in responding to them, am referring to the same thing. Therefore I would find it impossible to say whether I like the trend, or find it a good thing or a bad thing. I encourage everyone to BUY A LOT OF BOOKS and figure it out for themselves :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Books I read in September, or BUY THESE BOOKS

Here is a confession: I never heard of Night Shade Books until Ross Lockhart direct tweeted me one day. "We're going to be publishing The Emperor's Knife in the states," he wrote, not imagining how long I'd waited for those eleven words to appear.

Thrilled but anxious, I typed 'Night Shade Books' into the search bar and was blinded by names: Neal Asher, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kage Baker, Iain Banks, Glen Cook. I saw Elizabeth Bear, whom I remembered from the OWW as clever and original. And those were just the first two pages of the catalog. I felt a bit outclassed, but I was willing to pretend I belonged.

Ross offered free books. When I explained that I hadn't been able to get through the catalog (whether it was excitement, or the growing sense of inferiority that stopped me, I don't know), he made an editorial decision and packed a box. Within a week, it arrived.

The Windup Girl and Southern Gods disappeared immediately into the hands of my teenage children, but that was all right. They weren't at the top of my TBR pile. I got started on Miserere by Teresa Frohock. A story of redemption placed in an original world with a great magic system (I still keep thinking about the rosa--read it and you'll know what I mean), it left me satisfied. As a tabletop gamer, I want to steal some of her magic ideas for my Friday nights, but I keep forgetting to ask her.

Next I read The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu. This combines a political story of colonization and rebellion with a magical one. The characters must constantly examine their loyalties and beliefs, along with their own actions in light of them. I found it very effective.

Whitefire Crossing was something I had been looking forward to. A mountain-climbing smuggler must sneak the hardest thing possible across a border: a mage, into a land where such mages are banned. Worse, he does not trust this mage. It was fun and exciting and made it easy to accept that Republic of Thieves won't be out until next year.  People talk a lot about the mountain climbing in this book, but it was the characters that stood out for me.

Last but not least came The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells. To be honest I wasn't sure about this one going in. I don't usually care for books that aren't about humans--I figure humans are interesting and complex enough. But I was wrong. Cloud Roads was fantastic. Moon, a young, flying shapeshifter, makes his way in the world among the 'groundlings,' because he doesn't know where he belongs. One day he is swooped up and everything changes. This book is about coming of age and self acceptance and a lot of things I don't want to type in, in case they're spoilers.

Night Shade Books seems to be the kind of place where unusual stories happen. I couldn't be prouder to be part of the NSB Posse. I can only hope that I hold up my end of the deal and make stories as intriguing as all these others.


Next to read: Dancing with Bears.