Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Night Feature: Crystal Connor [Interview]

The End Is Now by horror author Crystal Connor is part of a two-book project by Connor Titus (see also: The Guardians of Man). It’s one story told from two different perspectives, with each version complimenting the other. Connor is no stranger to controversy and the spiritual themes within this story have sparked many heated debates among her readers. (The prose itself is presented in columns, much like many revered texts.) However, there is a great mix of action, drama and suspense, so I am reluctant to label this novel as religious horror, although this is most definitely an apocalypse of biblical proportions.

Connor’s characters debate and fight over the existence of mankind, weaving in pieces from several major religions into a tapestry of adversity and temptation. The discussions between characters explore the terror that often accompanies religious beliefs. Connor’s metaphysical elements offer a supernatural view of the end of the world which connects the reader’s mind to the author’s special brand of darkness: intense, sacred violence.

The ending left me feeling like I was hit by a truck, then the truck backed over me and ran me over yet again. Fortunately, I could remind myself, it’s a work of fiction.

I thought it was time to invite her to the Lair...

Oh my God Ursula, thank you so much for interviewing me for your blog! I feel like a rockstar …lol

Q. Do you deliberately set out to write about controversial themes or do you think some readers create the controversies themselves? Have your critics been an obstacle at any point in your career or do they inspire you to push the creative edges of your writing even more?

A. I can see how someone would think that, especially after what some would call doubling down with The End is Now after a group proclaiming themselves to be Christian’s burned The Darkness.

After seeing pictures of my very first book being burned, seeing just how nasty and hateful people can be online, and being the target of such vitriol when my social media platform was still in its infancy nearly ended my writing career. Because I didn’t know any better I tried to explain myself. Huge mistake. Epic Rookie. Mistake. I didn’t handle it very well so I ended up closing my twitter account and disabling my profile on Facebook. I didn’t even get out of bed. My family and friends really rallied behind me and gave me the support and encouragement to get through that. I can’t thank them enough for that, not to mention the story I was telling wasn’t finished and the story itself wouldn’t let me be.  

When I was writing the 2nd book Artificial Light I was also working my anthology …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! which was finished before Artificial Light. I was super nervous because I hadn’t had any publicity since The Darkness and I wasn’t sure how they were going to react so I decided to hire an actor to help me with create a promotional book trailer that would beat them to the punch.

Everyone loved the trailer, I finished The Spectrum Trilogy, was accepted in several anthologies, grew my fan base, spent more time on social media, was attending conventions and speaking on panels without further incident so I thought that was all behind me. Boy was I wrong.

After The End is Now was published all hell broke loose and it was bad. A flame war broke out on Facebook that lasted five days, from the N-word to the C-word I was called every name under the sun except for the one my mom gave me at birth. It was suggested that I be raped or killed or both and if that wasn’t bad enough someone posted what they thought was my home address. It was my P.O. box but it was way too close to where I lived for comfort. The police felt that the threats were viable, and because of that I ended up moving.

So to answer your question, no. I do not set out to be controversial because some of the more extreme critics have the power to be more than just an annoying obstacle when it comes to my writing career. They have the ability to cause actual harm.

But with that being said, and to answer your second question, once I realize that what I’m writing will most likely offend extremist I don’t back away from it. I knew The End is Now was going to ruffle some feathers, I just didn’t know it would get that bad.

Q. You emphasize with every book that each is strictly a work of fiction, but how much do you draw upon your own life when creating your characters and their realities? Do you feel that your experiences in the military, such as exposure to other cultures, have influenced your writing style?

A. I think it’s because of my experiences, being in the military and having had the opportunity to travel outside of this country is the very reason why I express my work is a work of fiction. For people who are practicing at the fringe of their religion, nothing riles them up faster than the acknowledgement of those who don’t adhere to their interpretation of what’s written in the sacred text they are reading from, and that those people who exist outside the fold are, too, worthy of the Glory of God.

But when you travel to places that don’t look like home and meet and spend time with people who do not think/believe/talk about the things that you do it’s impossible to continue to believe that there is only one way in doing things.  

My experiences absolutely helps me to understand how different people would interact with one another, and it helps when my characters find themselves in situations where current or prior military and or disaster preparedness training would be paramount for their survival so I am going to say yes.   

One of the things I keep hearing and I hope people never stop remarking on is how diverse my books are and how three dimensional my characters seem, and without a doubt it’s because I’m writing with real world firsthand experience but I can’t take all the credit. My knowledge is just the shell. The more I write about a character the more I learn about them. It’s almost as if the character takes a life of their own and I am just documenting and telling their story.

Q. How did this writing project with a companion book come to be? Was it easier or more difficult to work with another author?

A. We had been talking about working together for a while and when the timing was right we just jumped into the project head first without looking…and it was a blast. It was the most fun I’ve had working on a project so far! The reason we ended up with two standalone books set in the same universe is because about a third of the way in we started to pull the story in two different directions and because both concepts were equally awesome and I didn’t want to sacrifice one story for the other. I presented the idea that we each wright our own books and concept was enthusiastically accepted.

Even though you don’t have to read them both we wanted to link both books together, that’s why part of the title (In The Foothills of Mt. Empyreal) is used for both books and our amazing covers are yin and yang’s of each other. 

Q. Your books span several genres from dark horror to magical realism. How would you describe your writing? Do you have a specific target audience in mind?

A. Unrelenting, realistic, brutal, and terrifying, lol at least that’s end goal my every time I sit down to write a story. My target audience are people who enjoy reading thought provoking psychological horror. That’s actually my core audience but because of the fast pace of my stories, the diversity, the fight scenes that blend modern military tactics with medieval sword and sorcery with basic street fighting, bad guys that you can help but root for, the subject matter and the use of language of vivid imagery thankfully my writing appeals to a wide range of readers.

I don’t like putting myself in a box because it’s very limiting. My goal is to tell a really scary story, so if it starts off as a horror story then drifts off into science fiction, or if the story decides to vacation on the beaches of fantasy I just let it. I think that’s why so many people struggle with trying to assign it a specific genre. I had a judge rip The Darkness to shreds because he said I didn’t respect my craft enough to stay in one genre. It sucked hearing but at the end of the day as long as the readers like it, that’s all that really matters.

Q. What do you think draws you toward writing dark, unsettling, even brutal stories? Do your storylines ever affect the other areas of your life? Have you ever scared yourself with something you’ve written?

A. As much as I get asked this question you would think I’d have a ready made answer by now, but I don’t. I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of things. Honestly the very first horror novel I sat down and read all by myself as a little kid was The Book of Revelations. I was really young, too young to understand what was truly being said, but I am easily seduced by visuals. Take a moment to imagine, I mean really imagine, what it would be like to look up and see the sky being torn open, ripped apart like a piece of paper, and all the implications that that would imply.

I have a very vivid imagination which I allow to run rampant, and it’s the subtle questions that are asked in realm of the horrible that draws me in. That and someone said The Dark side has cookies, so … I mean what’s a girl to do?  

Q. For many years, the horror genre was largely male-dominated. Even with more and more female authors making a name for themselves, there does not seem to be that many Black female horror authors. Does this cause you any added pressure as a writer? Do you feel a need to create characters of different races and cultures to represent the real world, or do you just let your story settings dictate which characters you will use?

A. The only pressure I feel as a writer is the pressure I place on myself to 1. To tell a really good story and 2. To tell a better story than the one I told last time. And that in and of itself is a tremendous amount of pressure. The reason I work so hard, push myself so hard, is because before I can be anything I need to not only be a good writer, but a damn good writer, first and foremost. I think I’ve achieved that and I know that sounds arrogant but I don’t care. A person has to be confident in their abilities to do something. It’s that confidence that allows a person to see their own weakness, know their own limitation and commit to the hard work it takes to overcome it and knowing no matter what there is always room for improvement.

Fortunately, due to growing up as a military brat, serving my country, and traveling outside of my country my personal world is pretty diverse. I don’t feel the need to create characters of different races and cultures to represent the real world because that is the world that I personally live in so writing multifaceted worlds is something that comes naturally to me.

I think the challenge for me would be to create a world with just one race, because I don’t know a world like that. Writing a story with both a diverse populous and a diverse setting is what allows my stories the ability to thrive in dark and brutal spaces within my imagination. I have though wondered if things would be better if we all had the same or similar outward appearances, or if we would just find something else to kill each other over. I explored that concept a little bit in They Always Come Back and I think it’s because  of the current racial tensions that’s happening in the US right now but it was a fleeting thought as I don’t go that much into in that particular story.

I know it doesn’t seem like there’s are a lot of black women writing horror but I can assure you we’re out here. Which is why it’s important to first be a good writer, get your books out there, and grow your fan base. Once that happens, being a Black female horror author is something that people will have no choice but to notice.

Now granted this is not even nearly all of us but speaking of Black women who write really good horror I like to share the names of some of my colleagues who’ve scared the shit out of me: Nicole Kurtz, Eden Royce, Lynn Emery, Linda Addison, Kai Leakes, Sumiko Saulson, Kenya Moss-Dyme, PM Barnes, and Rasheedah Prioleau Cerece. Rennie Murphy and Mya Lairis aren’t necessarily horror writers but their work is dark around the edges so I think they still count.

Q. I noticed you do a lot of book signings and attend numerous conventions. Is this to connect with your fans or introduce yourself to new readers?

A. Both! I live for signing/speaking/conventions I’m basically a home body and when I do hang out its jeans and tee, low key attire. But when I am at an event I dress to the nines, feel like a rock star, and take pictures with everybody!

When you write and write well, it doesn’t take long for people to find out that you’ve written books. So there’s no need to post stuff about your books all over your social media sites several times a day every day. That gets old and it gets old fast. Like junk mail people stop seeing it. This is another rookie mistake that we all make but after your 2nd book you shouldn’t be doing this anymore.

The one the I love above all when in the presence of established fans and potential new ones is that I am allowed to act like an obnoxious carnival barker or unrelenting used car salesmen in terms of talking about my books. It’s almost expected and the thing about face to face generated excitement is that it’s contagious! It doesn’t always end with a book sale, and it shouldn’t, it does however end with a meaningful, personal connections and drop dead gorgeous selfies to post on Instagram!   
Q. What do you think you have to offer horror fans in general? Why should someone read one of your books?

A. Right off the bat, I offer terrifying concepts that will keep you up at night, I create hellish landscapes detailed with vivid, terrifying imagery and a write wildly diverse cast of flawed, multifaceted characters that you will both hate and fall in love with because the boundaries of hero and villain are so blurred that they are almost nonexistent. 

That’s my goal with every single story I write.

Going off the majority of the feedback I hear I think even though what I write is somewhat familiar in terms of recognizable themes in horror, science fiction, and fantasy it really isn’t like anything that someone may have read before. I get that a lot, and I like it but the best way to show what I have to offer is of course by letting people sample the product.

I am going to give you the link to my free audiobook version of my anthology …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! That’s live on a site called Even though it doesn’t have all the stories and extras that are featured in the paperback or the deluxe audio versions that are available for sale on Amazon it’s still a full sized sample pack. 

Not only is that site a good place to sample not just my work, but thousands and thousands of other author’s, this site also lets people address me directly in their comments/reviews/feedbacks which is something I really, really like. This is the latest review that was posted to the site on July 4th of this year: 

“I’ve been a fan of the horror genre my entire life and have devoured the works of Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker and Dean Koontz among others. I stumbled on this website recently and thoroughly enjoyed The Lazarus Antidote and am working my way through your other excellent stories. With you I feel the future of horror is in fantastically capable hands. Thanks for the great work Crystal!”

And, you can even leave the author’s tips if you want to! So here is the link to the anthology. If you do listen if you could find the time to leave a review that would rock. =D

Q. Seems like you are always dealing with personal attacks every time you publish a new book. Do you think you will ever write an auto-biography about your behind-the-scenes experiences as an author?

A. lol, no with my luck I’ll end up being sued.

Q. What can we expect next from the twisted mind of Crystal Connor?

A. I am working on another full length novel called The Family and also another fairytale themed anthology called There Was An Old Lady. I’m also gearing up for my 2017 tour circuit and it’s the most ambitious to date so hopefully I will be able to meet some of you if I happen to be in your city. Keep an eye out on my fan page for updates.

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not 'those' kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags. She is also the founder of CrystalCon, a symposium that brings both Science Fiction & Fantasy writers and STEM professions together to mix and mingle with fans, educators, and inventors in attempts to answer a new take on an age-old question … which came first, the science or the fiction?   When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen. Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! audiobook from and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!”  http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

Thank you so very much for having me, this was really fun. 

Thank you, Crystal, for stopping by!

If you are looking for something to get you in the mood for Halloween, be sure to check out Crystal Connor's dark horror stories.

As always,

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday Tryst: Hooking Up With A Viking

Image result for avelynn marissa campbell
Forced into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status, Avelynn's perception of independence is shattered. With marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik The Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

In a year of uncertainty that sees Avelynn discover hidden powers, stumble into a passionate love affair with Alrik, and lead men into battle, Avelynn must walk a fine line as her deceptions mount and Demas' tactics to possess her become more desperate and increasingly brutal.

Avelynn by Marissa Campbell is the first book in a new series. I didn’t know this until after I finished this book. Avelynn functions well-enough as a stand-alone, but with an open-ending that might leave some wanting more. I am not one of those. At the time I chose this book for review, it was marketed as historical romance, but I think it would be better if it is simply labeled romance or even fantasy-romance. (I’m having a difficult time accepting that this author belongs to the Historical Novel Society.)

If you’re expecting something historically accurate, don’t. If you’re expecting something along the lines of a Harlequin novel, this might be for you.

The story in general did hold my interest from beginning to end, and I enjoyed it enough to give it four out of five stars, but I think Campbell should have put more effort into this story. The timeline left something to be desired by jumping ahead by months at a time, time that could have been spent developing the characters and their relationships further. The characters were not very believable for that time period and there seemed to be a lot of missed opportunities to work in some serious action, such as the Viking raid.

While the forbidden romance keeps the story going at a decent pace, there are a lot of insignificant details brought up. I wish Buckley had sent more time describing the differences between the cultures of the various characters. I would have loved to read more about Avelynn’s time with Druid priestess Muirgen, but it is barely mentioned, even though her lessons play an important part in Avelynn’s life. I also think Muirgen’s connection to Bertram should have been given more pages.

I think fans of romance novels might enjoy Campbell’s series, but I personally think Avelynn is more a coming of age story.

As always,

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Mystery: The Deepest Secret

Image result for the deepest secret carla buckleyTwelve years ago, Eve Lattimore’s life changed forever. Her two-year-old son Tyler on her lap, her husband’s hand in hers, she waited for the child’s devastating diagnosis: XP, a rare genetic disease, a fatal sensitivity to sunlight.

Tonight, Eve’s life is about to change again, forever. It’s only an instant on a rainy road—just a quick text as she sits behind the wheel—and another mother’s child lies dead in Eve’s headlights. The choice she faces is impossible: confess and be taken from Tyler, or drive away and start to lie like she’s never lied before.

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley lived up to its name, as several secrets are revealed within this novel. Unfortunately, the characters themselves didn't really have any depth to them and the storyline moved at a very slow pace from beginning to end. As if that combination wasn't bad enough, the ending wasn't much of a resolution to the key issue and, with a few loose ends remaining, I failed to be impressed with any of it.

I think if Buckley put as much effort into her characters as she did setting up each scene, the interactions could have been more dramatic. There isn't much suspense to speak of and virtually no action...just one superficial conversation after another. Even when the reader is privy to the thoughts and emotions of the characters, I personally had a difficult time feeling anything for any of them, aside from Tyler's struggle with his disease. If not for Tyler and his role, I'm not sure I could have finished this novel.

I think Buckley attempted to say something about the value of relationships or how far a mother would go for her child, but the message is lost in all the dragged out scenes in which the character interaction is always strained. I couldn't appreciate this novel because it simply didn't make me feel anything, aside from wanting to reach the end, so I wouldn't have to read anymore.

It's not a story I will be recommending to anyone I know.

As always,

Monday, September 12, 2016

When Alchemy Meets Genetics [Review]

Image result for the apothecary's curseIn Victorian London, the fates of physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune entwine when Simon gives his wife an elixir created by Gaelan from an ancient manuscript. Meant to cure her cancer, it kills her. Suicidal, Simon swallows the remainder--only to find he cannot die. Five years later, hearing rumors of a Bedlam inmate with regenerative powers like his own, Simon is shocked to discover it's Gaelan. The two men conceal their immortality, but the only hope of reversing their condition rests with Gaelan's missing manuscript.

When modern-day pharmaceutical company Genomics unearths diaries describing the torture of Bedlam inmates, the company's scientists suspect a link between Gaelan and an unnamed inmate. Gaelan and Genomics geneticist Anne Shawe are powerfully drawn to each other, and her family connection to his manuscript leads to a stunning revelation. Will it bring ruin or redemption?

The Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Barnett is definitely a mix of genres, both classic and modern. The story follows two main characters struggling with immortality: Simon Bell, once a physician, now an author writing about Sherlock Holmes, and Gaelan Erceldoune, former apothecary, currently a bookstore owner. In the past, Bell attempted suicide multiple times, while Erceldoune was captured and tortured by a mad scientist. Eventually the two unite and spend centuries searching for an ancient manuscript that might hold the key to reversing the elixirs which turned them both immortal. Not only does the book contain the secrets of alchemy, but it’s the only remaining link to Erceldoune’s long-lost family.

The storyline moves back and forth in time, delivering the backstory in pieces. At first, the pace is slow and frustrating, but as more mysteries are discovered, readers are drawn further into a spectacular web of conspiracies and drama. The glimpses from the past explain how Bell and Erceldoune come to know one another, while also explaining their shared affliction. The moments in present time reveal the danger of history repeating itself in the form of a corrupt pharmaceutical company hunting down Erceldoune.

I enjoyed the intrigue throughout the story, both in their past lives, as well as their present circumstances. When Erceldoune crosses paths with the geneticist Dr. Shawe, the addition of her character brings just the right twist, leading to an unexpected ending. I was so enthralled by the mix of drama and suspense, I had to read the novel in one sitting.

I think anyone who enjoys mystery-thrillers will enjoy this book.

As always,

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Making A Comeback

It would seem that I've abandoned my review blog, but I didn't...I just had to put the entire review process on hold for a few months.

This year, I've had one family emergency after another: cousin needing liver transplant, cousin with kidney failure, aunt in coma, just to name the events from the past month alone...I think you understand now.

I feel terrible because I have authors that have been waiting several months for me to review their work, but, in addition to family emergencies, I've had my own issues to deal with as well. A long break was needed.

Happy to say, September will be different. I have an interview coming up, the sequel to a great zombie series and plenty of mystery-thrillers to set the mood before Halloween.

Thank you for standing by...

As always,