Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: Fire Sign by M. A. Petterson

Dr. Anja Toussaint is a woman with secrets. Large areas of her skin are covered in burn scars, yet for reasons known only to her, she is compelled by fire. As the arson investigator for the police department in an anonymous city under the Fire Marshal’s office of an un-named state, she utilizes her impressive knowledge of the mechanics of fire and her almost empathetic understanding of the arsonist mentality to stop and to hopefully capture those who are pathologically driven to burn things.

When the same timed and carefully-placed method is used to burn several churches, Anja is teamed with Sgt, Gil Dolan, a bitter and less-than-ept career cop who acts as her liaison so that she might have access to the evidence. The two have an unamicable history which colors their team dynamic in a way I’ve never encountered in fiction before.

Fire Sign by M. A. Petterson is a novella which serves as introduction to a series which promises to thrill and entertain for several novels to come. The characters are dark and nuanced in a way that makes them fascinating and realistic, but I doubt that I’d want to invite any of them to a picnic, but that’s okay. The descriptions of the fires and the explanations of the science are very well-handled. In a very short space, Petterson manages to build a complete world with solid back story, intricate office politics, and interesting possibilities for the future.

Petterson has firefighting training from time spent in the maritime services, although eye problems prevented M.A. from continuing to peruse it as a career. However clearly the training and experience “took” well enough that the book has a clear voice of authority.

They say that a story should only be as long as the space needed to tell it, and I generally agree, but I feel that Fire Sign may have been just a bit too short for its own good. While each page is well developed and fascinating, and even though the story has a completed arc, there were aspects which could have been better fleshed out. I also feel it could have benefited from a more thorough denouement. I don’t want to give anything away, but things happen to the Gil character during the climax that needed to be explained. Specifically, how did he get from point A to point B and then from B to C. He just seems to show up.

Petterson is donating a portion of each sale to several camps for burned children through a self-created charity called Anja’s Kids. Full disclosure, my own daughter was burned on her face at the age of five when a candle’s flame caught her hair. She has a large scar on her forehead which she can usually disguise with her bangs, but many other children are less fortunate. My daughter has attended one such camp in the past, and benefitted greatly. These camps offer burned children a safe place to share stories, build friendships and move on with the understanding that they are not alone. So, while I would normally complain that $2.99 is too much to charge for a novella this brief, given the objective and the destination of the funds, maybe Petterson is not charging enough.

You can purchase Fire Sign at Amazon, and you can find out more about Anja and Anja's Kids at The next book in the series, Soot Angel, is due in September.

   O’Reilly joins me as I sit in the observation booth. The burn-building is packed with closed-circuit television cameras and microphones. I intend on monitoring Dolan carefully. I don’t want to kill the pathetic sergeant, just motivate him to scuttle off somewhere far from me.
   “Friend of yours?” O’Reilly asks.
   I just smile and activate the cameras and mikes. Every hallway and every room is now portrayed in gray on the monitors. They should spring for color, I think, but I know the budget is tight.
   Dolan stands alone in the vacant hallway, staring down a simulated motel hallway lined with doors on either side. I can hear him breathing through the mask, calmly and evenly. That will soon change.
I toggle the switch initiating the exercise.
   A sudden whoosh breaks the silence as flames gush out of a doorway halfway down the hall.
   “Oh, yeah,” Dolan says. “Let the party begin.”
   He strides to the first door and rattles the knob, but it is locked. Then he slams the Halligan tool between the door and sill and wrenches it open.
   I watch his progress on another monitor.
   “Hey,” he calls out. “Anyone here?”
   He sweeps the room quickly, looks inside the bathroom closet, but the room is empty. He jogs back into the hall.
   The air roils with smoke now.
   Dolan reaches another door, pounds on it, tries the knob. The door swings open.
   He enters and spots a figure in the corner, slumped in an overstuffed chair, long auburn hair drooping over the head.
   “Score one for the gipper,” Dolan says, racing to the rescue.
   He reaches down and soon finds he’s cradling a skeleton wearing a wig and dress. A cigarette dangles from bony fingers, touching the scorched armrest.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Author Interview: Elise Abram, author of The Revenant

Elise Abram

Today I am taking part in a blog tour for Elise Abram whose new book, The Revenant, came out on the tenth of July. Elise describes her story as a YA paranormal novel set in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Zulu is a revenant, killed and resurrected more than 100 years ago. His only companions are Morgan the Seer and Kat, a modern teen who can see auras. Together they work to save the people in danger in The Seer's dreams. But when Morgan, a powerful necromancer is raised from the dead, the trio realize the people most in need of saving are themselves.

Teacher of English and Computer Studies by day, wife and mother by night and author whenever she can steal some time, Elise Abram is the proud author of Phase Shift, The Mummy Wore Combat Boots, and Throwaway Child, available on Amazon and KoboBooks. She pens a blog about literature, popular culture and the human condition whenever the muse moves her at

And now, here's our interview.

Who are your influences?
Anne Rice, Cathy Reichs, and Margaret Atwood would have to be my biggest influences. Rice for her descriptive prose, Reichs for making science and technology accessible and Atwood for her skill at incorporating contemporary themes in her writing. And I can't forget Stephen King for modeling how to write about the gore.

When did you begin writing?
My first memory of writing was winning an award for my rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in grade 2. I also remember reading a book about kids who find a treasure map which sends them on a quest in grade school that sparked me to write a similar tale, but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the book. Then there was the novel I tried to write in high school, but never finished. There was a period of a decade or more when the only writing I did was technical, essays and archaeological reports and such. It's only been about 12 or so years I've seriously tried to make it into a second career of sorts.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
Many of my stories come from the world around me. Throwaway Child comes from the travesty of native residential schools in Canada. The Mummy Wore Combat Boots comes from the growing number of youth obsessed with the realistic world of gaming fantasy over reality. Phase Shift was influenced by "Star Trek", "Stargate", "Sliders" and the like that offer up duplicate worlds, change one variable, and explore what happens. I usually name my characters based on personality traits. Malchus, the antagonist in The Revenant, for example, comes from "mal" which means bad or unpleasant.

If I think hard enough about a story, the point of view usually just comes to me. If ever a story isn't working, I might try on a different point of view to see if it flows better another way.

Do you work from an outline?
I work from a vague outline. I sometimes jot ideas down when I think of them so I don't lose them. Most of the time I know where I want to begin, where I want to end and major plot points in the middle. The transitions from point to point usually fill themselves in as I write.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Since my favourite scene in The Revenant is the climax, I can't tell you too much about it because I don't want to reveal any spoilers. The climax is the archetypal battle between good and evil. I can tell you it involves a kidnapping, zombies, a sword fight, and someone dies, but that's about it. I still cry every time I read it.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
If you subscribe to the "you're not a real writer if you don't write every day" school of thought, you're only going to tear away at your confidence. The truth is, life happens. Everyone has to deal with school or work or family responsibilities and days, weeks, even months may go by without ever writing a word. Even though you never sit to put proverbial pen to paper, it's okay as long as you don't abandon your story. I'm always writing in my head, trying to visualize scenes and listen for character dialogue. When I finally sit down to write, the story seems to write itself. Thanks to Nanowrimo, I've also trained myself not to worry about editing as I write. My goal is to finish the story and worry about the editing later.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
Though I prefer writing science fiction and paranormal/supernatural, I've also written police procedurals. Palmer Richardson, one of my Phase Shift characters, is a forensic anthropologist, someone who figures out what happened to a person in life, from their bones after death. Because he freelances with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Department, it's really easy to take his skill-set and use them in real-life scenarios to solve murders. He usually teams up with Detective Constable Michael Crestwood, who pops up in my sci-fi archaeology stories as well.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
I often think back on my writing "career" and think about how much more difficult my accomplishments to date would have been without the use of the Internet. But more than the research, I want to talk about the connectivity of the digital age, and I don't mean the role it played in helping me find a publisher. People, other authors and bloggers, have been amazing in their support. I think this really speaks to community and the connectivity of the world. All you have to do is reach out; the worst that will happen is someone says "no." In planning my blog tour, the amount of bloggers--total strangers--who offered to open up their web pages to me, be it in an interview such as this one, a guest blog post, or a much needed review, the response has been nothing short of welcoming, warm, and supportive, and I am truly grateful to everyone who offered a hand, no matter how small, along the way.

   Barb grunted a low grunt.
   Malchus heard something that sounded like cracking bone. He stood and walked slowly around to face Barb. She was working to frantically shove the remnants of whatever she had in her hands into her mouth. Blood covered the lower half of her face and her hands and dripped down her forearms, off her elbows, and had begun to pool on the floor. The sleeves of her sweater, rolled up her arms and above her elbows, were saturated.
   Having pushed the last of whatever it was she had been eating into her mouth, Barb set to licking the blood off her fingers and then from her forearms. She rolled down her sleeves until they covered her hands, and then placed the material into her mouth and sucked the blood from them as well.
   “Barb!” Malchus said, sickened in spite of himself.
   Barb looked up at him, eyes wide with fear, the cuff of one of her sleeves still between her lips.
   “What are you eating?” he said, sounding calmer than the thump of Hal’s heart would indicate.
   “Rat.” The sweater cuff fell from her mouth when she spoke. She licked her lips, and as if realizing there was still blood to be had on her face, wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, looked at it, then pressed it against her mouth and sucked.
The Revenant is available at the following online locations:  Amazon, B&N, Black Rose Publishing. You can follow Elise and her writings through her page on Goodreads

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: The Case Against Atheism by Mike Dobbins

Reading The Case Against Atheism: The Failure of Disbelief by Mike Dobbins was, for me, like reading a rebuttal to my own book, Believe It, You Know an Atheist. Where my book tries to explain to theists and other non-atheists, like Dobbins, what atheism actually is and why it isn’t the bugaboo they’ve been conditioned to mistakenly assume that it is, Dobbin’s book repackages and regurgitates many of the old theistic and spiritualistic tropes that turned most atheists against religion in the first place. In fact, any non-fair-weather atheist who reads Dobbins' book is going to find himself or herself on common ground, reading for the umpteenth time the same tired old fallacies he or she has encountered dozens if not hundreds of times before in Church, family gatherings, and Internet message boards.

To be fair, on many pages Dobbins acknowledges that atheism is not an unreasonable conclusion. However, one gets the feeling that he is saying this only to dangle a carrot or extend an olive branch so the reader will be placated long enough to continue reading with an open mind – a characteristic which most theists seem to think atheists as a group lack.

Mechanically speaking, Dobbin’s book could be improved with a good edit. There are numerous typos and awkward phrasings as well as repetitive ideas and failings of parallelism which an extra set of eyes or two should have been able to catch. But the real failings in the book are in the arguments themselves. Dobbins targets a specific brand of militant anti-theism and strong atheism which really is a minority in the community. For this reason, most atheists reading the book will be insulted by a primary supposition that underlies the first three-quarters of the treatise; that atheism is the belief that there is no God. Yes, atheism can be the belief that God is non-existent, but for most atheists throughout modern history (at least since the time just prior to the American Civil War) atheism is not defined by what atheists do believe about God, but rather what we don’t believe.

Even if one accepts the premise that atheism is the belief that gods cannot exist, additionally even if one accepts Dobbins’ later assertion that the existence of something which could be called a soul exists and it has been proved, this is not sufficient to support the claim that atheism is a failed philosophy. Since atheism is the lack of a positive belief in deities, one would have to prove the existence of deities in order to claim that atheism fails. Dobbins never even attempts to do so.

It’s that final assertion, incidentally, that is the biggest failure in Dobbins’ attempt to demonstrate the failure in disbelief. After making such weak arguments for belief as noting that people who believe are sometimes altruistic or that atheism doesn’t speak to purpose (newsflash, it isn’t supposed to,) Dobbins presents an argument that the reality of the afterlife has been scientifically proven. Notwithstanding the fact that if such a discovery had been documented in a scientifically valid manner, it would have been front-page news and the focus of every 24 hour news channel for months (especially FoxNews,) Dobbins does take some time spelling out the circumstances behind his assertion.

It turns out that Dobbins is basing his claim on a study conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine by a Dr. Ian Stevenson which was published in The Journal of Scientific Exploration. The study is based on claims made by children that they were somebody else in a previous lifetime. The good doctor claims to have done case studies on several of these children and followed through on claims they made about past-lives which bore fruit.

This all sounds too good to be true, and would indeed be the final nail in the coffin of at least one aspect of atheism. The problem is it’s all much more dubious than Dobbins would have you believe. Turns out Dr. Stevenson actually founded the Society of Scientific Exploration which later published his work. That hardly qualifies as peer review. Moreover, the general consensus in the scientific community is that the Journal itself is nothing more than a clearing house for unsupportable woo.

Dobbins concludes by asking the atheist to consider if he or she is really happier than most theists and whether there is any virtue in trying to take away the faith that helps many persons get through their daily lives. Of course, one’s belief is not something one chooses, so even if it were true that faithful people are happier it is insulting to suggest that a desire to be happy can or should influence one’s core beliefs. Additionally, the search for truth doesn’t and shouldn't stop when it becomes inconvenient.

As apologetics go, Dobbins’ book is not the worst thing out there. He at least attempts to treat most atheists respectfully, and he avoids overt proselytizing and pro-monotheistic bias. However, as far as crafting a solid argument to support the book’s main premise, it just isn’t that successful.

   Open-minded atheists or not, you command humanities love, respect, and compassion the same as any other human being on our tiny blue planet. I am fascinated by their arguments and opinions, support their right to free speech, fight efforts to vilify them, and have many who I consider friends. They have the same hopes, dreams, fears, needs, and wants as any other human. They cheer for their favorite sports team, seek to fall in love, support their brand of politics, and do good deeds in their community. Many seek justice and peace among peoples of the world. Many want to know if there’s a purpose to humanities existence, if universal moral codes exist, and how the universe came to be. Just like you and me, they strive to answer the big and small questions of life.
   In the comparatively free and open society in the United States, I welcome the diversity of thought and spirited discussion that allows atheists and me to share ideas and criticisms in a respectful manner. Religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of our country. We have, I hope, progressed enough socially that most of us can keep an open mind, admit differences, and find common ground when it surfaces.
   Yet, as many young atheists become more and more intolerant, and the tolerant atheist voices are silent or squeezed out, the new atheists place me and other tolerating individuals in a more indefensible position. Clearly, classical atheism should be and is tolerated by most in America, including me. But as more and more atheists become intolerant and embrace confrontational atheism, today’s atheism becomes difficult to tolerate. Just with any belief system, atheism too can radicalize and is doing so as I write. The more modern atheism asserts itself as ‘the truth’ and all others as ‘deluded’ the more it sounds like a fundamentalist religion that has lost its way. 

On Amazon,  Facebook, B&N, Goodreads.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fair Play is LIVE

   My latest full length book, Fair Play: A Lupa Schwartz Trilogy, is now available on Amazon. Now your Kindle can look as cool as mine.
   Also, KJ Bryen's interview of me is live on her blog, and my interview with Judy Goodwin is live on her blog this week as well.
   That is all. Carry on.