Sunday, 23 September 2012

Book review: Seven Wonders

Seven WondersSeven Wonders by Adam Christopher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven Wonders by Kiwi author Adam Christopher is a superhero novel set in the fictional city of San Ventura. The city, once plagued by supervillains, is now mostly peaceful thanks to the Seven Wonders, a team of superheroes. However, there is one remaining supervillain causing trouble in San Ventura: The Cowl. When Tony, an ordinary citizen of San Ventura, starts to manifest super powers, he decides to do what the Seven Wonders have been unable to do – defeat the Cowl once and for all.

Seven Wonders is a story about the unexpected paths that personal journeys can take. The reader is kept guessing about the motivations of certain characters right until the end of the book.

I enjoyed Seven Wonders, although not as much as Empire State. I liked how the characters were not black and white, despite how that is often the case in the superhero genre. It relied on cliches, but not so much as to remove the fun from the book.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I wish that it could have been packaged and delivered in a different form. In my opinion, it doesn't quite work as a novel. The story is too episodic. Some people have said they would have preferred this book to be a graphic novel. I don't think it would have been necessary to illustrate it: Christopher's descriptions are detailed enough that the visual cues wouldn't have been necessary. But I do think that the story would have worked better if delivered in an episodic format, e.g. a podcast series or a chapter-by-chapter release on subscription.

Seven Wonders is a fun read for anyone interested in the superhero genre.

View all my reviews

This is the last of my posts for SpecFicNZ Blogging Week 2012. See the list of other Blogging Week posts here.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Interview with Matt Cowens

I promised you an interview, and here it is. I recently interviewed Matt Cowens, one half of the writing duo behind Mansfield with Monsters. Read below to find out more about this fascinating book, and the talented writers responsible for it.

C: Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to answer a few questions about your book, Mansfield with Monsters.

M: My pleasure!

First of all, could you give us the 'elevator pitch' for your book?

Mansfield with Monsters takes the short stories of New Zealand's most 
prominent, cherished author and reimagines them full of werewolves, vampires, zombies, sea monsters, mummies, giant bugs, alien invasions and Frankenstein monsters. It's a collaboration from beyond the grave.

How did you first become interested in the works of Katherine Mansfield?

Debbie and I are both high school English teachers - having travelled to 
Japan together to teach English shortly after we married, and worked in education ever since. We'd encountered Mansfield's fiction as high school students and at University, but I think it's fair to say that my interest in Mansfield was really ignited when I started teaching her stories at school. Fortunately the process of dissecting her work and translating it for high school students did nothing to diminish my appreciation of it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What is your favourite Mansfield story?

I've been surprised by how diverse her stories are, and how dark. 'Miss Brill' is the first of Mansfield's stories I really appreciated, 'The Daughters of the Late Colonel' has really won me over on successive readings, but for a favourite I'd say 'The Fly'. It's a tragic, cruel story, but I love it. Especially with super heroes.

What is your favourite type of monster?

I loved horror films when I was in intermediate and high school. And horror 
fiction, too. I could list a number of monsters, from Romero zombies through to Lovecraft's nameless (or oddly named) horrors, but I think those who know me well would point out that a love of giant bugs permeates my writing. Stephen King's 'The Mist' is one of my all time favourite stories. The ending of Frank Darabont's screen adaptation makes it a little too depressing to rewatch, but it's an amazing film.

Did you learn anything surprising about Katherine Mansfield while researching the book?

Mansfield's biography reads a little like it's already been adapted for our 
project. She had a genuine interest in the occult, visited psychics, and was embroiled in various shenanigans. That she met Aleister Crowley was a surprise to me - especially as I learned of the actual meeting after having inserted a fictional one into her bio.

What three words would you use to describe the process of co-writing a book?

Painstaking. Respectful. Rewarding.

What is the major difference in process between writing a mash-up story and writing a standard from-scratch story?

The puzzle element was a definite change, as was the process of matching our 
style of language and expression. And, as an English teacher, there were a few times where I had to stop myself from correcting or modernizing idiosyncrasies in Mansfield's grammar.

What did you think of the publication process, and what was it like working with Stephen from Steam Press?

We knew that Mansfield with Monsters was a risky proposition - executed poorly it could alienate the literary community and the casual reader, leaving only a bitter taste in reviewers' mouths and a black mark on whatever institution chose to publish it. We were confident that we could adapt the stories lovingly, respectfully, and with skill. After hearing about the project Stephen asked to see the first 3 stories, and that whetted his appetite for more. Stephen is a hugely dedicated, professional and well-dressed editor. Our extensive correspondence about the project was both inspirational and crucial in fine-tuning the stories. Stephen brought a valuable fresh pair of eyes to the work, and crafted a beautiful book. It seems odd that we've only met in person three times - ours is a highly successful long-distance relationship (despite living only about 45 minutes' drive away from each other).

Do you and Debbie have any plans for further works of this type (that you can tell us about)?

We are both working on individual projects at the moment - Debbie has begun a mystery novel manuscript based around a blend of Greek myth and golden age Hollywood, whilst I am attempting the highly dubious sounding process of mashing up one of my own manuscripts, rewriting a Victorian ghost story novella I wrote some years ago to include even more fantastic elements.

Mansfield with Monsters was enormous fun to collaborate on - a kind of literary cryptic crossword for the soul - and we would gladly return to the mashup genre should an opportunity arise.

Where can people find you online?

Information about Mansfield with Monsters is available at Debbie maintains a writing blog at  while Matt occasionally updates

You can find us on twitter: @mattcowens @debbiecowens @steampress

Mansfield with Monsters is available from The paperback is $NZ25 and the ebook (.mobi or .epub) is $NZ8. You can also download a free sample in .mobi, .epub or .pdf to try before you buy.

Although I probably wouldn't recommend this book to history purists, I do highly recommend it to anyone interested in weird or speculative fiction. I'm about half way through it at the moment, and I'm enjoying it immensely.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

SpecFicNZ Blogging Week is on!

SpecFicNZ Blogging Week is on! Yay! Except it is Thursday, and I haven't yet contributed. Er . . .

Never fear. I have plans, honest. I will be reviewing Seven Wonders by kiwi author Adam Christopher before the end of the week. I will also be featuring my first ever author interview. I'm so excited! I've just sent my questions, and I'm looking forward to receiving the answers. Who will I be interviewing? Here's a hint:

Sunday, 9 September 2012

First week of revisions

At the risk of sounding like I'm whinging, revising a novel is much, much harder than writing a first draft. I say this not because it surprises me; I was expecting it. I'm just making an observation. And making an excuse to myself of why I haven't made as much progress this week as I wanted to.

My first reaction to my manuscript when I opened the project file last weekend was 'Oh my goodness, this is crap. I'll never be able to fix this'. I've only just overcome that feeling and convinced myself that I can fix it, if I put the work in.

Have you ever been in this position in a creative project? How did you banish the doubt so you could get to work?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Of earthquakes, books, and hailstorms

Two years ago on this day the first earthquake in the Canterbury quake swarm happened. It was a 7.1M earthquake, described at the time as very close to the city, and very shallow. (Ha! Little did we know then that there would be more major earthquakes, all shallower and much closer than the 4 September shake.)

This evening, when I got home from work, I sat down to finish Towers of Midnight, the 13th book in the Wheel of Time series. Just as I was reading the epilogue, I noticed the sound of thunder in the distance. I went out and stood in the driveway, where I had stood 2 years ago listening to the post-earthquake sirens. I watched an imposing thunderhead approach. I could see the curved, sculpted front edge of its foot, the bulk of the cloud spilling out and above. The lightning lit up the whole sky. It was about sunset, but even so I could see the substantial darkness of the cloud. Lower small clouds scudded around it, attending like pilot fish, brilliant white against the bruised darkness behind. I sat on the ground and watched, wondering how long until the rains would arrive and I'd have to go inside.

I went in when I started to get chilly, even through the coat I had thrown on. I watched the lightning for a few more minutes. Then I noticed a faint sound, like rain. I thought that at any moment the rain would start to fall, but it didn't. The sound grew louder. I stuck my head back out the door. It sounded like a freight train hurling along tracks, but somehow only approaching at a snail's pace. Then it dawned on me that a hailstorm was on the way, and I was hearing hail falling some distance off.

It took another 5 minutes for the hail to reach my place. It hit like a cluster bomb. The media is reporting that the hail was about 15 mm in diameter, but it was bigger than that here, that's for sure. Here is a picture of some hailstones I collected from my driveway.

As you can see, they were more like 20–25 mm (officially a 'severe' hailstorm). The hail that fell on the lawn and therefore didn't shatter was all about the size of the largest hailstone in the picture.

I don't know why I am telling you all this, other than to say it seemed fitting and poignant to me that on the second anniversary of the 4 September earthquake, I finished an epic book (penultimate in a series) about momentous, end-of-the-world events, while an epic storm raged overhead, a storm befitting the book I was reading (although it would have been more fitting if I had been reading the previous book in the series, The Gathering Storm).

I guess I'll try not to finish the last book in the series, A Memory of Light, on 22 February.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Book revisions start today

Today is the day I start the revisions of my book, still tentatively called Symmetry Breaking (although I'm still not convinced that's a good title for a fantasy novel). I'm feeling anxious about it, because I've never revised a book before. This is only the second book I've finished the first draft of. The first book I drafted, when I went to revise it, I found that I no longer liked or believed in the book, so I moved on.

I have no idea how long it will take me to revise the book. I'm hoping I can get it to a point where I will be comfortable showing it to people (for critiquing) early next year. Wish me luck!