Challenge Accepted - New release

>> Sunday, April 21, 2019

Technically it released the end of March but I'm slow, what can I say.



You might be thinking. big deal, in your in another anthology (though, hey, that is a big deal so there). What's so special about this one? Well, for one thing, I'm the one that put it together, and, though there are sixteen other talented writers involved, I chose and edited it. And, of course, it was my idea. and anthology that celebrates the every day heroes who already walk among us, taking on challenges most of us can barely imagine. Not objects to be pitied. Not relics in the future often written out as if they couldn't exist. Not mistakes. Not sidekicks. Seventeen stories where someone with a disability takes center stage and proves, again much like they do every day, that they can solve problems without someone coming to rescue them. All proceeds will go to the Special Olympics.

A blind spaceship pilot.

Cops and maintenance personnel in wheelchairs.

Taking on bad guys with only one leg or no arms.

It's not what you are that makes you something special. It's who you choose to be.

Seventeen stories about people who rise above anything that tries to stop them, even their own limitations.

With stories by Stephanie Barr, Misha Burnett, J. A. Busick, Adam David Collings, Steve Curry, Scott G. Gibson, Joyce Hertzoff, Jane Jago, Clarence Jennelle, Jeanette O'Hagan, Layla Pinkett, Jen Ponce, Connor Sassmannshausen, Lynne Stringer, E. M. Swift-Hook, Margret Treiber, Andy Zach.

Here's an excerpt from my story, "None So Blind":


"Not pirates," a third voice said. "We're more like explorers—space explorers—out to conquer new territory for China much like your ancestors did our neighbors a few centuries back."
All three laughed at this, leaving Renaud sputtering. "Are you actually telling me that this act of piracy is sanctioned by the Chinese government?"
There was a pause. "Why should some international company have a stranglehold on the growth of replacement organs? Why them and not us?"
"Didn't they develop them?" Weston asked and was smacked again for his trouble.
"It's too much power for one company to have," the brute retorted. "And, if they can't preserve control over it like we would definitely do, they deserve to lose it."
There were a few more minutes of uncomfortable silence. She would have to adjust her flight in nine minutes or they would be committed to a long elliptical orbit that would use up all their resources, including oxygen, unless she killed most of these men. She wasn't set up for a several day mission.
Something pinged . . . twice. Sin was so clever with her signal—that also meant she was back in the cockpit. The other seven men were still in the original room. That could even the odds. She slipped the toe of one boot under a flap of what looked like thermal blanket riveted to the floor and pressed a button, then pulled her foot back. She heard shouting from a distance, some of it quite vehement, and then the clang of multiple doors closing and locking. Now it was just the three of them on the bridge.
There were some grunts and the sound of hands grabbing hand holds and slapping metal, perhaps in frustration. "How did you do that? Open that door back up immediately!"
"What door?" she asked, feigning ignorance. She was always amazed how many people presumed that being blind meant she wasn't very bright.
"The door where my men are trapped. The door to the cockpit."
"You've been watching me this whole time. Have my hands moved?"
Something—likely a gloved hand, smacked across her face. Hard. Now she tasted blood as well. "I'm getting tired of your attitude. That door didn't close itself."
"Maybe they triggered the meteoroid alarm accidentally. That seals off all the internal compartments in case of leak."
"Is that true?"
Weston's voice was nasal. She wondered if they'd broken his nose. "Yes. Most ships have those. Or we could have been holed and it happened automatically."
"You mean, my men might be locked in a leaking compartment?"
"It's possible," Weston said.
"How do we know?"
Kayla smiled. "Listen for screaming."

Seventeen entertaining and empowering stories. You can find it most places ebooks and paperbacks are sold (and it's also available in large print at amazon.com).



If you want to find them all the books I'm in, you can find them on my website. http://stephanieebarr.us. 

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Twice the Man is OUT!

>> Sunday, March 24, 2019


My Bete novels are among my best received. Not because they're sort of but not entirely YA while still appealing to adults (and I've had almost no one but adults read them). Not because they have adventure. And romance. And science. And magic. And a broken spaceship. And some of the best snarky banter in town, especially my bad-ass venomous snarky shipcats. Okay, maybe it is the shipcats.

And now, finally, I have finished the original intended trilogy with each of the original three best friends taking center stage in turn. Of course, none of the books were a one-man show, but the ensemble cast aspect, where half a dozen and more players have big parts, has become more pronounced with each successive book.  And I love it.

I may come back to my little world of castaways. We still have flooding there and a sentient arthropod out in the depths of the ocean not to mention that unexplained wormhole. But I tied up the most current stories, just like I promised. For a series that inspired by a manga/anime and written with my now adult daughter in mind (who never read it, ironically), I have  had a world of fun with the Bete series, and I hope you do, too. If you want to find them all, you can find them on my website. 
http://stephanieebarr.us 

Here's an excerpt:
As if breathing in her essence woke her, Rem felt someone stir against his chest. How she always ended up curled on his chest, he didn't know. But he loved it. "How are you feeling?" he managed to ask, hoping he hadn't blasted her with death breath.
"Could you just kill me?"
"No can do, beautiful. And that was something I thought I'd never say."
"I am not beautiful, but, given what happened to me when I opened my eyes, I don't suggest you find out for yourself."
"I don't need my eyes to know you're beautiful," Rem said, chancing a little squeeze.
"I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I don't feel up to flirting. Or fending off flirting. Or, in fact, breathing."
"Flirting is the best reason I've come up with since I woke up for breathing, though I have morning breath that could kill a badger-boar at ten paces."
"Not true," she said, stirring in a more determined way and levering herself into a sitting position. "You'd have to get, I don't know, within arm's length."
Rem chuckled and then used his freed arm to grab at his head. The pain had not abated one iota.
"Rem," Sinda said, lowering her voice to an intent whisper. "Try to teleport out of here. Now while no one's watching."
Rem, who had still not opened his eyes, used all of his consciousness to visualize Cil and will himself there. The pain neither abated nor increased. But he went nowhere. He willed himself to grow, to become his other form, but, if there was even the slightest change, he could not detect it.
"No joy, eh?"
"None at all," he whispered. "What now? I'd ask my talent, but I don't have one anymore."
He felt a slap on his arm, hard enough he opened his eyes without thinking, then reeled a couple of moments.
"Don't you ever," she hissed, "talk like that again. If you start moaning that you're worthless, I will totally lose my temper. I can't shift into anything and I haven't exhibited even one tiny talent, but you think I'm worthwhile. And you're right! Because I'm smart and capable and don't just curl up and die when challenged. And neither do you. Last time you had an impossible problem, you developed a new talent instantly. Not that I'd turn it away today but say that doesn't happen."
"You don't understand," he said.
"Yeah, boo-hoo. Grieve later, we got stuff to do. Gonna give up, let the bad guys win, fall all to pieces just because you're down to the same set of tools the rest of us humans have? If you do, I'll know your tolerance of humans was a lie from the beginning as well as every word of admiration you've ever given me."
"That's not fair!"
"I've heard you and Xander say that no one is superior to anyone else, that there isn't Prime and sub-Prime and, I presume, humans a step below that. If you truly believe that, you need to snap out of it. I get that losing a super-cool set of tools to play with is a bummer, but we don't have time for that. You have all the gifts of the smartest humans I know. Use 'em and let's figure out a way out of this mess, and, yes that may mean never getting your powers back. I promise, if you help find a way free, I'll let you wallow in your disappointment for two whole weeks, but only when we have the time to spare."
Rem had put his hand over his abused eyes, but he lifted it to regard Sinda through one eye. She really was wrong. She was still beautiful. "If I come up with a way out of this and it works, will you take my interest in you seriously? Treat me enough like a grownup that I have a chance to woo you?"
"Woo?" she went into a peal of laughter. "We're surrounded by hostiles who have purged the magic out of everyone, we are facing death, torment, or enslavement, and you want to woo me?"
"What better time will I ever have?"
"I'll tell you what, loverboy. You figure a way out of this and make it work, and I'll totally date, or go out, or whatever you kids call it these days. I'd seal it with a kiss right now, but I think the state of our mouths would kill us both."
Since they were both sitting, she was within delightful reach. "I'm willing to risk it."
He slid his hands up her arms, and, to his intense satisfaction, she blushed. But then she pushed his hands away. "C'mon, c'mon, woo later, solve problems now."
"Aww," Danai said, obviously enjoying the romance. Silly kid. Rem chuckled and given how protective Kert was of her, Rem figured she'd find out about romance first hand soon enough.
He sat back against the corner of the wagon, pleased that the horrific after-effects of the dart were starting to recede. Or maybe it was Sinda. Either way… "Well, we don't have the upper hand." Rem looked through the wagon sides, counting wagons and what people he could see of the natives and the exiles. "Looks like there are more of us. Everyone from the upper camp and most of the crew and teachers from the lower camp as well as the Bete that were there and the older teenagers.  Maybe two hundred of us versus a hundred or so of them, if there aren't more in hiding. Probably, half are sleeping while the rest keep watch, I don't think any are missing. Or not many."
"Looks like most of the exiles are here so they're about half native and half the guys we kicked out. But then there are the wolves and I think that's their biggest advantage. That makes escape challenging as well as being a physical threat.  Also, we have been drugged and are still disoriented from having our skills ripped away. They are armed and know the area, which we don't, so the advantage is still on their side. And, they can communicate whereas we can't."
"Plus, they're ruthless while we still have our humanity," Sinda added, a little grimly. It surprised Rem. She was usually pretty tolerant with different cultures, but she looked positively murderous. Perhaps the double dose of dart had seriously impaired her good nature. Most likely, her antagonism wouldn't last, but she had it now.
"That's not always an advantage," Rem said. "People who think like a sword tend to (a) think of things in terms of black and white and (b) think everyone else thinks the same. No nuance. Nuance can be useful."
Sinda took in a breath and released it carefully. "Sounds like something I would have said myself. You're too smart by half, loverboy."

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New Release: Solvadron

>> Friday, November 16, 2018

So, I was talking to Christina "DZA" Marie about her new release (out today!) of a graphic novel that goes alone with a previous graphic novelization and several novellas. She's passionate and then some about writing fiction that says the right things and makes the kind of social statements she thinks need to be made. And is another one out there proving that doesn't mean you can't write entertaining kick-butt literature.

Did I mention there are DRAGONS?


But, hey, here's what she had to say:

1. Tell us how you see yourself, first as a person, then as a writer.

I’m a partially over-caffeinated zombie who started the blog Dragons, Zombies & Aliens while being an extremely over-caffeinated zombie in college, because everyone else was stressing about finals and I needed somewhere to gush about all the fantasy and sci-fi books, movies, and shows that I love. Full-time I work as a community support staff—that’s job coach and PCA for people with disabilities—and when I realized I had no social life decided to volunteer for the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis.

As a writer, I adore fantasy and science fiction and am apparently incapable of writing anything without throwing some degree of magic or highly improbable science into it. The last few years I’ve written about LGBTQ+ angels, witches from Minnesota, and Canadian cannibals from the future.

2. Many people going the traditional route in particular make a point of leaving social commentary out of their work. You're not one of them. Tell us why.

Two reasons.

The first is that most great SFF works do have some sort of social commentary in their writing. Star Trek made a point to have its cast be as diverse as possible in the era of the Civil Rights movement and criticized the Cold War. Harry Potter talks a lot about prejudice and how it can be wielded as a weapon by people in power. Rick Riordan has recently been tackling LGBTQ+ and POC issues in his Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase series. So handled properly, social commentary makes good writing even better.

The other reason is because stories that don’t grapple with some sort of issue seem really...hollow to me. Social issues such as racism, sexism, religious persecution, ableism, homo/transphobia, and so many others affect all of us every day of our lives. Why wouldn’t you write about it?

3. What put you on the path to writing?

I’ve been writing since I was twelve, though I’ve only been getting published since I was twenty (so, three years now). Some people think my writing passion is genetic, as both of my parents are also published authors, but I like to think it would have happened even if I’d been born into a family of mechanics. It’s too much a part of my life to imagine being without it.

Mostly, I started writing because I was getting sick of seeing all the stereotypes and lack of relatable women in my media. Even at age twelve, I saw far too many girls and women in books, shows, and movies who cowered in the corner while their boyfriends saved the day. And someone—it was probably my mom—said that I should write what I want to read. So I did. The first (several) manuscripts sucked, but it got me going.

4. Why graphic novels?


Graphic novels are a new thing for me. Originally, Sovadron was designed as a traditional novel. But then I realized the story just didn’t have that rhythm, so I opted for a series of novellas. But at the time of that realization I was working with Endless Ink Publishing on their sci-fi illustrated novella series Earth’s Final Chapter (see above: future Canadian cannibals) and thought, You know? My work would be pretty epic in graphic novel format. It’s something I’ve never done before and I love sinking my teeth into projects like that. You have to shake things up from time to time.

5. Was there anything in particular that inspired your stories and novellas?

Everything inspires my stories and novellas. Usually historical or contemporary social issues (another reason I can’t write SFF without throwing some of that type of commentary in there).

Specific to Sovadron, that was inspired by my family’s Dungeons & Dragons adventures. The five major characters we meet in the series—Shakairra, Rain, Elkvein, Gundar, and Kyne (who was originally played as a guy named Quarrel-Kyne)—were characters played by me, my dad, and my brother. I loved our adventures so much that I decided to write them down, but quickly grew tired of the same old medieval European setting. After some trial and error and a bachelor’s in history that focused a lot on the United States, I settled on creating a world inspired by post-colonial America (late 18 th /early 19 th century), and then just let the characters loose.

6. How do you manage your time to write?

A question for the ages!

Honestly, a lot of it comes down to “write whenever you can,” since I work full-time, have been working a temp part-time position with a local political campaign, and have recently started volunteering. I carry my laptop with me everywhere.

I’m scheduled to be a PCA for one of my clients all day and she’s taking a nap? Time to write.

Sitting in the crisis unit with no phone calls or paperwork? Time to write.

It’s one in the morning and I can’t sleep no matter how hard I try? That is prime writing time.

7. What are your favorite things to read, either genres, authors, or any other descriptor.

Honestly, I read pretty much anything. Fantasy is my personal favorite, though I’m usually reading a history book alongside it. Partly for research for my own stuff, but also simply because I love learning new things.

Some of my favorite authors to date are Rick Riordan, George R. R. Martin, Robyn Bennis, Sara J. Maas, Margaret Fortune, and April Daniels. That’s YA urban fantasy, grimdark fantasy, steampunk military, YA(?) epic fantasy, hard sci-fi, and superhero genres, respectively. I’ve got more favorites listed on my website.

8. Do you consider yourself a character writer or is there something else you focus on?

Character writer, definitely. I find stories that are not driven by characters to be incredibly boring. If a character isn’t doing anything and is just going along with the flow, they either need to die or just not be in the story at all. I get that there are some stories—and real-life situations—where someone is initially kind of thrown into the plot or dragged along against their will (i.e. Hunger Games), but so long as they turn around and start actively contributing to what’s going on relatively quickly, then it’s all good.

9. Tell us what projects are exciting you at the moment and why.

Oh, boy, what isn’t exciting me at the moment?

Obviously there’s Sovadron. Right now we’re chugging along at publishing just one chapter at a time because budgets suck and I thought it’d be a great idea to self-publish this. (I still stand by that, but it’s a pain.) But I believe there’s some real potential in this story and people are going to love it. It’s new, it’s engaging, and full of action, adventure, and violence.

Outside of graphic novels, I work with a small publishing agency called Sic Semper Serpent doing a series of short stories called Twisted Tales. Basically, I re-write classic fairy tales into something a little more feminist. So far we’ve done The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, and Beauty and the Beast—now completely free of Stockholm syndrome! Currently I’m working on a short for them called “Tower of Dragons,” basically a flip of the traditional “princess trapped in the tower must be rescued by valiant knight who slays the dragon and marries her” plotline.

And early next year I’ll be returning to Earth’s Final Chapter. I left the Canadian cannibals on a hell of a cliffhanger so they’d hire me for some sequels. Worked like a charm. 

10. Why should we not read your graphic novel Sovadron?
  • It’s illustrated by John Hawkins, who is way better at art than anyone has any right to be.
  • It’s an epic fantasy not based on medieval Europe, instead using a completely different setting.
  • Due to budget restraints we can only publish it one chapter at a time at a snail’s pace. (At least until enough people buy it or become patrons on my Patreon page.)
  • Girl turns into a super-strong werewolf and crushes the skull of a giant in the first chapter. Giants’ brains are icky.
  • In the prologue, the immortals are stupid enough to curse the super evil goddess Sovadron to sleep forever in a coffin beneath the world she literally just tried to take over, because that never goes wrong.
  • On a related note, I may have stolen some plot points from Rick Riordan.
  • And some grimdark elements from George R. R. Martin.
  • It’s full of powerful women, characters of color, characters with disabilities, and characters who identify as LGBTQ+. Anyone who’s ever sympathized with Nazis or been called a “broflake” should probably stay away.

Bonus: What does the "DZA" stand for?

Dragons, Zombies and Aliens! The name of my blog for fantasy, horror, and sci-fi.

Thank you so much for interviewing me!

Want to learn more: Here's how to find her!

Website: http://www.dzamarie.com
 
Blog: http://www.dzamarie.com/blog and http://www.dzamarie.com/favorite_books.html 


Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/dzamarie 


Sovadron page: http://www.dzamarie.com/sovadron.html 


FB: https://www.facebook.com/ChristinaDZAMarie/ 


Twitter: https://twitter.com/CM_DZA 


Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/cmarie_dza/ 


John Hawkins: http://www.johnhawkinsart.com  

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Adult Swim: Another Plunge into the Bizarre

>> Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wow, getting out a review every week may be a bit more than I can manage. I will still post one as often as I can. Sorry, folks.

One of the many reasons I like manga in general is how comfortable they are with fantasy and the like, as if it's perfectly natural. Since I'm also of the fantasy persuasion myself, it's easy for me to feel at home. But, more than that, I love the originality I often see when it comes to taking even an off-the-wall idea and making it front and center in an interesting book. Even better if the book can challenge some of my taboos, some of my views on things, making me both think and feel.

I've got to tell you, as far as I'm concerned, that's about as good as it gets with books. And one series that does just that is Ze by Shimuzu Yuki ("Ze," in this case means something like "Agreed" and has to do with the original bargain with the Puppet Master). I LOVE this series and I've read it probably a dozen times. I have all the books (except one, which is a story of it's own I'll note at the end).

The premise is that there are a group of people who, genetically, have a talent for kotodama, which in this series means "the ability to make things happen by saying it" and, for whatever reason, it seems to be limited to causing harm. The down side of this awesome power is that the backlash is pretty horrible so the more heinous things you do, the more you are injured yourself--and injuring yourself to the point of death is actually pretty easy for most of them. Enter Waki who, in an agreement with the patriarch of this clan, used his black magic to make hardy, damage-taking paper dolls that look and act like human beings, dolls that would become the tools of a single kotodama master and accept the damage for him, repairing themselves over and over until worn out or their core is damaged.


Now all of that may sound ho-hum. But it's not. For one thing, we explore again (and quite effectively, too, I might add) the question of what makes someone an individual, a soul, a human being. Obviously, they're not and yet, with this pretty brutal talent used for obtaining wealth for the humans in here, the "dolls" (kami) end up humanizing and making better humans of the people they interact with. The means for transferring wounds from human to kami involve contact with the mucus membrane (kissing and sex) with more intensive contact required for more extensive wounds. And Waki threw in his own wrinkle in that kotodama masters are only paired with kami of the same gender. It is, after all, yaoi. Though I think we could make an argument that the most sexually perverted, use-her-kami-as-a-sex-toy individual, happens to be a female.

Enter a regular person into this strange world of ownership and partnership, someone who refuses to see the kami as less than humans (and find the kami agreeing with him), watching the relationships with kami save some humans from becoming brutes, others from being brutalized, becoming more than vessels for healing physically but true partners in every sense of the word...totally fascinating.
 

This is made more so by an amazing array of compelling characters:
  • the naive cook who falls for the gloomy leftover kami
  • the original easy-going kotodama so strong he single-handedly destroyed the village that tried to rape his sister and who keep three kami quite busy with his antics, 
  • the young kotodama master forced to take over at a young age with a kami who hated him, 
  • the even younger kotodama prodigy so powerful at birth he destroyed buildings with his first cries so they spelled him so he'd be strangled if he talked and the kami that worked tireless to protect him from a job where his power was a danger to all, especially himself, 
  • the neglected child from outside the family who inherited a kami but didn't understand how to deal with him, 
  • another from outside who swore never to use his kotodama because of accidentally killing his mother with it when he was a teenager. 
  • And, behind them all, the enigmatic, potentially evil puppet master, completely consumed with a kami long since passed.

Kami can be revived, but their memories are gone. And trying to overcome that becomes a haunting quest. But overall, the story is really about coming to grips with the humanity of the kami and the humanizing influence they have on people in a pretty bizarre and ruthless profession. About what makes us unique and special and worth fighting for.



Now, the story hit on a number of my "can't stand" taboos, yet did so in a way where I got how and why it happened, and could even accept it, which is no small feat. I have a number of mangas I still love without accepting those aspects and an even larger number I just can't stand for those aspects. That's how good the characters are, and, if you've been following me for any length of time, you know characters are everything to me.

The entire series is eleven books long and there's something memorable in every one. I find the source story fascinating, even though it's told last, and the future even more interesting. I feel left in a good place, with a number of characters I love all where they belong. That does not always happen. Not so sure if Waki is reformed, per se, but he definitely has his moments. 

Now, for the drag. This was released and then the company that released it stopped or went out of business after six volumes. Later, either they or someone else picked it up and started again with Ze 7 and, as an added bonus, released the first five volumes-- BUT NOT SIX! Oy, how irksome. I have #6 in German (which I don't speak) out of desperation and I have access to it on-line, and I have every other volume through to the end, but still!

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Adult Swim: Secret Agent Time (Part 2)

>> Monday, March 27, 2017

There are quite a few examples of secret agent yaois, though many of them are not my kind of thing: heavy into S&M and rape and stuff, whereas I'm a romantic. But, all is not lost. There are some that suit me just fine, including one of Shoowa's works (and I'll be hitting another one not too far in the future), but, in this case it's Koujitsuei no Tobira.

Set in France, it starts out as something that seems pretty domestic, about a man who inherited his apparently estranged brother's adopted son (Kai). But the man (Cys) has a big blank spot in his memory, and can't remember his brother, really, or his life before. But the kid clearly remembers something important. 

However, as we add bits and pieces, we begin to see this isn't just a kid, even a weird kid. But he's involved in something big, potentially sinister, certainly not just going to school or a little extra job. At the very least, it's dangerous and something he wants to keep from his "uncle".

The art style is different, a little out of the ordinary, but I learned to appreciate it. 

When Kai realizes Cys is catching on to some of it, Kai seduces Cys, seemingly as a distraction but more as a guarantee. Kai's job becomes more hazardous and he struggles to ensure Cys isn't dragged in. When things become a crisis, Cys senses something and uses his own resources to find Kai.

I won't give away any more surprises (there are several more to come) and, ironically, far more of them involve Cys who is not who he thinks he is by any stretch. Some of the key to Cys' past lies in Kai, and some in the people who threaten Kai. It's clever and convoluted.

But, more importantly for someone like me, the characters are believable, charming, thoughtful, passionate, caring and a bit more badass than they look on the surface. There's humor without it being overwhelming. And there's pathos as good people do the wrong thing for fear and confusion--and love. And the motivation why Kai comes into Cys' apparently normal world is a large part of the charm, in the end, of both Cys and Kai. Pretty powerful stuff in the end.

There's intrigue without it taking away from depths of the characters and there are a couple insane people as side characters that have their own twisted charm.

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Adult Swim: Secret Agent Time (Part one)

>> Sunday, March 19, 2017

A reminder for those of you who haven't been here in a while: "Adult swim" is the tagline for my yaoi reviews, i.e. boys love manga. If it's not your thing, I will do others as well, but this is one of my favorite topics right now.

As I slowly ratchet back up to weekly blog posts, I thought I'd hit on some of the mangas I've read by mangakas I don't have but one manga from but that I consider keepers worth reading over and over. And, among that list, I've a few where espionage that intrigued me. For some reason, they tend to be eccentric, and this first one is no exception.

It's called Silence by Akiyama Koito and it has three separate stories only marginally connected to each other. Despite the fact that none of them are quite like anything else I've read, OR each other,  I find each one charming in its own way.

In the first, Rebirth, a British secret agent (Zenji) resigns from the agency as he has a virulent blood virus that is eating him from the inside out, which is not so unusual except that it usually kills in a matter of days but he's had it over a month. Turns out, his body is special and heals and protects him enough that it's fought off the disease. He runs into a very very pretty young man (Madoka) who is being chased and asks for his help, offering him a fortune in return.

Unsurprisingly, the Madoka has no money but claims to be able to heal Zenji using a magic where he puts his hands directly into a another person's body. Zenji scoffs, thinking it's just a way for Madoka to offer himself up for sex but doesn't look forward to dying alone so says he'll be satisfied if Madoka just stays with him until he dies. Madoka is fascinated with Zenji's resilient body, feeling it up at every opportunity as they reveal a tragic backstory for Zenji and hint that Madoka's is hardly happier. Of course, that leads to lots of sex because,well, yaoi. Just about the time Zenji is "inexplicably" feeling better, they find out, well, no more spoilers. The pieces all fall together as we yaoi lovers have come to expect, including their pasts.

In the second story, (Bet/Bed/Bed), we have less a story and more a charming situation brimming with humor as one of Zenji's coworkers[Millie] (who has a thing for Zenji) is literally losing himself in his virtual reality to the point he nearly dies of malnutrition. His long-time friend [Theo] (who is tied to the underworld), and who very much has a thing for Millie  breaks in (again - this has apparently happened many times) and revives him with kiss-administered energy drinks and food he brought with him. Millie is not particularly grateful, even when Theo tries to convince him to run away with him to a life of crime via a bet a la Princess Bride. There are two other unrelated episodes where it's not clear if Millie is sadistically teasing him for entertainment or if Theo is just too cautious to take the hint and make it a real relationship. Millie definitely has the upper hand. Also, Theo is REALLY gorgeous.

[In real life, I like to think I'm not readily swayed by physical beauty but, I have to say, if I'm going to read manga, there's no reason why I shouldn't like they way they look.]

The third story is Silence with the only connection I saw to the other stories that it involves another person (Shion) with the healing(ish) gifts Madoka had, except he's not really good at healing and is using them as hit man where he sticks his hand in a man's brain and, like, squishes it. Seems pretty effective. [There is a hint that Madoka might be his long lost younger brother]. When he's clearing out a rival's HQ, he stumbles across the mute young man (Luca), who was used as a much abused sex toy including being beaten at that very moment. Shion spares Luca and encourages him to run away, but the boy has been effectively a slave since infancy and is just picked up by Shion's clean up crew. Shion defends him and is awarded Luca's fate, but has no intention of abusing him (and doesn't). Shion discovers, when he pulls out a rusted relic from one of the items used to torture Luca, that he can understand Luca telepathically even though Luca can't talk. We also see that his attempts at healing cause Shion a good deal of damage.

Luca wants to repay what he sees as Shion's kindness and offers himself up but Shion isn't interested in using him. Instead, Luca does his best at cooking and cleaning, though he tends to do more damage than not. A confrontation with one of Shion's enemies (in the same group) while Shion's on travel ends with Luca more than willing to offer up his life if it will help Shion, while Shion's clients are threatening Luca in order to control Shion. In the end, it's Shion who risks his life to save Luca from his injuries and his internal demons and Luca who works to give some of that life back. Really, it's pretty damn touching and the extra where they try to contact each other via phone (when Luca is clumsy and mute) is hilarious.
So, why did I enjoy this so much? Well, for one thing, there was a line of humor through the whole thing that wasn't overbearing or silly, subtle but everywhere. For another, though there are three full story arcs in this one volume, none felt rushed or incomplete and the characterizations were drawn quickly and surely so that I was almost immediately captivated. And, as a hopeless romantic, people who care about other people more than themselves makes me giddy with delight. Yet, with that common theme (and no rape by a protagonist, yay!), the mangaka managed to make three stories that captured my imagination, charmed me and intrigued me. Not bad for a single volume.

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Adult Swim: Diving into Hell

>> Saturday, March 11, 2017

Well, not really. In fact, this is a favorite manga and we're talking Buddhist hell which is a whole different story.

Which is part of the charm.

I won't lie. I love mythology and, though I grew up on Western mythology (Greek, Roman, Nordic), I always love to learn more. One of the many many reasons I enjoy manga so much is that they tend to enjoy injecting their mythology/religion into their stories as if it's perfectly reasonable. Maybe it even is.

Jigoku Miguri by Kuju Siam is a wonderful sort of story wrapped up in the Eastern view of Hell and, naturally, government servants who have to come in to straighten up the filing. In this story, a government worker comes to help out in Hell a few days a week and is coveted (sexually - it is yaoi) by the leader of this corner of hell, Enma-sama, a demon who was once a human being. Takimura Ono is an apparently normal human being but seems to have no trouble fitting it with the ruthlessness required of Hell.

However, as a nice aside, Enma doesn't use any sort of force or coercion and Ono has no trouble holding him off. Both Enma and Ono are rather popular with the demons about the place, all of which are part of the natural order of business (a nice way of looking at it, one I favor).

I'll have to note that I was as interested in the mythology/religious aspect and the bits and pieces of that as any part of the story. The crystal mirror (Jouharinokagami) that tells the truth and shows your deeds and deepest wishes. The levels of hell that vary in length and intensity depending on your crimes (after which, back into the cycle of rebirth). Fascinating.

But, hey, maybe you don't care about mythology or Buddhism. Well, the good news is the story is interesting as well.

Enma floated on their river of death after committing suicide from a rather tragic and short life and was put to work as a demon, still riddled by guilt (not going to spoil you as the story, but his sin is pretty tiny compared to some). Enter Ono who he's drawn to, suffering from his own unrequited love and the guilt from an affair he had with a married professor. Naturally, some of the mystique and magic of hell follows him into the human realm and Ono is tempted to use his new insight to help, even in small ways. That's a no-no that earns him some laps on the field of nails. And ends up getting him an affair with Enma. But, when the professor Ono loved finds his way into Hell to be judged, Ono interferes again, for selfish reasons, and their relationship is threatened.

And we still get the kind of sappy happy ending people like me still love. It's complex and convoluted with two sets of star-crossed lovers, but, in the end, ultimately satisfying.

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The Unlikely Otaku is going to come back to life!

>> Sunday, March 5, 2017

I know what you're thinking: where the heck has Stephanie been? What, no more fanfiction? No more reviews? No more chatting in general about her manga obsession (which is still going strong, my friends; it's one reason I haven't had more time for blogging)?

Well, I heard your silent screams of despair and I have resolved to do better. I still love manga and anime. I still love talking about it. I still love interacting with people on my blogs. I might even come up with a bit more fanfiction if the mood hits me. We'll just have to see. So, though it's been languishing for far longer than I like to think about, expect to see me talking about all thinks otaku here in the near future.

And, yeah, that will still involve new releases, but brief and only for new releases. I won't be posting daily--got three blogs and a girl's gotta sleep--but I'll try to post something at least weekly.

For those who are still deeply interested in the writing itself, but don't like checking back on blogs and stuff, I'm starting a monthly newsletter. You can sign up on the right.

You'll get notifications of new releases and the single monthly newsletter and that's IT, but only to people who signed up, who actually want to know all that.

The newsletter will include some insight into my writing, why I love it, what I think about it and what I like or don't like, a handy reference for all my existing books and news about forthcoming events, and an original short story so my "fans" can get a first look on my stories. I want it to be fun and hope it will be because, though I hate "marketing" I love interacting with people and sharing things I hope they'll like.

If you're one of the people interested, sign up. I will not be using your email for any other purpose.

First Newsletter will go on next Friday, March 10.

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Saving Tessa: Now it's Science Fiction!

>> Thursday, February 9, 2017

I have reworked Saving Tessa to be a science fiction YA adventure (though it was close to that already).


In the year 2045, smart tech is everywhere, much of it devised by the teenage prodigy Dylan Chroz. But being at the top of the technical world means being in demand. Sometimes, by people who should be looking out for you. Sometimes, by people who won't take no for an answer.

Tessa alone makes Dylan's life more than schematics and computers, a spot of vibrant color and irrepressible life in a dreary world of users and frauds. 

So what do you do when someone steals your girl to make you perform your technical wizardry on their sketchy hardware? Do you curl up and cry? Do what they want? Defy them? Or do you outsmart them and do your damnedest to smoke out every one of them so they never can do this again?


That is, if Tessa doesn't beat you to it.
Also, as with Curse of the Jenri, I'm going to make it available in book form. Proof is on it's way to me now and I'll announce it when it's available. Eventually, I'll do this with all my books, but I'm excited about this one because I have a character frighteningly like me there.

Thanks for the gorgeous cover by Ryn Katryn.

Amazon

Smashwords

One of the things I did with this story when I moved it to 2045 is work on a post-Trumpian recovery. I found it therapeutic.

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Curse of the Jenri is OUT!

>> Saturday, February 4, 2017

Curse of the Jenri is now OUT, out in ebook and, for the first time, I'm going to be putting it out in print as well. I got the proof, my first ever, today! I'm so excited (so no print now but soon; I'll keep you posted). You can find it on amazon and smashwords and it should soon be available at Barnes and Nobles, Kobo and the iStore. Links for Amazon and Smashwords are available now

.

Finally, a Sword & Sorcery epic like it ought to be: manly hero who swings a massive sword and stumbles into spells, lovely wife who can kick his ass, a fleet of fiery and fierce compatriots, dastardly villains with vile intents, even griffons, all that and a dragonet. Oh, and six kittens. Because every manly man needs kittens, right?

RIGHT?!?

Or, alternatively,

The world of the Jenri is a dangerous, primitive world, where women are prized as chattel, but the Jenri women, every one from the eldest archivist to the smallest babe, strike fear into battle-hardened mercenary hearts. It is a world where battle steeds are mythical beasts and magic is as deadly a weapon as a sword. Those who wield both are doubly dangerous and those who cross them are thrice damned. The Jenri are mistresses of all these things. If you love one of these marvelous women, you must best her in a contest of her choosing to win her love in return.

These were women who needed no one to take care of them. Until now.

It wasn’t enough that Jenri women had been stolen, including his wife, Layla It wasn't enough that those who had stolen them had nefarious plans. And phenomenal magic powers. And could escape in seconds. And an underground fortress in the midst of frozen mountains so cold Tander was afraid he’d shatter if he stumbled one more time. It wasn’t enough that he was surrounded by angry husbands worried about their wives and willing to take their tempers out on him if he was leading them in the wrong direction. It wasn’t enough that he was also surrounded by the remaining women from his tribe who were equally angry and more than capable of kicking his butt.

No, on top of all those little issues, he discovered he's no longer “just” an extraordinary swordsman, but also a great and powerful sorcerer with absolutely no idea how to use his powers. He was not just any sorcerer, either, but one chosen by six tiny kitten familiars who did know how to use his powers and who had no problem telling him. All the time. While they demanded to be carried all over his person, purring and taking inopportune naps. He didn’t want these powers or a flock of noisy but helpful kittens, but he was going to need them. He'd need all the skills and talents he and his companions possess in order to save their women—and Layla.

But we love you, Tander! Solace insisted, purring and licking his neck.

Things have got to get better soon.

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Otaku Moment

>> Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An extreme otaku moment (because if you're going to be an otaku, extreme is the only way to be):

As I finish watching the whole anime opus of (through episode 366) of Bleach for what I think is the fourth time (the first time was in subtitled Japanese) and I queue up Hell Verse because, what the hell, I gave a passing thought to my favorite Kido (or really Bakudo) 81 Danku ESPECIALLY when used by Kuchiki Byakuya who does it with negligent flair. Anyone else have a favorite?

Just wanted to share.

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Amazing Changes on the Writing Frontier

>> Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Many of you have likely noted my large repertoire of self-published novels and anthologies. I had a good reason for doing it, namely, I couldn't seem to connect with a publisher who appreciated my writing like, let's face it, I do.

And there's no merit in a story that sits forever in a virtual drawer. So I put them out there, where, they were mostly ignored, but nowhere near as ignored as they were on my computer alone. And, I maintain, that was largely because my marketing skills are not impressive. But the books...

This past year, I've dallied in a field I haven't dallied in in decades, short stories. Prompted first by contests, then a great friend, Chuck Larlham, who enjoyed reading my work and kept finding new opportunities to check out and, ultimately, write a story for. So, after a year, I've got more than a dozen new stories, mostly fantasy science fiction and fantasy, but several that are also in different genres I haven't tried before or, at least, not in a long time.

As I've been rediscovering my writing talent, Chuck's also been key to my sending it out there. I got in JAMM magazine (as I noted previously), have a story accepted in an anthology meant for book club type parties, and another short story in charity anthology to support a charity that works with domestic abuse (Dove).

The publisher for the Dove anthology specializes in science fiction and fantasy and the name could not have been more perfect for me: The Dragon's Rocketship Publishing. They're relatively new and small, which is fine with me, and also accept short stories. So, a story that didn't make any waves in a contest (I seem to do more poorly in those than straight marketing) seemed like something to try because I *liked* it. So did they. They in fact gushed in the way I've been dreaming of a publisher gushing since time immemorial and wanted to know if I could make it into a novel. Well, no, I hadn't intended to make it into a novel, but, oddly enough, I'd written two side short stories that were related to a novel I'd already written (Curse of the Jenri) and was weeks away from self-publishing.

Not the final cover, just my own concept

Well, they liked those stories and then the novel. So, here we are, a few weeks later and I have signed contracts on seven short stories (plus the anthology story) and a novel.

Am I happy?

I, who am never at a loss for words, can't even find a word to describe how fantastic I feel to find people who *get* what I'm writing ans saying.

If you're on facebook, feel free to go by their facebook page and give 'em some love.

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A bit of Anime history for the Otaku

>> Friday, August 26, 2016

I know, I know, I've been so neglectful. Nothing about anime and manga for months even though I do keep reading it.

Busy busy. Today Right Stuff Anime (who has sold me a tome or six and several movies/shows) sent me an email linked to an article about the history of Anime.

Fascinating stuff so I'm sharing it with you.

The History of Anime

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New Story Published!

>> Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My new story, "Second Life," is out in the e-zine "Just a Minor Malfunction" available now for a limited time at $0.99!

My story, "Second Life," is set aboard a space station so I get to use actual rocket science expertise and I allow a little bit of sleuthing for the biologically minded. With people trapped forever in space, finding yourself confronted with what might be an epidemic has got to be terrifying, especially since insanity comes with it. I hope you'll check it out

Chuck Larlham
is in there, too, and a number of other awesome science fiction stories. In fact, it's one of the best collections of hard science fiction I've read in a long long time, so I'm proud to be part of it. Something for everyone, folks!

It's a steal right now. If you like science fiction or just being entertained, well worth your dollar.

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So, I sold a short story to a new e-zine of hard science fiction

>> Saturday, April 30, 2016

That's independent to an unusual degree. But, you know, I'm pretty avant garde myself. Looks like I'll be in the first issue of Just A Minor Malfunction along with my good writing buddy, R. C. Larlham. So, fun will be had for everyone.

I'm actually rather excited as it's set in a science fiction setting I'd been planning (and am still planning) to write a novel in, only this is more a prequel. Thing is, I'm so in love with my characters in this new short story, Second Life, I may have to make room for them in the novel.

But then, I do love a challenge. If you're interested in reading my story, Chuck's or any of the other stories gathered, check it out.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/just-a-minor-malfunction-sci-fi-short-stories--2#/

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New Release: Saving Tessa

>> Saturday, November 22, 2014

I just released my personal favorite of my novels (so far) today. You'll be able to find it at the compelling price of $4.99 at your favorite retailer.

Dylan Chroz, high school senior, had a reputation as the unchallenged king of the technical world, a genius with dozens of patents to his name. He also had a reputation for being as cold and calculating as the supercomputers he could design in his sleep.

So he was unprepared when Maxcomm discovered what really mattered to him: the spunky girl at the center of his existence. Or when they stole her away so they could use her against him.

It was a mistake, of course, to make an enemy of Dylan, even if he was hampered by his fear for Tessa. After all, people who threaten Tessa were definitely not going to come out unscathed.

And Maxcom didn't appreciate what those around Dylan will do to help him save Tessa.

But the real mistake they made was thinking Tessa was going to sit quietly by and get used. As if Tessa would stand for that!

That last mistake was really going to cost them

Contains some language and violence. You can find Saving Tessa on Smashwords

In the iTunes store

On Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

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Fourth book, third novel coming out September 15

>> Saturday, September 6, 2014

I have another book, Nine Lives, available for preorder that will become available September 15. Right now, you can order it for $2.99 (price will go to $4.99 after it's released). You can preorder it now from Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple as well as Smashwords, which has available in all formats including Kindle. (It will be in on Amazon.com sometime on September 15).

That's three books already out, Conjuring Dreams (short stories),  Tarot Queen (adult novel), and  Beast Within (YA novel). 

"Trapped on a planet across the universe from their homeworld, more than a thousand youngsters, teachers and crew must make a new home for themselves in this beautiful and dangerous world. Some, however, are shapechangers, Bete, that many look on as demons, so they have more to fear than their new environment. At the same time, their powers have also saved all the refugees more than once. To protect themselves from the humans that fear or hate them, the Bete have started a separate colony from the rest.

With their little Bete colony going well with his foster brother, the intolerably perfect Xander, in charge, Laren, was feeling a trifle unnecessary, which didn't sit well with his pride. Or his temper. But when his arrogance nearly got himself and his best friend Rem killed, he decided to reign back his anger and deal with things with a little more thought.

He did so just in time because Xander became dangerously ill, hurting his mate, the healer, in his delirium. And, at nearly the same moment, the other colony was overrun with those that feared the Bete as demon-spawn. With an unknown disease in the camp and potential attack from outside, a level head was definitely needed. Who would have guessed that Laren would be the one to provide it?

Who knew this being in charge business was so troublesome?

Sequel to Beast Within. Contains some language and violence."


Unlike Tarot Queen, but like Beast Within, Nine Lives is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.

Links for all available books and pre-orderable books wills stay in the right hand column.

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Beast Within

So, two books all the way out, Conjuring Dreams and Tarot Queen, and now another book available at bargain prices for preorder: Beast Within

Update: Now it's been released, it's still available at the bargain price of $4.99

"When a ship of youthful refugees maroons on a strange and dangerous new planet, Xander had no choice but to take charge of his shapeshifting clan, the Bete, to protect the strange foreign healer, K'Ti, from humans as well as his own suspicious clan. Among humans, shapeshifting and magic were frequently equated with evil. The lives of the Bete and K'Ti would readily be forfeit if certain fanatical factions discovered their gifts.

After Xander convinced the captain to let them be the first to set up camp outside, the healer's extensive magical skills quickly became key to survival. When K'Ti discovered the Bete's shapeshifting abilities, Xander defied his clan to let her live.

To defend themselves, and the humans, from the vicious predators like the man-sized Klixit, of the new planet, the Bete will need every skill, shred of knowledge and capability they possess. Xander will have to weigh the needs of his clan with his trust of humans, the risk from the dangers all around them, and those that lie within his fellow refugees. "

Unlike Tarot Queen, Beast Within is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.


Note also that Beast Within is the first of the Bete series. Nine Lives, the second of the series, will come next.

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Another book available for pre-order!

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know what you're thinking: "I haven't even finished the first one (which was free)." True, but, if you do finish Conjuring Dreams and are jonesing for something else from my talented brain, you're in luck because you can get a deal on the next novel that takes up where the short stories stop.

Update: It's now out and $4.99.

 This one's not free, but you can get a deal on it since you can preorder it for $2.99 - it and will go to $4.99 after it's published on May 15 (which coincidentally is my 25th anniversary as a Rocket Scientist since I started working at Johnson Space Center in May of 1989). This novel is a grown up story, but fun and hopefully thought-provoking.

Announcing Tarot Queen.



After nearly four hundred years as the Tarot Queen, Roxell might still appear young and beautiful on the outside, but inside she was bored and jaded. Reading fortunes and conjuring futures was no substitute for an adventure of her own, a life of her own. Instead, she felt a prisoner, exiled within the confines of her cottage, growing more and more contemptuous of the supplicants who came to ask for her insight. And, for four centuries, not one person had given her heart the slightest romantic flutter . . .
Until Dante stepped in and turned the life she knew upside down. Handsome, intelligent, capable, he was everything she'd ever dreamed up . . . except that a tryst with a succubus had left him a demon and therefore soulless. The cards said he was definitely her destined lover, but Tarot Queens only get one lover and she had no plan to become a demoness.

For love, she abandoned her self-imposed exile and set out with her ardent suitor on a quest to find a solution to their thorny problem. Turns out, Dante's demonic venereal disease was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to their problems and Dante's mysteries. And Roxell was going to have to depend on her wits and her magical talents far more than she'd ever envisioned when they first ventured out.

And she loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Contains some sexual situations (not erotica) and a modicum of violence.

You can preorder at Smashwords and should shortly be able to preorder from a number of distributors.

A note about Smashwords - they distribute to most of the major ebook distributors like Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobi, Applestore, etc. But, I don't know when they'll show and there's a lag. You can preorder from Smashwords right now in all of those applicable formats. If you're struggling with how to get the downloaded Smashwords files to work with your application or device, you can get insight into how to do it here.

Naturally, no one is required to read my stuff, but, for those of you who might be interested, I wanted you to know it was out there.

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My first BOOK!

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

At long last with a self-crafted book cover, I have self-published my first e-book: Conjuring Dreams And it's FREE!


"Magic-wielders, shape-shifters, mermaids, empaths and diviners and even teddy bears and computer programmers wander through 26 stories, written into life for situations thought-provoking, compelling or absurd. It's a collection of diverse stories, from the first one written when Stephanie Barr (then Beck) was13-14 years old to the last ones finished last year. The tales show off not only Stephanie's eclectic imagination but the growth of her story telling as she taught herself to write (in the way she wanted to) through writing. So it's all fiction and totally autobiographical at the same time. "

Smashwords: Conjuring Dreams

Hopefully soon it will also be distributed at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Will post links when I have them. There are, however, formats available for most if not all readers/computers already available at the Smashwords link. There's also an interview of me.


I've also put it on Amazon but they wouldn't let me do it for free so it's 99 cents: 

Amazon: Conjuring Dreams

My suggestion is to go ahead and download it for free on Smashwords since they have Kindle format there.

More books (namely novels) are coming so "stay tuned".

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