Saturday, April 16, 2011

A wild ride with Sheryl Nantus’ latest offering

Fans of a Wild West-type setting should sit up and take notice of Sheryl Nantus’ Wild Cards and Iron Horses, which plays out in a frontier town in the American West. With a strong steampunk flavour, the novel tells the story of a dashing gambler, Jon Handleston. He arrives in the upwardly mobile town of Prosperity Ridge, intent on winning a poker tournament so that he can repay an old debt.

But Jon has a problem. An old injury has resulted in his right arm being crippled, and he can only move it with the aid of a clockwork brace of great ingenuity. While this doesn’t aid his card-playing beyond helping him use both hands, the loss of a spring results in the device not working to its full potential; a serious blow to Jon’s confidence.

Sam may just have the answer to Jon’s problem. She’s a maverick for her era: a woman who dresses in men’s clothing and is obsessed with mechanical devices. An engineer extraordinaire, she soon catches Jon’s heart when she offers to help him fix his brace.

But things aren’t all plain sailing. Victor Morton, one of Jon’s bitter rivals, is after the secret of Jon’s brace, which he believes offers the wearer some uncanny advantage at the poker table and he will stop at nothing to ensure the device’s destruction.

Sheryl, as always, delivers a story chock-full of action with memorable characters. I found her steam-powered mechanical horses to be an interesting quirk, and like the fact that she touches on the consequences of industrialisation.

Today Toad also welcomes Sheryl to the Corner for a little Q&A. It's love to have you back here, lady.

Tell me about Jon. How did he come knocking at your door?

I've always loved gamblers in the Old West and thought that I'd bring my own character out to play in the New Old West, as it were. But I wanted him to have a different motivation other than just make money and con sweet women, so I wondered about the circumstances under which an Englishman would find himself in the Western United States.

The Civil War wasn't just between two factions in the United States. It involved many countries who watched and waited to see which side would win with observers on both sides along with many who sought to make money off of the pain and suffering. Unfortunately Jon ends up being pulled along with the family tide when his father sees an opportunity and rushes to exploit it.

Environmental pollution is quite the issue with this story. Care to elaborate?

Well, I put part of the blame for that on Second Life, a virtual world where I visit and play as a clockwork dragon in the steampunk town of New Babbage. We're always talking and joking about the soot and dirt in the air from all the new-fangled inventions and when I started writing Wild Cards I went back and looked over the Industrial Revolution - and it was a dirty, gritty world right from the start. It didn't take much to transplant it to the American Frontier where the fresh air could and would be easily destroyed by the addition and exploitation of the virgin territories.

It's a trade off. Breathing problems for technological advancement. And many are willing to make that trade and/or suffer for what they can get to make their lives better.

Definitely food for thought.

Mechanical horses are a big plot feature with this story. How would these be used? Ridden or to draw carriages?

Well, the idea is to use them to pull stagecoaches but also to provide individual travel - how great would it be to never have to rest your horse or worry about his feed, other than how much coal you shovel into his belly? The only problem is, of course, that you're riding or being pulled by possible bombs, if the pressure ever goes too high and they explode…

You mention an independent nation for Native Americans. How would this have occurred in your setting keeping in mind the actual turn of events in history?

Well, in my version of American History the Native Americans move against the government just after the Civil War, offering a choice - either negotiate for a separate Indian Nation or they'll start up another Civil War for their freedom. Lincoln, seeing a country already exhausted and war-weary, agrees to set apart a huge section of the West for the Indian Nation.

Of course there are and would be internal problems among the Native Americans, but I felt that I couldn't write about the Old West and not mention these First Americans.
Are you planning on returning to your frontier setting with future stories?

I'd like to. I've already thought about exploring outside of Prosperity Ridge and visiting other towns, perhaps even the emerging Indian Nation. But, as with all things, it depends on how sales go and how the muse takes me. Which is a plea to go buy Wild Cards and Iron Horses, of course. I have no shame.

Or visit Sheryl at:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Some mojo on the side...

Today toad welcomes Sonya Clark to her corner and features a free, downloadable read that supplements Sonya's upcoming urban fantasy release, Mojo Queen. Mimosas at Dusk is available in a variety of formats.

Sonya Clark writes at a desk equipped with High John the Conqueror root and a mojo hand. She has worshipped at the mother church of country music, traveled the back roads of the blues highway, been to the crossroads at midnight, and though she’s never cooked up a mess of polk salad, she has been to Graceland four times. She lives with her husband and Yorkie in Tennessee.

Learn more at


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tea with Lee Mather

Today Toad welcomes horror author Lee Mather to the corner. Welcome, Lee, and thank you for dropping by.

The Green Man touches on the theme of belief in the supernatural, but also on fears. Care to elaborate?

The story centres on the uncertainty of death and how we use religion, faith and our spiritual beliefs as safety nets. The protagonist in The Green Man is a product of the modern world, where we find it increasingly difficult to place trust and faith in anything not easily explained. It was a natural progression that he would see death, viewed without any support system, as a pretty terrible and hopeless concept. Generally speaking, I think we find comfort in control. We like to have answers to our questions. The fear in death comes from not knowing, from not having control.

Are there any events that sparked off The Green Man?

Not specifically The Green Man – in terms of an origin for the story my Mum once claimed to have seen a "little green man" when I was younger and this used to annoy me as a boy. Her tall tale stuck with me and this is where I got the idea of the clash between two belief systems, and in essence two cultures. I adapted this to be spiritual rather than alien and brought in the premonition and plane crash elements to suit the themes I wanted to address. With regard to writing in general, this is only my second published piece and I guess I got to a point in my life where I wanted to stop thinking about writing something and actually go out and do it instead.

Who are some of your favourite authors, and what is it about their books that keeps you reading?

I do enjoy horror, fantasy, science fiction – but to be honest I’ll read anything with a good heart. As a reader I want to care. As a child, when I first became interested in reading (and writing) I used to love stories with a sense of adventure and heroism – Enid Blyton, Willard Price, that kind of thing. Stories that stick with me these days are usually ones that can operate on a number of levels and make me think.

In terms of modern authors, then Joe Hill is someone I would recommend, in particular his short stories. Twentieth Century Ghosts is a must read, but only a few of the shorts I would class as pure horror so don’t buy it expecting a fright-fest. John Ajvide Lindqvist is also a writer to watch – it’s already had two successful film interpretations but Let The Right One In is a stunning book, particularly juxtaposed against the tween horror culture that is so massive right now. The works of Alan Moore are also well worth a read for the uninitiated out there.

When did you know you had to be a writer?

I remember writing a short called Blue Fire when I was twelve years old for a school project (I drew a lizard man in chainmail for the front cover!). It was a fusion of fantasy and horror thriller – kind of a rubbish fusion of Terry Brooks and Dean Koontz. But I loved piecing it together – and after that my grades in the creative writing bits of English got better and better and I thought that writing was something I could do for a living one day. But my path didn’t take me there straight away. I studied business, went to university, got a job, met a girl, bought a house. But there was an itch – the desire to be a writer never left me, and only recently have I been able to draw enough focus to sit down and actually write. To be honest, what I’ve found is you don’t need much to start a story, the trick I’m still learning is being able to finish one.

How do you approach your writing: do you plot beforehand or write however the story flows?

A bit of both really! I have a concepts file where I’ll jot abstract ideas – and these could range from anything from a full outline, to an idea for a character, or a place, or a scene. I then select one and focus on what I think is particularly interesting about that idea and try to put it in the context of a story. If I don’t have an outline at that point I’ll pull something loose together, with a few points on the qualities the key characters should have as well as any crucial plot points. Sometimes I can have quite a tight focus at this stage and the outline may not differ too much from the end product, but even in the few things I have written to date, I have been flexible enough to let the story or the characters take over. I think you have to be as a writer – the characters need to be as real to you as possible and it makes sense to me that their decisions may take you in a slightly different direction to what you originally planned. The challenge comes from reshaping, from adapting and improving until you come up with something you’re proud of as a writer.

Any useful links?

My website is which contains details about me and has excerpts of my writing.

I also have a blog site http:\\ where I post articles, interviews and the occasional short story.

And if anyone wants to look me up on Facebook then they are more than welcome!