Author: Catherine Jordan

Epeolatry Book Review: Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series by Abbie Bernstein

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Title: Altered Carbon
Author: Abbie Bernstein
Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Titan Books 
Release Date: 31st March, 2020

Synopsis:

Go behind the scenes of Altered Carbon in this exclusive collection of art. Packed with concept art, final designs, and artist commentary plus previously unseen storyboards.

Awaken into the cyberpunk world of Skydance’s Altered Carbon. Stacks – implanted chips that store human consciousness – have made death obsolete. When Envoy Takeshi Kovacs finds himself sleeved in an unfamiliar body and assigned to investigate the murder of a wealthy businessman, he begins to uncover the seedy underbelly of a society where death is no longer permanent.

This richly detailed and beautiful coffee table book takes readers from the glittering Aerium to the gritty streets of Bay City. Featuring development art, stills, set photos, storyboards, and VFX builds from the first two seasons, plus interviews with cast and crew. Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series will bring readers into this visually stunning futuristic world where technology has transformed mortality.

My most favorite thing about a new coffee table book? Opening it for the first time. The crackling of a new spine, the whiff ink, the glossy feel of each page in my fingertips. And I also hope to learn something after I close it, to have a take-away.

“Altered Carbon is set in a future where human consciousness is digitized as digital human freight, or DHF; an Individuals memories, personality, emotions, everything that comprises their identity.” This is the intro to Bernstein’s newly released coffee table book. Immortality is something we’ve all fantasized about. Countless books have been set upon this idea. In an ambiguous 300 years into the future, Altered Carbon takes it to a new level: soul imprisonment within a “stack”. Bernstein quotes executive producer/director Nick Hurran, “It’s a frightening thought, what Richard K Morgan has created in the world going forward.” 

Bernstein portrays the challenges involved in adapting Morgan’s novel into a Netflix Series. Her book is a behind-the-scenes look at the series production. It’s an artistic commentary, and a guide companion.

I binge-watched this series on Netflix before reading the futuristic trilogy, written by Richard K. Morgan, that the show was based upon. I love sci-fi, and action. Altered Carbon is often described as Blade Runner meets The Matrix. A mixture of sci-fi and film noir. Since there is so much world building in this series, it’s no surprise a coffee table book would be forthcoming. So, with that in mind, this hardcover edition, which covers season 1 and 2, was a great resource.

Bernstein’s book walked me through The Ground, The Aerium, and Off World. The Ground is reminiscent of rainy, dark and dirty dystopian city streets. It’s low rent, and seedy. The Aerium is home to the boastful greedy uber-wealthy who have built their castles above the city, so high in the sky that they can’t be touched. Off World encompasses areas like Harlon’s World (a planet about eighty light years from Earth). Throughout, we are immersed in storyboards, set photos, and concept art. There’s also a cool glossary towards the back. Interviews and quotes with producers, designers, VFX persons, cast, and actors pepper the narrative. 

There’s a definite theme underlying Altered Carbon. My take on that will differ from yours. Bernstein explores the show’s theme with several quotes. Actor Chris Conner, who plays AI Poe (as in Edgar Allen Poe), says he sees Altered Carbon as, “the struggle to be human.” Showrunner Allison Schapker says, “How much of what makes me ‘me’ is tied to the mind, the body, the soul?” Writer and producer of Altered Carbon, Laeta Kalogridis, says, “But also we’re trying to explore the idea of imbalance in resources, when too much goes to a small group, and not enough to everyone else.”  

Overall, Bernstein filled in the few questions lingering in my mind, and helped clear up any confusions, too. I think the most important take-away for me was how well this book stands alone. Meaning, I didn’t feel like I had to have read the novels or watched the series in order to enjoy Bernstein’s book and its visual content. There are close-ups, pictures, sketches and 3D renderings, and diagrams. Her book delves into characters, sleeving process, stacks, weaponry, Ocular Neural Interface (ONI), holograms, Songspires, the AIs, and Elders. Yes, the terminology is extensive. And I’d highly suggest this compendium while watching the series.

5/5 stars

Available on Amazon and Book Shop in the US, Forbidden Planet in the UK, and Booktopia in Australia.

WIHM: An Interview With Gwendolyn Kiste

I’m a quote person, and this is one of my favorites:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In other words, I make plans, but am not afraid to throw them out the window. This is so true when it comes to writing—I usually write a premise, but wind up as more of a pantser. With that in mind, I reached out to some of my favorite horror writers with questions about writing, and their process. Some of these Qs are kinda quirky, and definitely interesting! 

Meet Gwendolyn Kiste, my horror writing mentor. 

 

What was the first horror novel you ever read? Tell me what made it appealing.

 

 

Most of my earliest experiences with horror were with short stories from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Robert Bloch. I’m not sure if Goosebumps, Fear Street, or Christopher Pike books count, but some of those were likely long enough to qualify as novels. Otherwise, I believe the first adult horror novel I ever read was probably Carrie. I loved the way King told that story through such an unusual epistolary format. I was in middle school at the time, and I related so much to Carrie and what she was going through, so that certainly made it a very intense and memorable experience as a reader. 

 

 

How do you feel about horror genre blends (like romance/horror), or are you a purist?

 

I love horror genre blends! Horror-science fiction, horror-comedy, horror-romance—I think it can all work so well! Horror is so malleable and wide-ranging, so it can incorporate virtually any genre very easily. I like to see stories that push at those boundaries. It can help to create such original and unexpected ideas.  

 

What drew you to the book you’re currently reading?

For once, I’m actually not currently reading something that’s genre-related. I’m working through a photography book called Suburbia by Bill Owens. It was published in 1973 and was a very seminal work of photojournalism of its time. The book has gone on to influence the aesthetic of several films including Edward Scissorhands and The Virgin Suicides. At the moment, I’m working on a short story based in a very similar type of suburbia, albeit one with a supernatural atmosphere, and I’m eager to see what kind of inspiration I can take from this book. The pictures are so incredible and capture such a specific moment in time, so that alone has been really fun to see. 

 

 

Who is your favorite female villain? Why?

 

I love fairy tales, so Maleficent definitely comes to mind, as does the Evil Queen. They feel so grand and timeless and fearsome. As for horror villains in particular, let’s circle back around to Carrie White. She’s an incredible character because she’s both the protagonist and antagonist of the book and film adaptations. That’s a difficult balance to have a villain who’s also sympathetic, but when it works well, as it does in the book and especially the 1976 film, it creates such an unforgettable character. 

 

How do you watch horror? (i.e. In your pajamas, late at night with lights low and a bowl of popcorn.)

 

Usually with my husband on the couch. The best nights are when we can just sit back together with pizza and watch something we’ve never seen before, the two of us picking the movie apart and even pausing it every few minutes to talk about it. That stop-and-go viewing would probably irritate a lot of people, but he and I love it, so that’s definitely our thing. 

 

What are your top three favorite horror movies, and what made them interesting to you?

 

This is a constantly rotating list, but at the moment, I would go with The Old Dark House because it’s a great classic pre-code horror film with such a perfect cast; Invasion of the Body Snatchers because that story is always relevant, no matter the decade or social climate; and Get Out because it’s not only an amazing film on its own, but it also shows what the future of horror has in store for us. 

 

 

Where do you draw the line on violence in your writing?

 

I try very hard to be sure that the violence is necessary to communicate the theme of the story, and it isn’t just there in a gratuitous or deliberately appalling way. So long as there’s a reason for the violence, especially in a genre like horror, I think it can work well. But I’ve just never been a big fan of shock violence, so that’s why I’m very careful as to where to draw that particular line. 

 

 

How do you feel about including profanity, and do you have a favorite cuss word? ☺

 

It’s funny because I don’t mind using profanity in casual conversation, but I only rarely include it in my writing. I’m not against it, per se, but I do think it can become easy to lean too much on it to communicate emotion, especially anger. Again, like the use of violence, I very much think it can work in horror, so long as it’s used for a specific reason. As for my favorite cuss word, I probably drop a couple dozen casual F-bombs a day, so let’s go with that one!

 

Tell me about a quirky writing habit you have.

 

I’m sure I have so many quirky writing habits, but they all seem so normal to me now! My weirdest habit—and honestly one of my least productive—is my constant list making. I create lists for everything: plot points, character names, dialogue ideas, edits. You name it, I have a list for it. The problem arises because sometimes, I’m just making lists to avoid doing the hard stuff with writing. It can be way too easy to feel like you’re working when really you’re just delaying. Plus, my lists start to pile up on my desk until there’s almost no room for them. Speaking of which, excuse me for a moment while I clean up my workspace of all this clutter! 

 

If you were to set a story in another country, what one would you chose and why?

Hmmm… this one took me a moment to decide. I think I’d probably go with the Netherlands because I spent a bit of time there years ago in college, but I’ve never really incorporated any of that experience into my writing. Plus, there aren’t too many horror stories set there, so that might be a lot of fun to explore at some point! 

 

 

What food (or non edible) would you vomit (out of disgust) if you ate it?
Pick 3 characters. Who would: 1. Cook it 2. Feed it 3. To whom would it be fed?

 

Ha! This is a wonderfully horror-perfect question! I’ve never actually had it, but the whole idea behind headcheese disturbs me greatly. So let’s go with Leatherface as the cook since he’s disturbingly handy in the kitchen; a Stepford Wife as the one who serves it since she could probably even make it look really nice on the plate; and Hannibal Lecter as the person who actually eats it because even with Leatherface’s “special” recipe, I doubt the ingredients would bother Hannibal too much. 

 

 

Best writing advice you’d like to share?

 

Write the stories you want to read. It can be easy to fall into the idea of writing what will sell, and honestly, that’s fine too, but I think you can write marketable fiction that would still resonate uniquely with you if you were the reader. We need more stories in the world that are written by people who are passionate about what they’re doing and who aren’t simply telling the same old stories, so as trite as it might sound, follow your heart, and write what you believe in. There will be readers out there for it. 

How do story endings really irritate you?

Especially with horror, I’m always disappointed if a story takes a sudden and inexplicable turn for the worst, just because the author clearly thinks a horror story needs to end badly. Now plenty of horror stories can and should end on a sour note; if that’s where the tale has been heading all along, then it makes sense and can still leave the reader or viewer with a real sense of resolution. But when it’s very abrupt and just for the sake of getting a reaction, that can be a missed opportunity to do something more creative and compelling with the story. 

 

Do you hide any Easter Eggs in your writing?

Yes, I definitely do. I love to use small details and images as well as songs and pop culture references as a way to explore and hopefully deepen the reader’s connection with the story and its themes. Even if someone doesn’t overtly catch it, I think some symbols in fiction and film can work almost on a subtle, almost subliminal level. Also, I always enjoy picking apart stories and films for extra layers, so I like to give my readers that same opportunity if they’re interested. 

 

How do you come up with your titles?

My approach to titles seems to change with each story. In some cases, I start with a title and go from there, crafting a story to match. Other times, the title doesn’t come along until the story is done or almost done. One goal of mine is that my titles haven’t been used before. While titles are not usually trademarked, meaning in most cases writers can use a preexisting one without a problem, I do try to create titles that are unique to my piece. It can be so much fun when you finally hit on the right title for a story; that sometimes feels like the moment when the whole thing comes together at last. 

 

What writing tools are a must-have?

You know, I’m not sure I feel like there are too many must-have writing tools, beyond a word processing program. That’s one of my favorite parts of being a writer: in other art forms like filmmaking or even most visual arts, you need so many tools just to get started, but with writing, you only need your own mind. It’s so freeing in that way. 

 

Please give us a blurb about your latest release. Which actress would play Phoebe in your latest novel, The Rust Maidens?

The Rust Maidens is a coming-of-age body horror novel set in Cleveland that follows a group of girls who start to transform into the rust and rot of their city. 

 

I would love to have Winona Ryder play Phoebe from the 2008 section of the novel. She’s exactly who I was envisioning as I was writing the book. I don’t know about the younger Phoebe from the 1980 section; I’m pretty open on that, but definitely Winona for forty-something Phoebe. She’d be so perfect. 

 

 

What’s the best part of what you are working on right now?

 

My first instinct is to say that the best part is that it’s over halfway done, which is really nice since I’ve been working on my current book for almost a year. But really, the best part is getting the opportunity to craft a longer work that incorporates so many of my favorite things: a fairy tale setting featuring witches, ghosts, and an ethereal flock of birds. Still, I will be very happy when it’s complete, so I can finally share it with everyone and see what they think. Hopefully, that will be soon, but some stories can have such minds of their own, and they take however long they need to be finished. I always say that so long as I’m enjoying writing, that’s all I can ask for.

Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste

Author

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; and the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, Interzone, and LampLight, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

WIHM: An Interview With Damien Angelica Walters

I’m a quote person, and this is one of my favorites:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In other words, I make plans, but am not afraid to throw them out the window. This is so true when it comes to writing—I usually write a premise, but wind up as more of a pantser. With that in mind, I reached out to some of my favorite horror writers with questions about writing, and their process. Some of these Qs are kinda quirky, and definitely interesting!

Meet Damien Angelica Walters. I discovered her writing online, and became an instant fan. 

What was the first horror novel you ever read? Tell me what made it appealing.

I can’t say for certain but I suspect it was something by Lois Duncan, most likely Down a Dark Hall. She wrote about young girls so that would’ve been very appealing to a young Damien. My first adult horror novel was The Shining by Stephen King, lent to me by a friend of my mother’s and it terrified me. I was eleven then and I suspect the appeal of the book, beyond it being a scary story, was that it gave me a glimpse into an adult world, with adult fears. 

How do you feel about horror genre blends (like romance/horror), or are you a purist?

I think the genre lends itself well to hybrids because there are so many shades of horror. And I don’t think there’s one true version of a horror story because readers have different tastes and likes in fiction. One person’s horror story might not be that to another. Ellen Datlow, the editor of many anthologies, including The Best Horror of the Year series, has said repeatedly that horror is a tone or a mood and that’s a perfect description.   

What drew you to the book you’re currently reading?
I’m currently reading an ARC of Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay and the fact that it’s written by Paul was enough for me. If you’ve not read his work, I highly recommend it, beginning with A Head Full of Ghosts.

Who is your favorite female villain? Why?
Annie Wilkes from Misery is a definite favorite because she certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of person who would be a villain. She’s a middle-aged, somewhat frumpy bookworm. She’s no one that would cause you to tremble or cross the street if she approached. You’d probably offer to join her for a cup of coffee or tea. That, plus her insidious behavior and twisted reasoning behind what she does, makes her a wonderful villain.

How do you watch horror? (i.e. In your pajamas, late at night with lights low and a bowl of popcorn.)

My husband isn’t a fan of horror movies so I usually watch them when he’s not home or he’s busy elsewhere in the house. I don’t have any particular rituals although I like to close the curtains and turn off the lights and make the room as dark as possible.

 

What are your top three favorite horror movies, and what made them interesting to you?

Alien, The Exorcist, and Halloween are three of my top favorites. I think they’re interesting because they were all groundbreaking films. They all tap into a core horror trope, that of an implacable beast who will destroy without compunction. Yet for all the thematic similarities, they are wildly different stories.

Where do you draw the line on violence in your writing?
I don’t write violence for violence’s sake, but the world can be a violent place. If a story calls for violence, I’ll write it, but I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence done solely for shock value. 

 

How do you feel about including profanity, and do you have a favorite cuss word? ☺
Profanity is fine with me and bloody hell is probably my favorite or if not my favorite, the one I say most frequently.

 

Tell me about a quirky writing habit you have.

I doubt it’s terribly quirky but I like to read dialogue aloud when I’m writing it and I try to emulate the way the characters would speak, not how I would.

 

If you HAD to set a story in another country, what one would you choose and why? 

The word had makes it sound like it would be a negative thing and I’m not sure why that would be. I’ve set at least one short story in England and several in Lithuania, the latter because my husband is of Lithuanian descent so I’ve heard stories and I’ve seen photos and such. I’ve also set plenty of stories in vaguely European towns, so I’m definitely not married to one location or setting for my shorter work. 

Best writing advice you’d like to share?

Everyone will give you advice and frequently, people think their advice is the magical key that will open all the publishing doors, but the truth is, this business is wildly unpredictable. So my best advice would be to read a lot and write a lot.

How do story endings really irritate you?

I’m not generally a fan of the “it was aliens the whole time” sort of ending.

Do you hide any Easter Eggs in your writing?

I think I’ve referenced other stories now and again but I don’t keep track.

How do you come up with your titles?

Sometimes they’re inspired by a line or phrase in the story or novel, sometimes they just come to me, and in the case of “The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter,” the title came first. I was trying to come up with an outrageous version of the “Something Something’s Daughter” titles that were popping up everywhere.

What writing tools are a must-have?

I don’t think there are any beyond paper and pen and an imagination. A computer will make it easier, and they’re a necessity if you wish to write for publication, but if you want to write, you will no matter what. 

Which actress would play Heather in your latest novel, The Dead Girls Club

 

The Dead Girls Club is a supernatural thriller about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

The Heather in my head and the Heather in a reader’s head are probably quite different, and because I have a clear picture of who Heather is in my head, I haven’t really thought of what actress would fit the role well. They would simply need to be someone who could convey a woman slowly falling apart at the seams.

What’s the best part of what you are working on right now?

I’m currently writing a sequel to my short story “The Floating Girls: A Documentary.” The novel takes place six years after the story and it’s fun revisiting the main character and writing more in depth about the series of events. I’m also enjoying the new characters who’ve come to the table, so to speak and hopefully it will all work out the way I envision.

Introducing Our New Review Coordinator – Catherine Jordan

Welcome sign on towel food

A friend recently debated me over the difference between horror and thrillers. Well, there’s a fine line between certain genres. Take erotica and romance, for example. Romance uses a feather; erotica uses the whole chicken. Thriller send a shiver down your spine. Horror opens your back and twists that spine into something sinister. (ie, Zelda in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary)

My name is Catherine Jordan. I hope you’ll welcome me as the new review coordinator for Horrortree.com. I’m a horror novelist, although I edit and write in many genres. I’ve been featured in a variety of anthologies, on-line publications, and print magazines. It was my pleasure to serve as judge for the Bram Stoker Award and for the ITW Young Adult Award. I also facilitate writing courses and critique groups.

I’m a petite harmless blonde and mother of five children. Oh, and we have a cat, too. I’m often asked why I write horror since I look more like a Hallmark romance writer. Well, I do have 5 kids. Haha. No, really I think it’s because I was raised Catholic, and Catholicism is filled with the supernatural. There are so many cautionary tales about how to deal with helplessness and horror and fear. Confront it and embrace hope. Hope is the key word. Be forever hopeful.

I reflect back on the haunted houses my sister and I walked through (I hate jump scares), the rollercoasters my children asked me to ride (I loathe heights), and the planes my best friend and I have flown (turbulence scares the shit out of me). I wouldn’t say I conquered any of those things. I’ll still down an Ativan whenever taking on the aforementioned phobias, but I do tackle them. I don’t let fear hold me back; trepidation challenges me, and when overcome, it raises my confidence. The ole ditty rings true: “I did it before and I can do it again.”

Scary situations teach focus when deciding whether to fight or flee. And know that there’s another F word—flight!  You see, some people fear change. In my opinion, change brings opportunity, and opportunity leads to success. You can’t soar like an eagle if you let the turkeys keep you grounded. So, challenge yourself to spread your wings and fly.

Tell yourself it’s okay to be afraid. Everyone has fears. Fear builds character. Hey—isn’t that what we writers do for a living—build characters?

On that note, I’d like to appeal to you horror lovers—we need reviewers. I have a list of 10 books ready. Opinions matter and here’s an opportunity to share yours! Our writing community depends on readers and their honest reviews. If you’re a writer, you may be tempted to say you’re too busy. I used to think the same thing, until I realized that the more I read, the better I become at writing. I can help by sending a review sheet for areas to consider. If you like the book, tell the world. If you don’t, tell the writer.

Thank you!