Review: Cannibal Hearts by Misha Burnett


A very nice review of Cannibal Hearts.

Originally posted on MetallicWolff:


Wow…another great book.


Cannibal Hearts is the sequel to Misha Burnett’s first novel, Catskinner’s Book.

A year ago James Ozryck was a loner, forced to keep the world at bay by the alien entity he calls Catskinner who shares his body. Now he has found a community of others whose lives have been changed by the Outsiders.

Along with Godiva, his half-human lover, James runs a property management company that serves as a front company for Outsider activities.

When the pair’s mysterious boss, Agony Delapour suddenly shows up in town with a new project, however, things gets dangerous fast as events unfold that threaten the life that they have made.


I just finished reading Cannibal Hearts by Misha Burnett, and I’m confused. It has nothing to do with the storyline, which is great. It has to do with what genre this book should be in. My personality is…

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Don’t Listen To Her, Listen Through Her

I am now working on Tsarina version 2.0, which is a complete rewrite of what I have so far.  (So the snippet I posted is now totally obsolete.)   It’s still going to be about Carl and Ellen and Tsarina, but the characters’ relationship has changed.

Instead of Ellen and Carl being married, they meet as friends first.  Carl has recently gotten divorced from a rather despicable human being named Merry, and is learning how to like his own company.  Ellen is single, although involved in a sort of alternative relationship on the side. (Which comes to a messy end fairly early in the story.)

I have been rereading Stacyia Kane’s very clever Be A Sex-Writing StrumpetI bought back when I was writing Cannibal Hearts and it got me through the James and Godiva scene towards the end of the book.

Kane’s book, which I recommend to any writer, whether or not you plan on writing about sex, spends a lot of time on the philosophy of sex scenes (don’t laugh, I’m serious) talking about how to decide if you need a sex scene, how graphic to make it, how to lead up to it, what those scenes accomplish, how to make sure that you are actually accomplishing your goals with the scene.

After some soul searching, I have decided that this book needs to be an erotic romance. Specifically a magical realism erotic romance, about a very atypical relationship.  I resisted this conclusion for as long as I could, because the nature of the story means that the sex scenes are going to be descriptions of a man masturbating and a woman watching him do it–not something that I expect to have a wide audience appeal.

Ellen, while she is very much the instigator and director of the action, isn’t going to be physically involved–she won’t do so much as toy with her blouse buttons and flush.  Her arousal isn’t that kind–it’s the control and the imposed one-sided intimacy that she craves (and Carl does as well–the power exchange is fully consensual.)  Her remaining a cool observer while he is going crazy with desire is at the heart of their dynamic.  (And Tsarina, while physically involved, isn’t human and that relationship is of a different order entirely.  Plus there’s some ambiguity as to how real she is.)

All of which raises the question of why describe something in an intimate, sensual, and graphic way when it’s not the kind of eroticism that is going to be very accessible.

Well, because the story deserves it.  This is a story about deeply emotional and erotic love, and I feel the need to give those scenes the consideration that I would give to any other love story.  The scenes may not be arousing for the reader, but they are important to the characters–just as important to them as what you do with your lover is important to you.  If I shy away from those scenes I’m not treating my characters with due respect, and they won’t stand for that.

I don’t even know if this makes any sense, but it does to me.  One of my deepest convictions is that any act which is done in love is an act of love–see, for example, the dissection of Sublime in The Worms Of Heaven.

In any event, I am still wrestling with the story and how to make it happen.  As usual, I am just barely ahead of my characters.  I have a pretty good idea what happens next, and I think I could guess at what happens after that, but it’s their book, they are going to take it where it has to go.

I’m just writing it down.

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Message Received

Well, it may not be the message that WorldCon wanted to send, but the lesson of Spokane has been delivered, and we read it loud and clear:

Stay the fuck out of the Hugos, Indies!
This is a Big 5 award, and your kind aren’t wanted here!

You’ve proved that you can get a couple of thousand people to vote a “No Award” slate and prevent anyone who doesn’t have the advertising budget of a major corporation from winning anything.

You’ve proved that ordinary fans have no voice in the awards.

You’ve proved that the Hugo awards are just like the Oscars–a closed group of industry insiders run the show and will not allow anyone who isn’t part of their clique to participate.

Okay, I kind of had that idea already, but it’s clear now.  If the Hugos were ever fan awarded, they aren’t now.  It’s an advertising gimmick for the publishing industry.  It’s like any other manufacturer’s association seal of approval–all it shows is that a particular company is a member of a particular organization.

It’s actually refreshingly honest.  Rather than try to maintain some kind of facade that the awards reflected the opinion of science fiction fans in general, when a group of Indies accused the Hugos of being controlled by a handful of big corporations you responded, at the top of your lungs, “You’re goddamned right it is, and it’s going to stay that way!”

Message received, WorldCon. I’ll stay out of your sandbox.

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We Are Science Fiction

Today when I was running some errands I happened to notice (well, okay, my roommate happened to notice and point out to me) a Walgreen’s store that had closed and displayed a prominent “STORE FIXTURES LIQUIDATION” sign. Inside I found a rack from the books and magazines section and bought it for $10.  Behold:

We Are Science Fiction

We Are Science Fiction

This is The Dragon’s Rocketship Collection–so far.

As I have written before, I will be attending Archon on the first weekend of October this year, as part of a group of indie writers.  We will have a table in the Dealer’s Room, called The Dragon’s Rocketship, and five of us will present a panel on Hybrid Publishing in the 21st Century. (The convention programming committee hasn’t assigned us a time and place yet.  I really hope it won’t be too late–I’m an old man.)

We are independent authors working together to build an in-person presence at one of the largest and longest running science fiction conventions in the Midwest.  We are doing this without publishers (some of us are published by small presses, but the entire operation is author-driven) without publicists, without media backing, without a budget, working in our spare time.

The books that we will be selling at our table have been dropped-shipped to my house from the POD companies (mostly Create Space) by the authors and at their expense. My daughter will be handling credit card transactions on her tablet with a Square Reader. The table will be staffed by the authors and unpaid volunteers.

To date fourteen authors will be represented–I expect that we will pick up several more between now and October. The books are a broad cross-section of speculative literature, horror, romantic fantasy, humorous space opera, paranormal mystery, whatever the Hell it is that I write.

We are science fiction.  We are independent, we are here, and we’re not going away.  We have a Facebook group, and an e-mail list, and terrifying quantities of chutzpah.  That’s it.  Most of us have never met face to face.  We are doing this because we believe in our art.  We tell stories, and we want people to read our stories, and we’re willing to hustle to make that happen.

It’s a little over a month to go now.  Most of the groundwork has been done, now I’m just collecting the rest of the books and figuring out how I’m going to pack them all in my car. (It’s a little car, but the back seats fold down.)

If you’re going to Archon this year, stop by and say hello.  We’ll be in the Dealer’s Room, just look for The Dragon’s Rocketship sign.  When I have the schedule for the panel I’ll post that here. The authors who will be there have a broad range of backgrounds and it should be an interesting discussion.

Fortune favors the bold!

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Guiding Council of Myths and Urban Legends…FREE


Free book!

Originally posted on MetallicWolff:

stonehenge FREE

My YA Fantasy book is free this weekend.

Check it out!

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Tsarina: Introduction

This is the first few hundred words of Tsarina, my current project.   As I said, it’s not part of The Book Of Lost Doors, it’s a stand alone novel.  I’n not exactly sure where it’s going yet, but I’m enjoying the ride so far.  I’m also unclear of the genre.  It’s drifting towards a kind of magical realism, and I’m going to let it take its course.  It’s not clear yet, though, how far in that direction it’s going to go.

Tsarina was a gift to Carl from his wife.

Ellen had ambushed him after dinner, after the dishes were in the sink. Before he could escape into a movie or a game on his laptop she had sat down close beside him on the couch and said that they needed to talk. Carl made himself smile. When she said that they needed to talk, what she meant was they needed to talk about “it”.

“It” was “what was wrong with Ellen”. That’s how she always put it.

“On Wednesday I have to the doctor about what is wrong with me,” she’d say, or “I was reading some more articles on-line trying to figure out what is wrong with me.”

What was wrong with Ellen is that she didn’t want sex. She wanted to want it. She was twenty-nine, in very good health, with no physical abnormalities that any doctor could find. She used to want sex, when she and Carl were married, five years ago, she had a healthy libido for a woman her age.

Somehow that had changed, and no one knew why. She loved Carl—there was no doubt that she loved him very much, and he loved her.

They had met through friends of friends and ended up playing pool in the same bar league. Neither of them were either the best or the worst player, and they liked the same kinds of movies, laughed at the same kinds of jokes. Over time their careers more or less grew in tandem, he installed servers for a telecommunications company and became a site supervisor at about the same time that she was moved into management at the medical billing firm.

At their wedding he said in front of everyone that he was marrying his best friend, and he meant it.

They spent their honeymoon driving cross country and made love in six states.

That was then.

The change was slow, and even felt natural at first. They weren’t newlyweds anymore, after all. They just… weren’t as active.

It was his birthday, three years after they were married, and he was drunk. They had gone out with a group of their old friends, drinking and playing pool. That was something else that they didn’t do very often.

When they got home and went to bed he was all over her. Being out with the old gang reminded him how he’d felt about her in the beginning—how he still felt about her, really.

He was kissing her neck, lost in the feel and the scent and the taste of her, when she hissed at him, “Just get it over with.

Hurt, angry, shocked, he rolled away from her, and she burst into tears, sobbing beside him in their bed.

That’s when “what’s wrong with Ellen” entered their lives.

They tried couple’s counseling. After two months the counselor said that they were the healthiest marriage that she had ever seen, and whatever was wrong with Ellen’s sex drive wasn’t some unresolved conflict between them.

Ellen saw a therapist who was convinced that she was secretly a lesbian—which she wasn’t. Women excited her just as much as men, which was to say not at all. She tried a hypnotherapist, who tried and failed to unearth hidden memories of abuse in her childhood. She saw a neurologist, who admitted with refreshing honesty that no one had any real clue how the human brain worked. She tried herbal remedies, mineral supplements, and vitamins A through E inclusive, singly and in combination.

She tried watching, reading, and listening to erotica, but all she ever got was bored. Carl learned tantric massage, which she admitted felt good and helped her relax, but didn’t get her in the mood to do anything except nap.

They still slept together—slept in the same bed. It was warm and comfortable, and neither of them wanted to suggest getting a second bed. That would have felt like admitting defeat.

Carl started sleeping in pajamas, though, and he became very careful when he touched her.

Carl joined another pool league. A men’s league. Sometimes Ellen came to see him play, mostly she didn’t.

Once, and once only Ellen insisted that Carl “go ahead and do it.” It was horrible.

Time passed, and life settled down into a new routine. It wasn’t the married life that Carl had expected, but he had promised in sickness and in health. It was easier to just not think about it.

They were still friends, maybe not best friends anymore, but still very good friends. They watched movies together, and discovered new restaurants, and stayed busy. Ellen started seeing another therapist. She didn’t talk about her sessions, and Carl didn’t ask.

Carl started spending time on his computer when Ellen wasn’t home, or he was sure that she was sleeping soundly. He was careful to stay away from sites that offered live chat or personals. He didn’t want another woman. Not a real one.

Then one night Ellen showed him the picture of Tsarina.

“I want you to be happy,” she said, very seriously.

I am happy, Carl thought. I am happy with you. You’re the one I want to be with. He didn’t say that. Instead he listened seriously while Ellen outlined Tsarina’s features in a clinical, detached voice that suggested that she had practiced this speech.

Tsarina was a full sized sex doll. It was made out of a synthetic material designed for prosthetics, supposedly indistinguishable from the texture of human flesh. The company that made them offered complete customization and Ellen had chosen a doll based on what she knew of Carl’s preferences. She knew him well and Carl had to admit that result was sexy.

The pictures showed Tsarina in several lifelike poses, seated on a chair, lying coyly across a bed. Short and curvy, with pale skin and short black hair with a lifelike sheen. A round face, smiling in invitation, with clear blue shining eyes. It was the eyes that bothered Carl the most. They were almost human, but not quite. Clear, beautiful, blue and deep, but with no soul behind them. Nothing at all.

Ellen was tanned and blonde, and her eyes were light brown. She’d made Tsarina about as far from her own appearance as possible. Carl had to assume that was deliberate.

Ellen’s eyes were looking at him now, very seriously. Nervously.

“I don’t know what to say,” Carl began, then broke off as her nervousness turned to fear.

He reached to take her hand. “I’m just kind of overwhelmed.”

He was. In the first place the damned thing had to cost as much as a good used car.

More than that, though, is what it must have meant to her. “Listen, Ellen, I love you. You don’t need to do this.”

She looked down at their clasped hands. “I know that. I know you do,” she said slowly. “But you have needs, and I’m not able to fulfill them.”

“That’s not important,” he began.

“It is important,” she cut him off. “Most men would have found someone else by now. Either left me or started sleeping around.”

“I wouldn’t,” Carl said.

“I know that,” Ellen said, “And that’s why I want to do this. If you’re willing to… take care of yourself, I want to do what I can.”

Carl reddened. He had been taking care of himself, but he didn’t like Ellen talking about it. He’d rather just let the subject drop.

“No,” Ellen said softly. “I’m the one who should be ashamed.”

Carl looked up at her sharply. “Don’t ever say that. It’s not your fault.”

Her eyes were shining and Carl saw that she was on the verge of tears. “Hey,” he said softly, “I’m not going anywhere, kid. I love you, and I’m going to grow old with you, remember? We’re going to move down to Florida and yell at the kids to stay off our lawn together. No matter what.”

And he held her eyes until at last she smiled.

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Murdering The Myth Of The Golden Ticket

I just reposted an article by author Liz Long called Why I Am Mad About Self-Publishing Stigma. I recommend reading it.

I was going to just add my own thoughts, but they got too big and meandered in a different direction than I originally intended, so I decided to put them in a second post instead.

In particular, I want to address one paragraph in her article:

If you’re indie, you know the looks. The ones where people get super excited to hear you’re a writer, then when they ask who published you, and you say, “I’m self-published”, you get “the look.” You know the one. “Oh,” they say, their shoulders deflating with disappointment. “I thought you were like, famous or something.”

I’m starting to think that there might be something else behind that look. In any creative endeavor there are those who attracted to the idea of being an “artist” and there are those who do the work of making art.  I’ve seen it in musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and in writers.  Mostly in writers.

When I talk about my work I get the “Oh, I want to write, but…” line a lot. There are always excuses.

“I have to work full time.”  Yeah, so do I.

“I can’t afford a decent computer.” I’m writing this on one that a friend threw away.  Trust me, it’s easy to find something that will handle text, even if it won’t do anything else.

“I can’t afford the programs.” Open Office is free.  So is Calibre. So is

The big one, though, is “You can’t get published unless you know someone.” 

I’ve written before about the Myth Of The Golden Ticket. It’s the dream that one day a publisher will reach down from Literary Nirvana and touch you with a magic wand.  Then there’s fame and fortune and spending a few hours a week doing the fun part of writing.

The Myth Of The Golden Ticket is a great tool for daydreaming about “being a writer” while avoiding the hard work of actually writing.

Self-publishers, just by existing, shoot that myth in the face with a large caliber handgun loaded with hollow points.

As Liz Long said, I get excited looks when I say I’ve written and published four novels.  “Oh, boy,” I can see them thinking, “here’s someone who got a Golden Ticket!  Maybe he can get me one!” 

Then I drop the ugly truth–all I can offer is blood, sweat, toil, and tears. You want to write?  This is what you do: Write a book.  Publish it. Do it again.

That means you have to write when you get home from your day job and are tired.  That means that you write when you want to go out and play.  That means you write a whole book, from beginning to end, and not just the fun parts.  That means that you work on it even when you hate it.

You treat it like a job.  A full-time difficult job that you may or may not ever get paid for.

And then you do it again.

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