Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kunoichi – Female Ninja Assassins

Female assassins may be portrayed as sexy in the movies, but victims of the Kunoichi – female ninja assassins in medieval Japan – probably didn’t think so… at least, not once they realised who they had let into their beds.

Like their male counterparts, the Kunoichi were trained in disguise, stealth and combat, but, unlike most male ninjas, they were also spies and their method of attack was quite different. In a way, the Kunoichi had it easier than male ninjas, because women were usually trusted and seen as harmless, while unknown men were seen as a potential threat. This made it easier for Kunoichi to infiltrate an enemy household or temple, posing as servants, courtesans, performers or even prostitutes.

Ninja training focussed on using the trainee’s strengths to his or her advantage, so, if a female trainee was exceptionally beautiful, she would be taught to use her looks as a weapon. Unlike many people thought in medieval times, beauty did not mean that Kunoichi were otherwise useless – these women were just as deadly in combat as any male ninja.

Ninjas were trained in the use of a variety of weapons and most could use a sword, but Kunoichi were particularly good with daggers, bladed fans, hair needles, poisons, garrottes and sharpened claw-like finger extensions called neko-te. In fact, the neko-te was usually the Kunoichi’s weapon of choice, and they often poisoned the claws. Kunoichi were also taught to dance, sing and play instruments, skills that came in handy when pretending to be someone they were not.

Kunoichi instilled greater fear than male ninjas, who were easier to discover in time to prevent the assassination. Women, however, were almost impossible to discover in time, because they entered boldly as servants or mistresses, and waited until they were trusted before making a move. Crying in order to draw in a victim was one method unavailable to male ninjas – the Kunoichi would sometimes cry, manipulating the victim-to-be into feeling as if he should help her or ask what’s wrong, and that would be the death of him.

Some of the ninjas’ assignments were suicide missions, and others were lifelong, such as in cases where the ninja was instructed to spy on someone until one of them died or the ninja’s true identity was discovered. Other female ninjas, called Mikko, guarded sanctuaries and temples, and these were mostly respected rather than feared.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What to read after The Queen’s Blade

If you’ve read The Queen’s Blade and you want something else to sink your teeth into, I recommend my sci-fi fantasy series, The Cyber Chronicles.

The protagonist, Sabre, is as broken as Blade, yet in a rather unique way… for he is a cyber – part human, part machine – who has finally tasted a hint of freedom.

As with all my series, Book 1 is free!

When Queen Tassin is forced to flee her kingdom on the backwater planet of Omega V, she has no idea that the strange warrior who helps her is a cyborg; the deadliest hi-tech killing machine ever created. Her world has forgotten the technology that almost destroyed it, but then a freak accident damages the micro-supercomputer that controls Sabre, and he is free to take charge of his destiny…

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ludicrous Assassinations

Assassination is nothing to laugh about, but some are just so ludicrous that you can’t help yourself.

No one was surprised when Jorg Jenatsch, a Swiss preacher involved in politics, was assassinated – to sum it up, he was a ruthless, horrible person. During a carnival for which everyone wore masks, and many were drunk, strangers approached Jenatsch and his cohorts. Many of the strangers had weapons, and one man wore a full bear suit and carried an axe. The strangers asked to join Jenatsch’s group and, despite the weapons, the much-hated preacher decided they weren’t a threat and invited them into the private room. The ‘bear’ went to shake Jenatsch’s hand, and shot him in the gut as they grasped hands. The other strangers attacked too, and Jenatsch grabbed a big candlestick with which to defend himself. It wasn’t long before Jenatsch fell at the hands of the axe-swinging assassin.

Then there’s the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main instigators of the Holocaust – another man whom myriad people wished dead. In 1942, the Czech resistance and British Intelligence ordered Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis to assassinate Heydrich. The two soldiers readied their machinegun and waited at a bend in a road that Heydrich travelled regularly. What happened next is like something from a slapstick comedy skit. When the car came into view, Gabcik fired the weapon… but nothing happened – because, on the way, he had collected plants for his pet rabbits, and the machinegun had become clogged with them while disassembled in his pocket. How it slipped his notice when he assembled the gun is beyond me.

Heydrich looked right at them and, instead of being clever and getting the heck out of there, he ordered his driver to stop, then drew his pistol and shot at the would-be assassins. Again, nothing happened – because there were no bullets in his gun. Kubis then threw a bomb at the car, but mistimed the throw, causing only injury to Heydrich and his driver – and himself. Badly injured, Heydrich jumped from the car and chased Kubis, who got onto a bicycle and rode away. Heydrich then ordered his driver to chase Gabcik, who was attempting to clear his weapon of plants.

Gabcik remembered that he, too, had a pistol, and pulled it out and shot the driver in the leg, then ran from the scene. It’s not clear why he didn’t shoot Heydrich too at that point. I suspect too many things had gone wrong and he just wasn’t thinking straight. Heydrich might have survived this attempt if not for the fact that policemen battled to find a passing motorist who would take him to the hospital – in his bloodied Secret Service uniform in Nazi Germany. He eventually got there, but not in time to be saved.

If you’ve heard of any equally ludicrous assassinations, please share them with us.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

2 Self-Publishing Resources Every Indie Author Should Use

When I first decided to self-publish, I looked at many distributors. Out of the myriad options available to indie authors, I chose Smashwords and CreateSpace to distribute my books. I’ve also published some of my books on Amazon, but more about that in another post.

For those who haven’t decided yet or who are looking for more distributors, here is a little about each of my choices and why I like them.


Smashwords offers authors:

* 85% royalties (after the transaction fee).
* Your books automatically converted (for free) to all the most popular ebook formats.
* Free ISBN.

How it works:

* Once your book is ready, log into your account and click ‘menu’ on the top left, then ‘publish an ebook’.
* Insert all the relevant information, then upload your book and cover and click ‘publish’.
* Go to your author dashboard and request an ISBN.

It’s that easy. The hard part is marketing, but that applies no matter where you publish or who you choose as a distribution partner.

Smashwords also allows authors to upload book trailers and audio books, and provides a ‘self-service’ author interview facility.

Create Space

CreateSpace offers authors:

* 80% royalties (of the list price).
* Free resources, such as articles on creating content and marketing your work.
* Free ISBN.

How it works:

* Once your book is ready, log into your account and go to your author dashboard.
* Click ‘add new title’.
* Insert all the relevant information, then order a proof copy.
* Once your proof copy arrives in the post, make sure that it looks exactly the way you want it to, and make any necessary tweaks.
* Approve your book for distribution.

Both these distributors give authors the option of selling via a much wider distribution network, including places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo and more. Note that you won’t get the same percentage of royalties from the other distributors, but it’s still a good idea to opt in, because it makes it easier for readers to happen across your books.

If anyone publishes via a different distributor, I’d love to hear about it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Female Assassins – Watch Out! She Bites!

Most famous assassins are men, but there are also quite a few famous female assassins, of which Charlotte Corday is probably one of the best known. Corday, nicknamed the Angel of Assassination, assassinated the French Revolution’s Jean-Paul Marat in 1793, effectively turning him into a martyr and saint of sorts. At first, Corday was generally loathed for the murder, but, during the Second Empire, many French citizens began to see her as a heroine.

Marat had a skin disease that could only be alleviated by cold baths, causing him to conduct most business from his bath tub in the last few years of his life, so it wasn’t considered at all odd for Corday to request an audience while her victim-to-be was bathing. In the privacy of his bathroom, she stabbed him to death, but was caught and executed by guillotine.

The best-known female would-be assassin is possibly Sara Jane Moore, who attempted to kill future President Gerald Ford in 1975. Luckily for him, she missed the shot thanks to a bystander who saw her aiming and yanked her arm. She received a thirty-two year ‘life sentence’, and the then-72-year-old was released in 2007.

Other famous female assassins include Shi Jianqiao, who killed the warlord Sun Chuanfang to avenge her father’s death, and Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias, who poisoned Roman Emperor Commodus after discovering that he planned to execute her. A few other would-be female assassins are Fanni Kaplan, who failed to kill Vladimir Lenin despite shooting him three times, Violet Gibson, who shot Mussolini twice in the nose, and Izola Curry, who stabbed Martin Luther King Jr with a letter opener at a book signing in 1958.

If Curry had succeeded, the Civil Rights Movement would probably have turned out very differently. True to his nature, King forgave her and held no grudge for the attempted murder, and, because the court judged her unfit to stand trial, she was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the criminally insane. Her current whereabouts are unknown as far as I can see, and it’s unclear if she’s even still alive.

Then there are the Kunoichi – ancient Japanese female ninjas who were trained to seduce and poison their victims, sometimes gaining easy access by disguising themselves as prostitutes – much like the assassin Blade sometimes does in The Queen’s Blade, although the Kunoichi had it easier than Blade, since they already had all the right body parts necessary for the disguise.

More recently, Maria Jimenez aka La Tosca was dubbed Mexico’s ‘deadliest female assassin’ after confessing to killing twenty people – amongst other things, like kidnapping, car theft and drug dealing. Unlike most assassins, Jimenez is an assassin in the truest sense of the word – the Los Zetas drug cartel allegedly paid her $1700 a month for her services, which included killing whoever she was asked to kill. Jimenez, a 26-year-old widow, was arrested in 2012 when she gunned down a police officer and rival drug traffickers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fantasy Showcase: Roc Isle: Tempest by Alex James

Roc Isle: Tempest is a heroic fantasy novel based on an epic sword-and-sorcery battle of good versus evil.

The End of Roc Isle was a false prophecy. Or was it?

Lord Azure commands the Northern Army in a war against the Trade Lords, who are a class of conspirators. He fights to defeat evil. However, his leadership is failing because of his son’s insolence and personal ambition. He relies on Ankah, a battle strategist and master swordsman, to prevail. But will Ankah be enough when they encounter the monolithic horned beasts known as Dregs? A Tempest of battle is about to sweep across the land, and even the strong won’t survive!

About Alex James

Alex James is a science-fiction and fantasy author who grew up in Leeds, the United Kingdom, and whose stories are inspired by Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. He believes Asperger Syndrome is a difference, not a disorder; and hopes his writing can lead to understanding about the condition.

The science-fiction and fantasy he writes is strongly influenced by the themes of alienation and empowerment, which give unique qualities to many of his characters. These qualities have been the author’s experience of Asperger Syndrome.

Roc Isle: Tempest Extract

Exhausted, but still fuelled with a fury Lord Ream could not have conceived, his followers continued in his wake, brandishing the rusty weapons or short-swords of their enemies; and the old spears.

They passed the end of the large street and found themselves in a huge plaza past the fortified towers, where over a thousand infantrymen stood in a circle, dumbstruck at the large company of Red-Capes before them. Lord Ream ran, courage coursing through his veins. And they followed, to likely death. The black-armoured infantrymen stood with helmets on and were brandishing very long spears, wearing navy blue capes of their own, as well as shoulder plates and melted black-stone cuirasses.

In the shadowy night Lord Ream screamed war cries and hacked down the first of the infantrymen guarding the circumference of the Amphitheatre. His company followed suit. The infantrymen were too stunned to move much and fought back futilely. Lord Ream entered the narrow vaulted Amphitheatre entrance with hundreds of men and women behind him, and came out of it into an abandoned arena. He raced up the flights of steps and saw officials handling papers and running amok. He hacked at the first of them, blood spilling everywhere on the marble floor. He continued to slice and slay organs out of bodies as he made his way forward down the beige stone limits of the arena. He passed small alcoves and offices, stabbing as he went. Screams and frantic escapes confused things. The only way to keep things simple was to kill, and remember that these bastards killed his grandparents twenty-seven years ago.

Blood covered every stone and marble surface; even tables did not escape the slaughter. Bloodied corpses littered the upper reaches of the arena’s side hall everywhere, where the top officials resided. Outside there was tumult, but it was far away, where the fires were.

They had done a lot of running today. Lord Ream thought he saw the figure of a man walk past the lighted curtained opening in the stone-fortified tower he had passed on his way. He rallied a few of the nearby Red-Capes and left the dead arena to find new prey.

Purchase + Smashwords coupon: YK89F for 20% off

Connect with Alex James

Monday, June 9, 2014

Interview with Vanessa Finaughty, author of the sci-fi fantasy series, Legends of Origin

Today I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Vanessa Finaughty, author of the sci-fi fantasy series, Legends of Origin. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, Vanessa.

1. What or who inspired you to write?
The books I read as a young child, Enid Blyton, CS Lewis and Willard Price, to name a few – I was able to literally lose myself in them to the point where you could stand next to me and say my name, and I wouldn’t hear you. I wanted to offer people the same type of escape from reality that I found so enjoyable.

2. Do you draw any of your characters’ traits from friends or family?
Not on purpose, though sometimes someone will say or do something that inspires me to create a character quirk in one of my characters. I have, however, created characters based on some random person I met, and who struck me as interesting, weird, creepy or annoying in some way.

3. Do you prefer to work in complete silence or do you find that music helps to inspire you while you write?
I prefer complete silence, but our neighbourhood often subjects me to annoying noises, such as constantly yapping dogs, during which times I block the noise pollution by putting on some music that fits the mood of whatever I’m writing.

4. Which writing achievement are you most proud of and why?
Four of my short stories that appear in my anthologies, Sorcery & Subterfuge and FuturescapePrince of Runeguard, The Enemy Crown, Ryokin Master and The Sentients. These were commissioned by Oxford University Press South Africa, and are being used in learner anthologies for private school students, which is a great honour.

5. What is your biggest writing disappointment?
That I’m unable to write full time, as sales aren’t yet high enough to pay all the bills.

6. How long does it generally take for you to finish writing a book?
It depends on the book and how much time I can spend writing. Some of my books took less than a month to write, while others have taken over six months or more. That’s excluding editing time – self-editing often takes at least a month or longer. My last book, Legends of Origin, Book 3: Creator Species, took me two and a half months to write.

7. Tell us a little about the Legends of Origin series.
It’s a sci-fi fantasy series in which the protagonist, Liam MacAskill, searches for meaning in life. He teams up with Arthean, a monk from another planet, and the two make a surprisingly good team. There’s plenty of action and adventure, of course, and death-breathing dragons and ryokin – sentient sabre-toothed winged cats.

8. What’s your favourite line from Book 1, Sanctuary for the Devil?
It was cold and insidious and made Arthean itch from the inside out.

9. What does the ‘it’ refer to?
A shadow creature that was conjured to kill Arthean.

10. When will Book 3, Creator Species, be published?
This week, on Friday 13 – my lucky day.

11. Which is your favourite book so far in the Legends of Origin series?
Book 4, Beyond Orion – I find that whatever I’m writing at the moment is my favourite.

12. Do you reward yourself after completing a book and how?
Not specifically – finishing a book is a reward in itself.

13. Have you ever considered collaborating with another writer?  If so, who and why?
Yes. My first collaboration was a nightmare, to put it mildly, with me seeming to do all the hard work, my co-writer working very slowly and plenty of interference from one of my co-author’s friends. That working relationship didn’t last very long. I’m planning another collaboration in the future with another author, but I’m keeping those details a secret for now – I will, however, say that readers can expect something I think is quite original and entertaining.

14. If you had a super power, what would it be and why?
The ability to create cash in my hand? To be more realistic – the ability to stop time. That way, I can publish a book a week.

15. Do you find it easy to name your characters?
My characters’ names usually just pop into my head and, even if I don’t like the name, nothing else feels right for that character. Every now and then, I have to sit and think about it, but that’s mostly with short stories rather than novel characters.

16. Ever had a stalker?
I’m not sure if this counts, but I used to receive heavy breathing calls from someone. That is, until I answered the phone one day and, instead of saying ‘hello’, just breathed heavily. Whoever it was never called again. If you can’t beat them, join them.

17. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First, a paramedic, until I realised that blood makes me queasy and I’m more likely to puke over a victim than be capable of helping. Most of my childhood, though, I wanted to be a writer.

18. What’s your favourite food?
Spaghetti bolognaise and roast potatoes (preferably not together).

19. Is there a message or a lesson that you’d like to convey to your readers?
Each of my books conveys a different message in the finer details, but most try to show that it’s always best to be honest and ethical, and to have compassion for others.

20. Please share your purchase links with us.
Connect with Vanessa Finaughty online: