Interview with Joy V. Spicer

Say hello to Joy V. Spicer ! Last week I reviewed her most recent book, and now she’s the latest person to respond to my call for speculative fiction interview participants. 

What was the first speculative story you ever remember reading?

‘The Enchanted Wood’. It had a huge tree called the Faraway Tree which reached up into the clouds. All sorts of magical folk lived in the tree and right at the top, different lands would cycle through, stopping for about a week, if I remember correctly, before moving on. If you were visiting any of those lands, you’d have to make sure you left in time or be stuck on it forever.

Who is your favourite author? Why?

I don’t really have one favourite, but if its measured by the number of books I have for any one author, then it would have to be Stephen King.

What do you like most about the genre(s) you read?

My go-to genre has always been fantasy, but I also read other genres, including horror, historical fiction, thrillers and westerns. I love the worldbuilding when done well, believable characters I can relate to, and beautiful wordplay. With horror, I much prefer subtle scares, the kind that leaves you unsettled for days afterwards, like ‘The Woman in Black’, and where the story is set somewhere so ordinary, you wouldn’t expect to find anything horrifying.

More and more authors seem to be writing cross-genre stories these days. How do you feel about this trend?

It’s an interesting one, with great potential but, again, only if it’s done well.

If you could name a pet after one character, which character would you choose? Why?

My sons named their rabbits Sonic (she was fast!) and Wolverine (dopey bunny did not live up to that name). The first cats we had were named Cinder and Ashe, after a couple of comic book characters. The cats we have now aren’t named after characters. If I had a horse (wishing, hoping), I’d choose Elessar, Aragorn’s royal name; I love the way it feels when it’s said.

What fictional world would you never want to visit?

The Walking Dead! With zero survival skills, I’d have been eaten on day one!

What fictional world would you want to visit?

Middle Earth. I’d divide my time between Rivendell for its ethereal beauty and zen-like atmosphere, and Hobbiton for the food and to spend time in a hobbit-hole.

Book cover for The Vagrant by Peter NewmanSharing spoilers with people who haven’t read the book or seen the film/show is a hot topic on Twitter and across many fandoms. How do you feel about sharing or overhearing spoilers?

This is more for films/shows than books. I’m not a big fan, especially when no warning is given. I don’t even watch more than one trailer for a film. But if a film/show has been out for a while and I haven’t watched it yet, the onus is on me to steer clear; near-impossible with social media being so immediate.

Which series do you think should be made into a TV show or film next?

I’m always wary of books being made into films. If I had to choose, I’d say ‘The Vagrant’, but only the first book in the trilogy, which I enjoyed immensely. Sadly, the second book did nothing for me, which meant I didn’t even bother with the third.

Which TV show or film do you think should be turned into a book?

‘Grimm’. I enjoyed the series so much. I think turning that into a book series would give more scope to go deeper in exploring the characters and lore than the medium of TV allowed.

Bonus Questions

Book cover for Joy V. Spicer's The Spellbound Spindle. There are roses entwined with the wordsWhat is the most unusual or interesting way you’ve come up with an idea for one of your creative works?

After I’d written my first book, I was convinced I didn’t have another book in me, so when the idea for my second book just popped into my head, it literally stopped me in my tracks. My subsequent projects are fairy tale retellings, like my third book, ‘The Spellbound Spindle’. I research (my most favourite part of writing!) the different variations of the tale, pick out key points then work on giving it a fresh twist.

Sometimes characters don’t do what their creators want them to do. If this has ever happened to you, how did you deal with it?

That’s something I’ve not experienced until now. Ready to start my next book, or so I thought, but I was really struggling. Until I realised this morning, the characters ‘want’ their status to be different! It is a strange feeling, realising the writer isn’t actually the omnipotent creator she thought she was.

What is your favourite trope?

To quote Stephen King, “ordinary people dealing with extraordinary situations”.

What tropes do you try to avoid in your stories?

Love triangles and insta-love. I’m positive love triangles don’t happen as often in real life as they seem to do in YA novels.

Photo of author Joy V. Spicer. She is smiling in it. About JoyOriginally from Malaysia, I’ve lived more than half my life in the UK. I started writing as a way to alleviate the boredom of work, hiding my notebook by the till, before realising how much I enjoy creating stories. My two sons still live with me and they make me proud and inspire me (sometimes make me jealous!) with their prodigious imaginations.

You can read more from me on Twitter and my blog

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: What Is My Superpower?

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

What a fun prompt this one was!

I have several different superpowers. Almost all of the humorous things I was going to include on this list fit better into the Strange or Useless Talent prompt that’s coming up in November, so keep an eye out for that one. It’s going to be delightful.

1. Analyzing stuff. That is, I’m really good at picking a story apart, figuring out what did (or didn’t) work in it, and then writing a solid review about that book, TV show, or movie.

2. Working quietly behind the scenes. I’m a little too bashful to want the spotlight pointed at me, but I excel at keeping things going behind the scenes while someone else gives a speech or otherwise acts as the public face of whatever it is we’re working on.

3. Using up leftovers. I grew up in a family culture that deeply disliked waste, especially when it came to food. If there was only half a serving of rice or potatoes left, it went back into the fridge and someone would eat it before it went bad. Sometimes this means my meals are a little nontraditional, but I love the feeling of making sure that everything that is cooked is eaten. For example, I recently ate three ears of corn, two hardboiled eggs, and a slightly soft pear for dinner because that was what needed to be used up in the fridge. I like those kinds of mish-mash meals, though!

4. Seeing the best in people. If someone does something I find perplexing, I do everything I can to find a rational explanation for it. We all have off days, and I have a lot of grace for people who accidentally say or do the wrong thing.

5. Making and updating spreadsheets. This is something I’ve done for years for fun. It’s so satisfying to see neat, little rows of numbers in a document.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question. The image below is the list of upcoming prompts for this blog hop.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Things to Eat/Drink While Reading

 

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Seriously, how fun was this prompt? I had such a good time coming up with my list this week, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone else answered it, too.

1. Mint Tea

Caffeine tends to make me anxious, so I try to stick to caffeine-free beverages and foods as much as possible. Mint tea both smells and tastes nice.

2. Vegan Yogurt

I’m not vegan, but I eat a lot of products marketed to that demographic group due to my milk allergy. Non-dairy yogurts have gotten pretty good these past few years, so thank you to the vegan community for creating a demand for them. You’re awesome.

3. Salted Pistachios or Other Mixed Nuts

Nuts are such a satisfying snack.

4. Fresh Fruit

It’s hard to remember the last time I tried a new type of fruit and disliked it. Just about any sort of fruit is delicious to me.

sliced and whole Kohlrabi sitting on a cutting board. There is a knife placed beside them.
This is what kohlrabi looks like.

5.Crunchy Vegetables

I love crunchy vegetables like carrots, celery, radishes, or kohlrabi. It’s so satisfying to munch away at them, especially if I’m reading something a little frightening or atmospheric. Somehow having a plate of food to snack on makes me feel a bit less nervous in those circumstances.

6. Hard-boiled Eggs

I eat hard-boiled eggs with a little salt and pepper. They’re amazing. As soon as I pick up another bottle of hot sauce at the grocery store, I might try them that way next.

7. Cinnamon and Sugar Toast

This has been one of my favourite snacks since childhood. It’s even better if the toast is whole grain. My mom always bought healthy bread like that when I was growing up, so I developed a strong preference for it.

8. Grape Jolly Ranchers.

Will I eat other flavours of jolly ranchers? Absolutely, but the grape ones will always be my favourite. They are so delicious.

Peanut Butter spread on a sliced apple9. Almond Butter.

Honestly, any nut butter is appealing to me. it can be spread on toast, apple slices, celery, and so much more.

10. Sardines

I totally expect to be the only Top Ten Tuesday blogger who mentions this snack this week, but I love sardines. They have such a unique taste, and I find them really filling. They’re also a good source of certain nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D that I need to make sure I consciously include in my diet due to my milk allergy .

A Review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and A Dog’s Purpose.

Film Content Warning: blood, hypodermic needles, animal abuse, and animal deaths. These scenes were brief and were often more implied than actually shown.  As always, this otherwise will be a spoiler-free review, and I’m happy to share more details in private with anyone who requests them.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a 2018 science fiction adventure film that is the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World. Fallen Kingdom is set on a fictional island about 200 miles southwest of Costa Rica called Isla Nublar where all of the dinosaurs from Jurassic World were relocated from a failed amusement park before this tale began.

Isla Nublar was intended to be the permanent home for the dinosaurs. When scientists realized that the volcano on that island was soon going to erupt, the main characters in this universe had to decide how and where to relocate the dinosaurs before Isla Nublar was destroyed.

If you haven’t seen Jurassic World or the original Jurassic Park trilogy from the 90s, before, don’t worry. There are plenty of references to the earlier instalments in the later films that are fun Easter eggs for devoted fans, but everything in this franchise has worked well as standalone stories so far. I will briefly fill you in on a few important details in my character descriptions, too.

The Characters

I began discussing characters in the past tense in my first horror film review here to avoid the slightest whiff of spoilers about their fates. This is something I’ve continued doing for the sake of blog continuity and should not be interpreted in any other way.

This cast is on the larger side, but it’s important to know who everyone is before I jump into my review.

Chris Pratt playing Owen Grady

Chris Pratt as Owen Grady

Own Grady was the Animal Behaviourist hired by Ben to help round up as many dinosaurs as possible on Isla Nublar before the volcano destroyed them. He had previously worked as a Velociraptor trainer for the Jurassic World theme park in the first part of this trilogy, so he was an expert on the topic.

While he was impulsive at times, Owen was at heart a deeply kind and brave man.

 

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing

Claire was the former Operations Manager of Jurassic World. After that theme parked closed down, she became a dinosaur-rights activist and founder of the Dinosaur Protection Group. Their mission was to round up as many dinosaurs on Isla Nublar as possible and relocate them somewhere safer.

Unlike some of the men around her, Claire was both emotionally and intellectually intelligent. She knew exactly how to read subtle signals from another person and adjust her behaviour accordingly. I try to avoid picking favourite characters in my reviews, but she was the lynchpin of this film.

James Cromwell as Sir Benjamin Lockwood

James Cromwell as Sir Benjamin Lockwood

Sir Lockwood was one of the two people who originally invented the cloning techniques that brought dinosaurs back to life approximately twenty-five years before this tale began. He was as brilliant as ever, but his attention to detail had begun to waver due to his deteriorating physical condition.

Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood

Maisie was Sir Lockwood’s granddaughter and heir. She had inherited his love of dinosaurs and science.

Rafe Spall as Eli Mills

Eli was Sir Lockwood’s personal assistant who required Owen and Claire to join the dinosaur rescue mission. He was an intelligent, ambitious man who was cautious about who he trusted and how much information he shared with them about his work.

Justice Smith as Franklin Webb

Justice Smith as Franklin Webb

Franklin was a former IT Technician for Jurassic World who now worked with Claire at the Dinosaur Protection Group. His technological knowledge was excellent, and his quirky personality brought a dash of humour to the plot.

Daniella Pineda as Zia Rodriguez

Zia was the paleoveterinarian for the Dinosaur Protection Group.

She did a wonderful job of thinking on her feet in a crisis. Along with Franklin, she was a character I wish had been given more opportunity to shine in the plot. What I saw of their personalities was well-developed, and I loved the way they interacted with the rest of the rescue crew.

Ted Levine (centre) as Ken Wheatley. The characters behind him are his fellow mercenaries.

Ken Wheatley was a season mercenary hired by Eli Mills to provide protection for the rescue crew while they were rounding up dinosaurs.

He was a tough, assertive man who felt most comfortable when he was in charge.

B.D. Wong as Henry Wu

B.D. Wong as Henry Wu

Henry was the head geneticist of both Jurassic World and the original Jurassic Park. There was no one in this universe who knew more about dinosaurs than he did.

 

My Review

Chris Pratt looking at a dinosaurOne of the most interesting things about this film was how many different conflicts it included. The first quarter of the show were spent introducing the characters, explaining a few things about the first Jurassic World flick, and seeing how various characters reacted to the idea of saving the dinosaurs instead of letting them go extinct again.

No sooner was this conflict resolved than a few more took its place as the plot sped up. This was a cycle that happened multiple times during the roughly two-hour runtime, and it occasionally made me feel like I was watching a series of short films set in the same universe instead of one long one. This was something I grew to like quite a bit once I recognized the pattern.

The humour in this film was well done, especially when it came to Franklin’s lines. I mentioned earlier wishing that he and Zia had been given more screen time, and this was a big part of the reason why. They both had quietly lighthearted approaches to their roles that worked nicely for the subject matter.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Daniella Pineda at the Dinosaur Protection Group Headquarters
Zia and Claire at the Dinosaur Protection Group Headquarters.

Obviously, this is an action and adventure movie, so keep that in mind when reading this paragraph. One of the things I didn’t like was how little attention was paid to character development. Would I expect characters in this genre to have rich inner lives and dozens of minutes apiece to explore then? Of course not, but I would have liked to see more examples of people stepping out of the boxes they’d been places in.

The plot was fast-paced and filled with exciting explosions and scuffles, but the characters were a bit too predictable for me. There’s a difference between following the tropes of a specific genre and being chained to them. I did find my attention wandering at times due to how quickly I figured out what would happen to which character, and I’m saying that as someone who enjoys this genre in general. This was something I noticed the most with Ken Wheatley and Henry Wu.

With that being said, I still had a good time watching it. The CGI and animatronics for the dinosaurs was excellent as usual, and I loved seeing how various species reacted to everything from seeing a human to being captured to encountering lava. How a carnivore reacted to these things was nothing at all like a herbivore’s reaction. What made it even more interesting was seeing how members of similar species responded to the same stimulus. Those scenes were clearly thought out and a lot of fun to watch, especially if Owen was involved in any way.

The ending was handled nicely as well. I liked the resolutions that were brought to certain conflicts as well as the new questions Fallen Kingdom asked that will hopefully be answered in the final instalment of this trilogy.

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is available on iTunes.

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

 

Title: The Raven and Other Tales

Author: Joy V. Spicer

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 132 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Joy

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young girl encounters a bad-tempered dwarf. Enter within, where magic is found alongside the ordinary, and things aren’t always what they seem. Where curiosity leads to a nightmare. Where ashes have the power to transform. And where stolen mortals are doomed to be forever lost in the forest.

Review:

This is a collection of ten short stories that are all firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. One of the coolest things Joy did with them was to briefly explain where her ideas for them came from after the conclusion of each story. I always enjoy learning where writers find inspiration for their work, so I was excited to have a sentence or two of explanation before beginning the next tale.

The most effective way I’ve found to review anthologies like this one is to pick about three of the stories in them that most accurately represent the over-arching themes and writing style in my opinion, describe their plots in a spoiler-free sentence or two, and then share my impressions of them. If any of these mini-reviews grab your attention, I’d heartily recommend checking out the whole book.

The Forest of the Others

Grace’s father and younger brother had wandered into a mysterious, forbidden forest and never come home again in “The Forest of the Others.” Three years after their disappearances, Grace ignored her mother’s warning to stay away from those trees and went into the forest to see if she could find out what happen to them.

I sure would have liked to see better communication between Grace and her mom. These woods were such an irresistible place in this universe that I think Grace would have still gone into them even if her mother had been more clear about how dangerous they were. It felt a little odd to me for someone who had already lost two relatives to what should have been an innocuous patch of land to be so vague about what she thought happened to them or why Grace should never break this rule.

This is something I’m saying as someone who loved everything else about this story. The dialogue was fresh and crisp. Grace’s character development was handled wonderfully. Her experiences in the woods made me shudder, although I’ll leave it up to future readers to discover why. The world-building was really nicely done, too, especially when it came to the mixture of emotions Grace had about the forest she wasn’t supposed to visit. All I needed was for Grace to know exactly why that area was forbidden before she decided to break that rule anyway.

Stranger at the Crossroads

Some of the tales in this collection were so short and filled with plot twists that I need to be pretty careful what I say about them for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.  “Stranger at the Crossroads” was one of them. In it, a woman who was walking down the road with her donkey met a stranger who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be.

Does this sound like a mystery or possibly something from the horror genre? Well, it wasn’t. The main character was such a brave and kind soul that her reaction to the unnerving stranger at the crossroads was as pleasantly surprising as it was creative. I enjoyed this entire anthology, but I must say that she was my favourite character of them all. I couldn’t have asked for a better protagonist on that particular day and in that specific time and place.

An Unlikely Friendship

In “An Unlikely Friendship,” a young girl named Meg met a grumpy dwarf in the middle of the woods one day while she was out searching for edible plants to feed her family. Meg’s friendship with Nev, the dwarf, was unexpected but a nice distraction from the grinding poverty she, her widowed mother, and two older sisters had struggled with for years.  Yes, this story was one of the ones mentioned in the blurb!

Meg’s personality was nicely written. She’d been taught to be kind to everyone she met. That’s a common trope in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, so I won’t go into much detail about it here. What was refreshing about this particular take on that lesson was how Meg reacted when it appeared that her kindness was not only going to be taken for granted but could very well lead her into a worse predicament than she’d been in when she was only poor and hungry.

This is the sort of twist to a genre that makes me want to come back for more.

 

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Books I Keep Meaning to Read (But Haven’t)

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. I’m hoping to find plenty of interesting things to read in all of your lists this week! Mine was a lot of fun to put together. Title and Author: Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories by Ellen Datlow What It’s About: The title says it all. Why I Haven’t… Read More

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check… Read More