Tag Archives: Dakota Kemp

Battlecry Review and Top Ten List

Battlecry, the newest album by Two Steps from Hell, was released on April 28th. Now that I’ve had time to listen through the album several hundred times (or at least fifty) I’ll give a rundown of the top ten tracks. Overall, Battlecry was fantastic and lived up to all my expectations. It couldn’t beat out Sun for my favorite album, but it is a worthy addition to the TSfH legacy. It’s very much a throwback album, in that the overall tone is reminiscent of their earliest releases, such as Invincible, with a largely heroic, epic feel (as opposed to Miracles, which was mainly soft and beautiful, and also different from albums like Illusions and Sun, which are chiefly filled with niche music – some tribal or cultural, others ethereal or indescribable).

There are 26 tracks; I’ll count down the top ten – all of which are must haves.

Now, without further ado…

#10: “Release Me”

“Release Me” is a great track, with strings providing a large portion of the background to produce an almost frenetic backdrop for a straightforward vocal, french horn, and string chorus that is pushed forward by a french horn harmony.

#9: “Across the Blood Water”

A powerful track driven by a rhythmic beat. The feel of the music is Viking-esque, and the pounding rhythm brings to mind a longboat of raiders keeping in time with their oars. This was one of those tracks that didn’t originally impress me, but which grew on me the more I listened. Now, it’s one of my favorite on the album!

#8: “None Shall Live”

This is a bracing song that slams you back in your seat from the very beginning. It’s filled with synthesizers, and a hectic flurry of strings provides the cornerstone for the rest of music to build upon. It’s also been recently released as a single, extended, vocal version featuring Two Steps from Hell regular Merethe Soltvedt under the title “Children of the Sun,” which is also fantastic.

#7: “Stronger Faster Braver”

“Stronger Faster Braver” starts out soft with some light flutes and chimes, but it slowly builds into an awesome french horn melody that ultimately becomes a potent horn/vocal combination punctuated by electric guitar.

#6: “Cannon in D Minor”

A swashbuckling track that sounds like it was pulled straight out of a pirate adventure, “Cannon in D Minor” features a largely horn chorus with heavy percussion and string additions.

#5: “Star Sky – Instrumental”

As the title states, this is the instrumental version of “Star Sky” which is also on Battlecry. The vocals from “Star Sky” have been removed for the instrumental version, leaving an orchestral masterpiece of horns, strings, flutes, percussion, and bass. The leading violin in the melody is absolutely gorgeous.

#4: “Unforgiven”

A heavy piece with notable strings (as both the backdrop and melody in some areas), horns, and trombones. The bass provides a smashing harmony in the background, and Bergersen (who I assume put this one together, but it could have been Nick Phoenix) pulls out all the stops with the horns on this one, really allowing them to let loose. A vocal choir comes in to put the finishing touches on the high points.

#3: “Star Sky”

The original version of “Star Sky,” vocal included. At first I was put off a bit by the vocals, but the more I listened to it, the more I liked it! Now, I prefer it to even the instrumental version.

#2: “Flight of the Silverbird”

“Flight of the Silverbird caught my attention from the beginning. It starts out slow and beautiful with a marvelous flute solo, which transitions into strings, then horns, then electric guitar, and, finally, a combination of them all. Just magnificent.

#1: “Victory”

And the winner is…“Victory”! Get it? Kind of ironic, really. Anyway, “Victory” comes to the table (or the ear) with everything. In fact, ever since I heard it it’s been battling it out in my head with “Black Blade” for my all-time-favorite Two Steps from Hell song. (Sorry “Heart of Courage” fans. It’s a great song, but it’s not my #1…or my #2 now. In fact, it’s my #4, because I have to sneak Protectors of the Earth in at #3!)

And there you have it, “Victory” comes in at #1 by a landslide, and easily secures itself a top three in my all-time-favorites. Battlecry proved itself as yet another Two Steps from Hell masterpiece. If you’d like to try their music, I’d suggest starting with their first album, Invincible, or pick up a copy of Battlecry! Albums by Two Steps from Hell include: Invincible, Archangel, Skyworld, Miracles, Illusions (Thomas Bergersen), Sun (Thomas Bergersen), Classics Vol. 1, Colin Frake on Fire Mountain, Halloween, and Battlecry.

How does my list match up to your favorite Battlecry songs?  I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion.

Battlecry – the newest album by Two Steps from Hell is arriving April 28!

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am an enormous Two Steps from Hell fanatic.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Two Steps from Hell, TSfH is an epic music group that produces orchestra/choir music for use in movie trailers, promotional material, etc.  (“Epic” is used as a category here, not an adjective – though epic is certainly an adjective that could be used to describe TSfH’s music).  Two Steps from Hell has two members – Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix – who compose and conduct every song the group produces.  I never sit down to work on my novels without putting on a Two Steps from Hell playlist.

Two Steps from Hell’s newest album, Battlecry, is scheduled to release April 28.  It would be a gross understatement to say that I’m frickinexcited.  The last album they released – Sun – exceeded all of my expectations in every way, and I’m certain Battlecry will only deliver more of the pulse-pounding, heartrending, jaw-dropping music for which TSfH is now famous.  Since I pre-ordered the album the literal second after I found out about the new release (naturally), I’ve gotten to listen to a few of the advance tracks, and, I assure you, they are spectacular.

For those of you who’ve never heard of TSfH, I strongly encourage you to try give their music a try.  I could attempt to describe it, but I really wouldn’t be able to do it justice.  Try listening to the song I’ve included here, “Heart of Courage”, (possibly TSfH’s most famous song) from the album Invincible.  If you’re new to Two Steps from Hell, but you’d like to discover more of their fantastic music, I’d recommend starting with Invincible, their first public album.  Or, give Battlecry a shot – I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

The Arrival on sale for $.99!

Today, February 26, my award-winning epic fantasy novel, The Arrival, is on sale for $.99 on amazon.com for kindle!  If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, The Lord or the Rings, Eragon, or the fantasy genre is general, this is the book for you!

Unsure if you want to spend a dollar on a book when you could get something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s instead?  Here’s what professional book reviewers are saying about The Arrival.  Maybe they can change your mind.

“5 out of 5 stars.  (The Arrival) includes an interesting mix of war, magic, romance, and comedy built into an otherworldly, archaic setting…an incredibly fun and riveting read – even for non-fantasy readers” – San Francisco Book Review

“A brilliantly spun tale…The Arrival is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read this year, harking back to the likes of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.  5 Stars.” – James Grimsby, SPR

“5 out of 5 stars.  A grand adventure…an engaging and sprawling epic…fans of Game of Thrones will love this novel.” – Pacific Book Review

Interested?  Purchase from amazon here!

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Critical Book Review

I’ve read three books by Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and, now, Cryptonomicon – and after finishing this 1130 page monstrosity, I can easily say that Cryptonomicon is by far my favorite. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age were decent reads – and I’m sure there’s not a Stephenson novel in existence that won’t leave you slack-jawed – but Cryptonomicon outstripped the other two in every way.

Cryptonomicon is a glorious mash-up of spy thriller, war epic, cryptography manual, treasure hunting tale, action/adventure story, and impressive creation of historical conspiracy theory. It follows a multitude of unique and engrossing characters, from a hard-bitten World War II Marine to an eccentric cryptanalyst to modern-day code-writers/harried businessmen, to even a priest/secret society member.

As with any Stephenson novel, you should prepare to have your mind blown at least once per chapter. Stephenson dishes out incredible ideas, witty metaphors, and extensive technical knowledge like normal people hand out candy on Halloween. Perhaps it’s because Cryptonomicon deals with events that have already taken place and technology that currently exists (mostly), but I found myself able to identify with (or at least vaguely comprehend) the technological concepts, historical nods, and cultural insinuations in Cryptonomicon far better than in the previous two Stephenson novels I’ve read. (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age take place at various points in the future and deal with Stephenson’s extrapolations on where technology and societal leanings will lead us.) Cryptonomicon also has a largely satisfactory conclusion (finally!), unlike other Stephenson finales, which usually leave me frustrated and grasping for something even dimly appearing like closure. Thankfully, I can say that Cryptonomicon won’t leave you with the same incomplete feeling that seems to be a trademark of Stephenson’s endings.

Stephenson’s research into history deserves special note. He does such a good job of mixing historical fact with speculative conspiracy that I had a tough time picking out the fact from the fiction. (This is no mean feat. It is not humble of me, perhaps, to say that I am something of a historical scholar, but it is true, nonetheless.) Stephenson should unquestionably be commended for both his dedicated research and his deft handling of historical fact into a compelling fictional novel.

As a special note, I thought I’d mention the sheer hilarity of the humor in this volume, because I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so much in my life while reading a book. Stephenson’s insights into people, countries, organizations, and institutions are enviable, and the tongue-in-cheek approach he uses to gleefully nip at everyone’s respective heels is uproariously entertaining. Everyone is fair game, and the result is side-splitting amusement.

What I’m trying to say is this: If you’re going to pick up a Neal Stephenson novel – and I highly encourage you to do so, if for no other reason than to expand your mind with some incredible ideas – then make that novel Cryptonomicon. By all means, read his other works – they are certainly worth the time and effort – but Cryptonomicon is a must-read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for any adult.

Full Author Interview

As promised, I checked with the Self-Publishing Review and they gave me permission to post my author interview with Cate Baum, SPR’s co-founder, in full.

Cate:  Dakota Kemp is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize for his book, The Arrival.  Dakota hails from the Oklahoma Panhandle in the US.

Cate:  Tell us about your winning book.

Dakota:  The Arrival is an epic, medieval fantasy set in the world of Vrold.  The plot weaves the lives of several different characters into one tale, centered around an investigation into a series of deadly attacks that has plunged two powerful city-states into war.  I like to think that The Arrival has something for every reader because it’s as much a mystery, drama, action/adventure, military epic, spy thriller, and comedy tale as it is a fantasy novel.  The protagonists range from a sorceress/detective to a hard-edged mercenary to an enthusiastic history professor, and the plot, characters, and locations are all wrapped in a world of enigmatic mythology and electrifying peril.

Cate:  What inspired your interest in this genre?

Dakota:  Ever since I first fell in love with reading as a child, I’ve been captivated by fantasy stories – legends of wonder and magic and adventure.  The Tales of King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in particular had a great influence on my becoming a writer, perhaps even greater than my mother, who taught me to read.  Middle-earth wasn’t just a jumble of words, plots, characters, and settings – it was (and is) a real place for me.  Tolkien created such a rich, beautiful world as to become reality, even if it is only in the mind.  That’s my interest in fantasy, and, to this day, it’s my goal as a writer.  If I can give just one reader the slightest sliver of the sense of awe and passion and beauty that was given to me, then my purpose as a writer will have been fulfilled.

Cate:  What writing experience did you have before this?

Dakota:  Little to none, actually.  The Arrival is my first novel.  I initially started writing when I was about fourteen – my own, personal adaptations of the King Arthur tales – but, as we often do in our younger years, I gave up after a short time.  It was much later – in my junior year of college – that I started to seriously think about picking up writing again.  The Arrival was written largely during my senior year at Southwestern Oklahoma State.

As far as official training goes, I’ve never taken any writing classes or anything like that (though I probably should).  I did have some wonderful English teachers in high school and an equally brilliant literature professor in college, and everything I know about writing was either self-taught or acquired under their instruction.

Cate:  Why did you decide to self-publish?

Dakota:  I tried to get The Arrival traditionally published in the beginning, but I quickly found that publishing is a highly exclusive market.  It is nearly impossible to break into the industry without some prior connections, no matter how good your work might be.  I sent queries and applications to over seventy agents and publishing companies and never once received a request for my manuscript.  I can deal with rejection, but how was I to prove my manuscript’s worth if no one would even read it?  After over six months without a single request, I decided to self-publish and let readers decide the quality of my work.

Cate:  How did you find the self-publishing experience?

Dakota:  It was definitely educational, and I’ve learned a lot of useful things about the publishing process and the professional industry.  One thing that you discover early on as a self-publisher is that marketing accounts for a huge amount of your time and effort.  This is both good and bad, as it provides a good learning experience, but it also sucks away time that could be spent writing.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed self-publishing.  It’s allowed me to learn new things and meet loads of great people.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t leap at the chance for a good publishing contract, though.  I’ve found that it’s all about earning your stripes and showing that you can consistently put out quality work.

Cate:  What tips could you give others to produce a quality self-published book?

Dakota:  Edit, edit, edit, and re-edit.  Proofing and editing is HUGE, and it’s essential.  This is the one, non-negotiable fact of self-publishing – if your work doesn’t appear professional, both in cover and content, it won’t succeed.   Period.  Purchase professional editing if you can afford it.  If you can’t (like me), ask everyone you know to read your manuscript and mark editing or proofing mistakes.  Get your old English teachers or professors to peruse it for you.  Find someone knowledgeable about grammar, sentence structure, and formatting to give your final copy an approval.

Other than editing – don’t give up.  Never stop writing.  You’ll have bad days, of course, when you feel like no one outside of your mother and grandma wants to give your work a try.  Write anyway.  You’ll improve the more you practice, and maybe – just maybe – your work will touch someone in a far off place you never knew existed.  Perseverance – it sounds cheesy, I know, but is there anything more true in life?  If it wasn’t hard to do, everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Cate:  What obstacles did you face?

Dakota:  Finding readers has been a nearly insurmountable challenge.  There just aren’t a lot of people willing to spend money and take a chance on an unknown, self-published author.  Maybe that’s the way it should be.  It makes you work hard and appreciate every single reader.  Every time I see I’ve made a sale, I just want to reach straight through the computer screen and give that wonderful individual a big ol’ bear hug.  I don’t know that I’d have that appreciation for my amazing readers without that struggle.  So, I continue to write, and every time a reader contacts me to say they love my stories, I take it as a personal affirmation.

Cate:  What are your plans for the future as a writer?

Dakota:  Since The Arrival’s publication, I’ve released a science fiction novella titled Goddess (the review of which, incidentally, was recently posted by SPR), and I’m presently working on a steampunk/sword-and-sorcery mash-up novel.  The second installment in the Ascension series (of which The Arrival is the first), will be up next following my current project.

I appreciate your time in reading my humble tale, and I wish all of my fellow authors out there the very best!  Keep up the good work!

(End Interview)

I hope the interview was educational for my independent author friends and interesting for everyone else!

Author Interview With the Self-Publishing Review

As a part of the celebration for the Full Moon book awards, the Self-Publishing Review conducted author interviews with the winners of the three Full Moon categories – Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.

I was ecstatic when The Arrival won the Fantasy Full Moon Award, and I couldn’t have been more delighted when SPR co-founder Cate Baum asked if I would be open to an interview.

Here’s the opening portion:

Cate – “Dakota Kemp is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize for his book, The Arrival.  Dakota hails from the Oklahoma Panhandle in the US.”

Cate – “Tell us about your winning book.”

Dakota – “The Arrival is an epic, medieval fantasy set in the world of Vrold.  The plot weaves the lives of several different characters into one tale, centered around an investigation into a series of deadly attacks that has plunged two powerful city-states into war.  I like to think that The Arrival has something for every reader because it’s as much a mystery, drama, action/adventure, military epic, spy thriller, and comedy tale as it is a fantasy novel.  The protagonists range from a sorceress/detective to a hard-edged mercenary to an enthusiastic history professor, and the plot, characters, and locations are all wrapped in a world of enigmatic mythology and electrifying peril.”

To read the rest of the interview, visit SPR’s site here:  http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2014/11/an-interview-with-full-moon-awards-2014-fantasy-prize-winner-dakota-kemp/

In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get permission to post the interview in its entirety.  Further topics in the interview include insights into self-publishing and a look at my personal experience in writing, editing, and publishing.

I hope everyone finds my musings interesting and/or helpful.

GODDESS Release Announcement

I’m pleased to announce the release of my second published work – Goddess of The Shrike Chronicles.  Both kindle and paperback copies are available on amazon.com!  If you enjoyed The Arrival or are a science fiction fan, Goddess is right up your alley.  I’m looking forward to seeing how well this new release gets off the ground.  I’ll appreciate any support you can give – whether that is a purchase, a re-post, a like, or telling a friend by word of mouth.  Thanks everyone!

Please note:  Goddess is an adult novella.  It is not intended for a young audience.  Goddess contains violence, strong language, and some adult themes and settings.

Here’s the link to Goddess‘s amazon page:  http://www.amazon.com/Goddess-The-Shrike-Chronicles-Volume/dp/0990595412/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1414868247&sr=8-2&keywords=dakota+kemp