Book Review: Stage 3: Alpha by Ken Stark

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Book Review: Stage 3: Alpha


In Stage 3 Mason tries with all his heart to reunite his new charge, Mackenzie with her beloved Aunt Sarah. By the end of the book, we’re left wondering if there’s even an Aunt Sarah to find. I’ll admit I worried Aunt Sarah hadn’t made it out of the doomed hospital.

Stage 3: Alpha gives us a whole new cast of characters to explore, among them, Aunt Sarah. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that the author had given Aunt Sarah the space to show us who she is. I kept waiting for Mason and Mackenzie to show up and rescue Aunt Sarah, but I quickly learned that Aunt Sarah needs no rescuing.

I felt as though Stage 3 gave us a teaser of what humanity had become, the obvious monsters and the not-so-obvious monsters. In the second installment of the series, we get a much clearer view of the wasteland they’re all living in, the hopelessness they face, the kindness of strangers, and that some monsters look just like us.

The author has a knack for character development. Each character in Stage 3: Alpha feels real. Even the truly vile humans we encounter have wants, desires, and motivations. I loved how Stark used the characters of the book to show this new world isn’t as black and white as the old one. The world has grown much grayer.

Stark’s story weaves us through a dangerous landscape without ever making us feel like the people are surviving by the grace of the author. The scenes come alive because I don’t feel like the author handed the character everything they needed in a neat and tidy, little package. Stark makes his characters work to survive. A believable plot and believable characters are what bring me back to Stark’s series.

This is my second purchase in the Stage 3 series, and it won’t be my last.


Author Interview: Ken Stark

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Author Interview: Ken Stark

I met Ken Stark on Twitter, a mutual follow back. From the first time I saw a post about his book, Stage 3, he had my interest. I didn’t buy the book right away, though. I had others in line to be read, so I waited. During my wait, I clicked the link and read some fantastic Amazon reviews for the book, which made me want to read Stage 3 even more. I ended up buying the book and loving it, as you can see here in my review. After writing my own glowing Amazon review for Stage 3, I contacted Mr. Stark for an interview, and he granted my request.

Have fun getting to know more about the author Ken Stark!

Q1. When did your love of writing start?

I think I’ve always had it, really. I was forever scribbling things in a notebook, and I was never happier than when a school assignment involved writing a short story, or composing a poem or a speech. In my teens, I actually built up the nerve to submit a few things to prospective publishers, but I was sorely lacking in self-confidence, so it didn’t take too many rejection letters to get me to stop trying. I still kept writing, but from then, it was only for myself.

Q2. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

It depends on the season. Summers in Vancouver are great, so one can usually find me outside, soaking up every bit of sunlight I possibly can. The rest of the year, I retreat inside. I hibernate, and I read, I write, I paint, and I’d be embarrassed to admit how many hours I devote to crossword puzzles and sudoku. Honestly though, I could easily spend all day, everyday, writing. I love every minute of the process, from the first line to the finished product. I even enjoy editing, which definitely puts me in the minority. But the way I think of it, life only gives us one crack at things, while in my world, I can tweak and hone and polish every word until everything is just the way I want it.

Q3. Where do you get inspiration for your characters and settings?

I like to use settings that will be familiar to the reader. Everyone knows what the inside of a hospital or a jumbo jet looks like. They are familiar places; mundane, even. But give the familiar a little off-axis tilt, and it can suddenly become a haunted house.

As for characters, I get them from anywhere and everywhere. We spend our lives soaking up information from all around us; friends, family, TV shows, radio, books, movies, social media, the girl at the coffee shop, the guy at the bank….Unless you’re living life like Gilligan, you can’t help but be influenced by hundreds of interactions every day. So when I need a specific character for a certain situation, it’s just a matter of taking a little from column a….. a little from column b…..

Q4. Are there any future projects you’re excited to get started on?

I’m excited about continuing the Stage 3 story, because I love spending my time with those characters, and I don’t like leaving them hanging. Aside from that, I have so many story lines banging around in my head that it’s really a question of which ones come out first. I am primarily a writer of scary tales, but I’ve had a love for science fiction since forever, I’m fascinated by ancient cultures, I enjoy a good conspiracy, and I like a straight-up adventure yarn. If I can find a way to weave all of those together, that will be a fun one to write!

Q5. What resources do you use to write?

I’m not sure that there could be a better resource for a writer than the internet. If I need to know the precise firing rate of a Kalashnikov, or which muscle attaches to the zygomatic process of the maxilla, it’s all a mouse-click away. And as an added benefit, my fingers just so happen to type at the precise speed that my mind thinks, so my computer is my greatest ally. I know what it’s like trying to construct a world with pen and paper, and it’s tremendously frustrating. The confidence that comes with being able to edit at will can’t be overstated. I can hone a piece until it’s exactly the way I want it, which is something I couldn’t have done even twenty years ago.

Q6. Who are your favorite authors?

I grew up with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, so they have to tie for first place. After that, and in no particular order; H. G. Wells, Poe, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve read every word these men ever wrote, and more times than I can count. I could probably recite most of their works by heart. As for those authors still on the right side of the grass, I don’t play favourites. I’m a fan of many, but part of the fun is picking a book at random and hearing an entirely different voice.

Q7. What lessons have you learned from your adventures in writing?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that no matter how much of your heart you pour into a story, no matter how much you bleed, no matter how much you agonize over every word to get it exactly right; some readers are going to love what you’ve done, some will hate it, and most won’t care one way or the other. You will never please everyone, so don’t write for other people. Even if you are aiming for a ‘target audience’, you’re really only doing it for yourself. If it feels right for the story, let it happen. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Write what you feel bubbling out of your chest, because ultimately, it’s your world.

Q8. What advice do you have for someone writing their first book?

Just that. Do it. It doesn’t matter if everyone you give your book to thinks it stinks to high heaven. Just do it. Follow your bliss. Have fun, live your dream, and create the world you see in your head. If you send the finished manuscript to a dozen traditional publishers and they don’t happen to have the same vision as you, then it’s their loss. With today’s technology, you can publish it yourself. So do it. Write it, finish it, and either send it in, or do it yourself. I guarantee, someone out there has the same vision as you, and they will absolutely love the world you made.

Q9. If you couldn’t write, what activity would take its place?

Painting, probably. I slap oil on canvas in my spare time, and sometimes it isn’t entirely awful. It’s mostly Bob Ross kind of landscapes, but painting is a great release, and I get to see the end product in hours rather than months. I suppose it’s just another way to create worlds.

Q10. What book will you be releasing next and what can you tell me about it?

The next Stage 3 book is a month or two away, but I’ve just finished something else that I hope will be out soon. A while ago, I asked my best friend’s daughter what she wanted to read. Her response was, “Something scary, with a monster, and some kind of mystery.” So, for her, I wrote ‘Arcadia Falls’. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I can say that it is scary, it involves a mystery as old as time, and the monster is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

A big thank you to Ken Stark for granting me this interview. It was a pleasure to work with you. I wish you much success!

To find Ken Stark:

Website, Twitter, and Amazon Author Page

Pick up Stage 3 for only $2.99 right now on Amazon!

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Stage 3 by Ken Stark Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Stage 3 by Ken Stark

Ken Stark found a unique way to introduce us to the protagonist and the plot of the book, and I found myself applauding him for it. He teases and taunts us with snippets of the world we’re about to be immersed into and then takes it away by secluding our protagonist. All the while, you know what will be awaiting you.

Stage 3 feels new and different from others like it. Yes, we have a virus that turns folks into monsters, but that’s where the similarities end. The protagonist isn’t the normal cliched protagonist. He’s not going to do what you’d expect, and I found it refreshing. Mr. Stark even goes so far as to give us an interesting sidekick who is constantly trying to steal the show. Most authors would shy away from introducing a child into a book like this. Children add a great deal of work and consideration, but Mr. Stark bravely takes on this challenge and does it well.

At first, I questioned whether a child would trust a stranger, let alone so quickly. As a parent, we tell ourselves our children wouldn’t trust a stranger so easily. I only had to consider the environment to see the truth. A child alone in a world of madness would reach out to any adult who treated them with kindness. For Mackenzie to find someone, anyone in a sea of monsters was miraculous enough, but a person willing to help her as well, of course, she clung to that glimmer of hope.

The child element to this story gave Mr. Stark a great way to throw a wrench in the “easy way out”. Every step of the way Mackenzie challenges Mason to do the right thing and to be a better person. I could see people wanting to leave Mackenzie behind, a save-yourself mentality, but I believe there’s plenty of people who couldn’t bear to leave a child alone in a world of death.

Please don’t get the wrong impression. Mackenzie isn’t solely used to make Mason’s world harder. Mackenzie has her own sets of strengths, and she does her fair share to keep the duo alive. I applaud Mr. Stark for making her more than just mere baggage to hold Mason back.

Mr. Stark weaves suspense, action, and character development into a horrific tale of survival and friendship. Stage 3 has a steady pace that keeps you turning pages without wearing you out. You’ll have your fingers crossed for our duo, but you’ll get some breathing room and some time to learn who they really are.