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Thank you for stopping by. Hopefully, you’ve done so because you are interested in learning about books, the writing process and what makes a writer tick. Although this author specializes in science fiction and fantasy, with an occasional detour into the realm of political thrillers, over the coming weeks and months you will find interviews with both ascending talent and established authors who write everything from young adult novels to romance, erotica, historical fiction, non-fiction and more, not to mention my own genres. We will explore not only their writing, but the varied lives and interests that drive these American, Canadian, Australian, Asian and European creators of today’s genre and mainstream literature.

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The Write Stuff – Monday, June 24 – C. Stuart Hardwick Interview

C. Stuart Hardwick is an award-winning scifi author and a regular in Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine. His work has been called “classic Analog,” and “writing as poetry al la Ursula K Le Guin.”

He won the Writers of the Future contest in 2014 and was flown to LA to meet many of his childhood literary heroes. That “pay it forward” experience ultimately inspired him to found Got Scifi Group, an author’s collaborative and small press dedicated to promoting the best new voices in genre fiction. Last year he won the Jim Baen Memorial award and flew to LA again, this time to the International Space Development Conference where he was honored along with Jeff Bezos and got to meet Rod Rodenberry, Harry Hamlin and several of his scientific heroes. Today, we’ll be discussing his latest release, Final Frontier: A Scifi Celebration of the Indomitable Spirit That Carried Humanity to the Moon, published by Got Scifi Group.

Fifty years after the Apollo moon landings, Final Frontier is a celebration of the adventurous spirit that took Humanity to the moon. Fourteen award-winning authors tell stories of adventure, sacrifice, triumph and tragedy, with a foreword by Astronaut Stanley G. Love, a poem by former NASA flight controller Marianne J. Dyson, and a special musical contribution by Spider Robinson (from his novel Variable Star, lovingly based on an outline by Robert Heinlein).

These mostly near future space stories include five award-winners and run the gamut from hard scifi set during the Apollo era, to mini-thriller set in the coming age of commercial space exploration.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

Final Frontier is meant as a shot in the arm for all those who wonder why in the fifty years since the moon landings we haven’t gone back to stay. The Apollo program employed half a million people, most of whom were the first in their families to attend college and attain “the American Dream.” These were the grandchildren of the Great Depression, the children of the Second World War—and they were going to another world. What would their children and grandchildren do?

But Apollo was so hurried and so far ahead of its time, it left the impression that manned space travel was impractically expensive and dangerous—and would always remain so. It’s a bit like the pyramids, which remained unrivaled for four thousand years until the age of industry and steel. We built rockets the size of skyscrapers, but only now is our technology catching up to their promise. Now the cost of space travel is plummeting, but do we still remember our dreams?

All human history has been blazed from one horizon to the next. It’s been said that civilization can only progress so long as people are free to leave their neighbors and governments from time to time and strike anew into the wilderness—but there is no more wilderness on Earth. We have our problems here, and space technology is a powerful tool set with which to address many of them, but at the same time, it’s our nature to wander, expand, and seek the next frontier. Even as we work to improve our civilization and better manage this world, we know we must someday find another. No garden lasts forever, and neither does human patience. This then is who Final Frontier is for—those who feel drawn beyond the cosmic shore, who see our future—whether tomorrow or in a millennium—as threaded amongst the stars.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

You might say that. At the Writers of the Future workshop, our classes were led by Tim Powers, author of On Stranger Tides, the inspiration for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The first thing he taught us was that rather than competition, we should view each other as our greatest assets; writing’s a hard business.

I took that to heart. Mike Resnick gave me grief about joining my local writer’s guild, so when I got home, I joined. That led to invites and appearances throughout Texas. My network grew until it stretched from publishing industry veterans to veterans of NASA. And like any professionals, my writer friends and I spent a lot of time sharing wisdom and canvasing for advice.

I realized that early career authors like me have a real problem: we don’t have enough backlist to sell, and that makes it hard for those of us who make appearances to cover our costs—especially for out of town appearances or higher profile venues like comic cons. At the same time, many of my friends had a hard time attracting newsletter subscribers or just needed help getting their work in front of new readers. These were problems I was well positioned to help solve.

I founded Got Scifi Group to publish The Future is Nigh, an anthology of stories hand-picked by Writers of the Future winners as their introduction to new readers. Everybody got something: newsletter subscribers, readers, a profitable item to hand sell at cons—or an introduction to great new writers.

It was a big success for everyone, so we decided to do it again, this time with a wider pool of award-winning authors and a theme celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Astronaut Stanley Love agreed to write the forward. Spider Robinson (a huge proponent of space exploration) contributed a song he’d written to promote space colonization—and that had been arranged by David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash! You can’t make this stuff up! Well, you could, but it would have to be more plausible!

So now I’m promoting our second anthology and I’ve already been contacted about a third. And meanwhile I’m meeting new people and learning all sorts of skills that will help me in the future.  Oh, and my appearances are paying for themselves. Pay it forward, and it has a way of paying you back.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

Non-fiction authors are warned to write the book that only they can write, or else why should the publisher pay them instead of a bigger name? I’d like to think I do that with my fiction. I’m not going to say I’m better than anyone else—goodness knows there are a lot of very good writers today, many of whom are better than me in some way. But I’m proud that stories like “Dreams of the Rocket Man,” “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” and “For All Mankind,” (which won best novelette in the Analog reader poll), are stories only I could have written. They combine real science and history with moving humanity in a way that, if not unique, is at least identifiably mine. And the feedback I’m getting tells me I’m on the right track.

When an award-winning author tells me mine is a story they wish they had written, that means something. But when a reader thanks me and tells me they’re buying my story for a loved one, or compares me favorably to Heinlein, Bradbury, or Ursula K. Le Guin, that’s the best thing ever.

What was your path to publication?

Like many writers, I wrote from an early age, but unlike many, I never considered it as a career. Instead, I spent my time making animated home movies and trying to build flying machines out of swing set parts. Then, after I was grown and had kids of my own, I was walking to lunch one day, mentally revising a story I’d been working on for years, and it suddenly dawned on me that it was time to “fish or cut bait.”

I sat down on the spot with a napkin and a ball point pen. 35,000 words later, I had 35,000 words of drivel, but I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I went back to school. I started inflicting myself on poor editors. I joined a critique group. And in time, I started finding my voice.

Winning Writers of the Future was like reaching the end of the Yellow Brick Road and instead of hearing a voice cry, “Ignore the man behind the curtain,” a hand reaches out and the voice says, “Here, let me help you.” Then you find yourself in a lodge full of helpful and fabulously successful uncles and aunts—only you’ve really only just reached the trail head and the rest of the way is straight up the mountain. And there are bears.

My first sale after WotF was “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” written on a sort of internal dare to see if I could pull off a touching story about an inanimate object. That made Tangent Online’s recommended reading list. Then my first Jim Baen award entry sold to Analog—the oldest and most venerated scifi magazine in the world. I’ve been selling to them ever since, and I still pinch myself each time the galleys arrive.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

I’ve already mentioned the Writers of the Future contest, which was started by L. Ron Hubbard shortly before he died and has become the most prestigious contest for short scifi and fantasy in the world. Before that, I was a semifinalist for the BSFA James White award, and I won a few smaller honors. I’ve also won the Analog Analab reader poll (for “For All Mankind,”) and the Jim Baen Memorial award after being finalist for both numerous times.

Interesting side story: It was the Jim Baen win that took me back to Los Angeles. where I met Rod Roddenberry, Harry Hamlin, and famed scientists Frank Drake and Freeman Dyson. Your readers may know Dr. Drake from the famous Drake Equation used to estimate the likelihood of extraterrestrial life and Dr. Dyson from his work on atomic pulse propulsion (project Orion) back in the ’50s.

At the time of the LA trip, “Open Source Space” was due out in Analog, and since I had set a scene at the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory, I decided to rent a car and drive up to see the facility myself. That was an adventure, as I found myself passing through towns familiar from the asteroid evacuation scenes in Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer. Then, like the flick of a light switch, I pulled out of a rainy, overcast LA, through a thousand foot layer of cloud, and out into the Nebraska springtime atop Mt. Wilson.

Then, when I got there, the telescope was locked up—naturally. It has an observation window for visitors, but no lighting. I had a better view in my daddy’s 1961 encyclopedia. Somewhat disappointed, I started the hike back to the car when I ran into a ranger. Learning of the reason for my visit, he offered to take me inside for a photograph under the telescope. And that’s how I came to have a photo of little ol’ me, standing under the instrument that Edwin Hubble used to redefine our universe!

How do you overcome writer’s block?

My character gets up. They brush their teeth. They have bacon or scones or a bottle or injection or whatever that character would have, and pretty soon I’m writing the next scene—the real scene hiding behind the block. Scoff if you will, but it works. Writers block is just performance anxiety, and we do it to ourselves.

Performance anxiety is a funny thing. It’s all about fear of failure. On my website is a photo of me explaining to two younger writers that there’s no fear when you’re playing a part because you’re just reading someone else’s lines. It’s the same for writer’s block. It largely goes away when you give yourself permission to write drivel. And you can edit the drivel out later.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Enormously.  When I won my first little contest, I declined publication because I knew my story wasn’t yet what it should be but I didn’t know why. Now I do, and I’ve learned to better see through my reader’s eyes so I don’t make stupid mistakes that would otherwise waste time, confuse readers, and annoy editors. Clarity is job one. I may also have polished up my metaphoric superpowers a tad, but that doesn’t help if the reader’s left scratching her head.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

I had the very good fortune to talk to the late, great Jerry Pournelle about that. He didn’t have anything very surprising to say, just that it works best with someone whose strengths and weaknesses complement yours—which means you need to know what they are. And you have to be able to subordinate your ego to the work. And it’s not for everyone. Of course, there are other kinds of collaboration, from sharing a booth at a comic con to the work we do at Got Scifi Group. The main thing is to play fair. A rising tide floats all boats. Just let it seek its level.

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I grew up traipsing through the badlands and ghost towns of South Dakota: Cold War bombers flying overhead, Old West relics under foot, and Cretaceous fossils eroding from black, barren hillsides. At night we built bonfires, cooked marshmallows under the Milky-Way, and listened to family lore about post-depression Louisiana like pages from a Steinbeck novel. Of course I became a writer.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I’m that guy who sells watermelons by the side of the highway when it’s hot out. Not really. Actually, I help keep the lights on for millions of people in Texas, a job that’s more like being a secret agent than you might suspect, in that we spend a good deal of time dealing with foreign powers attempting to probe our defenses, and what we do about that would bore an audience to actual tears.

Actually, that watermelon gig looks pretty good. I’m pretty good at hand-selling books at comic cons. Maybe I could trade all this in for a road-side library and taco stand? Just a thought.

Describe a typical day.

The sun rises, “bang,” like that (snaps fingers). For 168 hours, it creeps across the sky, insinuating itself into every shadow, all but the deepest craters, those near the poles where primordial ice still holds out from the formation of the…oh…you probably meant on Earth, like for me. That’s nothing so dramatic. I spend a typical day at the day job paying the mortgage. Then I come home and catch up with the family, eating stir-fry or sandwiches in front of Star Trek reruns. Then I go write—another full time job, or do PR (another full-time job) or edit anthologies (a full time job) or record and produce narration (a sometime full time job). Fortunately, there are 168 hours in a day.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My terrier, Mr. Lucky, is a rescue dog so named for having survived distemper, three dates with the country executioner, and (as we learned later) a bullet still lodged in his belly. He’s so smart it’s eerie, and uses his own distinct “bite code” to tell us when he wants to go out, is thirsty, is hungry, wants to go look out the front door at the fireworks, or wants us to play “blanket monster.”

Thanks, Stuart, for sharing with us. Before I conclude with an excerpt from Final Frontier, followed by your social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: Science nerd.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Wikipedia. No, coffee. No, cushy seating…in a coffee shop…with wifi.

The one thing I would change about my life: Not one damn thing. If I’d started writing earlier, I’d have made bigger mistakes and given up. If I hadn’t had my heart broken, I’d have married the wrong girl. If I were smarter or better looking, I might be a jackass. I’m good, thanks. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t dare.

My biggest peeve is: Short form improvisational narrative. The shiny is all in revision.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: That awesome new gate I built beside the driveway with a little shelf to set coffee mugs on while fumbling for keys. And the writing thing.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with? Sure. Final Frontier is on sale now and an audiobook production is on the way. I also have an article coming up in Analog Science Fiction & Fact called “Do We Still Need NASA.” Free samples are available on my website, cStuartHardwick.com.

Thanks for having me.

Excerpt

In July of ’69, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. I was with Scott at Laguardia, waiting on the red-eye to Moscow. The era of détente had blown in three weeks earlier when the Russians’ heavy booster exploded, destroying its launchpad and their one-of-a-kind mother of all asteroid killing H-bombs.

With their camper and atomic drive, the Russians had the ticket to the ballpark, but we had the ride and the bat to swing once we got there. It would require a Frankenstein’s Monster of technology and culture stitched together with explosive bolts, but someone had been planning ahead.

Parts for two Saturn rockets had been waiting at anchor off Istanbul, having started their journey a year earlier. Now they were en route to Baikonur, where the backup pad for the Russians’ failed booster would be ready for them in September.

One Saturn would carry the Russian drive. The other would take the camper, and us in an Apollo Command and Service Module with our “Special Payload Deployment Ring” in place of the heat shield. So in addition to five million pounds of explosive fuel, I’d be riding atop a dozen A-bombs. Don’t tell me girls don’t have balls.

I’d said my goodbye’s back in Houston, all except to Jerrie, who’d made herself scarce since our orders came in and she wasn’t on the roster. As Scott had foreseen, I was in command, but my Drive Module Pilot was a Russian engineer named Tatyana Tereshchenko. She was a crackerjack, but she was no pilot. She’d never even been in a simulator.

It galled me to trade Jerrie’s experience for some egg headed Ruskie. After all we’d been through, she had to feel betrayed, and it killed me that she might think I’d had any hand in it. But Scott was my backup along with a tiny Soviet air force captain named Fyodor Danisov. If I held out for Jerrie, I was assured, either man could replace me with only a slight increase to the risk of killing everyone on Earth.

We had a month to prepare a brand new mission. There was simply no time for complaining.

Tatyana was sharp. She’d memorized all our manuals and could even quote from Buzz Aldrin’s dissertation on orbital rendezvous. But the critical maneuvers during the first three days would all be on me. Assuming I didn’t get us killed, she’d have eight months to learn the ropes. And so would I.

At the Gagarin Training Center, Tatyana took me to see our unproven drive module, still on a test stand awaiting its nuclear fuel. At its heart was a miniature atomic reactor designed to power a strategic bomber but never used for that purpose because, well, that would be crazy.

In space, it would sit at the end of a twelve-meter boom, with six radiators projecting around it like the fins of a dart. We’d be at the pointy end, protected from radiation by shielding, electromagnetic lenses, the boom itself, and finally a pair of propellant tanks.

For now it was all folded and crated, and when I moved a tarp from one of the plasma nacelles, some dust flew up and I sneezed.

Tatyana said, “Gesundheit!” then looked away sheepishly and launched into a lecture on the assembly procedures to be performed by cosmonauts in space.

It was an awkward start, but when I suggested handholds to facilitate spacewalking repair, the chaperon balked, Tatyana barked, and in twenty minutes, a squadron of engineers had descended on the hanger, argued around a chalkboard, and agreed to a short list of changes.

I started to think my egghead might be an asset after all.

You can follow C. Stuart Hardwick here:

Website: www.cStuartHardwick.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CStuartHardwick

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cStuartHardwick.author

You can purchase Final Frontier here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07R7C7CHF

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/final-frontier-c-stuart-hardwick/1131391378/

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 10 – Christopher Barili Interview

Christopher Barili has been writing since his teenage years, and wrote his first full-length novel longhand before transcribing into type using an old IBM Selectric II typewriter. That novel—which shall never see the light of day again—won him literary student of the year in his high school graduating class. Chris continued to write through his undergraduate studies, but met with little publishing luck until he enrolled in Western Colorado University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. That’s where a crafty professor forced him to write a western short story, a genre he’d never written in before. That story, “Yellow,” became Chris’s first fiction sale, and was followed by a dozen more short fiction sales. With the appearance of his noir story “Eighteen and Two” in the inaugural print edition of Toe Six Magazine, Chris has now published fiction in all the major genres: fantasy, science fiction, romance, western, and crime.

Chris also became the first student out of Western’s MFA program to sell his thesis for publication. His supernatural romance novel, Smothered, came out (under pen name B.T. Clearwater) from Permuted Press in 2016, one of two stories selected to trailblaze Permuted’s supernatural romance lineup. WordFire Press will release Chris’s second novel, a contemporary fantasy called Shadow Blade (the first in a trilogy) on June 26th of this year. It’s available for pre-order through the link at the bottom of this post. He is currently working on Book Two in that series, as well as revising a Supernatural Romance novel, and writing at least one short story.

I asked him to describe Shadow Blade and he handed me this:

Ashai Larish is an assassin from the brutal Denari Lai order. Religious zealots, Denari Lai train from childhood, and are kept loyal through an addiction to the same magic that makes them unstoppable. They have become the main weapon for the tiny, theocratic nation of Nishi’iti. They kill from inside their targets’ inner circle, they never kill innocents, and in a hundred years, they’ve never failed.

Until now. Ashai just has to kill the tyrannical Pushtani King Abadas Damar and his daughter/heir, Markari. He infiltrates the king’s inner circle, putting him in the perfect place to strike. He wins over Abadas so completely, that the king gives him Makari’s hand in marriage. Only the venerable Captain Bauti of the Royal Guard, whose love for Makari is well-known in the palace, suspects Ashai of anything.

Except Ashai has fallen for Makari and cannot complete the hit. When a second Denari Lai strikes, Ashai finds himself fighting for Makari’s life instead of taking it. To make matters worse, the order cuts him off from his magic, leaving him weakened and in a kind of magical withdrawal. In order to be able to fight the second assassin, Ashai is forced to turn to “back alley magic,” pills and potions that provide a power similar to his, but at a significant price to the user.

Meanwhile, far north, in the Pushtani mines that border Nishi’iti, a slave named Pachat learns that his love, a hand-slave to Makari, has been killed. His grief ignites a rebellion, with him as the leader of the other miners. Urged on by Nishi’iti special forces, the rebellion sweeps across the borderlands, threatening to erupt into all-out war. Yet all Pachat wants is to avenge his beloved’s death, so he walks away from the rebellion to seek his lover’s killer.

As Pachat makes off for Dar Tallus, Ashai is forced to rely on the capitol city’s organized crime gang. Despite his best efforts to hide it, Makari discovers Ashai’s true identity, and suddenly, he finds himself without her love, without his faith, and without the Denari Lai. He is alone and at rock bottom.

Can Ashai kill the second assassin and win back Makari’s love? Will he regain his faith and restore his magic?

What do you want readers to know about your book?

That it is the first book in a trilogy, and I am writing Book Two right now. It began life as a stand-alone fantasy, but it turned out that the characters have a much longer story to tell than I thought.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

The idea for this book—which was my backup thesis for my MFA—came during a creative writing class taught by Michaela Roessner at Western State. She gave us an exercise where we had to look up a term or object or character typically seen in the genre we primarily write in. I ended up looking up where “assassin” came from. Turns out, the word originated in Arabic, and translates as “Hash eater.” There was an assassin’s order in old Syria or Iraq, lead by someone known as The Old Man in the Mountain. He kept his killers faithful by getting them hooked on Hashish, and telling them that their highs were actually glimpses into heaven. He further convinced them that only he could give them that insight. It created very loyal, very effective killers. That assignment idea turned into a novel idea, which became the backup outline for my MFA thesis. I ultimately went with a different choice for thesis to allow more time for world-building in Shadow Blade.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

Because I have a bit more of a romantic element in my book, for one thing. Obviously, Ashai falls in love with Makari early in the novel, and that conflict continues throughout the series. Also, I don’t necessarily adhere to the medieval western Europe model for my world building.

What was your path to publication?

For this book, pitched it to an Editor from a major, Big Five house at Superstars Writing Seminars. He told me it had strong world building and interesting characters, but that he already had an assassin series. Didn’t want them to compete. So using his comments as kind of blurbs, I was ready to pitch to someone else when a friend suggested WordFire might like the book. They didn’t have an assassin series, so I emailed Kevin Anderson, who referred me to Dave Butler, his acquisitions editor. Dave said it would be a couple of weeks, but Kevin emailed my acceptance two days later.

What are you working on now?

I am writing Book Two in the Denari Lai Series, tentatively titled “Shadow Masks.” I’m also working on Book Three in my Hell’s Butcher novella series, and a short story.

What else have you written?

I have published a paranormal romance novel as B.T. Clearwater through Permuted Press. I have published short fiction in every genre except thriller. And I self-publish a novella weird western series known as the Hell’s Butcher Series.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

I don’t submit myself for awards, because I’m not in it for that. I’d rather have readers.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Yes, definitely, though not always the same way, and not always the whole thing at once. For novel-length works, I use either the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (BS2), with colored sticky notes on a white board, or the software program Contour. Either way, I usually only outline one act at a time. So I’ll outline act 1, write it, outline act 2, etc. This allows me to make adjustments on the fly. If my characters take a plot line in a direction I didn’t foresee, I don’t have to rewrite the whole outline. It’s easier to may course changes that way.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Never had it. In my opinion, writer’s block comes from lack of preparation. It means you’re not READY to write that thing you’re trying to write. Either you don’t know your characters well enough, haven’t thought out the conflict enough, or just plain aren’t excited about the story. And I always have multiple writing projects going on, so if I’m not ready on one, or just don’t want to work on it, I can work on something else.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

I have Parkinson’s disease, which causes a set of unique problems, including difficulty typing at times, fatigue, and so on. It means I have to work extra hard to get a story written, sometimes just 500 words at a time. And it means I spend a lot of time doing things to fight the disease (like mountain biking and karate), and those take away from writing.

Tell us about your writing community.

We have an amazing writing community here, and my involvement in it goes back to the early 2000s, when I joined a writer’s critique group with John Stith, Barbara Nickless, Sasha Miller, and more. That group disbanded, though, and I didn’t find another until July of 2016, when I met Marie Whittaker, Tony “Christopher” Katava, and Kevin Ikenberry. I’d just gotten diagnosed and divorced, and was having trouble dealing with it all. Those guys took me in and got me involved with the community. And of course, both Marie and Barb encouraged me to try Superstars Writing Seminars, and that has become a huge support net for me.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes, I work as an imagery intelligence analyst for the DoD.

Describe a typical day.

Up at 4 a.m., at work by 5:30. Work in a dark, windowless room for 8.5 hours, then either go mountain biking or go to the dojo. Squeeze in meals and time for my incredible girlfriend, and the day is used up.

Do you have any pet projects?

I self-publish a dark fantasy/weird western series of novellas called the “Hell’s Butcher Series,” and while I’ll never make back the money I spend publishing them, they have a small, cult following that eats them up, so I keep writing them.

What is your greatest life lesson?

Nobody makes it alone. Let people help you. ASK for help. That’s the only way sometimes. Don’t let pride keep you from doing it.

Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to share with us. Before I close with an excerpt from Shadow Blade, followed by your social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with the traditional Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: fighter.

The one thing I cannot do without is: My bike.

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d have spent more time with my kids, especially my youngest.

My biggest peeve is: Lazy people. If you don’t want to work hard, get out of the way for those of us who do.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: My girlfriend. She’s my twin flame.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Don’t put off writing. Do it. Do it now. Waiting for tomorrow sucks because there’s always another tomorrow. Until there’s not.

Excerpt from Chapter One:

No one ever noticed Ashai. In his business, being noticed got you killed. So he kept his black hair trimmed just below the ears, flowing free in the style popular with Pushtani men. His nose had been broken once, but its jagged bend was not unusual among these men, who often tussled over matters of honor or family. He wore the long, tan robe of a cloth merchant, nothing more. Though he could afford them, he didn’t wear expensive perfumes, nor did he allow himself the luxury of fine jewelry. A simple leather band wrapped around his right wrist—a plain adornment for a plain man. He looked like the average Pushtani, blending in despite having only lived in Dar Tallus two years. No one here knew his true identity. No one knew his plan.

They wouldn’t until he spilled blood.

The sun hung low in the eastern sky, but already, Central Square baked in its heat. Summers here oppressed a man, body and spirit, the heat baking the trash piles and sewage in the streets until the stench assailed the senses like a foul army. When it rained it merely made the heat muggy, and brought out mosquitoes as big as Ashai’s fingers, and biting, yellow flies. Yes, with its squat two-story buildings, dark cobble stones, and throngs of people, Central Square acted like a frying pan, grilling up merchants, beggars, and nobles alike.

Ashai slipped through the crowd, angling and sidling at a steady pace, not slowing, despite the packed street. He passed within a finger-length of rich merchants, commoners, and soldiers smelling of sweat inside their bulky armor. The last would have gutted him had they known his true identity. But they marched past, blissfully ignorant.

It helped that he drew lightly on the tiny stream of power his God provided him, taking in its strength and portioning it out to his mind, body, and face. He saw events before the average man, as if time had slowed for Ashai, so he moved through the crowd like it stood still. His features shifted slightly with every step, making it impossible for any two people to describe him exactly the same. Even the deep brown of his eyes—the mark of a Nishi’iti—changed every other step: blue, then green, then gray. Never brown. Not here, where Nishi’itis were beaten on-sight. Never brown eyes.

Nishi’s power also improved his senses, feeding him bits of conversations, detecting scents only dogs could smell, keeping him alert for any sign of danger.

He stopped outside a spice shop, breathing in the aromas of cinnamon, crushed hot pepper, and Nishi’iti Snow Spice, which made his mouth water. Ashai had grown up on Nishi’iti streets much like these, only without the heat. Or the wealth.

But he lived here now, in the capital city of Pushtan. He no longer slept under bridges or wagons, but in a small flat atop his humble fabric shop. A shop he’d paid for himself, with money he’d earned as a cloth merchant. All part of an elaborate cover story, years in the making.  And that cover was so perfect, it was like it had been fated since his birth. Even his Nishi’iti name, “Azha’i,” made the transition to the Pushtani version simple.

Nishi always provided.

The crowd milled about like sheep, ringing the fountain in the center of the square. Waiting. For her.

These fools ignored their gods and worshipped a mortal woman. A woman marked to die.

Ashai studied the street entering the square from the north. Princess Makari would come from there for her weekly bout of helping the poor from the safety of her carriage, where the filthy masses couldn’t touch her. On occasion, she would step from her coach onto the broiling cobblestones and mingle with her people. Today would be one such day, if her patterns held.

He’d seen her many times, and always from afar, yet her beauty always stunned him. He almost regretted that he would kill her.

Almost.

Out of nowhere, the stench of rotting flesh hit him like a wall of refuse. He glanced to his right, following the odor. There, weaving through the crowd, was a bent, filthy man, with hair like a  wet mop and rags on his back. When his gaze met Ashai’s, his eyes flashed silver.

“Nishi strike him.” Ashai risked the Nishi’iti curse out loud to protect himself from the foul creature. Shiners were people who fell prey to back alley magic—potions or powders or spells that gave them a kind of contaminated power that mimicked Nishi’s gift. But once the corrupted magic sunk its teeth into a victim, it never let go. Most went mad and killed themselves. Survivors were marked with the glow in their eyes for all to see. Abominations.

The first time Ashai had seen a shiner, he’d left the man’s corpse on the snow-swept side of a Nishi’iti mountain.

Those who would like to follow Chris online can do so here:

Website:  www.authorchrisbarili.ink
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/authorcbarili/

Twitter:  @authorcbarili

You can order a copy of Shadow Blade here: https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Blade-Denari-Chris-Barili/dp/1614759812/

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, May 27 – Jeffrey J. Mariotte Interview

Jeffrey J. Mariotte has written more than seventy novels, including original supernatural thrillers River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts, the horror epic, The Slab, which I am featuring this week, and the Stoker Award-nominated teen horror quartet, Dark Vengeance. Other works include the acclaimed thrillers Empty Rooms and The Devil’s Bait, and—with his wife and writing partner Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell—the science fiction thriller, 7 SYKOS and Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the authorized prequel to the hit video game, as well as numerous shorter works. He has also written novels set in the worlds of Star Trek, CSI, NCIS, Narcos, Deadlands, 30 Days of Night, Spider-Man, Conan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and more.

He is also the author of many comic books and graphic novels, including the original Western series Desperadoes. Other comics work includes the horror series Fade to Black, action-adventure series  Garrison, and the original graphic novel Zombie Cop.

He is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, the Western Writers of America, and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book businesses, as a bookseller, VP of Marketing for Image Comics/WildStorm, Senior Editor for DC Comics/WildStorm, and the first Editor-in-Chief for IDW Publishing. When he’s not writing, reading, or editing something, he’s probably out enjoying the desert landscape around the Arizona home he shares with his family and dog and cat.

Amazon describes The Slab as follows:

A skull in a fire pit.

A man who can’t remember his murders.

A woman snatched off the street, then set free only to be hunted down like an animal—until she becomes the hunter.

When these threads wind together, the result is unstoppable suspense and unforgettable horror. In the grim days following 9/11, three veterans of different wars are drawn together in one of the most remote, forbidding areas of the California desert. As serial killers ply their deadly trade and an ancient evil grows beneath desert sands, these three must discover the terrifying bond they share and learn to harness its power–before the darkness spreads and the world they know is gone forever.

Written in powerful prose as dangerous as its desert setting, The Slab is a true epic of horror and dark suspense.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

The Slab is a multi-character horror epic, loaded with surprising twists and turns and harrowing suspense.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

The Slab was my first original novel, after I wrote several tie-in books. I’d started it in early 2001, and then September 11 happened and I had to put it aside for a long time. When I took it up again, the world was a different place, and my novel was a different book. That time was awkward and confusing and sad and horrific, and that’s all reflected in the book. But when I recently re-edited and rewrote some of it for this author’s-preferred edition, I discovered that in many ways it’s as relevant now as it ever was.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I’ve been in the book business for more than 30 years, as a bookseller, bookstore manager, and bookstore owner, as an author, and as a publisher. Before, during, and since, I’ve also been a fan, and am widely read in multiple genres. I’ve also written in many different genres, because I love them all. So I’m not one of those horror writers who only writes horror—I write suspense, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, westerns, historical, superheroes, and occasional nonfiction. And I bring elements of all those different genres into everything I write. Blending genres in new and surprising ways is one of my favorite hobbies.

What was your path to publication?

Everybody’s path to publication is a little bit different, and I don’t think anybody can replicate mine exactly. My first professional sale was to a widely praised, influential anthology called Full Spectrum. The editor was someone I’d become acquainted with through my bookstore work, and when I saw that he was buying for a new book, I sent in a story. He said he was happy to find out that it didn’t suck, because that’s always a concern when an editor looks at a story from a friend he’s never read before. He bought it, suggested a couple of minor changes, and that became my first story. Years later, the regional bookstore chain I worked for shut down its southern California stores, and as I was in the process of putting together my own specialty store, my former assistant manager’s husband reached out to ask me if I’d write some trading card backs for him. He was Jim Lee, an artist who had left Marvel Comics to become one of the original founders of Image Comics. He had a growing business, and after that first set of trading cards, he had me write a few other things, then eventually brought me onto the staff. I became the company’s VP of Marketing, and when we sold the company to DC Comics, I became an editor there. But meanwhile, I was also writing comics, and I was asked by my friend Christopher Golden to collaborate on a novel about one of our superhero teams, Gen13. That became my first novel, 20 years ago this year. Then Chris introduced me to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer editor, and I wrote a Buffy novelization, then a bunch of Angel novels, and things just kind of took off from there.

What are you working on now?

I have a procedural thriller that I’m shopping, and am exploring various other projects, but haven’t decided yet which one I want to take all the way.

What else have you written?

So, so much. I’ve had seventy-some published novels, a couple dozen short stories, and about 175 comic books and graphic novels. I’ve written or contributed to five or six nonfiction books, written a CSI DVD game, and all sorts of other weird side projects. I’ve been a working novelist for 20 years, having published at least one and often several novels in each of those years.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

I’ve won two Scribe Awards from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, and my most recent book, Narcos: The Jaguar’s Claw, is also a nominee. I’ve also been nominated for Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards in the horror field, the Spur Award in the western arena, and the Glyph award in comics. True West Magazine picked Desperadoes as the best western comic of the year, a few years back. And Comic-Con International: San Diego honored me with an Inkpot Award for my “contributions to the field of science fiction and fantasy.”

Do you create an outline before you write?

I usually work from an outline, though not always. In the world of tie-in fiction, a solid, thorough outline is a necessity, because it has to be approved by the licensor before I can start the book. And once it is approved, if I want to vary much from it, I’d better have a convincing reason. That experience taught me the value of a good outline. I use it as a roadmap—I need to get from my starting point to the final destination. I know what that destination is, and I know basically the route I’ll take to get there, including some of the high points along the way. While I’m traveling, if I see a sign directing me toward the world’s largest ball of string, I can go over there and check it out—because who doesn’t want to see that?—knowing that I can get back on the right path, because my map is solid. That said, sometimes I just like to dive in and see where a story takes me. I did not use an outline on The Slab, for instance, even though it has a lot of characters and different plotlines weaving in and out of each other.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

I’ve accomplished much of what I set out to do in my career—told lots of great stories, touched people’s lives in innumerable ways, and made many fast friends. What I haven’t had is a major breakout success. I’m not complaining—I’ve been published by all the Big 5 publishers, made plenty of money from my books, and have a loyal readership. But it’s a small one. In part, I blame my unwillingness to stick to a single genre, but that’s what I have to do to be true to myself. So my challenge, 70-some books in, is that my audience isn’t big enough to excite the ever-dwindling number of major publishing houses. My response to that challenge is to focus my efforts on smaller houses, like WordFire—places where the old ethos of publishing holds true, where I can be published by people who get what I’m doing and respect it. That’s why I brought The Slab to WordFire Press. They’re putting out five of my favorite novels this year, in celebration of my 20th year as a working novelist. And the editions they’re releasing are not only stunning to behold, but each one has been revised and re-edited to be as good as I can possibly make it.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

I’ve collaborated with many different writers, from my first novel throughout my career. And because I’m not an artist, every comic book of graphic novel I’ve written has been a collaboration. My favorite collaborator is my wife, Marsheila Rockwell, because she’s a fantastic writer and poet and we really enhance one another’s work. My theory on any collaboration is that the finished product should be something neither of us could possibly have done alone. My collaborator and I have different life experiences, different backgrounds, different hopes and fears and joys and regrets, so we’ll each bring a unique sensibility to the project.

What motivates or inspires you?

I find inspiration in countless ways throughout the day. I pay attention to the news—I subscribe to three different newspapers—and of course am bombarded by more through the internet and social media. I see people struggling, close to home and around the world, and I want to offer them some kind of hope, some bright spot in their day. I think I’m ultimately an optimist—maybe an optimistic realist, or a realistic optimist—and through my books and stories, I try to tell stories in which magic is real, in which hope is an option, and in which decency triumphs. It doesn’t seem like that is always true in real life, but it should be.

Do you have any pet projects?

Although I’ve worked on—at last count—37 different tie-in properties over the course of my career, one character I’ve never tackled, although I’d love to, is Batman. Specifically, I’d like to novelize the Daughter of the Demon storyline that introduced Ra’s Al Ghul to the world. That’s my favorite Batman story arc of all time, and I’d drop everything else to do it if the opportunity arose.

What is your greatest life lesson?

Don’t be a jerk. Really, that shouldn’t be that hard. If you’re not a jerk, if you treat people with honesty and respect, life can be pretty fulfilling.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Oh, it’s a long, long list. Spending decades selling books will do that to you. If you could see my book collection, you’d understand. Just to name a small handful: Marsheila Rockwell, Wallace Stegner, William Goldman, Stephen King, Laura Lippman, James Lee Burke, Don Winslow, Greg Iles, Joan Vinge, Graham Greene, Sue Grafton, Samuel R. Delany, John Connolly…want me to go on? Because I can…

Thank you Jeffrey for taking the time to share with us. I’d like you to know that a couple of your responses made me smile, and that isn’t always the case. Before I present an excerpt from The Slab, as well as links to where visitors can purchase it and follow you online, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Chocolate chip cookie snob.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Iced tea.

The one thing I would change about my life: More time and money for travel.

My biggest peeve is: People who don’t understand simple grammar. Your/you’re, their/they’re/there, etc.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: Probably a cliché, but my wife is my best friend, writing partner, and ideal reader. Doesn’t get better than that.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Did I mention “Don’t be a jerk?” Because that’s really key. Also, you’ll be a better person if you read my books. More attractive to the gender of your choice, and probably wealthier and more satisfied with life. So there it is: forego jerkiness and read my books. Life can be great.

 

Excerpt:

 

Lucy nodded her understanding, shoveling in her last forkful of eggs. She ate fast, not knowing if they might at any moment decide she’d had enough time. She didn’t want to upset her stomach but she figured she would need the fuel. When she had downed the last of the coffee, she realized she still had the fork in her hand.

“Can I keep this?” she asked.

“A fork?” the guayabera man asked with a chuckle. Today he wore a military-style olive drab T‑shirt and camouflage pants, though, as did all the others, so she knew she’d have to come up with a different name for him. She noticed they’d been careful not to use their names in front of her. She took that as a positive sign—maybe they intended to let her live, after all. “You want to keep a fork?”

“You guys have the guns, so it seems only fair,” she said.

“Sure, darlin’” the curly guy said. He was definitely the decision-maker of the bunch, and the first one she’d plunge the fork into if she ever got the chance. “You can keep the fork. Enjoy it. You need to use the can before you get going?”

“Yes, please,” Lucy said, willing to delay the start any way she could. A few minutes sitting around in the shade while they stood outside in the sun, getting more and more anxious and disturbed—she would take that. She knew it wasn’t much of an advantage—it wouldn’t compensate, for instance, for the fact that her wedge sandals were just about impossible to run in. But it was something, and she had decided during the night that she would cling to any positives she could. Negative thinking was just going to get her dead.

When she got inside the outhouse, she realized, too late, that she should have asked for water instead of coffee for breakfast. Water would do her more good and stay with her longer. But it wasn’t like they’d offered her the choice—the coffee had just been put in front of her. If she hadn’t accepted it, she might well have gone thirsty.

Once again, she sat inside until they banged on the walls and insisted she come out. When she emerged, she was still cool, but the two guys who had escorted her out had already sweated through their T-shirts.

“Let’s go, bitch,” one of them snarled. He was the one with the drooping mustache that made him look perpetually miserable. Probably he is, she thought, or why would he participate in something like this?

She just gave him a smile. “Show some respect,” she said. “You don’t own me yet. Maybe you never will.”

“Oh, we own you, bitch,” he said. “Just like you were bought and paid for. You just don’t know it yet.”

“We’ll see.” Lucy said, trying to maintain a pleasant demeanor. It was fun to see how much it pissed this guy off when she was nice to him.

The other escort, the muscular one with the ponytail, seemed to understand her psychological warfare, though, because he grabbed the mustached guy’s arm. “Let it go,” he said. “She’ll find out soon enough.”

“There’s thirteen graves around here full of bitches didn’t think we owned them either,” the mustached guy said, ignoring his friend’s advice.

“Shut up, man,” the ponytailed guy said. “You too,” he said, directed at Lucy. “You just keep quiet.”

She nodded and smiled as they walked her back to the house.

The other men were scattered around the couches and chairs of the cabin’s main room, looking like they were ready to get going. “You know the rules,” the curly guy said. “You get away, you get away. You don’t, you’re ours. You get a twenty-minute head start. Any questions? Too bad. It’s really very simple.”

She had questions, but none that she would bother to ask. What the mustached one had let slip answered the most important one. If they brought her back here, not only would they use her but then they’d kill her. So she wasn’t coming back to this cabin, ever. Curly was right. It was very simple.

“I’m ready,” she said.

“Nobody’s stopping you. Clock starts now.”

Lucy turned without a second look back and ran out the door. As soon as she was outside, she took off the sandals and looped them over her wrists. It would hurt to run on the bare dirt and rocks, but she’d make far better time barefoot. At the same time, she didn’t want to let go of the sandals, because they might come in handy later on.

She still had the fork, tucked into the rear pocket of her jeans.

Bare feet slapping the hot stones and fallen twigs and raw earth, Lucia Alvarez ran for her life.

You can follow Jeffrey J. Mariotte here:

Website: www.jeffmariotte.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JeffreyJMariotte

Twitter: @JeffMariotte

You can purchase The Slab here:

The Write Stuff – Monday, May 13 – Seanan McGuire Interview

When I introduced myself to Seanan McGuire at this year’s Superstars Writing Seminar’s VIP dinner in Colorado Springs and asked if I could interview her, she agreed, saying, “I’d love to be interviewed, but you will have to PM me, because I don’t remember this sort of thing.” I didn’t understand her then, but I believe I may understand the reason behind her answer now. I don’t believe she could have written Middlegame, her most recent work, were she grounded in the banal, in things like appointments and schedules and remembering to contact people who are better left to contact her.

It’s not without good reason so many readers have become enamored of her work. I was off balance and shaken the moment I read Middlegame’s opening sentences. After the first chapter, I settled in. Just when I’d grown comfortable with the story’s direction and thought I understood its characters, Seanan reached into my chest and tore out a piece of my heart, causing me to put down the book and gather myself before plunging in again, this time with a renewed need to know and a degree of desperation behind that need. Writers rarely move me to that extent, but then most storylines don’t resemble a stroll through a mine field.

This is what TOR.COM Publishing has to say about it:

New York Times bestselling and Alex, Nebula, and Hugo-Award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of amoral alchemy, shadowy organizations, and impossible cities in the standalone fantasy, Middlegame.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

Thank you, Seanan, for agreeing to participate in my author interview series, The Write Stuff. Good books arise from an author’s soul and personal experiences, and Middlegame is an exceptional book. Whenever I feature an author of note, I try to determine how the book in question did so. I also like to put my website’s visitors in touch with the author’s heart. The questions that follow should reflect that.

The book felt, in many ways, autobiographical. At one point, you write, “Smart kids get put on a pedestal by parents and teachers alike, and the rest of the class gather around the base of it throwing rocks, trying to knock them down.” Was this assertion based on personal experience, and, if so, would you care to elaborate?

It was a bit, but it’s not really something I want to talk about. The book is my talking about it. That’s all I can handle.

You’re quite the wordsmith, but I suspect you’re more well-rounded than Roger. How much of Roger are you? How much Dodger?

I’m more Erin than either one of them. I don’t have any connections to profound cosmic forces (that I’m aware of, anyway).

A well-written book touches the writer as much as it does the reader. When you were writing the passage that’s intended to break people’s hearts, were you able to push through, to keep on writing to its conclusion, or did you have to take breaks in order to regain your composure?

That part came very much from life. I wrote that whole sequence in a day. I had to. If I’d stopped, I’m not sure I would have been able to start back up again.

Next, I have to ask if you cried when you were writing how things got mended.

No.

Middlegame kept me running to the Internet to find the meaning of terms like alkahest and haruspicy. Have you read any books related to alchemy, theosophy or perhaps Helena Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, possibly the works of Aleister Crowly for some of your inspiration? How much time have you spent studying the Tarot?

Quite a lot of time. I used to do readings, but for this book, I studied an enormous amount of material on and about alchemy, and focused on the contents of my folklore library to the exclusion of all else.

You suggest that L. Frank Baum’s Oz books are allegories somehow tied to alchemy, rather than being political in nature as has been traditionally accepted. This is the first time I’ve heard this assertion. Would you care to elaborate?

I feel like Middlegame is me elaborating, at great length, on this assertion, which is made by fictional people in the context of a work of fiction.

From the title, which imparts a theme, through the first several chapters, chess and chess competitions play a major role. Do you play? If so, do you compete or have you competed?

No.

Will you be taking readers farther down the Improbable Road any time soon?

That depends entirely on how well Middlegame is received. If people enjoy it, I would very much like to continue down the road.

Despite the fact you’re so well suited to writing fantasy and sci-fi, have you ever considered writing something radically different in order to stretch yourself?

I really thought that this book was me doing something radically different in order to stretch myself. It’s not like anything else I’ve done before.

How excited are you that the Wayward Children series is coming to television?

Very.

How much a part of its production are you allowed to be, or do you care to be?

Not much. This isn’t my job. I need to focus on writing books and getting stuff done.

Would you care to elaborate on what Wikipedia describes as your “affinity for poisonous reptiles”? Are there poisonous reptiles you’re especially drawn to? What about your website’s claim that you enjoy “long walks through swamps”?

I’m a big fan of vipers and poisonous toads, which are often found in swamps. I wrote my website, so that claim is entirely correct. I like walking through swamps. It’s soothing.

Someone posted about your performance of “Saving Ourselves” with the filk group, Wicked Girls, on YouTube: “I have a friend obsessed with Seanan’s books who linked me this song and I find it absolutely beautiful. Seanan has a very lovely voice. If she had an album I would pay for it.” I was surprised to learn you have produced several. Are they selling well? Do you have plans to market them more widely?

The sound is called “Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves”; I’m part of two filk groups, Lady Mondegreen and Dead Sexy. I have five albums out so far, and they’ve all sold so well that they’re currently out of print. I’m not really planning to market them more widely than I already have, since there’s no record label involved, and we’re already at the limit of what I can handle on my own.

Thank you, Seanan, for taking the time to share with us. I always conclude my interviews with a Lightning Round because of the unexpected insights the answers provide. Before I provide our visitors with an excerpt, as well as a link where they can follow you and purchase your books, in as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: lot.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Diet Dr Pepper.

The one thing I would change about my life: I want a new spine.

My biggest peeve is: the patriarchy.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: the existence of cats.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

I should probably sleep more.

 

Excerpt:

 

Failure

TIMELINE: FIVE MINUTES TOO LATE, THIRTY SECONDS FROM THE END OF THE WORLD.

There is so much blood.

Roger didn’t know there was this much blood in the human body. It seems impossible, ridiculous, a profligate waste of something that should be precious and rare—and most importantly, contained. This blood belongs inside the body where it began, and yet here it is, and here he is, and everything is going so wrong.

Dodger isn’t dead yet, despite the blood, despite everything. Her chest rises and falls in tiny hitches, barely visible to the eye. Each breath is a clear struggle, but she keeps fighting for the next one. She’s still breathing. She’s still bleeding.

She’s not going to bleed for long. She doesn’t, no pun intended, have it in her. And when she stops breathing, so does he.

If Dodger were awake, she’d happily tell him exactly how much of her blood is on the floor. She’d look at the mess around them. She’d calculate the surface area and volume of the liquid as easily as taking a breath, and she’d turn it into a concrete number, something accurate to the quarter ounce. She’d think she was being comforting, even if the number she came up with meant “I’m leaving you.” Even if it meant “there is no coming back from this.”

Even if it meant goodbye.

Maybe it would be comforting, to her. The math would be true, and that’s all she’s ever asked from the world. He knows the words that apply to this situation—exsanguination, hypovolemia, hemorrhage—but they don’t reassure him the way the numbers reassure her. They never have. Numbers are simple, obedient things, as long as you understand the rules they live by. Words are trickier. They twist and bite and require too much attention. He has to think to change the world. His sister just does it.

Not without consequences. That’s how they wound up here, on the other side of the garden wall, at the end of the improbable road, at the end of everything. They never got to the Impossible City, and now they never will. The King of Cups wins again.

The King of Cups always wins. Anyone who tries to say he doesn’t is lying.

The gunfire from outside is louder and less dramatic than he expected, like the sound of someone setting off firecrackers inside a tin can. Firecrackers never did this sort of damage. The walls are thin and getting thinner. The bullets are chewing the concrete away, and the people who followed them down the improbable road will be inside soon. Erin can’t hold them off forever, no matter how hard she tries.

Dimly, he realizes he doesn’t want her to hold them off forever. If this is where it ends for one of them, let this be where it ends for both of them. Let this be where it ends for good. No one—not even him—walks the improbable road alone.

He grasps Dodger’s shoulder, feeling the solidity of her, the vital, concrete reality of her, and shakes as gently as he can. “Dodger. Hey, Dodge. Hey. I need you to wake up. I need you to help me stop the bleeding.”

Her eyes stay closed. Her chest rises and falls, her breathing getting shallower all the time.

There’s so much blood.

He knows the words. Shock; fatality; the brutally simple, brutally accurate death. She’s leaving him again, forever this time. Going. Going. Gone.

“Don’t do this to me.” His own injuries aren’t as bad as hers. He took a single bullet to the upper thigh early on in the battle. It was through and through, missing the major arteries, and Dodger was still alert enough to help him with the tourniquet. There’s still a chance he could lose the leg if he doesn’t get proper medical attention soon. Right now, that doesn’t seem important. Maybe he’s in shock too. Maybe he deserves to be. “You can’t. You can’t go. We’ve come too far. Are you listening? You can’t go. I need you.”

Her eyes are closed. There’s so much blood.

There’s one thing he can do. Maybe the only thing. Maybe it was always the only thing, and they’ve been building toward this the whole time. It feels like failure, like running back to the garden, and he doesn’t care, because her chest is barely moving, and there’s so much blood, there’s so much blood, and it doesn’t matter that he knows the words, all the words, for everything. The numbers are taking her away. He can’t reach them without her.

“I can’t do this alone. I’m sorry. I can’t.”

He leans in until his lips brush the seashell curve of her ear. There’s blood in her hair, turning it tacky and clinging. It sticks to his skin, and he doesn’t try to wipe it off.

“Dodger,” he whispers. “Don’t die. This is an order. This is a command. This is an adjuration. Do whatever you have to do, break whatever you have to break, but don’t you die. This is an order. This is—”

This is her eyes opening, pupils reduced to black pinpricks against the gray of her irises, until she looks like she’s suffered a massive opiate overdose. This is gold sparking in the gray, brief and bright, as the Impossible City tries to call her home. He feels the gold in his own bones respond, reaching for the gold in Dodger’s, yearning to reunite.

This is the sound of gunfire going silent. Not tapering off; just stopping, like the world has been muted.

This is the world going white.

This is the end.

We got it wrong we got it wrong we got it wrong we got it wrong we

 

You can find all of Seanan’s social links, as well as links to purchase her books here:

https://publishing.tor.com/author/seananmcguire/

You can find Middlegame on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07HF2ZK75/

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 29 – Paul Di Filippo Interview

Born in 1954 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Paul Di Filippo has never felt the urge to leave behind his native land. He grew up mainly in two towns, North Providence and Lincoln. At the time, both afforded plenty of open land across which he could stage imaginary battles, odysseys and expeditions. He encountered “adult” science fiction in 1965, with Raymond Jones’sThe Year When Stardust Fell. Soon, he was reading a book a day—although it must be stated they were slimmer back then.

He discovered fandom in 1973 by attending his first convention, Torcon II. He went to Rhode Island College from 1974 through 1978, with a 4.0 GPA, yet dropped out short of his diploma. There in 1976 he met Deborah Newton, his life partner ever since.

He landed a job as a COBOL programmer in 1979, at which he remained until 1982, when his long-simmering desire to become a professional writer could no longer be denied. Leaving his secure income and adopting Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a story a week, he did so for a year or more without any offers. Then he began to click, landing two near-simultaneous sales: “Stone Lives” at F&SF and “Rescuing Andy” at Twilight Zone.

In the subsequent three decades he’s amassed over 200 short fiction sales, and accumulated them, plus his novels, into over forty books. His latest novel, still looking for a home, is titled The Summer Thieves, and is his tribute to Jack Vance. Meanwhile, his second crime novel, The Deadly Kiss-Off, is on the shelves of finer stores everywhere.

Today, we’ll be discussing his latest release, Infinite Fantastika, a collection of short stories that WordFire Press released on September 30th, 2018.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

I was lucky enough to have three books come out in the space of just six months. My first, Infinite Fantastika, is my latest collection of short stories, a nice variety of the myriad forms I work in. The second was Aeota, a novella that combines Philip K. Dick with Thomas Pynchon for some deep weirdness. The third is my second crime novel, The Deadly Kiss-Off, featuring my two scam-artist antiheroes. And with any luck, WordFire will release Plumage From Pegasus: The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection in 2019. That’s the latest round-up of my humor columns, most of which appear in F&SF.

Is there common a story behind them?

There’s no real anecdotes about the composition of any of these books, alas. Except perhaps that I always intended Aeota to be a novel, but eventually realized I could say everything I wanted to at shorter length. That’s good, because every writer only has so many years to write, and if you can accomplish your goals at shorter lengths, you can write more in your allotted days!

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I feel that my stories and novels span a much broader spectrum than those of my peers. Most of my fellow writers find a niche and stick to it. I like to bop around all over the map, mainly to keep my own curiosity alive. Also, I cannot be unrelievedly tragic. Despite the current condition of the world, I remain an optimist about the future.

What was your path to publication?

I followed what used to be the archetypical path. Start selling short stories, then move to novel-length work. Of course, nowadays, people often jump straight to book publication. But for myself, it was the classic route. After a couple of years of rejection, I sold my first two stories almost simultaneously. One to Ed Ferman at F&SF, and one to Ted Klein at Twilight Zone Magazine. That was a rush which all the subsequent sales could not equal.

What are you working on now?

I am composing my third crime novel, The Mezcal Crack-Up. The title and subject matter allow me to sample lots of booze under the guise of “research.” I don’t know if these characters have enough allure left for a fourth outing, but we’ll see when I reach the end of the third.

What else have you written?

I have over forty books available, a little of everything. And I continue to do a lot of review work. But the strangest stuff I ever did was articles on the drug industry for a magazine called Contract Pharma, when my pal Gil Roth was editor there. Despite lack of formal journalistic training, I think I did a pretty good job.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Although often nominated, I seldom win. When I did take home a trophy from the British SF Association, they misspelled my name on the base of the award. Awards are overrated, IMHO.

What is your writing routine?

I try to get going before noon, after fooling around on the internet and doing paperwork, etc. Then I write until four or six PM, until I hit my quota of prose, from 500 to 2000 words, whatever I feel is mandated by the project at hand.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

My outlines are very sketchy at best. I believe in letting the story develop organically, and trying to surprise myself.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I used to be more of a pure idea man, with less focus on the human emotions at play. Now I think my stories are better balanced between intellectual conceits and the lives of the characters.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Earning enough money not to die in the gutter!

Do you have another job outside of writing?

My last day job was about 15-20 years ago, when I was a clerk at Brown University Bookstore. If I didn’t feel a compulsion to write, working in a bookstore would be my ideal job.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My mate Deborah and I have three “clubs.” At the breakfast table, we have a “read-aloud” club, where we work our way through a non-fiction book a few pages at a time. In the late afternoon when work is done, we have the “music club,” where we try to listen to one new CD every day. And finally, in the final hours before bedtime, we have the “movie club,” where we try to watch something of variable length, depending on how tired we are. So one night, it could be a six-minute cartoon, then sleep! Another night it could be a three-hour movie!

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

For many years Deborah and I attended weekly sitting practice at a local zen monastery. Learning the rudiments of Buddhism, how to work with your anxious “monkey mind” was invaluable in dealing with life’s tragedies and obstacles.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I am enormously indebted to all the Golden Age and Silver Age authors who formed my sensibilities, people like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Simak, Anderson, Silverberg, Aldiss, Moorcock, Dick, Ballard, Norton—this list goes on and on. I owe them everything. Now, when I am at a convention, and someone tells me I was an influence on them, I feel a) very old and b) enormously gratified!

Paul, thank you for taking the time to share with us. Before I provide our visitors with a sample story from Infinite Fantastika, as well as book buy and social links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: complete and utter joker.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d cure my back problems that derive from forty years of sitting down too long each day!

My biggest peeve is: writers whose egos are more magnificent than their prose.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: the infinite capacity of nature to astonish us.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

I would encourage readers and writers of SF to remember that authors are not politicians, gurus, activists or rebels, but simply entertainers and artists. The work is its own justification and reward.

 

“Domotica Berserker!”

Here’s what a Mortenson Domotica house printer looks like.

Maybe you’ve seen an hydraulic gantry crane at a shipyard? A quartet of enormous vertical wheeled legs form the corner posts of an open rectangular framework. The legs are connected at their tops by four beams at right angles to those they touch. The crane can position itself over an object, send down its grapple from its cross beams, lift any cargo that fits within its footprint, and wheel it into a new location.

Well, there’s no hook for lifting in the house printer; the four horizontal cross beams—actually there are sometimes six or more girders—contain the myriad printheads, and the beams themselves move vertically up and down the leg framework, from ground level to two or three stories high, depositing the hotmelt plastic according to the instructions in the house printer’s brain. Add in a giant hopper holding the raw materials, and you’ve got the whole mechanism. Oh, yes, the beams and printheads can also adjust their relations to each other along many axes, assuming many different configurations, coming closer together or moving further apart.

A single Morentson Domotica Model 2040-X can build a one-thousand-square foot multi-story residence with all wiring, plumbing and HVAC installed in roughly twenty-four hours. They’re like house-laying hens, dropping a building and moving on.

My name is Steve Benchman, and I was in charge, during the seven-to-three day shift, of a flock of ten of these giant machines. My co-workers on the other shifts were Gloribell Shoop and Santiago Cruz, good and competent domotica techs, if not quite as talented as yours truly. Our assignment was to construct a new residential development of five hundred homes on two hundred acres of long-fallow land within the city limits of Detroit, a development that would house some of the many climate-change refugees arriving in the USA every day. The acreage had been cleared and turned into parkland thirty years ago, in the second decade of the century. But now it was needed for habitations again.

We three were the only humans on the project. The house printers ran themselves, as did the steady stream of self-driving trucks that resupplied the hoppers with fresh hotmelt plastic. About all I had to do was to patrol the construction site, keeping any curious tresspassers at a safe remove, and admire the machines as they worked. Oh, yes, I did have to install new dyepacks when the old cartridges sent a signal that they had run out. The design for the development involved a rainbow’s worth of colors, to make each identically shaped house unique. The floorplans could have been easily made unique as well, but the politicians had decided that each refugee family should get a dwelling identical to all the rest, so as not to encourage jealousy or bickering.

Watching the ten machines move at a snail’s pace across the open tract, depositing their houses precisely atop the pre-laid slabs arrayed on the new street grid above the buried infrastructure of sewers and gas pipes and electric cables, I felt inordinately proud, like the father of an industrious brood of giant workers. Sometimes I would climb the ladder on the side of a Domotica and ride up high in the failsafe control cab, admiring the view of rising walls below me, which heightened visibly as I watched, under the deposition of the dancing printheads. At such times, I felt like Tarzan guiding a herd of very slow tame elephants across the veldt.

One morning I showed up fifteen minutes ahead of my shift to take over from Gloribell, and found her extremely agitated. She grabbed my arm and said, “Look, in the dark—the colors went crazy!”

The entire worksite is not floodlit at night, just the faroff perimeter fence. The machines didn’t need to see. So Gloribell had not noticed that the exterior walls of her ten new buildings had been mis-painted. (The dyes were actually integral with the walls, of course.) Instead of the tasteful suburban color schemes, the buildings sported camouflage and circus stripes, checks and plaids, blots and splatters in eye-wrenching combinations.

I knew instantly what the trouble was. Ten machines could not have malfunctioned simultaneously. “We’ve been hacked.”

Sure enough, we later learned, the firewalls of the Domotica brains had been breached by a virus engineered by the Anti-Tickytacky League, guerilla architects.

But the next instant rendered any of my speculations about the sabotage moot.

The Domotica units all began to print the simplified forms of mini-cathedrals at an accelerated speed that would destroy the printheads before too long. Polychromatic buttresses and gargoyles began to sprout in crazy confusion.

“Call for help!” I shouted to Gloribell, then sprang for the nearest ladder.

In the high control cab I overrode the programming and shut the machine down. I leaped off the ladder when I was ten feet above the ground and raced to the next machine.

By the time I had climbed atop the third, I could hear sirens approaching.

But in the fifth cab things took a turn for the worse.

The remaining active Domoticas suddenly raced off in every direction, their churning wheels gouging the turf. I guessed we were only going twenty miles per hour, but in a machine that gigantic it felt like one hundred.

The printheads continued to spew undifferentiated streamers of hotmelt at prodigious rates far beyond the manufacturer specs.

After picking myself up, bruised and out of breath, from where I had been thrown by the sudden acceleration, I managed to stop the one I was riding.

But the other five were causing some serious trouble. One of the newly arrived police cars was covered in bright green plastic, as were several of the cops themselves.

The rampaging house printers were only stopped by a SWAT team shooting out their wheels. But not before one had breached the perimeter fence and coated two miles of Detroit streets in pink goop.

Millions of dollars and much adverse publicity later, though, the project was back on track. But each security-reinforced Domotica was now staffed by a human round the clock.

And if any of the techs were ever tempted to add a flourish to the plans, they were prevented by a smart guard dog stationed in the cab and ready to bite at the first sign of creativity.

If you’d like to follow Paul online, you can do it here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paul.d.filippo

You can purchase a copy of Infinite Fantastika here: https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-Fantastika-Paul-Filippo/dp/1614756945/

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 15 – Steve Rzasa Interview

Today’s guest, Steve Rzasa, is the author of several novels of science-fiction, steampunk, and fantasy—with several more in progress. He was first published in 2009 by Marcher Lord Press (now Enclave Publishing). His third novel, Broken Sight, received the 2012 Award for Speculative Fiction from the American Christian Fiction Writers. The Word Endangered (2016) and Man Behind the Wheel (2017) were both finalists for the Realm Award in recent years. Steve grew up in Atco, New Jersey, and started writing stories in grade school. He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University, and worked for eight years at newspapers in Maine and Wyoming. He’s been a librarian since 2008, most recently earning his Library Support Staff Certification from the American Library Association. He is the technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he lives with his wife and two boys. Steve’s a fan of all things science-fiction and superhero and is also a student of history.

Today, we’re featuring his self-published title, Failed Frequencies, a sci-fi space opera which was released in November 2018. Its premise:

There’s no place like homeworld…

Vincent Chen would rather stay far away from his birthplace. But when he’s called back to Tiaozhan, it’s his job that’s on the line.

His superiors at MarkTel don’t like the publicity his adventures have brought the company, which holds the monopoly on galactic communications. Vincent dutifully promises to keep quiet for the duration of his stay.

Except his younger brother has other ideas.

Martin Chen is mixed up with dangerous smugglers, who’re furious he’s encroaching on their business, and they won’t let him simply walk away. It’ll take all Vincent’s savvy and a partnership with a legendary law enforcement officer to keep his brother—and himself—alive.

And his family intact.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

First and foremost, this is a story about adventure and about family. The main character, Vincent Chen, has to figure out how far he’ll go to protect the people he cares for.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

As the other brother of two boys, I’m always intrigued by the interactions between siblings. After spending two books dealing with Vincent’s personality and his solitary life, I put him into a situation in which he has no choice but to reconnect with his family—something he’s put off but also desires—and keep his younger brother out of trouble

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

My science-fiction and fantasy stories touch on elements of the Christian faith, especially the books set in The Face of the Deep fictional universe. The hero of Failed Frequencies, Vincent Chen, is from a family of Christians who were oppressed under the regime of the Kesek secret police, who regulated all organized religion in the galaxy. They’ve been out of power for ten years, but the scars inflicted on people like the Chens remain. Those elements are integral to his story, yet he’s primarily a hard-working communications expert who sees situations in which people are wronged and feels it’s his job to fix those situations.

What was your path to publication?

I had written a couple prototype novels in high school and college, but those were early experiments that should never see the light of day. I started working on a sprawling space opera in the early 2000s, after I graduated Boston University. It was a long slog, though, because I was working as a newspaper reporter and the last thing I wanted to do after I got home was write, since that’s what I did for work all day long. So, it took me about six years to come up with about 200 pages. Life took an insane turn when I lost my job and, after scrounging for a couple of months, was hired by our local library. The freedom of not having to produce newspaper copy every day freed me so that I wrote the other 400 pages in nine months.

Now, this was far too long a novel for a beginner like me, and I weathered the rejections, until a small publisher of science-fiction and fantasy called Marcher Lord Press not only expressed interest, but asked if the book could be split in two. I loved the idea of getting two novels for the price of one and jumped at the chance. Fast forward by 10 years, and I’ve had five novels published by Enclave Publishing (the successor to Marcher Lord Press) and released ten more books and novellas on my own.

What are you working on now?

I have a trio of urban fantasy novels coming out in July, and a superhero novel releasing in September. I’ve just finished the first draft of Mixed Messages, the follow up to Failed Frequencies and the last of four Vincent Chen novellas.

What else have you written?

I have written a four book space opera series called The Face of the Deep, a pair of fantasy novels, a couple of steampunk books, and a handful of mixed sci-fi. My flash fiction short stories were published in five issues of Havok Magazine, which is now defunct but was reborn as Havok Publishing in January, an online speculative fiction magazine.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Broken Sight  won the award for Speculative Fiction from American Christian Fiction Writers in 2012. The Word Endangered  and Man Behind the Wheel were nominated for Realm Awards from the Realm Makers conference in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

What is your writing routine?

My wife teaches public school special education and I have two teenage boys. They’re all gone from the house by 7:30 in the morning. I don’t have to be in to our library for work until 9:30, so that leaves me plenty of time to catch up on projects. Also, I’ve made it a habit to write during nearly every lunch break when I’m in the middle of a novel, and also on long road trips.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I don’t have a problem coming up with ideas. My greatest difficulty is finding time to write all the stories I’ve dreamed up! Once I sit down to write, the words hit the screen without much effort, though some stories are easier to write than others.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Drawing attention to my work. Independent publishing has led to a great leveling of the field when it comes to the release of new books, but it takes a lot of effort on the part of the writer to advertise and promote. I’m more of a producer, so taking the time to plan promotions slips the old brain frequently. After I finish up my latest round of new books, I plan to step back from writing as much and focus on the promotional aspect. It’s time for a change of plan.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

Collaboration is a great exercise for relinquishing total control of a story. One of the best writing experiences I ever had was being part of Just Dumb Enough, a collaborative novella in which seven authors, including yours truly, took turns writing chapters of a short but epic fantasy adventure. I was lucky enough to go first, so I set the stage with characters and a goal. By the time I sat back down to write Chapter Seven, I had been following the chapters written by my fellow authors and marveled at their creativity. Everyone stuck with the story line and fleshed out the characters in unique ways.

Just Dumb Enough serves as a fund-raiser for the Realm Makers conference, so that we can provide a full registration as a scholarship for one attendee. https://www.amazon.com/Just-Dumb-Enough-Steve-Rzasa-ebook/dp/B0781YZHXX/

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m the technical services librarian at the Johnson County Library in Buffalo, Wyoming, where I’ve worked for more than 10 years. I’m in charge of the movie collection, and inter-library loans, plus I handle the bulk of the public relations, which includes producing a four-page newsletter every couple of months. I’m also the go-to guy for tech troubleshooting. The “technical” part of my title refers to my primary role linking all adult fiction, nonfiction, and audio/visual items for our collection, somewhere on the order of 2,500 items a year.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My family enjoys traveling, even though we don’t get to go as often as we’d like. I’m an ardent fan of my wife’s roller derby team, and she’s a fantastic knitter, which gave rise to her roller derby name: the Termi-Knitter. Lately my boys have gotten into Magic the Gathering, so they’ve been training me to play and I’ve been learning how to not lose. Or at least, how to not lose so often.

What is your greatest life lesson?

To not be afraid of failure. The fear of doing the wrong thing paralyzed me to the point I was not able to take chances, but I eventually realized, I can’t let chances in life slip away. Some things you try are not going to work. It doesn’t mean three strikes, you’re out. You keep going, keep learning, and do better.

What makes you laugh?

Having relaxed evening with friends, when we can talk and joke and enjoy each other’s company. That, and Brooklyn Nine.

Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to share with us. Before I provide our visitors with an excerpt, as well as your social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Geek.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Pizza.

The one thing I would change about my life: Eliminate my fear of flying.

My biggest peeve is: Grown-ups.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: The people I love.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Science-fiction and fantasy are great genres with which an author can appeal to the human heart, because everyone loves heroes, and it’s in these stories that we can make people feel that heroic achievements are still possible.

Excerpt:

I help Martin to his feet. He brushes spring roll off his shirt. “That’s gonna stain.”

“You’ve got worse problems,” I mutter. “Those the guys who shoved you?”

“Don’t worry.” He draws his gun. “I’ve got this.”

“You most certainly do not ‘got this,’ Martin.” I clamp a hand around the barrel and push it toward the floor. “Are you blind and unable to count? They’re all armed.”

“Back off and let me handle this!”

Doesn’t matter what I do, because two of the men advance on us without any fear of Martin’s meager defense. Both guys look like their buddies—short, stocky, athletic. Their heads bristle with buzzcut hair of varying lengths, some pink, some yellow, all shifting hues as they move. The left sides of their faces are covered with tattoos, stylized images of behemoth-worms curving from their brows to their necks. Their clothing is a motley mix of colors and styles, all bright.

The pink-haired one pulls Martin’s gun from our grasp. He sweeps my legs out from underneath me and the next microsecond, I’m on my back, trying to get up, except there’s a handgun much bigger than Martin’s illegal, compact model glaring at me. Red streaks flash through Pink Hair’s buzzcut.

The second guy, this one with gold spikes, puts Martin into a bear hug. Martin gasps, color draining from his face. It’s hard to hear with the band still jamming, but something mechanical whirrsin the background. I really hope it isn’t coming from Gold Spike.

“Marty.” The leader’s voice is rough, like he’s guzzled a bottle of the cleaner they use to polish starship drive nozzles and survived. He’s bald, with a thick, sharp goatee and moustache. His eyes are brown, but they spark with illuminated circuitry. Red shirt, with the stylized behemoth-worm image his boys have on their faces, and black pants. He could be a nightclub owner, right down to the rings on his right hand—one each colored black, white, gold, silver, and bronze. “How’s Captain Rilla?”

“Rilla? She’s great. Yeah, great. I’m finishing a transaction for her.” Martin’s answer comes out in wheezes. Gold Spike doesn’t seem like he’s willing to let go.

“I know why you’re here. I also know what you’ve got.” He grabs the front of Martin’s shirt. “I also know who’s the top smuggler of said goods—and, hint, it isn’t you or Captain Rilla.”

“Hold on.” I push to my feet, slowly, because I don’t want Pink Hair shooting me. The leader looks at me as if I’ve barged into the wrong restroom. “Let’s take this outside and see if we can’t figure out our problem.”

“Our problem?” He sounds ready to inflict violence, and I’m bracing myself for an incoming punch, when his scowl all of a sudden disappears. “Great steaming drive nozzles. Vincent?”

“Yes. Captain Vincent Chen.” My hands are on my hips, posture as straight as it’s ever going to get—enough to gain Father’s nod. All I need is triumphant brass and I imagine I can use my MarkTel authority to counter violence with reason.

“It’s Grant. Grant Liu.”

He could have stunned me with a scrambler and I’d be less astonished. “Grant? You’re still here? I thought you left years ago.”

Grant snorts. “Where else would I be? Unlike you. Word was you ran off-planet, chasing comms ferries.”

“Good way to do honest work, helping other people.” I fold my arms. “I take it your career path went differently.”

“Let’s say I’m carving out a niche market, and I don’t appreciate others trying to elbow in.” He stares at Martin.

Grant Liu. Childhood pal. Smartest kid in our class. Graduated earlier than the rest, right before he got picked up by Kesek—courtesy of my brother’s rash decision. I’d have put money on him becoming a Raszewski sphere physicist or a medical tech.

Instead, he’s got a gang of eight armed goons at his back and is threatening my brother.

“Let Martin go,” I say. “No one’s been hurt. We can all walk out of this.”

“Sorry. Not possible. Your bái chī brother has been dipping his toes in our end of the pool. Unfortunately, there’s piranhas.”

Odd way to put it. The left side of Grant’s face twitches. He rubs at his eyes. They seem bleary, unfocused, until something flickers around their edges. He’s got a vision stabilizer implant, keeping his sight from degenerating. I’ve seen specs of those come through Mother’s delver when she’s routing Yun Medical commnotes. “Okay, so, Martin isn’t known for his impulse control, or his common sense—”

“Hey!”

“Shut up,” I snap. “Listen, Grant, take the cytori and we’ll go.”

Those who would like to follow Steve online can do so here:

Website: www.steverzasa.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steverzasa  and https://www.facebook.com/SteveRzasaAuthor/

Twitter: @SteveRzasa

Instagram: @steverzasawriter

You can purchase a copy of Failed Frequencies here:

https://www.amazon.com/Failed-Frequencies-Vincent-Chen-Novella-ebook/dp/B07JBBT8GB

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 1 – Martin Shoemaker Interview

Martin L. Shoemaker is a programmer who writes on the side… or maybe it’s the other way around. He told stories to imaginary friends and learned to type on his brother’s manual typewriter even though he couldn’t reach the keys. (He types with the keyboard in his lap still today.) He couldn’t imagine any career but writing fiction… until his algebra teacher said, “This is a program. You should write one of these.”

Fast forward 30 years of programming, writing, and teaching. He was named an MVP by Microsoft for his work with the developer community. He is an avid role-playing game master, but that didn’t satisfy his storytelling urge. He wrote, but he never submitted until his brother-in-law read a chapter and said, “That’s not a chapter. That’s a story. Send it in.” It won second place in the Baen Memorial Writing Contest and earned him lunch with Buzz Aldrin. Programming never did that!

Martin hasn’t stopped writing (or programming) since. His novella, Murder on the Aldrin Express, was reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection and in Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4. His work has appeared in Analog, Galaxy’s Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Forever Magazine, Writers of the Future 31, Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF 4, and select service garages worldwide. He received the Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award for his Clarkesworld story, “Today I Am Paul,” which also was nominated for a Nebula award and appeared in four years’ best anthologies and eight international editions.

A press release about his latest novel, Today I Am Carey, published by Baen Books, might read:

REMARKABLE DEBUT NOVEL FROM CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AUTHOR MARTIN L. SHOEMAKER. Shoemaker proves why he has consistently been praised as one of the best story writers in SF today with this touching, thoughtful, action-packed debut novel, based on his award-winning short story, “Today I am Paul”.

Today I Am Carey’s premise:

Mildred is dying of Alzheimer’s Disease. As her memories fade, she requires the aid of a full-time android to assist her in her everyday life. The android’s duty: to tend to Mildred as Alzheimer’s steals her away, one memory at a time, and to pretend to be her absent family.

Soon, Mildred passes away, and the android Carey must find a new purpose in the world—and in its new family: Paul Owens, the overworked businessman. Susan Owens, the dedicated teacher. And Millie, a curious little girl who will grow up alongside her android best friend. As the humans around it age and change, Carey struggles to understand life’s challenges and to make its own path. Carey must learn to live. To grow. To care.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

It’s not your ordinary science fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with science fiction! It’s almost all I read and write. But I think this book will appeal even to people who avoid science fiction because they think it’s all ray guns and rocket ships. It’s about life as viewed by an android, a perfect neutral observer who understands and doesn’t judge.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

The original story, “Today I Am Carey”, was strongly influenced by my mother-in-law’s last year of life. The rest of the novel flowed from my curiosity: what does the android do after its patient passes away? How does it become part of her family?

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I could answer with a cliché: “Every author has a unique voice.” Or I could answer boastfully, trying to convince your readers how great I am.

But a serious question deserves a serious response. I think my niche in the field is what I like to call ruthless consistency. I’m not alone in that niche, of course, with Larry Niven being one of its masters. What I mean is that if I establish something as a rule in my universe, I am stuck with it. My world building is more evolution than planning. I discover bits of the world as I write; and once I discover them, they change the shape of the story.

What was your path to publication?

The book got its start with my Clarkesworld short story “Today I Am Paul”. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/shoemaker_08_15/ That story got a lot of attention: a Nebula nomination, a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award, four year’s best anthologies, and eight international translations. So when my agent heard I was considering making that into a novel, we agreed that it had strong potential. I dictated the rest of the novel in six weeks and then revised it over the next few months.

Baen knew of my work through Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and also through the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, where I took second place. We had already discussed me writing for them, and in fact I had a story in their anthology Little Green Men: Attack! (edited by Brian Thomas Schmidt and Robin Wayne Bailey). So when my agent started shopping the manuscript around, they were very willing to take a look at it. Compared to other projects, this all happened very fast. I know how fortunate I am for that.

What are you working on now?

Ulla, book one of what might be a series called “Martian Song”. It’s War of the Worlds meets I Am Legend—and possibly meets To Kill a Mockingbird. (I’m still discovering where it’s going.)

What else have you written?

Coming next September from 47North will be my next novel. The working title is Mutiny on the Aldrin Express, but that will probably change before release. It’s a novel built around my Carver and Aames stories that appeared in Analog, adding a framing story involving the day Captain Nick Aames finally pushes the Admiralty too far.

I’ve had other work in Analog, along with Galaxy’s Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Writers of the Future, and various anthologies. There are 51 entries on my Amazon author page – and more to come!

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Besides those above for “Today I Am Carey”, my novella “Murder on the Aldrin Express” (the first Carver and Aames story) was selected for The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection and The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4. My story “A Hamal in Hollywood” was selected for The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 4. And my novelette “Unrefined” won third place in the first quarter for Writers of the Future Volume 31.

What is your writing routine?

My most consistent routine is based on my practice of dictating stories while I drive:

In the morning, I listen to the last five minutes from the day before to “seat” myself in the story.

I turn on the recorder, and I start dictating and driving.

When I get to work, I turn off the recorder.

When I leave at night, I listen to the last five minutes from the morning.

I turn on the recorder, and I start dictating and driving.

When I get home, I turn off the recorder.

After dinner, I copy the day’s files to the computer and let Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribe them.

That’s the ideal, and of course sometimes I can’t hit those targets. But that’s how I dictated nearly 90,000 words in six weeks for the first draft of this book.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Sometimes, sometimes not. Today I Am Carey had something of an outline, with a lot of deviations. Murder on the Aldrin Express had no outline, just a vision that I wanted to tell a Citizen Kane style framing story. Ulla… I have no idea where Ulla is going. Every time I think I know where it’s going, it surprises me. My characters are telling the story, and I’m just taking notes.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Discipline and habit – but I have to make it a habit. If I sit down in my Jeep and put on my microphone, story comes out. Every time. If I tell myself I don’t feel like it, guess what? No story comes out! Every time I’m “blocked”, it’s because I’m distracted and I lose the habit.

In diabetes class, they taught us that it takes three weeks to a month to build a good habit, but only one week to break it. I’m starting to see that in my writing career as well. If I have a bad week where I don’t dictate something at all, it becomes really easy to find reasons not to write. But if I make myself anyway, if I keep the habit building, dictation becomes effortless.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

At the Writers of the Future Volume 32 workshop, I and other returning winners spoke to the new winners about our career since winning. Someone asked me about dictation, and in the middle of answering I realized that every story I had sold in the past year had been dictated. That led me to sit down and examine why dictation works for me. My current process has evolved from that point. It involved learning to trust that if I put forth the effort, I can do this. Worry less, write more.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Discipline/time to get the work done. When I started answering these questions, I had six novels in my queue. By now I have seven. I need to work faster!

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I believe that my career as a software developer has contributed greatly to the ruthless consistency I mentioned above. I am very comfortable with constructing elaborate systems and holding them in my head.

What motivates or inspires you?

Space museums. They’re like a pilgrimage. I look at Apollo-era hardware and I think: They put that in orbit around the Moon, and the entire world at that time had less computing power than I carry in my pocket. My job is not hard.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

I allow myself to wallow for a while. I’m only human! But I try to limit that and then figure out what happens next.

No, it doesn’t always work. But there’s also the Beatles method: I get by with a little help from my friends. And my friends are the best!

Do you have any pet projects?

My Carver and Aames stories are part of a much larger universe I call Blue Collar Space. I’m slowly mapping out a future history, some of which may not interest anyone but me.

What is your greatest life lesson?

In late 2017 I almost died from an infection complicated by undiagnosed diabetes. Since then I’ve lost 60 pounds, I’ve gotten my diabetes under control, and I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been in my adult life. So prosaically, my lesson was to take care of myself. Philosophically, it was that I can take care of myself, that it’s not too late to make changes. And that’s true for more than just health and fitness. I finally got serious about writing when I was 47. I like to think I’m proving that that was not too late.

What makes you laugh?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Early Garfield strips (before Jim Davis started farming them out to assistants).

Dogs. Cats. Penguins.

Frasier, especially the character Niles Crane.

Sock monkeys. I can’t explain why, but sock monkeys make me smile. They even make an appearance in Today I Am Carey.

Mostly my friends.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Jack McDevitt. Larry Niven. Jerry Pournelle. Barry Longyear. Harlan Ellison. J.R.R. Tolkien. Robert A. Heinlein. Daniel Keyes. Connie Willis.

Thanks, Martin, for taking the time to share with us. Before I present an excerpt from Today I Am Carey, followed by links visitors can use to purchase it and follow you online, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: Ham.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Black licorice.

The one thing I would change about my life: Procrastination.

My biggest peeve is: Passive protagonists.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: Where I’m at right now.

 Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

There’s still time to invest in Kleenex stock! I expect a shortage when this book comes out. Publisher’s Weekly calls my ending “heartbreaking”.

And thank you most kindly for the opportunity to share!

 

Excerpt:

“Good morning,” the small, quavering voice comes from the medical bed. “Is that you, Paul?”

Today I am Paul. I activate my chassis extender, giving myself 3.5 centimeters additional height so as to approximate Paul’s size. I change my eye color to R60, G200, B180, the average shade of Paul’s eyes in interior lighting. My silicone flesh stretches, and I flood it with pigments to adjust my skin tone as well. When I had first emulated Paul, I had been troubled that I could not quickly emulate his beard; but Mildred never seems to notice its absence. The Paul in her memory has no beard.

The house is quiet now that the morning staff have left. Mildred’s room is clean but dark this morning, with the drapes concealing the big picture window. Paul would not notice the darkness (he never does when he visits in person), but my empathy net knows that Mildred’s garden outside will cheer her up. I set a reminder to open the drapes after I greet her.

Mildred leans back in the bed. It is an advanced home care bed, completely adjustable and with built-in monitors. Mildred’s family spared no expense on the bed (nor other care devices, like myself). Its head end is almost horizontal and faces her toward the window. She can only glimpse the door from the corner of her eye, but she does not have to see to imagine that she sees. This morning she imagines Paul, so that is who I am.

Synthesizing Paul’s voice is the easiest part, thanks to the multimodal dynamic speakers in my throat. “Good morning, Ma. I brought you some flowers.” I always bring flowers. Mildred appreciates them no matter whom I am emulating. The flowers make her smile during eighty-seven percent of my “visits”.

“Oh, thank you,” Mildred says, “you’re such a good son.” She holds out both hands, and I place the daisies in them. But I do not let go. One time her strength failed, and she dropped the flowers. She wept like a child then, and that disturbed my empathy net. I do not like it when she weeps.

Mildred sniffs the flowers, then draws back and peers at them with narrowed eyes. “Oh, they’re beautiful! Let me get a vase.”

“No, Ma,” I say. “You can stay in bed, I brought a vase with me.” I place a white porcelain vase in the center of the night stand. Then I unwrap the daisies, put them in the vase, and add water from a pitcher that sits on the breakfast tray. I pull the night stand forward so that the medical monitors do not block Mildred’s view of the flowers.

I notice intravenous tubes running from a pump to Mildred’s arm. I cannot be disappointed, as Paul would not see the significance, but somewhere in my emulation net I am stressed that Mildred needed an IV during the night. When I scan my records, I find that I had ordered that IV after analyzing Mildred’s vital signs during the night; but since Mildred had been asleep at the time, my emulation net had not engaged. I had operated on programming alone.

I am not Mildred’s sole caretaker. Her family has hired a part-time staff for cooking and cleaning, tasks that fall outside of my medical programming (though I am learning), and also two nurses. The staff also gives me time to rebalance my networks. As an android, I need only minimal daily maintenance; but an emulation net is a new, delicate addition to my model, and it is prone to destabilization if I do not regularly rebalance it, a process that takes several hours per day.

So I had “slept” through Mildred’s morning meal. I summon up her nutritional records, but Paul would not do that. He would just ask. “So how was breakfast, Ma? Nurse Judy says you didn’t eat too well this morning.”

“Nurse Judy? Who’s that?”

My emulation net responds before I can stop it: “Paul” sighs. Mildred’s memory lapses used to worry him, but now they leave him weary, and that comes through in my emulation. “She was the attending nurse this morning, Ma. She brought you your breakfast.”

“No she didn’t. Anna brought me breakfast.” Anna is Paul’s oldest daughter, a busy college student who tries to visit Mildred every week (though it has been more than a month since her last visit).

I am torn between competing directives. My empathy net warns me not to agitate Mildred, but my emulation net is locked into Paul mode. Paul is argumentative. If he knows he is right, he will not let a matter drop. He forgets what that does to Mildred.

The tension grows, each net running feedback loops and growing stronger, which only drives the other into more loops. After 0.14 seconds, I issue an override directive: unless her health or safety are at risk, I cannot willingly upset Mildred. “Oh, you’re right, Ma. Anna said she was coming over this morning. I forgot.” But then despite my override, a little bit of Paul emulates through. “But you do remember Nurse Judy, right?”

 

If you’d like to follow Martin Shoemaker, you can do so here:

Web Site:http://Shoemaker.Space

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/MartinLShoemaker

You can purchase a copy of Today I Am Carey here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Today-Am-Carey-Martin-Shoemaker/dp/1481483846

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/today-i-am-carey-martin-l-shoemaker/1128864110

Baen Books (eARC): https://www.baen.com/today-i-am-carey-earc.html

The Write Stuff – Monday, March 18 – Keith DeCandido Interview

The first thing you should know about this week’s guest author, Keith DeCandido—for the uninitiated, his surname is pronounced DeCANdido… so alright, this is the second thing—his books are fun. The third thing you should know: so is Keith.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of more than fifty novels, as well as a ton of short fiction, comic books, and nonfiction in the science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and superhero genres. Some of it is in one of the thirty-plus licensed universes he’s worked in, from Alien to Zorro; others are in worlds of his own creation, taking place in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End and Super City or in the somewhat real locales of New York and Key West.

I’m breaking form in this interview. While I usually focus on one book and one book alone, today I’m featuring two: Mermaid Precinct and A Furnace Sealed.

Mermaid Precinct is the fifth novel in my high fantasy/police procedure series—kind of Law & Order meets Lord of the Rings. The setting is a medieval-style city-state with humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and wizards all living side by side, but the main characters are detectives who solve crimes named Danthres Tresyllione and Torin ban Wyvald. This novel features the death of the legendary Pirate Queen, a high-profile murder that has unexpected repercussions that extend all the way to the king and queen.

A Furnace Sealed is an urban fantasy set in New York City, the first in a new series featuring Bram Gold. Bram is a Courser, a for-hire hunter of monsters and supernatural creatures—if you need a unicorn wrangled, a dangerous ritual stopped, or a bunch of werewolves kept in line, Bram’s the person for you. Immortals keep turning up dead, and binding spells become unraveled all over town. Bram must find the links between these events before it leads to the destruction of the city.

What do you want readers to know about your books?

A Furnace Sealed was inspired by working for two years in the Bronx for the U.S. Census Bureau. It got me to explore parts of my home borough I hadn’t been to before, and also got me thinking a lot about the history of one of NYC’s forgotten parts, where I’ve lived most of my life. Mermaid Precinct is the first “Precinct” book in five years, and I’m jumping the timeline ahead a year. Among other things, that time jump will establish two new precincts in Cliff’s End, Manticore Precinct and Phoenix Precinct, which gives me two more novel titles to use…

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind them?

Mermaid Precinct is simply the next book in the series, and one that enables me to do a pirate story for the first time in my career. A Furnace Sealed grew out of a desire to do a New York City story that deals with a part of the city other than Manhattan south of 125th Street, which is usually all anyone thinks of when they imagine the Big Apple. The Bronx is particularly underrepresented in fiction.

What was your path to publication?

Unique. I was working as an editor for the late Byron Preiss, a book packager. We were putting together a Spider-Man anthology in 1994, and we had the thing mostly filled, but we needed a Venom story for two reasons: 1) It was 1994, and Venom was by far the most popular member of Spidey’s rogues gallery at the time and 2) Venom was on the cover of the book. We had sent six different proposals to Marvel, which were all rejected. Finally, we asked Marvel for a premise—they gave us a one-sentence pitch. We were past the eleventh hour at this point, so my co-editor, John Gregory Betancourt, and I wrote a story based on that premise. And that’s how I got my first short story sale, in the most non-replicable manner possible…

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a short story set in the “Precinct” universe for an anthology called Release the Virgins! After that, I’m collaborating on a novel with David Sherman, and I’ve also got a game tie-in to write—can’t say what game yet, as it hasn’t been announced. And there are more “Precinct” and Bram Gold books to write…

What else have you written?

A ton of stuff. As I said, I’ve written more than fifty novels and about a hundred pieces of short fiction, plus all the comics and nonfiction. Recent and upcoming work includes the Alien novel Isolation, which will be out from Titan in January 2019; the prose trilogy Marvel’s Tales of Asgard, novels featuring Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three; the Orphan Black coffee-table book Classified Clone Report; short stories in Aliens: Bug Hunt, Altered States of the Union, Baker Street Irregulars, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, Limbus Inc. Book III, Mine!: A Celebration of Freedom and Liberty for All Benefitting Planned Parenthood, Nights of the Living Dead, They Keep Killing Glenn, TV Gods: Summer Programming, The X-Files: Trust No One, and two of the V-Wars anthologies; and nonfiction for Tor.com, kOZMIC Press, ATB Publishing, and my Patreon.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Just this past year, I received a Best Short Story Award from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers for “Ganbatte,” my story in the Joe Ledger: Unstoppable anthology. The IAMTW also favored me with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, which is handy, as it means I never need to achieve anything ever again.

What is your writing routine?

BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH! “Routine.” That’s funny…

Do you create an outline before you write?

Always. I started out doing tie-in work, and an outline is required for licensed fiction, as the plot has to be approved by the copyright-holder before you can write a single word. That habit has carried over into my other fiction, as I find it’s much easier and smoother to write the book if I already know the plot.

Why do you write?

I can’t possibly not write. I’ve been doing it since I was six, I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I would stop. (Actually, I can imagine a few, but they’re all really awful, so I don’t particularly want to dwell on them.)

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I remind myself that I have this eating habit I can’t kick, and my landlord insists we pay the rent once a month whether they need it or not…

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

All of them. Seriously, inspiration for writing comes from all around me. There are no life experiences that don’t inspire and enrich my work.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m a full-time freelancer, so I have lots of jobs. I write, I edit, I teach martial arts to kids, and I do any number of other things as long as they pay me.

Describe a typical day.

Not really possible, as no days are typical. That’s why I love being a freelancer.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My wife is also a full-time freelancer, so we’re both home together a lot. We’ve been living together like this for eight years now and—excepting an eighteen-month period when she had a contract job out of the house—that’s been our normal. We’ve been living together most of every day for all this time and haven’t killed each other, so it must be true love. It helps that we also have really affectionate cats.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

A friend of mine, Marco Palmieri, once said, “Pessimism is a misuse of imagination.” I love that phrase. I prefer to be optimistic and happy, as being sad is depressing and being happy tends to have a cascade effect on other people. Better to smile at someone than frown at them. I’m lucky in that I don’t have any problems that prevent this from happening—I’m fully aware that depression is an issue for many, and I’m fortunate not to suffer from it, as it’s debilitating. I choose to be happy because that makes life better.

What is your greatest life lesson?

It’s not worth getting worked up about the opinions of people whose opinions you don’t respect.

Thanks, Keith, for sharing your thoughts with us. Before I present an excerpt from A Furnace Sealed, followed by links where readers can follow you online and purchase your books, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few word as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Muppet.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee.

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d have more money.

My biggest peeve is: that I don’t have more money.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: my homemade tomato sauce.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

I am firmly against the entire notion of the “guilty pleasure.” If something gives you pleasure, and nobody is getting hurt as a result of your enjoyment, then you shouldn’t feel even a little bit guilty about it. Everybody likes something and nobody likes everything, and it’s stupid to feel guilty about liking something even if lots of other people don’t.

 

Excerpt:

Downstairs was Ahondjon’s magick shop. The man himself wasn’t in—his nephew Medawe was, and he was talking on the cordless phone.

He waved at me as I came down the metal stairs. The place was dank, lit only by crummy fluorescent lights, since there weren’t any windows.

“Nah, he ain’t here,” Medawe was saying. Unlike his uncle, he was born in the Bronx, so he didn’t have Ahondjon’s thick west African accent. “It’s Sunday, he’s in church. … Nah, I ain’t telling you what church. … What, you telling me you found Jesus now? Bullshit. Just gimme the message, I’ll let him know when he gets back. … I don’t know when, I ain’t found no Jesus, neither. ’Sides, you know how he likes talking to folks. Could be hours. … Yeah, well, fuck you too.”

Shaking his head, Medawe pressed the end button on the phone.

“Another satisfied customer?”

Medawe snorted. “Yeah, somethin’ like that. What’cha need, Gold?”

“I need to talk to Ahondjon. He really in church?”

“Hell, no. Only time his ass goes into a church is to deliver their holy water.”

I blinked. “Wait, churches buy holy water from him?”

“They do if they want the shit that works.”

“Well, I hope his holy water smells better than his talisman to stop a unicorn.”

Medawe frowned. “What, it didn’t work?”

I smiled. “It worked fine.” Then I remembered how Siri described it. “When I activated it, it smelled like a moose fucking a dead octopus.”

“Yeah, well, you want shit that works, it’s gonna stink.”

I thought about reminding Medawe about what Velez had said, then decided it wasn’t worth it. Besides, Medawe was just the hired help—Ahondjon was the one who put the talismans together, so if I was gonna get them to not stink up the place, I’d need to talk to him.

“Still,” I finally said, “I’ve had some complaints. The first being from my hooter.” I pointed to my oversized schnozz.

Medawe chuckled. “Look, I’ll pass it on, but you know my uncle.”

“I do indeed.” I also noticed that Medawe hadn’t actually answered my question about when Ahondjon would be back, which led me to think he either didn’t know or couldn’t tell me.

Whatever, I had a binding spell to stop. “Hey, I wanna double check, what would the components be if you wanted to cast a binding spell on a loa?”

That got me another snort from Medawe. “A thing’a lipstick so you can kiss your ass goodbye. Who’d be stupid enough to do that?”

“Woman over in Seton Falls Park, apparently.”

Shaking his head, Medawe said, “Well, there’s lotsa binding spells, but if you want to bind a loa, you’re gonna need an Obsidian candle, thick rope, a red ribbon, and sandalwood.”

I winced. Except for the candle, that was stuff you could get over the counter anyplace. Hell, you could probably get all that at Target. “Does it have to be an Obsidian candle, or can any black candle do it?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“If you want the binding to work or not.”

Ask a stupid question… “Yeah, okay, thanks, Medawe. And tell your uncle—”

“Moose fuckin’ a dead octopus, you got it.”

I grinned. “Thanks.”

 

If you want to follow Keith DeCandido online, you can do it here:

Web site: DeCandido.net

Blog: DeCandido.wordpress.com

Facebook: fan page at Keith R.A. DeCandido

Twitter: @KRADeC

Instagram: krad418

 

You can purchase a copy of A Furnace Sealed  here:

https://www.amazon.com/Furnace-Sealed-Adventures-Bram-Gold-ebook/dp/B07NBKDKQ9/

You can purchase a copy of Mermaid Precinct  here:

https://www.amazon.com/Mermaid-Precinct-Keith-R-DeCandido-ebook/dp/B07N1X49J2/

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, March 4 – Julie Frost Interview

This week’s featured author, Julie Frost, grew up an Army brat, traveling the globe. She thought she might settle down after she finished school, but then she married a pilot and moved six times in seven years. She’s finally put down roots in Utah with her family—six guinea pigs, three humans, a tripod calico cat, and a “kitten” who thinks she’s a warrior princess—and a collection of anteaters and Oaxacan carvings, some of which intersect. She enjoys birding and nature photography, which also intersect. She utilizes her degree in biology to write werewolf fiction while completely ignoring the physics of a protagonist who triples in mass. She writes other types of fiction, too, on occasion, from hard science fiction to space opera to secondary-world fantasy to urban fantasy to horror. Sometimes she mixes them. Her short stories have appeared in too many venues to count, including Writers of the Future 32, Monster Hunter Files, Enter the Aftermath, Stupefying Stories, Planetary Anthologies, StoryHack, and Astounding Frontiers. Her novel series, “Pack Dynamics”, is published by WordFire Press. In her words, she “whines about writing, a lot, at http://agilebrit.livejournal.com/, and you can visit her Amazon page here: https://www.amazon.com/Julie-Frost/e/B00WAK2UQU/

I asked her about her urban fantasy, Pack Dynamics: A Price to Pay, published by WordFire Press in August, 2018. Julie described its unusual premise as follows:

Six months after a case gone bad infected him with lycanthropy, private eye Ben Lockwood hasn’t just come to terms with his new condition—he’s embraced it. The animal inside lets him just be instead of dwelling on past horrors, and he frequently sleeps better as a wolf. Ben thinks he’s fine… until a couple of supernatural law-enforcement agents inform him that if he wolfs too much, he’ll forget his humanity, and that will leave them with a mess to clean up.
Then one of those past horrors comes roaring back into Ben’s life. Rutger Ostheim, enraged by the death of his family, breaks out of prison to seek vengeance. He’s aided by a ruthless businessman with slippery ethics and a separate grudge, who has taken the werewolf nanotech to new and awful heights, determined to sell it to the highest bidder… no matter what they want to use Berserker Virus Murder-Wolf tech for.
However, when Ben is given the opportunity for some payback of his own, he may find his inner demons to be a far graver threat than a tech-enhanced werewolf nearly twice his size.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

It’s a fun, action-oriented tale about vengeance and what happens when you let it consume you.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

I am not a natural novelist, and Book One (Pack Dynamics) basically wrote itself. People were screaming for a sequel, but it took me a long time before I figured out that I’d seeded the next story in the first book by mentioning a brother of the bad guy, and by basically handing the lycanthrope nanotech to Alex’s business rivals. After noodling how those two elements could come together, I had my plot.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

Urban fantasy is fairly dominated by female protagonists and first-person narrative. While I have no objection to lady protags, I’m a weirdo who prefers the guys. This probably dates back to my early reading habits–I loved the Hardy Boys, but Nancy Drew left me cold. Most of the books I devoured in my youth were boy-and-his-dog and boy-and-his-horse stories, and I’m thinking that kind of stuck. Most of my fiction features male main characters.

I also (in general) prefer to read and write in first person, but the Pack Dynamics novels just… don’t lend themselves to that. Third person allows me to delve more deeply into the other characters’ motivations and emotional states, along with all the action that my putative main character doesn’t know about.

What was your path to publication?

So there I was at Salt Lake ComicCon, shooting the breeze with Peter Wacks and Ramón Terrel after dinner. Peter was the acquisitions editor at WordFire, and he was talking about his urban fantasy, and Ramón was talking about hisurban fantasy, and I was thinking “this is right in my wheelhouse.” So I took a breath and said “So, Peter, this is where I ask you about your acquisitions process.” He said, “Pitch me your book.”

Well, I had an elevator pitch for the thing, but I hadn’t hauled it out in awhile. I took a couple of seconds to drag it to the forefront of my brain, put on my best radio-announcer voice, and said, “A private eye with PTSD—” and he said, “Stop. Send me a chapter.” Turns out he was a private eye for a year or so, and also works with a PTSD charity, so I hit two of his buttons in five words.

The next day, I was hanging out at the WordFire booth shooting the breeze with Larry Correia—we’ve been friends since right after his first Monster Hunter novel was published. He asked me if I knew Kevin J. Anderson, and I said I didn’t, and so he waved Kevin over and said “Hey, Kevin, this is Julie Frost, she’s awesome.” And Kevin said something about Peter telling him about me, and Larry said, “When her book hits your slush pile, move it to the top.” Kevin asked him if he’d blurb it, and Larry said, “Of course.” “Book bomb?” “You bet.” I nearly fell through the floor.
And then at LTUE (a Utah writing symposium) the next February, I was offered a contract. WordFire has been very, very good to me.

What are you working on now?

Oh, gosh, so many things. I’m expanding a novella called “Joy Shall Be in Heaven,” about a Guardian Angel to serial killers, into a novel. It’s Nachi’s job to be the conscience of killers and try to talk them out of doing terrible things, but he can’t mess with Free Will, and he’s never had a success with any of these guys in thousands of years. It’s wearing on him, justa little.

I wrote a short story called “Cry Havoc” about a werewolf alpha who loses his pack to hunters. He’s supposed to be their moral compass, but now that he’s lost them, he doesn’t have anyone left to be a moral compass for, so he goes off the rails a bit and starts slaughtering his own way through the hunters. And then he finds out who the actual architect of his loss is, and we close on him and the last hunter standing deciding to go after that puppet master together. Those two guys tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know this is a novel, right?” So I’ve got that one outlined and am scribbling madly on it.

I’m also putting together a collection of Pack Dynamics short stories. Short fiction picked me, not the other way around, and so the characters in the novel keep running off and having smaller-sized adventures. I’m hoping to release that in mid-February at LTUE.

And then there’s the short I’m staring at for the Baen Adventure Fantasy contest, too, about a sorceress who creates orcish werewolf soldiers for the orc king. A rival sorcerer is unhappy about being ousted, and wackiness, as they say, ensues. I’ve barely started that one.

I’m also in the noodling stages of the third Pack Dynamics novel.

What else have you written?

I’ve had over forty short stories published in various places. The latest was a Pack Dynamics short in the Crazy Town anthology, and the one before that is a first-contact story in Fantasy for the Throne where the aliens come and accidentally abduct a werewolf. I wrote a riff on the song “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean (1961—I’m amazed at how many people have never even heard of this classic) where John is a werewolf in an asteroid mine, published in To Be Men. And one where the God of War and the Prince of Peace conspire to thwart the Father of Lies in Planetary: Mars. Yes, I used Jesus as a character, and I don’t even think I’m going to Hell for it!

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

“Cry Havoc,” mentioned above, won 3rd Place in the Writers of the Future contest in 2015. And my story “Give Up the Ghost,” about a spaceship crew hired to take a graveyard to the edge of the system and space it, won second place in the DragonComet contest last year. The dead are not as quiet as my crew would like.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I used to be an inveterate discovery writer. Then I decided to do my own January (because November is a stupid month for it, for me) version of NaNoWriMo with short stories rather than a novel, and I knew that if I didn’t outline them, I’d crash and burn. So I sat down with the seven-point plot structure and outlined seven stories. I ended up writing five of them across 53,000 words, and deemed that experiment a success. I still don’t always outline a short (sometimes they really do write themselves), but most of the time I do.

I’ve found that the seven-point structure is just a little inadequate for a novel if I just do it for one arc, so I modified it a bit for Pack Dynamics 2—I outlined Ben’s arc, and the villain’s arc, and the contagonist’s arc, and then did character arcs for all of them too. It made the actual writing process so much easier.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

If I get stuck, it’s usually because something is wrong with the story. So I have to sit down and figure out exactly what that is and how to fix it. Sometimes it’s because a story takes me in an unexpected direction and I’m fighting it instead of just letting it be what it wants to be. My secondary-world fantasy, for example, tends to go “funny” for some reason, and I didn’t want the story I’m writing for the Baen contest to be funny. However, I’ve recently decided that the story is what it is, and if Baen doesn’t want it, someone else will.

But, not always. Sometimes (like now, in my Guardian Angel novel) it’s just a matter of not wanting to spend a lot of time in a serial killer’s head, with a protagonist helpless to do anything but sit there and watch him be a terrible person. Oh, ha, see, writing this out has just made me figure out what my actual issue with it is…

Sometimes, all I have to do is write a blog post about how stuck I am, and it magically un-sticks me. And sometimes it’s just a matter of sitting down and forcing it, fifty or a hundred words at a time. And when I go back and look at the words I grind out versus the words that flow, I can’t tell the difference.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Figuring out exactly where I want to publish. The publishing world is in a weird sort of flux right now. Back when I started, self-publishing was the Kiss of Death; now you have people making a six-figure income from it. The pace of Big Five publishing is positively glacial, and I don’t have the patience for that kind of thing, I don’t think—especially at the slow pace I write novels. That being said, I probably would not say no to someone who threw a giant advance at my head. I love WordFire and the fact that they get me great editors and covers and I don’t have to worry about those things. Going fully indy would be a little terrifying, I think, but I’m open to the possibility. I’m also open to the possibility of going traditional all the time. I’ll probably stay this weird sort of hybrid, though, where I go small press for the novels and indy for the short story collections.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

Collaboration is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I think the absolutely essential element for a successful collaboration is for both people to be on the same page as to what the story needs. I used to do a lot of online text-based roleplay (and most of it is still up, and you can read it if you know where to look), and it was basically online improvisational collaborative storytelling. My main partner, Aspen Hougen, and I played out a ton of scenarios that went really really well—so well that she and I eventually wrote a post-Armageddon short story together starring a couple of demons we created, called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse,” which was published in the Enter the Aftermath anthology.

I also collaborated with Bryan Thomas Schmidt in a story for the Monster Hunter Files anthology called “Huffman Strikes Back.” He asked me to write the fight scene in that story, and the first iteration was “Too Easy, Drill Sergeant,” and the next one was too over-the-top difficult. Bryan helped me to find the balance between the two-—and that’s what the best collaborations do. You push each other to be better.

But I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had a fiction collaboration go wrong (some of the roleplay ones did, and gah, the drama). I’ve heard some horror stories, so I think it’s really important that both authors know what they want out of the thing right up front so there are no misunderstandings later.

Do you have any pet projects?

“Joy Shall Be in Heaven” is a kind of pet project. My faith is a big part of my inner life, and while I don’t want to bludgeon people over the head with it, I think I can tell stories that incorporate it without being preachy.

The non-writing pet project for 2019 involves birds. Last year, I had a goal of photographing 200 Utah bird species. I ended up with 231 (which is exactly half of the birds on the Utah list, which incorporates a bunch of species that only show up in the state occasionally). This year, I’m taking that project nationwide, with the goal of 500 species in the US and Canada. At the time of this writing, I’m already at 122 across two states (Utah and Texas). But January generally starts with a bang (I got 91 Utah species in January last year), and then the rest of the year tapers off because you’ve already gotten the easy ones.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

I’d be more organized in general. Some things, I’m very organized about (you should see my bird spreadsheets; they are a thing of beauty), but the rest of my life… not so much. I have a lot of clutter I should do something about, but then I stare at it and get paralyzed by the scope of the thing instead of breaking it down into small bites and just doing it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I joke that I want to be Jim Butcher when I grow up, but I’m not really sure how much of a joke that is. His stories are amazingly brilliant, and he’s so gracious and funny and such a great teacher. I really do want to be more like him. I love Larry Correia’s books and the fact that he’s turned this monster hunting thing (which is silly on paper) into such a huge franchise, and that he’s branched out into other things that are just as good if not better. The way Rob Thurman writes the relationships between brothers and best friends is beautiful. Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty” universe is one of the best things ever; it’s so nuanced and intricate. And there are so many others (we could be here all day), but I’ll also mention Patricia Briggs, Gail Carriger, Faith Hunter, and Anton Strout.

I have to say, Julie, this is one of the more enjoyable interviews I’ve ever conducted. (And as I approach my 120th interview over the course of six years, that’s saying a lot!) Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Before I present an excerpt from Pack Dynamics: A Price to Pay, followed by links where visitors can purchase it and follow you online, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: goofball.

The one thing I cannot do without is: my family.

The one thing I would change about my life: be more organized.

My biggest peeve is: Hollywood writers who do not do basic research.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: my last novel.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

The choices you make determine the life you lead. Never give up, never surrender.

 

Excerpt:

Ben’s stomach lurched.

He considered his lycanthropy to be a feature, not a bug. In his line of work, being hard to kill was an asset. The case of PTSD he’d brought home from Afghanistan was easier to wrestle when he could lose himself in the animal and just be for a while. It slowed the wheel hamster, and he was still himself as a wolf, just … simpler.

This scene was a nasty reminder that not all werewolves dealt with their condition as well as he did.

Not that he could say that to Spence. As far as Ben knew, he was unaware of the wilder side of Los Angeles and would probably rather keep it that way. Someone handed Ben a pair of blue disposable gloves, and he pulled them on before crouching beside the body, not touching anything just yet.

A set of four somethings—Ben was betting claws because his own were two inches long and sharper than they had a right to be—had ripped down diagonally from left shoulder to right hip, tearing through the shirt and into the flesh beneath, exposing organs.

“This is a hell of a mess,” Spence said. “Witness heard screams and called 911, but by the time we got here, this was all that was left. No ID on him. What kind of weapon does that?”

“The kind I wouldn’t want to encounter in a dark alley,” Ben answered, which wasn’t a lie. Whatever wolf had done this was bigger than him, which wasn’t difficult, if he was being honest, and had slaughtered this man with ruthless efficiency. But hadn’t eaten—

Ben staggered a little when he realized what his nose had been telling him without consulting his brain. Their killer wolf was a female.

He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead. “So that’s awesome,” he muttered.

“Ben?” Spence said. “You all right?”

Ben took a breath. “As all right as I ever am. Sometimes it hits me wrong. You know.”

Spence nodded. Ben had once had a spectacular meltdown at a house where a guy had cut his girlfriend’s throat. Nobody had warned him, and that one pushed his Bad Buttons. “You need to sit down somewhere?” Spence asked.

“No, not this time.” Ben straightened and settled himself. “Those are some nasty wounds. I’d be interested to hear what your ME has to say.”

“What I have to say is that scruffy little PIs have no business at my crime scene,” the perpetually grouchy medical examiner said, pushing past him.

“Happy to see you too, as always, Schmidt.” Ben stepped out of his way. He knew what had killed the man and didn’t need a doctor to tell him.

“It looks like an animal attack,” Dr. Schmidt said. “See the punctures on his hands? He probably tried to fend it off and got bitten for his trouble. That being said, no dog can do that much damage, not even a pit bull. I’ll know more when I get him back to the lab.”

“What do you think, Ben?” Spence said.

“I think you were right to let me in on this one, is what I think.” Ben’s mouth pulled to one side as he pushed his hair up out of his face with the back of his wrist. He wondered how much he could or should say. “Might want to check and see if anyone reported an escaped bear tonight.” He held up a hand. “It’s not the way I’d bet, just covering bases.” Frowning down at the body, he said, “I’ve seen some spiked brass knuckles do damage sort of like that. There’s knuckle armor, with claws at the ends. Or maybe Freddy Krueger is in town and this guy pissed him off somehow.”

Ben needed to find the perp before the cops did. It would be way less awkward all around. He hoped like hell she’d had a good reason for this. “Keep me read in, if you don’t mind, Spence. Thanks.”

 

If you would like to purchase Pack Dynamics: A Price to Pay, you can do so here:

Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07GSL7NWK/

You can follow Julie here:

Website: https://agilebrit.livejournal.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julie.frost.7967

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, February 18 – A. J. Mayall Interview

By day, A.J. Mayall works in the indie publishing field and has quality checked nearly half a million manuscripts. He lives in California with his husband and his best friend. An avid gamer, A.J.got his writing start in the gaming industry with a focus on community events and content. As an LGBT author on the autism spectrum, he feels it is his duty to write diversity into his works, to ensure that readers have new and varied worlds to enjoy. The rumors that he is a menagerie of hive-minded sentient spiders wearing a human suit are sheer fallacy and should be ignored.

Today, we’re focusing on his latest release, The Art of Madness (The GearWitch Investigations), an urban fantasy published by WordFire Press on November 15, 2018. Its premise:

Phoenix McGee became a detective to show the world he was mature and reliable, capable of running his own life and business.

It’s just a shame he can’t adult his way out of a paper bag.

Being attuned to the clockwork nature of the universe and able to bend the fundamental laws of reality comes with the bonus that his powers don’t show up under any scans, leaving him in a loophole where he can use his powers without legal restriction… or protection.

On the verge of losing everything, he takes on a simple case of suspected adultery, something to keep the lights on and the creditors at bay. Little did he suspect his life would become a chaotic whirlwind of false leads, uneasy alliances, mob ties, and a woman who punches with a sedan.

Bodies pile up as he struggles to keep things normal for himself and his assistant, Suzette DiMarco. Phoenix will need his wits if he plans to solve the case and save himself, his livelihood, and everyone around him… because cosmic powers don’t pay the bills.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

There is more to come after it, and much to come before it. Also, I made a point of having my work pass the Bechdel Test. A world with diversity as a focus point, an urban fantasy without all the grimdark overcast.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

This is an idea I’ve had for the better part of 2 decades, a wide spanning non linear saga. The Art of Madness is the entry point, but it is NOT the beginning of the tale.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I’ve noticed a lot of urban fantasy authors go for more Noir inspiration, and I take mine more from comic books and graphic novels. I like worlds where you don’t have to hate the world to be the hero.

What was your path to publication?

As I work in indie publishing, I first did this on my own, but went with Wordfire Press to give me more time to write.

What are you working on now?

The next book in the series, The Always Machine.

What else have you written?

I have been in a couple anthologies, and the majority of my work was done for video games.

What is your writing routine?

I livestream the majority of my writing on Twitch, and I use dictation software.

Do you create an outline before you write?

Yes, I have every book broken down into chapters, with chapter breakdowns.

Why do you write?

Because I failed at being a ballerina. To be fair, I love storytelling, and with my job I can help others tell THEIR stories, but I have my own worlds in my head that I need to get out.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

To quote Jim Butcher, “I don’t have a muse. I have a mortgage.”

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Story Structure and understanding the nuances of mythos was something I struggled with in the beginning, and now it’s sort of how I operate.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Getting the time needed to write.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

I’m all for collaboration, and I think building communities is something that should be essential basics for getting in the industry

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

Being on the Autism spectrum means having a different perspective on a lot of things, so to me hearing people react to how I just see things is what inspires and enriches.

Do you have another job outside of writing? I am currently a Vetter for Smashwords, an indie e-book publisher

Describe a typical day.

I wake up, head downstairs, turn on the computer and proceed to vet about 200 to 250 manuscripts a day. When I’m done, after about 8 hours, I spend some time with my household, and then at the end of the day I do my livestreaming, which is both gaming and writing.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

I was an autistic gay teen in the Bible Belt during the 80s and 90s, I dare you to throw something harder for me to survive.

Do you have any pet projects?

Currently I’m just wanting to get the GearWitch Investigations done, but I have things lined up for later, a cozy mystery and a story like Breaking Bad meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

What is your greatest life lesson?

Always have a Plan B. Life can throw you a curveball at anytime so make sure you have a way out should you need one.

Who are some of your favorite authors?Jim Butcher, Terry Pratchett, Dan Wells, R. R. Virdi

A.J., thank you for shining light on the author behind the words. Before I present an excerpt from  The Art of Madness, followed by your book buy and social links, I like you to attempt a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: good sounding board.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Personal space.

The one thing I would change about my life: Being born shorter. I hate being 6’5”.

My biggest peeve is: Anything troublesome.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My friendships.

Excerpt:

“We have a case!” Phoenix exclaimed as he opened the front door to McGee investigations, raising his hand for a high five.

“About damn time, McGee,” said Suzette DiMarco, his assistant, confidante, and best friend, passing him by as she entered and leaving the hand hanging.

The slender, six-and-a-half-foot-tall redhead shrugged with a grin, sliding his hands into his pockets. His attire was simple: a white t-shirt, slightly baggy jeans, well-worn sneakers, and a little too much hair gel.

She had met plenty of guys like him in her brief stints as a model. Looking at what she was wearing, it was hard to imagine her on a catwalk; the high-collared gray dress was practically dowdy. Her appearance was only modernized by her thin-framed glasses and her hair in a haphazard bun.

Phoenix thought she resembled what angry librarians claim their final form to be.

“Come on. We’ll have a new investigation beyond the weekly insurance claims. Husband suspects an affair.”

“Oh, so you might be ruining a marriage? I’m in.”

Phoenix scowled, trying to lighten the mood, “We might save it, you know. At the very least, we could maybe make a new ad from a happy customer.”

Suzette looked at him, nonplussed.

“I’m still not giving you a high-five, not before my coffee.”

In his twenty-three years, Phoenix McGee had learned a few things. One: No matter what life handed you, try to find the positive. There were already plenty of people who were dark and dour in his line of work. Two: A friendly smile and a bit of wit could fix nearly any situation. Three: Suzette can’t be held responsible for manslaughter if it’s before her morning gallon of coffee.

“Fine, be that way. The client will be here in a few hours. Once we get his paperwork filed, put it to my B pile, after the insurance cases. We need to keep the lights on, after all. I’m certain your grandmother will understand.”

“I hope so. She’s been messaging me about when you’ll pay her back for the loans on this place.”

He looked around the office. Filing cabinets were half-extended out, plastered with sticky-note reminders about bills.

“When are you seeing her next?”

“Tonight,” Suzette said, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “Dinner at the hotel.”

“Tell her about the new case, and the insurance companies still need to cut me a check for last month. I’m not letting her take this place.”

“Will do, boss.”

He checked the time. It was nearly seven, which meant Genesis would have just opened up the combination bookstore and coffee shop across the street.

“I’m grabbing celebration donuts, Suzette, anything you want?”

“Bearclaw,” she said, sipping her coffee as she settled in for her day behind the desk. After a moment, she smiled, breaking her usual unimpressed expression. “Go celebrate your case, but keep it cheap.”

He scowled as he walked to the door.

“What? I do your banking, McGee. Until the checks clear, you need to keep a tight budget. You know, like a functional adult.”

“I’m a functional adult. Look at me. I’m running a business, I have my own place. I’m adulting fairly well. Hell, adultery is my specialty.”

“Adult, my ass. You sleep with a stuffed animal.”

“You leave Bouncer out of this.”

Suzette pointed to the door, chuckling, “Don’t forget my donut, you goddamned manchild.”

“I always thought of myself as more of a ‘rascal’,” he said, opening the door onto the streets of Rouge Mal, leaving McGee Investigations, and quickly crossing the street to The Books of Genesis.

He heard the familiar ring of the bell over the door as he entered, calling out to his friend and neighbor, curious what color her hair was today. When he turned to face the counter, he paled.

Two robbers had guns pointed at the rainbow-haired woman behind the counter. Genesis trembled.

Phoenix sighed, “And here I thought the morning was going so well.”

Those of you who would like to follow A.J. online can do so here:

Twitter: @ArbiterFabulous

Twitch: twitch.tv/Pound0fFlesh

You can purchase  The Art of Madness here: