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:

 

 

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, February 4 – C. S. Ferguson Interview

I asked this week’s guest, C. S. Ferguson, to tell us something about himself. This was his response:

I live in the Pacific NW with my wife, two sons, a cat who thinks she’s a dog (she plays fetch), and a dog who thinks he’s a cat (he stalks and pounces). I enjoy camping, diving, swimming, lifting weights, reading, and just about anything that can act as a creative outlet.

I more or less spend all day every day studying or creating. I’m constantly outlining new novels and writing them, drawing things, painting, designing tabletop games, or studying whatever interests me at the time. Mythology. Anthropology. Military history. Ninjas. Pirates. The histories of various pop culture phenomena, like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Typical guy stuff, I suppose. I have no a social life (99% I on the I-E continuum) so I have a lot of free time to do these things.

I prefer science fiction and fantasy because of the creative freedom afforded in the more speculative genres. How else could I write a story about a mute psychic special agent chasing a group of washed up space pirates trying to bribe their way through an FTL jumpgate during an interplanetary civil war?

WordFire Press released his latest science fiction release, Devils & Black Sheep, on January 23 of this year. Its premise is as follows:

In the distant Heracles system, at the edge of explored space, the last pirates of the once-infamous Crimson Star fleet are trapped. Civil war has broken out between the seven systems of human space and the jumpgates that supply interstellar travel are closed down to all but official traffic. The pirate leader, retired university math professor Tybalt, is desperate to escape the system and attempt an experimental cure for the degenerative condition that got him fired from the university. Their pilot, corpulent ex-gangster Falstaff, clings to the hope that he can reconstitute the pirate fleet and return them to their former glory. Their surgeon, ascetic psychic Tamora, has grown disillusioned with their lifestyle and wants to return home to her monastery and a simple life of meditation. Their enforcer, retired military android Nicodemus, never found further employment except as a janitor until a law enforcement agent approached him about infiltrating an infamous pirate group. He has spent years sabotaging their efforts and is nearly ready for the endgame that will bring down the last of the Crimson Star pirates for good.

Soured by the Bureau recently moving him from active status to a support role, legendary but aging lawman Neil Tesso wants to reinvigorate his career and convince his superiors to return him to active status with the elite Spacetrooper raid teams. With the increased pirate activity in his home system and the growing civil war, the Core government on old Earth threatens martial law. Desperate to avert the arrival of the insidious Inquisitors and the suffering that follows and seeing an opportunity to convince his superiors of his continued worth despite his age, he pursues the pirates with zealous determination.

What neither side knows is that among the Crimson Star’s most recently pirated cargo is a crate of almost immeasurable value.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

That it exists. After that, I’ll let the book tell them everything they want to know about it.

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

I set out to write a story about people who think, instead of people who constantly act and react. That was my diamond-hard core of intent. I hope it’s apparent.

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

It would be astonishingly arrogant to claim that my work stands out. There are a lot of fantastic authors with a lot of fantastic ideas. That said, I’m more interested in thinking characters than action characters, and am more interested in the bungled mistakes people make than in their perfect decisions. So I guess I write stories about non-badasses, which is different.

What was your path to publication?

I submitted the first 10k words for consideration. About a month later, I got a reply asking for the whole manuscript. I submitted that, and a few months later the manuscript was selected for publication. The publisher assigned me an editor, and we collaboratively tumbled down the sharp corners over several months. The whole process from query to published novel took about a year and a half.

What are you working on now?

Gamewise, I’m working on a narrative role-playing system with campaign settings for D.J. Butler’s Rock Band Fights Evil urban fantasy series, Quincy J. Allen’s Blood War Chronicles western steampunk fantasy series, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns space opera series.

Bookwise, I’m writing a sci-fi series about angels having lost Armageddon and being forced to integrate demons into their society. It’s told mostly from the angelic point of view, from an ensemble cast. The central theme is Nietzsche’s Warning.

What else have you written?

A whole lot of NaNoWriMo novels.

What is your writing routine?

The first thing I do is create characters. I write them out as an upbringing, achievements, traumas, personality, and goal. Then I imagine those characters telling me their story, and I write down the outline for the story that they would tell me. When I write, I aim for ~10,000 words per day. I dislike editing, so I write finished prose from beginning to end. When the manuscript is complete (complete and finished are different things), I do global searches for words I don’t like and find a better way to say them.

Do you create an outline before you write?

Yes, but my outline is quite loose. Sometimes the characters derail my outline and the story takes a different direction than intended, though. Pesky things, characters. They never do what they’re told.

Why do you write?

I can’t stand not to. Take away my computer and I’ll write stories by hand. Take away my paper and I’ll scratch stories into the dirt with a stick. I keep a notepad by my bed because I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night having dreamed a scene, or a character, or even an entire new story. I’ve dictated a story outline into my phone while grocery shopping. I’ve also typed one into my phone while at a rock concert.

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

Balancing work with family. I tend to get lost in projects and become an absentee husband and father. I schedule an hour a day with each of my kids and with my wife to make sure I don’t become a total stranger.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

I love collaborations. I sent out a request for short fiction submissions for a game I was working on, and that’s how I started down this path. I met a lot of great writers who submitted a lot of great stories. I bought the best ones for the game, and those authors got excited and introduced me to their friends and collaborators. It grew from there. The best thing you can do for your career is be competent and cooperative. If you are, collaborators will actively seek you out.

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I’m a boring person. Anything I’ve done, thousands of other people have also done. But I try to capture the experience in my writing. I’ve stood at the top of the highest peak for a thousand miles in every direction and watched the clouds sail past beneath me; I’ve writhed in agonizing pain and truly doubted whether I’d live long enough to make it to the emergency room; I’ve stood in the middle of a desert and wondered at the vast sea of sand extending to the horizon in every direction; twice, I’ve held a seconds-old newborn in my trembling hands and cried because I knew I wasn’t up to the job. Life is experiential. So I try to see what the character sees, feel what they feel, and describe the experience.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m a game designer, digital and tabletop.

Describe a typical day.

Wake up 5:15 a.m, leave for gym at 5:30, lift weights from 5:45-6:45, back home by 7:00, clean up, eat breakfast at 7:15. Check email (10 minutes or two hours, depending on the day). Phone calls (also 10 minutes or two hours, depending on the day). Second breakfast at 9:00, brunch at 11:00, and lunch at 1:00 p.m.. By afternoon, I’m caught up on contacts and ready for nuts and bolts work. Writing. Drawing. Reading. Background research. Market studies. I eat again at 3:00 p.m. and break from work at 3:30 to play with my kids. Diablo with Dad is a thing in our house. I play an hour of multiplayer Diablo with each of my kids, and I make it a habit of ruining it by turning the whole thing into a series of life lessons. “We defeated Belial on Torment! High Five! Now, how do you think it would work out if you faced Belial as a level 1 character? Life is like that. You can sit around in town and stay a level 1 character forever, or you can go out, take some risks, get bloodied up, get stronger, level up, equip better gear, and go farther than any level 1 character could even dream of going. But if you just stay in the safety of town, you’ll live your entire life as a level 1 character.” Eat dinner at 5:00, then return to work. I stop at 7:00 to eat supper with my wife, and we watch one episode of whatever show she wants together. Then I work until 9:00, at which point I clean up again and go to bed around 9:15. Repeat, seven days a week. Saturday and Sunday mornings are for chores and errands instead of phone calls, but I still occasionally field a call.

What motivates or inspires you?

Watching documentaries about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, and about World War 2. Those were iron men.

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

Ignore it. 90% of adversity is imaginary. Nothing in my life is hard. Omaha Beach was hard. This? This is nothing.

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

I believe that kind of thinking is a pitfall of self-defeat. We make the best decisions we can, given the information we had at the time. Sure, there are things I could have done better. But that assumes I had different information than I had at the time. I didn’t, so if I was in the same position all over again, I’d make the same decision.

What is your greatest life lesson?

I believe that life lessons are experienced, not taught. My life lessons would be meaningless to anyone who hasn’t experienced my life.

What makes you laugh?

When my cat paws at my face in the middle of the night because she wants under the covers with me.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Stephen E. Ambrose, Antony Beevor, Robert Bloch, Philip K. Dick, Adam Makos, Andre Norton, Jeff VanderMeer, A.E. van Vogt, Kurt Vonnegut.

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Devils & Black Sheep, followed by your book buy and social links, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. In a few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Loner

 The one thing I cannot do without is: A happy wife.

 The one thing I would change about my life: Nothing

My biggest peeve is: People talking loudly

 The person I’m most satisfied with is: My wife

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

 Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right A B Select Start

Excerpt:

He turned and looked at Leer. The officer was motionless, a skeletal game piece, a mute specter of a secret policeman whose mind Staff could only guess at.

“The silent treatment,” Staff said. “More silence. How do you get anything at all out of your detainees, if you stand there and stare at them? I’ve got bunny slippers that are more intimidating than you are.”

He snorted and looked away from the officer.

An odd sensation trickled into his mind, again. His mind became cold, as if something had been poured into his brain, icy, flowing, snaking along each crevice and dripping into mental caverns that he didn’t know existed. He clenched his teeth and groaned against the pain, but it didn’t help. He tried to blink away the discomfort, focus through the wavering, twisting images in front of his eyes. It didn’t work.

“Drugs?” he gasped. “Really? ISB isn’t happy with their secret police interrogation tactics, you have to resort to drugs, now? You’re pathetic.”

A frigid lance of pain stabbed through his mind and shot down his neck, and he curled in agony.

I will kill you, Staff thought. You’re Number One on my list, when I get out of here. You’re done. I will crush you, and I will laugh in your face as you fade to black. But most of all, I’ll stab you straight through that stupid mask.

Pounding pressure stomped through his head, but the cold sensation faded and Staff fell back onto the bed. The wraithy officer remained mute and still as a tombstone.

“Okay,” Staff said in between panting breaths. “That one was special. I liked that. Do it again.”

He focused his body on relaxing, each limb in its turn, and waited for the chilling sensation in his head. But it didn’t come. Instead, the sinister officer reached up with a long-fingered hand and triggered the handcuffs. They snapped open with an ominous ring and fell to the floor.

Staff launched himself out of the bed in a blur of motion, his face curled in a mask of rage, his hands reaching for Leer’s throat, that thin, skeletal neck that he was certain would snap like a stick in his grip. Leer stepped aside, the subtlest twist of body, and Staff smashed into the wall. Veteran of a hundred brawls and boarding actions, he was back on his feet in a blink and lunged at the officer again. Again, Leer took a single step away, and Staff crashed into the bed that, a moment ago, had imprisoned him.

“You’re a fast little bastard,” Staff said. “But all I need is one hit, and you’re going down. You’re dead. I may look fat, but I’ve got a hell of a lot of muscle underneath it.”

He’s fast. Damn fast. I need to take him seriously, wear him down, play the long game. I’m not as fast as I used to be in my younger years. Or in my leaner years.

Meaty fists held up on either side of his face, Staff took a steadying breath and settled into a fighting stance, high on the balls of his feet, every joint loose and ready to move. He expected his silent opponent to do the same. But Leer stood straight and tall, hands dangling loosely at his side, feet flat on the floor.

This guy’s an amateur.

One hammer-like fist shot out at Leer’s mirrored mask, and Staff smiled in anticipation of the victory. Leer stepped back, the slightest motion, but enough to stop outside of Staff’s reach. Still, the gaunt officer was infuriatingly balanced, in perfect posture, upright and absent any lean or tilt. Twice more, he jabbed out at Leer, and twice the officer stepped away.

I’ve got you now, Staff thought when Leer put his back to the wall. Nowhere to run, you dodgy little bastard. And if you’re a witch, I’ll kill you and everyone you know with my bare hands.

His next punch sailed through empty air as Leer stepped aside, almost before the fist began to move. He lunged in for a powerful tackle, arms spread wide to grab the officer and pull him to the ground … but Leer stepped aside and twisted away with the speed and grace of a swallow in flight, and once again Staff slammed into the ground empty-handed. And Leer’s arms remained at his side, having not yet moved since the melee started.

Those of you who would like to follow C. S. Ferguson online can do so here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/darth.ferguson

You can purchase a copy of Devils & Black Sheep here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07N1XV16J

 

 

 

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 21 – Paul Kane Interview

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over eighty books, including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts,The Mammoth Book of Body Horror andPain Cages(an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, plus IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, as well as being a panelist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure, The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED—the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell and Before (a recent Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller). He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

When I asked him to describe Arcana, Paul provided this:

Welcome to an alternate world where magic really exists, and where those who practice it are hunted down by a police division called The M-forcers. But some groups are fighting back! Callum McGuire is a new M-forcer who once worked the quiet streets of London (England’s capital is now Chelmsford, scene of the original Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins’ greatest victory). An orphan, Callum’s been brought up to believe all magic is evil. But the more he sees of The M-forcers’ cruel methods (implemented by General Nero Stark, and his second-in-command Sherman Pryce), the more he begins to question whether or not they are right. And when he unwittingly encounters a member of the rebel group called Arcana, he’s introduced to their world and realises that nothing will ever be the same again. Join award-winning and bestselling author Paul Kane (the sell-out phenomenon Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, the Hooded Man series and the bestselling Before) as he shows you a kind of magic you’ve never seen…

What do you want readers to know about your book?

Arcana is basically a book about the underdog, about people who are in a minority fighting back against a crooked system. It’s about how power can corrupt and how easily people can be controlled or the truth manipulated. I think that’s an important message, especially when you look at the world around us and what’s happening in it currently. Genres like SF, Dark Fantasy and Horror have always been a way to comment about things like that indirectly and this book is no different. At the same time it’s also got action, suspense, excitement and romance, so hopefully it ticks a lot of boxes for readers. I had a ball writing it and I think that comes across when you’re reading it.

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

I think with Arcana I was trying to give readers who enjoyed books like the Harry Potter series something to move on to afterwards. There’s even a line in the novel where it’s referenced, that in another universe people who use magic like Harry are hailed as heroes. It’s also very much influenced by my love of Clive Barker’s book Cabal—famously filmed as Nightbreed—The X-Men, and even Dune. They’re filled with outsiders who are just trying to survive, but at the same time are forced by pretty serious events to stand up and be counted. Of course, in Cabal and Dune you also have the messiah aspect which I’ve carried across into Arcana, a legend that one day someone will come along to liberate the downtrodden, and it might not be whom you were expecting. As a fan of the more imaginative genres and as a writer, I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider myself, especially growing up. I didn’t really discover my ‘tribe’ until I started going to conventions and met other fans and writers. That’s really when I started to feel at home and accepted, I suppose. So Arcana is very much about that, drawing on those feelings.

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

I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that. I’m probably too close to it. But people seem to like what I do, which makes me very happy. I’ve been compared in reviews to some amazing writers like Stephen King, Robert McCammon and, of course, Clive. It’s incredibly flattering and more than a little daunting. But I also like to think that, the same as with all writers, my writing’s unique to me. We all go through different things that we bring to the table in our fiction, have different experiences and points of view, which is one of the reasons we appeal to some folk but not others. There’s a point in a writer’s career where they find their own voice, though, and the influence of other fiction – though it still remains – lessens to some extent. That happened to me when I wrote a tale called ‘Eye of the Beholder’, one of my Controllers stories which is being reprinted in March, in The Controllers, a collection from Luna. It was a character study really, about a woman’s life from start to finish and how it was being messed about with by those pesky Controller creatures, but when I’d finished it and read it back I just thought to myself—yes, this is you. This is what your writing’s going to be like from now on. The main character just came alive in a way that none of the others had done before, and that’s when I knew I was on the right track basically.

What was your path to publication?

In general? I started writing stories when I was in my teens, but they weren’t very good. At university, I took a module in Professional Writing, which led to a career in journalism. But I’d still kept up with the fiction and having my articles and reviews published gave me the confidence to start sending some of my stories off to small press magazines. Some were accepted, some weren’t, but I carried on and in 2001 a number of them were gathered together in my first collection, Alone (In the Dark),published by BJM Press. And it all just stemmed from there. In this instance, with Arcana, I’d heard that Kevin J. Anderson had set up a publishing company and thought this book would fit with the kind of thing he was putting out. I’ve known Kevin for some time, so I thought it would be okay to sound him out about Arcana, and at least ask if he’d be willing to have a look. He was happy to and passed it on to Dave Butler at Acquisitions who loved it, and the rest is history. It’s a tough one because, like a lot of my fiction, it doesn’t easily fit into one category or another. Yes, it’s Dark Fantasy, but there are also elements of Horror, SF, Crime… Thankfully the people at WordFire got where I was coming from with it, which is a gift to an author. My experience with them has been a delight, I have to say—from edits to cover design. I couldn’t be happier with the finished product, and I’m over the moon that they’ve decided to bring it out as a limited hardback as well as paperback and ebook.

What are you working on now?

Several things at the same time, as always. My wife Marie—who’s an excellent writer and editor in her own right, which is how we met—and I are just putting the mass market crime anthology Exit Wounds to bed for Titan. That features stories by the likes of Lee Child, Val McDermid, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Jeffery Deaver and Dean Koontz, and is out in May. Writing-wise I’ve just finished a couple of shorts that I owed, one a seaside horror and the other another entry in my Life Cycle spin-off series about a female werewolf called Diana; the rest were collected last year in a publication from Black Shuck Books. I’m also going through edits on a novella for PS that’s crept into short novel territory. It’s a monster story, a siege story, and my homage to the old horror books from the 70s and 80s.

What else have you written?

Oh, so many things! I celebrated 20 years of being a published writer a couple of years ago with a “Best of…” collection released by SST called Shadow Casting. That contained stories which have been filmed, won awards or were just reader favourites, so I think that’s a good starting point for anyone wanting to check out my fiction. I’m probably most associated with the Hooded Man mass market books, though: a post-apocalyptic take on Robin Hood set within Abaddon/Rebellion’s Afterblight Chronicles. That led to quite a few other PA books, such as The Dead Trilogy– one story of which was filmed by Lionsgate/NBC for their primetime TV series Fear ItselfThe Rot and my latest YA novella Coming of Age, as P.B. Kane. I’m also known for my association with the Hellraiser mythos: books like The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell—in which the world’s greatest detective meets the Cenobites—the anthology Hellbound Hearts, co-edited with Marie, and most recently an audio drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab.

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

Quite a few of my books have been bestsellers, including most recently the novel Before. I’ve been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award several times, have won the Editor’s Choice Dead of Night award, the Skaadi, the Karl Edward Wagner Award for my work on conventions, and the film of my story Life-O-Matic won best short at the LA Independent Film Festival Awards, the London Independent Film Awards and the Wayward Film Festival, plus it won the Silver at the Spotlight Horror Film Awards.

What is your writing routine?

I try to keep office hours, though that’s not always possible, especially if I’m juggling a few jobs at once. A number of times recently, for example, I’ve put in a full day’s work writing then spent the evenings editing stories for an anthology that’s due in. But one of the benefits of this kind of work is that you can do it at home, which is handy at this time of year when it tends to snow quite a bit. At least I don’t have to drag myself out of the house to go to work! I also don’t know from one week to the next what I’ll be doing on any given day. You can try and plan it, especially if you’ve got a big job like writing a novella or novel, where you need to set aside some days in a row; I average about 3,000 words a day on a good day, so in theory it should only take a couple of weeks, working Monday – Friday, to get a draft done of a novella. But then things crop up all the time, like today, for instance, I had a book come back to go through that’s due out soon and I’ve got to put aside what I’m working on to do that because it’s time sensitive. Or you might get invited to an event you don’t know about yet, which is always nice—or have signings and launches to organize or go to. I’m definitely not complaining though, because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I’m a big believer in planning, yes. I’ll sit and work out an outline, or even chapter breakdown for a novel, before I start anything. I have to know where I’m heading or where I’m going to end up before I even set off on the journey. That doesn’t mean things can’t change along the way, and they always do, so I try to stay flexible. I think it comes from having to plan essays at uni and articles back when I first started writing and getting paid for it. And particularly when I have to do any work for hire or tie-in stuff, because publishers usually like to see outlines and breakdowns when you do that kind of thing before they commission you.

Why do you write?

I don’t think it’s something you can even explain, it’s just something you have to do. If you’re a writer you’ll do it no matter what, even if you’re not getting paid for it. There are times when things aren’t going right that I think about quitting altogether, but I don’t think I ever could. Then when things get back on track again, I don’t even want to! I was telling stories by drawing or with my toys before I even started writing, so I think it’s been in me right from the start. It’s also a way of processing the world around you, life and what’s happening in society like I was saying before about Arcana. If you’re a writer you can’t sit and watch what’s going on every day and not want to write about it, say something about it in some way. Of course the other answer is that it’s my job and how I pay the bills, and I’m very glad it is. I can’t imagine doing anything else now.

Tell us about your writing community and thoughts on collaboration.

I love being a part of the writing community. As I mentioned before, I felt like I’d come home when I found my “tribe”. I think getting out to events and meeting other writers is so important, because it’s quite a solitary job sitting at your keyboard tapping away. It’s also nice to know that people’s experiences in the industry, the highs and the lows, are all quite similar. We all have our insecurities and problems, no matter what level we’re at. Marie and I are actually running StokerCon™ in 2020 – www.stokercon-uk.com– and those kind of events are always fun to do. We’ve run or been involved in several FantasyCons, World Horror, World Fantasy, Alt.Fiction and various HWA UK events like our scripting day or the “Partners in Crime” day about crossover fiction. In terms of collaboration, I’ve only written a couple of things with other writers. The last one was a collaborative novella with bestselling author Simon Clark, Beneath the Surface, which worked well. But I should really do more, because I thoroughly enjoy the collaborative process. I think that’s why I like working in script form, for TV, films, comics, theatre and audio, because I like seeing what other people do with the material.

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

It’s difficult. As I say, there are times when I feel like quitting as I’m sure there are with a lot of writers. My wife Marie gets me through those times in all honesty, and gives me faith that things will work out. Mostly it’s just a case of hanging in there until the upswing comes around again.

Do you have any pet projects?

I do. My BA and MA are in film, so my pet projects tend to be connected with that medium. For example writing about the Hellraiser movies in Legacy was a bit of a labour of love for me, and I have a follow-up of sorts out now full of interviews with the creatives who worked on those films: Hellraisers from Avalard Books. I have a couple of other non-fiction film books in the pipeline that I’m fitting in around other projects, one of which I’ve been working on for a couple of years now, but I can’t really say too much about those. My other dream projects revolve around films being made from my scripts. I’m lucky enough to have had a few shorts made from those, and have a couple more on the horizon including The Torturer, which is being directed by Joe Manco at Little Spark Films. I’ve written features too, but have yet to see one get made—so that would be a huge buzz for me.

What is your greatest life lesson?

To just keep going, keep trying. Patience and perseverance are big ones in this line of work, you just won’t get anywhere without either of those.

What makes you laugh?

I’m lucky enough to have written comedy, one of my early collections gathered together a lot of those tales: FunnyBones. And I realised from the reaction to it that comedy is so subjective; different things tickle our own funnybones. But I do love the classics like Monty Python, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horses, Seinfeld, Frasier… At the last HWA event, both Mike Carey and Joe Hill were recommending The Good Place to us and I’m slightly obsessed with that show now. If you haven’t seen it, then drop everything and watch it immediately! And of course Marie cheers me up all the time, especially if I’m getting a bit too serious. We make each other laugh a lot, and I think that’s one of the keys to a happy marriage, or just a happy life in general.

Thanks, Paul, for taking the time to share with us. Before I provide our visitors with an excerpt from Arcana, 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: Her husband.

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

The one thing I would change about my life: More hours in the day.

My biggest peeve is: Stickers on book covers.

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

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

Just thanks to everyone who keeps buying the books, I’ll keep writing them if you keep picking them up!

 

Excerpt:

Callum looked around at the paintings that hung there. He didn’t know much about art, but bet they were worth a tidy sum. One showed a ship in a storm being battered about on the waves. Another had a knight in armour on a white charger, fighting a red dragon that was breathing fire.

“Cute,” said Gibson when he saw it.

“So, what exactly are we doing here?” Callum asked as they approached another receptionist.

“All in good time,” was the only answer he’d give. Gibson stepped up to the desk to talk to a woman who could have been a clone of the one downstairs, except for her blonde hair. “Mr. Temple, please.”

The secretary looked at him, puzzled. “He’s in a meeting … with a client.” It was exactly what they’d been told before.

“Oh, okay,” said Gibson, then made his way past into the foyer. The receptionist got up to stop him, but the policeman brushed her aside, reading the names on the doors to see which one belonged to Temple. He opened it and burst inside.

A tall man with pinched features wearing an immaculately cut suit rose from his desk, while the woman—middle-aged, wearing a black dress and hat with a veil—turned around in her leather seat. Surrounding them, on almost every wall of the room, were rows and rows of books.

“What’s the meaning of this?” shouted the man, who had to be Temple.

“Sir, I tried to stop them,” offered the receptionist.

“That’s right, she did,” Gibson confirmed. “But we kinda insisted.”

“It’s all right, Gloria,” Temple told her. “Go back to your desk.”

Gloria did as she was told, casting both Gibson and Callum a dirty look as she went.

“Now then,” Temple said, “I demand an explanation for this!”

Gibson walked further into the room. “What was the lure, Mr Temple? Was it boredom? Is that how you got into it?”

Temple frowned.

“Someone with your kind of money; drugs and drink not cutting it for you anymore?”

Temple’s distressed client looked up at him, seeking some sort of explanation.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about, Officer. What I do know is that I can have you pulled up on charges at the drop of a hat. Let’s see, intimidation for a start, breaking and entering, abuse… Who’s your superior?”

“Does the name Zola Bates mean anything to you?” Gibson demanded, eyes narrowing. That certainly wasn’t his boss.

Temple appeared to think about this for a moment, then shook his head.

“Oh, come on—let’s cut the bullshit, shall we? We pulled Zola in a couple of weeks ago. She gave up all of her clients.”

“I’m afraid I still don’t—”

“We’ve been on to you ever since. You’ve been consorting with the wrong kind of people, Temple. You think nobody knows about your visits to the back room of that wine bar on Avon Street. But we have the rest of your lot, mate. And I’m here to take you in.”

“You have no right to—”

“Your fancy lawyer talk won’t save you this time. We have all the evidence we need.”

“This is absolutely preposterous,” announced Temple, rounding the desk, hands balled into fists. “What’s going on here, some kind of witch hunt?”

Gibson smiled. “Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly what this is.” The smile broadened. “I’m here under Section 27 of the James I of England Act, Temple.”

Then he pulled the canister from his belt and sprayed Temple with the liquid. Gibson aimed for the eyes first, and Temple howled, rubbing them with his knuckles. Then Gibson sprayed lower: into Temple’s mouth, covering his suit with the liquid. The smell was strong, even across the room.

Gibson then took a box of matches from his pocket and struck one.

Temple opened his eyes. “Oh sweet Heaven, no! Please…” His hands were clasped together.

“No good praying, I doubt whether He’ll help you now,” Gibson spat. Then he tossed the match. The little wooden stick seemed to spin over and over in slow motion. Callum watched it turn, the yellow, blue and white flame flickering as it did so. When it collided with Temple’s chest there was a fraction of a second’s pause. The next moment the lawyer himself was engulfed in flames. They spread all over the area Gibson had sprayed, down across his trousers, up into his face. The female client put her hands to her mouth, but that didn’t stifle her scream; though it was nothing compared to Temple’s cries while his flesh bubbled and seared. As Callum watched, shielding his face from the heat, the material of Temple’s suit stuck to its owner. Temple staggered around a little, then fell over. The plush carpet beneath caught fire too.

Callum looked around and saw an extinguisher by the door. He grabbed it and was about to move forward, when Gibson stopped him.

He shook his head. “Not yet. He’s still alive.”

Temple’s client was up out of the chair now, and seconds later out of the door. Callum couldn’t say that he blamed her. The sight of Temple’s eyeballs melting in his skull wasn’t exactly appealing. When the lawyer’s head dropped back and his arms—which had been reaching out even as he writhed on the floor—finally went slack, Gibson finally nodded for Callum to put out the fire. Wincing, the young officer sprayed the man, and the flames died down as suddenly as they’d sprung up.

Callum stood back from the blackened mess that had been a human being just a few minutes ago. Only the white of Temple’s teeth shone out, as what was left of his lips were pulled back over them.

“Best way for sparkies to go,” said Gibson from behind him. “Old-fashioned, but effective.”

Callum turned to face his partner, who was still smiling. He could think of nothing to say.

“You see, we’re the real knights on the chargers. They’re the dragons.” His smile faded. “And we fight fire with fire.”

If you’d like to follow Paul online, you may do so here:

Website: http://www.shadow-writer.co.uk

Twitter: @PaulKaneShadow

Instagram: @paul.kane.376

You may purchase Paul’s books here:

Amazon UK POD: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Arcana-Paul-Kane/dp/1614759448/

Amazon UK Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07MC142BR/

Amazon US POD: https://www.amazon.com/Arcana-Paul-Kane/dp/1614759448/

Amazon US Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MC142BR/

Books2Read: https://books2read.com/u/b5r9N6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 7 – Bobbi Schemerhorn Interview

My first guest in 2019 is Bobbi Schemerhorn, one of the group of authors I met after I signed up for Superstars Writing Seminar, conducted annually in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was born in Nova Scotia, but raised in Alberta. She has lived all across Canada, living in at least five different provinces, thanks to her military husband. Bobbi enjoys watching a variety of TV shows and movies; she is, in her words, “a Sims 2 playing fool, and loves working with her hands making crafts.” Although she has no human children she does have one beautiful kitty who has reached her 18thyear.

Bobbi has self-published eight books, all in the fantasy genre. She has dabbled in Steampunk and Greek Mythology as well as Urban and Epic. Outside of her own writing Bobbi takes pride in helping her fellow authors with their work with her content editing and beta reading. She is known for her tough love both in her professional and personal life.

I asked her to tell me about her urban fantasy Bounty. She describes the book that is also touched by Greek mythology as follows:

On a world called Olympia, a terrible disease plagues the race of gods. As rumors spread about the disappearance of the anomalias, many infected gods flee through portals from Olympia to other worlds, including Earth, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

When the disease infects Rion, a bounty hunter who once helped return anomalias to Olympia, he, too, seeks sanctuary on Earth. But Rion’s partner, Temis, hunts him. Temis still believes the lies told to the bounty hunters about the anomalias. She believes they are violent, paranoid, delusional.

Rion’s only hope is to convince Temis to see the dark truth. But how can he convince her that everything she thought she knew is a lie?

A race against time to discover a chilling truth with powerful consequences.

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

To be honest I’ve never read any of the other books in this genre. When I started writing Bounty, Greek Mythology was the farthest thing from my mind. But being a pantser, I tend to end up in unexpected places.  My understanding of it now comes from my editor. She had commented that I had taken a new twist to this genre and approached it in a different manner. So you could say that I have broken the mold.

What are you working on now?

A six book series in a W.O.W/ D&D type setting. The first five books will be written in a standalone fashion, each character getting their own book and story. Then in the last book the five characters will come together.

What else have you written?

I’ve written two other separate series. The Guardians Series, which is a trilogy. Legacy, Sacrifice, and Obsession. This series follows a young woman on a journey of unexpected self-discovery. She learns more about her family and herself after she was resurrected from a car accident and thrown into a life of immortality.

The second series is my Mechanical Dragons Series. It’s a four book story line based mostly around a young woman discovering she has magic and the deadly consequences of such knowledge becoming known. She comes to this realization when she unintentionally brings her school project, a mechanical dragon, to life. When the wrong people took notice her world and her families were changed forever.

What is your writing routine?

I just sit down and start writing. I tend to jump all over the place, I don’t write sequentially. So one day I could be writing chapter one but the next day chapter 10. The more scenes and chapters I write the clearer the order of them becomes. When I am over half done I will sit and piece the scenes together. This helps me to discover where there may be some plot issues. I guess you can describe my writing routine as pure chaos.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I don’t create an outline but I usually have a good idea of where I want to start and where the story is going. How I get there and how it all ends is generally a mystery to me.

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

My greatest challenge is visibility and how to achieve it. Millions of books are published a day, the hardest thing to do is ensure you are one of those million that people see.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I have been blessed with a spouse who not only has a job that can support the household but also encourages me to stay home to pursue my writing. So when I was laid off from my IT job in 2012 he strongly encouraged me to pursue my writing full time. And so I did.

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

I would have chosen to write sooner. I spent nearly ten years thinking about writing and never doing it. If I could talk to my younger self I would tell her to just do it and stop wishing you could.

What is your greatest life lesson?

Forgiving someone isn’t about them, it’s about me. I’ve been wronged by a few people as I’m sure everyone has and for the longest time I would carry around all that anger and hurt because I didn’t or couldn’t forgive them for what they had done. It was exhausting, they lived rent free in my head and I suffered for it. When I finally realized letting all that go helped me in so many ways. I severed ties with some of those people, but I forgave them for what they had done because I needed to let it go. It was then that I also realized their lashing out was their issue. It wasn’t truly about me but rather their own insecurities.

Before I present an excerpt from Bounty, followed by her social and book buy links, I’ll close with my traditional Lightning Round. Bobbi, please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m: Honest, opinionated, loud, and loyal.

The one thing I cannot do without is:  Chocolate, and my cat, but mostly chocolate.

The one thing I would change about my life:  Stronger knees so I can be more physically active.

My biggest peeve is: People who believe their actions don’t affect anyone else.

The person or thing I’m most satisfied with is: I’m quite satisfied with my life and my husband.

Thank you, Bobbi, for taking time out of your writing routine to share with us. Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

The one piece of advice I can give is to always follow your bliss. It may not put food on the table but it will put joy in your heart.

Excerpt

Rion glanced over his shoulder at his home one last time before crossing-over, through the portal and into the Hereafter. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck stood on end from the static caused by the two dimensions merging.

He pushed his way through Olympia’s portal. He could feel the warmth of the solid ground on the other side through the thin soles of his shoes. The Hereafter was a void absent of all life and sound; the space between worlds. He took a ragged breath. The air was so thin there may as well be none.

He spied the glow of Earth’s portal in the distance. He’d never used that particular portal before. Over the centuries Rion had traveled to Earth at least a hundred times, usually chasing the undesirables from his world, but sometimes from other worlds. The criminals would use the Hereafter to cross-over, attempt to escape to other places. It was Rion’s job to bring them home to face justice.

Only this time, Rion was the one on the run.

His circumstance was different. He was no criminal. But his only hope for survival was to seek refuge on another planet. Many of his kind in similar situations fled to Earth, it was the closest thing to a safe haven as they could find.

The Earth portal was approximately twenty minutes away. Rion would need to move quickly to reach it. The Hereafter’s air supply was minimal, and his changing physiology made it difficult to breathe. Gods could survive days in the Hereafter, humans mere minutes. Even though he was more god than human, his survival would still be difficult. He tried to pick up his pace and jog, but the dim light and the uneven surface made it challenging. Rion coughed several times. It felt as if his lungs were collapsing in on themselves from the lack of oxygen. He had to get out, and quickly.

The black surface was like volcanic rock and was cracked as if all water had dried up many millennia ago. But he often wondered if the Hereafter had once been a luscious and beautiful place, full of life. Tiny particles floated in the air around him, only visible if caught at the right angle against the warm glow of the many thousands of portals.

The Hereafter made him uncomfortable. The darkness seemed to enclose on him, and the lack of sound seemed to scream in his ears, like air rushing through a tight tunnel.

As he approached the portal the hair on his arms and the back of his neck again stood on end. The sound of rushing water filled his ears; all of Earth’s portals were submerged. It was going to be a difficult transfer. Kilometers of ocean separated Rion from freedom.

Before crossing-over from the Hereafter to Earth he struggled to take a final breath. His chest tightened and the thin air rattled through his lungs as he heaved in a breath. It had been months of planning, careful meticulous planning. He was directed to take this portal; it was the closest of all Earth’s portals. With his physical changes he would never survive the trek to any of the others.

Rion pushed through the portal. Immediately, the cold of the water began to seep through his bodysuit. It was made of organic material meant specifically for travelling to Earth. They had a series of sensors to help regulate the user’s body temperature in the frigid waters. The organic component also helped to make the suit more buoyant which would help him reach the surface faster. Rion suspected since his physiology is changing the suit wasn’t able to protect him properly.

The water was heavy and dark, he was certain he knew where he needed to go. He struggled, kicking his legs frantically to reach the surface before his lungs finally reached a point where they force him to take a gulp of air. Only it would be a mouth full of Earth’s salty ocean water.

His mind raced and drifted to when he had still been fully a god; when this short distance would have been a mere inconvenience. Now his ability to remain underwater had deteriorated. He knew the changes would only make this journey more treacherous the longer he stayed on Olympia. He feared he waited too long before leaving his world. The illness that plagued him was mutating his genes, changing him into a human.

You can follow Bobbi online here:

Blog: www.bobbischemerhornauthor.ca

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

You can purchase her book here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07JV9QY52

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1438445184

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bounty-bobbi-schemerhorn/1129710083;jsessionid=AEE98086C46280318EDE7D24AF359AEB.prodny_store01-atgap14?ean=2940156081653

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/bounty-21

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, December 17 – Christopher Ruocchio Interview

A new and powerful voice has risen among us. Christopher Ruocchio’s epic novel, Empire of Silence, is on a par with Allan Moore’s Jerusalem and Frank Herbert’s Dune. The first in a series, Empire gets underway with all the deliberation of a mile long freight train and builds to a logical, well conceived ending. Be forewarned. This is no blast-em-to-smithereens space opera. While there is physical violence enough for those who require it, the subtle threat of the ever-present Inquisition lurking in the background, threads tension through the story in a way swords and phase disrupters never can. The Chantry, whose Inquisitors are sure to be feared, like all religious fanatics, are perforce blinded to possibilities beyond their belief system. The fundamental posit that founds their beliefs is that humans are the universe’s sine qua non, all the while denying the possibility of any other intelligent race or species.

Christopher Ruocchio is the author of “The Sun Eater”, a space opera fantasy series from DAW Books, as well as the Assistant Editor at Baen Books, where he co-edited the anthologies “Star Destroyers” and “Space Pioneers”. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where a penchant for self-destructive decision making caused him to pursue a bachelor’s in English Rhetoric with a minor in Classics. An avid student of history, philosophy, and religion, Christopher has been writing since he was eight years old and sold his first book, Empire of Silence, at age twenty-two. “The Sun Eater” series is available from Gollancz in the UK, and has been translated into French and German.

Christopher lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. When not writing, he splits his time between his family, procrastinating with video games, and his friend’s boxing gym.

I asked him to describe Empire of Silence and he provided this:

Hadrian Marlowe, a man revered as a hero and despised as a murderer, chronicles his tale in the galaxy-spanning debut of “The Sun Eater” series, merging the best of space opera and epic fantasy.

It was not his war.

The galaxy remembers him as a hero: the man who burned every last alien Cielcin from the sky. They remember him as a monster: the devil who destroyed a sun, casually annihilating four billion human lives—even the Emperor himself—against Imperial orders.

But Hadrian was not a hero. He was not a monster. He was not even a soldier.

On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe starts down a path that can only end in fire. He flees his father and a future as a torturer only to be left stranded on a strange, backwater world.

Forced to fight as a gladiator and navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, Hadrian must fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.

Your style of writing, Christopher, is like a signature. Your unique choice of words, your frequent eschewal of traditional sentence structure, as well as the cadence of your prose, impart a greater surrealism to an already surreal story by removing the telling several steps from the ordinary. Was this a deliberate strategy, or simply a byproduct of your obvious love of language?

Is my sentence style non-traditional? It’s extremely hypotactic, with a lot of subordinate and dependent clauses, but I didn’t think there was anything unusual about it. I’m an extremely auditory person. I can remember virtually anything I hear after one or two exposures. I’ll remember a random snap from a conversation my friends were having in the other room without me days later, and so when I write it’s always out loud, and I check my writing out loud when I’m done. Good prose has to sound good, or it’s bad prose. Insofar as my prose is surreal, I made a conscious effort to make sure Hadrian doesn’t understand everything that’s happening around him. He’s not very technically minded, which allows the technology to feel a bit more magical, for one, but there are also events happening (especially later in the books) that are meant to defy human understanding in any event. So it’s best to write in such a way that hints at more, and to let the dark corners of your imagination fill in the rest.

Hadrian and Valka’s discussion about the Umandh while they were visiting the alienage at Ulakiel yields, not only an alien quality to the setting, but also emphasizes how un‑Earthlike these characters are. While most science fiction authors struggle to describe the strangeness of a person or place, you build an otherworldly scenario through your prose and dialogue. Is this a deliberate strategy, a happy accident, or merely this reader’s perception?

In a certain sense, the prose is dialogue. It’s first person, and everything here is Hadrian speaking with you, the reader. One of the things we modern people are really bad at is getting our heads around just how different people used to think about things in the Middle Ages and in classical antiquity. A lot of us are so thoroughly materialistic and rationalistic in our thinking that when we encounter someone who is, say, deeply religious, we almost think that they’re insane—when in reality they’re representing a mode of thinking that was far more common for most of human history than the way we think now. Hadrian’s tendency towards pattern recognition, to latch on to sounds or symbols and to see them as a through line that gives his life meaning (for example, when he experiences bright lights he connects them to the supernova he tells us he will cause at the end of the series, as if they’re omens of what’s coming), is very like the way a medieval or a classical Roman might have thought. Being somewhat religious myself, I find that symbolic way of thinking about the world a more reasonable and meaningful way to view existence in the first place, and I think the loss of it is something the modern world got wrong. So if Hadrian and his countrymen feel alien in this way, it’s because their cultural worldview has more in common with these older ways of thinking than ours does.

Empire of Silence is a story that is sometimes felt more than it is recounted. From Hadrian’s thoughts on the night before he steps into the Colosso, to the scene that takes place at the palace barbican in Chapter 49, more is inferred than stated outright. How much time do you spend revising and editing to get these scenes right?

Empire of Silence was actually completely rewritten after I sold it to DAW books (except for about the first dozen chapters or so), so the rewrites were fairly minimal after that. I do reread everything aloud before I send it in for copyediting, and I use that phase to sand down the rough edges, so to speak. But it’s always been my observation that many people are too afraid to say what they really mean, or are too embarrassed, and so there’s a good deal of side-stepping and beating around the bush. But really, this sort of conversation by implication-and-inference is less a product of revision and more a consequence of how I communicate in the first place, or at least reflects my personal theory about communication.

In the course of the conversation between Hadrian and the Cielcin commander in the chambers at Calagah, you reveal an understanding of socio-linguistic dynamics—how language springs from a culture and how the very structure of the language can impart layers of meaning above and beyond the mere words of the conversation itself. Will you tell us about how you acquired this knowledge?

I have a quibble with your question, if I may. It’s not that language springs from a culture, rather it seems to me that culture springs from the language. That’s something most modern linguists seem to get exactly backwards. They’ll talk about how language shapes perception (the Japanese have one word for both blue and green, and so it’s not uncommon to see a Japanese child use a green crayon for the sky), but then they’ll say people consciously manipulate the language to control populations, which is the precise reverse of the premise that language shapes perception. It’s foolish. Languages are almost Platonic forms (though they certainly change, despite the effort of we editors to keep grammar fixed in place). But languages are more long-lived than any individual human is, and they shape us  individually to a far greater degree than any individual shapes or controls language. We are its  creatures and not the masters of language at all. That’s why God is sometimes called the Wordthe Logos, in the Christian and Stoic traditions.

As for how I got interested in this sort of thing: because I hated linguistics classes in school. Linguists these days are all sophists. They espouse this postmodern ethos wherein there is no objective, higher meaning and words may mean whatever you want them to mean. They’re like Syme in Orwell’s 1984, who understands that if you replace the word bad with ungood, you destroy the ability of people to conceptualize bad as a concept on its own. Syme is certainly correct, but modern linguists seem to have taken him as a model for emulation, not an object lesson in how not to act. My interest in the subject came out of this conviction that my classmates and I were being ill-served by our instructors, who seemed more interested in advancing their private agendas than pursuing truth.

You recently told me you were outlining the third book in the series. Are your outlines detailed, or written in broad brush strokes?

The outline for my second novel, Howling Dark, ran about 60 pages long. I think it was more useful as a writing exercise than a reference material, because as I wrote the book I found I hardly looked at it, so the outline for my third novel only ran about 20 pages—just long enough to get the boilerplate for each chapter down, although there were certain parts that ran longer than others. Having written the outline, I find my thoughts are now ordered enough to get the book written with only the occasional glance back at the outline, which leaves me enough room to improvise where and if necessary, too!

 The Rod Serling quote in Chapter 10 caught me off guard. At what point in its creation did you decide to ground your story with real world, Earthbound references?

Probably in my senior year of high school. I’d been writing a  novel since I was about 8-years-old, and like the Ship of Theseus slowly changed out parts as I grew up. It began as an epic fantasy novel, heavily inspired by the cartoons I was watching at the time, and slowly changed. Around the time I got into college it properly became a science fiction novel, and the world moved from a secondary world to our far future. But I’ve always been a bibliophile and a classicist—as well as a science fiction/fantasy fan—and so it was natural to work in these references, ranging from the momentary Easter egg, like the Serling quote, to the overarching: The arc of the whole series is inspired by the Gothic migrations and Attila the Hun’s invasion of Rome in the fourth and fifth centuries. I’ve been utterly mystified by some reviewers on this score. One accused me of “stealing” a line from Doctor Who “like we wouldn’t notice!” Which was baffling because I had hoped people would notice the reference and be in on the joke with me. Literature is intertextual and referential by nature, after all! As for Serling, no one is surprised when someone references Shakespeare in these far future settings, but I thought Serling might surprise someone.

How did you find your publisher? Are you agented, did you submit to them directly, or did they find you through your relationship with Baen Books?

By brute force! I spent about 10 months finding an agent, racked up just over 50 rejections and nearly threw the book away. I had gotten down to the end of my list of reputable agents and decided to let the last couple queries I had play out while I started a new story. Fortunately, one of those agent was Shawna McCarthy, who took me on. I in fact tried very hard to minimize any advantage my then-internship with Baen Books might have given me. I didn’t show Baen my work for the whole first year I was with them for fear that I’d come across as unprofessional trying to worm my way into a deal I hadn’t truly earned. I didn’t want to be accused of nepotism, or of having gotten published by dint of some unearned privilege. This story is the culmination of my short life’s work (there’ll be other culminations later on, I’m sure), and I wanted to do it right, even if that meant rotting in the inboxes of half a hundred agents.

How did the story come to you?

I have lived with one version of this story or other for so long that I can’t really answer this question. Hadrian himself only fully formed when I was about 18, but the Cielcin and the threat they represent had menaced earlier versions of the story for far longer, when Hadrian was a different character with a different name. There was a time when this battle played out in a medieval kingdom, and it was the threat of a flood and not a destroyed sun that Hadrian’s precursors held over the world. Hadrian was called Caelan then, and the Cielcin were the Qorin. It was a high fantasy story in those days, not science fiction at all.

But really, the question of where this story comes from is the question of why I started writing, and the answer to that is this: my friends as I played make believe as children. They would be characters from shows like Dragon Ball Z  or Inuyasha, which were popular at the time. I was Batman. As we moved through grade school, our characters sort of individuated, and became their own thing. Soon there was nothing of Batman left at all, and my hero character grew and grew by layers and degrees. My friends left to play football, but this character—who began as Batman and became Hadrian, but who as I say had many names and incarnations—stayed with me, and I had to do something with him. Eventually, after throwing out a nearly-finished draft for the 80th time, I sat down and sort of sketched Devil’s Rest and the city of Meidua out in a scene or two, and the final Hadrian stepped out.

What else do you want readers to know about your book?

It’s a response to Frank Herbert’s Dune. I’ve taken hits from a few readers for being too much like Herbert’s book because of the byzantine galactic empire or the religious injunction against machines, but here’s the thing: Frank Herbert’s ethos for the Dune series can be summed up where Pardot Kynes says: “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero.” Frank Herbert is, at the end of the day, a skeptic about the virtues of heroism. Paul’s actions save the Fremen from the Harkonnens, but his actions result in the deaths of billions and the destruction of the Fremen way of life as water comes to Arrakis. He paves the way for his son’s 4500 year reign, and the series’ “Golden Path” is a plan to liberate mankind from hero worship and god-kings for the rest of time. I’m neither so libertarian nor so skeptical of heroes. Where Paul Atreides is a response to the naïve heroes of pulp fiction (your Buck Rogers and your Flash Gordons—and even Luke Skywalker if you want to be anachronistic, but accurate), a deconstruction, Hadrian is a response to Paul. Like Paul, Hadrian’s actions are terrible, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the wrong thing to do (even if they tear him apart to do them). Modern people like to say that good and evil are matters of opinion—that they don’t really exist. That’s nonsense. Hadrian’s story is one of embracing the precepts of heroism that got playing straight by someone like Luke or Flash despite the horrific consequences of things like war and empire embodied in someone like Paul. And for me to do that, for me to enter into a dialogue with Herbert, the book has to share traits to invite comparison in the first place. If I’d written urban fantasy instead, no one would think to look to Dune for the other half (or third) of the conversation. So don’t be fooled by the sword fighting shields. Thematically, Empire of Silence and The Sun Eater generally are about as far removed from Dune as it gets.

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

I’ve not won any awards as yet, nor do I especially expect to. I am being considered for the Compton Crook Award for best new writer, and I suppose I’m eligible for the Campbell in the same light—as well as the Hugo, Nebula, and Dragon. I would be honored to be nominated, of course.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’ve worked for Baen Books now for the last 4 years (1 of those as an intern). I’m their Assistant Editor, but don’t let the title fool you: I mostly do digital marketing, social media, PR and the like. If you email Baen with a question or complaint, I’m usually the one fielding it. I do some production work, some jacket copy, backads, and so forth, but I want to stress I don’t do acquisitions, so if anyone catches me at a signing trying to sell their book to me, I’m sorry in advance. But it’s been an educational experience. Its helped me get a better understanding of how publishing works, which I hope has made me a better editor towards Baen’s authors and a better author towards DAW. It’s also been a great boon. I have to travel to conventions for my day job, which has allowed me to reach more shows and readers than I might have done on my own. I’m very grateful to Toni Weisskopf and to everyone at Baen. It’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to doing it for a while yet!

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I don’t know that it would be very interesting. I live with two roommates—friends from grade school—and will for another year. It’s time to buy a house and finish growing up. I’m very nearly as young as authors come (I’m 25), but I already feel like there are things I should have done years ago. My teachers and professors all told my generation to rebel and question “the Man.” In their day, I guess that meant free love and psychedelics, but since a lot of my generation seems to be doing just that, I figure I’ll rebel by marrying the girl I love and starting a family. I don’t think that’s what my professors had in mind, but I don’t think they realize that they’re “the Man” now. The world’s upside down.

Hadrian draws. Hadrian fences. Do you as well? If so, please elaborate.

I used to draw, but not very well. My uncle is a professional artist/industrial designer, and I really looked up to him as a boy (and still do!), and tried to learn to draw like him. But alas, I was frustrated by failure and rather than push into visual design, I made the lateral move to writing and that’s worked out pretty well so far. As for fencing: yes! I was a pretty avid fencer from about Grade 5 to Grade 11, when I had to start working nights and weekends as a bus boy and waiter, and I’m afraid the fencing gym has since closed down, and Raleigh doesn’t have another one at the moment. I was mostly a sport fencer, but I’m competent in Italian-style rapier (no master, by any means), with a smattering of Polish saber and some longsword. My father used to make fun of my lightsaber fighting antics as a small child and said I should learn to do it right, so I did. As it happens, I now take boxing lessons from the same man who taught me to fence, Wes Caudill. Wes was where I got Hadrian’s preference for fighting barefoot (something I’ve always refused to do myself), and there’s a little of him in Sir Felix and especially in Pallino.

Thank you, Christopher, for taking the time to share. Before I provide an excerpt from Empire, followed by your social and book buy links, I’d like to end this interview with a Lightning Round, because of the insights the answers frequently provide. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: bit of a madman, I expect.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Music. I’m a big hard rock/metal fan. Bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Blind Guardian. My favorite musician of all time is the late Ronnie James Dio. I actually own—and this is the truth—Dio’s bed. I bought it from his estate sale.

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d spend more time on physical fitness. Boxing twice a week is great, but I should do something every day.

My biggest peeve is: People attacking J.R.R. Tolkien’s reputation. There was an article going around about how another writer thought Tolkien was a racist because of the way he treated the orcs. That opinion is so ludicrous as to be almost illiterate, and anyone who holds it gets a black mark from me.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: Most satisfied is a weird way to put it, but I love my girlfriend, Jenna, very much. At the time of writing, I just took her to the airport after a week long visit, and I miss her terribly. I feel very lucky to have her in my life.

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

Science fiction is in a weird place right now. There’s a lot of infighting, writers attacking writers, editors attacking writers, writers attacking awards. You’ve got the awards attacking writers back and worst of all, you’ve got writers attacking fans. I can’t fathom why any creator would attack his or her fans. It’s insane to me. One thing I learned from the aforementioned Ronnie James Dio is that you don’t do that. You don’t spit at your fans. I’m extremely grateful to the few fans I have thus far, and I’d be honored if any of you reading this who haven’t checked out my work might take a look. Empire of Silence really is my love letter to our genre, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Thanks for having me, Raymond.

Excerpt:

Light.

The light of that murdered sun still burns me. I see it through my eyelids, blazing out of history from that bloody day, hinting at fires indescribable. It was like something holy, as if it were the light from God’s own heaven that burned the world and billions of lives with it. I carry that light always, seared into the back of my mind. I make no excuses, no apologies, no denials for what I have done. I know what I am.

The Scholiasts might start at the beginning, with our remote ancestors clawing their way from Old Earth’s system in their leaking vessels, those peregrines making their voyages to new and living worlds. But no. To do so would take more volumes and ink than my hosts have left at my disposal, and even I—who have had more time than any other—have not the time for that.

Should I chronicle the war then? Start with the alien Cielcin howling out of space, their ships like castles of ice? You can find the war stories, read the death counts. The statistics. No context can make you understand the cost. Cities razed, planets burned. The countless billions of our people ripped from their worlds to serve as meat and slaves for those Pale monsters. Families old as empires ended in light and fire. The tales are numberless, and none of them is enough. The Empire has its official version: one which ends in my execution, with Hadrian Marlowe hanged for all the worlds to see.

I do not doubt that this tome will do aught but collect dust in the archive where I have left it, one manuscript amongst billions at Colchis. Forgotten. Perhaps that is best. The worlds have had enough of tyrants, enough of murderers and genocides.

But you will read on, tempted by the thought of reading the work of so great a monster as the one made in my image. You will not let me be forgotten, because you want to know what it was like to stand aboard that impossible ship and rip the heart out of a star. You want to feel the heat of two civilizations burning and to meet the dragon, the devil that wears the name my father gave me.

So let us bypass history, sidestep the politics and the marching tramp of empires. Forget the beginnings of mankind in fire and in the ash of Old Earth, and so too ignore the Cielcin rising in air and from darkness. Those tales are elsewhere recorded in all the tongues of mankind and her subjects. Let us move to the only beginning that I’ve a right to: my own. Born the eldest son and heir to Alistair Marlowe, Archon of Meidua Prefecture, Butcher of Linon, and Lord of Devil’s Rest.

No place for a child, that palace of dark stone, but it was my home all the same, amid the  logothete-ministers and the armored peltasts of father’s service. But father never wanted a child. He wanted an heir, someone to inherit his slice of Empire and to carry on—not as a man—but as an extension of our family. He named me Hadrian, an ancient name, meaningless save for the memory of those men who carried it before me. An Emperor’s name, fit to rule and to be followed.

Dangerous things, names. Perilous. They begin our shaping, for better or ill, guiding us by the hand or by opposition. I have lived a long life, longer than the genetic therapies the great houses of the Peerage can contrive, and I have had many names. During the war, I was Hadrian Halfmortal and Hadrian the Deathless. After the war, I was the Sun Eater. To the poor people of Borosevo, I was a myrmidon called Had. To the Jaddians, I was Al Neroblis. To the Cielcin, Oimn Belu, and worse things besides. I have been many things: soldier and servant, captain and captive, sorcerer and scholar and little more than a slave.

Interested readers can find Christopher online here:

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheRuocchio.

You can purchase his book here:

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Empire-Silence-Eater-Christopher-Ruocchio/dp/0756413001/

The Write Stuff – Monday, December 3 – C. Michelle Jefferies Interview

C. Michelle Jefferies is a writer who believes that the way to examine our souls is to explore the deep and dark as well as the shallow, to manipulate words in a way that makes a person think and maybe even second guess. Her worlds include suspense, urban fantasy, and an occasional twist of steampunk. When she is not writing, she can be found on the yoga mat, hand binding journals, dyeing cloth, and serving ginger tea. The author and creator divides her time between stories, projects, and mothering four of her seven children on the wild and windy plains of Wyoming.

Today we’re discussing her YA science fantasy, Descending, published in May of this year. Its premise is as follows:

All he wants is to fly.
Ashby Standing has it all planned out: Prove his ability to captain a starship in the simulator, then enter the Star Captain Academy a year early, skipping another hellish year of being bullied at school. When a new street drug proves fatal, taking the life of Elija’s son Nicolai, Noble has no choice but to step back into his role as an agent for Trinity, in spite of his age and his other duties, including coordinating a twenty year celebration for the colonization of Caledonia. After losing Arial, Lyris is hyper-focused on making sure all of her children are safe and protected, even if it skirts what is legal or moral. Everything converges into a complicated mess as moral obligations, desires, and egos battle for dominance and for some, descending into the depths of dark is the option that seems the best choice.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

This book is a pondering of the story of the Prodigal Son. Getting into the depths of why he left, what he did while he was gone and what happened when he returned home. And what about his family? How did they react when he returned? Did the father truly embrace his son after everything he did? Was it easy to adapt to normal life again? And, what if the sins of the son were bigger than just gambling his fortune away?

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

Interesting question. I had a teenage son at the same time I was writing this who became involved in the world of drugs. I wrote Ashby’s story as I witnessed my own son’s downward spiral. I got to feel what Ashby’s parents were experiencing in real life. I got to see inside the court process, the jail, attempted recoveries, and relapses. I became very intimate in the emotions a parent goes through as they try to help a child who doesn’t want help.

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

I weave an eclectic mix of old and future into my stories. Floating shuttles and keys on key rings, Artificial Intelligence in the home and a box of old fashioned stationery. I like both the future and the past and imagine that even with futuristic advances, we still crave the security of older things.

What was your path to publication?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but took several years off to raise my children. When I came back, I spent a handful of years getting to know the world of writing again, practicing drafting, revising and editing. It was early 2012 when I signed a contract with a small press to produce the book Emergence. It was released October 31, 2012, Halloween, my favorite holiday. That book did fairly well and I received my rights back on it in May of 2016, and ended up re-releasing Emergence as Latent in March of 2017. I am now a hybrid author publishing both with small press and under my own imprint, Meraki Books.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a new series which is YA science/fantasy. It is a huge turn from my futuristic suspense novels. I have several ideas that go with this trilogy, such as coloring books, board games, and a field guide as well. It will be a fun change for me.

 What else have you written?

I have two series that I have published. The Chrysalis series and the Ashes series, of which Descending is the first book. I have two writing workbooks, one on story structure and outlining, and one on how to structure a series, and two middle grade books that teach manners to children using fairies and dragons as main characters.

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

Back in 2012 I seemed to be on a roll. I took third place in a first chapter contest, first place in a song writing contest, won a publishing contract with a small press, and was a nominee for writer of the year in a local guild. Things happened, jobs changed and we moved and I took some time off from intense involvement in the writing world. Now I am back and ready to dive in again.

What is your writing routine?

My routine is probably anything but routine. I try hard to write during the day when my youngest is in school. Most of my drafting, revisions and editing happens during school hours. But I plot and world build best when I’m a little tired and the internal critique/editor is asleep or at least less aware. So for me, when I am not writing I am plotting. That’s something I can do with a pen and paper. And in all actuality, I am a better plotter/structure/detail person on paper with a pen. There’s something that happens in my brain creatively, when I sit down with a notebook in my lap.

 Do you create an outline before you write?

I do not outline like most people imagine outlining. I use story structure and that helps me create a story skeleton which I use as a blueprint for writing. At the most I use maybe 2-5 sentences to describe a future scene and go from there. It keeps me in line as I work toward the resolution of the story, but it also gives my characters a bit of room to wander a little. That way I am not lost in the middle of the story, and the story flows more organically for me which reduces the chance of writing stilted prose.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Writer’s block is a mean sucker. It can suck the life right out of you. Make you miserable. When I get writers block I start what a friend calls “just for funs”. It’s writing that is just fun. No one ever sees it, no one gets to judge or critique it. It can be 100 years in the future, or in the past, or scenarios that could never happen in the book. If that doesn’t work, I work on a non writing craft project. This year, I am redecorating my house as an alternative to writer’s block.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I teach community education classes at the local college. I am also fascinated by old creative processes, like old book binding, making paper and ink, dyeing fabric, and making soap and lotion. A lot of my free time is making other types of projects.

Describe a typical day.

My daily routine starts by getting the kids off to school. Then I sit down and do the business side of writing: answering emails, marketing, budgets and other things. Then about midmorning I sit and try to draft words. If that doesn’t work I revise or do other creative things like make book covers. If there’s nothing writing wise to do, I work on other creative pursuits. After school ends I try to spend time with my kids and husband. But, even when I am not writing the worlds in my head keep demanding my attention.

Do you have any pet projects?

I am particularly interested in feudal Japanese crafting. I am in the process of learning to make washi paper, ink sticks, and use indigo dye for fabric, paper and soap. One of my dreams is to make a bound book from scratch, from tanning the leather, to spinning the thread.

When I am not crafting, I volunteer to cook at the soup kitchen. We take food donations and make a hot lunch every weekday for the needy and homeless. We average about 60-70 people a day, especially in the winter time when it is very cold in Wyoming.

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

I would have not stopped writing just because I had kids, I would have at least gone back to school to take every English grammar and composition class I could take. I wouldn’t have re-started so late in life.

Thank you, Michelle, for taking the time to share with us. Before I present my site’s visitors with an excerpt from Descending, followed by links where they can purchase it and your online 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: dedicated to my craft whatever it is that day.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Starlight mint candies

The one thing I would change about my life: Wouldn’t have quit college

My biggest peeve is: Dishonest or fake people

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: The bookshelf with my books on it. It shows how hard I worked at being a writer.

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

Don’t be afraid to suck at first. Learn to love revision, because that’s where the beauty of the story is. Just keep going, writing, revising, editing, and trying to be awesome.

 

Excerpt:

Someone slammed hard into Ashby Standing’s shoulder, forcing his chest into the cold metal of his locker as his cheek smashed into the chevron shaped vents at the top.

“Nice balance, four eyes, maybe you should get your ears checked as well,” Ashby’s personal bully, Mitchell, said. Laughter erupted from the students within hearing range. Ashby adjusted his glasses, more annoyed with their constant presence than the other student’s antics. The bully continued down the hall toward the science labs.

“What a freak,” another student whispered as they passed.

Ashby pushed himself away from the door and brushed his fingertip over the sensor to open his locker, then proceeded to place his books on the shelf and exchange his morning class notebooks for the afternoon ones. He was glad that Mitchell had moved on instead of making a bigger deal out of something.

“Ash!” Doran’s voice echoed off the metal. Ashby cringed at the nickname. He hated the burned and fire jokes that often came with it. Still, his eyebrow raised as his triplet brother, Doran, bolted down the hall toward him, followed by a few people in the far distance. Doran almost never called him Ash. Unless it was important.

“Ash!” Doran pulled some object from his satchel.

Ashby sighed. Doran never learned. It seemed Ashby was forever doomed to be dragged into all sorts of problems by his brother.

“Oh no, absolutely not,” Ashby countered. “Dad said I didn’t have to help you.”

Doran panted as he shoved a black ball into Ashby’s hands. “Remember when I said that I thought the coaches were altering the dantu puck weight?”

“I think—”

“This is the proof.” Doran met Ashby’s gaze with a certain pleading. “Please. Ash. I need your help.”

“What do you want?”

“Hide it. Put it in your pack, no one is ever going to suspect you.” Doran begged.

Ashby put the ball on the shelf in his locker behind the large physics workbook, then set his English book on the top to hide it from sight.

“Mr. Doran Standing, what do you think you’re doing?”

Doran looked over his shoulder. “Shit.” And he ran past Ashby and around the corner.

“Language, big brother,” Ashby whispered as he slung his pack on his shoulder.

“Wait, hold on,” the principal said as he slowed to a stop next to Ashby. One of the other teachers continued to follow his brother.

Ashby turned and raised an eyebrow. “Me?” He looked over his shoulder. Doran was gone from sight.

“We need to search your locker,” Mr. Davis said.

“Why?” Ashby shut his locker door and looked at the principal, folding his arms. The man was totally annoying, completely ignoring anything that happened to Ashby unless he suspected that Ashby was causing trouble. “According to the school’s bylaws, my locker is my personal property as long as I am using it and school is in session.”

“We have reason to suspect that you have received contraband from your brother, Doran.”

“Contraband?” Ashby actually laughed. “Um, no. Not without a warrant and my father or our lawyer present.”

“Grab him,” the principal said and Ashby was yanked backward his arms pulled behind him.

“You can’t do this. I’ve done nothing wrong, and you have no proof,” Ashby shouted. “Get off me!”

“Open his locker,” The principal said to his assistant. He nodded, turned to the locker and produced a master key card. “Search it.”

“This is a violation of my rights. I am assured the security of my possessions and information. It’s in the Caledonian planetary charter.” Ashby growled.

His locker door was pulled open. His pack ripped from his shoulder and hit the floor, where one of the coaches bent over and started to search it. Ashby cringed, his tablet was in there. They were going to break it for sure.

Ashby? Are you okay? His triplet Eiden’s voice echoed in his head. While Eiden being deaf had nothing to do with their ability to speak into each other’s minds, it certainly made it easier to communicate. Your heart just about jumped out of your chest.

I’m fine, little sis, he answered. She was way too sensitive for her own good sometimes.

You’re not at lunch.

I had to finish something for physics. He lied, the dull ache beginning in his chest. If he told her the truth she would for sure go to their dad and then who knows what havoc would ensue. He was enough of an outcast without his father flinching at everything that happened to him.

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Welcome!

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.

I hope to create interviews that are interesting enough to entice you to return time and again. I also invite you to subscribe to this website’s mailing list to keep abreast of what’s on the horizon.

The Write Stuff – Monday, November 19 – Nathan Dodge Interview

This week’s featured author, Nathan Dodge, began writing as a teen, completing several novels, all, in his words, of questionable quality. During the next decades, he wrote spasmodically, in the meantime earning a BS in electrical engineering from Southern Methodist University and MSEE and PHDEE degrees from The University of Texas at Austin. Although he continued to experiment with writing, mainly science fiction, Nathan served as an engineer and engineering manager in the industry for two decades before joining the University of Texas at Dallas faculty. He retired in 2014, although he still teaches half-time. He won several teaching awards at UTD.

Nathan began writing seriously in 2012 and has attended seven Superstars Writing Seminars. He has a story in the Purple Unicorn Anthology with daughter Sharon, a short story sale to Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and recently sold the a book series of young adult science fiction stories to WordFire Press. He and Sharon will soon release an anthology of SF stories entitled, To the Stars, on Amazon.

In his spare time, of which there is surprisingly little, he loves weight lifting, hiking in Colorado, and solving crossword puzzles with wife Faye Lynn.

This is the premise of his WordFire Press release, Shadow Warriors, Book 1 of the Shadow Warriors series:

Cal’s father is drinking himself to death over the passing of his wife. He has lost his job and spent himself into complete bankruptcy. Their home is posted for foreclosure. Letty’s parents started out poor, but the business they founded has made them rich. Now, though, they fight all the time, and it’s driving Letty crazy. Tony has lived on the street for months with his prostitute mother, but he woke up this morning to find her dead, OD’ed on drugs. Ophelia is the daughter of a billionaire, but her father died mysteriously and now her stepmother is plotting to take all her inheritance. Sasha lives in a foster home with an abusive family that feeds him scraps and threatens that if he complains, they will send him to jail.

All five have terrible personal problems—and then one day, they wake up aboard a spaceship, kidnapped. They must train as the crew of a galactic fighter to defend the very civilization that has abducted them. The enemy is a predatory, unstoppable enemy that threatens the entire galaxy, including their home planet Earth. Either they successfully train to become a capable fighter crew, or they will die in battle. A gripping new adventure series in the spirit of Ender’s Game!

What do you want readers to know about your book?

Shadow Warriors is a Young Adult space opera, about five teens who are kidnapped and forced to train as a fighter crew in a galactic war. The underlying theme is family. The five protagonists have never had close  family relationships, or if they had, they didn’t last for long. Thrown together in training, they are first hostile and angry, but quickly learn the value of close relationships. The real theme of book one is that family is where you find it, not necessarily just the group of individuals that are your blood kin.

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

None other than that I wanted to write a “cracklin’-good” story. However, the characters, themselves very independent, took me where they wanted the story to go.

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

I think my characters spend time exploring relations and learning the meaning of family to a greater degree than in many stories. But in addition, I believe that the story is a fun and exciting description of the beginnings of an epic galactic battle that will span five books.

What was your path to publication?

I spent nearly four years learning my craft after I finally started writing in earnest, with only one novel submission, which was rejected. I submitted MANY short stories, with a remarkable rejection rate, selling only one story in the Purple Unicorn Anthology with my daughter, and one story (a contest win) to Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge.

I shopped Shadow Warriors only to Baen’s Toni Weisskopf, which she rejected. Not surprising, since Baen doesn’t really do much YASF. I then sent it to Dave Butler at WordFire, more requesting an evaluation of where I should send it than really making it a submission, but Dave recommended that WordFire sign me to a contract. Since that time, WFP has agreed to publish all five books.

What are you working on now?

My first book series was a dystopian SF trilogy, which I have never finished. I am writing the third book now as I have time. It is slow going, as I am re-editing my other four Shadow Warriors books and getting ready to submit to WFP. The second book is already in process, and I hope to send in the third before Christmas.

What else have you written?

Two volumes of the dystopian trilogy, another YASF novel called The Freedom Conspiracy about a teenager living on the moon, and a novel about the first intelligent android, called I, One. It is currently submitted to a publisher other than WFP.

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

Not a lot of writing honors. I have previously received two honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future contests, and just this week I received a Silver Honorable Mention for a story in the latest contest.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I ALWAYS complete a thorough, chapter-by-chapter outline before I write a single word of a novel. That is due entirely to Dave Wolverton (Dave Farland), who trained me well!

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve become a far more “complete” writer over the last six years. I’m better at dialogue, character evolution, and scene description. I still struggle, and I still, from time to time, change character point-of-view in a chapter or scene, which is a real no-no. To quote the famous painter, Degas (modified for writing rather than painting), “Writing fiction is really easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

Tell us about your writing community.

My writing community is the Superstars group, and I am friends with many of them. I would say without fear of contradiction that the writers in that group are all great folks, and I feel close to all of them. I have only collaborated with daughter Sharon, also a writer and Superstar. I think it’s hard, but frequently worth it.

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

Definitely start writing a couple decades earlier!!

What is your greatest life lesson?

Don’t waste a single day! Our time on Earth is limited, and we need to make the most of it!

What makes you laugh?

I must confess to enjoying ironic jokes of most types. I love the TV show “Big Bang Theory,” which almost always gets a few belly laughs. And sadly, I often laugh bitterly at the attitudes and prejudices of many of our public officials at all levels.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Have you got an hour? Robert Heinlein, first of all, closely followed by Kevin J. Anderson, Dave Farland, Brandon Sanderson, J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan. So you see, I like fantasy as well as SF, but I usually write SF. I also love Nora Roberts’ Eve Dallas murder mysteries written under the name of J. D. Robb—which are also really a mild science fiction.

Before I present our visitors with a Shadow Warriorsexcerpt, followed by your social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Good guy basically, but can be grouchy if irritated, and not very tolerant of stupidity.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee in the morning! Or almost any time of day!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d take a few more chances, and start serious investing a bit sooner.

My biggest peeve is: Traffic in general. And also, how many BAD drivers are out there!

The person or thing I’m most satisfied with is:

Person: My wife, and the way she has encouraged me to be a fiction writer. Even though she doesn’t like fiction!

Thing: My exercise routine, which has served me well for over 30 years.

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

My favorite thought is a saying which I think of as applying to us writers, but can equally be for anyone who wants to lead a satisfied and useful life. It has credited been to sayings as far back as Confucius, although the earliest modern attribution is to something published in the “Princeton Alumni Weekly” in 1982 which quoted a Professor of Philosophy named Arthur Szathmary, who himself attributed the words to an unnamed “old-timer” who was not identified. That is: Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. I think I’ve been able consistently do that. I loved being a computer systems engineer and manager, and I fell in love with teaching at UTD. I probably love writing even more. I can truly say that I’ve NEVER had to “work.”

Excerpt:

 As they got their bearings, Tony sang out, “Formation sighted, sir. They are about to enter the system where we blasted the four ships last week.” He scratched his head. “They are very widely dispersed. It’s an unusual spread, approaching the planet. It stretches back in a cone-shaped formation nearly a thousand kilometers long.”

“Makes them harder to engage,” Cal observed. “They’re also probably looking for their four scouts. Opi?”

She raised her head from the portable. “We’re headed into an ambush, sir. They used this exact formation ten years ago and caught two dozen Warrior ships off-guard. Only one survived. We’re about to be trapped like foxes by the hounds.”

Cal got the point. They were preparing to attack; he had to move fast. He called out, “Red Seventeen to unit leader.”

A moment later, Valin’s voice snapped through their speakers, “Seventeen, Lead here.”

“Sir,” Cal said, “Our planner’s spotted a potential ambush.”

They could hear the sneer in Valin’s reply. “Seventeen, this is real war. Follow my lead, that’s an order.”

Cal almost screamed in frustration. “Lead, requesting permission to leap with engines hot.”

It took precious seconds to generate sufficient leap power. Going in “hot” would mean keeping leap power at maximum.

“Negative, Seventeen,” Valin said. “Form up for attack. Lead out.” The comms snapped off.

Cal swore under his breath. “Get Raj.”

In a few seconds Raj came on line. “Red Seventeen, Green Lead here.”

“Sir,” Cal almost shouted, “Opi’s spotted a trap. Heads up!”

A long silence followed. “Copy, Seventeen.”

“Go in engines hot, sir!” Cal persisted. “Warn your ships!”

Another long pause left Cal sweating. Then Raj said, “Roger that, Seventeen. Green Lead out.”

Cal blew out a sharp breath. “Everybody hold your breath.”

“I hope we’re wrong,” Opi muttered, “but I don’t think so.”

They waited in silence, Cal shifting uncomfortably in the pilot’s seat as though this were their first training exercise.

Shortly, Valin transmitted the signal to advance. Cal triggered Tony’s plotted leap, and a stretch of deep space lay before them. Silver dots scattered across their long-range displays.

They would micro-leap again to begin the attack.

Surveying their targets, the trailing section of the scout column, Cal identified about twenty ships. He and Red Eleven were closest, with the rest of the Red ships spread along the rear of the column.

As the Shadow Warrior ships appeared, Cal counted down, marking their attack points and exchanging target data with his fellow pilots. In seconds, Valin’s voice came through their comms, “On my mark. Three, two, one, leap.”

Cal initiated.

Directly ahead lay a Horde ship, with two more to port a few kilometers farther away.

Cal said, “Fire at will.”

Sasha opened up, and the Gatling cannon rumbled.

Under cover of its racket, Tony said softly, “Jump engines still hot, sir.”

The ship ahead disintegrated as they swept past. The other two moved directly ahead as Cal fired thrusters. He could see their blast cannons sparkling to life as Sasha fired again.

One ship exploded as the other fired at them, its weapons a combination of particle beam and laser blast, sparkling red as it crossed the gap to their ship. Their shields glowed red, absorbing the blast, and Sasha continued to fire. Sasha felt no contact from the beam, but the lights dimmed momentarily as the shield generator sucked power to absorb the energy of the blast.

Red Seventeen’s projectiles penetrated the skin of the enemy vessel, and the energy beam lit it up. Sasha had already targeted several other more distant ships.

Concentrating on tactical, Letty gasped. “Cal, ships coming in from six directions! Lot and lots of ships, maybe hundreds! Must have been hidden behind the planet.”

Watching the long-range display, Tony yelled, “Holy crap! She’s right, sir. Coming in from all over the place.”

Cal toggled his com line. “Red Unit, Red Seventeen! It’s an ambush! We’re in a trap!”

Valin’s angry voice came back. “What trap? What—?” He strangled into sudden silence.

Cal could identify at least twenty ships, the new type, small, fast, and sleek, zeroing in on his own.

“Bringing her about!” he warned the others, and leaned on the directional controls. “Sasha, you’ve got a straight shot.”

Thrusters flared and roared, and the ship swung toward the attackers. Sasha opened up, spraying bullets ahead as the ships came in. This time, Sasha felt buffeting from all the energy blasts as multiple ships began firing.

“Captain, we can’t take this beating long!” Sasha yelled. “Our shields are not going to last at this rate.”

Author Website:       https://www.nathanbdodge.com/

Amazon:                    https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Warriors-Nathan-B-Dodge-ebook/dp/B07J2SRYZ2/

Baen Books:              https://www.baen.com/wf201810-october-2018-wordfire-press-books.html