The Write Stuff – Monday, July 31 – Interview With Ian J Malone

Today’s science fiction issues from a raft of varied authors. Drawing from their personal histories, each crafts their unique contributions to the ever-evolving genre. This week’s guest is one of the talented and comes from a typically unusual background. (Please pardon me if that sounds oxymoronic.)

As a graduate of Florida State University, Ian J. Malone has written in a variety of arenas ranging from public health to news and sports. When it comes to his fictional work, however, he’s a firm believer that nothing shapes an author’s writing like experience. That’s why he credits his tenures in radio, law enforcement, and military contracting for much of his inspiration, plus the legion of family and friends who’ve stood with him along the way.

Beyond writing, Malone is an avid fan of audiobooks (he’s legally blind) and the outdoors. It’s also not uncommon to find him at a ballgame, a concert, or somewhere out by a grill. He is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and a resident of Durham, North Carolina, but he’ll always be—in his words—a “Florida boy” at heart.

Today, he is sharing details about At Circle’s End (The Mako Saga: Book 3), a space opera/science fiction adventure published in April of last year. He describes the story’s premise as follows:

In the months since his disappearance, Danny Tucker has retreated to the darkest corners of Alystierian space in search of intelligence on the empire’s new chancellor, Alec Masterson. Backed by a crew of outcasts and fighting from the shadows as the enigmatic Rogue centurion, Danny will stop at nothing to achieve his mission: absolute vengeance for Masterson’s now infamous “Return to Fear” demonstration. Still, try as he might, Danny can’t remain underground, and with sightings of the Rogue growing more frequent, Lee Summerston won’t rest until the lost Renegade is found. Meanwhile, in the core, Aura stands on the brink of annihilation as imperial forces, aided by an ancient enemy, draw ever closer to her shores. In the end, scores will be settled, and brothers will rise united… or they’ll all burn together.

At Circle’s End is the soaring climax to Ian J. Malone’s epic space-opera series, The Mako Saga, and a heartfelt sendoff to sci-fi’s most beloved band of bar buddies turned intergalactic heroes of war.

Please tell us more about it.

My last release was At Circle’s End, the final installment to my space opera trilogy, The Mako Saga. Naturally, you can’t have space opera without an epic interstellar conflict, so this was the book that wrapped all that up. It was also the final “ensemble book” for The Renegades, the plucky group of college-buddies-turned-intergalactic-war heroes who served as the series’ heart. Now the plan is to split them all off into standalone stories or perhaps even series of their own.

What was the inspiration behind the series?

I started Mako as more or less a stress outlet in 2009. Like a lot of folks back then, I was unemployed. That meant a lot of time spent writing resumes and cover letters, and eventually I hit a place where I needed something that could be mine. A creative vent, so to speak. I had this goofy story in mind about a bunch of bar buddies from college, now in their thirties and down on their luck, who play a video game for kicks then run off to outer space. So, I just started writing. Six months later I had a draft. Six months after that, I had a second draft. Fast-forward a few years—then drop in a marriage, parenthood, and three moves in between two states—and I was ready to share my pet project with the world.

The series was your entrée into writing. What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Mako and how did you overcome it?

Beyond the fact that I had absolutely no clue how to write a novel back then—most don’t in a debut—I’d probably say the biggest challenge facing me was the use of body language as story beats (“Lee pursed his lips, eyes twitching side-to-side,” etc.). The reason for this is because I’m legally blind and can’t see facial expressions. That meant a lot of reading and a lot of research.

Not at all typical of most authors’ research, but yes, absolutely essential when you’re writing for a sighted audience. What other novels have you written?

First came Mako, which sold remarkably well for an indie. That gave me the requisite funds for editing, cover design, formatting, etc., on the remaining two saga books (Red Sky Dawning and At Circle’s End). I’ve since written another novel not of this series, though I’m sure we’ll get to that shortly.

Heading in that direction, what else are you working on?

I’m extremely busy right now. For starters, I’ve got a short story coming out this fall in an anthology set in Chris Kennedy’s Four Horsemen universe (military sci-fi). Next, I’ve written another novel, tentatively titled Colonies Lost, which I’ve contracted with Red Adept Publishing to release in 2018. That’s created something of a delay in my schedule, giving me time to prep my first Mako spinoff novel, as well as a much-needed second edition of that original story. Mako 2.0 will drop later this year with an all-new cover. After that will come re-releases of Red Sky Dawning and At Circle’s End, followed by the spinoff novel then finally Colonies Lost. I’ve also got two more short stories planned for my email listers.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I find that I’m freshest in the morning, so I gear my schedule accordingly. I’m up by 4 a.m. to write, after which I head into work at my day job. I then use the evenings for an hour or so of admin time (social media, responding to emails, publishing logistics, etc.) after dinner is cooked and my kid’s in bed.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I started as an indie with Mako and stuck with that model for the rest of the series. I’ve since become a hybrid, publishing projects with Red Adept Publishing (Colonies Lost) and Seventh Seal Press (Four Horsemen short story). To me, the hybrid life is the right life in that it offers me the best of both worlds. I still get to control my own destiny with passion projects like The Mako Saga. However, I also get the exposure and notoriety that comes with being traditionally published through my work with small presses.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I do now. I’ve gone the “pantsing” route with books before, and while I enjoy the ride, I learned later that outlining typically yields a better story (better pacing, better development, fewer plot holes, etc.). Outlining also helps me crank out a story in about half the time—a must for indies.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Finding the time to park my butt in a seat to do it. Writing a novel isn’t rocket science. It’s about making a conscious choice to begin a project then carving out the necessary time to see it through. As writers, this inevitably means we sacrifice things. For me, that’s television. Once upon a time, I was a total TV junkie. These days, not so much. Now I watch Florida State football (GO NOLES!), the occasional NASCAR race, and a handful of shows with my family. That’s it. When I’m not doing any of that, I’m reading (I shoot for a book a month, minimum).

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I work in communications for a government agency here in Durham, North Carolina.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Only that I’m married to the greatest woman God ever created. Seriously, I couldn’t do what I do without her. She’s the consummate teammate, and the proverbial engine of our family. I help where I can with cooking, cleaning, yard work, and so forth, but she’s the one who keeps our house on-schedule while I’m in the office writing.

What inspires you when writing?

Family and friends are obviously a big part of what I write. They’re often the backbone for a lot of my characters. I also draw a lot of inspiration from music. Case in point: the playlists I listen to when writing. In Colonies Lost, for instance, I was writing a protagonist from America’s Deep South. That meant gorging myself on artists like Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, and Chris Stapleton. When writing action, on the other hand, I like things upbeat (The Chemical Brothers, Lacuna Coil, Van Helen). When writing romance, I may plug in Howie Day or Gladys Knight, whereas straight prose usually requires something more innocuous (instrumentals, movie scores, video game soundtracks). It really depends on my mood and what I’m trying to accomplish. However, there’s rarely a time when I’m writing that some sort of music isn’t playing in the background.

What else motivates you to write?

I’ve never been one to “write to market,” as they say. If I don’t love a story, I can’t bring myself to put in the kind of time and work it takes to finish one. That said, I’d be lying if I told you that money doesn’t play a part. I’m a grown man with a family, a mortgage, and a college education to save for. My wife and I base our budget on our fixed income (jobs), but it’s the proceeds from writing that help us pay off our house early and take vacations. If I wanted a hobby, I’d go fishing.

Ian, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to share with us. Before I provide my site’s visitors with an excerpt from At Circle’s End and the social links afterwards that will guide interested visitors where to follow you and purchase your books, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… Redneck nerd.

The one thing I cannot do without is: COFFEE!!!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d be a millionaire.

My biggest peeve is: Beer snobs

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

 

Without further ado, At Circle’s End:

A muffled funk sounded, and two red blots catapulted in high arcs over the wall into the fork’s left passage. A crash rocked the scene, smoke billowing skyward, and both runners scampered for what they thought was safety in the right corridor.

They were wrong.

Fire. The XL’s barrel went full white when both runners hit the clearing. The first reacted well, knifing right and scarcely averting a head-on collision with a boulder.

The second never stood a chance. Ice became fire, and the runner was gone.

“Hell yeah!”

Mr. Black yelped a red-lettered protest when fresh taps pelted his back.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Danny wheeled right and scrambled for a lock as the last runner broke for the chamber exit. Fire. The volley went wide. Fire. Wide again. Fire. Into a wall this time. “Damn it!”

The runner shot like a bullet through the stalactite-filled opening.

Danny vaulted atop the dune he’d used for cover, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process.

“Bridge integrity at the eighteen percent,” Mr. Black warned.

Wait, eighteen what? Danny’s attention snapped back to the ground when his crosshairs went red on the last runner. He straightened his arm. See ya.

“Jam!” Shotz screamed. “Turret’s jammed!”

Danny whirled to the open west and saw the Dart bearing down on his team. Shit. “Hold on, Garbage Team—I’m coming to you!”

Danny leapt off the dune and struck the ground with a thud, bones jarring in their sockets as he rolled through the snow. His agility was shot, and apparently, so were his pain meds, but the last thing Danny had was fifteen free seconds to stop, drop, and redose. He had to go, and now.

Danny pushed off with his hands and got to his feet then took off across the open ground as fast as Mr. Black’s legs would carry him. Faster. The armor shuddered but complied. Faster. It shuddered harder but with more speed. Faster!

“Bridge integrity at six percent.”

Danny’s joints were on fire, his limbs becoming weights, but he had to keep moving. Faster!

“Mr. Black, where are you?” It was Shotz again.

Faster!

“Bridge integrity at four percent.”

Faster!

A low moan reverberated through Mr. Black’s operator cocoon, and Danny suddenly felt as if he were sprinting through concrete. “Oh no, no, not now! I’m supposed to have at least eight more minutes!”

In his last gasp of strength, Danny threw up his right arm, sighted the Dart as best he could, and hoped like crazy for the best. XL, full spread. Fi—

Danny toppled under his own heft and face-planted into the snow, his view flickering dark save for a small battery icon. Activate.

No response.

Activate.

Nothing.

Come on, Mr. Black—get your ass up!

Still nothing.

Danny accessed his battery, which had barely enough power for an emergency redose, and used it to key his faceplate. It opened, and the cold that flooded in could’ve frozen the soul.

Danny gritted his teeth then dared a squint. His eyes opened wide when the Dart, now primed for the kill shot, descended on his team. “Doc, Shotz, get out of—”

The Dart’s starboard nacelle exploded as if struck by Zeus himself.

What the hell?

Shards of flaming debris flew from the smashed engine housing as the ship coughed and sputtered amid plumes of black smoke. Somehow, though, it managed to right itself, and once that happened, it wasted little time getting out of there.

“Who in the worlds is that?” Befuddlement was thick in Shotz’s voice.

Danny managed just enough strength to crane his head upward as the underbelly of a second ship flew overhead. Short and frumpy looking with a thick boxy frame and small, stubby wings, the freighter bore a striking resemblance to an oversized UPS truck. Or at least, that was how Danny had always described it in the past.

“Is that a…” Doc broke off. “A Newbern-class freighter?”

Danny held his response, eyes fixed on the sky, as a deluge of mixed emotion poured over him. “Yes, Mr. Blue. Yes it is.”

“Who in the worlds still flies one of those old beaters?” Shotz marveled. “And where’d they get the weapons package?”

Key juice release, ten percent. Danny waited while Mr. Black’s systems came back online. Then he climbed to his feet. “Not important right now, Mr. Red. Just get to the ravine, and prep to move out for Lynder. I’m right behind you.”

 

Visitors who would like to follow Ian online can do so here:

Web:               www.ianjmalone.net

Twitter:          @ianjmalone

Facebook:      @authorianjmalone

You may purchase his books at:

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Ian-J.-Malone/e/B00BJ5QO50

Audible:         http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_hp_tseft?advsearchKeywords=ian+j+malone&filterby=field-keywords&x=8&y=16

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 17 – Interview With Ryan English

Ryan English is an author of fantasy who was published just last month by WordFire Press. Although his debut novel, Obstacles, has been out for less than one month as of this writing, it has already earned seven five-star reviews on Amazon. When I asked him to describe himself as an author, he told me, “I write fantasy exclusively. I read The Hobbit when I was 7, and childhood exposure is often incurable. I’ve got a BA in English (useless) and an MA in Political Science (mostly useless), and I work in IT. I live in Brigham City, UT, and dream fondly of San Antonio, TX, where I lived while attending grad school.”

Ryan describes his novel this way:

Androkles, son of Paramonos, spent twenty-five years in the world’s greatest army trying to earn enough money to buy back his good name. He’s battle-scarred, weary, and heartbroken after decades of watching dear friends die, but he survived. He’s ready to retire and be welcomed as a hero, finally able to see the reward he sacrificed so much to achieve.

There’s only one problem: his wife just fled civilization with all his hard-won savings. Now he must pursue her north, through desperate bandits, ravening beasts, and worse. But after he rescues a pair of orphans from starvation, he is faced with his most difficult challenge yet: a question that goes to the very heart of honor. The consequences might be deeper than he realizes, and it’s not just his life on the line…

Will you please tell us something more about the book?

Obstacles is a fantasy novel of just under 300 pages. It stands alone as a single book, but was intended to introduce a series. It features Androkles, a Greek-inspired soldier, wandering into a Basque-inspired region of pre-Christian Europe. I draw heavily on themes of honor and family, and although my hero is 40, it’s an “adolescent travel fiction” novel in a lot of ways. It’s about a man trying to go somewhere, and all the things that get in his way.

This is not your typical fantasy plot line. Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I’ve had a hobbyist fascination with ancient Greece for a while now, and when I start the novel I decided 340 BC was a more interesting setting to me than medieval Europe. Instead of just making a generic Greek thing, however, I took some liberties with the setting and added some ideas I stole from Japan, like people with cat ears and the fairy Puck from the manga Berserk. It’s got a sort of stone soup thing going on, if you know what I mean.

One thing I was really interested in while I wrote it was exploring alternate systems of morality. How do you take someone seeped in the old heroic ethic of Homer, and make him relatable and interesting to a modern audience? What would some of those ideas really have looked like in practice? One of the big conflicts of the novel is between “what you know in your head you should do” and “what you know in your heart you really want”. Homer didn’t think the heart was the source of personal truth. Rather, emotion can lead a person to act wrongly against his better judgment. Morality in ancient Greece was largely trying to find the right balance between one’s obligations to family, society, and the gods.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Obstacles and how did you overcome it?

My challenges were largely related to the fact that it was my first novel and I barely knew what I was doing. Although the final edit reads like I did it all on purpose, smoothly and deliberately, I had a lot to learn about writing emotion into a scene, and describing things adequately. It took a lot of editing to make sure that the characters all came through how I wanted, and to make sure that there’s enough tension there to keep readers flipping pages in between the “exciting” parts. On, I think, my first serious edit, I went through with the intention of cutting all the unnecessary or uninteresting bits, and ended up added 10,000 words to the length. Each successive edit grew the novel a bit more, as I’d keep finding places where I wasn’t happy with how the characters were coming through and have to add a sentence or two.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

When I wrote it, I had just been laid off after having an IT contract end early, and I spent most of the day in front of the computer. I’d write for as long as I could, play some video games, and come back to it an hour or so later. Nowadays, I try to do my writing in a big chunk of time instead of bits here and there throughout the week, because it takes me a while to warm up. I’m like a diesel engine in that way, I suppose.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I’ve been in a writer’s group with a good friend named John D. Payne for years, and after I wrote the book he convinced me to come to the Superstars Writing Seminar. I can’t recommend it highly enough, because it’s a business seminar, not a craft one. You learn about contracts, agents, marketing, and all that. But anyway, he not only made me attend, but he made me pitch it to the acquisitions editor for Wordfire. I wasn’t that confident about it at the time, but he was persistent. It’s safe to say that the person most responsible for the book’s existence is John D. Payne. Other than me who wrote it, I suppose.

Why do you write?

I have a pretty active imagination. I’ll get lost in some vivid daydream world and be deeply moved by the imaginary things that happen there. I then try to recreate some small aspect of that through writing, and never pull it off.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

In my writer’s group, we focus on the craft of writing from an almost academic viewpoint. The question is never ‘what kind of story should I tell’, it’s ‘how do I most effectively tell my story’. I’ve learned that ideas are cheap and no one cares about your crappy plot. You have to make them care with good writing, from the sentence level to the structure of the whole novel. Honing this skill is a lifelong commitment. Approaching it with that view has made helped me become a much more effective writer than focusing on having the coolest ideas.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I’m not married, but it’s been fun watching my little niblings (that’s a word, go look it up) learn how to have a body and interact with the world and society. Having them around makes me deeply aware of the web of life, by which I mean how we place and understand ourselves in relation to others, and their effect on us. This is one reason why, I think, children figure so prominently in the novel. It’s simply alien to me to imagine a world in which they aren’t around, or in which they don’t act like children. I feel this is one shortcoming of modern fantasy—seldom does a book present what I think of as an integrated person. We’re still doing the adolescent travel fiction thing. We have lots of books about noble, heroic young men running around doing exciting things, but we neglect the deepest and most important motivation in a man’s life: his family.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Either writing this book, or getting my MA in Political Science. Those may not be much, but they’re mine.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

Making it to age 35 without getting married.

Considering how half of all marriages end up, that’s not much as far as failures go. Moving on, do you have any pet projects?

I’ve got a long list of stuff I’d like to do, and some of it I’ve even tried. I play several different weird flutes, for example, and I’m going to start learning Greek one of these days. I’ve always got something going, and usually it doesn’t go anywhere. I sometimes wonder if I’m more interested in learning about doing a thing than actually doing the thing. Once I learn how you learn to do a thing, then I don’t really have to master it anymore.

Thanks, Ryan, for taking time out of your day to share with us. Before I present our readers with an excerpt from Obstacles, I’d like to indulge in a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… somewhat tolerable houseguest.

The one thing I cannot do without is: an argument

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d get married

My biggest peeve is: slow drivers in the fast lane

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: I’m never quite satisfied. There’s always more to learn.

Obstacles excerpt:

Looking over toward the fire, Androkles noticed that the kits surreptitiously watched the proceedings. The talking must have woken them again, after only a few minutes of rest. How would they feel, to be listening to this? Not that he cared much, he reminded himself.

“You said what I look like to you, so let me tell you what you look like to me. I thought it was a bit strange you dress like a guard, but that was fine. You had a good explanation. But it was strange that you took so long to find things in your cart, like it was the first time you inspected it. I bet you haven’t found the silver yet, have you? You don’t know where it is,” said Androkles, loud enough for the boys to hear, “because you are bandits and you stole the cart.” Then he gave Theodoric his best intimidating stare, which was a pretty good one. They had no reply.

Androkles stood with a wince as he straightened his back and legs. Even though he stood quite a bit taller than any of them except Tulga, to their credit they didn’t flinch. “You have to be kidding me,” he said to the sky. “I’ve got things to do. First the kits, and now this. The gods are bastards. You know that, Theodoric? The gods are bastards.”

Androkles made a show of stretching his arms and legs, flexing. Then he declared, loud enough to make sure they all heard every word, “I’m not going to sell you the boys because you stole that cart and probably killed the merchant who owned it. It’s my duty as a just man to kill you all, actually, so here’s my deal: You’re going to give me whatever supplies I want for free and leave me and the kits here. You won’t tell anyone about us. You’ll say nothing about slaves or runaways or anything of the sort. In return, I won’t kill you and hang your corpses for a warning. Sound like a deal?”

Someone snorted behind Androkles. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the three guards stood with maces ready, several paces away.

Theodoric said, “We seem to be at an impasse. I have no doubt we can kill you—no doubt at all—but there’s a chance you’ll take one of us with you. Is the money you’re going to get from those kits worth dying over?”

Androkles said, “I’m not giving anything to thieving trash like you. And they’re not even really for sale. I’m either going to find their parents, or some other good home, and not give them to slavers or rogues.” He surprised himself a bit with that, but as soon as he said it, he knew it was right. He was obligated now, and that was that. The kits were staring right at him, their intense golden eyes bright in the morning light. He sighed in mild frustration that he didn’t truly feel.

“We’re not as bad as you think, southerner. We might be bandits for now, but it’s not like …” said Pansy, but she was interrupted by Androkles.

“You’re every bit as bad. Tell me, did you stab your master in his sleep, or was he awake for it? I’m curious.”

Theodoric readied his mace and shield and said, “This is getting absurd. Let’s just kill him like we should have in the first place.”

Those of you who would like to take the plunge and dive into this story should click on:

https://www.amazon.com/Obstacles-Acts-Androkles-Book-1-ebook/dp/B072JX2PTK/

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The Write Stuff – Monday, July 3 – Interview With Dan Wells

I had the pleasure of meeting this week’s guest at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington in March of this year, where we and our books were hosted by Bard’s Tower, along with those of a number of science fiction, horror and fantasy authors. I found him to be a genial man, gracious and good-natured, as the following exchange will demonstrate.

New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells is best known for his horror series I Am Not A Serial Killer, of which the first book is now an award-winning movie through IFC Midnight. His other novels include The Hollow City, a supernatural thriller about schizophrenia, Extreme Makeover, in which a beauty company destroys the world, and two young adult science fiction series: the post-apocalypse Partials and the cyberpunk Mirador. He has written for television, on the upcoming science fiction series Extinct, and wrote and produced the historical horror comedy, A Night Of Blacker Darkness. He cohosts the Hugo-winning podcast for aspiring writers called Writing Excuses, which has expanded to include its own writing conference. He also writes short fiction and game fiction, and edited the anthology, “Altered Perceptions,” to help raise funds for and raise awareness of mental illness. Dan lives in northern Utah with his wife, 6 children, and more than 400 board games.

Today we are focusing on Nothing Left to Lose, the concluding volume of the I Am Not A Serial Killer series in which New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells continues his acclaimed John Wayne Cleaver series, popular with fans of Dexter. Here is a hint of what this book is about:

Hi. My name is John Cleaver, and I hunt monsters. I used to do it alone, and then for a while I did it with a team of government specialists, and then the monsters found us and killed almost everyone, and now I hunt them alone again.

This is my story.

In this thrilling installment in the John Wayne Cleaver series, Dan Wells brings his beloved antihero into a final confrontation with the Withered in a conclusion that is both completely compelling and completely unexpected.

When I first climbed into Nothing Left to Lose, the sixth book in the series, as a first time reader, I must admit I was more than a little concerned that I’d either feel lost, or else I’d spend much of the book being bogged down with back story. Neither was true. Why do you suppose this is?

This is great to hear, so thank you. Book 5 is much more steeped in backstory, ironically, than 6 is, because I structured the series in such a way that 5 builds toward a major revelation, and then 6 establishes a new status quo. That makes it easier to jump in and understand, because the characters are learning it all along with us. The other thing I always like to do in my books is trust the reader to be smart. Genre fiction readers, in my experience, are very good at picking up contexual background clues in a way that non-SF and non-fantasy readers are not; we’ve been trained, in a way, to catch the little hints, here and there, that help us to understand worlds that are vastly different from our own. This makes not only worldbuilding but backstory pretty easy to download.

 Some of your reviewers label John Wayne Cleaver, your series’ protagonist, a sociopath, as does he. I feel he’s a sane man doing what he must to cope with an insane reality. What is your sense of him and will you elaborate?

In book 6 you’re seeing John Cleaver at the end of a 6 book journey specifically focused on helping to manage his emotions. The John Cleaver we see in books 1 and 2, for example, is far more broken and sociopathic than he eventually becomes. It’s also important to remember, as pointed out in book 1, that psychiatrists can’t officially diagnose most forms of psychopathy in children, because the brain is still developing, and what looks like psychopathy may well turn out to be something else. John’s only official diagnosis in the series is Conduct Disorder, which is a placeholder that can eventually be refined into sociopathy, autism, or any number of behavioral conditions. It was exciting for me, as an author and an armchair psychiatrist, to watch John grow and change over the course of six books.

 What kind of research have you done into embalming, mortuaries and all things funereal?

I’ve done a ton of research, though admittedly most of it is second-hand. I’ve tried several times over the course of the series to interview morticians and embalmers, and for whatever reason I’ve never gotten one to talk to me: maybe I’m asking wrong, or maybe it’s an inherently suspicious request, or maybe it’s just a closed industry (at least in my neck of the woods). Even without any in-person interviews, though, I’ve been able to learn a ton about how the business and science of the death industry functions, and it’s fascinating. I hope I’ve been able to present it well.

When this series began, you projected it to be a trilogy. At what point did you realize it had to be something more?

I finished the first trilogy years ago and was very satisfied with the conclusion it had reached; there was obviously room to expand, but it didn’t NEED to expand. Then I moved to Germany, and something about that massive change of lifestyle and environment got me thinking: I was still me, but I was me in a new place, and that meant that I was living new stories and learning new things, and as obvious as that sounds it really flicked a switch in my brain that hadn’t been flicked before. I started thinking about John Cleaver, and who he’d become, and who he might eventually become, and suddenly I knew that I had only told half of his story, and I knew exactly what the second half needed to be. It’s because of this, in part, that the second trilogy includes a shift to a string of new locations, because that’s what inspired it in the first place.

 While you attempt to make the conclusion of Nothing Left to Lose feel complete, there are enough threads remaining that you could revive it. Do you presently have any thought of turning it from a sextet into an ennead?

Absolutely not. John has reached, by design, a place in his life, both internal and external, that might be compelling but would not be at home in this series. I love John, and I’d love to write more short stories about some of the travels the books only hint at, but I have no plans to carry him forward with more novels.

 These days, you spend a great deal of time on the road attending conferences and book launch events. How do you maintain any semblance of a writing schedule?

Boy, I don’t know. The travel schedule is necessary, and I enjoy so that helps, but mostly I’m just shooting from the hip and picking up writing hours where I can get them. The good news is that I’ve gotten pretty good at cranking out words when the time makes itself available, so I manage to maintain a pace of two books a year. I’d like to push that to three, but we’ll see how it goes.

 Having asked that, in your mind, what would your ideal schedule look like?

Me, in my pajamas, writing and writing and never needing to leave house or talk to anyone. The travel and cons are fun, but what really gets me is all the business and promotional stuff—if I could just hire someone to do all of that for me, I’d be in heaven.

 Are you a plotter or pantser?

Both, as I believe most writers are. In my case, that hybridization manifests itself in long, detailed, exhaustive outlines that I don’t necessarily ever follow. It’s a weird system but it works for me.

 How detailed are your outlines?

I do my outlines in spreadsheets, with the rows being either chapters or scenes, and the columns being characters or plotlines. Sometimes I even color-code them. When I say that my outlines are detailed and exhaustive, I’m not kidding. The final form of an outline will be a scene-by-scene description, usually a paragraph each, that says: “This is what happens, and this is why and how, and these are the key bits of info that have to come out in this scene.” And then I wake up each morning, read the little paragraph, and then write whatever I want regardless.

Hah! That’s hysterical.

On April 28, on your Facebook page, you wrote: 3643 words today. I THINK I managed to make “sitting at a table decrypting a message” exciting, but we’ll see. Can you give us at least a hint of what this little teaser portends?

I never want to be complacent as a writer, so I always try to push myself into new styles and areas. Last year that meant I tried to write a Western, which was an unmitigated disaster, and this year it means I’m writing a historical thriller about cryptographers in 1961 Berlin—not fantasy, no science fiction, just a straight Cold War spy novel. It’s actually working really well, and I hope to have it finished in the next few weeks.

 Aside from the fantastic turn of events that made I Am Not A Serial Killer into a movie—something every author dreams of—how satisfied are you with the final product?

I love the movie—I think they did a great job with it, including some jaw-dropping performances. I’ve watched it close to 20 times now, and it thrills me every time. And I recognize that it’s spoiled me for all future movies: my very first movie A) actually happened, B) was good, and C) I got to be involved with it, and what are the odds that will ever happen again? So I’m very lucky, and very happy.

No author I’ve spoken to, who’s in your situation, was ever allowed any input. Many have hated the resulting screenplay. So, yes, you’re extremely fortunate. By the way, I’ve just started watching the movie and have reached the ice fishing scene. All I can say is WOW!

I have to ask about your hat: the Stetson-type one you wear at book signings. Where did it come from? How did that begin?

I bought my first hat in high school, from the Indiana Jones store in Disneyland, mostly just because I grew up with Indy and had always wanted one. I’ve worn them off and on ever since, and have started a collection of other kinds of hats, and I would love it if hats came back as a standard aspect of men’s fashion. At one of my very first book signings ever, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, I happened to have the hat on because it was sunny that day, and someone asked if they could get a photo, and I said yes and started to take the hat back off and they said, “No, with the hat on.” And I realized that the hat had basically become a part of my authorial uniform. So now I have the one hat I use for author appearances—a brown, wide-brim fedora—and other hats that I wear in other situations, to make sure the author hat stays nice.

 I enjoy hats as well, although I prefer a Panama.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have six children, and for some reason we just dialed up the chaos by buying a dog: a 4-year-old boxer named Cherry. It’s a hectic home life, but I love it, and everything I do is for them.

 What motivates or inspires you?

I hinted at this earlier, but I’m an explorer. I try new things. I love to visit new places, eat new food, and purposefully put myself into unfamiliar situations. Sometimes that means moving my whole family to Germany, and sometimes that means writing a historical fiction novel just because I’ve never done it before and want to see what it’s like. For me, trying new things is a key part of how I work and how I live. It’s why we’re here, in a lot of ways, if that makes any sense. And I’m very fortunate to have a wife who feels the same way, so our life is always an adventure.

Thank you, Dan. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that you chose to share your thoughts with us. Before I provide our visitors with Chapter One of your book, I’d like to provide social links where they can follow you, as well as links where they can purchase your work:

 Website:         www.thedanwells.com

Blog:               http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/

Twitter:         @thedanwells

Tumblr:         @thedanwells

Instagram:    @authordanwells

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Left-Lose-Novel-Cleaver/dp/0765380714/

and

                        https://www.amazon.com/Dan-Wells/e/B002S2VIBS/

 

 

Chapter 1

 There are only so many ways to get a good look at a dead body.

You can always just make your own, of course, which is what most people do. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and you can do it with things you have laying around your own home: a hammer, a kitchen knife, a relative who won’t shut up, and bam. Your very own corpse. As DIY projects go, murder is easier and more common than painting your living room, though—to be fair—significantly harder to hide. And it has other downsides as well: first, it’s murder. So there’s that. Second, and more pertinent to my own situation, it’s only really helpful if the dead body you want to see is one you have ready access to while it’s still alive. With the really good bodies, this is rarely the case. Let’s say you want to examine a specific corpse, like, oh, I don’t know, an old lady who died of mysterious causes in a small town in Arizona. Just to pull an example out of the air. Then it gets much harder.

If you need to look at a specific body, it helps to be an actual cop or, better yet, an agent of the FBI. You could mock up some quick excuse as to why this particular dead body was a key part of your investigation, go in, flash a badge, done. It might even be true, which would be a nice side benefit but isn’t really necessary. If you weren’t actually in law enforcement but you knew enough about it, you could waltz in with a fake badge and try to accomplish the same thing. But if you were also, for example, eighteen years old, convincing the local law enforcement to believe you would be easier said than done. The same goes for a teenager pretending to be a coroner, pretending to be a forensic examiner, and pretending to be a reporter. I’ve used the “I’m researching something for the school paper” line a couple of times, and it works well enough, but only when the something you’re researching isn’t a decaying human being.

That leaves three main options: first, if you can get there quick enough, you can try to trick the coroner into believing that you’re the new driver for the local mortuary, assigned to pick up the body and deliver it to the embalmer. You’d need some fake paperwork but, honestly, not as much as you might think. And since “driver” is an entry-level position, your age isn’t going to matter. And if you grew up in a mortuary and assisted in the family business since you were ten and knew the whole industry backward and forward—again, just to pull an example out of the air—you could do it pretty easily. But only if you got there in time.

Let’s say you didn’t, because you were two states away and travel solely by hitchhiking (or, honestly, whatever reason—you just can’t get there in time, is the important part). In that case, you move on to the second option, which requires more or less the same skills: break in to the mortuary after hours and show yourself around. I say “more or less the same skills” because you never know how good the mortuary’s security system is going to be, and you’re a teenage mortician, not a cat burglar. In a small town, or even a biggish city, if the funeral home is old enough, you might be able to make it work because they don’t always have the funds to update their equipment. It’s kind of an industry problem.

But let’s say they did update their equipment—no cameras, but an alarm with a motion sensor—and that you definitely don’t want to get caught breaking into a funeral home. I mean, I guess nobody would want to get caught breaking into anything, but let’s say for this example that you really, really don’t want it. Let’s even go so far as to say that the law enforcement agencies we mentioned earlier, which our totally hypothetical teenage mortuary expert was briefly tempted to impersonate, are, in fact, actively searching for him. So anything illegal is out of the question. That leaves us with only one option: we have to wait until the mortuary opens its doors, pulls the corpse out of the back room, and invites anyone who wants to see it to just come in and look at it. Which is never going to happen, right?

Wrong. It’s called a viewing, and it happens every day. They don’t let you really get in there and poke around, but it’s better than nothing. And Kathy Schrenk, a little old lady who died under mysterious circumstances in the Arizona town of Lewisville, had a viewing today. And a teenage mortician with an FBI background stood outside hoping his suit didn’t look too filthy.

Hi. My name is John Cleaver, and my life sounds kind of weird when I describe it like this.

I’ll describe it another way, but it’s not going to sound any more normal: I hunt monsters. I used to do it alone, and then for a while I did it with a team of government specialists, and then the monsters found us and killed almost everyone, and now I hunt them alone again. The monsters are called Withered, or sometimes Cursed, or sometimes Blessed if you catch one in a good mood, but that’s pretty rare these days. They’re old, and tired, and clinging to life more out of stubbornness than anything else. They used to be human, but they gave up some intrinsic part of themselves—their memory, or their emotions, or their identity; it’s different for each of them—and now they aren’t human anymore. One of them told me that they were more than human, and less, all at the same time. They’ve spent ten thousand years with incredible powers, ruling the world as kings and gods, but now they just grit their teeth and survive.

The mysterious nature of Kathy Schrenk’s death is classic tabloid news: she drowned far away from water, her body soaked while everything around her was dry as a bone. Weird, but not automatically supernatural; Miss Marple could probably knock this one out on her lunch break. Nine times out of ten—nine thousand times out of nine thousand and one—it’s just a plain old human—jealous, or angry, or greedy, or bored. We’re horrible people, when it comes right down to it. Hardly worth saving at all.

But what else am I going to do? Stop?

I stared at the mortuary a little longer: Ottessen Brothers Funeral Home. I picked a piece of lint off my sleeve. Smoothed my hair. Picked another piece of lint. It was now or never.

This is what I’d been doing for months now, ever since the team had died and I’d sent Brooke home and I’d gone out on my own, hunting the Withered with no backup and no guide s and no intel. I looked for anomalies, and I followed them up. Most of them didn’t pan out, and I simply moved on.

I went inside.

My hypothetical situation from earlier, about growing up in a mortuary, wasn’t hypothetical. You probably guessed that. My parents were both morticians, and we lived in a little apartment upstairs from the chapel. I started helping with funerals when I was ten, and with the actual embalming a few years later. Stepping into Ottessen Brothers was like stepping into my past. The tastefully understated decorations, at least a decade behind the times; the little half-moon table with a signing book and a faux-fancy pen. The unsettled mix of sophistication and generic religion, and a drinking fountain by the wall. I touched the wallpaper—elegant but rugged, designed to withstand bustling crowds and untrained pallbearers—and thought about my home. I hadn’t seen it in almost three years, though I’d glimpsed it now and then on the news. My sister and my aunt ran the mortuary now, but who knew how long that was going to last. They couldn’t run it on their own. My father wouldn’t help, and my mother . . . well, she wasn’t around to help either, was she?

Her corpse had been so damaged that I couldn’t embalm her. It was the one thing we’d shared, and even that was taken away.

The crowd in the Schrenk viewing was sparse, mostly other old ladies not long from a viewing of their own. A handful of old men. Someone had placed a table by the door with an arrangement of photos and memorabilia, and while there were plenty of group shots, Schrenk was all alone in the portraits. Never married, never had kids. Some photos included what looked like her twin sister. One of the photos showed Schrenk standing in front of the mortuary itself, her arm around a thick-waisted woman somewhere in her fifties. An odd place for a photo—maybe another friend’s funeral? But no, neither of them wore go-to-a-funeral kind of clothes. Employees, then? The rest of the table was covered with various little yarn hats and scarves, so I assumed Schrenk was a knitter.

I moved past the table and into the viewing room itself: the coffin on the far wall, flanked by flags, with various chairs and sofas scattered around the edges of the room, most of them full of old women having hushed conversations. One corner held a refreshments table with an assortment of crumbly cookies.

“I think she looks terrible,” said an old lady by the food, ’whispering’ to a small cluster of concerned women. I couldn’t tell if she was pretending to whisper but wanted to be heard, or if she legitimately didn’t know how to regulate her own volume. “I’ve never seen a body look less lifelike in my life.”

I walked slowly past them toward the coffin, trying to look like I belonged.

“Hello,” said a man, stepping forward and offering his hand. I shook it. “Are you a friend of Kathy’s?” He looked about sixty, maybe sixty-five.

“Acquaintance,” I said quickly, spooling out my prepackaged lie. “She was friends with my grandmother, but she couldn’t make it today so she wanted me to pay our respects.”

“Wonderful!” he said. “What was your grandmother’s name?”

“Julia.” I didn’t know any Julias, but it was as good a name as any.

“I think I heard Kathy mention her,” said the man, though I couldn’t tell if I’d stumbled onto an accidentally accurate name or if he was just being polite. “And what was your name, young man?”

“Robert,” I said, hoping it was generic enough that he would forget it if anyone asked. I tried to never use the same name twice, thanks to the whole FBI thing. I looked at him a moment: a well-worn suit, too high on the ankles; a plain white shirt already fraying at the creases in the cuffs and collar. This was a man who wore these clothes a lot, and I made an educated guess: “Do you work for the mortuary?”

“I do,” he said, and offered his hand again. “Harold Ottessen, I’m the driver.”

“The driver?” There goes my bit about drivers being young. “I assume your brother is the mortician, then?”

“He was,” said Harold. “But I’m afraid he passed away about twenty years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“These things happen,” he said. “We’d know, in our family. Margo runs things now; she’s around here somewhere.”

I nodded, already bored of the small talk. “It was very nice to meet you, Harold. I’m going to pay my respects.”

He nodded and offered his hand to shake a third time, but before I could extricate myself, another old lady walked up with a stern look.

“It’s completely disgraceful,” she said. “Can’t you do anything about it?”

“I’ve told you,” said Harold, “this is just how they look sometimes.”

“But it’s your job,” said the woman. “Why are we even here if you can’t do your job?”

I was desperate to see the body by now, wondering what kind of horror everyone was complaining about, so I left Harold to fend for himself and walked to the coffin. There was another woman standing beside it, though she was much younger—barely older than me, maybe nineteen or twenty, and dark-skinned. Mexican, maybe? She screwed her face into an unhappy scowl but hid it when she saw me out of the corner of her eye.

The body was, after all the anxious hype, pretty normal. Kathy had been thin in her photos and looked thin now, with curly gray hair and a pale, gaunt face. I’d been expecting some visible injuries, something I could tie directly to a Withered attack—maybe a giant bite taken out of her face. Or, failing that, some kind of problem with the embalming itself, like maybe they’d set the features poorly and now she had sunken eyelids or hollow cheeks or something. Something to justify the mortified attitude from all of her friends. What I saw was far simpler, and so surprising I said it out loud.

“They did her makeup wrong.”

“Excuse me?” asked the girl next to me.

“Sorry,” I said. “It just took me by surprise, is all.”

“You’re a dick.” she said.

“Excuse me?”

She smirked. “It just took me by surprise, is all. Isn’t that what we’re doing, narrating our lives out loud? Let me keep going: We’re standing by my dead friend. Some random douchebag is mocking her makeup, of all things.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ll shut up now.”

“Oh good, we’re still doing it. I’ll stop talking, too, and then I’ll stand here waiting for you to leave.”

This was going great. “Just . . . give me a minute.” I tried to ignore the young woman and looked at the body again. Part of a mortician’s job—arguably half of it, after the actual embalming—was to make the dead person’s body look as close as possible to what it looked like when they were alive. Poor Ms. Schrenk looked wrong, in ways a person off the street probably couldn’t put a finger on but which all worked together to make her seem off. Profoundly corpselike, instead of resting in peace. It was disconcerting, but a trained eye could see that they’d actually only missed a couple of key things.

First of all, the foundation looked good. Dead bodies don’t have blood in their skin, so they look much lighter than they did in life, but the mortuary’s makeup artist had used a dark foundation under a lighter one to add some color back into her face. The other major problem was the eyes, which tended to have dark circles around them, like black-eye bruises. But the makeup artist had hidden those as well. And that was hard to do right, which is why it was so confusing that whoever had done Kathy Schrenk’s makeup had missed a much simpler detail: shading. We’re so used to seeing people vertical, that when we see them lying flat, especially in the weird light of a viewing room, their facial features look all wrong. They don’t have the right shading, in subtle places like the nostrils and the lips. A trained mortuary makeup artist should have caught that, but nobody had.

The woman next to me spoke again. “Are you from Cottwell’s?”

“Cottwell’s?”

“Yes, genius, Cottwell’s. ‘Lewisville’s oldest funeral home,’ or whatever garbage tagline they’re using these days. You’re not a spy or anything?”

“I’m not from Lewisville,” I said. “But I am from a mortuary, kind of. I apologize again for being rude about your friend.” I paused then, thinking for a moment. Why would she be so bothered by Cottwell’s, or think they were sending a spy? I could only think of one reason. “Do you work here, at this mortuary?”

She narrowed her eyes. “How do you know that if you’re not a spy?”

“Why would one mortuary spy on another one?”

“I don’t know, what did they tell you when they hired you?”

“They didn’t. . . . Look, I’m sorry I was rude, okay? I insulted your friend who passed away, and I also apparently insulted your friend who works as the makeup artist—oh crap.”

She flashed a smug smile, watching the realization hit me. “Yup.”

“It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the makeup artist.”

“Fill-in makeup artist,” she said. “Normally I’m just an embalmer. It’s kind of funny to watch how slowly you figure all this out.”

“I bet it is,” I said. I needed more information and this woman was my only lead so far, so antagonistic or not, I tried to draw out the conversation. “So, who’s the permanent makeup artist?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get this one too.”

I closed my eyes as yet another piece of the puzzle fell into place. “It’s Kathy Schrenk.”

“Amazing.”

“That’s why a twenty-year-old is friends with an old lady,” I said. “You’re coworkers. And that’s why the makeup is wrong, because the only person who knows how to do it is dead, and none of you wanted to ask the Cottwell’s makeup person for help.”

“Does that make us sound petty?” she asked. “Because I want to make sure we sound petty.”

“I’m not a spy from a rival mortuary,” I said, “as thrilling as that BBC miniseries would be.” I looked around the room quickly—no one was looking at the body but us. “But I am a mortician, and I can help you fix this.” I looked at the young woman again. She had bronze skin—not super dark, but dark enough. “Do you have some makeup handy?”

She raised her eyebrow. “You want to mess with her makeup right here?”

“It’ll take me sixty seconds at the most,” I said. “Close your eyes.”

“Hell no.”

“I’m not going to hurt anything,” I said. “The problem is the shading—like here, and here. You did a pretty good job on her, but the shading thing is unique to dead bodies, which is why you didn’t think to do it. It’s super simple, but I need some dark brown makeup, and I’m guessing that your eye shadow will be perfect. May I please look at it?”

She stared at me, probably trying to decide if I was crazy, then sighed and closed her eyes lightly, so the eyelid rested over the eyeball without wrinkling. I studied it a moment, then looked back at the dead body.

“Yeah, that should be perfect,” I said. “Do you have it on you? I can fix this in sixty seconds, tops.”

She dug in her purse and pulled out a small makeup compact, but when I reached for it she pulled it back slightly, tightening her grip. She glanced around the room, seeing Harold still locked in conversation with a crowd of displeased future customers. The girl sighed and looked back at me. “Sixty seconds?”

“At the most.”

“And I get to stab you if you screw it up?”

“With the pointy implement of your choice,” I said. She hesitated another moment, and then surrendered the eye shadow. I opened it up. The color looked good. I picked up the sponge, brushed it over the makeup, then dabbed a little on my arm to gauge how easily it transferred from brush to skin. I didn’t want to smear a huge blob on the dead woman’s face. It went onto my arm fairly smoothly, so I started dabbing small, subtle lines on the body’s face—lightly at first, then more confidently as the old muscle memory took over. The crevices around the nostrils; the philtrum above the upper lip; the line below the lower lip; a dot or two on the chin. I paused partway through, breathing deeply, savoring the unexpected intensity of my emotions as I worked—it was shocking, almost embarrassing, how right it felt to be working on a dead body again. This is who I’d been for years, and who I’d always hoped to be for the rest of my life. A mortician. I felt a reverence for death, and for the caretakers who guided the bodies of the dead into their final repose, so to be here again, in this place, touching this body, was . . .

I realized that a tear had tracked down my face and I wiped it quickly, hoping the girl hadn’t seen it. I looked at the body one last time, moving my head to see it from different angles, and dabbed one last bit of makeup on the chin. I clapped the box closed and handed it back to the girl. But before she could take it, Kathy Schrenk’s twin sister inserted herself between us, leveling her finger at the body in a sign of accusation and said:

“See! Look how . . . oh.”

“Let me see,” said another woman, her voice stronger than the others and I turned to see a whole group walking up behind me: Harold a gaggle of old, frail women; and the large woman I’d seen earlier in Kathy’s photo. Margo, I assumed. The funeral director. She stepped forward, looked at the body, then looked back at the women.

“She looks fine to me.”

“Are you blind?” asked one of the old ladies. “She looks like you dredged her out of a river.”

Margo stepped aside, allowing more of the old women to approach, and one by one their eyes softened as they looked at their friend.

“She looks wonderful,” said one.

“So peaceful,” said another.

“It must have been our eyes,” said the sister. “Or the light.” She looked at Margo and smiled. “We’re so sorry to have bothered you. I think maybe one of these lights was malfunctioning before, but she looks wonderful now.”

“Thank you,” said Margo. “And thank you for coming.”

As the women crowded around the casket, Harold looked up, confused, and Margo pulled the Mexican girl aside. “That’s not what she looked like when we wheeled her out of the back,” Margo whispered. “What’d you do?”

“Calculated risk,” said the girl, and pointed at me. “If I can’t trust some rando off the street, who can I trust?”

Margo glanced at me, sizing me up, then looked back at the girl and raised her eyebrows. “You let someone touch a body? Without consulting me?”

“It worked,” said the girl. “You saw what a good job he did.”

Margo sighed, then looked at me again, raising her chin in a way that made her look abruptly open and professional. “Thank you very much for your help.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Margo Bennett.”

“Robert,” I said, and shook her hand.

“Where’d you train?”

“Family mortuary,” I said. “No formal training.”

“You do good work,” she said, and turned back to the girl. “Next time, ask me first.”

“I will.”

Margo nodded and left, and the girl looked at me again. “Well then. I guess I don’t get to stab you.”

“It’s not as fun as people expect,” I said, handing back her compact. I wasn’t much for small talk, or really any talk for that matter, but I still needed information, and this was probably my best chance to get it. “What did you say your name was?”

“Jasmyn,” she said. “With a Y.”

“Nice to meet you, Jasmyn.” I almost said ‘Jasmyn with a Y,’ but small talk or not, I still had some self-respect. “So you’re, um, training as an embalmer?”

“I am,” she said. “About a year now.”

I nodded, and then wondered if I was nodding too much, and stopped. I had the opportunity to ask questions, but I didn’t know which questions to ask. “So.” I hesitated way too long, trying to think of a follow-up. “How do you like it?”

“You’re definitely not a spy.”

“Why not?”

“Because you suck at it. This is seriously, like, the worst small talk I have ever heard.”

“To be fair, I hate talking to people.” It was a risk, but if I was reading her right she’d respond to it.

She smirked and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, tell me about it. People are the worst.”

Bingo.

“I’m going to drown my sorrows in cookies,” I said, and pointed to the side table. “Want one?”

“They’re also the worst,” she said. “But why not?”

We walked to the food table and I picked up a cookie. It fell in half partway to my mouth, the bottom falling back onto the tray.

“See?” said Jasmyn. She took a crumbly bite. “Margo insists on them, but she won’t pay for good ones.”

“Our mortuary never had cookies,” I said.

“That’s exactly what I tell her,” she said. “Nobody has cookies at a viewing, unless the family brings them or something.” She took another bite. “Maybe she has stock in the cookie company.”

“Does Cottwell’s do cookies?” I asked.

Jasmyn shook her head. “No. So maybe that’s why Margo does—she’s trying to stand out.”

“So, um . . .” I wanted to ask about the body, and I thought I’d finally come up with a normal way to do it. Well, normal-ish. “So Kathy Schrenk drowned, right?”

“So they say,” said Jasmyn. “Nobody knows how, though. She was in her backyard, and she doesn’t have a pool or anything. And she doesn’t live anywhere near the canal.”

This was where I relied on her inexperience as an embalmer. “Drowned bodies are so weird,” I said. “You always get that weird black goop.” This, of course, was a lie, and a fairly transparent one. Nobody who drowns has black goop, unless they literally drown in a pool of black goop. I mean, the goop wouldn’t have come from the drowning, it would have come from a Withered. They called it soulstuff, and it was like a kind of greasy ash that got left behind at a lot of their attacks. I think it’s what their bodies were made of, under their human-looking disguise, because every time I killed one they dissolved into a noxious little pile of it. If Schrenk was killed by a Withered, Jasmyn might have seen some soulstuff during the embalming. And if not, well, she was new enough at her job that she wouldn’t necessarily call me on the lie.

I looked back at Jasmyn, feeling a surge of hope—could this be it?

Nope. She looked confused. “Really?” she asked. “Black goop?”

I sighed. “Sometimes,” I said. “I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.”

“Hey Jazz,” said Harold, “can you help me with something?”

“Sure,” said Jasmyn, and she hurried after him. I retreated to the wall, wondering what to do next but mostly just happy to be in a mortuary again—not because it was especially wonderful, but because it was familiar. The people and the wall hangings and the music and the casket and the body. I didn’t really know how to hunt monsters, though I’d been doing it for years. I didn’t really know how to hitchhike and be on the road and evade the police and how to do all the things my life had forced me to do. But I knew how to be in a mortuary. I was never more comfortable anywhere else than there.

A movement caught my eye, and I looked across the room to see another woman had just come in through the doors. She looked about thirty, but she wore an old-style, A-line dress, so filthy it looked like she’d been wearing it for years. Her hair hung in ratty tendrils around her face. The other guests shied away from her as she stepped in, looked around, and then focused on me. I glanced around for the mortuary staff—for Jasmyn, or Harold, or Margo—but they’d all stepped out for something. The ragged woman walked toward me, and I could see that her face and arms were as dirty as her clothes; her nails were chipped and crusted with old blood; and her feet were bare and streaked with grime. She walked strangely, like she was unaccustomed to it, and kept her eyes locked on my face. She stopped a few feet in front of me, staring.

“I know you,” she said at last.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Do you know me?”

I shook my head. “I don’t. I’m sorry.”

The woman stared again, then leaned in close.

“Run from Rain,” she whispered.

Then she turned around and ran out the door.

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The Write Stuff – Monday, June 19 – Interview With Gray Rinehart

This week’s guest, Gray Rinehart, is the only person to have commanded an Air Force satellite tracking station, written speeches for Presidential appointees, and had music on The Dr. Demento Show. His fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies, and his first novel is forthcoming from WordFire Press. His nonfiction includes applications of quality improvement principles to education and the military. He is a contributing editor (the “Slushmaster General”) for Baen Books and a singer/songwriter with two albums of mostly science-fiction-and-fantasy-inspired music. He fought rocket propellant fires, refurbished space launch facilities, “flew” Milstar satellites, drove trucks, processed nuclear command and control orders, commanded the largest remote tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network, and did other interesting things during his rather odd USAF career. His alter ego is the Gray Man, one of several famed ghosts of South Carolina’s Grand Strand.

He describes his forthcoming novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, scheduled to be published this month by WordFire Press, as follows:

Every frontier, every new world, tempts and tests the settlers who try to eke out an existence there. In Walking on the Sea of Clouds, a few pioneering colonists struggle to overcome the unforgiving lunar environment as they work to establish the first independent, commercial colony on the “shore” of Mare Nubium, the “Sea of Clouds.” What will they sacrifice to succeed—and survive?

What can you tell us about Clouds?

Most science fiction fans are familiar with lunar colonies of one type or another: the scientific outpost in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the penal colony in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the helium-3 mining outpost in the film Moon, and so forth. Often lunar colonies are established locales, whereas the colony in my story is just getting started; the characters have to build a lot of the infrastructure and deal with problems inherent in setting things up for the first time.

To a degree the colonists feel like unwanted stepchildren in the whole effort because the colony is only meant to support asteroid mining operations. It’s not like a city growing up along a waterway or a main road; it’s more like a mining camp, a company shanty town, or a village that just happens to be a convenient overnight stop between two more important places. But without that mining camp, without the workers in that company town, without that village, things get much more difficult and expensive (if they’re even possible). So the colonists know they’re important to the overall venture, but they sometimes have trouble convincing other people of that.

What was the inspiration behind it?

In many respects this story grew out of my experience as the Chief of Bioenvironmental Engineering at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base. That was my first assignment, and I was responsible for industrial hygiene and environmental compliance for every test program at the lab from small satellite thruster firings to open-air test firings of full-scale Titan solid rocket motors. I learned a great deal about propellants and rocket systems, and as the Chief of the Disaster Response Force I also led real-life emergency responses and cleanup of two rocket propellant fires. So, a lot of things in the book were inspired by things I learned or experienced in that assignment. There are tidbits from other assignments as well, including the year I spent at Thule Air Base, Greenland.

Throughout my career, I was constantly impressed by the technical competence and professionalism of the people who built and maintained and operated the space and missile and communication systems I came in contact with, whether that was as part of the Titan launch business at Vandenberg AFB or doing mobile command and control at Offutt AFB or whatever. I wanted my characters to portray those qualities, but more than that I wanted to explore the stories of people involved in the day-to-day work, the daily struggle. So many stories focus on the people running the show, the commanders and directors making big decisions, but these ventures are so complex that multitudes of people work on them and make them successful. They all have their own parts to play, their own stories to tell, and I wanted to tell them.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

Probably the challenge that pervaded the whole book was trying to portray the scope of the project—it’s a huge undertaking—without getting so bogged down in the details that the story ground to a halt. That may be why stories and histories of other big projects focus on the big personalities that drove them: Oppenheimer and the big-name scientists in the Manhattan Project, von Braun and the astronauts in the Apollo program, and so forth. Each of those programs—every big program—had thousands of people who worked “in the trenches” whose stories have rarely been told. That was one reason I enjoyed Hidden Figures so much: here were ladies who made such an impact on the Mercury program that it would not have succeeded without them, whose stories were previously known to very few. Unsung heroes—why not sing their praises, too?

Establishing a lunar colony would also be a monumental task, and would take a tremendous amount of time and require a huge team of people. I managed some big projects in the Air Force, including the early stages of an eighty-five million dollar construction project, and the sheer number of highly trained, highly motivated, very specialized people who had to work simultaneously doing different tasks in many different parts of the country was mind-boggling. A whole lunar colony would put my measly solid rocket handling facility to shame.

Add in the layers of bureaucracy and oversight, some of it necessary and some of it not, and that would make for pretty tedious reading if we went too deep into it. Nobody wants to read the minutes, let alone the transcript, of a preliminary design review! So the challenge was to include just a few small details here and there, and to mention other details but keep them in the background in order to concentrate on more interesting things. And, for me, since I have some experience in emergency response, the “more interesting” usually had to do with some emergency or other.

What else are you working on?

I recently started writing a fantasy novel that I outlined earlier this Spring. I sent the outline to some friends in the industry to see if they think it tells a story worth pursuing, but even though they haven’t gotten back to me I was interested enough to start organizing electrons into language-like patterns for it. I confess that it’s more epic in scope than I originally thought it was going to be, so I’m not sure what to expect from the effort; I hope my friends agree that it’s a worthwhile project, and I’ll probably work on it for the rest of the year (at least).

Tell us about your path to publication.

How far back do you want to go? Instead of going all the way back to when I first tried (and failed) to write fiction that would sell, let’s concentrate on this novel.

I actually wrote the bulk of this novel not quite a decade ago, after I attended Dave Wolverton’s novel writing workshop. I had already written one novel, way back in 2001, and turned down an abysmal publishing contract on it before eventually trunking it and turning my attention to short fiction.

About the time I started making professional short fiction sales, in 2010, I was ready to shop the novel around. A couple of publishers and agents had nice things to say but didn’t pick it up because the novel doesn’t fit into any convenient categories: it’s a near-future story with no aliens and no threat to all of humanity, not a far-flung space opera in which the fate of millions hangs in the balance; it’s very much a story about people, their motivations and relationships, but it’s not a romance; that sort of thing. So after I made the rounds of the major publishers, I started sending it to small presses.

The story garnered more interest at the small presses—plural, because I’d send it to one, and after a while if they didn’t say “no” I’d send it to another, until at one point it was at two other places besides WordFire Press and all three of them were still considering it. Then a fourth, much newer, press offered me a contract. I told them a few other places had been looking at the novel, and I contacted each of the others and let them know I had a contract in hand. And that was when WordFire said (effectively) hey, wait a minute, we’ve got dibs. Which made for a bit of an awkward conversation with the house that first offered me a contract, but everything was out in the open and we were all professional about it.

So, something of a “long and winding road” in terms of getting this novel out.

I find that process interesting. Every now and then an author shows me a slightly different approach—in this case multiple, simultaneous submissions—with a differing outcome.

Stepping back onto more familiar ground, I’ll ask what compels you to write?

I wish I knew. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse trying to write!

Seriously, I don’t have a good answer for this because in some respects I think I enjoy the product more than the process of creation.

I do, however, enjoy the challenge of finding ways to describe or articulate things so they’re understandable, so they make sense. From that aspect I think I’m better at the craftsmanship side of writing than I am at what I think of as the “design” side. I’m more of a wordsmith than a storyteller, and since I was a carpenter in my youth I use that as a metaphor: when it comes to my writing, I’m a much better carpenter than I am an architect. I think that’s part of what made me a pretty fair speechwriter: I loved the challenge of taking a speaker’s message and finding a way to fit it to an audience and an occasion so it would resonate with the listeners.

Maybe the question I really find hard to answer is why I write fiction in particular. I do like writing various kinds of things, but I find creating a story from scratch to be very trying. But when it works, it’s worth the effort.

Tell us about your job at Baen Books.

I’m a contributing editor (unofficially, the “Slushmaster General”) for Baen Books. I evaluate the vast majority of our unsolicited manuscripts, and recommend those I think are good candidates for the Baen line to the publisher for her consideration.

Do you have any pet projects?

I don’t know if they qualify as “pet projects,” but I have a lot of interests outside of the usual writing and editing.

My music is probably my best-known creative pursuit outside of writing prose. I have a couple of CDs out, two of my songs were played on The Dr. Demento Show, and a few conventions have even let me do concerts. At one point I thought I’d be recording a third CD this year—which would’ve been pretty cool, to have a novel and a new album in the same year—but it didn’t work out. I’m still writing new songs, but a new CD will wait a little longer. Instead, I’ve been cobbling together some music videos of songs from my existing albums.

Speaking of video, I started another new project this year: a video series I call “Between the Black and the White.” The episodes are only a few minutes long, and most so far have been education-related: kind of companion pieces to the new version of my nonfiction book on education. I’ll keep that going as long as I’m having fun with it—and I’m always looking for ideas for new episodes!

Thank you, Gray, for spending time with us. Before I share your social links and provide an excerpt from Walking on the Sea of Clouds, I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… Renaissance Man. Seriously, he tells people that pretty frequently. It’s a great compliment, but a shade embarrassing.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Oxygen.

The one thing I would change about my life: Only one thing? I have so many… Here’s a big one: I would like to have been more forgiving of myself.

My biggest peeve is: Rudeness.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: My wife. We’ve been married 32 years as of June 1st.

 

Walking on the Sea of Clouds excerpt:

The only warm color in the room was the red-brown ribbon of blood that flowed through translucent plastic tubing from Stormie’s right arm to the scanner and back again.

The rest of the antiseptic room blazed cold under the fluorescent lights: the row of cabinets labeled with machine-like precision, the stainless steel table with its orderly array of implements, the ubiquitous anatomy poster. The IV drip into her left arm was clear as ice water. Even the scanning and filtration unit itself, squat and boxy in its cream-colored housing with sky blue faceplate, seemed unwarmed though her blood flowed through it.

Over-conditioned air bit through the hospital gown, and Stormie wished she had taken the thin blanket the nurse offered. At least the gown was a tri-fold—a wrap-around with three arm holes—even if it had to be the standard putrid green.

Nothing to be afraid of, she told herself. Nothing but a million microscopic hunter-killers coursing through your blood.

Stormie squirmed a little on the padded table, and the paper covering crackled loud as thunder. The tubing pulled against the tape that secured it to her arm. In places where the light hit the tubing just right, her blood looked as dark as her skin.

Dr. Nguyen’s smiling face appeared in the wire-crossed glass set in the door. He waved, then came in carrying the brushed aluminum clipboard with all the release forms she’d signed. She hadn’t read them, of course; she supposed no one did. Written in the most obscure dialect of legalese, their clauses and codicils were inaccessible to those uninitiated in the lawyerly arts, even people who were otherwise smart; if system administrators could erect electronic barriers as formidable as lawyers’ linguistic barriers, no computer firewall would ever be breached. The papers all boiled down to I-understand-the-risks-associated-with-this-procedure-and-accept-the-improbable-but-very-real-possibility-that-it-may-result-in-my-death-or-permanent-disability. She had signed them with barely a first thought.

Dr. Nguyen’s black, greasy hair stuck out above one ear, as if he’d just gotten up from a nap at his desk. “How are you doing?” he asked. He reached out his slender hand and Stormie shook it for the third time this morning. “Everything still okay? No irritation?” He bent toward her arm and examined the needle site.

“Seems okay,” Stormie said. “I’m cold, though.”

The door opened again and the same stout, blonde nurse who had witnessed the paperwork—Nurse Myracek—carried in a plastic transit case about the size of a six-pack cooler. The dark, almost hunter-green case contrasted with the room’s stark brightness. She set the case next to the equipment on the steel table as Dr. Nguyen asked her to bring Stormie a blanket. She gave Stormie an “I told you so” look, but smiled and nodded to make it a friendly comeuppance.

“You’ll want to lie back now,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Stormie complied, and the clean paper sheet scrunched against her back. Her empty stomach complained about the preparatory fast. In a moment, Nurse Myracek had her expertly swaddled under a soft, robin’s-egg-blue blanket and put a small pillow under her head.

Stormie remembered something in a poem about the night, lying on the table … something about anesthesia … she tried and failed to recall the line. It might be appropriate, somehow.

Dr. Nguyen snapped opened the clasps on the transit case. They clattered down one by one, then he took off the lid and lifted out a syringe about the size of a cigar. He started making notes on his clipboard.

“Just think,” Nurse Myracek said. “That came from outer space.”

Stormie smiled a little. The nurse made it sound as if the picophages in the syringe were alien creatures brought back to Earth by some survey team. They didn’t come from outer space per se, they were grown and processed in the high-vacuum, medium-orbit foundry that the Low-Gee Corporation developed from the space station nanocrystalline laboratory. “Pico-” was marketing hype: they were smaller than almost any other nanomachines, but not three orders of magnitude smaller. So far they were one of only two commercial products that seemed to require low-gravity manufacture, but on that shallow foundation Low-Gee had built a small technical empire. A greater hurdle than making the things in the first place had been figuring out how to prepare them for descent into the Earth’s gravity well; the shock-and-vibration-damping packaging was expensive, but still cheaper than sending people into orbit for treatment.

Stormie nodded. They came from outer space. And you’re going to put them in me.

 

Visitors can follow Gray Rinehart at the following links:

Website:         graymanwrites.com

Blog:               graymanwrites.com/blog/

Facebook:      facebook.com/gray.rinehart

Twitter:          @grayrinehart

 His author page on Amazon, where you can purchase his non-fiction work “Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It” while you’re waiting for Walking on the Sea of Clouds’ forthcoming release is: https://www.amazon.com/Gray-Rinehart/e/B001KINULM/

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 5 – Interview With Lou Agresta

This Week’s guest, Lou Agresta, is a science fiction and fantasy novelist and an award winning game designer. He has authored, edited, and developed over 1 million words for the adventure game industry. A martial arts enthusiast and a fan of Nordic dotwork tattooing, Lou has been spotted in an orange tuxedo at conventions, co-hosting the Iron GM show. He lives in the Hudson Valley with two cats, his girlfriend, and (part time) two children – not necessarily in that order. WordFire Press published his cyberpunk novel, Club Anyone, on May 22 of this year.

Lou describes Club Anyone this way:

In an age of augmented reality, love is found in the most dangerous places…

Stranded on Mars, megacorp programmer, Derek Tobbit, drowns his sorrows in augmented reality sex, only to have his drug-fueled midlife crisis hijacked by a conspiracy that threatens the solar system.

It will take his every hacker skill, the friendship of an illegal rogue AI, and the redemptive power of an impossible love to save them all.

Club Anyone, is a gritty novel of conspiracy, sex, augmented reality, and star-crossed desire.

Would you please give us some sense of what it’s about?

Club Anyone is a noir on Mars set in the Interface Zero game world. It takes place against the backdrop of a bleak near future in which humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but not beyond. Club Anyone is around 75 years away. Megacorps dominate the landscape, polities struggle in cold wars, AIs are outlawed, and the little guy squeaks by in the cracks. The settings dominate characteristic is direct neural interlinking that provides not virtual reality but augmented reality only. Because this is an almost world, in transition either to utter disaster or transcendence—which isn’t clear, although I’m betting disaster—humanity has almost, but not quite, reached the heights of technology in, say, the cyberpunk of Stephenson or even Gibson. Technology is less reliable and more messy.

In this world, our hero Derek is just a middle class programmer with a wife and 2.5 kids. He takes a job on Mars, with his family to follow him after she sells their house. Only his wife has other ideas—divorce for instance. “I’m staying here with the kids, so sorry you used our life savings to get to Mars. Enjoy the place!” In the wake of this Derek makes some poor life choices and his life spirals out of control, opening him up to exploitation by a few bad folks and a role in a conspiracy that threatens everything. But he makes some unexpected friends along the way. Not sure he gets out in once piece, though. Guess you’ll need to read to find out.

What was the inspiration behind it?

It started when I received a phone call from my friend and collaborator Rone Barton. “You’re going to write that novel finally,” he said.

“I am?”

“Yup. David Jarvis of Gunmetal Games is giving you away as a Kickstarter reward. If Interface Zero hits a stretch goal, I told him you’ll write a novel.”

And they did hit it, so I did write it. My friend kicked the little birdie out of the nest.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

This opportunity came at a dark and difficult time in my life. To my surprise, my wife of 15 years decided she was done with our marriage.

“Honey I’m going to write a novel!”

“Yeah, you’re going to move out, actually.”

Not quite like that, but almost. I called Rone and said, “I don’t think I can do this. How am I supposed to write a novel with all this going on?”

And he said, “Well why don’t you write your divorce into your novel?”

So I did—not the plot, of course—but I sublimated the emotion in my life into Derek’s story. It let me understand what it would mean to be him, abandoned on Mars, bereft of his family and to channel that feeling like jet fuel for words.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

There have. As an adventure game designer my work on Razor Coast has been nominated for five Ennie Awards. That’s sort of the Oscars for Role Playing Games. Heart of the Razor, a book in the same line that I developed and edited, won Silver Ennie for Best Adventure the same year.

What else are you working on?

I’m currently working on a grimdark urban fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change. I don’t want to give too much away, but part of the underlying premise is that retired sorcerous powers grow alarmed as climate change spins out of control faster and worse than predicted. They decide to put an end to this science nonsense that allows we hoi polloi to play fast and loose with the future of the species. Our hero is a young corrections officer returning to Minnesota to deal with her family and career problems. She didn’t know she’d be walking into a magi-geddon apocalypse. The idea came to me in a pain haze, while I was under the tatooing needle of Nordic dotwork artist Uffe Berenth in Copenhagen. It resurrected and tied back to ideas I was developing in the late 80s and early 90s, so I’m very excited.

I would be, too. Let’s get into your writing life. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

The bigger a block of time I can lock down, the better. Interruptions are difficult. Trying to slice a piece of writing into an hour block is maddening. I try for 2-3 hours at a shot, often in a café. The hubbub works like white noise for me. On a good day it’s 2-3 hours at home, a workout, then of to a café for another 2-3 hours.

Do you create an outline before you write?

For Club Anyone, I jotted down some notes on the general trajectory and then set out. After I finished the first draft, I outlined what I had written. That showed me how wonky the structure had turned out. I restructured everything with revision, outline, revision, outline a few times. Then I sent it to readers, got feedback, and did it again. For the latest piece I’m outlining extensively first.

What drives you to write?

I used to think people who said, “I have to write… I must. My muse compels me… ” *nose in air* were pretentious a-holes. But I’ve come to a place where that’s true for me in the sense that I have to have my coffee in the morning. If I don’t write, I’m a much less pleasant person. Writing makes me feel like I’m not just wasting my time on earth. I need to have that creative project I believe in or I get real cranky real fast. So I guess I write because I have to in order not to become a pretentious a-hole.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve become much more about the mission and much less about me. I’ve also learned that my first five ideas probably suck. There’s a deeper level to get to that takes time and patience and I can only find it after I regurgitate all the shows and stories I’ve already ingested. Then something that’s me starts to rise up.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Defending your time. Everyone and everything wants you to prioritize them or it above the writing, and some things do take precedence. Kids for example. But if you can’t learn to defend your time and say, “Nope,” to even well-meaning people, you’re dead in the water.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

Club Anyone deals with some unpleasant realities, particularly in the sex trade. Sure, they’re gussied up in adventure, noir romance, organized crime, cybertech, and a host of (I hope) exhilarating and downright cool experiences . That’s all part of what makes ugly things easier to think about. But in the end, this is an R-rated book. Not for kids.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I manage investments and commercial real estate. In a former life I was a network systems engineer and managed programmers on large projects.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Sure. I live with my girlfriend and two cats. I have joint custody with my children, Kaylie (10) and Malcolm (7) so I get them half the week and alternate weekends. It makes for a challenging schedule but I’m so glad I didn’t wind up a weekend dad.

What has been your greatest success in life?

To be frank, I’m not sure how to measure success. So many people help me through so much of life, it’s hard to claim success sometimes. I feel more like I need to roll the credits on a movie for a life that isn’t yet over. How about this? A decision I made in life that turned out to be the most life changing, in a positive way. I dropped out of college and played bad blues guitar on the streets of Taiwan for a year. It changed everything. I still finished college though.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

My father’s library of 2,000 plus science fiction and fantasy volumes, starting with magazines from the 40s. I read it voraciously and became the book addict I am today. Also Neal Gaiman.

Thanks, Lou, for taking the time to talk to us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Club Anyone—after which I will provide links where those with an interest can follow you and purchase your book—I’d like to try a Lightning Round, because of the unexpected insights it often provides. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… Generous person.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Books

The one thing I would change about my life: Less weight through more combat training. Okay, that’s two I admit it.

My biggest peeve is: Drama. Not the kind on a stage.

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

 

Club Anyone excerpt:

 There didn’t seem enough bioroids left to monitor drift on the orbital entanglement. How could the Chute smelt with no one to steady its aim?

Shit!

The thin china mug fell from my hand and shattered hot luxury across my ankles. I ignored it and bolted from my office, yelling before I reached the hall. “The Chute is bare!”

Everyone stared at me. For a moment. Then someone’s assistant turned back to a stack of papers and resumed shuffling. A nearby executive tsked at me. Others lay in their cubes, not present at all, focused on TAP data only they could see.

No one knew me, and anyone who knew what they were talking about used the codes. I TAPped the NOM manual. I didn’t know the codes. Where were the codes?

Fire anything—a bullet, an arrow, a stone—and the farther the shot, the more the tiniest misalignment at the start ends the shot off target. From Mars orbit to the deepest pit of the Valles Marineris was the longest shot around. How soon before the quantum anchors drifted a micro out of true, and the next plasmatic meteor smashed through the dome into TRIC City, killing thousands?

Found it.

“Code 7, Code 7!”

And the office exploded—into stillness.

Not everything runs off the TAP, so some people dropped the papers in their hands and bolted for their desks, but most froze in their chairs or even flopped to the floor as if fainting. Mugs of synth flew and papers floated like pillow feathers. Standing, sitting, or collapsed, employees drowned themselves in a hyper reality torrent of data. Eyes rolled into heads as code-champions rode their hyper object steeds to cyber battle.

I followed.

The instant I TAPped the subnetwork a curtain of data subsumed me, but I saw the problem. Someone was gattling inane commands at all the NOM bioroids over the SRSOC—the Short Range System Override Channel.

We build multiple control layers into bioroid communications as a security failsafe. If something damages a bioroid’s language parser or a virus infects the software, we need a way to pull the plug. That’s especially important if you hand your bioroids guns or toxic waste or, I don’t know, a mining operation that fires molten planetoids into a trench near your city?

Tell a bioroid to lift its arms, and it hears with its ears. That’s the top layer. Software in the middle parses your words into code, sends it to the muscles that lift the arms—a lower layer—and the arms lift.

The top layer anyone can use, because the language parsing software does the heavy lifting. Talking directly to an arm requires fluency in “arm control” language, a lingua more abstruse than ordinary programming.

Commands in “arm control” override spoken commands, because lower layers are closer to the organics. If you speak the words “lift your arms” at the same time I send the command “don’t move” through the SRSOC—pronounced sir sock—sub channel in arm-speak, the bioroid’s arm won’t move. I’m working at the lowest possible layer, closer to the arm than you, in a language more “wetware” than yours.

Someone was flooding the SRSOC sub channel of the Chute’s bioroids with innocuous “arm language” commands like “sweep the floor” and “do sit-ups.” Definitely not “maintain the Chute’s quantum entangled geostationary orbit.” And whoever it was fired off thousands of low-level commands simultaneously at machine gun speeds.

Impossible.

Legions of Chute Control employees, myself included, froze and scanned hyper reality in our TAPs. We hammered every reachable SRSOC channel, desperate to wrest them back and block the flood of purposeless instructions. We needed to free the bioroids from their paralysis and put them on job before the Chute drifted.

It was like that game where you smack something back into a hole, but it pops out of another hole. We stormed the SRSOC, established bridgeheads, and slowed the degradation.

But too little, too late.

Without canceling the attack at its source, we couldn’t return enough bioroids to work before those flaming space-bullets micro-inched off target and destroyed us all.

The only question now was how many people would die?

Commands continued to flood the bioroid’s SRSOCs at an inhuman rate. For every two we whacked down, another one popped up. Inhuman. Not human. Of course! Someone wasn’t doing this.

Something was.

Suspicion bloomed like a tumor in my chest, I bolted for the Lift. The culprit wanted an Ampule to escape.

This wasn’t an attack. It was a diversion.

 

Lou’s book is not yet available online, but you can order a copy on his Website: www.agrestasaurus.com

You can follow Lou online at:

Facebook:       www.facebook.com/agrestasaurus

Blog:               https://www.agrestasaurus.com/words-like-bullets

Twitter:          @agrestasaurus

Pinterest:       https://www.pinterest.com/Agrestasaurus/

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, May 22 – Interview With Mike Baron

Solid reviews and a historic background are two elements that brought this week’s guest to my attention. Reviewers have this to say about him:

“I am a HUGE fan of Mike Baron’s work. The biggest influence on my Catman interpretation was the Badger, without question.This guy was scary/funny before that was even a thing. Get this book, dammit!”—Gail Simone

Baron’s book is a rocket blast of suspense that moves at breakneck speed. Along the way it is crammed with hundreds of hilarious cultural bon mots and innuendos that set it leagues above other mundane horror tales. “Banshees” is a brilliant achievement by a creative force that is just getting warmed up.—PULP FICTION REVIEWS

Mike Baron is the creator of Nexus (with artist Steve Rude) and Badger two of the longest lasting independent superhero comics. Nexus is about a cosmic avenger 500 years in the future. Badger, about a multiple personality one of whom is a costumed crime fighter.

Baron has published five novels, Helmet Head, Banshees, Whack Job, Biker and Skorpio. Helmet Head is about Nazi biker zombies. Whack Job is about spontaneous human combustion. Biker is hard-boiled crime about a reformed motorcycle hoodlum turned private investigator. Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Banshees is about a satanic rock band that returns from the dead.

Mike describes Banshees as follows:

Notorious for their satanic lyrics, drunken excess and rumors of blood sacrifice, the Banshees shocked the world with their only album Beat the Manshees. Death stalked their concerts—lightning, stabbings, overdoses. The world heaved a sigh of relief when the Banshees all died in a plane crash. Or did they? Forty years later, with no fanfare, they appear in a seedy Prague nightclub. Ian St. James, son of original Banshees drummer Oaian St. James, can’t believe his eyes. Ian’s attempts to get backstage nearly kill him. In Crowd sends hot young reporter Connie Cosgrove to cover the Banshees along with that old burn-out Ian. Ian falls hard for the stunning Connie who regards him with a mixture of disgust and amusement. As if! The Banshees phenomenon goes viral—are they real or is it all a brilliant publicity stunt? Every time Banshees play someone dies. Is it bad luck or part of some diabolical plan? As Connie and Ian dig into the Banshees’ past they find disturbing links to black magic, the Russian mob and an ancient Druidic sect. Death only adds to their mystique as the Banshees steamroll across North America toward a triumphant appearance at LA’s Pacific Auditorium. Ian finally grasps the real reason they’ve returned—to tear a rift between our world and a monstrous evil—a rift created by an infernal machine built into Pacific Stadium and powered by human flesh.

Mike has much more to say about his work than about himself, as his interview will show.

Will you please tell us a little more about it?

I have written about music all my life. I have written for Creem, Fusion, The Phoenix, The Real Paper, Isthmus and many others. I have always been fascinated by rocks’ dark legends. Banshees, about a satanic rock band that returns from the dead, is my stab at an epic horror novel encompassing the scope of The Stand or Swan Song.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

The existence of heavy metal, death metal, bands like Deep Purple, Motorhead, Mayhem, even Alice Cooper demand epic stories.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenged was learning how to write novels. It only took me thirty years, but I learned. I learned good!

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

I have won two Eisners and an Inkpot for Nexus.

What else are you working on?

A horror thriller called The Water Bug about a series of mysterious drownings. My goal is to evoke sheer terror. Supernatural terror. That frisson of fear you got the first time you watched The Exorcist or The Ring. H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King are among a handful of authors who can evoke supernatural terror.

I have five Josh Pratt (Biker) novels in the can. I will begin a 7th when I have finished The Water Bug. Liberty Island will publish my coming-of-age book Disco sometime next year. I also have a horror novel called Domain, a haunted house story to end all haunted house stories.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I get up, feed the dogs, fight the dogs, take the dogs to the park, hit the typer. I usually go to karate at noon, to break up my routine and work up a sweat. I will write sporadically throughout the afternoon, and make notes as I lie in supine splendor on my bed.

Tell us about your path to publication.

It is a long and winding road. I began writing as soon as I got out of college, working for alternative news weekly. Alas, most have gone the way of the buggy whip, but here in Colorado, thanks to legalized weed, they are fat and glossy.

Do you create an outline before you write?

Yes. I try to make it as entertaining as the finished product.

Why do you write?

I have stories to tell. I do not choose the stories. The stories choose me.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I believe I have successfully removed my presence from the narrative. My goal is to grab the reader by the throat and drag him through the narrative so that he, she, it, or xe is unaware of the passage of time.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Figuring out what happens next.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

There’s a technique to everything, from breathing to building a nuclear power plant.

What is a typical day like in the Baron house?

I get up, feed the dogs, fight the dogs, take the dogs to the park, hit the typer. I usually go to karate at noon, to break up my routine and work up a sweat. I will write sporadically throughout the afternoon, and make notes as I lie in supine splendor on my bed.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Our home is filthy. Filthy! Because of these damned dogs!

What motivates or inspires you?

My wife and these dogs. Sometimes it’s just a phrase, or wordplay in my head. I will carry a title around with me for years before I find the right story. And vice versa.

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

Attitude is everything is my motto. I used to have a shitty attitude. Now I have a good one. It’s a habit you can cultivate.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Being happy.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

Shoulda bought Apple back when.

Do you have any pet projects?

I’m working on a number of pitches with a number of my favorite artists.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My wife Ann.

Thanks, Mike, for dropping by. Visitors who would like to give Banshees a spin can do so here:

Amazon            http://a.co/aU3cBcw

The Write Stuff – Monday, May 8 – Interview With David Boop

I am pleased to feature today’s guest, WordFire Press author, David Boop. David is a Denver-based speculative fiction author. He’s also an award-winning essayist, and screenwriter. Before turning to fiction, David worked as a DJ, film critic, journalist, and actor. As Editor-in-Chief at IntraDenver.net, David’s team was on the ground at Columbine making them the first internet only newspaper to cover such an event. That year, they won an award for excellence from the Colorado Press Association for their design and coverage.

His debut novel, the sci-fi/noir She Murdered Me with Science, is back in print from WordFire Press after a six-year hiatus. His next novel, The Soul Changers, is a Victorian Horror tied in to the Rippers Resurrected RPG from Savage Worlds. Additionally, Dave is prolific in short fiction with over fifty short stories and two short films sold to his credit. In 2017, he edited the weird western anthology, Straight Outta Tombstone, for Baen. While also known for weird western series The Drowned Horse Chronicle, he’s published across several genres including horror, fantasy, and media tie-ins for Predator, The Green Hornet, The Black Bat and Veronica Mars. His RPG work includes Flash Gordon and Deadlands: Noir for Savage Worlds.

He’s a single dad, Summa Cum Laude creative writing graduate, part-time temp worker and believer. His hobbies include film noir, anime, the Blues and Mayan History.

Two of his works came out on the same day of April this year: She Murdered Me with Science, a noir sci-fi gum shoe detective novel and A Whisper to a Scheme, a self-published novel of the same ilk. Whisper can be quickly described with its back cover blurb:

My name is Noel R Glass and I’m not your average gumshoe. What I am is a pariah from the theoretical physics game; a former wunderkind who watched his future dissolve like the victims of my failed experiment. Years later, I’m finally putting my intellect to work solving crimes with science, not instinct. Well, mostly. Instinct told me the angelic damsel in a black dress who walked into my office was bad news. What made it worse is she admitted to possibly killing her husband, Millionaire Mercantile Maverick Marlin Black. Now I have to find Mr. Black, or his corpse, before the cops do. Otherwise, they won’t look beyond the bedroom eyes of his gorgeous widow. But I know different. It’s not just a hunch, but the science of the bullet that took down Black doesn’t add up. I’m on the run to find a rifle that kills without making a sound. Even my genius brain might need help on this one. Who can I turn to? Certainly not the Widow Black or any of Marlin’s associates. They’ve all got motives. No. The type of assistance I need comes in the form of a Japanese gangster with a Chinese Name. But if Wan Lee helps me, what will he ask for in exchange? Damn those dames singing the “Save Me” blues. Why aren’t I smart enough to just walk away?

As for She Murdered Me with Science, here’s a quick introduction:

My name is Noel Glass. I once was a respected scientist and madly in love. All that ended in a splash of scarlet. I can never forget, and I will never forgive myself.

It’s 1953 and I’m a shamus working the streets of Industry City. I don’t rely on instinct; science is my game. The cases I get, and the booze I drink, keep oblivion just a step away. That is, until some rich recluse walks in and tells me that accident from all these years ago was a set-up, a frame job, and I was meant to take the fall.

Now I have to clear my name… like that’s easy. Everyone’s keeping secrets. Who can I trust? My neighbor, the mysteriously connected Wan Lee? Or the songbird Merlot Sterling? Her lies are almost as beautiful as her voice. Even the muscle-bound bodyguard I inherited can’t keep the hit men, spies — or my own government — from trying to put me six-feet under.

You see, this secret organization believes I know something and wants to keep me quiet. All I do know is they’re aiming to remake the world into their own twisted image using a device I created. They’ve already axed one world leader, and Ike could be next.

God, I could use a shot of bourbon and some answers, but neither comes cheap these days.

Tell us about your most recent release.

I have two. One, the re-release of my first novel, She Murdered Me with Science, which has been out of print since 2010. It’s a sci-fi noir set in the 50s. Noel R. Glass was once a child prodigy, tops in his field of physics, but then at the height of his fame, an experiment goes wrong and kills several people including the woman he loved. Fourteen years later, he works doing an early form of forensics, considered a dirty science at the time. A rich recluse walks into his office and tells him the accident wasn’t his fault, he was set up. Glass goes on a quest to clear his name, but runs afoul of lies, deceptions, and conspiracies in a world on the verge of a global war. WordFire Press was kind enough to re-release it. I also self-published a prequel, set one year before the events in the novel called, A Whisper to a Scheme.

What was the inspiration behind it?

I grew up switching back and forth between reading mystery novels and sci-fi/fantasy. When I set forth to write a novel, I wanted to bring the best of both worlds into it. The pulp setting of the 50s allows for the seamless blend of weird science with the detective noir voice. However, it was the prolog that really set me on this course. I dreamt the prolog, much as you read in the book. It involves a murder, and when I woke up, I knew I had to invent a character to solve the murder from my dream.

I created a character that reflected the best traits of the pulp detectives I loved: hard drinking, fallen hero, seeking redemption – a combination of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin in one person. But I also needed supporting characters that were familiar, but not clichés. I have an Asian sidekick who constantly does the last thing you’d expect a sidekick to do. I give Noel a femme fatale, but made her African-American to reflect the racial tensions of the era. I put in assassins, spies, and real people from the times. I wanted the book to feel like it was written in the fifties.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

Revision has always been my bane. I’m very ADD and the revision process is almost physically painful to me. And then going back some ten years since I first started writing it and seeing all the errors was grueling. However, the fact I could see them now was uplifting, as it meant I’d definitely improved as a writer over that time.

What other novels have you written?

I have a novel for Pinnacle set in the Savage Worlds roleplaying game. It’s a tie-in to their Rippers world, a Victorian Horror setting similar to the Penny Dreadful TV series. It’s called The Soul Changers and will be out later this year. I also have some fifty short stories in print, with another several due out this year, including a Predator story co-written with Peter J. Wacks. Additionally, I edited an anthology of weird westerns called Straight Outta Tombstone for Baen.

What else are you working on?

I have several projects due this year, including a historical fantasy, a WWII sci-fantasy middle reader in the vein of Hugo Cabaret, the follow-up to the SMMS, and a Flash Gordon RPG I just finished a sourcebook for.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I’m a binge writer. I write whenever I can, as much as I can, and then I go throw up. Seriously, I have no writing schedule. Life won’t let me.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Novel, yes. Anything shorter, no. Having a good outline can mean a lot to an editor.

Why do you write?

Because I’m no good at anything else. No, seriously. I’ve held well over 100 different jobs in my lifetime. I used to work two or three at a time. I’d get bored and move on. Writing is the only thing that allows me to sleep. I have a lot of ideas and they won’t let me go until I trap them on e-paper. I cannot imagine doing anything else.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Keeping a rhythm. Novels flow best when they are worked on at a steady pace. I do not have a steady pace sort of life. I wish I did. I would love a routine that allowed me the freedom to write a certain amount of hours a day. As it is, I spend most of my time researching, then creating the outline, and then, if I’ve done parts one and two correctly, I should be able to drop in and just following the outline. Easy-peasy, right? Instead, the flow is disrupted by edits for other projects due yesterday, kids needing stuff yesterday, and bills that need to be paid yesterday. It’s a glamorous life, no?

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

You can do that? Really? I never knew. Hahahaha! I do a whole talk on this subject. Since my novel first came out in ’08, I’ve been plagued with loss: family members, mentors, close friends. I’ve been hit with health issues. My son was diagnosed as autistic. I’m suddenly responsible for my 93 year old step-father. So, it’s been a bit overwhelming. But what got me through was never losing sight of the goals. I wrote short stories when novels were impossible to write. I wrote flash fiction when short stories were impossible to write. I kept my name out there even when I lost 50% of the fan base I’d built during the first release of SMMS. It’s why I now have so many anthologies. Little steps. Trying to go big will cause failure. Breathe. Write a gunfight. Build the story around why later. Just get some words on the page. Write badly. Fix in post. Keep your professional friends close around you. They’ll remind you why you’re doing this. Their successes will motivate you. And have faith, if only in yourself, but a higher power isn’t bad either. If I didn’t have my faith, I would have packed it in some time ago. I know that being a writer is my purpose. I can’t stray too far from the path that has been laid out for me.

Do you have any pet projects?

I love working on RPGs. I’ve done two for Pinnacle, so far. They use the Savage Worlds system. I just did a Flash Gordon sourcebook for them. I’m also writing for Moonstone Books, doing classic pulp heroes. I might also be editing an anthology for them in the near future.

Before I give visitors a sample from She Murdered Me With Science, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. Please answer in as few words as possible.

My best friend would tell you I’m … Certifiably insane, but creative.

The one thing I cannot do without is: TV

The one thing I would change about my life: The amount of TV I watch.

My biggest peeve is: Being called by my last name by people who don’t really know me.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My past. It got me here.

For those who’ve been waiting for it, here is the excerpt from She Murdered Me that I’ve Promised:

As I reached my apartment door, I found it already unlocked and open a crack. While I might have still been suffering a little barrel fever from the night before, I remembered clearly closing and locking it. I listened and heard the subtle sounds of rustling inside.

I had no weapon to speak of, save for a pocketknife. I unfolded the blade and launched myself into the apartment.

The wall I ran into felt suspiciously like someone’s back. I looked up until I found a neck. Sure enough, the mountain in front of me was a man. I jumped back into the hallway as the wall turned around. What best could be described as a shaved silverback gorilla smiled at me. His frame filled the doorway, keeping me from seeing who else was in the room.

“Sir?” the gorilla said, “I think he’s here.”

A weak voice came from somewhere behind it, err … him.

“Does the man have dark hair, intense eyes, and a hawk-like nose?”

I had never been sized up so quickly, but there it was.

“Yes, sir, that’s him.”

“Well? Let the man into his own place, Vincent. We have to talk.” Vincent stared at my hand.

“He’s got a weapon. Should I take it?” The question left no doubt as to if he could, just whether he should.

“Heavens, no! A man can defend his castle, no matter what form that castle takes.” He let out a hollow cough then, “Now move out of the way.”

Like a boulder rolling aside to open a cave, Vincent slid over, allowing me access to the room.

“Open sesame,” I whispered, but I’m sure the man-mountain heard.

I surmised from the angle of the second voice, the man running this show was in my lab. I moved cautiously past the gorilla-man, folding the blade back into its protective sheath.

As a child, you are taught opposites. The man looking over my blueprints was the best example of a contrast to his partner I could imagine. While Vincent was swarthy and bearlike, his master was anything but: tiny; frail; blotchy skin; and, as he ran a finger over the designs, seemingly intelligent. He used a cane to steady himself as he leaned over my drafting table. Dangling from his neck, a gold chain with a ring hung low. An indentation on his skeletal ring finger indicated that he had gotten too thin to keep it there anymore.

“This design is sound. You finally fixed the catalytic converter, I see.”

I never like to look surprised. It has added to the legend that I’m some sort of genius. I had to come up with some quick deductions to keep the ball in play.

“Along with a few other changes, Mr. Reece, but then you haven’t seen The Atlantis designs in quite a while. Not that you should have seen them at all, but I guess a man as affluent as you are has first dibs on everything coming out of NMIT, right?”

He kept running a finger around the prints. “First guess. I’m pleased your attention to detail hasn’t weakened in your banishment. I was also glad to hear what you had chosen to do in the private sector. Keeps those skills sharp, doesn’t it?”

“Okay, you know me and now I know you, Mr. Reece.” With my sarcasm dial fully engaged, I asked, “How can I be of service?”

Old Money didn’t want to let the designs go. I stepped in front of him. Vincent placed a hand on my shoulder as a warning. I stared up at him incredulously while I waved a finger at Reece. “Tsk, tsk. Just like the bearded lady at the circus, you get one look for free. You need to pay extra for a closer look.”

He tittered at the comment. Maybe he liked bearded ladies and was remembering some long-lost encounter. I don’t know; maybe he just found me amusing. He slid away and slowly moved into the area I call an office. Vincent heeled, helping him into the most comfortable seat.

I entered the room, took my usual chair behind the desk, and leaned forward expectantly.

“I’m being murdered, Mr. Glass, and it’s your fault.”

And here I was, thinking this day was looking up.

 

If you’d care to follow David online, you may do so via these links:

Website:         www.davidboop.com

Facebook:      www.facebook.com/dboop.updates

Twitter:          @david_boop

You can purchase his books here:  http://a.co/bBlXBRP

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 24 – Interview With Todd McCaffrey

I was delighted when author Jody Lynn Nye—whom I interviewed on this website on July 4, 2016 (her birthday!)—introduced me to Todd McCaffrey. I was even more pleased when this noted science fiction author consented to being interviewed. A New York Times bestselling author, Todd has written more than one dozen books, including eight in the Dragonriders of Pern® universe. He has published numerous short stories, the latest being “Robin Redbreast” in “When the Villain Comes Home.”

His most recent release, the one I am featuring today, initially published by Foxxe Frey Books in 2011, was re-released by WordFire Press in May, 2016.

WordFire Press describes City of Angels this way:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN ANGELS?

DO YOU BELIEVE IN NANOTECH?

She is Ellay, a name drawn from the city she loves, the city of her birth. She’s smart, she’s fast, she’s the first of her kind. And she knows that very soon, something horrible is going to happen.

Ellay is an A.I.—Artificial Intelligence. Machines that think like humans, only faster. But what if, like all living things, an AI starts out just like a baby: cold, wet, lonely, scared, and crying for attention? Can she convince the government to believe her, or will they hunt her down before she gets the chance to really help?

City of Angels is a radical departure from the Dragon series for which readers know both you and your mother. Will you tell us why you decided to move into sci-fi and away from fantasy, at least for the present?

Actually, many people confuse The Dragonriders of Pern® with fantasy but it’s really science fiction.

So City of Angels is not a radical departure at all. It is, however, more of a science thriller than science fiction, so I can see where the confusion arises.

When I first thought of the idea, I outlined it to my mother who said, “If you don’t write it, I will!”

Why do you say Dragon Riders is science fiction and not fantasy? That answer took me by surprise.

Because it is.  You’ll see that in the original Introductions to Dragonflight.

INTRODUCTION
When is a legend a legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be relegated to the category “Fairy-tale”? And why do certain facts remain incontrovertible while others lose their validity to assume a shabby, unstable character?
Rukbat, in the Sagittarian sector, was a golden G-type star. It had five planets, and one stray it had attracted and held in recent millennia. Its third planet was enveloped by air man could breathe, boasted water he could drink, and possessed a gravity that permitted man to walk confidently erect. Men discovered it and promptly colonized it. They did that to every habitable planet, and then— whether callously or through collapse of empire, the colonists never discovered and eventually forgot to ask— left the colonies to fend for themselves.
When men first settled on Rukbat’s third world and named it Pern, they had taken little notice of the stranger-planet, swinging around its adopted primary in a wildly erratic elliptical orbit. Within a few generations they had forgotten its existence. The desperate path the wanderer pursued brought it close to its step-sister every two hundred (Terran) years at perihelion.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonflight: The first novel in The Dragonriders of Pern . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I’m sure many of your readers will appreciate this explanation.

Returning to City, I find it fascinating that an AI comprised of millions of nanobots becomes increasingly human as the story progresses, while artificial entities comprised of humans—namely the Catholic Church, the government, the military and corporations—become increasingly less so. Is this lesson the core of what drove this story into being? Or did it necessarily evolve during the creation process?

I wanted to get people thinking about AI as a force for good. We’ve seen so many stories about evil AI that I wanted people to think: what if AI was good? What if it could help us?

As a follow-up to my previous inquiry, the story brings into question what it means to be human. Would you care to comment more on this theme?

I think I would say, rather, what it means to be humane? An AI is no more our kin than dogs and cats, yet we’re willing to treat them well and they have a welcome place in our lives. I’m hoping that we will have a more intimate and respectful relationship, but at the end of the day what matters is: how does the AI treat us?

The intricate convergence of multiple subplots argues strongly that the story must have been outlined. Would you care to discuss your process in depth? Or, if, in fact, you wrote as a pantser, would you please let us in on how you managed to keep track of all the story’s ins and outs?

Oh, it was very outlined! And the outline was refined, particularly as the original version was 202,000+ words and the final version is a mere 176,000+ words. A story this big needs an outline or it falls apart.

At one point, I tore the novel apart into the individual sub-plotlines to be sure that they all worked.

One of the joys of writing is finding subtle ways to show while not telling. An especially enjoyable example of this is when Ellay tucks Ryan’s blanket around him while he’s sleeping—a show of her developing humanity.

How often does this sort of inspiration arrive—perhaps in the middle of the night—and are there any circumstances that seem to encourage it?

My biggest emphasis is on character. When I have a character fully realized, they do things I don’t expect. Ellay taking care of Ryan was one of those things. That’s when I knew she was real.

It’s quite obvious that a lot of research went into this book. On the first of two areas: Where did you acquire your knowledge of seismology, especially as it applies to the Whittier Narrows, the Newport-Inglewood and Northridge faults? I ask because, while events in the 6.5 magnitude range, although big, are neither the most unusual nor the most—I hate to use the term, but it fits—spectacular as seismic events go, you portray three coinciding events of this magnitude along these three fault lines as uniquely devastating.

I lived through the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the many aftershocks so I had firsthand knowledge. I researched the fault lines through the internet and read many books to add to my knowledge base. Of course, with all books, most of what I read you don’t see on the page—it’s just that I have to know it so that it’s real to me.

Years after I came up with the idea I was pleased to read in the newspaper that my triple earthquake was a real possibility—it shows that I was on the right track!

On the second: you’ve also acquired at least a superficial understanding of many things legal, such as patent law and court procedure. How did your knowledge in this arena come about? Did you consult with an attorney, or did you find relevant information online?

I’ve read a lot of contracts and I researched. Most of the stuff comes from understanding copyright law—which every writer and artist needs to know.

For those visitors who haven’t yet read your book, this question won’t make any sense. Please answer it only if you can do so without either of us creating a spoiler. When did the Peter Pan/Tinker Bell inspiration strike?

Oh that was from the very beginning! What I hadn’t seen was how it paid off. That’s why I let my characters do most of the plotting for me—they’re in the thick of things, they see connections I don’t!

I won’t ask if you’re currently working on anything else. You’re a prolific writer, so of course you are. Kevin J. Anderson, your publisher, has sent me The Jupiter Game’s cover. What I’m trying to edge into sideways is, would you care to give us a glimpse?

The Jupiter Game: A close encounter with aliens who watch Howdy Doody.

Yet another surprise!

I always follow my interviews with a Lightning Round, because the answers to these questions often provide my visitors with interesting insights. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m… Awesome.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Coffee.

The one thing I would change about my life is: Rejuvenation.

My biggest peeve is: We haven’t got a stardrive yet.

So right on that one. Finally, the thing I’m most satisfied with is: SpaceX.

Here is one of Todd’s Social Links, in case you’d like to follow him:

 Facebook:                  https://www.facebook.com/todd.mccaffrey.5

Should you care to purchase any of his books, you may do so here:

Amazon:                    https://www.amazon.com/Todd-J.-McCaffrey/e/B00288X5NQ/

Finally, for those of you who are interested in sampling City of Angels, here is Chapter One:

Washington, DC

May 27th, D-Day: -271

05:23 EDT UTC-4

Cybersecurity Operations—or, Ops: low light, cold air, and a tension level that crackled on the skin.

Georgia MacDonald lengthened her stride as she headed to her workstation. Harry Norman didn’t look up from his desk as she approached. He was bent over his keyboard, shoulders hunched, typing as quickly as he could, sweat visible on his face.

One of those days, Georgia thought to herself, grabbing her chair and keyboard in one swift, graceful move. She pulled a copy of Harry’s displays, pursed her lips for a moment, started to work.

Harry was fighting with someone trying to hack into the Department of Defense—they were after the nuclear launch codes. That wasn’t out of the ordinary—it happened at least twice a week—but this guy was beating Harry.

“I’m in,” Georgia said. “I put him in the Philippines, but I think that’s a fake.”

“He got around the first level like it was butter,” Harry said. “He was into the second level before—” He stopped speaking as his fingers flew over his keyboard—more software programs into the defense.

Georgia said nothing, her fingers flying—one of her programs. A tense moment, then she slumped in her chair, relieved. “He’s in the honeypot.”

A honeypot was a network of computers specially designed to lure hackers.

“He’s got the ‘GO’ codes,” Harry said, leaning back in his chair and turning his head to flash Georgia a smile.

“He just bought the worst of all worlds,” Georgia set another routine running and raised her eyebrows when the results popped up. “He’s using three machines.”

“That’s light,” Harry said. “Maybe he’s a solo.”

“Those are mighty powerful machines,” Georgia observed. Certain foreign powers—not just governments, either—would pay a great deal for the keys to the United States’ nuclear arsenal—enough to finance the hundreds of solo operations that every day tried to do just that. “He could be working for our friends.”

Georgia searched her folders for a particular program and, with an evil grin, sent it after the three computers.

“Just try hacking into the US, twerp!” she said.

A minute later, all three computers flashed off the net. Dead.

“Wow, Georgia, you sure showed that nasty eleven-year-old!” The voice that came from behind her belonged to Johnny Jones—a short, dark-haired New Yorker with all the brash and none of the sophistication.

“Just my job, Jonesy.”

“Another idiot tried to hack into DoD and get our missile launch codes. We sent him to a honeypot—and Georgia reformatted his hard drives,” Harry said, reaching up an outstretched hand to Georgia for a high-five.

“Oh, wow, Georgia’s decided to play with the real boys!” Jones said. “Didja give up on Rome?”

“Jonesy, what this kid spent half a day doing, an AI could do in a millisecond.”

“Something like what your friend Ryan wanted to make?” Johnny Jones asked. “A real live talks-to-you-and-holds-your-hand sort artificial intelligence that’s smarter than anything?”

“Yeah,” Georgia returned coldly, “just like that.”

Jones smirked at her. “If it’s hand-holding you want, Georgia, I’m there for you any time!”

Georgia ignored him, starting up her morning routines.

“Ah, Georgie, and I had such hopes!” Jones cried.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Harry Norman asked.

“LA can look after itself, it’s not going anywhere. The only thing worth watching is that Fleet Streets launch—that’ll be a laugh,” Jones said negligently, but Georgia heard his footsteps heading back toward his own work area where Alan Manning was waiting for his relief.

“He’s an asshole,” Harry said as he rose and moved over to Georgia’s area.

“But he’s our asshole,” Georgia agreed bitterly. She changed the topic. “Anything from Rome?”

“Rome’s your baby,” Harry said. He caught her look and added, “But, no, nothing that I noticed. I think they shut it down when Lawson left.”

Lawson was good. Georgia was certain he’d been the one to convince the Vatican in to this wild idea, but she was pretty sure that since then he’d lost control.

The trouble with Rome was, since the departure of Father Lawson a few weeks ago, there had been very little to learn. The network activity log looked no different than it had for the past month—the part Georgia had tentatively identified as their active phase.

“Georgia,” a gruff voice spoke beside her.

“Morning, Chief.”

“How are our friends in Rome?”

“Still active,” Georgia said. She shrugged. “Their research is funded to the end of the year.”

“So there’s no reason to stop,” Sam Bennett agreed. He pointed to the screen—where the results of Georgia’s counterattack were still visible.

“Did you get his prints?”

“The honeypot’s still analyzing: we stand a good chance,” Georgia said. Prints in this case were a sophisticated analysis of the hacker’s coding, approach, and methods. The idea had been Georgia’s; in fact, it had been one of the two ideas which had brought her to the attention of Sam Bennett and the CSC in the first place.

The other idea had been the one that got her to join the Department of Defense’s Cyber Security Center—and had ended her relationship with Jim Ryan. Ryan had believed that any artificial intelligence naturally had to be good. Georgia wasn’t sure. She thought that, just like any animal, if an AI was treated badly or hurt, it would defend itself. It might even kill.

Sam Bennett, interviewing her for an “unknown” agency, had asked Georgia, “So, Ms. MacDonald, if you found an AI that was treated badly, that felt it had to defend itself, what would you do?”

“If we couldn’t reason with it,” Georgia had begun, “if it decided to be ‘evil’—” she paused, seeing the tension growing in Jim Ryan’s eyes, worrying about how he’d react to her next words.

Sam Bennett motioned for her to continue.

She took a deep breath and said, “—then we kill it.”

Jim gave an angry cry but she continued, adding, “Before it kills us.”

p n p

Which was how Georgia MacDonald ended up watching Rome. Because Father John Lawson, formerly Donal Lawson of CalTech, had convinced the Vatican to attempt to create the first artificial intelligence.

“We need to get someone in there,” Georgia said, pulling herself back from the memory. “Or we need to talk with Father Lawson.”

We can’t,” Bennett said. “Remember, we don’t exist.”

“NSA, CIA, whatever,” Georgia said, flicking her hand dismissively as she listed the “real” agencies that could represent them. “If they do make an AI and it gets out …”

“Assuming you’re right, how do you get to it?”

“Heck, I still don’t even know how to figure out if they can make one,” Georgia said, shaking her head. “And that’s probably the best news—if I can’t break into their system, there’s a good chance any AI will find it hard to break out.”

“Mmm,” Bennett murmured in agreement. His phone beeped. Bennett pulled it out of his pocket and glanced at it. “Well, we know where Father Lawson is.”

“Where?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Really?” Georgia said, her eyebrows going up.

“And?”

“Well, Jim’s out there,” Georgia said. “He signed on with DynaCorps for the Fleet Streets project—”

“That was a change for him, wasn’t it?” Bennett asked. He gave Georgia a thoughtful look. “You don’t think—?”

“He’s all stuck into nanotechnology and nanobots,” Georgia said, shaking her head. “From what Jonesy’s been saying, he might be trying to tie them into Fleet Streets, but that’d mean nothing more than a big expert system, not a true AI.”

“Nanobots?”

“Yeah, the dork they got to build their real-time database bailed,” Jones called from over by his desk. “Mackey—the VP of software—handed the patch-up job to Ryan.” Jones snorted and shook his head, staring at Georgia. “He’s gonna fail and get fired. Again.”

Bennett nodded his thanks for the news and turned back to Georgia. “What about Ryan?”

“Maybe if I talked with him, told him about Father Lawson—”

“From what I understand, your Mr. Ryan has his hands full at this particular moment.”

“He’s so ADD all I have to do is point and say, ‘Look! Bright, shiny!’” Georgia said. “Anyway, he and Lawson have a history. If he talked with Lawson, he’d get a good feel for what they managed to accomplish in Rome.”

Bennett’s eyes narrowed. “If that’s so, why didn’t Rome get Dr. Ryan?”

Georgia shrugged. “I’m still surprised that DynaCorps picked him up.”

“No doubt they know what they’re doing,” Bennett said. Georgia turned her chair around to stare up at him directly. Bennett gestured to his phone. “I’ve got to go.”

“So, can I call him?”

“Well, not now—you’re working,” Bennett told her. “Of course,” he added, his eyes twinkling, “I cannot dictate how you spend your off hours, Miss MacDonald.”

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 10 – Interview With Doug Dandridge

WordFire Press is noted for taking on prolific and widely read authors. This week’s guest, Doug Dandridge, is exemplary of their decisions. Doug had been writing since 1997, and had garnered almost three hundred rejections from publishers and magazines before trying his hand at self-publishing on December 31, 2011. A little over a year later he quit his day job with the State of Florida, and has been a full-time author ever since. Doug has published thirty-two books on Amazon, science fiction, fantasy, steam punk and one nonfiction about self-publishing, and has sold over two hundred thousand copies of his work. His Exodus books, with twelve volumes in the main series, plus five in the two spinoff series, have sold over a hundred and seventy thousand books. They have consistently hit the top five in Space Opera in the UK, as well as top ten status in the US. Doug likes to say that he does not write great literature, but entertainment, and his fans agree enough to keep buying his work. He has well over three thousand reviews on both Amazon (4.6 star average) and Goodreads (4.12 star average).

Doug attended Florida State University (BS, Psychology) and the University of Alabama (MA, Clinical Psychology). He served four years in the Army as an Infantryman and Senior Custodial Agent, followed up with two years in the National Guard. A lifelong reader of the fantastic, he had an early love for the classics of science fiction and fantasy, including HG Wells, Jules Verne and the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He writes fast moving, technically complex novels which appeal to a hardcore fan base. He has plans for several future series, including several space operas, a couple of classic fantasies, some alternate history, and even a post-apocalyptic tale. He puts out about five books a year, and still has time to attend several conventions, including Dragon Con and Liberty Con. This year he added board member of Tallahassee Writers Association to his resumé.

He describes the most recent contribution to his space opera catalogue, Exodus: Empires at War: Book 12: Time Strike, as follows:

The New Terran Empire is still trying to recover from the Ca’cadasan strike that left over three hundred million dead and ripped the heart out of the ship production of Central Docks. The Donut, the huge station in orbit around the supersystem black hole, was almost destroyed in that strike, and its defenses have been strengthened considerably. That Caca strike didn’t do all they had wanted, but it had hurt the Empire’s war making capabilities.

The Ca’cadasans are at it again, with a two-pronged attack on the Empire. Sean has to decide, and quickly, how his fleet is to counter this move. The fleet, short of resources, could use the almost thousand ships destroyed and damaged in the enemy strike. And Sean would give his soul to get his heir, killed in the Caca strike, back. The lure of changing time, something he learns is very possible, beckons. Despite the warning that time travel was the undoing of the Ancients who had once ruled his sector of space.

But the Ancients are not extinct, and they will do whatever they can to prevent the humans from disrupting the time stream and destroying their own race. Even if it means destroying the one weapon the humans have that might win their war of extermination against the Ca’cadasan Empire. They will try to prevent the Time Strike with their last resources, with their lives.

Please tell us about this one.

Exodus: Empires at War: Book 12: Time Strike is the twelfth book (as per the title) in the main Exodus series. The series is about a war of extermination between two enormous empires spanning thousands of star systems and tens of thousands of light years. In book eleven the Ca’cadasans (the bad guys) had hit the capital of the empire and killed over three hundred million citizens. The emperor has decided to use his empire’s wormhole technology to change the timeline so that the strike didn’t happen, despite the many warnings about trying to change time.

What was the inspiration behind it?

I have always had a problem with the paradoxes of time travel. In another series, I dealt with time travel by having some unknown power in the universe snuff out the offenders before the changes can take place. I had hinted about time travel throughout the series, and decided now was the time to tackle it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

I have tried to keep the Exodus series fresh from book to book, changing tech, throwing in tactical innovations. That has become more difficult as the series has advanced. I also have a desire to get on to other projects, and keep getting sidetracked by research and development. Still, I kept slogging through, and I am now almost finished.

How many other novels have you written?

Thirty-one. The Hunger (vampire novel), Daemon (steampunk fantasy), Aura (fantasy), Refuge (five book fantasy/technothriller series), Exodus: Empires at War series, Exodus: Machine War series, Exodus: Tales of the Empire series, The Scorpion (near future scifi), Diamonds in the Sand (near future science fiction, and the Deep Dark Well series.

What else are you working on?

I am still trying to get books out in the Refuge and Deep Dark Well series. I also just signed a two book deal with Arc Manor to develop a space opera shared universe. I also plan on writing a post-apocalyptic series and have ideas for several World War 2 alternate history series.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I usually get up late, about 10 AM, and go out for breakfast, reading something I’m interested in while at the restaurant. I then work out for an hour, then come home and take a nap (I know, rough life). I then write into the evening, usually knocking off at midnight, then in bed at 2. If I am editing a book, I will download it into my kindle and take notes on mistakes while I read it at breakfast and sometimes dinner. I am going to try and rework my schedule to get up earlier, because cons kind of throw a wrench in that schedule, and I really need to stay on a consistent schedule for my health.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I spent about thirteen years trying to get traditionally published. The rejections letters improved, but they were still rejections. On December 31, 2011 I self-published two books, The Deep Dark Well (scifi) and The Hunger (urban fantasy). The Deep Dark Well sold about twenty copies in eight months. Then I did a giveaway for DDW and gave over four thousand books away. A month later Exodus: Empires at War: Book 1 came out, and sold almost a thousand that first month. By January 2013 I was selling a hundred a day of both 1 and 2. Have since sold twenty-four thousand of book 1, and about twenty thousand of book 2. And it went from there. In March of that year I quit my job and have never looked back. Over four years I have sold about fifty thousand books each year, for a total of two hundred thousand.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I used to, but now just take a general idea and then pants it the rest of the way. I found that I was almost always veering away from the outline. Currently, in the project for Arc Manor, I have been asked to produce an outline, with the understanding that I will probably make changes along the way. I will probably be using more outlines in the future with long running series, because I find myself getting stuck in corners more and more.

Why do you write?

I love the nerd life. I love researching new things in science and history. And I love to make up stories, especially when I see lazy writing in TV and movies, and figure I can do better. To me it’s the absolute best job I can imagine. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s gravy that I can get paid to do it, and don’t have to hold down a day job.

What was your previous working life like?

I had a day job for thirteen years while writing, trying to get published. My last job was working for the State of Florida. I hated that job with a passion, and it drove me to write continuously, struggling to get out of that job. I wrote the equivalent of seven novels in 2010. I quit my job in 2012 because I was selling online. I used the day job as motivation to get the career I really wanted. Luckily, I don’t have to go to work every day, getting on the road so I can get to the office at a certain time. I do what I want when I want. The only problem lately has been to have enough discipline to get enough work done to keep progressing.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have five cats. A lot of people think that is too many, but if I had room I would have more. They force me to get up in the morning even when I don’t feel like it, since the litter has to be scooped, and they have to be fed. They are spoiled little brats, but I love them, and they can make me laugh even when I’m feeling down.

What follows is an excerpt from Exodus: Empires at War: Book 12: Time Strike, after which visitors can find Doug’s social and book buy links:

“There is no one here, my Lord,” said the sensor officer. “We are detecting nothing.”

“And this was supposed to be one of their most important systems in Fenri space,” replied the chief of staff, looking up from his station.

“Then they have pulled out without a fight,” growled the high admiral in charge of this force. “Cowards.”

While they would still achieve their mission by taking the system without a fight, that was not all they wanted to do. They needed to destroy human ships as well as orbital installations and industrial plants. If they spent their time chasing an enemy that kept running, luring them off their path, what would the accomplish? And an enemy they hadn’t chased down could always come in behind them. Even if they never fired a weapon, they still needed antimatter to run the reactors so they could boost. And even more to run the hyperdrive arrays. An enemy that was striking their supply line would keep them from resupply.

This was the third marked system they had come to that was empty. Each time they had jumped down through hyper, costing even more fuel, to find the system unoccupied. Yet they had to check out these systems. And if they started sending smaller forces in to recon them first, they were likely to run into ambushes a small force couldn’t contend with.

“Why in all the hells haven’t they tried to fight us,” growled the tactical officer.

Because they’re smarter than we are, thought the high admiral. Most Cacada would still not admit that they weren’t the absolute masters of the universe, the strongest, the most intelligent. The high admiral was at the high end of the intelligence scale for his species, so he knew how stupid the average male could be. And he had a better idea of how his people stacked up against other species, including the much too clever humans.

“We’re picking something up on the sensors,” called out the sensor officer. “I’ve never seen a reading like this before.”

“Their impossible fighters?” asked the chief of staff.

“Doesn’t look like them,” said the sensor officer. “Though there are some similarities to their resonances. Small objects, moving very fast.”

The high admiral looked at the plot that was showing thirty-six objects heading straight for his force. They still couldn’t track the inertialess fighters worth a damn. They could tell they were out there on a general heading. They could definitely tell when they were close enough to waste fire on with the chance of a hit. But these things were pretty easy to track, even though they were moving.

“Twenty times light speed?” blurted the high admiral as the velocity figures filled in under the vector arrows. Of course those were only estimates, but still.

“I can’t tell you what they are, my Lord. But they are heading straight for us, and they will be here in about seven minutes.”

* * *

“Any changes in the targets?” asked Captain Wilma Snyder, the commander of the truncated wing that was moving into the attack.

“No, ma’am. They’re coming in fat and sassy. Not that’s there’s much else they could do.”

Snyder nodded. The enemy ships had jumped down before hitting the barrier at point three light, their maximum translation speed. They had started to accelerate as soon as they were through. There really was no quick way back into hyper, where the warp attack craft would not be able to hunt them, not that the Cacas knew that. It would take them several hours to slow to a stop, before they could start accelerating back out, which would take several more hours.

“We’ll be in range in six minutes, forty-three seconds,” continued the wing tactical officer. “Launch at that time.”

“Very good,” said Snyder, leaning back in her chair. She was trying to look as cool and calm as she could, and was not sure how she was doing. This was a first ever strike by the warp attack craft. Theoretically, they should come as a lethal shock to the Cacas. Theory was fine, but this was where they found out if they were a good as advertised.

“I want us to go to the port after launch. All ships will come out of warp at three light minutes from the Cacas, then spun and go back into a second attack.”

Her ships each had four missiles, also using warp technology. They carried lasers as well, as a last resort. The captain didn’t want to get into that kind of a knife fight with capital ships. Her craft would be in normal space, trading beams with ships that outmassed them by over three thousand times. Her lasers might not even make it through their screens, while theirs would vaporize her craft.

She looked at the plot, willing it to expand to cover the entire system and beyond. The carrier was out at ten light hours beyond the barrier to spinward. The craft could reach it in warp in about forty minutes, rearm, and be on their way back in. Snyder smiled as she thought of some of the other weapons on the boards for her babies. She wouldn’t have them, but sometime further into the campaign the Cacas would meet their acquaintance, and she hoped enjoyed the meeting.

“Launch in fifteen seconds,” called out the tactical officer, as the command went out over the com to the other thirty-five craft.

There was a one second delay between the time her ship fired and the last got off its missile. Thirty-six weapons jumped from the launching craft, erecting their own warp bubbles and then streaking off on their prearranged tracks. Warp field penetrated warp field. As soon as the missiles were out into normal space they dropped their fields for a couple of seconds, then went back into warp on tracks that would hit their designated targets. The launching ships meanwhile turned in space and lit out to the front and side of the enemy force. Unlike craft in normal space there was no accel or decel to deal with. Changing vectors meant they were now moving at warp in that direction.

The missiles took off, going from a standing start to ten times light speed in an instant. The weapons were all right on target. Each hit the side of their targets, their warp fields blasting through electromag screens and into twenty meters of armor before the missiles broke up, their warheads going off and flashing into the interiors of the ships. When the flares died down they left behind twelve spreading clouds of plasma and twenty-three still intact but seriously crippled ships.

If you’d care to learn more about Doug or dive into his works— at this point I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t—here is the wherewithal:

WordPress Blog:       http://dougdandridge.com

Website:                     http://dougdandridge.net

Twitter:                      @brotherofcats

Amazon:                    https://www.amazon.com/Doug-Dandridge/e/B006S69CTU/

The Write Stuff – Monday, March 27 – Interview With Pam McCutcheon

I have seldom had the opportunity to interview an author possessing dual personas, but Pam McCutcheon is one such and writes under the pseudonym, Parker Blue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parker Blue writes the YA Urban Fantasy Demon Underground Series, along with paranormal romance novellas. As Pam McCutcheon, she also writes fantasy short stories, romantic comedy, paranormal romance, and books for writers. She lives in Colorado Springs with her rescue dogs where she spends her spare time feeding her addiction for reading, beading, and watching television.

I asked her to describe the most recent release from her series, and she described it as follows:

What’s a vampire slayer to do when San Antonio’s vampire leader goes missing and rogue vampires are suddenly on the rise? Find him and bring him back—no matter what the cost—before the vacuum of power pits vampire against vampire in a deadly showdown for supremacy… with her boyfriend Austin’s immortal life at stake.
When she discovers that her ex, Shade, may have been “accidentally” responsible, Val Shapiro’s problems take on a whole new dimension and her loyalty to everyone in her life will be tested.

Please tell us how your series began.

The series, starting with Bite Me, came about when Buffy sadly ended. I loved the show and the characters, and wanted to write my own vampire slayer, without copying genius Joss. How could I make her different? By making her part succubus lust demon, of course—one who really fights against her demon nature by channeling her desires into slaying vampires.

And I had to give her a companion to talk to, so my terrier-poodle mix, Mo, inspired the creation of Fang—the snarky telepathic hellhound who turned out to be everyone’s favorite character. Mo passed away last year, but I love that she still lives on in Fang.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing these books and how did you overcome it?

I didn’t realize the Demon Underground would be so popular, and wrote one book at a time without a plan for the entire series or making a series bible. Makes it difficult to figure out where to go next sometimes. I overcome it by brainstorming with my critique group, who have been there since the beginning with Val and Fang.

Would you care to expand a bit on the series’ extent?

The Demon Underground Series is six books in all so far: Bite Me, Try Me, Fang Me, Make Me, Dare Me, and Catch Me (I’m running out of  “me” titles!)… I also have a free prequel short story called Forget You, and a couple of paranormal novellas outside the Demon Underground universe: “Wolf Rising” in the Magick Rising anthology, and Time Raiders: The Healer’s Passion. Under my real name, Pam McCutcheon, I write fantasy short stories, romantic comedy, paranormal romance, and books for writers (check out pammc.com for more info).

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I hate writing first draft, and I’m a night person, so I write first draft in the morning when my left brain isn’t quite engaged yet—it gives my right brain full rein. I usually write until I finish a scene, then quit for the day. Once I have a draft, I can edit at any time of day. I usually take a chapter at a time to my critique group.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I’ve always loved reading, and wanted to try my hand at writing, so I read a ton of craft books, went to writing conferences, and took classes. My favorite genres are fantasy, science fiction, and romance. So when futuristic romance first became popular, I knew that’s what I had to write. My first novel took a couple of years to write while I was learning, but it sold to the third publisher I sent it to: Golden Prophecies by Pam McCutcheon. That subgenre trend didn’t last long, though, so I switched to romantic comedy and other paranormal romance, then eventually to the YA urban fantasies.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Yep. Actually, I have my own method, which I detail in my book, Writing the Fiction Synopsis (insert shameless plug here). The book not only discusses what at a synopsis consists of, but the process of getting there describes my outlining process.

Why do you write?

I’ve never quite believed in that overused writer maxim: Because I have to.

Okay, I do have to be creative in some way (I’ve done a myriad of hobbies over the years, the latest of which is beading). But I write for fun, because I enjoy creating a new world, helping characters find their own happily-ever-after, and making my critique group laugh.

It’s nice to encounter one who avoids the clichéd. Do you have another job outside of writing?

I used to work for the government as an industrial engineer, but now I work from home providing ebook services for other authors, including editing, scanning, formatting, and uploading.

Do you have any pet projects?

My dogs are my pet projects (insert groan here). Seriously, I currently have two dogs I rescued through National Mill Dog Rescue, and I enjoy watching how far they’ve come in trusting people after all they’ve been through. They make me smile every day.

Being a pet owner *slash* animal lover, I have to relate how that touches my heart. Your comment makes me especially glad I invited you. Before I provide our visitors with an excerpt from your series’ most recent installment, entitled Catch Me, I’d like to conclude with my traditional Lightning Round, because of the insights it often provides. So, Pam, in as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m… Anal. I prefer to think I’m organized, with meticulous attention to detail.

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

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d win the lottery so I could travel more.

My biggest peeve is: Puppy mills!

And rightly so! Those of you who would like to learn more about my guest, Pam McCutcheon/Parker Blue, can do so by following the links I provide right after this excerpt from Catch Me:

Though the moonless night was already black as ink, I retreated farther into the deep shadows of a live oak outside my townhouse. My mouth went dry, my heart pounded, and my stomach churned as if a dozen vampires were cavorting about inside me. Yes, it was my most frightening outing yet—a date with Austin.

Beside me, Fang, my trusty hellhound, snorted. You’ve taken on dozens of vampires, mage demons, and blood demons . . . and you’re afraid of a date with the guy who wants to be your boyfriend?

I’m not afraid of him, I sent Fang telepathically.

Then what are you afraid of?

Oh, maybe looking like a child to the vampire who was way over a hundred years old and sexy as hell. What did he see in me, an average-looking eighteen-year-old with virtually no experience in this kind of thing? I’d never really “dated” before, though I had two short-lived relationships—one with Dan Sullivan, a full human, and the other with Shade, the broody shadow demon. Neither had prepared me for a date with a sexy vamp.

After the fabulous Valentine’s Day flash mob he’d arranged for me with “zombies” dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller a couple of weeks ago, I’d promised to go out on a real date with him, and this was the first time we’d both been able to arrange it.

Unfortunately, Fang could read all my doubts and insecurities and would call me on every single one of them. I cringed, waiting for it.

You’re not half bad-looking, Fang said.

Gee, thanks.

Don’t be an idiot. What could he possibly see in you? Well, maybe it’s the fact that you’re an awesome slayer, or maybe because you’ve saved his butt and countless other vamp and demon butts in San Antonio many times in the past few months—not to mention that of unsuspecting humans. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s hot for your inner succubus who makes his butt feel so gooooood.

“That’s a lot of butts,” I murmured. But I had to admit my inner succubus—I called her Lola—liked Austin, too. A lot.

You do get that Lola isn’t a separate entity? You are the succubus—that one-eighth demon part of you isn’t something or someone you can separate from your human self, no matter how much you might want to.

“How can I forget when you keep reminding me?” I muttered. Besides, I’d only wanted to get rid of Lola before I’d been kicked out of my home. Everyone else in my family—my mom, stepfather, and half-sister—was fully human, so I’d felt like a freak. But now that I’d discovered the Demon Underground, I didn’t feel so much freakish as I did . . . inexperienced.

Well, Fang drawled. There’s one way to get that experience, you know.

Yeah, I know. I’m doing it, aren’t I?

If you stop hiding—from yourself and him.

Austin drove up then, in one of the black luxury cars the San Antonio vein of vampires kept in their motor pool. He stepped out of the car, wearing jeans that snugged in all the right places, a black leather jacket, snakeskin boots, and his ever-present cowboy hat. My heart beat faster. What a hottie—and so out of my league it was ridiculous.

Fang nudged me with his nose. Don’t be ridiculous. You’re Val Shapiro, the Slayer, the Demon Underground’s Paladin enforcer. He’s out of your league.

Yeah, right. As if I could hide from Austin’s keen vampire vision anyway. His gaze found me in the depths of the shadows, and a slow, sexy smile widened his mouth. “Hello, darlin’.”

Would any girl not melt into a puddle right then and there? True to form, Lola surged front and center, her interest sharpening. As for me, I swallowed, trying to get some moisture in my mouth. “Hi,” I managed. Oh yeah, I am witty beyond belief.

He leaned against the car, waiting for me to come to him. “Shall we go?”

I took a deep breath and sauntered toward him, or tried to. Instead, I tripped over a root of the massive tree. Graceful, I was not.

I felt my face flame hot and wished I could rush back inside without looking like a fool.

Too late, Fang jeered.

Sooooo helpful.

As promised, here are Pam’s/Parker’s social Links: 

http://www.parkerblue.net/

https://www.facebook.com/ParkerBlueWrite

Her book buy links are as follows:

 Kobo:  https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/catch-me-12

Google:          https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Parker_Blue_Catch_Me?id=mz9qCAAAQBAJ

iTunes:          https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/catch-me/id994983675?mt=11

Barnes&Noble:         http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/catch-me-parker-blue/1121802540?ean=9781611946420

Amazon:        http://www.amazon.com/Catch-Demon-Underground-Parker-Blue-ebook/dp/B00WFGYFDU