The Write Stuff – Monday, January 30 – Interview With Aaron Michael Ritchey

I love it when an author merges multiple, entirely disparate genres into one, since the resulting book has the potential to take the reader down heretofore untraveled paths. This week’s featured interviewee, Aaron Michael Ritchey, did just that when he decided to combine several, apparently unrelated themes.

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of five young adult novels and numerous pieces of short fiction. In 2012, his first novel, The Never Prayer, was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. In 2015, his second novel, Long Live the Suicide King, won the Building the Dream award for best YA novel. His epic sci-fi western series, The Juniper Wars, is available now through WordFire Press. The second book, Killdeer Winds, was on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for September of 2016. Aaron lives in Colorado with his wife and two stormy daughters.

This is how he describes Killdeer Winds:

By 2058, both the Sino-American War and the Sterility Epidemic have decimated the male population. Electricity does not function in five western states. Collectively, they are known as the Juniper. It is the most dangerous place on Earth.

Cavatica Weller and her sisters have one chance to save their family ranch—a desperate cattle drive across a violent wasteland.  Having escaped from Denver, the Weller family now has to face the Juniper’s worst outlaw, the Psycho Princess.

Meanwhile, an inhuman army still dogs their every step. The mystery deepens—who is the lost boy Micaiah? Why would the richest man on Earth spend billions to find him? And will Micaiah’s secrets tear the Weller sisters apart?

Tell us about your most recent release.

The Juniper Wars Series! It’s a young adult, steampunk, biopunk, science fiction/western family drama epic about three sisters on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive. Why pick a genre when you can do all of them? It’s been described as Little House on the Prairie meets Mad Max: Fury Road. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I was on my bike, cycling home, and listening to the song “Dead Run” by 16 Horsepower, which is a band that manages to combine goth and country music. And I realized I so wanted to do a western along the lines of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series. As the story formed, I realized I wanted to add some family drama. The show, Supernatural, does a great job of showing the interesting conflicts of a dysfunctional family. I put it all into a blender, hit puree, and out came The Juniper Wars. Bam.

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

It’s a six-book series, my friend. That’s six flippin’ books. That’s a whole lotta focus for years on end. And I had to keep it fresh. Funny, I’ve been working on the fifth and sixth book in the series, and I keep finding myself wanting to end the main character’s emotional arc. Problem is, you start ending character arcs, you end the book. If everyone is getting along, you lose that fire of conflict. Compare the last few seasons of Supernatural to the first few. The show has far less of an edge (however, season 10 did give us the high school musical episode). And so I have to keep the Weller sisters all kinds of messed up to keep it interesting. The best part of a series, though, is that I get to show how completely traumatized my characters are after facing down death time and time again. It has this weary, jaded, cynical, bruised and broken feel to it. It’s about how I feel as a novelist after nearly twenty-five years of writing books.

I honestly believe that we do not begin to fully develop as writers until we have at least a couple of decades under our belt. That’s a lot of hours and a lot of inward exploration, so I have to ask why do you write?

I write because I like stories more than I like real life. Put another way, I understand real life more because I write stories. How wonderful that I can create a world where there is poetic justice, dramatic irony, and happy endings. I can control death, illness, depravity, and love. Life is life because that whole fate business is out of our control.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I used to care what everyone thought. I’d ponder every little bit of criticism for months on end. And I’d chase edits. Now, I’m caring less and less. If you don’t like it, read something else. I imagine at some point I’ll swing the other way. I write every day. Some of it is bound to good no matter what the haters think.

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

Writers, especially novel writers, need to be contrary creatures. The most challenging thing about long works of fiction is that you have to keep self-doubt at bay for months, if not years. I’ve been working on The Juniper Wars Series now for seven years, and for most of that time, I had no idea if anything worked or not. Then I had people who read it, and wanted me to change a bunch of stuff I didn’t want to change. And I had to stick to my guns, sometimes literally. In the end, I snarled at the universe, saying, “This is how I’m writing it. This is the book I’m writing. If you don’t like it, I don’t care. I am doing THIS and I’M DOING IT THIS WAY!” Contrary. I had to become contrary to write books. And mildly/dangerously anti-social.

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

Don’t pick up my book if you don’t want to feel. I mean that. This is a warning. A lot of science fiction/fantasy writers are far more Rush than Meatloaf, which fine, but I’m like Meatloaf. I’m like Bat Out of Hell epic, and yeah, I like over-the-top emotions. My characters cry and scream and gnash their teeth in the darkness, and those are during the good times. No, really, I write from my guts. I had a critique group who criticized me saying there was too much crying in my novel. I went home, wondering if they were right. I have a wife and two stormy daughters. After about a week, I added more crying.

Good for you! Frankly, I find all-action books that don’t touch my soul are akin to drinking a can of near beer or a cup of decaf. I don’t see the point. Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have daughters. My daughters have big, huge, amazing souls. If my life were an X-MEN comic, my daughters would be the powerful mutants that need to be kept in a coma so they wouldn’t destroy the universe. I suggested to my wife that we keep our daughters sedated and she said we’d tried that. My daughters laughed at Benadryl, and Codeine had no effect on them. But do you know what? I’m glad I have powerful big-spirited daughters. This world needs more women warriors.

What motivates or inspires you?

I really like doing difficult things. I know, that sounds kind of dramatic and badass, and while I am very dramatic, I am not at all badass. The writing game is this impossible thing, and I like that it’s so hard. It’s the hard that makes it good. I truly believe I am destined to fail, that I will die nameless, and not one person in a million will have read anything I have written. And strangely enough, that motivates me. It’s the Alamo, baby. It’s Helm’s Deep. It’s Game of Thrones, standing on the parapets of Castle Black and looking out over the Wall at the hordes of hell. It’s a losers game. And do you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to write books until I die. And if I fail? Oh, well. “Night gathers and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.”

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

I call three different people and tell them what is bothering me. I tell the same story three different times. It really works. Then I go write books.

That’s a very unique and interesting approach. I must try it some time.

Now, before I give our visitors a taste of Killdeer Winds, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a … a whole lotta work.

The one thing I cannot do without is: stories.

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

My biggest peeve is: my angsty inner life.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: Not much, but I will say, holding my published books in my very own hand, my name on the cover, my own ISBN, that rocks so very, very hard.

Yup! That definitely rocks. I’d like to thank you, Aaron, for gracing my website with your no-holds-barred replies. We’ll close with an excerpt from Killdeer Winds, followed by links where readers can purchase a copy and follow you online:

 

Chapter One

Certainly the Juniper is a dangerous place, but not because of outlaws, rustlers or stray bullets. No, the real dangers are the wind, solitude, and a drifting mind. When in doubt, I stay in my house and count my money. I never get lonely that way.

—Robert “Dob” Howerter

Colorado Courier Interview

August 3, 2057

(i)

The Cuius Regios were coming. I didn’t know it then, but the Regios were on their way and we didn’t have the guns to stop them.

The pain from my gunshot wounds barked like a dog on a distant neighbor’s porch. I sat on the floor of the strange room, my back against the bed. I couldn’t move. The Christmas issue of Modern Society magazine lay on my lap. The perfume of a cologne sample wafted from the glossy pages. Micaiah, cleaned and groomed, smiled at me on the cover.

But his real name wasn’t Micaiah. It was Micah Hoyt, son of the richest man on Earth. His father, Tiberius “Tibbs” Hoyt, was CEO and general jackerdan-in-charge of the American Reproduction Knowledge Initiative, otherwise known as the ARK. Tibbs Hoyt had hired an army to find his son, and we had the bullet wounds to prove it.

The foot soldiers were known as the Cuius Regios, and their commanders were the Vixx sisters, who could heal almost any wound, which sounded suspiciously like genetic engineering, however unlikely. I’d kept an eye on the popular science websites and hadn’t seen anything close to creating actual people with enhanced biology.

The idea scared me, scared me deep. How could we fight such a soulless army?

But why would Daddy Hoyt send in troops to retrieve a son who didn’t want to be found? Then again, if you give a rich man a cause, he can turn a family feud into a world war.

Before I’d gone unconscious, Micaiah had wanted to run away to protect us. Was he gone? That opened a floodgate of questions. Was Pilate still alive? Had Wren run away for good ’cause of what I’d done to her? And did my oldest sister Sharlotte still have us bound for Wendover, Nevada with our herd of nearly three thousand cattle?

First things first, I slid the magazine underneath the mattress, not sure what I would do with the information, but it felt dangerous in me. As did the pain from my gunshot wounds, barking like a dog on a distant neighbor’s porch.

I stood, moved to the window, and used my right arm to pull open the yellow curtains. My left arm throbbed as I held it to my belly. From the second story of the house, I saw our tents below—our chuckwagon dominated the front yard. Mama and I had fixed up the Chevy Workhouse II with an attachable ASI steam engine, and then found a long trailer for it to pull. We called the whole thing our chuckwagon. Next to it sat the old Ford Excelsior that had saved our lives. Cattle and horses meandered around outbuildings, barns, and hay sheds. I recognized a few of our horses—Elvis, Taylor Quick, and Bob D. Two of our best cows, Charles Goodnight and Betty Butter, stood in the strange yard, chewing cud. To my right rose a ridge of pine trees and craggy rock.

I searched the skies for the Moby Dick, the zeppelin that we’d hired to re-supply us and scout. There was no sign of it, but then Sketchy, Tech, and Peeperz might still be trying to find us after the blizzard.

Green grass pushed up from wet soil, which meant I’d been unconscious long enough for the snow to melt. Might’ve been a day. Might’ve been a week. Someone must’ve dribbled water into my mouth and then cleaned me up afterwards. Dang, but I hoped it was family that had done the work to keep me alive.

Out of the corner of my eye, something flashed in the distance—sunlight off a cast-off hunk of metal, or some bit of chrome, or a mirror, something, southeast of the house. The blinking stopped. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I had other things to worry about.

Like where I was and who owned the house.

Book online sales links:

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Amazon

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Barnes & Noble

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Kobo

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Smashwords

Social Links:

www.aaronmrichey.com

https://www.facebook.com/aaron.m.ritchey

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 13 – Interview With Nicholas Rossis

book photo NR_500I first encountered Nicholas Rossis about a year ago through the Facebook Group, Fantasy Sci-Fi Network News. He is a renaissance man, a diligent, cogent blogger and a best-selling fantasy author. If I were asked to describe him in as few words as possible, I would call him engaged, intelligent and pro-active.

When I asked him to describe himself, he did so as follows: Avid reader. Web developer. Architect by training, holder of a PhD in Digital Architecture from the University of Edinburgh. Most importantly, author.

Nicholas loves to write. He has published Runaway Smile, a children’s book, which you can read for free on his blog. He has also written the Amazon best-selling epic fantasy series, Pearseus. The final book in the series is currently penned and expected summer 2015.

Finally, he has published the Amazon best-seller The Power of Six, a collection of short sci-fi stories that includes his award-winning short story, I Come in Peace.

Nicholas lives in Athens, Greece, at a forest’s edge, with his wife, dog and two very silly cats, one of whom is always purring on his lap.

Nicholas, will you tell us about your most recent release?

coverVigil-700That would be Pearseus: Vigil, the third book in my epic fantasy Pearseus series, and the penultimate one overall.

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

I wanted to have it ready for Christmas, so the main challenge was to have everything ready by then.

I failed.

You see, in the end I decided it was far more important to produce the best possible book, than to meet an arbitrary deadline. So, when the feedback from my beta readers came and I realized I needed to change a few things to improve on the story, I decided to release the book a month later, even if that meant missing the Christmas period.

I think that was wise. Producing the best book one can is a universal dictum and sound advice. Will you tell us about your other novels?

I have written another three Pearseus books, including a novelette-sized prequel. I have also written The Power of Six, a collection of short stories with a science fiction/fantasy twist.

About a month prior to Pearseus: Vigil, I had released my first children’s book, Runaway Smile. I’m especially fond of this one, particularly the great illustrations provided by the very talented Dimitris Fousekis.

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

I’ve been lucky enough that four of my books have repeatedly reached #1 on Amazon in their respective genres. Also, one of the short stories in The Power of Six has won a competition here in Greece and was included in a traditionally-published anthology.

I haven’t made any videos, but it’s something I’ve been considering for a while now. I’ll let you know when I do.

What else are you working on?

I’ve already started working on the last Pearseus book (working title: Endgame – you heard it here first), but I’m also working on my next children’s book, Musiville. It’s currently illustrated by Dimitris, and I’m not helping by making changes to the text!

What would you say are the occupational hazards of being a novelist?

Too many to list here, from the obvious (square eyes from staring at a screen all day long) to the not-so-obvious (people think you’ve had a stroke because you spend half the day staring in empty space). Also, I should mention insomnia (from planning your next scene) and industrial-strength absent-mindedness (a natural consequence of your mind being light years away).

Hah! You’re as bad as I am. Will you share with us how you became a published author?

One could say I’ve always been writing in the form of essays, but also a dream journal, where I’ve kept my most memorable dreams since I was in my late teens. Then, in 2009, I dreamed that someone was urging me to write. I flicked through my dream journal and came across a potentially good tale, so I wrote it up as a short story and submitted it to 9, a Greek sci-fi journal. To my great surprise, it was published. Then, I entered a competition with my next story, and won an award – this was the one I mentioned earlier.

I felt I had found my calling, and started working on my novel, Pearseus, while writing further short stories, a children’s book series (currently being illustrated) and various blog posts in between. I tried sending my various manuscripts to maybe a dozen agents and publishers, but was rejected. It gradually dawned on me that things move at a glacial sleep in the world of traditional publishing. Being rather impatient, I decided to self-publish. To my astonishment, the second book of the Pearseus series reached #1 in its genre within two months of its launch.

I have now published traditionally my children’s book, Runaway Smile, in Greece, so I consider myself a hybrid author.

Fantasy authors frequently kill off their characters. If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

I’m the kind of person who tries to resuscitate ants when he accidentally steps on one, so I think I’m the last person who would commit any kind of crime – let alone murder.

Except in my books, of course. I’ve been reading Sue Coletta’s free 50 ways to Murder your Fictional Character, and now have a pretty good idea of what to use: poison. There’s many a poisonous herbs in our gardens, so the easiest thing would be to slip a handful of those into the unsuspecting victim’s casserole and make sure they eat alone. This would make it the perfect crime, especially if they’re the kind of person to have a herb garden.

Hmm. I’ll have to file that away. Returning to something more serious, is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

Only that I love and cherish each and every one of them. If I knew where they lived, I’d bring them chocolate cookies. Unless they left a poor review of course, in which case they’d better not eat them.

I think that brings us back to the previous question. Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes, I’ve been working on the Internet for the past 20 years, mainly in web design and web marketing. This proved to be a great help when I started self-publishing, as I’ve been using most of the things I’ve learned through my day job for promoting my books. The best thing about it is that I can do it from home, as we have turned the ground floor into a spacious office area, which means no commute. Plus, the tea is always excellent.

Before I share an excerpt from Vigil, I’d like to close with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a…

strange kind of beast. But an affectionate one.

The one thing I cannot do without is…

The Internet. I’d feel mute and deaf without it.

The one thing I would change about my life:

Having children. Someone has to test-drive my children’s books.

My biggest peeve is…

The human capacity for self-delusion. I’m now convinced that it’s infinite.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is…

My wife, as she totally gets me!

As promised, here is an excerpt from Vigil, after which you will find links where to purchase Nicholas’s books, as well as how to connect with him.

In the Sewers

In the distance, they heard the grating of metal against cobbles as the soldiers opened the manhole to search for them inside the dirty sewers.

She lost track of time as they sped down one tunnel after another, each stinking a little more. She fought to push the image of Sophie’s bloodied body away from her mind, but it kept popping back to her head. The woman had been like a mother and a sister, helping raise the twins as if they were her own. And the priest; why would a priest of Themis be after them? What had they done to offend their goddess?

Elsie froze and her pretty face went white. Angel followed her eyes to a dozen red eyes peering at them from the darkness. She pulled her little sister by the hand. “Don’t look at it,” she whispered, but the little girl could not move. Angel leaned down to face her, trying to avoid the stinking waters. More red eyes blinked around them. “Honey, it’s just a rat. It’s more scared of you than you are of it.”

Elsie bobbed her head while craning it around Angel’s shoulder to stare at the animals splashing in the stinking water. Angel swallowed a sigh and lifted her into her arms. Themis, she’s heavier than she looks!

The girl burrowed in Angel’s arms, squirming with each new rat they encountered. Balancing the torch with one hand and holding Elsie with the other proved impossible. Angel handed the torch to Cook. Stumbling under the weight, she moved as fast as she could. She took one turn, then another, when the torch fell into the water with a loud hiss. It glowed for a second, then the light disappeared.

“I’m sorry,” Cook whispered with a strained voice. “It slipped.”

Angel stopped herself from screaming at him. “It’s all right. We’ll just follow…” Her voice trailed off. Where was the light from Xhi’s torch? He must have moved on, unaware that he had left them behind. She fought the urge to shout his name; she had no idea how close the soldiers might be. When was the last time she had seen the flame from his torch? Shit! It was back at the rats’ nest. She must have taken a wrong turn, and now they were lost. Swearing at herself, she wondered how to tell the children that they had to go back. She opened her mouth, then heard faraway voices. Soldiers!

“Follow me,” she whispered and raised one hand to feel the walls as she pressed forward in the darkness. In the distance, her straining eyes caught a light. She headed that way, hoping to find Xhi. Instead, they arrived at a grating that sliced the dim light from above into dirty squares flickering in the waters. She let Elsie down with a loud sigh. “Will you be all right now, honey?”

The girl nodded, holding back terrified tears.

She heard the voices again, this time accompanied by the sound of approaching feet splashing in the filthy waters. They must be getting closer! Her gaze jumped around, searching for a hiding place. She pushed the twins into a tight alcove, squirming behind them. I wish I had a knife! More splashing echoed in the narrow space, drawing nearer. She held her breath as she pressed their bodies to the wall, wishing to blend into the shadows.

“Angel?” Cyrus’ voice made her jump out of her skin, then she burst from her hiding place to jump into his arms.

“Thank Themis, I thought—”

Xhi did not let her finish her sentence. “They’re heading this way. Hurry.” He climbed a tight ladder before pushing a manhole cover to sneak a look outside. A few moments later, he motioned them up. With some loud, straining breaths, she raised Cook, then Elsie into his arms, and he lifted them out. Angel pushed Cyrus up, then followed them.

They had emerged in a confined alleyway, now covered in darkness. The derelict buildings could only be part of the Slums. She drank the evening air in deep gulps. The stained walls around them stank of mold, urine and moisture, but to Angel the stale air smelled of freedom. The twins stared at the unfamiliar surroundings. Elsie sniffed and wrinkled her nose in disgust. They must be so scared. Angel wished she had some sort of treat, aside from a half-eaten apple.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Nicholas!

Visitors can connect with Nicholas on the following links:

Facebook         www.facebook.com/NicholasCRossis

Twitter             www.twitter.com/Nicholas_Rossis

Google+           https://plus.google.com/+NicholasRossis

Blog                   http://nicholasrossis.me/

You may purchase his books at:

http://www.amazon.com/Nicholas-C.-Rossis/e/B00FXXIBZA/

Cover_Runaway_Smile_700http://www.amazon.com/Runaway-Smile-fairy-unshared-wasted-ebook/dp/B00QQC2YLY/