The Write Stuff – Monday, September 11 – Interview With LJ Hachmeister

This week’s guest, L.J. Hachmeister, whom I first met at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington, is a remarkable woman in every sense of the word. She writes and fights—although she tries to avoid doing both simultaneously. She is a surgical nurse and also a musician. After winning the WEKAF world championship in double-stick fighting and achieving a second black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima, L.J. decided to take a new approach to world domination and focus on her literary career. With a head full of intergalactic battles, strong female protagonists, and demonic forces bent on breaking out hell, she created the universe and series, Triorion. After the success of the first four books in the Triorion series, L.J. penned the parallel novel series, Shadowless, which takes place in the same universe, but features new characters, settings, and a terrible evil that threatens to consume the entire world.

Though she has yet to decide whether to use her powers for good or evil, L.J. continues to teach the next generation of Filipino stick-fighters while writing in multiple genres, including science fiction/fantasy, LGBTQ+ fiction, and romance. As a self-published author, her books have sold well enough and acquired a large enough readership to admit her into the ranks of authors who sell their books at nationwide Cons through Bard’s Tower, a distributor who only admits authors like Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Correia, Jody Lynn Nye, Jim Butcher, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Claudia Gray and those on a par with them.

Today we’ll discuss Reborn – Part II, the fourth book in the Triorion series. L. J. describes the novel this way:

With the Alliance Fleet scattered and the Motti’s Dissembler weapon laying waste to the last habitable worlds, Jetta Kyron faces one who will use this time of strife and suffering to seize power over the Starways. With death at her heels and the powers of an ancient evil at her fingertips, Jetta finds herself tumbling down a path she swore she would never take. The fourth installment of the Triorion series pits Jetta against the most fearsome enemy of all.

Reborn – Part II concludes with an epic intergalactic battle, each of the triplets deciding how they’ll use the ancient evil inside them, and some of the biggest secrets of the series finally coming to light. Although there are three books left in the series, Reborn – Part II provides a satisfying ending that gives you the answers you’ve wanted since book one, but also leaves room for the adventure to continue.

For those of you who haven’t yet picked up the other books in the series, it’s about triplet siblings who unknowingly possess the power of an ancient evil, and are coerced into military service. Most of my readers describe it as Ender’s Game meets Stranger Things. The books in the Triorion series are fast-paced, character driven, and will keep you guessing all the way to the end as to who these kids really are, and what they’re truly capable of.

What was the inspiration behind the Triorion series?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to have my own universe and heroes, and create my own adventures. I still have some of the short stories I wrote in the Triorion universe from 1987/1988. It started out as something fun and silly, but eventually grew into a means of catharsis for some of the experiences in my own life.

What was your biggest challenge writing this, the fourth volume, and how did you overcome it?

Book four wraps up the first half of the series, so I had to make sure that I didn’t leave any loose ends. However, since I’m continuing with book five, six, and seven, I had to give enough to the reader so that they wanted more, but didn’t need anything else to enjoy the first four in the series.

What are the titles of the first three, and can you tell us about your other work?

Triorion: Awakening (book one), Triorion: Abomination (book two), Triorion: Reborn – Part I (book three), Shadowless – Volume One, and another novel that will never see the light of day. I’m also working on a romance novel that is a prequel to Awakening, tentatively entitled, The Laws of Attraction.

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

I have a teaser trailer for the series uploaded to YouTube, a musical score, chapter illustrations, and exclusive series illustrations that you can check out on the series website, www.triorion.com

What else are you working on?

My first romance novel! I’m only three chapters away from finishing it. I’m extremely excited about this work since it challenged me to write outside my comfort zone, but it still takes place in the universe I’ve established. It also gives hints as to the conclusion of the entire Triorion series, as well as introduces a critical character that will help the triplets in book six and seven.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I do now! When I first started writing, I’d just wing the entire story, but I ended up writing myself into corners, and/or create huge plot holes. I find that outlining the general points of the book as well as determining the ending helps in so many ways, especially for efficiency. Now that I outline, I can manage two novels a year, even with a fulltime job.

Why do you write?

Honestly, when I was growing up, there wasn’t much else to do in the suburbs of Illinois, and I’ve always enjoyed creating new worlds. Now that I’m older and can look back on what I wrote, and what I am writing now, I realize that I’ve worked out so many of my problems or concerns through writing, and I’m very grateful to have discovered and utilized this outlet.

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

Everything I put in my novels is drawn from my own personal experience in one form or another. I think reading about the human experience is important; it forges connections, can help you understand more about yourself or other people, and help mitigate that feeling of loneliness and disconnect we all feel at some point in our life.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes. I’m an RN at a surgical center, and I also co-own a graphic design company with my wife. I stay pretty busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And why is that?

I enjoy being in a caring profession, and being able to help others when they’re often at their most vulnerable. Nursing keeps me grounded, appreciative, and I have always loved the bonds of the medical community.

I’ve learned that you and your wife are dog people. Would you care to tell those of our visitors who are similarly inclined something about them?

Our dogs are 3 and 6, both female mutts. The younger one is sassy, sweet, and a cuddler. The older one is a border collie mix and obsessed with playing fetch. She’s also a sweetheart, rarely barks, and only cuddles right before bed.

What motivates or inspires you, not necessarily as pertains to your writing?

I read a lot of survival and near-death experience stories. What those folks have shared about their experiences and insights gives me hope, and has helped me keep going even when faced with my toughest challenges.

In addition to being a world class fighter and world class author, it has come to my attention you also play the drums. I have to ask (1) are they traps, (2) are you part of a band and (3) what kind of music do you lean toward?

I play a Mapex seven-piece drum set. I generally stick to progressive or alternative rock, but enjoy jazz, experimental, and all other types of music. I am in the band, “Wolfgirl.” We’re currently on a break, but you can find our first music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RN9iIJ-tieU

Clearly, the video tells the story of how “Wolfgirl” came together.

And now I need to thank you, L. J., for taking the time to participate in The Write Stuff. Before I give our visitors an excerpt from Reborn – Part II, as well as social links where they can follow you, I’d like to close with a traditional Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… frozen yogurt maniac

The one thing I cannot do without is: My family

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d give myself a functional ACL so I can play soccer again.

My biggest peeve is: people who wear their outside shoes in the house

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: my awesome drum set.

 

Reborn – Part II excerpt:

Jahx never told his sisters about his secret trips to room 311. If circumstances had been better, Jaeia might have understood, but Jetta would have only given him grief. Sneaking off became exceedingly difficult, and as often as wanted to go, his family, particularly his sisters, kept a close watch on him. And no unattended four-year-old went unnoticed, especially on Fiorah.

He chanced upon room 311 the day they moved into community housing. While Galm comforted Lohien in their squalid new apartment, promising her their situation was only temporary, Jaeia covered for her siblings so that Jetta and Jahx could explore the housing project and look for vending machines and discarded air conditioning units that they could possibly fix.

“Hey, look,” Jetta said, nudging him.

Putting down his collection of plastic bottles, Jahx followed Jetta to the last apartment on the third floor.

“Do you feel that?” Jetta said, her hand hovering above the doorknob.

Jahx didn’t have to say anything.

“Are you scared?” she asked. She hadn’t intended to sound so peevish, but she, like the rest of them, suffered the hunger pangs of three bellies.

“Jetta… Maybe not this apartment.”

But arguing with his survivalist sister got him nowhere.

“It wouldn’t be right,” he emphasized.

Jetta ignored him, testing the lock. Nimble fingers and safety pins did the trick in seconds.

Please, Jetta.

With a quick glance over her shoulder, his sister checked the hallway to make sure they wouldn’t be seen. Aside from the screams of the arguing couple two doors down, the rest of the place felt like a tomb.

Everyone else is either sleeping off benders or making back alley deals, Jetta reassured him.

Driven by need and disgusted by his own poverty, Jahx followed her in. (Stealing is wrong,) his conscience whispered, (especially from 311.)

The place was cobwebbed and blanketed in dust. Cockroaches, surprised by their appearance, skittered toward their hiding places as they tiptoed to the kitchen.

Check the pantry. I’ll check the fridge, Jetta spoke across their connection.

Jahx wavered, feeling the heavy pull in the adjacent room. (This is wrong. We will only find death here.)

Jahx! Jetta emphasized, making his brain rattle.

Careful not to disturb the nesting spiders, Jahx searched through empty tin cans and food boxes. The place had already been picked clean, probably by some other launnies or scavengers in the same situation.

Skucheka,” Jetta whispered, despondent at their failed mission.

They both jumped as a growling croak came from the next room, rising in pitch. Grabbing her brother, Jetta yanked him toward the door.

“Jetta, wait—”

His sister, stronger and determined, dragged him out into the hallway and back to their new place, not listening to his protests, knowing only the fear that charged her reaction.

“Hey—what was that?” Jaeia asked as Jetta and Jahx caught their breath in the entryway.

“Don’t know. Waste of a trip. Nothing in there but crumbs,” Jetta said, opening her hands to reveal a few stale cracker bits.

The three of them stared at Jetta’s open hands, salivating at the laughable prize. Jetta’s anger and embarrassment throbbed in Jahx’s chest as she divided the cracker bits and distributed them to her siblings.

“Things will get better—I promise,” Jetta said, closing her hand into a fist. “I won’t let Yahmen destroy this family.”

That night Jahx couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was the new apartment, the itchiness of the cots, the sonorous snoring of his uncle or the rats scurrying inside the walls. Or maybe it was something else. Something he had escaped in apartment 311.

I have to go back.

Without disturbing them, Jahx looked inside his sisters’ dreams. Jaeia travelled to somewhere unfamiliar, a green and yellow landscape with only one sun. It wasn’t the first time he had seen such a place in her mind, and he delighted in taking an observer’s viewpoint when he had the chance. But now was not the time.

Jahx turned to Jetta. Curled up in a fetal position against the wall, Jetta slept fitfully as usual. Jahx put a hand on her shoulder, trying to draw his sister away from the pain and terror that plagued her sleeping mind. Unable to soothe her without waking her up, he withdrew, giving her one last look before slipping out the front door.

He waited until the underhanders were done with their hallway drug deals before making his way to the last door on the third floor. The drunk wadded up in the corner gave him a confused once-over but fell back into his bottle, singing a maudlin drinking song.

Walking on his tip-toes, Jahx let himself inside 311. Even in the middle of the night, the Fiorahian sunlight streamed through the shredded drapes, giving rise to new shadows and creeps. He noticed the smell this time, probably because his sister’s will was not stifling his senses. Sour and dewy—like decomposing waste.

A desiccated whisper tickled his thoughts. Who are you?

The moan that followed stripped the gumption right out of him. He turned on his heels to flee when a bony hand, reaching up into the thin rays of light in the adjacent room, caught his eye.

Jahx held his breath. One of the long-nailed fingers curled at him.

Come here.

Those who would like to learn more about L. J. Hachmeister can do so here:

Website: www.triorion.com

You may purchase her books here:

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=triorion

 

 

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The Write Stuff – Monday, August 28 – Interview With Christopher Husberg

I first met Titan Books author, Christopher Husberg, at Emerald City Comic Con in March 2017 where we were sold and signed books at Bard’s Tower. The next time I ran into him was at a bookstore in Salem, Oregon. He and author, Dave Butler, whom I interviewed here in January of last year, were on a combined book signing tour. Chris had just completed the second novel in his series, the Chaos Queen Quintet, and having purchased a copy, I thought this might be a good time to feature him, since the quintet it was part of was finally rolling.

Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. He writes dark epic fantasy novels. The first novel in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Duskfall, was published in 2016. The third installment, Blood Requiem, will be published by Titan Books in 2018. Chris describes Dark Immolation like this:

A new religion is rising, gathering followers drawn by rumors of prophetess Jane Oden. Her sister Cinzia—once a Cantic prieste—is by her side, but fears Jane will lead them to ruin. For both the Church and the Nazaniin assassins are still on their tail, and much worse may come.

Knot, his true nature now revealed if not truly understood, is haunted by his memories, and is not the ally he once was. Astrid travels to Tinska to find answers for her friend, but the child-like vampire has old enemies who have been waiting for her return. And beyond the Blood Gate in the empire of Roden, a tiellan woman finds herself with a new protector: one who wants to use her extraordinary abilities for his own ends…

Please tell us something more about it.

Dark Immolation is book two in the Chaos Queen Quintet, and just came out in June. The CQQ is a dark epic fantasy series, and the first book, Duskfall, came out last June (and we’re planning on producing a book a year, each June, until the fifth and final book comes out in June 2020). While Duskfall was an action-adventure fantasy thriller with hints of horror, Dark Immolation features a somewhat slower burn. It’s slightly more introspective, addressing belief and identity, but has its share of action and intense (and, yes, horrifying—it’s what I do!) scenes as well.

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

This may sound strange, but before Dark Immolation I’d never written a sequel! I approached DI with the same process and expectations that I do with any other novel or story, and that was actually a huge mistake (I’m channeling Gob there, obviously). The first draft of DI got out of hand very early because I tried to balance my discovery-writer tendencies to pursue every last tangent I came up with while still trying to follow through with and make good on some promises I made in Duskfall. Well, that was impossible. It was a rough process, and combined with some other things going on in my life at the time (both good and bad, but all distracting), this was a very difficult book to write. Fortunately I have an incredible agent who had a few very helpful conversations with me (basically, he lit a fire under my ass), I had help from some very astute and thorough beta readers, and I have a brilliant editor that helped me tie up many of the loose ends of the novel. I’m incredibly happy with the final version of Dark Immolation. I think it’s a pretty great book, and I’m so happy to have it on shelves. I hope all of you enjoy it, too.

What other novels have you written?

The first novel in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Duskfall, came out last June! Read that one first! This is definitely a series you’ll want to read in order.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work? There is a pretty awesome book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_zxjkHT6uM

And Duskfall has been nominated for the Morningstar Award (the David Gemmell award for Best Debut Fantasy), but unfortunately lost to another fantastic book, Steal the Sky by Megan O’Keefe.

Second place is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when one considers the level of competition in a contest like this. Turning to your life as an author, what is your work schedule like?

Well, it often depends, but here’s the basic rundown of my daily schedule.

5:30 AM – wake up, work out, get ready for the day, etc.

6:30 – write

8:00 – breakfast

8:30 – write

10:30/11:00 – walk

11:30 – write

1:00 PM – put my daughter down for a nap

1:10 – write*

3:30 – wrap things up

* My daughter doesn’t always take a nap, so this segment doesn’t always happen.

That isn’t always the schedule. When I’m approaching a deadline, it’s a lot more writing and a whole lot less other stuff. Right after I finish a project, there’s a bit more free time in there. But, generally, that’s the schedule I stick with, and it works pretty well for me. While I do enjoy a solid block of writing time when I have the opportunity, I’ve found value in learning to adapt my work schedule to whatever is available, and right now these 1.5-2 hour writing spurts are getting the work done, and that’s all I can ask.

It’s nice to be able to write full time. Not many can manage it. Tell us about your path to publication.

I went the traditional route! While I’ve always been very open to self-publishing, I figured I’d try to go the traditional route first, and it has worked out for me so far—in large part because I landed a phenomenal agent.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I prefer to say that I structure my story before I write. That means that I look at typical archetypes and story structure tropes, and figure out which of those I’m going to be most in line with while working on any given work. That often changes partway through a project, but I do like to have a general road map. It’s like if I were to take a road trip from NY to LA, and said I’d hit maybe Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas along the way, but I’d be open to doing whatever worked best in between (and, in truth, to cutting out any of those major milestones and replacing it with a better one, if that’s what the journey called for). I think some people like to plan out their novels the way some people plan out road trips, i.e. every stop and every hour of the day planned, and I don’t generally work that way when it comes to writing. Every writer is different, and for me, part of the fun of writing is letting the story develop into something organically.

At this point, I have to laugh. You see, I use that very analogy myself, but driving from LA to NYC instead. What motivates or inspires you?

I once heard Dan Wells say something along the lines of if he writes for 8 hours straight during a day, he can write 2000 words, but if he plays a video game halfway through the day, he can write 4000. I find that’s true for me. Taking breaks is an essential part of my writing process. I like to take a walk just about every day, and I honestly consider that walk work, even if I’m just listening to music or a podcast. I know my brain is running through ideas and scenarios in the background, and I often come up with some of my greatest ideas while walking.

I also find value in playing a video game partway through the day. (Dota 2 is my game of choice.) This seems to work similarly to the backburner principle I described for my walks. If turn the spotlight away from the creative side of my brain for a while and focus on something else, often when I come back to that creative side, it’s come up with something completely awesome.

What has been your greatest success?

That’s easy. I’d like to say the publication of my first book, but the truth is a lot more simple: a happy marriage to an incredible person, and a delightful child. No matter what the future brings, I can say with confidence that those have been my greatest successes, and I treasure every moment I get to spend with those people.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Joss Whedon, and mainly his work on the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I style myself a Buffy scholar; I’ve seen the complete series at least seven or eight times, and seen many episodes upwards of twenty or thirty. I’ve read criticism on the series and the writing, I’ve read philosophical takes on the series, I’ve studied its structure and development and background. I think it’s a phenomenal text that does amazing things, and stories like it are in large part why I write.

Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to chat with us. Before I present my site’s visitors with an excerpt from Dark Immolation, at the end of which I will provide your social links, 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… an introvert

The one thing I cannot do without is: My laptop

The one thing I would change about my life: Nothing

My biggest peeve is: People who don’t use turn signals when driving

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: Myself! I’m a flawed, broken work in progress, and I think that’s pretty great.

Dark Immolation excerpt:

“My lord, it is time.” Urstadt’s voice was soft but clear from the hallway.

“Just give me a moment,” Daval said, excitement flowing through him. Surely Urstadt would be even more excited than he; this was her plan coming to fruition, after all.

Daval dressed. The large dark-green robe with the oversized hood commanded a different type of respect than his decorated clothing, clothing that befitted his position in a high, noble house. As Lord Amok, Daval had great power and respect. But as the new Tokal-Ceno, Daval had something more.

“My Lord,” Urstadt greeted him as he exited his chamber.

Daval nodded to her, smiling. As always, Urstadt wore her half-armor: steel cuirass and faulds, each plated with a thin layer of rose gold, and matching gauntlets and greaves. She wore a suit of micromail—a recent invention of the imperial smithies, both lighter and stronger than traditional chain—beneath the plate. In one arm she carried her helmet, a barbute of the same rose-gilded steel, etched to make the face of the helm look like a skull, accented by black gems near the eyes. The contrast was odd; Urstadt looked somewhat feminine in her armor, but the skull contrasted sharply against the rose gold. Of course, when Urstadt had been promoted to Daval’s guard captain, he had granted her whichever armor she desired. In fact, since the suit had been finished, Daval couldn’t think of a moment he had seen his guard captain out of armor. She slept in the bloody set for all he knew.

At Urstadt’s waist was a short sword, scabbard and hilt also of rose gold, but her preferred weapon she carried in one hand. Her glaive—a poled weapon with a curved blade on one end— was an inelegant, ugly thing, taller than she was with a dented, dark steel blade and scarred, blackbark handle. Some laughed at and derided Urstadt’s rose-gold armor; but her glaive, and her skill with it, was not something to jest about.

“Tell me everything,” Daval said, as they walked down the hall. “How goes our little example?”

“Well enough,” Urstadt said. “House Farady took the bait.”

Daval nodded. He knew they would. The potential power they might accrue by undermining Daval’s fish trade would have been irresistible. House Amok, of course, was one of the high houses for many reasons, but first and foremost for commerce. Fish and other fruits of the sea had been their specialty for hundreds of years, but as time passed the Amok lords had sought other sources of income, from the marble quarries near the western coast to the logging beastmen on the Cracked Horn, the northeast peninsula of Roden. But, by striking the Amok fishing industry, a tiny house like Farady could shake the very foundation of House Amok.

But a shaken foundation was not a broken one, which was why he and Urstadt had orchestrated the whole thing.

Urstadt led Daval to the cells below the keep. Unlike those in the imperial palace, Castle Amok’s dungeons were very modest: a few cells below ground, near the wine cellars. Not particularly high-security.

They didn’t need to be. They were generally only for holding other nobles, soon to be released on negotiated terms. A certain level of comfort was expected. Daval was not surprised to see Darst Farady lounging on a cot with a smirk on his face in one of the cells. Two other men sat in the cells on either side of Darst, but he was obviously the leader.

“The great Lord Amok himself.” Darst grinned as he saw Daval approach. “I’m honored by your accommodations.”

Daval bowed to Darst, watching the young man through the iron bars. Darst did not move from his lounging position on the cot, one leg up, the other dangling over the edge, one arm curled behind his head in a makeshift pillow.

“I trust you’re being treated fairly?” Daval asked. Despite Darst being only a stripling and of a house significantly less powerful than Amok, Daval wouldn’t skimp on formalities. He must not give any impression of skirting the law.

The young man—perhaps no older than Daval’s daughter— shrugged. “Fairly enough, I suppose. When will I get out of here?” Daval took a deep breath. “I can’t be sure, my Lord. You were caught attempting to set fire to my property.” Darst laughed. “You surely can’t blame me. Given the rumors about your warehouse, you had to expect trouble of some kind.”

Daval sighed. “We did, of course. Which is why you were caught.”

“I don’t think you have any witnesses who actually saw us attempt this alleged arson,” Darst said. “So, considering the fact that no damage was done, I’d think being held a day or two in your cells would be sufficient punishment, wouldn’t you?”

In times of peace, this was often the way light disputes were settled between houses. The offending party was held in the injured house’s dungeons for an agreed-upon amount of time, and then released without further prosecution. If the offense was severe, a formal trial might be held, but such instances were rare. House representatives settled most disputes through informal negotiations.

This was not peacetime, however. Daval could not be so lenient. And, of course, their plan dictated he act otherwise.

Visitors who would like to follow Christopher Husberg online can do so at the following:

Website:         http://christopherhusberg.com

Blog:               http://christopherhusberg.blogspot.com

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

Twitter:          https://twitter.com/usbergo (@usbergo)

Goodreads:    https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14542821.Christopher_Husberg

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The Write Stuff – Monday, August 14 – Interview With Cat Rambo

Photo Credit to OnFocusPhotography

A number of irksome matters have cropped up recently that have limited my time and made my life increasingly stressful. In days like these, all I want to do when I’m finally home is curl up with a well-written story that will transport me far from my day-to-day circumstances and revitalize me. Cat Rambo’s delightful short stories are perfect for this and it’s a large part of the reason I invited her to join us. To say her writing is quirky, unique and imaginative is not to describe even “half-et” of what makes it so enjoyable, since her language often blurs the boundary between poetry and prose. I am privileged to have her share her thoughts with us, here, on The Write Stuff, especially because her work is acclaimed by so many of science fiction’s and fantasy’s finest. Nancy Kress, for example, has this to say: “Cat Rambo’s stories never go where you expect them to. They twist and turn and end up in strange places—sometimes very strange indeed. Both the stories set on the Earth we know (or think we know) and those set far away will surprise and delight you.”

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, has been in existence since 2010. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net

Cat, as we begin our conversation, I’d like to focus first on your December 2016 Hydra House publication, Neither Here Nor There.

From time to time, you write something that either makes me laugh outright, or else at least chuckle. For example the phrase, “given that fireflies are easily bullied”, from your story The Toad’s Jewel, or when Ionna, in the story Karaluvian Fale, asks, “Who created the official position of a Whatsit for me?”, to which Kara replies, “Well, I had long needed a Whatsit”. Are you by nature somewhat of a comic in your daily life? 

I have always loved wordplay and jokes, and always will, I think. My spouse would probably tell you that I am both easily amused and prone to silliness, but since he is the same way, it’s a good match because we are always telling or playing jokes to or on each other.

While stories from your other collections have a distinctly earthly feel, like those in Altered America, which are explicitly stated to be so, the ones in Neither Here Nor There are entirely, to my mind at least, extraterrestrial. As one who has never written short stories, but rather novels, I feel compelled to ask if you deliberately set out to write a collection of stories with a common theme over a period of time, or do you anthologize works from stories created over the years because of their similarity?

I don’t set out to write a collection, but because I write so many short stories – over 200 so far – they tend to accrete and get published as groups organized by theme. With Altered America, I’m returning to the same setting repeatedly, which happens more with my fantasy settings (Tabat and Serendib are both cities with multiple stories, and the former even has two novels so far) than my science fiction, although there too I have some places, like TwiceFar Station, that I return to repeatedly.

It’s interesting as a writer to come back to a setting repeatedly for a number of reasons. One is that it becomes clearer and clearer in one’s head and begin throwing off possible side stories. Another is that you can develop the location over time and have the events of one story affect what’s happening in other stories set in the same location or with the same characters.

Although you write prose, your phrasing smacks of poetry: “Jack-knife sudden” and “velvet folds as soft as a baby’s earlobe” from your story Love, Resurrected. In addition, your stories are sometimes non-linear, often alluding to, but skipping over events in a manner uncharacteristic of prose. This compels me to ask, even though I can find no evidence you’ve ever published any, do you write poems as well? If so, might I persuade you to share one?

I do write poetry as well, and won a couple of college contests when I was an undergraduate. I don’t write it much anymore, but here’s a sonnet from 1999, when I first moved out to PNW:

The sky's larger here, and closer somehow.
Lost in its enormity, I hardly miss you at all.
That ache's become a kite, flying low
in and out of clouds, in and out of sun,
poised high, string a melancholy thrum.
Sometimes its shadow falls across my face,
But I've grown used to that phenomenon
as I move in and out of shadow, in and out of sun.

All those poems say 'If ever I loved you' - but if?
Surely there's no question there, it's when,
when I loved you, and all the if is if
the box is sealed, if the string is tied and delivered elsewhere
or whether it sits close at hand, lid askew,
with all those painful longings showing through.

Your stories are distinctly yours, by which I refer not only to the lilt and flow of your writing, but also to the unexpected twist at their conclusions. Still, at various times when I read them, a passage will momentarily call to mind an author like Poe or Jacqueline Carey. Which of the countless ones whom you’ve read have influenced you most and why?

So many! I have always been a reader. Non genre people that have influenced me: John Barth, Willa Cather, Geoffrey Chaucer, Grace Paley, Gilbert Sorrentino. In the genre: Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Lord Dunsany, Robert Heinlein, Zenna Henderson, P.C. Hogdell, R.A. Lafferty, Ursula Le Guin, Joe Lansdale, Rachel Pollack, H.P. Lovecraft, Andre Norton, Cordwainer Smith, Theodore Sturgeon, Thomas Burnett Swann, and Jeff VanderMeer. To name a few.

Why? Because they are not afraid to experiment and at the same time not afraid to reflect life as it is. Because they love and respect language as much as they love this world and writing in it.

In June of this year, you visited Cuba and met Cuban science fiction author, Yoss. Will you tell us how this fortunate encounter came to be and elaborate a bit on both him and your time together?

I was lucky enough to be part of a family trip and when I knew I was going I asked around a little. The SF community is much smaller than one might think and a mutual friend introduced us via e-mail. Yoss and his wife came out to lunch with us and we had a great time talking about what the Cuban F&SF publishing scene was like. He plays with a band, so at one point he pulled out his harmonica to demonstrate and played a few bars, much to the astonishment of the tables around us. He was so much fun! I had prepared by reading his book Super Extra Grande; I’ve got another of his lined up on my Kindle now and hope to read more in Cuban F&SF in the future.

How long have you been playing/using Habitica and do you think you will continue to incorporate it into your day-to-day life?

I had made an account a while back but hadn’t really done much with it until after talking with two of the founders at the Nebula conference this year. I have found it very handy for dealing with my tendency to get distracted and it’s been helping me achieve my daily word count so I foresee continuing to use it.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have a cat named Taco and like to roast my own coffee beans with a hot-air popcorn popper.

I see you’ve stepped up to the plate again to assume another year as SFWA’s president. Are you one of those individuals who find that added responsibility increases your productivity? How much does it impinge on your writing?

I find it eats up vast amounts of writing time if I let it, which was my main hesitation in agreeing to run for a second two-year term. By the time this term is over I will have spent five years total in SFWA office, and will be happy to let someone else steer the boat for a while.

SFWA has taken some nasty hits online over the years, yet you’re still actively involved. Without delving into the negative—I’ll leave the tawdry side of interviewing to others—what is it about the organization that keeps you so involved? Why do you recommend joining it to qualified authors?

SFWA keeps me involved because of the community of professional writers it represents. While it works hard to support, defend, inform and all of that, it also pulls a group together that is like none other in the world. Why do I recommend it? Because it has a tremendous amount of resources to offer and is well worth the membership fee. Beyond that, because they will make connections and friends there that cannot be made elsewhere.

Is there another Cat Rambo collection coming any time soon?

I’m currently looking at my backlog of science fiction and wondering the same thing myself. No matter what, there will be a mini-collection soon for my Patreon backers.

It is my habit to conclude my interviews with a Lightning Round because of the unexpected insights the answers sometimes provide. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you… I’m a person with a killer smile.

The one thing I cannot do without is… books!

The one thing I would change about my life is… I would make it easier to visit my friends.

My biggest peeve is… mean people.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is… I’m pretty fond of most of the aspects of this nifty planet we find ourselves on.

 

Readers can purchase a copy of Neither Here Nor There on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Neither-Here-Nor-There-Rambo-ebook/dp/B01MQWD1GZ/

You can follow Cat via social media at any of the following:

http://www.kittywumpus.net

http://www.patreon.com/catrambo

http://www.twitter.com/@catrambo

https://www.instagram.com/specfic/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1014253.Cat_Rambo

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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, 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, 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, January 2 – Interview With Anthony Dobranski

dobranski-photoI am so glad to start off 2017 by getting to know WordFire Press author Anthony Dobranski, who is currently writing a historical thriller based on real people and real events. Apparently, there are no bounds to what this talented writer can do. A native of Washington DC, he lives there now. Anthony studied English at Yale and made his first career at AOL working in Europe and Asia-Pacific. WordFire published his debut novel, The Demon in Business Class, on October 26, 2016. He describes his book this way:

An international modern day fantasy —

A demon-possessed spy trying to start the next global war falls in love with a psychic trying to stop it.

A shady powerbroker forces Zarabeth Battrie into a secret plan to start the next global war, giving her a demon that lets her speak all languages. But the people now trying to kill Zarabeth might know more about her job than she does.

When hallucinations drive Gabriel Archer to violence, a steely investigator shows Gabriel his repressed psychic powers. Recruited to help a visionary corporate leader turn others from evil, Gabriel struggles to master his own senses, and his doubts.

When Zarabeth and Gabriel meet by chance in Scotland, their brief passion becomes a fragile, troubling love, until the demon’s betrayal drives Gabriel away. Before Zarabeth’s cruel vengeance can destroy the visionary’s plans, Gabriel must stop her — but for both to survive, neither can win.

With witches, gangsters, prophets, cultists, and two angry angels, The Demon in Business Class is an edgy modern-day fantasy set around the world, on the uneasy ground where the worldly meets the divine.

Tell us about your most recent release.

The Demon in Business Class is an international modern-day fantasy, about a demon-possessed spy trying to start the next global war, who falls in love with the psychic trying to stop it. It’s a hybrid-genre book, with corporate thriller elements, a central star-crossed romance, and stylized language. It’s my first novel.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

My career before writing was at the internet service AOL, during its heyday, going overseas for months at a time to help launch editions in Europe and Asia-Pacific. I got to see the world, and to see how it is changing in our globalized era. Cultures rub against each other uncomfortably, in multiple dimensions, of nationhood and class and wealth, old and new. Societies on both sides of both oceans have been destabilized, some by new poverty, others by sudden and unequal wealth. People fear loss, fear the other, crave older certainties.

Fantasy cuts to the heart of culture, highlighting its hidden assumptions. I wanted to write a book that did that for our time, the way Jekyll and Hyde does for Victorian England or The Master and Margarita does for Stalin’s Soviet Union.

How I achieved this was its own, different inspiration, or at least a powerful motivation. Writing about our time is different from writing a book set in our time before escaping it, like Lev Grossman or J. K. Rowling. I also didn’t want to just bring a modern sensibility to a traditional fantasy world like A Song of Ice and Fire. I wanted a fantasy that came out of 21st century Earth, and I had the fervor of a convert, taking a great gleeful joy in bending and reworking as many genre norms as I could. Neil Gaiman blazed the trail I walked, for sure, but I walked a lot of it with Chuck Palahniuk.

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

The biggest was the style. I needed to evoke the crisp and often acid language of businesspeople, which is a kind of armor, yet still have it express doubt and fear and desperation, without ever sounding highfaluting. It’s a tall order, and I had to let go a lot of my “literary” airs – these are not people who drop allusions to Austen, or who really spend a lot of time expressing their interiority.

I did it by writing and throwing out writing, mostly. I tossed my first 400 pages and started over, wrote a thousand pages and cut half of that. I constantly read my work aloud – I built myself a standing desk so it was easier to breathe and talk! Always looking for leaner rhythms and tighter phrasing. Oh, the flocks of darlings I killed. When my editor told me I had to add a chapter, I have to tell you, it was quite the strange moment.

Hah! That would have thrown me for a loop as well. What else are you working on?

My novel-in-progress is a post-climate-change sci-fi tale set in a war-ravaged Budapest, working title The Cooperative Spiders. It was my NaNoWriMo winner in 2015, based on a short story I wrote, based on a dream. It’s gender-bending yet oddly genteel and Old World — think of it as Wes Anderson loosely adapting a Samuel R. Delany novel. Compared to Demon — which is rooted in real-world places and secret histories — Spiders is a freeing experience, since all that seems to stick to it is craziness.

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

 10a-12p, 2p-5p, weekdays. I have a family and I do cons, so weekends are basically out.

Tell us about your path to publication.

It’s not one any sensible person would follow, and I only discuss it to give hope to those like me who feel they’ve painted themselves in corners. I did everything wrong. I dove straight into a passion project with almost no understanding of the industry or market. I had no smaller works published. I sent out blind queries to both literary and fantasy agents and got form letters in return. I felt like I was living on crumbs. I woke up New Year’s Day 2015 crying. My resolution was, in one year I would feel more like a writer than I did that moment, whatever it took.

My writing-group colleague Wayland Smith had been to Superstars Writing Seminars, a business-focused seminar in Colorado Springs, and spoke well of it. Actually, he gushed, and Wayland doesn’t gush. So, I signed up. One morning at the seminar I met a writer and editor named Vivian Caethe. Demon intrigued her! She brought me to Peter J. Wacks of WordFire Press. I didn’t get the feeling it intrigued him at all, and when he asked me for ten pages I figured it was his favor to Vivian. Seven months later, Kevin J. Anderson, who owns WordFire Press, sent me a Facebook message inviting me to submit the whole manuscript.

Kevin also asked for a marketing plan — and it was clear he was throwing down a gauntlet.

Let me circle back and say that, other than my brief bright moment with Vivian, I first found Superstars incredibly depressing. It’s a professional seminar, so it skews to people with an obvious shot at making money, to series writers, to genre-mainstreams. They might as well have started every lecture saying, “Hey Tony, this one doesn’t really apply to you either.” By the time of the celebratory dinner, I was very low in spirit, really ready to chuck the whole enterprise. James Artimus Owen gets an acknowledgement in my book solely for the hours he spent talking me off the ledge of my discouragement, in deep, personal terms.

The techniques, though, are still applicable, and by the time Kevin wrote me, I had given them some months of thought. I had also read a great book about business called Mission in a Bottle, by the founders of Honest Tea — it’s a comic book, so it’s wonderfully accessible. Bringing an unsweetened high-end iced tea to market in a Snapple and Lipton world was akin to my taking my older-but-newer kind of fantasy to the mainstream fantasy market. I didn’t need to pretend to mass appeal; I needed to appeal to people left behind by all the other writers seeking mass appeal. Time and time again, Honest Tea made their difficulties into strengths, their bugs into features that other manufacturers couldn’t copy without violating their brands. I would do the same.

I gave Kevin eight single-spaced pages of multi-year marketing plan: about the market, about hybrid genres, about the slow building of literary cred, about modern bookbuying, about WordFire’s current stable and how I fit in it – which was to say, as an outlier, and how that meant a new audience WordFire didn’t really have. I even had the synopsis of Spiders – not a sequel, but enough to show I had more for Demon’s audience, maybe enough to build a tiny, quirky brand.

I got a contract.

My entrée to WordFire was equally circuitous, so it’s clear that they recognize talented odd-balls! Why do you write?

It’s not simply that I’m a highly verbal person, and a hugely analogical thinker. I suspect it’s something deep and simple involving how I understand the world. When I go to other countries, I buy local fiction. One of the few “eureka” moments I’ve had involving writing was Samuel R. Delany’s note in Dangerous Visions about how science fiction let him unite “the disparate and technical with the desperate and human.” I read that in eighth grade and it still rings true now.

I grew up with an inadvertently secret history. My parents came to America from Poland in 1961, having survived WWII and Soviet domination well enough to escape them. After they did, they didn’t really talk about their pasts, didn’t really want to. They couldn’t know this gave me a great discomfort, a sense of unrootedness and not belonging in America, in ways I was too young to understand or express, save in my love for Mr. Spock.

I think Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was the first time I had both a complete cultural history and an understanding you could discuss the world in real ways through the manifestly unreal and impossible. Now they’re tied together in my head. Perhaps if my parents had told me about their lives sooner, I would have been a historian.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Because of my traveling AOL career, I really only started having a home life rather late in life. I married in my early forties. My wife and I met at the dog park, so animals are a big part of our lives, and my wife is on the board of our local shelter. I’ve always loved live theater, and we try to get out to new plays as often as we can. Washington is a huge theater town, with dozens of companies, from scrappy to plush. I served on the boards of two DC theater companies for many years, and as a volunteer script reader for one, until children and novels overwhelmed my volunteer time. Reading twenty scripts a year is fantastic dialogue training, by the way!

“Winter is coming” holds no menace to this avid skier, only joy.

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

Sourly, then wryly. As Samuel Beckett wrote, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” But failing better is different from failing bigger. I try to look at what went wrong and see if it ever could have gone right. Sometimes, it couldn’t have, and my eager ignorance baked in the failure I should have avoided.

Do you have any pet projects?

I have a small side-project, derailed by Demon’s launch, which I plan to pick up next spring after the next draft of Spiders. It’s a serial thriller novella called The Scientists and The Spy, about the secret WWII military work done in my own Washington DC neighborhood by the scientists at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology). It’s very different from my usual – all-ages audience, historical fiction – but it turns out evoking the past is worldbuilding too. Plus, the research is a hoot!

Thank you, Tony, for taking the time to share with us. Before I present our visitors an excerpt from Demon, I’d like to finish with my customary Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m… not nearly as good a drinker as I like to believe.

The one thing I cannot do without is… a myth that I had to stop indulging long ago.

The one thing I would change about my life is… to worry even less about what I’m “supposed” to do.

 

For those of you who’ve been waiting, here is an excerpt from The Demon in Business Class:

dobranski-demon-coverIn the fake-oak-paneled conference room, Zarabeth Battrie found a dozen others standing. All looked wilted and worn, with bunched shirts and bowing ankles. The plastic tables were gone, the plastic chairs stacked in the corner. More people arrived but no one unstacked the chairs. A herd instinct, Zarabeth decided, to keep a clear path for fleeing.

A natty beige man in a crisp blue plaid suit came in, pushing a low gray plastic cart with stacks of documents. If the standing people surprised him, he didn’t show it. With practiced ease he lowered the room’s screen, plugged in his power strip. Someone passed the documents around but no one spoke. In the silence, Zarabeth felt anxieties around her, about money, status, children, groping her like fevered predictable hands. Too intimate, these people’s worries in her skin when she didn’t know their names, or want to. She shook them off, pushed through to the front so as not to stare at men’s backs all meeting.

Projector light bleached the natty man while he talked through slides of sunsets and bullet points, with the real news a seeming afterthought. Her office and two others were merging with Optimized Deployments, in Boston. A great move. Efficiency for all. The animated org-chart realigned over and over, three squares gone and Optimized’s no bigger. Reorganized like a stomach does food.

People asked tired questions, their hot worry now clammy hope. The natty man smiled no matter what he said. Yes, redundancies. Jobs would move, details to work out. All would be well and better.

He left to spread his joy. The room lights rose.

Zarabeth’s boss, Aleksei Medev, slouched in the corner like someone had whacked his head with lumber. His unshaven olive skin hung gray and limp. With all eyes on him, he straightened.

“A very challenging time,” he said. “We’re sending reports to justify—to guide the transition. Client work is secondary.”

Zarabeth was in no hurry to fill out Aleksei’s useless reports. Nothing she had done in the last two months justified keeping her employed, she knew that. She went out the broken fire exit to a stand of pine trees behind the parking lot. She lit a cigarette, paced in the shade.

Once, Zarabeth Battrie had traveled the country as an Inspiration Manager, connecting the best people at Straightforward Consulting to an in-house knowledge network. She had good instincts which managers to flatter, which to cow, which to sneak past. It surprised her how much she understood when she finally got her quarry to talk their special arcana, over morning jogs, lobster lunches, steak dinners, midnight hookahs with shots of tequila. Later, on airplanes, she’d think of those and other conversations, watching the pieces fit together in this strange unity and balloon, her world growing with a drug-like jolt. To let her do that, week in, week out—taking off, landing, on the move, on her feet—had been the greatest praise.

On Valentine’s Day, it had evaporated without explanation. Zarabeth had been reassigned from downtown Washington to Reston, in the Virginia suburbs, to do public-relations grunt-work for industry trade groups. Aleksei Medev, still shiny then, had put his feet on her new desk and spun a great tale, core knowledge toward a turnkey marketing solution, select team deep study. At least she got an office with a door.

Zarabeth had visited Boston twice in her old job. Optimized had smart people and kept them by being greedy. They would suck the money from her division like marrow from bone. Everyone fired, no matter how they danced.

Doubt ate through her like some parasite come to lay its eggs. She pinched the cigarette’s cherry to burn it off with pain. Six years at this firm would not end this week.

You may follow Tony on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram as ADobranski.

His website is: www.anthonydobranski.com

You can purchase The Demon in Business Class ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/Demon-Business-Class-Anthony-Dobranski-ebook/dp/B01MFG0ARS/

 If you are interested in following his progress on his historical thriller, The Scientists and the Spy, you may do so here: http://www.foresthillsconnection.com/category/style/sci-spy/

 

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, August 15 – Interview With Emma Newman

rsz_emma_newman2Award-winning paranormal urban fantasy author, Laura Resnick, my guest on February 29th of this year, introduced me to this week’s featured author and I couldn’t be happier. Emma Newman is a masterful story-teller, every bit on a par with such greats as Nancy Kress and Mary Doria Russell. She writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. She won the British Fantasy Society Best Short Story Award 2015 and Between Two Thorns, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer 2014 awards. Her first science-fiction novel, Planetfall, was published by Roc in 2015. Emma is an audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast “Tea and Jeopardy” which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk and can be found as @emapocalyptic on Twitter.

A-Little-Knowledge-coverHer latest book, entitled A Little Knowledge, was released on August 2nd of this year. (Visitors please note: You will find Emma’s book buy and social links at the bottom of this interview.) It is the long-awaited return to Emma Newman’s popular Split Worlds series in which dynastic families feud across the ages, furthering the agendas of their supernatural patrons. Innocents are protected by monsters and the beautiful ones are not what they seem. The Split Worlds is an urban fantasy setting with a dash of noir, fantastical magic, evil faeries, and people just trying to drink their tea in peace.

I initially read her short story, “The Unkindest Cut”, which is a part of the anthology Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. It left me so impressed that I immediately dove into Planetfall, an unusual and highly-compelling tale about a colony of terrestrials who have settled on another world.

Your readers were undoubtedly on tenterhooks as they awaited A Little Knowledge’s release. Will you kindly provide as much about it as you can?

A Little Knowledge is the fourth in the Split Worlds series and readers have had to wait a while for it as the series changed publisher. The Split Worlds series really has to be read in order, starting with Between Two Thorns, so I can’t say too much about the fourth book without risking horrible spoilers. The series as a whole is quirky British urban fantasy involving evil Fae, mad sorcerers, feminism and lots of tea and cake.

This is a chicken/egg question and requires some preface:

I am fascinated by how flawed many of Planetfall’s characters are. It certainly makes them more human. Ren/Renata in particular is a counterpoint of strength versus weakness, certainly one of the more emotionally fragile and vulnerable characters I’ve encountered in a science fiction novel. Did you set out to portray her as such before you began, or did her particular condition evolve as the story progressed? This is also to ask if you are a plotter or a pantser. That is to say, do you outline before you begin, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

I see this as two very separate questions, because having an idea of who your character is before writing a novel could apply to both plotters and pantsers.

So, about Ren. The entirety of the novel was built around her, which is very unusual for me. Usually there’s a question I want to answer, or a world that grows in my mind and few characters maybe, all growing together. With Planetfall, my drive was to sensitively and hopefully accurately portray the experience of a particular mental illness (which I won’t name because it’s a huge spoiler). Thoughts about the disorder and how to portray it led to critical decisions about the setting and then when I read an article about using 3-D printing to build a moon base, it all suddenly clicked into place. Not only did I just know, instantly, that Ren should be a 3-D engineer, I knew the book had to be set on a colony on a distant planet. Then lots of other things I’ve been wanting to explore for years (such as the intersection between religious faith and science) folded into it all nicely.

As for whether I am a plotter or pantser, I am a combination of the two. I usually have a good sense of the beginning, middle and end, critical plot points and some character and story arcs when I start to write a book. I then plan about five chapters or so ahead, just with bullet points and then write those scenes. If things change as I write, that’s fine. At the end of that planned section, I evaluate where things are going in line with the broader ideas of the book and then plan the next chunk in more detail. This technique is very similar to something called the “agile method” of coding big projects like complex websites. The idea is that as you can never accurately predict every single factor at the start of the project, it doesn’t make sense to make a comprehensive plan at the start and try to stick to it no matter what. Instead you do it in phases and adapt to any changes as you go along. When it comes to writing a character driven novel, I can try my best to predict what will happen, but sometimes when I get to a particular point that assumption just doesn’t feel right anymore, I adjust and carry on, like an “agile” coder. I feel I get the best of both worlds; the planning aspect enables me to minimise the need for major re-writes and allows me to manage multiple interwoven threads like in the Split Worlds. The “seat of my pants” aspect keeps the story details fresh for me – if I knew every single thing that happened in a book before I wrote it I would get bored. Sometimes writing a book is as much about finding out how it all works out in the end, as it is about completing the project.

That makes a great deal of sense, and it also validates many of the techniques I employ as I assemble my own work. Returning to Planetfall, the virtual software interface you employ throughout the book makes me wonder at your non-writing background. Do you write code or are you a gamer?

Both! Well, I used to code (I am horribly rusty now but I used to be pretty comfortable around html, MySQL and PHP) and my first proper job out of university was in information architecture and user interface design for websites. So yeah, experience in that field was definitely mulched down and grew into some aspects of the user interface in Planetfall. I am also a keen gamer—not just tabletop and live action roleplaying but also console games. I think it was my professional experience that was a greater influence of the two, that and my degree in Psychology.

That helps explain Planetfall’s protagonist. That said, no one writes characters as complex as yours without considerable life experience and a long reading list. Would you care to touch on some of the events and/or books that helped shape your work?

I think all life experiences, all books read, all films watched—everything—gets chucked in the mental compost heap and then characters, plots and settings grow up like mushrooms from it.

For some characters, I can still detect a hint of what was rotted down to make them. Cathy in the Split Worlds series does draw a lot from my own rage, but she and I are very different in personality. As for Ren in Planetfall, there is an overlap between her mental illness and the generalised anxiety disorder that I live with that I could base an aspect of her behaviour on, but again, we are more different than similar. Readers have said that the descriptions of her anxiety and a scene involving a panic attack were hard to read because they rang so true. There was a reason for that!

I am impressed by the way you reach out to aspiring authors, especially the Resources page of your website. Was someone equally kind to you while you were still in the initial stages of your journey, or have you done so because of an early absence of help?

Neither! I just like to help people. I didn’t really have a mentor when I was an aspiring writer and in some ways I think that was a good thing. It forced me to find my own way, which is what I think every single writer has to do. However, once I became published I kept hearing the same questions and the same incorrect assumptions. The Writer’s Rutter on my website shares some of the things I’ve learned, but very much with the caveat that what works for me might not work for anyone else.

That’s very much the reason why I run my workshop on overcoming the psychological barriers to writing. I got so fed up with reading interviews with writers who’d say that being a successful writer was all about sitting down and writing. For some people (I suspect most actually), there are all sorts of reasons why that might be very difficult. Being able to help people work through that is something I find very rewarding.

You are a contributor to Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. Regarding your story, “The Unkindest Cut”, who approached you to participate and what made you decide to expand on the Prospero theme?

David Moore, the editor of the anthology, mentioned he was thinking about putting it together at a convention years ago. I enthused about the concept and he remembered that, getting in touch once the project was underway. I was so thrilled to be asked, as it was a challenging brief. Not only did we have to riff off Shakespeare’s world and characters, we also had to interlink the stories.

The Tempest was one of the first plays that came to mind because I saw an amazing performance of it at the RSC when I was a student. I thought that Prospero was such a memorable figure that it would be fun to play with him and one that readers would enjoy too.

I wish I could attend this year’s LARP. Alas, not enough notice and too far away. I’m sure that by the time you can respond to this, it will have transpired. When did you start holding them and will you please share a bit about this one?

This question implies it’s a regular thing! The Split Worlds Masked Ball LARP was a one off event and it was a huge success, I’m very relieved to report. Readers can find pictures from the event on my website.

I’ve been a keen role-player and GM for many, many years and planned to run it with my best friend. Sadly she passed away and I thought I’d never be able to do it. Then a wonderful person called Katie Logan got in touch, asking if she could run a LARP in the Split Worlds universe and it took off from there. The ball was set between books three and four, with forty of the players playing characters from the novels and the short stories, and thirty-six more created for the event. It was held in the Guildhall in Bath. Everyone really went to town on their costumes and it looked amazing. I NPCed one of the characters from the books, as did my husband, and whilst it was incredibly stressful, time consuming and highly pressured, I am so very glad we did it.

I want to thank you so much, Emma, for taking time to share with us. Readers should know that, with her extremely busy schedule, we’ve been jostling for months to get this out to you while she’s been working hard to get A Little Knowledge published. Knowing, from personal experience how much of one’s time this kind of endeavor requires, I remain eternally grateful that she got back to me so soon after publication date.

For those of you who have enjoyed meeting Emma—and I have to ask, how could anyone not?—here are the links I promised earlier:

Website:         www.enewman.co.uk

Twitter:          @emapocalyptic

Other:             www.splitworlds.com

www.teandjeopardy.com

 

Book Buy Links:

Kindle (Amazon.co.uk):      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Knowledge-Split-Worlds-Book-ebook/dp/B01F7TCBLO

Kindle US (Amazon.com)https://www.amazon.com/Little-Knowledge-Split-Worlds-Book-ebook/dp/B01F7TCBLO/

Paperback (Amazon.co.uk): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Knowledge-Split-Worlds-Book/dp/1682302911

Paperback USs (Amazon.com): https://www.amazon.com/Little-Knowledge-Split-Worlds-Book/dp/1682302911/

Book depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Little-Knowledge-Emm-Newman/9781682302910

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 18 – New Releases by Quincy J Allen & Dave Butler

This week, The Write Stuff breaks away from its customary author interviews to showcase new releases from two former Interviewees, Quincy Allen, featured on December 7, 2015, and Dave Butler, whom we met on January 4 of this year.

1000-Headshot1Quincy describes Blood Curse, published by WordFire Press on June 2, 2016, as a Western Steampunk Epic Fantasy with a clockwork gunslinger destined to stop a demon apocalypse that could wipe out two worlds. It starts in the old west and pretty quickly morphs into fantasy (magic and dragons in the world) and finally becomes epic fantasy where a number of factions all must work together to stop the apocalypse.

A ruddy sun has set on the gauntlet that nearly killed Jake, Cole, and Skeeter in San Francisco. Storm clouds loom on the horizon, promising the inevitability of an airship battle with the nefarious Colonel Szilágyi. Blood Curse, the second book in the Blood War Chronicles, drops Jake and is friends into the middle of a war between the Free Territories and the Empire of Texas. In the shadow of warships, mechanized infantry, and spies, he discovers a world he couldn’t possibly have imagined and begins to understand what fate has in store for him. Jake doesn’t want that destiny, but his growing feelings for the Lady Corina Danesti lead him down a path of death and destruction on a scale that could encompass worlds.

The Blood War Chronicles series is set for six books, and WordFire Press, Quincy’s publisher, has already signed a gaming contract that will reach out to dozens of countries. There’s artwork already available and a website that should go live in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes open! Here is where you can find Blood Curse on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Curse-Book-War-Chronicles/dp/1614754322/

Take a quick peek inside:

1625CoverJake eyed Brewer. “Cromwell’s committed himself. Either he takes the city or he writes these bastards off. And the gates are the key. You said it yourself. He has a large ground force south of the city and heading this way.”

Brewer nodded, giving Jake an appraising eye. “That’s what I’ve been told. And their air support has beaten the hell out of the Dragun. She’s still holding her own, but so long as she has to defend herself, she can’t tear into the ground forces. She’d make quick work of them otherwise. A bunch of our other ships went down in the first pass, taken from above. We have a contingency plan, but they’re holding off on that for some reason.” Brewer chewed on the end of his cigar as he thought about what Jake was saying. He took a long pull on the cigar and blew the smoke up into the air. Finally, he relaxed. “What did you have in mind?”

“Ghiss and me, with a little help from Cole and that there Thumper,” Jake nodded to the rifle Cole leaned against, “will be your right flank. I want you and your people to hit that south side with everything you got. Crash vehicles into the barricade … melt your barrels if you have to. I want you to make as much noise as possible, but keep your heads down. Just keep their attention on you without risking any lives.” Jake looked at Ghiss and Cole. “We’ll take care of the rest.”

Brewer looked at Jake like he was loco. “Just the three of you?” He gave out a great guffaw. “You’re out of your damn mind!”

Ghiss spoke up. “Oh, I agree, Mister Brewer. By all accounts I believe we all are. However, our sanity, or lack thereof, does not change the simple fact that, provided a proper distraction, we are fully capable of tearing those men to pieces.”

Brewer looked the mercenary up and down, noting the pistols and their cables. He’d seen enough energy weapons to know the things probably wouldn’t run dry … at least not for a while.

“It’s still just the three of you,” Brewer finally replied, his voice filled with doubt. “And there has to be at least forty or fifty of them … plus that assault unit.”

“You let me worry about the armor,” Jake said with more bravado than he felt. “And there’s four of us, actually,” he added. His smile was overflowing with all the confidence he could muster. He hooked a thumb behind him, pointing through the gap at the Brahma. “We’ve got Lumpy.”

Brewer leaned over slowly and looked at the bull who was busily licking his nose.

“You’ve got Lumpy,” Brewer said in a flat tone, blinking his eyes. He kept puffing on the cigar. He looked back at Jake who kept smiling.

Jake gave Brewer a sly wink. “And you’ve got nothing to lose,” he added, “except a bit of ammunition.”

Brewer thought about it and nodded slowly, realizing that he had almost no risk aside from the ammo, and they had plenty stored around the city. It was enough to put the man’s decision over the top.

“Alright.” Brewer looked over his shoulder. “Billy, pass the word and get on the talkie. We leave eight defenders here to guard the hospital. Every other fighter who can still carry a weapon meets at the southern position in ten minutes.”

“Sir!” the boy shouted and dashed back into the warehouse.

“You better be right,” Brewer said, turning back to Jake. “For your own sake.” He stepped over to a stack of crates near the gap in the barricade. He pulled out two chaingun drums and handed them to Cole. “Here, you’ll need these. They’re full.”

“Thanks,” Cole said, hefting them, and then started swapping out the drums.

“Y’all better get ready,” Brewer said. “In about twelve minutes all hell’s gonna break loose.”

Jake nodded. “We’ll wait about thirty seconds after you start shooting before we hit ’em. I’ll give you a high sign from inside their barricade if we make it, then you and your people can come in and take back what’s yours.”

Brewer held out his hand. “Good luck.” He shook hands with Jake, Ghiss, and Cole. “You’re gonna need it.” Without another word, he walked back into the warehouse.

… … … … …

Butler 2Dave Butler, whose scientific romance, City of the Saints, was also published by WordFire Press, just landed a contract with Knopf Doubleday. His most recent release, The Kidnap Plot (The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie), a steampunk fantasy, hit the shelves on June 14, 2016. It’s available in your favorite bookstore right now. Or, if you’re thinking about purchasing The Kidnap Plot online, here is the Amazon link:

http://amzn.to/28S1NDM

He describes the story this way:

Charlie is a reader. He’s not allowed outside the house, but then one day his father is kidnapped, and Charlie has to launch a rescue mission. This is a story about matriarchal warrior pixies, heartbroken lawyer trolls, fantastic steam-powered devices, and a hero with a secret even he doesn’t know.

Dave has composed a filk song for the book. you can listen to it here:

https://youtu.be/xilOU5JCKaw

 

The Kidnap Plot’s first 500 words follow:

Chapter One

 

Butl_9780553512953_jkt_all_r1.indd“Charlie Pondicherry ain’t got no mum!”

Charlie cringed. There would be a rock. There was always a rock.

“What are you talking about, Skip? Charlie Pondicherry ain’t even got a dad! Charlie Pondicherry’s a toenail fungus; that’s why he’s always got that goop smeared on him!”

Skip, Mickey, and Bruiser followed Charlie down the Gullet. Charlie was sure the three boys had just waited in the alley for him to come out. Charlie’s shoulders slumped.

He hunched down lower over the basket of dirty laundry he was carrying. Sooner or later, there would be a rock.

“A fungus . . . ha-ha! A fungus!”

Whack!

That was the rock. It hit Charlie between the shoulders. He stumbled, but kept his feet.

He wanted to turn and stand like a ship’s captain, letting the pirates have it with both pistols . . . but he’d soil the laundry. Plus, they outnumbered him three to one, and any captain knew those weren’t great odds. Charlie gritted his teeth and hoped they’d give up.

The steam clouds that surrounded Lucky Wu’s Earth Dragon Laundry were just ahead. Behind him he heard the sucking sound of the other boys’ feet in the mud.

“Where you going, fungus? Get him, Bruiser!”

Bruiser grabbed Charlie by his jacket and shoved him against the brick wall. Charlie gripped tight with both hands and managed not to drop any of the laundry.

“You got any brass, fungus?” Mickey sneered. Mickey had ears like jug handles and teeth too big for his head. He spat when he talked.

Charlie glared at the bigger boy. “Do I ever have any money?” Charlie’s bap—his dad, the other boys would have said, but Charlie’s father was from the Punjab in India and insisted Charlie call him Bap—never gave him money.

“What you think we are, stupid or sumfing?” Skip shouted. Skip had a loose lower lip that flapped down and almost covered his chin. Also, Skip smelled terrible.

“Stupid or sumfing!” Bruiser echoed, and he laughed. Bruiser was a big boy, with man-sized knuckles.

“Going to Fathead Wu’s again, yeah?” Mickey spat. “What, you ain’t got a bit of brass to pay old Fathead?”

“Are you an idiot?” Charlie snapped. He was shaking, but he might as well speak his mind; whatever he said, he was going to get punched. “I always go to Wu’s. And I never have any money.” Charlie wished he were bigger. He’d pound Mickey and his friends flat. Maybe then Bap would let him out of the shop more. “Clock off!”

“How many times we gotta teach you this lesson?” Skip jeered.

Bruiser pressed Charlie against the wall with one hand and balled up his other fist. His big hand hung in the air like a wrecker’s ball.

Charlie laughed. “You’re slow learners, I guess.” He smirked to distract them from his hands while he shifted his grip on the basket and made a fist inside one of his bap’s shirts. He was Captain Charlie Pondicherry, priming his pistols.

Bruiser didn’t know when the joke was on him. “Slow learners, ha!”

Mickey looked at Bruiser, irritated.

Charlie threw the basket of dirty laundry at Bruiser’s face.

“Huh?” Bruiser shouted, and swung his fist—

Charlie ducked—

and pow! Bruiser’s fist plowed right into the top of Mickey’s head.

“Ow!” Mickey staggered back.

Charlie hurled his fistful of shirt at Skip’s face and turned to run, but the shirt missed and Skip knocked Charlie down.

Charlie hit the mud in a rain of dirty laundry.

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, March 28 – Interview With Jim C. Hines

Jim-WFC-FullJim C. Hines’ writing is so varied, it makes him a difficult author to label. His first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings and the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. He’s also the author of the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies.

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan.

Every now and then, an author breaks new ground. In today’s publishing world filled with thematic repetition—galactic conquest, defeating a dragon, an evil wizard—it’s refreshing to encounter something untried. When he introduces us to Isaac Vainio, a libiomancer, in his Magic ex Libris series, he takes us onto untrodden soil. I asked Jim to tell us about Revisionary, his latest release and the fourth in the series. He describes it as follows:

RevisionaryWhen Isaac Vainio helped to reveal magic to the world, he dreamed of a utopian future, a new millennium of magical prosperity. One year later, things aren’t going quite as he’d hoped. An organization known as Vanguard, made up of magical creatures and ex-Porters, wants open war with the mundane world. Isaac’s own government is incarcerating “potential supernatural enemies” in prisons and internment camps. And Isaac finds himself targeted by all sides.

It’s a war that will soon envelop the world, and the key to victory may lie with Isaac himself, as he struggles to incorporate everything he’s learned into a new, more powerful form of libriomancy. Surrounded by betrayal and political intrigue, Isaac and a ragtag group of allies must evade pursuit both magical and mundane, expose a conspiracy by some of the most powerful people in the world, and find a path to a better future.

But what will that future cost Isaac and the ones he loves?

Will you tell us something more about it?

This is the fourth and final (for now) book in the Magic ex Libris series, which is based on the premise that a small number of people can reach into the pages of books and pull out the objects described in the story. As long as they physically fit through the book. Isaac Vainio is a librarian and libriomancer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and an unabashed fan of all things magical. He’s very enthusiastic, which tends to get him into trouble, and very bright, which helps him to get back out of it again. Also, he has a pet spider who can set things on fire.

I am intrigued by your Magic ex Libris series and find the concept of a librarian being able to draw magic from a book, or step from a taxi that had been skirting Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere only to emerge from a pizza delivery truck in our nation’s capitol both enticing and delightful. Will you fill us in on how that concept came about?

The seed of the series was planted at a convention in Chicago many years ago, when an editor asked me to write a short story that took Smudge the fire-spider from my goblin books and brought him into the real world. So I had to figure out how to set that up, which led to a character who could pull things out of books.

The story was published in Gamer Fantastic, but the idea had so much more potential. Imagine all the things, good and bad, you could create with our collective literature. So I fleshed it out, added more characters like Lena the dryad and Johannes Gutenberg and more, and just ran with it.

I’ve been looking at the other books you have written. I must say it’s rare that someone’s book blurb brings me to laughter, but Goblin Hero’s description did just that. How much fun did you have producing your Goblin Quest series?

Jig and Smudge and the rest were great to write about. I’m a long time D&D player, and this series was a chance to go back and mess with some of those old tropes, to change up the traditional stories, and to just really play. I really enjoyed the characters, and the goblins in general. It’s one of the reasons I’ve gone back a few times to write shorter stories in that world.

I was delighted when Gregory Maguire spun off the 1939 the movie classic, The Wizard of Oz, with his Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Now—and I admit I am frightfully behind the reading curve—I encounter your princess series where you expand on Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. What was the spark that ignited that series?

Those books began when my daughter was a lot younger, and was going through a princess phase. A lot of the toys and merchandise she collected showed these characters as pretty, but… not much else. Some of the movies did a decent job of giving the characters strength and agency. Others, not so much.

So I decided to go all out and write a series that turned these traditional fairy tale princesses into action heroes. Snow White would get her mother’s magic mirror and be the sorceress. Sleeping Beauty and her fairy gifts of grace would become the ninja/assassin character. And Cinderella would receive an enchanted glass sword from her mother’s ghost.

Basically, I wrote it because I wanted more stories like this to be out there for my daughter and everyone else.

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

It depends on the day. I quit my full-time day job last fall. Before then, I wrote every day on my lunch hour. Now my schedule is a lot more flexible…and at times, a lot more complicated. Some days I’ll put in four hours or more at the keyboard. Others I’m running kids to doctor appointments and dealing with calls from the school and chasing after the dog who got through the gate in the back yard again.

Most writers will envy your new situation. Why do you write and when did you first realize you were a writer?

I write because I enjoy it. I love inventing stories and sharing them with people. There are days when it’s frustrating or painful trying to get the story in your head onto the screen, and it’s just not coming out right. But then there are the moments when it comes together, or when you come up with a clever twist or idea, or you hit on something powerful. Those moments are amazing.

Plus I like fantasizing about swords and magic and robots and all that other cool, shiny stuff.

When did I realize I was a writer? That’s hard to say. I toyed with writing a bit as a kid. Started doing it more seriously toward the end of my undergraduate degree. To some extent, I started to really feel like a writer after my first fantasy novel Goblin Quest came out.

And then there are the days when I still don’t entirely feel like A Real Writer. Like I’ve been playing a trick on the world for 20+ years and having a blast with it, but sooner or later someone’s going to catch on.

You have blogged about some unfortunate incidents pertaining to sexual and racial harassment at several Cons. I think these occurrences are appalling and I applaud you for calling attention to them. Would you care to discuss this?

There’s so much to discuss, but in short, this stuff happens. At cons, at schools, at workplaces, and more. For a long time, there’s been pressure not to talk about it, but that’s one of the reasons it keeps happening. I’m encouraged by the shift I’ve seen in some areas to say no, we are going to talk about it, we are going to let people know this behavior is not acceptable, and we are going to take steps when and if it happens.

Please give some mention of your work as crisis councilor, especially as the Male Outreach Coordinator at Michigan State University.

I spent a total of about five years volunteering at the Listening Ear crisis center in East Lansing, working on the phone hotline for all kinds of crisis calls, as well as working in (and at one point, helping to coordinate) the sexual assault counseling program. In another position, I worked as the Male Outreach Coordinator for Safe Place, the domestic violence shelter and program at MSU.

A lot of that second position involved outreach and education, talking to men about consent and power and abuse, things a lot of guys may not be that aware of. It’s hard to solve a problem when a large number of people won’t even acknowledge the problem exists.

It was intense work at times, but also very powerful and eye-opening. I certainly learned a lot about the world that I hadn’t seen growing up.

Would you care to share how your work led you to write Goldfish Dreams?

Basically, Goldfish Dreams was a mainstream novel I wrote about rape and recovery, based on some of the things I learned and experienced during my time at Listening Ear. It’s not based on an actual person or anything like that. But it was a way for me to take all of those stories I’d heard and turn them into something I hope is both honest and, ultimately, hopeful.

Do you have anything else in the works you are free to discuss?

A few short stories, and a new three-book humorous SF series I’m writing for DAW (who published my fantasy books).

What motivates or inspires you (not necessarily as regards your writing)?

A sense of wonder, and wanting to share that sense with family, friends, fans, and anyone else who’d like to get some.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

We have a cat who likes to wake me up in the morning by jumping onto the bed and licking my scalp. It’s a bizarre and disturbing way to wake up.

I always conclude each interview with what I call a Lightning Round, because it often yields unexpected insights. Answer as many as you care to in as few words as possible.:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is:                    Insulin.

The one thing I would change about my life:       Fewer chronic illnesses for me and my family.

My biggest peeve is:                                                 Coconut.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is:        Mister Rogers.

Before I provide links to your books and social media, I’m going to insert an excerpt from Revisionary:

 Hearing

of the

Joint Committee on Magical Security

before the

U.S. House of Representatives

and the

U.S. Senate

Chairman: Alexander Keeler

#

U.S. House of Representatives,

Committee on Magical Security

 

 

Derek Vaughn, Louisiana

Tammy Hoeve, Michigan

Timothy Hoffman, Ohio

Anthony Hays, Colorado

Susan Brown, Florida

Elizabeth Garcia, Oklahoma

John Senn, Nevada

 

U.S. Senate,

Committee on Magical Security

 

 

Alexander Keeler, Illinois

Kenneth Tindill, Rhode Island

Mary Pat Clarke, Maryland

Kent Childress, Oregon

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Testimony and Questioning of Witness Number 18: Isaac Vainio

 

The CHAIRMAN: This hearing will come to order.

It’s my privilege and honor to welcome the members of the Joint Committee on Magical Security, as well as the witnesses who have been called to testify as we help to shape the future of this great nation during this time of worldwide turmoil and conflict.

Mister Vainio, thank you for taking time from your work with New Millennium to join us today.

Mr. VAINIO: Your invitation made it clear I didn’t have a choice.

The CHAIRMAN: Do you affirm that the testimony you will give before this committee is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Mr. VAINIO: Aren’t I supposed to be sworn in on a Bible?

The CHAIRMAN: For security reasons, no books will be permitted in the chamber during your testimony.

Mr. VAINIO: Don’t worry, I’m not about to try libriomancy with a Bible, or any other religious text. Gutenberg might have been able to handle that kind of intensity and belief, but—oh, sorry. Yes, I do so affirm.

The CHAIRMAN: Thank you. You may be seated. Mr. Vainio, would you please—what is that?

Mr. VAINIO: His name is Smudge. He’s a fire-spider. He’s perfectly safe as long as he’s in his cage. Don’t go poking your fingers in there, though. He’s my service animal. My lawyer advised me this was permitted under disability law.

Mr. CHILDRESS: You have a service spider?

Mr. VAINIO: He senses danger. Like Spider-Man. Having him around helps me with some…anxiety issues. It’s been a traumatic few years. I have a letter from my therapist if you’d like to see it.

The CHAIRMAN: That won’t be necessary. For the record, please state your history and current role with the organization known as the Porters.

Mr. VAINIO: I’ve been a member of the Porters—intermittently—for about seven years, working to protect the world from magical threats. I’ve been a cataloguer, field agent, and researcher. Ten months back, I helped to found the New Millennium project in Nevada, where I currently work as Director of Research and Development.

The CHAIRMAN: Ten months. That would be shortly after you announced the existence of magic to the world.

Mr. VAINIO: Correct.

The CHAIRMAN: You constructed New Millennium in the United States. You yourself are an American citizen, born and raised in Michigan. Are you loyal to this country, Isaac?

Mr. VAINIO: How do you mean?

The CHAIRMAN: There are hundreds of you libriomancers scattered throughout the world, and thousands of other creatures. Vampires and merfolk and werewolves and bigfoots and Heaven knows what else. What assurances does this committee have that you won’t turn against the United States of America? How do we prevent people like you from selling your abilities to the highest bidder?

Mr. VAINIO: Maybe you could start by not treating us all like potential criminals and terrorists.

 

Thanks, Jim, for taking the time to tell us about yourself. Those visitors who would like to learn more about Jim or purchase his books can do so here:

Website:         http://www.jimchines.com

Blog:               http://www.jimchines.com/blog/

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