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

#

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/

Twitter:          http://www.twitter.com/jimchines

Facebook:      http://www.facebook.com/jimhines

HARDCOVER: Amazon | B&N | BAMM | Mysterious Galaxy | Schuler Books | Indiebound

EBOOK: Amazon | B&N | BAMM | Kobo | iBooks

AUDIO: Audible.com

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, November 23 – Interview With Will Hahn

Will Hahn is one of many authors I’ve had the privilege to meet through the Facebook group, Fantasy Sci-fi News Network. Among them, his writing stands out as especially crisp and refined. Will has been in love with heroic tales since age four, when his father read him the Lays of Ancient Rome and the Tales of King Arthur. He taught Ancient-Medieval History for years, but the line between this world and others has always been thin; the far reaches of fantasy, like the distant past, still bring him face to face with people like us, who have choices to make.

Will 6 web-FSFWill didn’t always make the right choices when he was young. Any stick or vaguely-sticklike object became a sword in his hands, to the great dismay of his five sisters. Everyone survived, in part by virtue of a rule forbidding him from handling umbrellas, ski poles, curtain rods and more.

Will has written about the Lands of Hope since his college days (which by now are also part of ancient history). His current epic is Judgement’s Tale; part one, Games of Chance, part two Strength of Conviction and part three, Reunion of Souls came out in 2014. Part four, Clash of Wills, was released on May 1, 2015.

I asked Will to give us a sense what Clash of Wills is about. He described it this way:

As the heavenly portents align, a mystic portal to the Hopeward opens again, letting a few goodly souls enter the prison where a comrade was marooned and evil beyond measure has laid a trap. For the heroes, it is not enough to uncover danger—wit and skill can carry them to its presence, but resolve and sacrifice are needed to defeat it. If it can be defeated. The challenge is often to choose one wrong over another, to accept the consequences when only the one prize most dear can be saved.

Treaman and his adventuring party discover just how quickly fame and fortune evaporate, once back in the clutches of the Percentalion; three miserable refugees of that chaos-cursed land will die unless the star-gazing preacher Alaetar can beat back the monsters at their heels.

And Solemn Judgement, the Man in Grey, faces an undead thane of ancient times; he must decide whether the only friends he has ever found will live, or if the Lands will again suffer the curse of Despair when facing the… Clash of Wills

Can you tell us a bit more about it?

In “Judgement’s Tale” the fate of the entire Lands of Hope falls into the path of a lone, determined orphan youth from beyond its borders. The liche Wolga Vrule has been plotting his escape for centuries, after which he will conquer the Percentalion,  Hope’s central kingdom. Vrule has an Earth Demon, Kog on his side, and has laid his traps with care. Solemn Judgement, on the other hand, is an orphan youth brought to this strange land by his father who died as they hit the shore. He studied long and hard without any guidance from his hosts; they took pains to hide his true power from him. Judgement simply wants to do the right thing by his friends, though this quest looked perilous from the start even in their ignorance of the true threat. But really, what chance could he have…

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

In chronicling this tale, I came to realize that events happening many leagues away, involving another group of heroes, were actually part of the story. So I wrote them in and at first all was well. The last third of the book, however, covers events occurring in several distant places, all on the same night of the year (more precisely, the same thirty-six hour period). I found it very hard to arrange the chapters to my liking, but thanks to the wizardry of word processing I could shuffle them like cards until I found the order I wanted. It was hard work, but in the end very satisfying.

What other novels have you written?

The focus of my chronicles to date has been around the start of the Age of Adventure, which sages put somewhere between 1995-1996 ADR (the calendar of the Lands of Hope). That’s when the events of Judgement’s Tale take place, and the actions of Solemn Judgement among others cause the end of the Age of Emptiness preceding it. My other chronicles to date have looked at the years 2001 and 2002 ADR: the former in The Plane of Dreams and the latter in the Shards of Light series (of which I have two novellas written to date). I also have smaller tales available today (referring to events in the earlier days of legend), and a free Compendium of information about the Lands on my website for those who like to geek out on the details.

Do you have any other books in the works?

I have two immediate projects. The sequel to Judgement’s Tale which concludes the saga of the Percentalion is The Eye of Kog, and I am drafting on that like a madman. I also have begun the third book of the Shards of Light series, called Perilous Embraces, which is probably the toughest challenge I’ve had since I began to chronicle this world. Both are about halfway done, but the former is twice as long so it’s getting the attention right now.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Almost everything in the Alleged Real World is a threat, frankly. Time demands come from everywhere, the home-office is full of noise, and I am easily distracted.

But far and away the biggest danger is cats. We have five right now (I blame my lovely wife), and they take turns jumping in my lap. There are days at a stretch where nothing gets done. It’s an epic struggle, I assure you!

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

Finding the time. That towers over every other consideration, and it comes down to lack of discipline (which I dress up with a lot of “trusting my muse” nonsense). If I peck away for five minutes, tops, I find myself writing rather smoothly at least 90% of the time and I’m in the groove. And what comes off the keyboard is pretty polished, in the right order, etc. most of that time. Very rarely—as recently with my WiP—do I hit a rough patch where the writing is really slow. It’s just that I don’t get back to it. But even at worst, the story sits and gels waiting for me to return. Put another way, it’s always on my mind.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I am a day-job dilettante, able to work from home on a flexible schedule which is a great blessing. I can crab all I want about slow progress on the chronicling, but that other job pays the bills. And since my daughter was home-schooled, the three of us have been together the whole time which is a great treasure. She’s off to college this fall, but still living at home! We stick with a winner around here.

Describe a typical day.

I’m up at 4:30 AM. Not because I’m an early riser, but because those darn cats will just start ripping furniture if they’re not fed. Then a quiet time until around 8, when I tackle the most urgent tasks at work and perhaps slip in some writing. The middle of the day is very choppy—homeschool is a misnomer, you need to drive all over for this lesson, that tutoring, etc. I also try to get up and walk around a bit so I don’t turn into that guy at the end of the evolution chart, the one marked “something went wrong”. In the evening, the ladies like to see reality shows and contests, while I sometimes sneak off to peck away some more. If I get my way, I go to bed absurdly early. But then I read.

I am the servant of a couple of cats and they have their own schedule as well. What motivates or inspires you, not necessarily as regards your writing?

It’s always been heroism that draws me. I don’t read the paper when some dope set a building on fire—I wait for the article a week later where they catch him. I love sports because the exertion and determination echoes heroic quality (and we all make heroes of sports stars, don’t we, and even movie stars). My taste in film, TV, and books all leans that way, and it was all I looked for when I studied history. Why stick your neck out? How many people against you is too many? What makes folks persevere (and how can I get me some of that)?

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

Simple, I compare to those around me. I live in a house with two cancer survivors. So the next time I fall behind on a project for work, or my shoulder hurts, or I wish I had enough money to buy something but don’t… it takes maybe three seconds to realize how good I’ve got it. The worst day always ends, and if my lovely wife and miracle daughter can do it, so can I.

Do you have any pet projects?

2015 is the Year of Local Presence for me. I have books coming out in paper now, thanks to my awesome publisher Katharina Gerlach. I toured the local library to give seminars, and there’s a book fair coming up. If I break in to the local papers or radio, I’ll consider it a true success (they’ve been hard!). Outside of that, I always have audiobooks to do (I love speaking the chronicles myself, and started on the second book in Shards of Light but need to get back to it). Not sure I can refer to the upcoming books in my mind (two novels and two novellas) as “projects”, more like “sentences”! But I’ll take my lumps like a man if I can just make progress.

I like to finish each interview with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a … Cut-up. I hope!

The one thing I cannot do without is: My lovely wife Dorie. I would lock myself out of the house without her. Some days, she does it for me! But she always lets me back in later.

The one thing I would change about my life: I wouldn’t forget to apply for super-powers until it was evidently too late. I’d love to be like The Atom in the old DC comics.

My biggest peeve is: Anonymous bile. What’s the point of instantaneous communication if the only thing we do is blast-dehumanize anyone who disagrees with us?

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: My miracle daughter Genevieve Celeste, who encountered autism and leukemia and is at university now to study instrumental and vocal music performance. Boom, baby. That’s epic.

Thank you for spending time with us. I’ve been wanting to feature your work for some time now.

After the following excerpt from Clash of Wills, I’ll be providing social and book buy links for those who’d like to learn more about Will or purchase his work.

LoHI_JT_CoW_webAt the end of the pillared way, two stone arches stood on the left and right edges of the mesa, evidently leading to a drop and death in the chasm below. Between them, the rock floor rose several more steps to a dais twenty paces wide. There stood a tall robed being, in decayed dark robes bearing a scepter in his skeletal right hand.

His hood was back and the head was completely hairless. Not bald; the crown of his head looked as if it were no more a home for human hair than a marble bust. All his skin was dark and wizened beyond years, beyond parchment or wood; even the age-folds had flattened and died long ago. The eyes, as the three came closer, were strangely unremarkable, small and hard to see. In a moment, Cedrith realized they were only pupils, moving on stalks no longer covered with white vitreous jelly. Noseless, earless, lipless, the face was barely able to grin, which it did constantly. The teeth inside were small and horribly stained, but solid enough to clack with every movement of his jaw.

His frame was almost impossibly tall; standing on the dais he looked full seven feet high. The robes, richly decorated once with cloth-o-gold, seed pearls, silken swaths and hanging jewelry, had faded with the immense passage of time to look like soiled burlap. Under the bottom hem, the feet must still have been partially shod, but as he strode eagerly to the edge of the dais, the sound of his pace–a mixture of leather and bone and flesh–was horrible to hear. The scepter in his right hand was the only clean, undecayed facet of his entire appearance; black wood or iron with a flanged metal top, projecting wicked spikes to the outside while within an egg-sized gem reflected all the darkest hues of the rainbow.

He spoke, and both Cedrith and Natasha gasped at the shock of it; the sage fell to his knees and elbows, lashed with pain to hear a voice that should never speak. With desiccated lips, dried throat-chords, and just a nail-thin worm of a stump where his tongue should have been, the monstrous lord of evil yet spoke with perfect elocution, in powerful, dusty tones that reverberated as if they emanated from one side of him. It was all wrong, violently off, and Cedrith quietly murmured, begging him to stop with every word.

“You cannot imagine, I assure you, how very long I have awaited this moment. I am mortified–hah, yes! mortified indeed–not to have been able to come forward as would suit a proper host. But the rules, you see, are quite constraining. Still, you are here, at last, and destiny will be served. That is, indeed, the most important thing.”

Website: http://www.williamlhahn.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheLandsOfHope?ref=hl

You may purchase his books at:

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/William-L.-Hahn/e/B0057RBIO8/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Barnes & Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/will-hahn

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/WillHahn

The Write Stuff – Monday, October 26 – Interview With Peter J Wacks

Peter Wacks headshotToday, I have the pleasure of featuring WordFire Press’s managing editor and best-selling author, Peter J. Wacks. I was introduced to Peter earlier this year during Portland, Oregon’s Rose City Comic Con and have since learned he is truly a multi-faceted individual. His graphic novel, “Behind These Eyes”, which he co-scripted with Guy Anthony de Marco and Chaz Kemp, was nominated in 2013 for the Bram Stoker Award®. His first two novels, Second Paradigm, a sci-fi mystery thriller, and Bloodletting, an epic fantasy and Part 1 of the Affinities Cycle, which he co-authored with Mark Ryan, were both released earlier this year. In addition to his publishing endeavors, he created the international bestselling Cyberpunk CCG (Collectable Card Game), and has also been an actor and a TV producer.

coverOn or about November 15 of this year, WordFire Press expects to release Peter’s steampunk adventure, The Dandy Boys Mysteries, which WFP describes as follows:

The Vengeance universe, originally published in the Penny Dread Tales, begins here with a young Friedrich Von Helsing, who will eventually grow to fight the supernatural alongside the mysterious Brotherhood.

In the stylings of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Jonathan Polidori’s The Vampyre, this Victorian adventure follows Friedrich and his band of four friends, as these five young scholars debunk the supernatural in 1839. What starts as an innocuous set of adventures studying conmen, mages, Romani curses, and mad scientists leads them down a dark path to true occult.

 

Peter, before I will give our visitors a taste of Dandy Boys, I’d like to spend some time showcasing you as a writer. Would you please tell us something about your earlier work?

 My proudest novel was Second Paradigm. It was the first novel I published, and though it is the oldest example of my work, I accomplished something with it that I’m not sure I could duplicate these days. With Second Paradigm I created a story that can be read in any order, and still delivers Build Up, Conflict, Resolution, in order. The story itself is a time travel story, which did make it easier to lay out a nonlinear plot.

You’ve piqued my curiosity. Time travel is a difficult subject. Would you care to discuss some of the awards you have won?

I have been lucky enough to find my work nominated for a couple awards. The two big nominations were “Behind These Eyes”, a horror graphic novel which was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, and Interface Zero 2.0 a gaming setting which was nominated for an Enny. I also wrote a preface for the 2015 Writers of the Future anthology which was turned into a short film. An interesting side note: Second Paradigm, which I mentioned before, landed me a guest speaking appearance with a chapter of Mensa – since no one before me had broken Aristotelian plotting with true nonlinear “reorganizable” storytelling.

Do you have any other books in the works?

Right now is a very exciting time. I just coauthored a novella with Kevin J. Anderson for the TV show Heroes Reborn (which I love!) I have two series on the way from Baen Books: one a multi book joint world alt-history/fantasy with Eytan Kollin, Walter Hunt, Eric Flint, and Kevin J. Anderson, the other an Urban Fantasy about an everyday P.I. who gets caught in a world of the supernatural. I have 4 other titles in various stages of shopping/signing, but I don’t want to get to far into those until I have more details on the releases.

Very exciting indeed! What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Intense. I prefer to go at a slower pace, but stick at it for a solid 8 hours, if not more. I do this 7 days a week, unless I have conventions or other appearances-at which point I get as much time as I can in.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I do both. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I pants (fly by the seat of my pants.) It really depends on how busy I am when I think of the story. If I have a bunch of other stuff on my plate, I’ll outline just so I can save the idea. (I have 227 draft outlines for books in my “to do” folder.

That’s great! Then we’ll be hearing from you for some time to come. I’d like to delve a little deeper, if I may. I’ll start by asking why do you write?

I know it may be cliché but I can’t not write. The people around me notice that the longer I go without writing the more of a grumpy jerk I become. It is just how I am wired.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

That is a rough question. I know that I care a LOT more about digging into every layer of my characters than I did 10 years ago. They have become friends in a way that they didn’t used to be, even if I think they are jerks. I think a larger part of evolution though is that I have gained confidence. There are people out there impacted by my stories, even if I don’t have the notoriety of a headliner author, and that gives me confidence that the sacrifices of following a creative life (like I have a lot of choice – I don’t think there is anything else in the world I want to do) are worth it.

As for your “other” life, do you have another job outside of writing?

 I do not. But I do. My “day job” is as the managing editor of a publishing house, so when I’m not writing… I’m still reading and analyzing story. The oddity in my life is that my writing actually pays most of my bills; and my “day job” is something I do because I love the people I work with and find it rewarding.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I’m a single Dad and it is one of the most rewarding pieces of my life. My kiddo doesn’t feel like she comes from a broken home, she has adopted the attitude that she is luckier than most kids because she has 3 parents that love her. But – the only piece of my life as “big” as being a writer, to me, is being the best Dad I can.

If you don’t find this next question too intrusive, what do you consider your biggest failure?

Friendships. I am so busy with writing and being a dad that I rarely have social time to check in on my friends. I feel like I fail those around me by not being available, but they still stick around, being amazing people and checking in on me to make sure I haven’t been sitting in front of the keyboard, glassy eyed, without eating for the last 36 hours. And then they feed me when they discover that, in fact, I have been.

Thank you for sharing your time with us and thank for your candor. Obviously, your readers learn something about you from your work, but your responses here reveal much more about your humanity—something I believe is essential for creating a strong reader/writer bond.

 As we close, before I provide a sample from The Dandy Boys Mysteries and provide links to where our visitors can follow you and purchase your books, I’d like to close with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is:                                Unwind time with my daughter.

The one thing I would change about my life:                 The number of hours in the day. We need to move the planet a bit, get up to a nice 36 hour day.

Hah! My sentiment exactly. My biggest peeve is:         Having to sleep.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is:                  My kiddo. She is the awesome.

For those of you who have stayed with us to the end—and how could you not have? Great responses, Peter—here is the excerpt you have been waiting for:

Journal One
The Gypsy Curse

Entry One

 

In April of 1838, Cambridge University issued advanced degrees to several individuals of note. This was done in recognition of the completion of their studies and exemplary performance, as well as their keen insights and application thereof to the problems thus presented by the world.

The honorarium was attended at the newly founded Thomas Graham House headquarters of the Royal Society of London, located on the outskirts of Cambridge. Though Graham had been a fellow for only two years, great things were expected of him as a chemist who more than rigorously applied the Socratic Method to his studies.

Among these so laureled were the founding members of The Fellowship of Adventurer Scholars for the Revelation of Mythology and the Advancement of Natural Philosophy. The Fellowship was a bold venture, one which would cast aside such methods which found men of science cloistered in musty rooms, and would instead embolden its Fellows to embrace the very Spirit of Discovery.

Musty rooms could, as some had said, only contribute to the knowledge and study of musty rooms, while the world beckoned from outside the windows, enticing the inquiring mind to dissect and study its many wonders.

While the Fellowship did aspire to become a branch of the Royal Society, it was by no means intentioned to be constrained by the guiding vision of those notable gentlemen; rather, it sought to show that the empirical methods of these great explorers of the mind were better suited for examinations of the natural world.

Founded, as it was, by those more … youthful in nature, The Fellowship embraced travel and exploration. The body of the Fellowship of Adventurer Scholars consisted of Niles Byron, the eldest son to Lord George Gordon Byron; Dominic William Weyland, the youngest son of the noted industrialist Thomas Weyland; William Owen Wilson of the Oxford Wilsons; Rufus Emmerson, whose father had acquired a small fortune as the principle financier of the Weyland Industrial Consortium; and Friedrich Von Helsing, of house Helsing, who was himself second in line to a small barony in northern Germany.

Each of these men were of the highest caliber, as defined by the mind if not by blood, and disciplined with their time and intellect, bringing both to bear on the problems that so willfully accosted the good men and women of The Emperor’s.

While the exact nature of their introduction is unknown, it is common knowledge that these gentlemen shared several interests and associations while attending the King’s College, and that they could often be found in each other’s company. Despite their disparate social statuses, their shared intellectual and literary interests led them to engage in regular symposiums of the true Greek fashion.

In addition to such shared interests, the disciplines which these men mastered contributed greatly to their collective venture, as if the fates themselves had guided their interests toward that which would best accommodate their quest for truth in a darkened world; but perhaps even their philosophies at this time were not sufficient to dream of all the things in heaven and earth. Though the world may be a stage, and the Adventurer Scholars were but players, the ideas they pursued were, to them, the very parchment and ink with which the great playwright scribbled the tragedy of the world.

Niles Byron had, at that time, received his degree in matters of the Law. The discipline which was intended to prepare him for the affairs of his estate had instead provided the Fellowship with the ability to deftly maneuver the many difficulties of the world’s changing political spheres. It also allowed them a certain ease of passage through customs points, for in a world of imperial rule, the force of law could compel compliance more swiftly then could a blade, just as the badge of citizenship could defend better than any shield. And were one to find themselves in such a place as rejected these authorities, then the quick wit of the esquire could be called upon to lubricate the most insurmountable of obstructions.

Simultaneously, the title of Medical Doctorate, which had been bestowed upon both Rufus and Wilson, granted the coterie many tangible investigative insights, as well a certain degree of universal social acceptance. For who does not value the man who can heal all ailments and address even the sicknesses of the soul? Having two such fine exemplars of the field in their company could only further the prestige of the Fellowship and contribute to their study of the human phenomena which so captivated their interest.

It was the analytics and theoretics of Natural Philosophy—obtained by both Weyland and Helsing—which rounded out the group’s skills and provided a firm methodology for what followed.

If you’re looking to follow Peter, you may do so here:

 Facebook:      www.facebook.com/PJWacks

Twitter:          www.twitter.com/peterjwacks

Website:         www.peterjwacks.net/

 Buy Links:     www.wordfirepress.com

www.amazon.com/Dandy-Boys-Mysteries-Vengeance-Book-ebook/dp/B014WWE5SE

The Write Stuff – Monday, October 12 – Interview With Nancy Kress

I was introduced to Nancy Kress by my previous guest, Mike Resnick, this past August at the WorldCon book launch party that WordFire Press was throwing for his newest release. The guestroom where the party occurred was growing increasingly crowded as Mike led me through the throng of partygoers toward an attractive brunette seated on a couch against one of the walls. When he told her about my interview series, she smiled and immediately gave her email address to this stranger standing before her, assuring me she would be delighted to participate. I could see I was interrupting her conversation with the woman seated next to her, so I thanked her as best I could and made myself scarce. To this day, I wish I had had a better opportunity to get to know her. This then, is your chance and mine to acquaint ourselves with one of the all-time masters of sci-fi and fantasy.

Nancy KressNancy Kress is the author of thirty-three books, including twenty-six novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing. Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the novel Probability Space. She often writes about genetic engineering and is perhaps best known for the Sleepless trilogy, beginning with Beggars In Spain, a complex look at the intersection of genetic engineering and national economics. Most recent works are the Nebula-winning Yesterday’s Kin (Tachyon, 2014) and Best Of Nancy Kress (Subterranean, September, 2015). Her work has been translated into more than two dozen languages, including Spanish, French, German, Croatian, Danish, Hebrew, and Klingon.

In addition to writing, Kress often teaches at various venues around the country and abroad; in 2008 she was the Picador visiting lecturer at the University of Leipzig. Currently, every summer she teaches Taos Toolbox, a two-week intensive writing workshop, with Walter Jon Williams.

She describes her most recent release, Best Of Nancy Kress, this way:

This collection holds twenty-one stories, written over nearly forty years and representing the best of Nancy Kress’s fiction. Three of these stories have won the Nebula, the Hugo, or both, and another four were nominees. They include time travel (“And Wild For To Hold”), hard SF (“Shiva in Shadow,” “Margin of Error”), alien planets (“Flowers of Aulit Prison,” “My Mother, Dancing”), trenchant satire (“People Like Us”), near-future extrapolation of current technology (“Someone to Watch Over Me”), explorations of social movements (“Beggars in Spain”), and unclassifiable (“Grant Us This Day”). The gorgeous cover, representing Anne Boleyn in “And Wild For To Hold,” is by Tom Canty.

The stories were chosen by Kress herself, who says: “The stories in this book try to do different things. Some, such as ‘People Like Us,’ are predominately idea stories. Some, like ‘Laws of Survival,’ are mostly interested in what a character would do in an impossible situation. Some, like ‘Unto the Daughters,’ were written because I enjoyed writing the voice. At least one, ‘Casey’s Empire,’ is a comment on writing science fiction: why, how, and at what cost one may become an SF writer. I picked the stories that are my personal favorites.”

The Best Of Nancy Kress received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, which called it a “sparkling and thoughtful collection…Kress has a gift for focusing on the familiar and the personal, even in the most alien settings.”

Nancy, thank you so much for agreeing to honor us with your presence. You’ve been writing for nearly forty years and have almost one book still in print for each of them. In addition to your many Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction novels and novellas, you’ve written numerous short story collections so I am compelled to ask, how do you keep your writing fresh?

Writing evolves. My first three novels were fantasy, the first heavily influenced by Peter Beagle (a fact mentioned by every single reviewer of the book). Then I moved on to more traditional fantasy, before deciding I’d like to write a science fiction book. I did some thrillers, some space opera, and, increasingly, hard SF based on emerging science. The disadvantage of this is that, unlike some other genre writers, I have not built a “brand” with a coterie of faithful followers sure that they will like the next book because they liked the last one. The advantage is that it does keep writing fresh to always be trying something new. And, of course, with hard SF, there is always new science to draw on.

I enjoy Beagle’s writing, as well. Many writers specialize in either non-fiction or fiction. Some choose to write almost exclusively novels or short stories. I, for one, feel I need novel-length works to develop my themes, yet you seem to thrive in virtually every writing environment there is, including non-fiction. While many of your books are for adults, your 2013 novel Flash Point targets a YA audience, something that requires an entirely different mindset. I don’t mean to sound disparaging—far from it—you’ve earned my greatest respect. Nonetheless, I have to ask how is this possible?

I think some writers are natural novelists; some are more effective at shorter lengths. I’ve experimented with all of them, and my conclusions are two: First, my favorite length for science fiction is the novella. It is long enough to develop an alternate world but short enough that only one plot line is needed, which lets the writer drive that one on through for maximum punch. Second, I think I am a better writer at short lengths than at novel lengths. All my awards except one are for short fiction. As for Young Adult books—Flash Point was also an experiment, but not one I will repeat. I didn’t really understand fourteen-year-olds when I was one, and the teenage culture now is not something I think I can successfully appeal to.

Many of your works delve into areas that require great technical expertise, for example genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Yet, as far as I can tell, before your writing exploded, you transitioned from being an educator to working in advertising. What do you read to develop the knowledge base required for your books?

I wish I had a scientific education! Had I known when I was young that I would turn into an SF writer, I would have chosen differently. Instead, I hold a Masters in English. To write about genetic engineering, I research on-line, attend lectures, and pester actual scientists with questions. My best friend is a doctor; she goes over my work to check that I have not said anything egregiously moronic.

A career such as yours has many turning points, some striven for, others that blind-side the recipient for better or for worse. Would you care to provide two or three of the more pivotal moments?

The first turning point for me came with the writing of the novella “Beggars in Spain,” which won both the Hugo and the Nebula and which would never have been written without a jolt from writer Bruce Sterling. At a critique workshop we both attended, he pointed out that my story was weak because the society I’d created had no believable economic underpinnings. He said this colorfully and at length. After licking my wounds for a few weeks, I thought, “Damn it, he’s right!” In the next thing I wrote, “Beggars in Spain,” I seriously tried to address economic issues: Who controls the resources? What finances are behind what ventures? Why? With what success? My story about people not needing to sleep, which I’d actually been trying to compose for years, finally came alive.

Another big turning point for me was deciding to make my two biothrillers, Oaths And Miracles and Stinger, as realistic as possible. That meant a lot of scientific research. My reward was having both scientists and FBI agents tell me, “I believed every word you wrote.” Very satisfying.

Would you be good enough to describe your path to publication?

I began with three short-story sales to SF magazines. That convinced an agent to look at my first novel, without making any promises of representation. But she liked the book, and so she took me on.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing an SF series based on my novella “Yesterday’s Kin,” which won the 2014 Nebula. Aliens come to Earth—but they are not as alien as we think, and they bring both great tech and bad news. When I finished the novella, I felt that the immediate story was done but not the greater implications. A three-book series will come out from Tor over the next few years.

Best-NKressOn September 30 of this year, Subterranean Press is releasing The Best Of Nancy Kress, a collection of twenty-one stories written over thirty-five years. I’m really pleased about this.

If there is such a thing, describe a typical day.

I am a morning writer. I wake up early (very early, and it’s getting worse as I get older), drink coffee while puttering around for an hour or so, and then write. If fiction doesn’t get written by noon, it doesn’t get written. In the afternoon, after a walk with my husband and the dog, I do research, email, edit student manuscripts if I am teaching just then, social media—all the non-writing things that go with being a full-time writer. Evenings that we are home, I read. Of course, all this changes with the of actual life. But that’s the basic template.

I’m no stranger to rising early to write. I understand the morning routine very well. Would you care to share something about your home life?

I live in Seattle with my husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, and Cosette, the world’s most spoiled toy poodle. I’ve been here in Seattle for six years now, having moved from upstate New York to marry Jack, and I love the city. It’s beautiful, temperate in climate (unlike Buffalo, where I grew up), and culturally rich. Also, there is a large SF community here.

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

Narrative and science both inspire me. I get the narrative from books, movies, and some TV. I love movies and go often. The science I must seek out. In addition, I play a fair amount of chess, but I can’t say that inspires me because, alas, I’m not very good at it. When I was younger, I didn’t think you could really enjoy something you were bad at. Turns out I was wrong.

Which authors do you enjoy—sci-fi and otherwise—and why?

My favorite author is Jane Austen: not an intuitive choice for an SF writer. But her satire on how humans behave is just as fresh, funny, and true today as it was during the Regency. Out of genre, favorites include Somerset Maugham, Anne Tyler, Philippa Gregory, Karen Joy Fowler. In SF and fantasy, a diverse group: Ursula LeGuin, Bruce Sterling, Connie Willis, George Martin’s Game Of Thrones, Daryl Gregory, Fred Pohl. Some new, some old.

I always conclude my interviews with what I call a Lightning Round, since the responses often yield unexpected insights. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m… Over-organized, always wanting to know “what is the plan?”

The person I’m most proud of is… My two children.

The one thing I cannot do without is… Coffee.

The one thing I would do over is… You don’t really expect me to answer that in public in any significant way, do you?

Hah! No. I guess I don’t. The thing that always makes me laugh, right down to my gut, is… My husband. He has a wonderful dry sense of humor. My two children.

Nancy, thanks once again for joining us, most especially for your thoughtful replies. (I also need to find a copy of one of your works in Klingon. What an item that would be!)

Those dropping in for a peek can learn more about this wonderful author via these links:

Website:         www.nancykress.com

Twitter:          @nancykress

Facebook:      https://www.facebook.com/nancy.kress.9

You may purchase her books here on Amazon:               http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_11?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=nancy+kress&sprefix=Nancy+Kress%2Caps%2C206

Or through her Amazon author page:       http://www.amazon.com/Nancy-Kress/e/B000AQ4SK2/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1444280027&sr=1-2-ent

The Write Stuff – Monday, August 3 – Interview With AR Silverberry

Before I was published, I felt as if I were the only author in the world. These days, I belong to a seemingly endless circle of authors of demonstrable talent such that each time I turn around, I find that yet another of my acquaintances has won several awards and writes with great originality. Having said this, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to A. R. Silverberry. If you have not yet sampled his work, you should.

Author Photo 2 198x300When I asked Mr. Silverberry to give us his writing biography, not one to go on about himself, he gave this succinct reply:

A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, Wyndano’s Cloak, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. The Stream is his second novel.

I find his premise for The Stream vastly intriguing:

What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?

After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?

Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.

Will you tell us how this unusual book came into being?

Funny how it came about. I was working on the sequel of my first book, Wyndano’s Cloak, when I was gripped by the idea for another story. I had been having a conversation where I used the metaphor of a stream. I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, the character of a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, sprang into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside that sequel and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.

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

I knew almost nothing about boats and sailing. My knowledge of surviving in nature was just as scant. Here’s a short list of some of the things I needed to learn and integrate into the novel: the flora and fauna of the riparian wilderness, the technology available to the primitive people occupying the Stream—knife making, basketry, boat building—and the mainstays of their diet and how it was prepared. In other words, I had a huge learning curve.

Have you written any other novels?

Wyndano’s Cloak (2010) and its prequel, unpublished and living in one of my dresser drawers.

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

Yes! Both books have gotten awards. Wyndano’s Cloak was a Benjamin Franklin Award Gold Medal winner. To date, The Stream has snagged four honors: Shelf Unbound Notable Book in the category of Literary Fiction, Eric Hoffer Award Finalist in General Fiction, Finalist for the da Vinci Eye (for the book cover), and Finalist for Foreword Reviews Indie Fab Book of the Year Award.

What else are you working on?

I’m working on a dystopian sci-fi trilogy. I don’t like to say too much about unpublished projects. You never know how they’ll turn out, or if they’ll turn out! Case in point: the prequel mentioned above. I think about it from time to time, wondering if I can resolve cure the ills that plague it!

I certainly understand. Sometimes you can talk all of the energy out of a project. Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

If you’re personality is not suited to it, the long, solitary hours might be an issue. Fortunately for me, I can get engrossed in my writing for much of the day, and wonder where the time went.

Tell us about your path to publication.

That prequel was written purely on intuition. Translation: I didn’t know beans about writing. I submitted it to agents. All five rejected it, but one was kind enough to critique the positives and negatives about the book. Her feedback was quite helpful, and spurred me to learn about the craft by reading books and taking courses. When Wyndano’s Cloak was completed, my editor (I kid you not, a Finalist for a Pulitzer!) encouraged me to submit it to agents. In fact, after I told him I wanted to self-publish it, he wrote to an agent, without my knowledge, and told her about it. Talk about a vote of confidence! It was wonderful that he was so passionate about the story, but I wanted total artistic control of publication, and went that route.

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

Making it all hang together. The early drafts of Wyndano’s Cloak had too many themes. I spent six months pondering which one to focus on, and drove everyone around me crazy as I agonized over it. Thematically, The Stream was easy, though. I knew what I wanted to say, and that guided the process.

Having the courage to cut and pair down to the most essential things is another challenge. Case in point is the excerpt at the end of this interview. I love the way the scene turned out, but I decided not to include it in the book for pacing reasons, and because I found other ways of conveying what I needed. Think of it as bonus material for people who want more about the Stream.

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

If you like adventure, suspense, and fantasy, along with unforgettable characters, you’ll enjoy my books.

Describe a typical day.

Roll out of bed between 6 and 7 AM. Pet and feed “freelance household beast” (credit goes to the poet, Pablo Neruda). Write until 9. Take a long walk. Jot down story ideas on notebook. Head to work. Listen to audio book (currently One False Move, by Harlan Coben). See clients afternoon into the evening. Listen to audio book on the way home. Read at night. Sleep. Dream.

I’m eager to share a sample from The Stream with our visitors, but before I do, let’s try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a …

Caring individual.

The one thing I cannot do without is:

My piano.

My biggest peeve is…

Intolerance.

Thank you, A. R., for taking the time to share with us. Here is the sample I promised:

Stream Small Cover 2If Wend had stopped to think about it, he would have realized that his family, searching for fruit, nuts, and roots, never ventured far from either shore, that travelers never sailed upstream to tell tales of what lay ahead. Except for tacking and voyages of a few miles, his family never ventured upstream either. When he’d asked his father why, he was told, “It’s a law.” Wend must have looked blank because his father told him to jump as high as he could. Wend jumped, and after his feet landed on the ground his father said, “Now jump as high as the top of the mast.” Wend had laughed and declared that no one could do that.

“Why not?” his father asked.

“We come down first,” Wend replied.

“It’s a law,” said his father. “And it’s a law that we go that way.”

His father pointed downstream.

If Wend had thought of these things, he would have understood that everyone was tethered to the stream and could only go in one direction. People stopped from time to time, working at abandoned foundries to smelt metal for anchors, chains, and knives, cutting trees to build or repair boats, living in villages, taking over deserted houses like creatures that move into another animal’s shell. They never stayed long, always returning to their boats, always going with the current, always traveling downstream.

For those of you who would like to stay in touch with A. R. Silverberry, here are a few links:

 Website                    http://www.arsilverberry.com

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

Facebook                https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-R-Silverberry/122991764395051

Twitter                     @arsilverberry

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 20 – Interview With Lauren Lynne

I first met YA Contemporary Fantasy author, Lauren Lynne, through the Facebook group, Fantasy Sci-fi News Network, #FSFNNet, a hangout for authors and readers of these genres. Time passed and our friendship grew until one day I chanced to read her Facebook bio and learned we are neighbors, living within a few miles of each other. It didn’t take long before we found a chance to do a face-to-face over coffee at a Starbucks located midway between our homes. I found her to be such an enjoyable lady—certainly an enjoyable, intriguing author—and decided I needed to introduce her to you. Here is how she describes herself:

Author 9I’m author Lauren Lynne. The good side of growing up is that you can write whatever you want. The downside… now I can’t read it without my glasses! I have the soul of an adventurer but the heart of a coward when it comes to danger, yet I’m drawn to all things action-adventure, so this particular genre was a natural fit. You won’t find me bungee jumping, cliff diving or doing parkour because, well… I’m a klutz… so I write it. Think of me as an armchair adventure hound. I create characters who are much braver, tougher, more graceful and athletic than I will ever be. When you dream, dream big!

I love working with students who have a thirst for knowledge. I write for young adults because they are the age group I most love to teach. I grew up in a house where reading was expected, anticipated and enjoyed. I want to pass that joy on to my students. I do not write alone, but pull in my boys for real life teenaged insight. I also listen to my students.

I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, with its vivid and varied panoramas. When I’m not writing, I can be found spending time with my family, working with students, reading, gardening or hiking around Mt. Hood, the Columbia River Gorge or the Oregon Coast with my camera. I am also a graduate of both Oregon State and Portland State universities with degrees in education and science. Writing is my passion and I want to share my love of it and reading with you.

Lauren has written a Young Adult contemporary fantasy action adventure series called The Secret Watchers. Today, we’re showing off book four of the series, Perceptions, published May 26 of last year. Here is its description:

Marlo finds a missing watcher and now it’s up to Lucie and Owen to go undercover to pull her out, if she’s even still alive. They find themselves thrown into the world of human trafficking and are afraid they won’t make it out alive. Caged, drugged and confused, they lose sight of their mission. Then they must face the truth about darkness and light – or is it all just shades of gray? How will they save someone else if they can’t even save themselves?

Sometimes you have to do truly repugnant things for the greater good but then what does that make you? What do you become if you are just as malicious as the dark watcher you are supposed to be saving everyone from? White Eagle says that power is power, but Owen has absorbed dark watcher gifts. He can feel himself morphing and he’s pretty sure he’s nowhere near good anymore.

What will two damaged watchers do now? Are you still good if you’ve been consumed by darkness? Owen will have to figure that out before it’s too late. He meets a mysterious stranger who has an interesting offer. Owen can’t decide if it’s worth the risk but it becomes more and more appealing as he is used again and again by both sides and now that he’s actually killed someone, who will save him?

I asked Lauren to describe the rest of the series and to tell us what else is on the horizon.

I have now written five books in The Secret Watchers series; four are published. Book five will be the end of Owen’s story but readers will see him again. Thanks to demands of loyal fans, there will be a new, as yet untitled, book and possibly series in the world of The Secret Watchers. I have just begun work on a book with a female protagonist discovering who she really is. What is her secret power? Stay tuned to find out.

This December will be the final release in The Secret Watchers series. Protagonist Owen Ryer will be graduating from high school and he will face the greatest evil he has known while battling the darkness that has taken root inside him. I am also working on my first dystopian. This was not something that I planned to write. I was hijacked by a muse and decided to go for it. It has been both fun and challenging.

Do you find there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

For me, time is the greatest challenge. I still need another job so that I can pay the bills and I am part of the famous sandwich generation where I both help out my parents and my kids.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I would guess that there are as many paths to publication as there are authors. In lieu of writing a ton of query letters I chose to self-publish. That does not mean that if the right offer comes along I will turn it down. I wanted my book in the hands of readers. I did quite a bit of research and finally selected BookBaby who happens to be a local company.

How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

So far I have only done away with bad guys but hold onto your seat because in Destiny that will change.

Describe a typical day.

I love it when people ask me this question! I would love to build some routine into my life. I have not had that for the last ten or so years. I am working on it! At this very moment it is summer so I am neither teaching nor tutoring. I do some technical editing and I am helping my parents get their old house ready to go on the market. I try to look at Twitter and Facebook every day and respond to friends and fans. I do a little marketing (like answering this interview) and I try really hard to squeeze in some writing. I am looking forward to the day when I can dedicate more time to my craft.

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

I am a Tigger at heart. One of my greatest assets/curses is that I see the best in everyone until they prove me wrong. If someone is going to find a silver lining it’s me! It’s raining? Great, it’s watering my flowers! Most people love my books but the first few ugly, mean or unfair reviews hurt my feelings. Now, I know that everyone has a right to their opinion and I don’t have to agree. I still celebrate and cherish every four and five star rating and each awesome review.

What has been your greatest success in life?

My kids will always be my greatest blessing. They are turning into wonderful people that I am proud of, but when I am gone, my books will live on. I will have left something behind. I will never know how many student lives I touched or how deeply but I will always have the books I authored and the feeling that I have left a positive mark that will remain.

Before we share an excerpt from Perceptions, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a…

person who is too nice. I need to stand up for myself more.

The one thing I cannot do without is:

GPS or a good map. I have a terrible sense of direction.

The one thing I would change about my life:

A little more money so that I could dedicate my time to writing.

Boy! Wouldn’t we all? My biggest peeve is:

Intentionally mean people.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is:

Where I am today. I am happy in my life and have some flexibility. I have people who care about me and people to care about. What more could you really want? Oh, yeah, GPS

It’s wonderful you can say that. I wish more of us could. Before we close, here is a sampling of Lauren’s writing:

eBook Cover PerceptionsI turned and growled to the newbie watcher, “Who are you? And why are you spying on us?”

He gave us a defiant look, twisted and tried to drain White Eagle, who caught his wrist before his hand connected and snapped it back. “Answer him.” His voice was filled with menace. White Eagle can be an imposing guy when he wants to be.

The young dark watcher raised one side of his upper lip in a snarl making the scar by his mouth pucker.

“Who sent you?” I queried, giving him my best scowl.

“You don’t scare me. I’m not telling you anything!” he sneered.

I squinted at him, deep in thought. Did I have the stomach for this? Did I have it in me to be cruel? Could I torture him for information and still live with myself? If I did, I would be no better than they were. Where was the line and should I cross it?

A slow smile spread over his unshaven face where a scraggly beard showed in uneven patches. “You won’t do it. You don’t have what it takes. You won’t do what has to be done to get what you need. You’re… moral,” he said with disgust like I’d personally offended him. “You’re weak. The good guys usually are. They follow the rules. They can’t do what needs to be done!”

“Shows what you know!” Lucie came out of nowhere to deliver a perfectly executed upper cut to his jaw. Skater dude sagged in White Eagle’s grip, semiconscious as we all turned to stare at Lucie.

“What?” Lucie asked defensively. “We didn’t have all day. Somebody go get the van and let’s take him somewhere we can really question him.”

Mom snapped out of it first, reached into White Eagle’s pocket for the keys and sprinted off.

“Lucie dear, if you’re feeling upset from the proceedings maybe we should talk and not… um, take out our aggressions on others,” Sarah said with quiet dignity.

Lucie smiled at her, a rather sick smile that came nowhere near her eyes. “And I don’t think we should assume he isn’t dangerous. Until we know who he is and what he wants… I consider him a threat.” She shook out her hand as she spoke.

“Did you hurt yourself?” I asked with a huge grin.

A real smile broke across Lucie’s face. “I failed to make ‘good fist’. Sorry, White Eagle.”

Sarah rolled her eyes but White Eagle grinned at her and shifted his limp load that was just beginning to moan softly. I brought Lucie’s hand to my lips. “You gonna need medical attention?” I asked her, still smiling.

Lucie didn’t even get to answer. Mom screeched around the corner, narrowly missed the dumpster, and stopped inches from White Eagle’s elbow. To his credit, he neither blanched nor dropped his load. He did slowly raise his eyes to give Mom a dirty look through the windshield and then looked significantly at his elbow and then back to her. She grinned, shrugged and hopped out of the van. “So where do we stow him?” she asked indicating the limp skater.

I popped open the back and rummaged in the compartment where we kept our supply of zip ties, clips and Velcro. We zipped up our guy and tossed him unceremoniously into the back. Sarah pulled a Taser out of a locked compartment and then chose a seat near our now thrashing captive. “You behave or so help me, I’ll zap you,” Sarah said in one of the meanest voices she employed.

He gave Sarah a long look, then stopped flinging himself around, sensing her seriousness. He subsided into a sullen silence. Mom and White Eagle had a brief, silent argument over the van keys. He finally sighed and relented, making Mom jump up and down in a brief happy dance as she giggled.

“Some things just aren’t worth it,” he huffed under his breath as he plopped into the seat next to mine.

For those of you who would like to learn more about Lauren and purchase her books, here are some helpful links:

 Author Website         http://laurenlynneauthor.com/

Series Website          http://thesecretwatchers.com

Facebook                    http://www.facebook.com/TheSecretWatchersSeries

Facebook                    http://facebook.com/LaurenLynneAuthor

Twitter                       http://Twitter.com/LaurenLynneYA

Goodreads                  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5808133.Lauren_Lynne

Pinterest                    http://www.pinterest.com/laurenlynneYA/

Google+                     http://plus.google.com/+LaurenLynne/about