The Write Stuff – Monday, October 23 – Interview With Michelle Cori

This week’s guest, Michelle Cori, lives in the Rocky Mountains, when she isn’t traveling to the next Comic Con. Currently, she spends her time running a bar and telling tales over drinks or in the form of novels and comics. During the day, she works as a Production Manager in publishing.

She shares her life and home with her teenaged son, and two crazy min-pins named Harvey Wallbanger and Honey Bunny. Traveling, bourbon, hard ciders, record shops, tea, old book stores and good ales are some of her other pastimes. She has a love for Flash Gordon, Highlander, Star Wars, Dune, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and comic books.

The Kind Mosiac:1, Convergent Lines, which was released as a trade paperback in Spring 2017, is Michelle Cori’s first published book, but several are to follow. Currently she has works in progress in Gothic Horror, Urban Fantasy, several short stories, a comic series, an illustrated adult picture book and middle grade series.

Often, she can be found writing at various coffee shops around the country.

She describes Convergent Lines like this:

Thirteen families.

Human-fae hybrids who have existed alongside

humanity for thousands of years. With long lives

and magic they shaped the world.

 

Until a curse … or rather, curses …

 

Longing for freedom, Grayson Penrose finds himself

dreaming of the past, searching for something he lost,

but hating his empty life. He wants nothing more

than to be left alone. But fate has other plans for him.

 

Placed in the path between human and supernatural

nations, with his curse lifted, only Grayson can

carry the burden of his dying race.

 

Tell us about your debut novel.

The Kind Mosaic:1, Convergent Lines is my first published book. I called it a gothic horror because while it is differently urban fantasy, it has a darker narration. As I wrote it I was re-watching the original Twin Peaks, David Lynch had announced he would do another season 25 years later just like the end of the series said. Throw in the show Salem, and the Hannibal TV series and you can see where I was at the time. I’ve also had some compare it to Stranger Things, too. Part of the book takes place in the late 80s, early 90s. The book isn’t gory or all that scary, it has the feel of the old gothic horror or noir genres.

Convergent Lines is my origin story for witches. It’s targeted for adults. There is little objectionable in the first book, but it will get darker as the series goes. My world draws from paganism, Norse, Celtic and Egyptian mythology. I want to explore the darker sides of those worlds as they apply to witches.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I have a “note from the author” in Convergent Lines about this.

This story came into being in a rather unusual way. In middle of 2015 I was preparing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’d been planning to write the second book in another series; I rough outlined the book and went to bed.

That night, as I slept, I had the most vivid dream of this boy who could walk through mirrors and anything he drew would come to life. But he was troubled, he hated his life and had lost the only person he’d cared about. I woke up remembering the whole dream and all through the next week I thought about him. Then I dreamed of him again; this time he told me more of his story. Intrigued, I outlined the rough draft (mainly world building) of his tale and over the next week he showed me his world.

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

I’m a bit different from many authors. My background is in art directing and publishing. I had a couple of publishers interested in my book, but after thinking long and hard I decided I wanted to do what I do for so many others, myself. I self-published Convergent Lines.

The cover, chapter head illustrations and a custom tarot deck (one of the cards is at the back of the book the others are used for marketing), are done by me. I hired an editor, and used proofers. The end result is something I’m proud of.

In the end, it was too hard to hand off decisions about the cover and art to someone else. I also wanted control over the speed my books come out. My two urban fantasy books I will self-pub, the middle grade I will probably get an agent and shop publishers for.

What else are you working on?

The follow-ups to Convergent Lines. These are the two books in-between Convergent Lines and Deluded Lines. The follow-ups are called Side Lines: Kador’s Curse and Side Lines: Fae Tales. Kador’s book is almost to first draft and will be around 65K words. Fae Tales are a collection of 16 tales from the Kind’s fae world which are related to the families.

I also have a mid-grade book I hope to get back to early next years. It is called Saint Wellinghouse’s Discoveries: UNICOM. It’s a little like Goonies, two young friends searching out one of their crazy great grandfather’s inventions.

I hope to get to work on a comic book my son thought of. I’d like to co-write it with him. I also have what I call an adult picture book almost written, then I’ll start the illustrations. The focus is Krampus.

I also have another urban fantasy series called the Forgotten Ones. I have the first two of the three books to first draft. Next summer I’ll focus on those and have them come out every three months.

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

I do most of my writing at night. The hours I keep bartending lead to me being a night owl. Kevin J Anderson, my boss and best-selling author said once in a seminar, “It’s impossible to find uninterrupted time to write.” I raised my hand and he said, “I know you don’t have uninterrupted time.”

I replied, “Nobody bothers me at one a.m.” He laughed, and conceded my point. Jim Butcher later in the same seminar said he is a late-night writer.

So, I get up usually around 10:30 a.m. Go to the bar for a couple hours and order supplies, do paperwork. I then will hit up a coffee shop and do a couple hours of work for WordFire Press. By about 4:30 I come home to hang out with my son. We will eat and maybe watch TV, if he doesn’t have a D&D or MTG game planned. He will want an hour or two to play online games, so I go back and finish WordFire stuff then start into my writing. Two days a week I bartend, those days I usually don’t get any writing done. Saturdays, I give over to me, to do what I want. If I need to run errands or shop I do. But Saturday nights are all about writing.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I do a really loose outline, most of it is research I need for the book. Earlier in my writing career I tried to do outlines, but I would run into the problem of trying to make a character do something which didn’t work. Then my focus would change to adjusting the outline. It interrupted my writing.

Now, I do my research and write down a few things that need to happen, or any foreshadowing. The only exception is the opening. I will try writing the first chapter a couple of times, from different points until I have the one. I like getting into the story and seeing where it will lead. Many times, I’ve been surprised by a scene and a character that wasn’t a major character but turns into one.

There were two things in Convergent Lines which surprised me. The first was a character from one of my other series decided she would like to make a splash in this book. She wasn’t planned in the series she appeared in either. There was also Grayson’s companion which is introduced about halfway through the book. I didn’t know he would come along, nor play an increasingly important role. The other part that surprised me where the two big events at the climax. I know that sound weird, how can the person writing the story knowing the beginning and the end be surprised? I knew what I needed to happen at the ending, what I didn’t know was how to make it happen. The night I wrote the big climax was during NaNoWriMo 2015 at my favorite coffee shop. It was around midnight as my hands flew across the keys I was shocked, intrigued and couldn’t believe I would let that happen. Seriously, I wondered where it came from, never did I imagine that would happen.

Writing without a rigid outline is much more enjoyable for me, as the author.

Please tell us about what you do when you’re not writing.

I have two other jobs, well, three. I’m a single mom of a fourteen-year-old teenager. I love being his mom. Me discovering I was pregnant with him is what started my journey into writing. I’d been an Art Director for years, and I was burnt out. I needed a new creative outlet.

I manage and bartend at a bar in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, there are bars in Utah and no it isn’t the easiest thing to do in Utah. But I do have the best customers, especially regulars.

My other gig is as WordFire Press’s Production Manager. A press owned by best-selling authors Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. My background and first college degree was in graphic design and illustration. In the late 90s I was a Production Manager for the largest independently owned and run newspaper. So, I have been in publishing for a long time. It’s been fun working with legendary authors, best-seller and new authors in the ever-changing publishing industry. A great job and experience to a new author like myself.

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

My first love was music. I’m classically trained, with more than twelve years of playing, and about seven in jazz. I took college music theory in high school, and have an extensive vinyl collection. I adore jazz, blues, some old R&B, classic rock, classical and so many forms of music. I can go from Mozart to the Police, then move on to Led Zeppelin. Right now, I’m stuck on Junior Wells with Buddy Guy. My first real job was working for Digitech and DBX (guitar and music equipment), for five years I worked with other musicians and some rock stars.

Music is my number one influence and inspiration. Christopher Walken once said, “I think in music.” I knew what he meant, because that is exactly what I experience. Many of the stories I write are inspired by what I imagine a song is about, or a memory connected to a song. I pick the music I write to very carefully, because I use the tempo for the pacing.

Do you have any pet projects?

Yes, or it might be better to say I will. Reading programs for kids is near and dear to my heart. Being a parent I experience the frustration of a parent trying to help a child which struggled to read. I want to help others, especially because of the resources I have access to now.

My upcoming middle grade project and the comic series are the first steps into this. Once these projects are farther along, I hope to work with kid cons at comic cons, visit elementary schools while I travel, to work close with a couple of children’s reading charities and to possibly start my own.

As a child, I loved to read and found it a wonderful escape, which grew with me into adulthood. It also lead me to writing. I’d like to pass that on.

Thank you, Michelle, for agreeing to participate in The Write Stuff. To conclude, I will make one brief statement which I would like you to complete in as few words as possible:

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: I look around at my life and wonder how I got so lucky.

Before I show our visitors an excerpt from Convergent Lines, I would like to point out that it was just released in hardcover on October 17, to be followed soon after in eBook format. Those of you who are interested in following Michelle online should also note I will provide social links as well as book buy links immediately after the excerpt.

The Kind Mosaic:1, Convergent Lines

As I walked through the door, I began to say the undoing spell again. Any electronics nearby would be fried, including the video feed. Just inside the door, I found a second door with STAIRWELL printed on it. I needed to go down; I opened it and ran down the stairs. After considering where they would hold Hilda, I concluded she would be in cold storage. This would probably be in a basement, away from the public parts of the Coven House. I had reached the landing between the flights of stairs when I heard a door above me open and the sound of footsteps and creative cursing. I pressed myself against the wall to wait them out.

The upper door clicked closed, and I ran the rest of the way down. To my relief, there wasn’t another keypad. The lack of real security surprised me. While humans might not find dead bodies valuable, the Kind had different ideas on the matter, especially the darker side. At the door, I stopped, opened it, and peered out into a dark hall. Darkness and silence greeted me. Out into the hall I went. Security would be doing a sweep after they barricaded the door I had come through, so I didn’t have long.

It would take too long to check each of the several doors lining the hall. I needed to find cold storage. The fifth door on the left had a plaque, as I got closer I could see COLD STORAGE engraved on it. I stopped and listened. Nothing. I pushed, but found it locked. Kneeling to be level with the lock, I pulled a pen out of my pocket. It’s my favorite pen and doubles as a wand focus for me. With the silver tip touching the lock, I forced my will and said, “Unlock.”

I heard the tumblers move. I stood and pushed again just as I heard someone in the stairwell. I hurried into the room and looked for a place to hide.

The room could have come out of a TV morgue scene. On the wall to my right was the large cooler with several small latched doors for bodies. In the middle of the room, several stainless-steel roll-around tables sat empty. To the left was an open closet door.

I rushed into the closet, which turned out to be filled with cleaning supplies, and closed the door with a little click. I got into the corner behind the door.

I held my breath as I heard two voices nearing.

“Damn security system, do we need to look through every room?” a male voice said.

“You know the protocols.”

“Was this door unlocked?”

“I don’t remember. We’ll lock it on the way out; don’t forget or we’ll hear about it tomorrow morning.”

“Yeah. Did you check the closet?”

“No, I’ll get it.”

The doorknob rattled and the door opened. I held still hoping my cape would help if he saw me. A large flashlight beam shone in the dark corners of the closet.

“There’s nothing in there.”

“I told you there’s no point. How long between when the malfunction happened and when we got there? A minute, maybe a little more? Who would want in this creepy place?”

“Yeah, yeah, but we have a job to do. Come on, let’s finish this. I want to continue with our game.”

“Sure. But you’re locking the door.” I heard the door open and I relaxed … and my foot bumped the mop bucket. Smack! The mop handle hit the floor.

“Damn it! What was that?”

“I don’t know. It came from the closet.”

One of them returned, pointing the flashlight beam at the floor. “It’s a mop handle.” The man walked into the closet, knelt, and picked up the mop, as he stood, he backed into the door causing it to open wider, concealing me further from view.

“Nothing to worry about. Let’s go.”

I heard the door squeak open and the key in the lock, locking me in with Hilda. It took my heart a long time to quiet itself. I waited almost five minutes before moving again.

Despite the risk, I turned on the lights. There was no way I would be alone in the dark with Hilda. My skin crawled at the thought of what I planned. I hoped they hadn’t taken her clothes and things away from her yet, or this might get messy.

 

Paperback:     https://www.amazon.com/Convergent-Lines-Kind-Mosaic-Michelle/dp/1545450307/

Hardcover:     https://www.amazon.com/dp/1948090007/

Facebook:      www.facebook.com/michecori
Twitter:          @michellebcori

The Write Stuff – Monday, October 9 – Interview With Michael Okon

If you haven’t already heard about this week’s guest, you are likely to do so over the next few months, or at least, one or two years at most. I say this, because his career is starting to take off like a runaway freight train.

Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling is his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.

Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.

Today I am featuring Monsterland, a teen & young adult monsters & horror novel, expected to be released on Friday, October 13. (What an appropriate date for a horror novel!) He describes his book as follows:

Welcome to Monsterland—the scariest place on Earth.

Wyatt Baldwin’s senior year is not going well. His parents divorce, then his dad mysteriously dies. He’s not exactly comfortable with his new stepfather, Carter White, either. An ongoing debate with his best friends Melvin and Howard Drucker over which monster is superior has gotten stale. He’d much rather spend his days with beautiful and popular Jade. However, she’s dating the brash high-school quarterback Nolan, and Wyatt thinks he doesn’t stand a chance.

But everything changes when Wyatt and his friends are invited to attend the grand opening of Monsterland, a groundbreaking theme park where guests can interact with vampires in Vampire Village, be chased by werewolves on the River Run, and walk among the dead in Zombieville.

With real werewolves, vampires and zombies as the main attractions, what could possibly go wrong?

Will you tell us about your most recent release?

Well, my release isn’t so recent, but it’s certainly updated. In 2015, I wrote and self-published a book called Monsterland. Two years later, I have a literary agent, an entertainment attorney, a film agent, a publicist, and heavy film interest from a very well-known producer, plus a two-book publishing deal for the same book. It’s been quite a ride! Monsterland follows the story of teenager Wyatt Baldwin, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the grand opening of the scariest place on earth – Monsterland. It’s a theme park with real werewolves, vampires and zombies.

That’s quite impressive. What was the inspiration behind it?

I always wanted to write a monster book but couldn’t settle on which type of monster to focus my story on. In the summer of 2015, I was watching an 80s and 90s movie marathon with my son who was 7 at the time. I showed him all the classics – The Goonies, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Jurassic Park…etc…It occurred to me while watching, why isn’t there a theme park with zombies. I called my brother immediately to tell him about the idea for a book I’d like to write and he told me, “No.” I was certainly confused. He said, “It has to be a theme park with werewolves, vampires AND zombies.” I started beating out the character arcs that night.

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

I honestly didn’t come across anything insanely challenging. I make sure my stories are fully written in an outline before I write Chapter 1. I need a roadmap to write, otherwise, I’d be lost. Every character’s arcs are beat out before, then when I know where each character is going, I dive into the novel.

That’s becoming an increasingly logical approach for me, an erstwhile pantser. What other novels have you written?

I have written and self-published 3 self-help novels under the pen name Michael Samuels. I then began writing novels, and wrote 15. Monsterland was the one that stood out and has been gathering a ton of momentum.

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

I have an entire team behind me whose sole focus is to get my brand out there in the marketplace. I have won dozens of awards, and my brother has created some online videos. There is some heavy interest from Hollywood about my book Monsterland, so we’ll see where that goes.

What else are you working on?

Monsterland 2 is in the books, and will be coming out May 26, 2018. I’m in the middle of Monsterland 3 now, and currently beating out Monsterland 4 and 5. It seems that I’m going to be writing about monsters for the next several years, which I’m perfectly fine with.

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

I’m an early riser. I’m up at 5am. Eat breakfast, generally, bacon and eggs. I see my kids off to school. Then I research and develop my subject ad nauseum from 9 to 5. I consider that my day job. I have to know the ins and outs of my subjects. Google and Amazon are my best friends. I always cook my family dinner and it gives me a break from development. I tuck in the kids and wife around 8pm, then I go to my den and write until my eyes go. I do this every single day.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I self-published 18 books and had a nice little career going. I was reading a book a couple years ago called How to Sell a Screenplay in Hollywood (or something like that) by Syd Field. In it, he interviews an entertainment attorney named Susan Grode. I told myself, when I get my first agent contract I’m going to have this lady read it. Fast forward a few months later, I received an email from an agent in London who was interested in repping my works. I asked him to send me a contract and he did. I emailed Susan and introduced myself. She called me 2 minutes later and said before you sign with this agent in London, let me introduce you to my friend in Brooklyn named Nick Mullendore. I’m a Long Island guy so it made sense to stay local. We met for lunch and he signed me that day. That evening Susan said she would also represent me. Nick took my book Monsterland around and it was rejected by everyone. 6 months later he had a conference call with a Film Agent in Los Angeles. He was pitching her a romance novel and she said she wasn’t really into it, she’s into monsters. He said he had the perfect author for her and sent her my book. She read it in one weekend and we had a conference call the following Monday. She said she will get this on every producer’s desk in Hollywood, but it needs to get published. Nick got the book into the hands of Kevin J. Anderson who runs WordFire Press. WordFire read the book, loved it, and signed me to a two-book publishing deal for Monsterland 1 & 2. The film agent kept her promise and got the book into a few producer’s hands, who plan on shopping it around. This all happened in two-years. I have to pinch myself how many times I’ve caught lightning in a bottle so far. The universe is definitely responding to my requests.

Why do you write?

I am a universe builder. There is nothing more thrilling than creating something and pulling your reader into this world you’ve built. Keeping your reader there and entertained is something I get a kick out of.

What motivates or inspires you?

Watching movies is, by far, my biggest inspiration for writing books. There are certain films that have stood out in my life that I know where I was, who I was with, what I was feeling at the time, when I saw the film. I want to create that same type of feeling for my readers when I’m writing. I want people to never forget the first time they read a book of mine. I want that to stay with them forever, the same way seeing Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was for me.

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

I wrote the book on overcoming obstacles. Adversity is what you make of it. I have been rejected by every publishing house, every film agent, every literary agent, and every business contact, I’ve practically ever come across. Life is about rejection. But…when you are rejected, that only strengthens your position to get to a YES, if you continue to push through. Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. Napoleon Hill said that. For every NO I’ve ever received in my life, I’ve had a YES that was beyond my wildest dreams, I was so grateful for receiving that NO the first time around. I sometimes hope for a NO, because I know there is going to be a massive YES just around the corner.

I am a BIG fan of Napoleon Hill. Do you have any pet projects?

I am a sucker for self-help and law of attraction books. I have over 200 in my library and have implemented all of their teachings into my life. I continue to write down my goals on a monthly basis and see how these things manifest in my life. So far, I’m at a 90% success rate in a three year timeframe. Not bad, I must say. Other than that, I’m a huge Disney guy, I love to gamble (especially craps and poker), and I haven’t eaten bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruit or veggies in 5 years. I’m in the best health of my life.

Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to join us. Before I give my site’s visitors a taste of your work—followed as usual by your social and book-buy links—I’d like to conclude this interview with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m an… Insanely funny person who makes light out of all situations.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Steak (and butter).

The one thing I would change about my life: Eat more steak and butter.

My biggest peeve is: People who are addicted to their smartphones.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My diet. I’ve reclaimed my health eating all foods I was told not to eat – steak and butter.

 

And now, for your reading enjoyment, an excerpt from Monsterland:

“They’ve found us,” he growled in the unique language they used after transformation. “Run!” he barked as he turned to his pack, watching his friends’ naked skin transform until it was covered with the same silvered fur.

They cried out in unison at the pain, howling with the injustice, and then ran in fear from the interlopers threatening their habitat.

They separated into two groups and took off in different directions to confuse the strangers.

Billy tore through the brush, thorns ripping his fur, and, in his adrenaline rush, he didn’t feel anything. He glanced backward; the humans were chasing them, one running with a huge camera. Nine other hunters followed, the long barrels of their rifles bearing down on them.

Behind him, he heard multiple shots and triumphant shouts, knowing that his friends were succumbing one by one.

With a frantic growl, he urged Little John, Petey, and Todd to run faster.

Little John’s massive body was blocking him. Billy bayed at him to keep his head closer to the ground. He worried about Little John, knowing that his big frame might as well have had a target painted on it.

“Stay close together,” he urged. His heart sank when he heard Todd yelp. The shot hit his friend from behind, sending him careening into a trench. Billy wanted to stop but knew he couldn’t help Todd. The humans were on his friend’s fallen body seconds later. He had to find Petey and Little John a place to hide.

There was a loud scream as one of their pursuers stumbled on a root to their left. Billy paused, panting wildly, to get his bearings next to the broad trunk of a cypress tree.

“Which way?” Petey asked.

Billy’s eyes searched the tangle of the mangroves for an opening.

A shot rang out, splintering a tree, sending shards of bark around them. Billy reared in surprised shock. It wasn’t a bullet. A red feathered dart was vibrating next to him, sticking out of the wood.

“What is that?” Petey whimpered.

“It’s a dart,” Billy said. “They’re trying to capture us. This way!”

He and his pack mates took off, disappearing into the twisted vines.

They clawed through the swamp, hiding behind clusters of Spanish moss, dipping under the water when the hunters approached.

One man in the group stood taller and leaner than the rest, his dark wolfish eyes scanning the dense undergrowth looking for them. The man paused, training his gun in Billy’s direction as if he could see straight through the foliage.

Billy held his breath, terrified of discovery, but the harried sounds of a chase distracted the leader of the hunters.

Billy and his pack skirted solid ground, their bodies quivering. He glanced at the sky, wishing for the sun to rise so that he would transform back to being human.

The splashes of their pursuers seemed to recede. The pack waited in claustrophobic silence for the time to pass.

Billy spied a dinghy heading towards the flat-bottom boat as dawn approached. They heard the sputter of an engine being turned over.

“They’re leaving,” Little John said hopefully.

The rays of the sun lit the eastern sky. It was quiet once more. They paddled softly toward the shore. Coming out of the water, they shook themselves of the muck. Early morning birdcalls broke out in the thick stillness.

Billy barked a cry of dismay as shots rang out. Little John went down in a tumble of leaves and mud, a dart silencing him.

Billy veered right, squirming under a broken log, Petey barreling over it. The report of another shot and a loud thump told him that he had lost Petey too.

What do they want from us?

Billy dug his paws into the marshy land, his heart pumping like a piston. He leaped high over an alligator dozing in the shade of a leafy tree. Billy felt the impact of a dart; a sharp pain ripping into his flank.

His eyes dimmed as he tumbled headlong onto the boggy ground. He rolled over and over, coming to rest on a bed of rotting leaves. He couldn’t move; his limbs were leaden. His ears registered the sound of running feet.

Billy looked up into the triumphant, black eyes of the man who led the attack. The hunter placed his boot on his neck, holding him down.

“Got ya,” he heard the man say with a thick accent before everything went dark.

 

Those of you who would like to lean more about Michael Okon can do so here:

Web: www.michaelokon.com

Twitter: @IAmMichaelOkon

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

Snapchat: https://www.snapchat.com/add/iammichaelokon

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iammichaelokon/

 

You can purchase his book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Monsterland-Michael-Okon-ebook/dp/B0751F3B3S/

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

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

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

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

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

This is my story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Are you a plotter or pantser?

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

 How detailed are your outlines?

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

Hah! That’s hysterical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you care to share something about your home life?

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

 What motivates or inspires you?

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

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

 Website:         www.thedanwells.com

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

Twitter:         @thedanwells

Tumblr:         @thedanwells

Instagram:    @authordanwells

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

and

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

 

 

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what else am I going to do? Stop?

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

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

I went inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They did her makeup wrong.”

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

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

“You’re a dick.” she said.

“Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cottwell’s?”

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

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

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

“Why would one mortuary spy on another one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Amazing.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Hell no.”

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

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

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

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

“At the most.”

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

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

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

“See! Look how . . . oh.”

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

“She looks fine to me.”

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

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

“She looks wonderful,” said one.

“So peaceful,” said another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Robert,” I said, and shook her hand.

“Where’d you train?”

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

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

“I will.”

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

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

“Jasmyn,” she said. “With a Y.”

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

“I am,” she said. “About a year now.”

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

“You’re definitely not a spy.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

Bingo.

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

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

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

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

“Our mortuary never had cookies,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know you,” she said at last.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Do you know me?”

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

The woman stared again, then leaned in close.

“Run from Rain,” she whispered.

Then she turned around and ran out the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike describes Banshees as follows:

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

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

Will you please tell us a little more about it?

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

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

I have won two Eisners and an Inkpot for Nexus.

What else are you working on?

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your path to publication.

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

Do you create an outline before you write?

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

Why do you write?

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

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

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

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

Figuring out what happens next.

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

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

What is a typical day like in the Baron house?

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

Would you care to share something about your home life?

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

What motivates or inspires you?

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

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

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

What has been your greatest success in life?

Being happy.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

Shoulda bought Apple back when.

Do you have any pet projects?

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

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My wife Ann.

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

Amazon            http://a.co/aU3cBcw

The Write Stuff – Monday, February 13 – Interview With Travis Heermann

In addition to being the second author I’ve featured this year with award-winning screenwriting credentials appended to his curriculum vitae, this week’s guest is also the second collaborative writer I’ve featured throughout. You will soon see that this multifaceted man is diversely proficient.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.

He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

In 2016, he returned to the U.S. after living in New Zealand for a year with his family, toting more Middle Earth souvenirs and photos than is reasonable.

His latest release, Death Wind is a horror western. It came out from WordFire in August and debuted at Dragon Con. To give you a sense of it:

Between the clouds lurks an evil older than man…

In 1891, in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee massacre, awful nightmares and bizarre killing sprees shake the uneasy peace between the frontier town of White Pine and the Lakota on the nearby reservation.

Pioneer doctor Charles Zimmerman finds himself at the forefront of the investigation and uncovers a crawling horror the likes of which he could not imagine.

With the help of an orphaned farm girl, a smart-mouth stage robber, a beaten-down Lakota warrior, a beautiful medicine woman, and Charles’ estranged father – the aging town marshal – Charles must save not only the down of White Pine but also the starving Lakota from an ancient, ravenous evil.

I’m a fan of mixed-genre work. Will you tell us more about it?

Death Wind is a Lovecraftian horror western, co-written with jim pinto. It just came out in September from WordFire Press. It’s a story about hunger, greed, and oppression, and the people who feed on those dark impulses.

What was the inspiration behind it?

We wanted to write something neither of us had ever seen before, and we both liked the idea of doing a horror western, as fans of both genres. Obviously Lovecraft was an inspiration but also tons of great western films like Unforgiven, Tombstone, True Grit, and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, plus the HBO series Deadwood, which contains some of the most phenomenal writing we’ve seen.

I myself grew up on the Great Plains, maybe a couple hours’ drive from the imaginary locale where we set the story, so there are doubtless experiences and impressions from my life that found their way in there.

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

The biggest challenge was that a novel and a feature film are not the same length. When I finished outlining the novel from the screenplay, I had only about half the length I needed. This turned out to be a great boon, however, because I had the opportunity to fill in the characterizations and backstory of the Lakota characters. The result is a much richer story.

What other novels have you written?

I’m also the author the Ronin Trilogy, a historical fantasy series set in 13th century Japan, Rogues of the Black Fury, a military action fantasy novel in the vein of the Black Company, and The Wild Boys, a young-adult supernatural thriller. I’ve also got a growing body of short fiction out there.

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

Death Wind is the novelization of a screenplay that jim and I wrote first. In 2012, the screenplay won Grand Prize in the screenplay contest at the CINEQUEST Film Festival in San Jose, CA, as well as 2nd place at H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Con—L.A. the previous October.

So we knew the story had some legs. From there, adapting the story to novel format was a no-brainer. The screenplay hasn’t been produced, but maybe if the novel is a success….

Since jim is primarily a game designer, we’re also kicking around the idea of turning it into a GM-less roleplaying game.

What else are you working on?

Right now I’m working on a feature-length, contemporary drama screenplay and some short stories that are in various stages.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I fall somewhere on the spectrum between pantser and outliner. With Death Wind, we had no idea where the story was going to go when we started. It was a really organic process, working in tandem on the story at the same time. A lot of time, we would take turns writing scenes, brainstorming the next few scenes as we went.

The ratio between outlining and pantsing has been different with every novel I’ve written, but the way the process most often looks is that I have the beginning, the idea, the characters, and I often have a rough idea of the ending (but not always). Writing scenes sparks ideas for more scenes down the road, so I rough those out, a few sentences maybe, and then write toward them.

Why do you write?

Because it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, deep down, even though I’ve taken sidetracks on other careers.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’m much more conscious (and maybe self-conscious) than I was when I was just starting out. Back in my 20s, I just wrote, and I didn’t worry about whether it was any good, whether it was too much like X or Y. I just did it, and I told what I thought was a fun story.

Nowadays, I’m much more conscious of the fact that I am an artist, producing something that I want to have value for my readers. I still want my readers to enjoy it, but I also want it to have a little heft. Not in the George R.R. Martin/Robert Jordan-doorstop-book kind of way, but in that I have something to say. The world is more screwed up now than it’s been in decades, and I might have something to say about that. If I don’t make them feel something, if I don’t nudge them just a little, I haven’t done my job.

While this attitude makes me take my work more seriously, it can also be paralyzing, so the trick is to balance fun with thinking about what the story is really about.

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

The discipline to produce new words consistently, daily. Life is full of a million distractions, any of which is easier to face than the blank page. Life stuff, errands, jobs, family, all that stuff can force writing into the cracks of time, when it should be opposite.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I write full time, but that’s a mix of fiction and freelancing for a variety of clients. I also teach science fiction literature part-time at the University of Nebraska Omaha. This would be difficult, as I live in Colorado, but thank the web gods for virtual commuting.

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

What motivates me is the drive to have a real writing career. Writers who don’t write don’t have careers. I didn’t embark on this incredibly difficult—but rewarding—path just to stop half way.

My inspirations come from people, from history, and from nature, probably in that order. Humans are this wildly unpredictable species that can do incredible things, acts of poignant kindness, fly to the moon itself. And we can also shoot somebody because their skin is the wrong color.

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

You have to be a glutton for punishment to even consider jumping into the publishing industry. My personality is this strange mix of cynicism and optimism. The cynic in me is rewarded all too often by being right about something—especially over the last year of election season—which often depresses the hell out of me. But ultimately something in me will click and I’ll be able to get past it and move on, hoping that something good might happen. Maybe this time, my work won’t be rejected. Maybe human beings aren’t always awful. Maybe I’ll find a freelance client whose first instinct isn’t to try screwing me over. It’s the optimism that this time I’ll be wrong that keeps me going.

Do you have any pet projects?

I don’t screw around with projects. If I’m working on something, I’m working on something.

Let’s try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… pretty cool guy.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee.

I’m beginning to notice most authors say that. The one thing I would change about my life: I would have gotten out of destructive relationship much, much sooner.

My biggest peeve is: willful ignorance, the kind where you show someone the truth, over and over again, and they stick their fingers in their ears. La la la la la can’t hear you!

 That’s something I’m also hearing more. For those visitors who have stuck it out this far—I mean how could you not? This is one fascinating man!—here is an excerpt from Death Wind, followed by Travis’s social and book buy links:

Marshal Hank Zimmerman adjusted the brim of his old felt cavalry hat, so faded that it almost looked Confederate gray, and squinted into the midday sun, scratching the grizzled stubble along his jaw. His horse stamped and fussed about being reined up so harshly. A few rocky buttes and stands of brush and cottonwood were the only irregularities in the endless sea of grass.

Except for the lone, distant figure silhouetted on a hilltop, a figure moving unsteadily.

Hank turned his horse toward the figure.

Beyond it, in the distance, the brooding outline of a larger, tree-crested butte loomed, Sentinel Hill.

What was somebody doing so far from town or homestead, on foot, and this close to the reservation? Relations were tense with the Sioux after what had happened in December. The Army gave them a good beating, but the homesteaders and even some of the folks back in White Pine were still nervous about another uprising. All that wild dancing they were doing last year, days of it at a time, gave white folks the shudders.

The wind whipped over the grass and tugged at his hat, forcing him to jam it tighter on his head. His eyes were still sharp, even at his age, and he kept them on the figure. A lone man, no hat, a white man, carrying something in one hand.

Then the figure collapsed out of sight.

Hank spurred his horse to a canter, keeping track of the small impression in the grass where the man’s body lay. Reaching the spot, his reined up and dismounted, cursing his stiff old bones as his boots hit the sod. A slow, steady ,metallic, rhythmic clicking reached him from where the man had fallen.

He approached, hand on his Colt. On the wind, he smelled blood, and his shorthairs spiked like a porcupine. The man lay on his face. Hank rolled him over, and drew back.

A horrid groan escaped the man’s blood spattered face, like a man already reaching for the hereafter. He clutched an empty revolver, thumb and finger cocking and squeezing the trigger in rhythmic succession. His abdomen was a crusty wet mass of caked blood. Clots of brain and skull clung to his face and stubble.

The man’s eyelids fluttered, and Hank recognized his face.

“Oliver McCoy! That you, boy?”

Another groan, barely intelligible. “Marshal?”

“It is. You gutshot?”

A faint wheeze came back. “Yeah.”

Hank peeled his eyes and swept them around the area, pulling his six-gun. “What happened?”

Oliver’s broken, raspy voice forced Hank to lean in. “Camped. Ferrell. Crazy. Crazy. Killed ever’body.” His free hand snatched Hank’s coat. “Saw god!”

Hank clutched Oliver’s hand and tried to pry it free. Even gutshot, the kid was stronger than he looked. “What the hell?”

The whites of Oliver’s eyes blazed. “God! Saw the face of a black god!” Then Oliver’s eyes rolled back, and his head lolled.

Hank grasped the empty pistol and found Oliver’s fingers glued thick around it with dried blood. “Christ!” Prying it away, he thrust the pistol into his pocket, blood and all, then looked down at Oliver with a swell of pity. He knew what a gut wound was. He knew what bleeding out looked like. He knew all too well that getting Oliver help was nearly impossible.

His thumb tickled the hammer of his Colt. One shot, through the head, would end Oliver’s misery, like shooting an injured horse or a man too far gone from Confederate shrapnel. One quick shot. His hand shook a little, seeing creased blood funneling over Oliver’s lips, down his neck. Hank remembered all too well what young wounded faces looked like. Thirty-five years and he still remembered.

Common sense fought with common decency. They were miles from anything. White Pine was half a day’s ride. Oliver would never make it.

“Dammit to hell.”

But Hank was going to try today.

He eased the pistol back into his holster. “Pain in the ass.” In one swift motion, Hank slung Oliver over his shoulders. He approached his horse, knowing this boy should have been dead hours ago. “I’m gonna get your stupid ass to a doctor, son.” As he reached for the reins, the horse shied away. “Christ, Daisy, settle down! He ain’t gonna hurt you.” He reached for the reins again, but the mare shied back again. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

As his hand reached again for the bridle, the animal bolted for the nearest horizon.

He could do nothing but watch the horse’s rump grow smaller with distance. Who was the horse’s ass now?

“Son of a bitch.”

The McCoy boy was already getting heavy.

In a heartbeat, Hank took stock of his situation. Nothing to see in any direction except the grim gray butte of Sentinel Hill and those thunderheads in the distance. No way he could get back to White Pine now, not carrying a gutshot man. The White River Agency was the closest habitation. His jaw tightened at the thought of going among so many redskins, but he wasn’t going to change his mind now about saving Oliver’s life. It was a few miles to the reservation, but whatever was keeping Oliver alive might just kill him in the next hour. If was going to go, he had better get to it.

“Well, Oliver, how do you feel about walking?”

 

Follow Travis here:

Web Site: http://www.travisheermann.com

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/travis.heermann

Twitter: @TravisHeermann

Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/TravisHeermann

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/418704.Travis_Heermann

 

You may purchase his books here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

Baen Library

The Write Stuff – Monday, August 1 – Interview With Mercedes M Yardley

An earlier guest, Horror Grand Master Michael R. Collings, introduced me to Bram Stoker award winning author, Mercedes M. Yardley. Her writing displays an interesting mix of timing and suspense. Her prose is crisp, clean and offers tantalizing hints at what is to come pages after. And while each page propels the reader forward, nothing about the writing seems forced. There’s almost a nonchalance in her style that I admire. This is how she describes herself:

image(94)Mercedes M. Yardley is a dark fantasist who wears red lipstick and poisonous flowers in her hair. She was a contributing editor for Shock Totem and currently works with Gamut, a groundbreaking new neo-noir magazine. Mercedes is the author of many diverse works, including Beautiful Sorrows, Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Tale of Murder and Whimsy, and the Bone Angel Trilogy. She recently won the Bram Stoker Award for her story Little Dead Red. Mercedes lives and works in Las Vegas, and you can reach her at www.abrokenlaptop.com.

Tell us about your most recent release.

My most recent release is a novella titled “Little Dead Red.” It’s a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and it’s exceptionally dark. It’s something that could actually happen. It’s about predators and prey, about little girls who are stolen and the guilt and grief of their mothers. I do believe it’s the darkest thing I’ve ever written.

The Wolf is roaming the city in this Bram Stoker award winning tale, and he must be stopped.

Grim Marie knows far too much about the wolves of the world, a world where little girls go missing. After all, she had married one before she/he showed his claws, and what that wolf did to her little girl was unforgiveable. Grim Marie isn’t certain if she can ever forgive herself for putting her Little Aleta in harm’s way.

When Grandmother becomes ill, Aleta offers to take the bus through the concrete forest to Grandmother’s house to bring her some goodies. She knows the way. What could possibly go wrong?

In this modern day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf takes to the city streets to capture his prey, but the hunter is close behind him. With Grim Marie on the prowl, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Wolves pad through the darkest kind of fairytale: one that can come true.

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

My biggest challenge with LDR was the subject matter. It has to do with sexual abuse and the fallout from that. So not only was I dealing with the loss of a child, but I was dealing with the loss of a broken, abused child. I wanted to treat it as respectfully as I could without shying away from it. It was a balancing act. Too often abuse and the aftermath are used as plot devices without giving the situations any real weight. I wanted to avoid that.

Many choose avoid the tougher elements, but doing so can be interpreted as invalidating the victims’ experiences, be they parent or child. I’m glad you chose not to. Have you written any novels?

I wrote a dark fairytale with a high body count called Pretty Little Dead Girls. It’s very whimsical and dear and quite deadly. It’s my favorite thing I’ve written because it was just so much fun. I also wrote a novella titled Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. Think streetwise Romeo and Juliet meets Stephen King’s Firestarter. It’s the most explosive love story. My debut novel was an urban fantasy titled Nameless: The Darkness Comes. It’s about a girl who sees demons but everybody simply assumes she’s crazy. It deals with themes of mental illness and suicide while also being snarky and humorous. It’s the first book in the BONE ANGEL trilogy.

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

“Little Dead Red” won the Bram Stoker Award in May for long fiction, and that was absolutely thrilling. Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu won the Reddit Stabby Award, which was super cool. The award is a long, medieval type of dagger. Reddit seldom agrees on anything but I was so pleased they agreed on this.

What else are you working on?

Right now I’m finishing up book 2 of the BONE ANGEL trilogy. After that, I dive directly into book 3. I’m also working on three separate novellas, and only one can officially be announced. That novella is titled Skin of the Bear, Bone of the Witch and it goes along with the Heroes of Red Hook anthology which is being put out by Golden Goblin Press. I’m really looking forward to it. I also have six short stories in the works, so I’m staying busy.

Boy! I’ll say. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Writing is very much a part of my everyday schedule, which means that it’s as haphazard as everything else. I wake up, get the kids ready for the day, play with the stray cat outside, and then write for 15 minutes. I clean. I write for 15 minutes. I check emails. I write for 15 minutes. If writing is going well, I’ll reset my alarm and write for another 15 minutes. That seems to be about the time span I get before the kids fall apart/the house starts on fire/my mind wanders/Demogorgons attack. It also helps me focus. If my alarm is set, I know I have a set amount of time to write and I know not to waste it. In fact, I’m doing this interview with the use of a timer. When my 15 minutes is up (I have about 40 seconds left), it’s time to switch laundry and make breakfast for the kiddos.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I sold my first short story for twelve dollars in 2008. I started with short stories instead of novels, and that was a good choice for me. I learned how to query and submit. I learned markets. I learned to follow guidelines, act professional, and clean up my work. After a bit, I joined Shock Totem Magazine, and that was such a valuable experience. Sitting on the other side of the desk helped me thicken my skin and see that rejections weren’t personal. I put out my first collection of short stories, and then a novella. Then suddenly two novels back-to-back, which I wouldn’t suggest. It’s important to give yourself time between each release to breathe. I was exhausted by promotion and it affected my writing. I eventually left my publishing company and joined another company that was a better fit. I signed a five book contract with them, and I have two books left to complete my contract. I couldn’t be happier. Things have changed so much in eight years!

Why do you write?

I write because I don’t have a choice. I tried to not write, and it withered my soul. Writing is how I process things. It’s thinking with my fingers. As a person, I tend to be quite scattered and distracted. It’s like chasing a roomful of light. Writing helps me condense and define everything around me so I can experience it better.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve learned how to get out of my own way. That’s my evolution.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My home life is insane. There are five of us in a teeny, tiny house. We have backyard chickens. We have two rabbits. We have a turtle that violently hates all humankind. We now have a gorgeous stray cat who would live inside our home if my husband wasn’t deathly allergic. My home is full of movement and laughter and frustration and love. There are always toys out. There’s always something delicious baking in the oven. I think it’s a happy place.

What motivates or inspires you?

I’m inspired by hope. I see the one dandelion struggling to push itself through the cracks in the concrete and I identify with it. I see people with nothing left in their souls or gas tanks, but they manage to put one foot in front of the other. They even manage to make beautiful things. It makes me want to grab their hand and walk with them. We’ll keep each other moving. There will be something stunning and worthwhile at the end of the journey.

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

You just do it. You just stare at the ground and keep going. My mother told me once that our family isn’t smart enough to know when to fall to the ground and give up. We keep getting up and taking that beating. I think it’s one of our best traits.

What has been your greatest success in life?

My children are kind. They impact the world in a positive way. I couldn’t ask for more success than that.

Before I give you a peek at “Little Dead Red,” Meredith has consented to finishing our interview with a Lightning Round, just for fun.

 My best friend would tell you I’m a …

Spaz.

The one thing I cannot do without is:

Coke Zero.

The one thing I would change about my life:

Eliminate depression.

My biggest peeve is:

Use of the word “retard.”

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

David Bowie. Mmm.

Mercedes, I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am that you joined us. After the prologue from “Little Dead Red,” which follows immediately, those of you who’d like to learn more about this wonderful author, or purchase her books, can do so with the links at the bottom of this post.

 

12304491_10154323484953356_8963194180658884448_oLittle Dead Red

Prologue

            Once upon a time, long long ago, somewhere before her second divorce, Marie had smiled. She had simply been Marie then, and occasionally even Happy Marie, and that was a kind and gracious thing. Marie knew of the dangers of the world, but Marie also knew of love and laughter. Marie knew of her tiny little girl, Aleta, who used to hop around on one foot to see if she could keep her balance, and stuck her naughty fingers into Marie’s jam, and would ask for a bedtime story even when it was nowhere near bedtime.

“It doesn’t have to be a bedtime story, dear,” Marie would say, and her eyes would twinkle. Smiling Marie. Happy Marie. “A story told at any other time is simply a story.”

Aleta, who had dark eyes like her mother, and dark hair like her mother, and it refused to be tamed and combed, also like her mother’s, would say, “But bedtime stories are the best. Won’t you please tell me one, Mama?”

Marie often had things to do. There were dishes to be put away and dinner to be cooked and text messages to send to her husband, who seldom came home anymore. There were bags to be packed and an escape to be planned, but this made her smile, too. In fact, it made her nearly happier than anything else ever had, except for her sweet daughter.

“Of course we’ll read. Which one would you like?”

Aleta usually wanted stories about brave soldiers and clever girls and terrible, terrible monsters. Marie made her voice deep and heavy for the monsters, scary and dark, and Aleta snuggled next to her in horrified delight.

“I’m going to EAT YOU,” she cried as a troll or a wizard or a wolf.

“Don’t eat me all up!” Aleta would shriek.

“Yes, I’m going to eat you all up!” Marie would scream, and then she’d chase her daughter around the house, kicking over her husband’s ash trays and piles of unpaid bills and pieces of her broken dreams. Then they tumbled to the floor together and Happy Marie would smile and whisper that good always won, and clever children outwitted monsters and witches, and she would never, ever, ever let Aleta be eaten all up.

Until, of course, the day Marie discovered monsters were not only real, but had been feeding on her little Aleta without her knowing. Aleta had been eaten all up, for years now, and Marie was never Happy Marie again.

 

Facebook:                  https://www.facebook.com/mercedes.murdockyardley

Twitter:                      https://twitter.com/mercedesmy

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

 

Book buy link:          http://tinyurl.com/hc9uutk

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 6 – Interview With Michael R. Collings

In April 2016, the World Horror Convention presented Michael R. Collings its Grand Master Award. This placed him alongside such notables as Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons and a host of other notables. Once we reveal Michael’s amazing curriculum vitae, we will open our interview by discussing his unique science fantasy, Singer of Lies. We will then touch on his career in academia, where he broke the accepted academic model and which then became part of the life events that led up to his recent honor. After visiting his “other” life, we will talk about the award itself and the circumstances surrounding it.

Collings3Michael R. Collings is an educator, literary scholar and critic, poet, novelist, essayist, columnist, reviewer, and editor whose work over three decades—more than one hundred books and chapbooks and thousands of chapters, essays, reviews, and poems—has concentrated on science fiction, fantasy, and horror, emphasizing the works of Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, C.S. Lewis, and others. His books for Starmont House, beginning in 1984, were among the earliest serious scholarly appraisals of King. His 1990 study of Card was the first book-length exploration of Card’s fictions.

His publications include a Wildside Press best-selling horror novel, The Slab; a 6,500-line Renaissance epic in full Miltonic style, The Nephiad: An Epic Poem in XII Books; two discussions of writing, The Art and Craft of Poetry:  Twenty Exercises toward Mastery and Chain of Evil: The JournalStone Guide to Writing Horror; literary analyses, as in C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy: A Study in Genres; and Averse To Horrors: An Abecedary of Monsters and the Monstrous, an alphabetical treatise on horror, written in limericks.

He has served as Guest, Special Guest, and Guest of Honor at a number of cons, professional as well as fan-oriented, including Academic Guest of Honor at MythCon (Conference of the Mythopoeic Society), where he presented the Keynote Address on Orson Scott Card; Academic Guest of Honor at EnderCon, celebrating the novel’s 25th anniversary; Special Guest at the Salt Lake Comic Con (2014); and three-time Academic Guest of Honor at the World Horror Con (2008, 2012, and 2016). He is a triple finalist for the Rhysling Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association; and has been twice nominated for the Bram Stoker Award® from the Horror Writers Association, once for non-fiction and once for poetry. In April 2016, he received the Grand Master of Horror award from the World Horror Convention, 2016.

He is a past Senior Publications Editor for JournalStone Publications, where several of the books he worked with went on to become Stoker® finalists; and his articles and reviews have appeared in both Hellnotes and the print-magazine Dark Discoveries.  These and other writings are posted online at michaelrcollings.blogspot.com.

Dr. Collings was poet in residence at Pepperdine University from 1997-2003.  Now retired as a professor emeritus of English after almost thirty years at Pepperdine, where his courses included literature, composition, and creative writing, he lives in Idaho with his wife and number-one fan, Judi, and writes and writes and writes.

This is how Michael summarizes Singer of Lies.

SingerHe is young and intelligent and highly trained. He is Erik Baanfeld—shipwrecked on a long-forgotten Colony world, where brawn and brute strength are more valued than knowledge. Physically untrained and emotionally unprepared in the barest skills of survival, he seems compelled to spend a short, unpleasant life as a half-naked savage worked like a beast of burden, on a world sunk into barbarism. It’s either that… or die. His only possible chance, his only hope of becoming one with the Folk, is to become a singer—and not just any singer, but a Singer of Lies!

In Singer of Lies, I enjoyed reading about an abandoned Earth colony whose culture was consciously based around the Earth epic, Beowolf, but what made you decide to use Anglo Saxon as its language base?

 When Singer was drafted, I had just completed my doctoral work in English at the University of California, Riverside, a goodly portion of which included Anglo-Saxon (in the original language) and Middle English literature. My brain was steeped in the rhythms of Anglo-Saxon, as well as in the language and power of Beowulf. So, logically, I decided to put that background to good use and imagined a culture, abandoned for centuries, that had modeled itself on the epic, largely to defend itself from a creature native to the planet.

Through its various drafts, until its final publication in 2009, the one remaining constant in the novel was the setting: an Anglo-Saxon world in which a future language scholar, stranded and essentially helpless, had to figure out a way to survive.

 You’ve said that there is as much horror in Beowolf as there is in a Steven King novel. Clearly, your book has its Grendel, but what else about the epic led you to write Singer of Lies?

 Basically, you just answered the question. Beowulf is an epic. The Stand is an epic. The Talisman is an epic. Much of science fiction—and for that matter, much of modern fantasy and horror—picks up on the basic elements of epic and makes them contemporary. At UCR, I had taken a course in epic, in one manifestation or another, every semester for three years; I even took a directed-studies course under a world-class Miltonist and epic scholar, in which I traced epic into the twentieth century through science fiction. So when I wrote the novel—my second—it seemed obvious that it would incorporate as much of an epical sense as it could.

The Grendel-monster is one result. The world itself is another—a place so difficult for survival that Weard and his people consciously re-created a heroic age, with warriors mighty of thew and no place for the weak…which Erik definitely was.

 There was a striking poem that occurred in the first half of the book. When I didn’t recognize it, I thought it might be yours. If so, what is its title? Where can we find more of your poems?

 The poem (on page 173) is my translation of one of the earliest English poems, “Caedmon’s Hymn.” Even older than Beowulf, the hymn was written around 660 A.D. and survives in a number of manuscript copies.

Erik steals the context of the “Hymn” when he recites the poem as if he had composed it, which lead to him becoming the community’s Singer, but also makes him a Singer of Lies—he has stolen his way into the community, not knowing that Aethele and Weard know exactly what he has done.

I have written a great deal of poetry—in fact, one of the reasons for my receiving the Grand Master award was my support of poetry, SF/F/H especially, at a number of conventions over the past thirty years. Most of my poetry is available through Amazon, including, surprisingly enough, a Miltonic Renaissance style epic, The Nephiad: An Epic in XXIV Books; In the Void: Poems of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Myth, and Horror; Som Certaine Sonets, which contains a number of horror-oriented short poems; and Hai-(And Assorted Other)-Ku, which contains a fair number of scifai-ku and horror-ku.

One of my books, A Verse to Horror: An Abecedary of Monsters and the Monstrous, was a Bram Stoker Award® finalist for poetry. It is an alphabetical encyclopedia of horror motifs, each entry reduced to a single poem…a limerick.

My current project, Corona Obscura: Sonets Dark and Elemental is a “corona” or “crown” of sonnets on horror themes. A sonnet corona typically consists of seven poems on a single theme, the last line of the first becoming the first line of the second, and so on until the final poem. Its last line is identical to the first line of the sequence, completing the circle or crown. Corona Obscura is a squared-corona… forty-nine sonnet-like poems, each linked last line to first.

 The Dean at your division at Pepperdine University once told you that he and your colleagues, in your words, “did not feel you were doing literary work.” You also related that you had been denied an academic chair as a result of your focus on speculative fiction. Has that academic short-sightedness changed in any appreciable way since then, either at Pepperdine, or throughout academia at large?

 In all fairness, the Division chair was relaying the feelings of several colleagues; throughout my tenure at Pepperdine, the chairs supported me as much as possible, but, yes, there was considerable hesitance about my work in speculative fiction. One colleague told one of my students that Stephen King had no place on a college campus; another sat down with me and told me exactly how to get my career back on track.

I have been told that part of the reason SF/F/H is increasingly accepted in academics is that my early work on King demonstrated how his stories could be discussed in academic terms. By the time I left Pepperdine, half a dozen others in my division were working at one level or another with speculative fiction, and in general I think that is true of many colleges and universities. It is, after all, difficult to completely ignore the books that students seem to find important.

I often find that when I am under the gun I produce more work. Conversely, when I have more leisure time, I get less done. Now that you are retired, do you find more time to write than when you were working, or just the opposite?

 My first two novels were drafted while I was in graduate school. Many of my academic books were written while I was teaching. But since I left Pepperdine on a medical early retirement (my increasing deafness made it difficult for me to hear my students) in 2006, I have revised much of that early work, including those first two novels and my doctoral dissertation on Milton, and published them, many through Wildside Press. The bulk of my publications have come in the past ten years: novels, collections of short fiction, poetry collections. It seems that I can’t not write.

 Is there an author who fascinates you, whom you have yet to write about, and do you have plans to do so?

 Not an author, but a body of work. I still intend to do a book-length study of King’s Dark Tower Series. I’ve written on Orson Scott Card and his Ender novels; on C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy; on my son Michaelbrent’s Billy Saga…and next is the most challenging of all.

 Why do you say your children didn’t dare bring their writing to you, but rather to your wife, Judi?

 From the time I received my doctorate, I became “Doctor Daddy,” the professional writer and reader, the one they saw making big red marks on student papers and the one who talked about what was right and wrong in other people’s writing. Judi was the nurturer. They knew she was “safe”—she would love them and what they gave her no matter what. Understand that my older son was writing “novels” by the age of seven. They all went through an early apprenticeship in writing something, having Mom read it, and going back and writing something else. I think Doctor Daddy was just too unapproachable at that stage.

 Aside from reading and writing, what are your favorite pursuits?

 I love music. I played the organ for my church for over fifty years and treasure every moment of the experience. I stopped about a year ago—I could no longer hear the notes I was playing and relied on Judi for signals about volume. It finally became too much and I asked to be released. I’ve not touched a keyboard since.

It’s much the same with everything else. Being severely deaf, with world-class tinnitus in both ears and frequent balance problems as well, I’ve been systematically cut off from much that I enjoy. I rarely participate in groups of more than one or two, since I won’t understand most of what is said otherwise. On panels, I usually do not hear the other panelists’ comments, and Judi usually repeats audience questions for me.

Movies are out, as are sports—too much noise, not enough understood.

So basically, I read and write, take drives with Judi, enjoy my children and grandchildren (in small doses—I can’t understand most of what the younger ones say) and in the most literal of senses, try to stay sane.

 In the world of literary cons, where will the next year take you?

 This is a difficult question, because of the hearing. Travel is hard; air travel especially leaves my ears roaring for hours afterward. Con attendance is something that I am thinking about seriously, although I enjoy the opportunities to present papers and do Q&A sessions.

Tell us about the circumstances surrounding your recent award, Grand Master of Horror. Who made the decision and how were you notified?

 GMA award 2Early in the planning process for each World Horror Convention, attending and supporting members of the World Horror Society receive requests to nominate a Grand Master recipient. The recipient must be living (at least at the time of the nomination) and have many years of participation in any facet of horror, including literature, film, or art. The nominations are closed at the end of the preceding year, ballots counted, and (if still living) the recipient is notified about a month before the WHC.

I received an email from the WHC coordinator at the end of March this year, telling me about the award. At the end of WHC2016, I formally received the award.

There is a list of all previous Grand Masters posted at http://whc2016.org/gma.html. It is an intimidating list of extraordinarily talented story tellers, including many of the people whose books I have reviewed and otherwise written about. I was stunned to be told that my name would now be on the list. And am still stunned…but proud.

Those who would like to purchase Michael’s books can do so at:

http://www.amazon.com/Michael-R.-Collings/e/B001HPWLC2

His review/essay site, Collings Notes, is:

http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com

You can find him on Facebook as:

https://www.facebook.com/michael.collings.7

The Write Stuff – Monday, February 1 – Interview With Michaelbrent Collings

MbSeriousMediumEveryone dreams of becoming a best-selling Indie author, but very few make it, let alone to the very top of the heap. That is why I am particularly pleased to have been introduced to this week’s truly gifted and definitely prodigious writer, Michaelbrent Collings, who—for the moment—has stepped away from his usual works of horror to write a YA epic fantasy, The Sword Chronicles.

Michaelbrent Collings is an international bestseller and one of the top indie horror writers in the U.S. He writes horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, and YA and middle-grade books. He is also a produced screenwriter who has written movies for Hollyweird, though in his dark and painful moments he admits he has never “done lunch” or engaged the services of a waxer. Larry Correia, New York Times bestselling author of Monster Hunter International and Son of the Black Sword, has this to say about Mr. Collings latest work, “Epic fantasy meets superheroes, with lots of action and great characters. The Sword Chronicles is dark yet hopeful, and very entertaining. Collings is a great storyteller.”

Michaelbrent describes his book this way:

She is a Dog – one of the many children and teens across the empire of Ansborn who have been sentenced to fight in the arenas. There they fight in battle after battle until they die for the sport of the people of Ansborn – an empire built atop the peaks of five mountains.

But one day she picks up a knife… and everything changes.

She discovers she is a Greater Gift – one of a handful of magic users with powers so great they have only two choices: to join the Empire as one of its premier assassins, or die as a threat to the Empire itself.

She is no longer a Dog. Now, she is Sword. And she will soon realize that in this Empire, not all is what it seems. Good and evil collide, and she can never be sure whom to trust – not even herself.

She holds life in her hands for some. Brings death by her blade to others.

She is a killer.
She is a savior.

That is one compelling lead-in. Will you tell us something more?

It’s an epic fantasy about a young woman who is raised to be a Dog – one of many teens and children all over the Empire of Ansborn who fight in an arena, over and over with no hope of release. One day she discovers she has a magic power granted to one in a million people in the Empire, and she has to choose between a life as an assassin for the Empire, or a life as a revolutionary fighting to overthrow it. It’s a tough choice, because the people she loves and admires the most are her fellow assassins, but she grows to understand the Empire might not be the good thing she has been taught it is. It’s a lot of fun, because I don’t just like to write books where the bad guys have redemptive qualities, I like to write books where you really aren’t sure who the bad guys are for most of the read.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

My need to eat. This is my job, so before I write anything there’s a pretty strict vetting process to figure out if there’s an audience for it, and if the audience will react strongly to this particular idea. In this case, both were a yes, so boom.

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

I had a narrow window to write it. It clocks in at something like 140,000 words, and I finished it in three weeks. I usually write very fast, but this was pushing it a bit. And how did I overcome it? I slept very little and was very cranky every day.

What other novels have you written?

That’s a short question with a long answer. I’ve written close to 40 novels in the last five years. Some of the popular ones are The Haunted (paranormal horror), The Loon (monstery goodness), The Colony Saga (a zombie apocalypse that moves so fast and hard it would give Michael Bay a heart attack), RUN (sci-fi thriller), and – of course – The Sword Chronicles: Child of the Empire

Tell us about your path to publication.

Ha! I wrote a book called RUN and shopped it to literally every publishing house and agency in the U.S. And if you had rolled me into their offices covered in gold dust, they wouldn’t have touched me. A few months after the last rejection, I put the book up on Kindle (“Hey! It can’t hurt anyone, right?”). A few months after that, it was the top-selling horror and sci-fi title on Amazon, and one of the top hundred products in the Kindle store. Not just books, but products. Out of all the blogs, crosswords, etc. etc. blah blah blah, RUN was in the top hundred. This did me the huge disservice of convincing me I knew what I was doing, so I wrote fifteen more books and had nothing like the same success. It took about twenty books before I started making serious money (i.e., enough to live on).

Happily (hence the “Ha!” at the beginning of this), I’ve fielded offers by numerous traditional publishing houses since then… and had to turn them down because I’m making more money on my own than they can offer me.

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

I’m actually a screenwriter as well as a novelist. Several of my scripts have been produced (and, through the magic of Hollywood, amazing scripts were turned into meh movies), and I’ve been reviewed and/or featured by everything from mom-and-pop blogs to The San Francisco Book Review to NPR. To my knowledge, only three or four (out of many dozens) pro reviewers have given my books the thumbs down, which is nice.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Nope. Well, I’m a husband and a father, but if I call either of those a “job,” my lovely wife wails on me with dirty diapers until I recant.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I am deeply in love. I have a wife I adore, and who has inexplicably stayed with me for over a decade of marriage. I have kids who inspire me – both to do better and to be better – and who constantly make me laugh. I am a blessed guy, and will be such whether I’m a world-famous writer or a guy who digs latrines with his mouth.

What motivates or inspires you?

I could say it’s my family, and that would be true. I could say it was the enjoyment I feel when creating, and that would be true.

Both are nice. How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

I could say it’s my family, and that would be true. I could say it was the enjoyment I feel when creating, and that would be true.

But let’s be honest here: some days it’s all about the Diet Coke.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Continuing to live. Which (for once!) isn’t a silly answer. I have major depressive disorder with psychotic breaks and suicidal tendencies. Some days it’s not about word count, it’s about the number of breaths I manage to take. And in my coherent moments, I understand that breathing in every time I breathe out is quite enough of an achievement – and one to be proud of.

Before I share some of your writing with our visitors, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: … my ability to shoot lasers out of my left eye.

The one thing I would change about my life: … the fact that I can only shoot Gummi Bears out of my right eye.

My biggest peeve is: … people who ask what my biggest peeve is (HOW DARE YOU!)

Thank you, Michaelbrent, for taking the time to share something about yourself and your writing. For those who would like to learn more about this author or purchase his books, I have provided links for you to do so right after the excerpt below:

Here, for your enjoyment, is an excerpt from The Sword Chronicles:

SwordChronicles433x653 The girl woke from the Dream of the Man and the Woman, and she woke as she always did: boot and water.

Many people curled in as the boot kicked them, tried to avoid the water.

These were the ones who would die fast.

The girl had learned quickly. Had learned that if you curled in around the boot it didn’t hurt any less, but it meant you weren’t face up to receive the water. A bucketful to the face, and if you kept your mouth open you could drink. She guessed that that water was fully a tenth part of what she would get each day. And it was clean. Water they were given in the trough was often foul, muddied with clouds of dirt and perhaps worse.

But the water that woke them… it tasted good.

We won’t waste bad water on torture. No, never that.

That it was a torture there could be no doubt. Because all was torture for those in the kennels. All was death for the Dogs.

Trainer walked among them, being handed bucket after bucket by Assistant, dropping a bucket on each of the twenty or so Dogs that slept in this kennel.

“Get up, Dogs!” he shouted. “Another beautiful day to die!”

I won’t die today, thought the girl. But she gave no voice to the thoughts.

There was no point. Speaking never brought anything but pain.

A good Dog was silent unless spoken to. And even then, silence was often best.

The girl stood. Stretched. Never could tell when a fight was coming, so it was best to be loose.

“Get up!” Trainer shouted. He was a beefy man, thick in the middle, with broad scars that crisscrossed his chest and back. The girl wondered – not for the first time – if Trainer had once been a Dog. And told herself – not for the first time – to get that thought out of her head. It was implicit hope. It was the idea that she might one day leave this place.

But there was only one way to leave this place. And she refused to leave that way.

I’ll stay forever – I’ll die – if it comes to that.

“I said, get up!” Trainer’s voice, never far from a roar, now rose to a shriek.

A moan came from a small pile of skin and bone, seemingly bound together only by the loose rags that passed for clothing in the kennel. Trainer prodded the pile with his foot. Another moan. But no motion.

Trainer gestured. Assistant – as wiry and thin as Trainer was thick and muscular – held out a sword.

The girl looked away. She knew what was next. Had seen it before. Had no wish to see it again.

There was the particular noise of sword cleaving flesh. A gurgle.

The pile of rags and skin and bone had refused to get up. And a Dog who resisted training, who refused orders, would earn no coin and was good for nothing.

Trainer tossed water on the next Dog. Some of it washed the blood on the floor toward the drain set in the middle of the kennel. That drain was where they pushed their nightsoils, the rare bits of food that were too rotten to eat.

And it had drunk its fill of blood. As it had done before, and as it would do again.

“Rise and shine,” shouted Trainer as the last Dog – the last still-living

Dog – struggled to his feet. “It’s another love-er-ly day!”

He laughed.

The blood had washed away.

The day was begun.

As promised, here are Michaelbent’s social links:

Website: http://michaelbrentcollings.com

Writing Advice Blog: http://michaelbrentcollings.com/writingadvice.html

Facebook Fanpage: http://facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings

Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/mbcollings

Book online sales links:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Sword-Chronicles-Child-Empire-ebook/dp/B018X2H2F2/

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-sword-chronicles-michaelbrent-collings/1123092008?ean=2940157845506

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-sword-chronicles-child-of-the-empire

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1064756171

Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/292129494/The-Sword-Chronicles-Child-of-the-Empire

Oyster: https://www.oysterbooks.com/book/E6dS9NrwAtcPmTPX6Mb72T/the-sword-chronicles-child-of-the-empire

Paperback: https://www.createspace.com/5915037