The Write Stuff – Monday, April 29 – Paul Di Filippo Interview

Born in 1954 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Paul Di Filippo has never felt the urge to leave behind his native land. He grew up mainly in two towns, North Providence and Lincoln. At the time, both afforded plenty of open land across which he could stage imaginary battles, odysseys and expeditions. He encountered “adult” science fiction in 1965, with Raymond Jones’sThe Year When Stardust Fell. Soon, he was reading a book a day—although it must be stated they were slimmer back then.

He discovered fandom in 1973 by attending his first convention, Torcon II. He went to Rhode Island College from 1974 through 1978, with a 4.0 GPA, yet dropped out short of his diploma. There in 1976 he met Deborah Newton, his life partner ever since.

He landed a job as a COBOL programmer in 1979, at which he remained until 1982, when his long-simmering desire to become a professional writer could no longer be denied. Leaving his secure income and adopting Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a story a week, he did so for a year or more without any offers. Then he began to click, landing two near-simultaneous sales: “Stone Lives” at F&SF and “Rescuing Andy” at Twilight Zone.

In the subsequent three decades he’s amassed over 200 short fiction sales, and accumulated them, plus his novels, into over forty books. His latest novel, still looking for a home, is titled The Summer Thieves, and is his tribute to Jack Vance. Meanwhile, his second crime novel, The Deadly Kiss-Off, is on the shelves of finer stores everywhere.

Today, we’ll be discussing his latest release, Infinite Fantastika, a collection of short stories that WordFire Press released on September 30th, 2018.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

I was lucky enough to have three books come out in the space of just six months. My first, Infinite Fantastika, is my latest collection of short stories, a nice variety of the myriad forms I work in. The second was Aeota, a novella that combines Philip K. Dick with Thomas Pynchon for some deep weirdness. The third is my second crime novel, The Deadly Kiss-Off, featuring my two scam-artist antiheroes. And with any luck, WordFire will release Plumage From Pegasus: The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection in 2019. That’s the latest round-up of my humor columns, most of which appear in F&SF.

Is there common a story behind them?

There’s no real anecdotes about the composition of any of these books, alas. Except perhaps that I always intended Aeota to be a novel, but eventually realized I could say everything I wanted to at shorter length. That’s good, because every writer only has so many years to write, and if you can accomplish your goals at shorter lengths, you can write more in your allotted days!

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I feel that my stories and novels span a much broader spectrum than those of my peers. Most of my fellow writers find a niche and stick to it. I like to bop around all over the map, mainly to keep my own curiosity alive. Also, I cannot be unrelievedly tragic. Despite the current condition of the world, I remain an optimist about the future.

What was your path to publication?

I followed what used to be the archetypical path. Start selling short stories, then move to novel-length work. Of course, nowadays, people often jump straight to book publication. But for myself, it was the classic route. After a couple of years of rejection, I sold my first two stories almost simultaneously. One to Ed Ferman at F&SF, and one to Ted Klein at Twilight Zone Magazine. That was a rush which all the subsequent sales could not equal.

What are you working on now?

I am composing my third crime novel, The Mezcal Crack-Up. The title and subject matter allow me to sample lots of booze under the guise of “research.” I don’t know if these characters have enough allure left for a fourth outing, but we’ll see when I reach the end of the third.

What else have you written?

I have over forty books available, a little of everything. And I continue to do a lot of review work. But the strangest stuff I ever did was articles on the drug industry for a magazine called Contract Pharma, when my pal Gil Roth was editor there. Despite lack of formal journalistic training, I think I did a pretty good job.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Although often nominated, I seldom win. When I did take home a trophy from the British SF Association, they misspelled my name on the base of the award. Awards are overrated, IMHO.

What is your writing routine?

I try to get going before noon, after fooling around on the internet and doing paperwork, etc. Then I write until four or six PM, until I hit my quota of prose, from 500 to 2000 words, whatever I feel is mandated by the project at hand.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

My outlines are very sketchy at best. I believe in letting the story develop organically, and trying to surprise myself.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I used to be more of a pure idea man, with less focus on the human emotions at play. Now I think my stories are better balanced between intellectual conceits and the lives of the characters.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Earning enough money not to die in the gutter!

Do you have another job outside of writing?

My last day job was about 15-20 years ago, when I was a clerk at Brown University Bookstore. If I didn’t feel a compulsion to write, working in a bookstore would be my ideal job.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My mate Deborah and I have three “clubs.” At the breakfast table, we have a “read-aloud” club, where we work our way through a non-fiction book a few pages at a time. In the late afternoon when work is done, we have the “music club,” where we try to listen to one new CD every day. And finally, in the final hours before bedtime, we have the “movie club,” where we try to watch something of variable length, depending on how tired we are. So one night, it could be a six-minute cartoon, then sleep! Another night it could be a three-hour movie!

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

For many years Deborah and I attended weekly sitting practice at a local zen monastery. Learning the rudiments of Buddhism, how to work with your anxious “monkey mind” was invaluable in dealing with life’s tragedies and obstacles.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I am enormously indebted to all the Golden Age and Silver Age authors who formed my sensibilities, people like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Simak, Anderson, Silverberg, Aldiss, Moorcock, Dick, Ballard, Norton—this list goes on and on. I owe them everything. Now, when I am at a convention, and someone tells me I was an influence on them, I feel a) very old and b) enormously gratified!

Paul, thank you for taking the time to share with us. Before I provide our visitors with a sample story from Infinite Fantastika, as well as book buy and social links, 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: complete and utter joker.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d cure my back problems that derive from forty years of sitting down too long each day!

My biggest peeve is: writers whose egos are more magnificent than their prose.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: the infinite capacity of nature to astonish us.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

I would encourage readers and writers of SF to remember that authors are not politicians, gurus, activists or rebels, but simply entertainers and artists. The work is its own justification and reward.

 

“Domotica Berserker!”

Here’s what a Mortenson Domotica house printer looks like.

Maybe you’ve seen an hydraulic gantry crane at a shipyard? A quartet of enormous vertical wheeled legs form the corner posts of an open rectangular framework. The legs are connected at their tops by four beams at right angles to those they touch. The crane can position itself over an object, send down its grapple from its cross beams, lift any cargo that fits within its footprint, and wheel it into a new location.

Well, there’s no hook for lifting in the house printer; the four horizontal cross beams—actually there are sometimes six or more girders—contain the myriad printheads, and the beams themselves move vertically up and down the leg framework, from ground level to two or three stories high, depositing the hotmelt plastic according to the instructions in the house printer’s brain. Add in a giant hopper holding the raw materials, and you’ve got the whole mechanism. Oh, yes, the beams and printheads can also adjust their relations to each other along many axes, assuming many different configurations, coming closer together or moving further apart.

A single Morentson Domotica Model 2040-X can build a one-thousand-square foot multi-story residence with all wiring, plumbing and HVAC installed in roughly twenty-four hours. They’re like house-laying hens, dropping a building and moving on.

My name is Steve Benchman, and I was in charge, during the seven-to-three day shift, of a flock of ten of these giant machines. My co-workers on the other shifts were Gloribell Shoop and Santiago Cruz, good and competent domotica techs, if not quite as talented as yours truly. Our assignment was to construct a new residential development of five hundred homes on two hundred acres of long-fallow land within the city limits of Detroit, a development that would house some of the many climate-change refugees arriving in the USA every day. The acreage had been cleared and turned into parkland thirty years ago, in the second decade of the century. But now it was needed for habitations again.

We three were the only humans on the project. The house printers ran themselves, as did the steady stream of self-driving trucks that resupplied the hoppers with fresh hotmelt plastic. About all I had to do was to patrol the construction site, keeping any curious tresspassers at a safe remove, and admire the machines as they worked. Oh, yes, I did have to install new dyepacks when the old cartridges sent a signal that they had run out. The design for the development involved a rainbow’s worth of colors, to make each identically shaped house unique. The floorplans could have been easily made unique as well, but the politicians had decided that each refugee family should get a dwelling identical to all the rest, so as not to encourage jealousy or bickering.

Watching the ten machines move at a snail’s pace across the open tract, depositing their houses precisely atop the pre-laid slabs arrayed on the new street grid above the buried infrastructure of sewers and gas pipes and electric cables, I felt inordinately proud, like the father of an industrious brood of giant workers. Sometimes I would climb the ladder on the side of a Domotica and ride up high in the failsafe control cab, admiring the view of rising walls below me, which heightened visibly as I watched, under the deposition of the dancing printheads. At such times, I felt like Tarzan guiding a herd of very slow tame elephants across the veldt.

One morning I showed up fifteen minutes ahead of my shift to take over from Gloribell, and found her extremely agitated. She grabbed my arm and said, “Look, in the dark—the colors went crazy!”

The entire worksite is not floodlit at night, just the faroff perimeter fence. The machines didn’t need to see. So Gloribell had not noticed that the exterior walls of her ten new buildings had been mis-painted. (The dyes were actually integral with the walls, of course.) Instead of the tasteful suburban color schemes, the buildings sported camouflage and circus stripes, checks and plaids, blots and splatters in eye-wrenching combinations.

I knew instantly what the trouble was. Ten machines could not have malfunctioned simultaneously. “We’ve been hacked.”

Sure enough, we later learned, the firewalls of the Domotica brains had been breached by a virus engineered by the Anti-Tickytacky League, guerilla architects.

But the next instant rendered any of my speculations about the sabotage moot.

The Domotica units all began to print the simplified forms of mini-cathedrals at an accelerated speed that would destroy the printheads before too long. Polychromatic buttresses and gargoyles began to sprout in crazy confusion.

“Call for help!” I shouted to Gloribell, then sprang for the nearest ladder.

In the high control cab I overrode the programming and shut the machine down. I leaped off the ladder when I was ten feet above the ground and raced to the next machine.

By the time I had climbed atop the third, I could hear sirens approaching.

But in the fifth cab things took a turn for the worse.

The remaining active Domoticas suddenly raced off in every direction, their churning wheels gouging the turf. I guessed we were only going twenty miles per hour, but in a machine that gigantic it felt like one hundred.

The printheads continued to spew undifferentiated streamers of hotmelt at prodigious rates far beyond the manufacturer specs.

After picking myself up, bruised and out of breath, from where I had been thrown by the sudden acceleration, I managed to stop the one I was riding.

But the other five were causing some serious trouble. One of the newly arrived police cars was covered in bright green plastic, as were several of the cops themselves.

The rampaging house printers were only stopped by a SWAT team shooting out their wheels. But not before one had breached the perimeter fence and coated two miles of Detroit streets in pink goop.

Millions of dollars and much adverse publicity later, though, the project was back on track. But each security-reinforced Domotica was now staffed by a human round the clock.

And if any of the techs were ever tempted to add a flourish to the plans, they were prevented by a smart guard dog stationed in the cab and ready to bite at the first sign of creativity.

If you’d like to follow Paul online, you can do it here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paul.d.filippo

You can purchase a copy of Infinite Fantastika here: https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-Fantastika-Paul-Filippo/dp/1614756945/

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 15 – Steve Rzasa Interview

Today’s guest, Steve Rzasa, is the author of several novels of science-fiction, steampunk, and fantasy—with several more in progress. He was first published in 2009 by Marcher Lord Press (now Enclave Publishing). His third novel, Broken Sight, received the 2012 Award for Speculative Fiction from the American Christian Fiction Writers. The Word Endangered (2016) and Man Behind the Wheel (2017) were both finalists for the Realm Award in recent years. Steve grew up in Atco, New Jersey, and started writing stories in grade school. He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University, and worked for eight years at newspapers in Maine and Wyoming. He’s been a librarian since 2008, most recently earning his Library Support Staff Certification from the American Library Association. He is the technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he lives with his wife and two boys. Steve’s a fan of all things science-fiction and superhero and is also a student of history.

Today, we’re featuring his self-published title, Failed Frequencies, a sci-fi space opera which was released in November 2018. Its premise:

There’s no place like homeworld…

Vincent Chen would rather stay far away from his birthplace. But when he’s called back to Tiaozhan, it’s his job that’s on the line.

His superiors at MarkTel don’t like the publicity his adventures have brought the company, which holds the monopoly on galactic communications. Vincent dutifully promises to keep quiet for the duration of his stay.

Except his younger brother has other ideas.

Martin Chen is mixed up with dangerous smugglers, who’re furious he’s encroaching on their business, and they won’t let him simply walk away. It’ll take all Vincent’s savvy and a partnership with a legendary law enforcement officer to keep his brother—and himself—alive.

And his family intact.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

First and foremost, this is a story about adventure and about family. The main character, Vincent Chen, has to figure out how far he’ll go to protect the people he cares for.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

As the other brother of two boys, I’m always intrigued by the interactions between siblings. After spending two books dealing with Vincent’s personality and his solitary life, I put him into a situation in which he has no choice but to reconnect with his family—something he’s put off but also desires—and keep his younger brother out of trouble

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

My science-fiction and fantasy stories touch on elements of the Christian faith, especially the books set in The Face of the Deep fictional universe. The hero of Failed Frequencies, Vincent Chen, is from a family of Christians who were oppressed under the regime of the Kesek secret police, who regulated all organized religion in the galaxy. They’ve been out of power for ten years, but the scars inflicted on people like the Chens remain. Those elements are integral to his story, yet he’s primarily a hard-working communications expert who sees situations in which people are wronged and feels it’s his job to fix those situations.

What was your path to publication?

I had written a couple prototype novels in high school and college, but those were early experiments that should never see the light of day. I started working on a sprawling space opera in the early 2000s, after I graduated Boston University. It was a long slog, though, because I was working as a newspaper reporter and the last thing I wanted to do after I got home was write, since that’s what I did for work all day long. So, it took me about six years to come up with about 200 pages. Life took an insane turn when I lost my job and, after scrounging for a couple of months, was hired by our local library. The freedom of not having to produce newspaper copy every day freed me so that I wrote the other 400 pages in nine months.

Now, this was far too long a novel for a beginner like me, and I weathered the rejections, until a small publisher of science-fiction and fantasy called Marcher Lord Press not only expressed interest, but asked if the book could be split in two. I loved the idea of getting two novels for the price of one and jumped at the chance. Fast forward by 10 years, and I’ve had five novels published by Enclave Publishing (the successor to Marcher Lord Press) and released ten more books and novellas on my own.

What are you working on now?

I have a trio of urban fantasy novels coming out in July, and a superhero novel releasing in September. I’ve just finished the first draft of Mixed Messages, the follow up to Failed Frequencies and the last of four Vincent Chen novellas.

What else have you written?

I have written a four book space opera series called The Face of the Deep, a pair of fantasy novels, a couple of steampunk books, and a handful of mixed sci-fi. My flash fiction short stories were published in five issues of Havok Magazine, which is now defunct but was reborn as Havok Publishing in January, an online speculative fiction magazine.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Broken Sight  won the award for Speculative Fiction from American Christian Fiction Writers in 2012. The Word Endangered  and Man Behind the Wheel were nominated for Realm Awards from the Realm Makers conference in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

What is your writing routine?

My wife teaches public school special education and I have two teenage boys. They’re all gone from the house by 7:30 in the morning. I don’t have to be in to our library for work until 9:30, so that leaves me plenty of time to catch up on projects. Also, I’ve made it a habit to write during nearly every lunch break when I’m in the middle of a novel, and also on long road trips.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I don’t have a problem coming up with ideas. My greatest difficulty is finding time to write all the stories I’ve dreamed up! Once I sit down to write, the words hit the screen without much effort, though some stories are easier to write than others.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Drawing attention to my work. Independent publishing has led to a great leveling of the field when it comes to the release of new books, but it takes a lot of effort on the part of the writer to advertise and promote. I’m more of a producer, so taking the time to plan promotions slips the old brain frequently. After I finish up my latest round of new books, I plan to step back from writing as much and focus on the promotional aspect. It’s time for a change of plan.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

Collaboration is a great exercise for relinquishing total control of a story. One of the best writing experiences I ever had was being part of Just Dumb Enough, a collaborative novella in which seven authors, including yours truly, took turns writing chapters of a short but epic fantasy adventure. I was lucky enough to go first, so I set the stage with characters and a goal. By the time I sat back down to write Chapter Seven, I had been following the chapters written by my fellow authors and marveled at their creativity. Everyone stuck with the story line and fleshed out the characters in unique ways.

Just Dumb Enough serves as a fund-raiser for the Realm Makers conference, so that we can provide a full registration as a scholarship for one attendee. https://www.amazon.com/Just-Dumb-Enough-Steve-Rzasa-ebook/dp/B0781YZHXX/

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m the technical services librarian at the Johnson County Library in Buffalo, Wyoming, where I’ve worked for more than 10 years. I’m in charge of the movie collection, and inter-library loans, plus I handle the bulk of the public relations, which includes producing a four-page newsletter every couple of months. I’m also the go-to guy for tech troubleshooting. The “technical” part of my title refers to my primary role linking all adult fiction, nonfiction, and audio/visual items for our collection, somewhere on the order of 2,500 items a year.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My family enjoys traveling, even though we don’t get to go as often as we’d like. I’m an ardent fan of my wife’s roller derby team, and she’s a fantastic knitter, which gave rise to her roller derby name: the Termi-Knitter. Lately my boys have gotten into Magic the Gathering, so they’ve been training me to play and I’ve been learning how to not lose. Or at least, how to not lose so often.

What is your greatest life lesson?

To not be afraid of failure. The fear of doing the wrong thing paralyzed me to the point I was not able to take chances, but I eventually realized, I can’t let chances in life slip away. Some things you try are not going to work. It doesn’t mean three strikes, you’re out. You keep going, keep learning, and do better.

What makes you laugh?

Having relaxed evening with friends, when we can talk and joke and enjoy each other’s company. That, and Brooklyn Nine.

Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to share with us. Before I provide our visitors with an excerpt, as well as your social and book buy links, 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: Geek.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Pizza.

The one thing I would change about my life: Eliminate my fear of flying.

My biggest peeve is: Grown-ups.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: The people I love.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Science-fiction and fantasy are great genres with which an author can appeal to the human heart, because everyone loves heroes, and it’s in these stories that we can make people feel that heroic achievements are still possible.

Excerpt:

I help Martin to his feet. He brushes spring roll off his shirt. “That’s gonna stain.”

“You’ve got worse problems,” I mutter. “Those the guys who shoved you?”

“Don’t worry.” He draws his gun. “I’ve got this.”

“You most certainly do not ‘got this,’ Martin.” I clamp a hand around the barrel and push it toward the floor. “Are you blind and unable to count? They’re all armed.”

“Back off and let me handle this!”

Doesn’t matter what I do, because two of the men advance on us without any fear of Martin’s meager defense. Both guys look like their buddies—short, stocky, athletic. Their heads bristle with buzzcut hair of varying lengths, some pink, some yellow, all shifting hues as they move. The left sides of their faces are covered with tattoos, stylized images of behemoth-worms curving from their brows to their necks. Their clothing is a motley mix of colors and styles, all bright.

The pink-haired one pulls Martin’s gun from our grasp. He sweeps my legs out from underneath me and the next microsecond, I’m on my back, trying to get up, except there’s a handgun much bigger than Martin’s illegal, compact model glaring at me. Red streaks flash through Pink Hair’s buzzcut.

The second guy, this one with gold spikes, puts Martin into a bear hug. Martin gasps, color draining from his face. It’s hard to hear with the band still jamming, but something mechanical whirrsin the background. I really hope it isn’t coming from Gold Spike.

“Marty.” The leader’s voice is rough, like he’s guzzled a bottle of the cleaner they use to polish starship drive nozzles and survived. He’s bald, with a thick, sharp goatee and moustache. His eyes are brown, but they spark with illuminated circuitry. Red shirt, with the stylized behemoth-worm image his boys have on their faces, and black pants. He could be a nightclub owner, right down to the rings on his right hand—one each colored black, white, gold, silver, and bronze. “How’s Captain Rilla?”

“Rilla? She’s great. Yeah, great. I’m finishing a transaction for her.” Martin’s answer comes out in wheezes. Gold Spike doesn’t seem like he’s willing to let go.

“I know why you’re here. I also know what you’ve got.” He grabs the front of Martin’s shirt. “I also know who’s the top smuggler of said goods—and, hint, it isn’t you or Captain Rilla.”

“Hold on.” I push to my feet, slowly, because I don’t want Pink Hair shooting me. The leader looks at me as if I’ve barged into the wrong restroom. “Let’s take this outside and see if we can’t figure out our problem.”

“Our problem?” He sounds ready to inflict violence, and I’m bracing myself for an incoming punch, when his scowl all of a sudden disappears. “Great steaming drive nozzles. Vincent?”

“Yes. Captain Vincent Chen.” My hands are on my hips, posture as straight as it’s ever going to get—enough to gain Father’s nod. All I need is triumphant brass and I imagine I can use my MarkTel authority to counter violence with reason.

“It’s Grant. Grant Liu.”

He could have stunned me with a scrambler and I’d be less astonished. “Grant? You’re still here? I thought you left years ago.”

Grant snorts. “Where else would I be? Unlike you. Word was you ran off-planet, chasing comms ferries.”

“Good way to do honest work, helping other people.” I fold my arms. “I take it your career path went differently.”

“Let’s say I’m carving out a niche market, and I don’t appreciate others trying to elbow in.” He stares at Martin.

Grant Liu. Childhood pal. Smartest kid in our class. Graduated earlier than the rest, right before he got picked up by Kesek—courtesy of my brother’s rash decision. I’d have put money on him becoming a Raszewski sphere physicist or a medical tech.

Instead, he’s got a gang of eight armed goons at his back and is threatening my brother.

“Let Martin go,” I say. “No one’s been hurt. We can all walk out of this.”

“Sorry. Not possible. Your bái chī brother has been dipping his toes in our end of the pool. Unfortunately, there’s piranhas.”

Odd way to put it. The left side of Grant’s face twitches. He rubs at his eyes. They seem bleary, unfocused, until something flickers around their edges. He’s got a vision stabilizer implant, keeping his sight from degenerating. I’ve seen specs of those come through Mother’s delver when she’s routing Yun Medical commnotes. “Okay, so, Martin isn’t known for his impulse control, or his common sense—”

“Hey!”

“Shut up,” I snap. “Listen, Grant, take the cytori and we’ll go.”

Those who would like to follow Steve online can do so here:

Website: www.steverzasa.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steverzasa  and https://www.facebook.com/SteveRzasaAuthor/

Twitter: @SteveRzasa

Instagram: @steverzasawriter

You can purchase a copy of Failed Frequencies here:

https://www.amazon.com/Failed-Frequencies-Vincent-Chen-Novella-ebook/dp/B07JBBT8GB

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 1 – Martin Shoemaker Interview

Martin L. Shoemaker is a programmer who writes on the side… or maybe it’s the other way around. He told stories to imaginary friends and learned to type on his brother’s manual typewriter even though he couldn’t reach the keys. (He types with the keyboard in his lap still today.) He couldn’t imagine any career but writing fiction… until his algebra teacher said, “This is a program. You should write one of these.”

Fast forward 30 years of programming, writing, and teaching. He was named an MVP by Microsoft for his work with the developer community. He is an avid role-playing game master, but that didn’t satisfy his storytelling urge. He wrote, but he never submitted until his brother-in-law read a chapter and said, “That’s not a chapter. That’s a story. Send it in.” It won second place in the Baen Memorial Writing Contest and earned him lunch with Buzz Aldrin. Programming never did that!

Martin hasn’t stopped writing (or programming) since. His novella, Murder on the Aldrin Express, was reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection and in Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4. His work has appeared in Analog, Galaxy’s Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Forever Magazine, Writers of the Future 31, Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF 4, and select service garages worldwide. He received the Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award for his Clarkesworld story, “Today I Am Paul,” which also was nominated for a Nebula award and appeared in four years’ best anthologies and eight international editions.

A press release about his latest novel, Today I Am Carey, published by Baen Books, might read:

REMARKABLE DEBUT NOVEL FROM CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED AUTHOR MARTIN L. SHOEMAKER. Shoemaker proves why he has consistently been praised as one of the best story writers in SF today with this touching, thoughtful, action-packed debut novel, based on his award-winning short story, “Today I am Paul”.

Today I Am Carey’s premise:

Mildred is dying of Alzheimer’s Disease. As her memories fade, she requires the aid of a full-time android to assist her in her everyday life. The android’s duty: to tend to Mildred as Alzheimer’s steals her away, one memory at a time, and to pretend to be her absent family.

Soon, Mildred passes away, and the android Carey must find a new purpose in the world—and in its new family: Paul Owens, the overworked businessman. Susan Owens, the dedicated teacher. And Millie, a curious little girl who will grow up alongside her android best friend. As the humans around it age and change, Carey struggles to understand life’s challenges and to make its own path. Carey must learn to live. To grow. To care.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

It’s not your ordinary science fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with science fiction! It’s almost all I read and write. But I think this book will appeal even to people who avoid science fiction because they think it’s all ray guns and rocket ships. It’s about life as viewed by an android, a perfect neutral observer who understands and doesn’t judge.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

The original story, “Today I Am Carey”, was strongly influenced by my mother-in-law’s last year of life. The rest of the novel flowed from my curiosity: what does the android do after its patient passes away? How does it become part of her family?

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I could answer with a cliché: “Every author has a unique voice.” Or I could answer boastfully, trying to convince your readers how great I am.

But a serious question deserves a serious response. I think my niche in the field is what I like to call ruthless consistency. I’m not alone in that niche, of course, with Larry Niven being one of its masters. What I mean is that if I establish something as a rule in my universe, I am stuck with it. My world building is more evolution than planning. I discover bits of the world as I write; and once I discover them, they change the shape of the story.

What was your path to publication?

The book got its start with my Clarkesworld short story “Today I Am Paul”. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/shoemaker_08_15/ That story got a lot of attention: a Nebula nomination, a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award, four year’s best anthologies, and eight international translations. So when my agent heard I was considering making that into a novel, we agreed that it had strong potential. I dictated the rest of the novel in six weeks and then revised it over the next few months.

Baen knew of my work through Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and also through the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, where I took second place. We had already discussed me writing for them, and in fact I had a story in their anthology Little Green Men: Attack! (edited by Brian Thomas Schmidt and Robin Wayne Bailey). So when my agent started shopping the manuscript around, they were very willing to take a look at it. Compared to other projects, this all happened very fast. I know how fortunate I am for that.

What are you working on now?

Ulla, book one of what might be a series called “Martian Song”. It’s War of the Worlds meets I Am Legend—and possibly meets To Kill a Mockingbird. (I’m still discovering where it’s going.)

What else have you written?

Coming next September from 47North will be my next novel. The working title is Mutiny on the Aldrin Express, but that will probably change before release. It’s a novel built around my Carver and Aames stories that appeared in Analog, adding a framing story involving the day Captain Nick Aames finally pushes the Admiralty too far.

I’ve had other work in Analog, along with Galaxy’s Edge, Digital Science Fiction, Writers of the Future, and various anthologies. There are 51 entries on my Amazon author page – and more to come!

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Besides those above for “Today I Am Carey”, my novella “Murder on the Aldrin Express” (the first Carver and Aames story) was selected for The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection and The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4. My story “A Hamal in Hollywood” was selected for The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 4. And my novelette “Unrefined” won third place in the first quarter for Writers of the Future Volume 31.

What is your writing routine?

My most consistent routine is based on my practice of dictating stories while I drive:

In the morning, I listen to the last five minutes from the day before to “seat” myself in the story.

I turn on the recorder, and I start dictating and driving.

When I get to work, I turn off the recorder.

When I leave at night, I listen to the last five minutes from the morning.

I turn on the recorder, and I start dictating and driving.

When I get home, I turn off the recorder.

After dinner, I copy the day’s files to the computer and let Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribe them.

That’s the ideal, and of course sometimes I can’t hit those targets. But that’s how I dictated nearly 90,000 words in six weeks for the first draft of this book.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Sometimes, sometimes not. Today I Am Carey had something of an outline, with a lot of deviations. Murder on the Aldrin Express had no outline, just a vision that I wanted to tell a Citizen Kane style framing story. Ulla… I have no idea where Ulla is going. Every time I think I know where it’s going, it surprises me. My characters are telling the story, and I’m just taking notes.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Discipline and habit – but I have to make it a habit. If I sit down in my Jeep and put on my microphone, story comes out. Every time. If I tell myself I don’t feel like it, guess what? No story comes out! Every time I’m “blocked”, it’s because I’m distracted and I lose the habit.

In diabetes class, they taught us that it takes three weeks to a month to build a good habit, but only one week to break it. I’m starting to see that in my writing career as well. If I have a bad week where I don’t dictate something at all, it becomes really easy to find reasons not to write. But if I make myself anyway, if I keep the habit building, dictation becomes effortless.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

At the Writers of the Future Volume 32 workshop, I and other returning winners spoke to the new winners about our career since winning. Someone asked me about dictation, and in the middle of answering I realized that every story I had sold in the past year had been dictated. That led me to sit down and examine why dictation works for me. My current process has evolved from that point. It involved learning to trust that if I put forth the effort, I can do this. Worry less, write more.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Discipline/time to get the work done. When I started answering these questions, I had six novels in my queue. By now I have seven. I need to work faster!

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I believe that my career as a software developer has contributed greatly to the ruthless consistency I mentioned above. I am very comfortable with constructing elaborate systems and holding them in my head.

What motivates or inspires you?

Space museums. They’re like a pilgrimage. I look at Apollo-era hardware and I think: They put that in orbit around the Moon, and the entire world at that time had less computing power than I carry in my pocket. My job is not hard.

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

I allow myself to wallow for a while. I’m only human! But I try to limit that and then figure out what happens next.

No, it doesn’t always work. But there’s also the Beatles method: I get by with a little help from my friends. And my friends are the best!

Do you have any pet projects?

My Carver and Aames stories are part of a much larger universe I call Blue Collar Space. I’m slowly mapping out a future history, some of which may not interest anyone but me.

What is your greatest life lesson?

In late 2017 I almost died from an infection complicated by undiagnosed diabetes. Since then I’ve lost 60 pounds, I’ve gotten my diabetes under control, and I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been in my adult life. So prosaically, my lesson was to take care of myself. Philosophically, it was that I can take care of myself, that it’s not too late to make changes. And that’s true for more than just health and fitness. I finally got serious about writing when I was 47. I like to think I’m proving that that was not too late.

What makes you laugh?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Early Garfield strips (before Jim Davis started farming them out to assistants).

Dogs. Cats. Penguins.

Frasier, especially the character Niles Crane.

Sock monkeys. I can’t explain why, but sock monkeys make me smile. They even make an appearance in Today I Am Carey.

Mostly my friends.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Jack McDevitt. Larry Niven. Jerry Pournelle. Barry Longyear. Harlan Ellison. J.R.R. Tolkien. Robert A. Heinlein. Daniel Keyes. Connie Willis.

Thanks, Martin, for taking the time to share with us. Before I present an excerpt from Today I Am Carey, followed by links visitors can use to purchase it and follow you online, 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: Ham.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Black licorice.

The one thing I would change about my life: Procrastination.

My biggest peeve is: Passive protagonists.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: Where I’m at right now.

 Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

There’s still time to invest in Kleenex stock! I expect a shortage when this book comes out. Publisher’s Weekly calls my ending “heartbreaking”.

And thank you most kindly for the opportunity to share!

 

Excerpt:

“Good morning,” the small, quavering voice comes from the medical bed. “Is that you, Paul?”

Today I am Paul. I activate my chassis extender, giving myself 3.5 centimeters additional height so as to approximate Paul’s size. I change my eye color to R60, G200, B180, the average shade of Paul’s eyes in interior lighting. My silicone flesh stretches, and I flood it with pigments to adjust my skin tone as well. When I had first emulated Paul, I had been troubled that I could not quickly emulate his beard; but Mildred never seems to notice its absence. The Paul in her memory has no beard.

The house is quiet now that the morning staff have left. Mildred’s room is clean but dark this morning, with the drapes concealing the big picture window. Paul would not notice the darkness (he never does when he visits in person), but my empathy net knows that Mildred’s garden outside will cheer her up. I set a reminder to open the drapes after I greet her.

Mildred leans back in the bed. It is an advanced home care bed, completely adjustable and with built-in monitors. Mildred’s family spared no expense on the bed (nor other care devices, like myself). Its head end is almost horizontal and faces her toward the window. She can only glimpse the door from the corner of her eye, but she does not have to see to imagine that she sees. This morning she imagines Paul, so that is who I am.

Synthesizing Paul’s voice is the easiest part, thanks to the multimodal dynamic speakers in my throat. “Good morning, Ma. I brought you some flowers.” I always bring flowers. Mildred appreciates them no matter whom I am emulating. The flowers make her smile during eighty-seven percent of my “visits”.

“Oh, thank you,” Mildred says, “you’re such a good son.” She holds out both hands, and I place the daisies in them. But I do not let go. One time her strength failed, and she dropped the flowers. She wept like a child then, and that disturbed my empathy net. I do not like it when she weeps.

Mildred sniffs the flowers, then draws back and peers at them with narrowed eyes. “Oh, they’re beautiful! Let me get a vase.”

“No, Ma,” I say. “You can stay in bed, I brought a vase with me.” I place a white porcelain vase in the center of the night stand. Then I unwrap the daisies, put them in the vase, and add water from a pitcher that sits on the breakfast tray. I pull the night stand forward so that the medical monitors do not block Mildred’s view of the flowers.

I notice intravenous tubes running from a pump to Mildred’s arm. I cannot be disappointed, as Paul would not see the significance, but somewhere in my emulation net I am stressed that Mildred needed an IV during the night. When I scan my records, I find that I had ordered that IV after analyzing Mildred’s vital signs during the night; but since Mildred had been asleep at the time, my emulation net had not engaged. I had operated on programming alone.

I am not Mildred’s sole caretaker. Her family has hired a part-time staff for cooking and cleaning, tasks that fall outside of my medical programming (though I am learning), and also two nurses. The staff also gives me time to rebalance my networks. As an android, I need only minimal daily maintenance; but an emulation net is a new, delicate addition to my model, and it is prone to destabilization if I do not regularly rebalance it, a process that takes several hours per day.

So I had “slept” through Mildred’s morning meal. I summon up her nutritional records, but Paul would not do that. He would just ask. “So how was breakfast, Ma? Nurse Judy says you didn’t eat too well this morning.”

“Nurse Judy? Who’s that?”

My emulation net responds before I can stop it: “Paul” sighs. Mildred’s memory lapses used to worry him, but now they leave him weary, and that comes through in my emulation. “She was the attending nurse this morning, Ma. She brought you your breakfast.”

“No she didn’t. Anna brought me breakfast.” Anna is Paul’s oldest daughter, a busy college student who tries to visit Mildred every week (though it has been more than a month since her last visit).

I am torn between competing directives. My empathy net warns me not to agitate Mildred, but my emulation net is locked into Paul mode. Paul is argumentative. If he knows he is right, he will not let a matter drop. He forgets what that does to Mildred.

The tension grows, each net running feedback loops and growing stronger, which only drives the other into more loops. After 0.14 seconds, I issue an override directive: unless her health or safety are at risk, I cannot willingly upset Mildred. “Oh, you’re right, Ma. Anna said she was coming over this morning. I forgot.” But then despite my override, a little bit of Paul emulates through. “But you do remember Nurse Judy, right?”

 

If you’d like to follow Martin Shoemaker, you can do so here:

Web Site:http://Shoemaker.Space

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

You can purchase a copy of Today I Am Carey here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Today-Am-Carey-Martin-Shoemaker/dp/1481483846

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/today-i-am-carey-martin-l-shoemaker/1128864110

Baen Books (eARC): https://www.baen.com/today-i-am-carey-earc.html

The Write Stuff – Monday, October 22 – Larry Allen Interview

Starting with this post, I am resuming my practice of interspersing interviews of promising self-published authors between the traditionally published ones. At the suggestion of publicist Beverly Bambury, I begin by introducing Larry Allen.

When not working on his latest science fiction novel or short story, Larry Allen consults for the electronic engineering and embedded computing industries. He spends his recreational time flying light airplanes, long-distance bicycling, traveling, and of course voraciously reading. On rare occasions he has been observed taking the Polar Bear Plunge. He prefers cats to dogs, and lives with his wife on Cape Cod.

We’re focusing today on his novel, A Forgotten Legacy. This is how Larry describes it:

After eleven months of ship’s time, the Endeavor finally made orbit around its destination world. One of the most complex machines ever built, it had performed its mission flawlessly until a shipboard disaster wiped out the entire crew, save for one man. Mission specialist David Frey is alive and in good health, but his narrow specialty leaves him woefully unprepared for what he faces marooned over an unknown world and light-years from home.

Two years ago, Greg Parker was atop the world: a beautiful home, a loving wife, a senior position in a successful business, and a direct line to the man at the top. But that was two years ago. Now he drives a tired, rusty sedan to a job in a call center, and comes home to a shabby apartment and a note saying Holly is working late… again. But Greg is in for a surprise, one that will change is life in a way he can’t begin to imagine.

For Christopher Bishop, the world is not enough. The high-tech empire he founded a generation ago dominates global commerce, the company a household name everywhere. And yet, something eludes him, a secret he’s been searching for the last thirty years.

A Forgotten Legacy is the tale of how their lives converge, and how Greg Parker responds when he finds the opportunity of a lifetime within his grasp.

Written by an engineer and pilot, A Forgotten Legacy will be a compelling read for science fiction fans, as well as those who just want to enjoy an entertaining, suspenseful adventure.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

A Forgotten Legacy was intended to be an adventure beginning in the most improbable place; the story of an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. My intent in writing it was give my readers a fun romp, not to teach a deep lesson or make a point, except perhaps that when life hands you an opportunity, make the most of it.

 Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

I don’t know about a story, but definitely a lesson: Be bold. Take chances. You’re more powerful than you imagine yourself to be.

 Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

If you asked that question forty years ago, the answer would have been “it isn’t.” But today, it may almost seem vintage; in the style of the classic science fiction masters. There are so many authors out there today teaching important lessons and making important points, that I think there’s room for just having fun, visiting places that you can’t ordinarily go, and seeing ordinary people stretch to something new.

What was your path to publication?

I opted for independent publication, because my writing isn’t mainstream. Traditional publishers need to cater to a common denominator to make their bottom line. I have no such restriction. Independent publishing provides me with a degree of freedom difficult to achieve in the commercial world. I’d much rather reach for a small, interested and interesting audience than a large, generic one.

 What are you working on now?

Another novel: The Sixth World. Without giving away too much, it’s a story set on a future Utopian earth, in which the protagonist discovers a deeply buried fatal flaw in that society; one that makes its eventual collapse inevitable. In addition to making some observations about our own world that I hope my readers will find thought-provoking, I’ll also be taking them to some pretty interesting new places. It’s out with beta readers now, and I hope it will be released early next year.

 What is your writing routine?

Early morning. I can’t recommend this for everyone, but my muse definitely speaks the loudest just after sunrise. It’s also the time least susceptible to interruptions and distractions. I try to do my work on a laptop NOT connected to the internet, because that can be one of the biggest distractions—I step away from my work to research a minute detail, and half an hour later I’m watching a YouTube video on how to milk a giraffe. Better to avoid the temptation altogether—factual errors can be fixed during editing.

Do you create an outline before you write?

Not an outline so much as a synopsis—something that might evolve into a blurb, or back cover material. But it’s not a strait jacket—very often a story will veer off in a direction all its own. And that’s fine.

Why do you write?

Well, I’d like to claim it’s to entertain my readers, or that I’ve got an important message to deliver. But I think my primal motivation is different. I was once diagnosed by a psychologist as someone who needed an audience. Well, if you’ve got a somewhat private personality and you need an audience, your only real choices are to either commit a heinous crime or write. I chose the latter. And I hope that when I do so, I’m able to entertain my readers and perhaps deliver a message of some importance as well.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Change tactics. There’s a saying that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Well, it’s also the definition of perseverance. That said, a logjam, writer’s block, whatever you want to call it, can be overcome by shifting tactics. If you’ve been pantsing, try outlining for a while. Or vice-versa. Take a good look at your characters, and work on their biographies and background for a while. If they’re well-enough defined, they’ll almost write the manuscript for you. I’ve also made good use of the Oblique Strategies card deck. This isn’t a plug; there are versions of the deck that are in the public domain. It was created by a musician and an artist, but I’ve found it to be very effective in catalyzing the written word as well.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

In real life, I’m an electrical engineering consultant, specializing in embedded systems—the microcomputers that control everything from telephones to refrigerators to arcade games to missile simulators. You’ll see some of my career experience in A Forgotten Legacy, and hopefully I’ve gotten all the technical details right.

Describe a typical day.

There is no typical day, so I’ll describe an ideal day: Up at roughly six AM. Quick bike ride to the beach (assuming it’s summer), an equally quick swim, and then back home for a shower, some breakfast, and picking up where I left off on my latest writing project. Two to three hours there, and then to the relatively mundane work of satisfying my consulting clients. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to isolate and fix the bug I’ve been chasing for the last several days. If I’m extremely lucky, it won’t be a bug that I created. Break for a late lunch with my loving bride, and then back to consulting work. If it’s Monday, I’m off to meet with my writers group, where they’ll be critiquing my science fiction and I’ll be critiquing their YA and cozy mysteries. Evenings spent reading, fiddling with the computer, or burning my fingers with the soldering iron while working on one project or another. Little or no television. Life’s too short for it.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Well, striking a balance between a wide variety of interests and managing a successful marriage can be a challenge. I’m fortunate to have a spouse with a good sense of humor, an affection for weirdness, and zero willingness to suffer in silence—if I screw up she’ll let me know. That can be uncomfortable, but it also keeps things from ever getting too far off track.

Thanks, Larry, for sharing your thoughts on yourself and your work. Before I present A Forgotten Legacy’s excerpt, followed by your social and book buy links, 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: Man of honor. Old fashioned, maybe, but without it, what else matters?

The one thing I cannot do without is: My memories. They’re the sum of what I am.

The one thing I would change about my life: Extend it. I can’t die; I’ve got stuff to do.

My biggest peeve is: Lack of self-confidence. In others, and especially in myself.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: I think I exist in a state of continuous marginal dissatisfaction.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

The thought is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s not mine, but I’ll share it anyway. “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Of course, knowing what you’re doing helps, too, but you can learn along the way. Drop everything and start doing it now.

 

From Chapter 4 of A Forgotten Legacy

It wasn’t that much longer before the shuttle entered the atmosphere, deployed its descent shroud, and began to decelerate. Not long after, it was in a steep aerodynamic glide, descending toward a billowing cloud deck.

“This must be some of the weather the science team was talking about,” Dave mused. “They said the large areas of water would result in much more robust cloud formation. Look at the size of…”

They entered the first cloud, and it was as though a giant hand had slammed against the bottom of the shuttle. With nothing but white visible through the window, the effect was even more unnerving. Ellen let out a brief shriek, as Dave uttered a subdued “wow…” and they both cinched up their harnesses. The shuttle pitched to the left and then dropped so rapidly that their bodies strained against the belts. The rate of descent continued to increase, wing surfaces twitching as the autocontrol system struggled to keep the shuttle upright and descending at a survivable speed.

Another bang, accompanied by a brutal shove against the seats, but this time accompanied by a chime and a blinking indicator ‘Autocontrol limits reached – disengaging’. Dave almost broke his finger stabbing the Engage button as the battering continued. At once, the shuttle was pounded by… something—what looked like a blast of gravel-sized ice pellets. There was an enormous, overpowering flash of light, accompanied by a lurch to the left. The left wing dipped and the shuttle flipped completely over, and then somehow righted itself. The ice-pelting continued, now with larger chunks. A crack appeared in the right window. The ship continued to descend, both its passengers holding onto whatever they could. Three of the status indicators on the panel turned from green to red, but the shuttle managed to hold together.

And then the vibration ended, even as the shuttle began being pounded by torrential rain. Ellen stared out the window in front of her, a look of resignation on her face. But her thoughts were interrupted by a rapid beeping, accompanied by a voice message: “Alert—prepare to engage manual control.” The rhythmic thrumming of the engines was audible, but just barely, over the sound of the rain.

Dave peered out his window, struggling to see anything through the downpour. “Can’t see a damn thing.” The shuttle continued to descend, even as the mechanized voice prompted “Alert—manual control, thirty seconds.”

At that instant, the shuttle broke out of the clouds into a dark, rainy sky with nothing but forest below.

Dave wiped a bead of sweat running into his right eye and surveyed the warning indicators on the instrument panel. The shuttle continued to buck and lurch in the remaining turbulence of the storm, but nothing on the screens suggested imminent disaster.

“Okay, we’ve lost backup communications, ground proximity radar, and primary cooling. But the engines are healthy, and we’re holding pressure. We haven’t lost anything mission-critical; we’re still on plan. Go ahead and start flying the search pattern while I get the computer loaded for the return trip. If we don’t hear anything, I want to be ready to head back up as quickly as possible.” He released his grasp on the controls, as Ellen began flying from her side, and began rubbing his hands together to relieve the numbness. He winced, realizing his grip had been nearly enough to deform the metal.

Ellen turned into the first leg of the search pattern as she eased up on the throttles, aligning their position with the route on the display.

Just as she did, the shuttle began dropping like a stone. Even in the safety harness, Dave’s head brushed against the ceiling. Ellen slammed the throttles forward; in an instant, they heard the engines spinning up, fighting the downdraft. The nose tipped up, and just as the shuttle began climbing, there was a wham as it lurched to the right while beginning the climb. Instinctively, both of them gazed out the side window to see a three-inch tree branch protruding through the wing surface.

“Something’s not right,” Ellen shouted, tugging on the controls. “I think that branch jammed one of the linkages. I’m going to try to put it down in that clearing over there,” she added, gesturing to a gap in the trees ahead.

As it loomed into their field of view, Dave’s last thought before the impact was that the clearing really didn’t look big enough.

Visitors can follow Larry here:

 Website:        http://www.larryallenonline.com

Facebook:     https://www.facebook.com/people/Larry-Allen/100010705326550

To purchase A Forgotten Legacy, click here:

 Amazon:       https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Legacy-Larry-Allen/dp/194126803X

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

Photo Credit to OnFocusPhotography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you care to share something about your home life?

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

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

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

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

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

Is there another Cat Rambo collection coming any time soon?

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is… books!

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

My biggest peeve is… mean people.

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

 

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

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

http://www.kittywumpus.net

http://www.patreon.com/catrambo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent release.

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

What was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

What other novels have you written?

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

What else are you working on?

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

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

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

Do you create an outline before you write? 

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

Why do you write?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any pet projects?

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir, that’s him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Website:         www.davidboop.com

Facebook:      www.facebook.com/dboop.updates

Twitter:          @david_boop

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

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

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

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

This is how he describes Killdeer Winds:

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent release.

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

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What motivates or inspires you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: stories.

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

My biggest peeve is: my angsty inner life.

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

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

 

Chapter One

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

—Robert “Dob” Howerter

Colorado Courier Interview

August 3, 2057

(i)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like where I was and who owned the house.

Book online sales links:

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Amazon

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

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Kobo

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Smashwords

Social Links:

www.aaronmrichey.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website:         www.enewman.co.uk

Twitter:          @emapocalyptic

Other:             www.splitworlds.com

www.teandjeopardy.com

 

Book Buy Links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Do you have any other books in the works?

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

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

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

Do you create an outline before you write?

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

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

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

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

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

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

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

Would you care to share something about your home life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journal One
The Gypsy Curse

Entry One

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Facebook:      www.facebook.com/PJWacks

Twitter:          www.twitter.com/peterjwacks

Website:         www.peterjwacks.net/

 Buy Links:     www.wordfirepress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is… Coffee.

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

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

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

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

Website:         www.nancykress.com

Twitter:          @nancykress

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

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

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