The Write Stuff – Monday, May21 – Interview With Charles Gannon

Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s award-winning Caine Riordan/Terran Republic hard SF novels have all been national best-sellers, and include 3 finalists for the Nebula, 2 for the Dragon Award, and a Compton Crook winner. The fifth, Marque of Caine, is forthcoming in January 2019. His epic fantasy series, The Broken World, is forthcoming from Baen Books. He collaborates with Eric Flint in the NYT and WSJ best-selling Ring of Fire  series, and has worked in the Starfire, Honorverse, Man-Kzin, and War World universes. His other novels and short fiction straddle the divide between hard SF and technothrillers and have appeared through various imprints and in various magazines. Much of this work includes collaborations in the Starfire, Honorverse, Man-Kzin, and War World universes. He also worked extensively in game design and writing, as well as being a scriptwriter and producer in New York City, where his clients included the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and PBS.  Other credits include many short fiction publications, game design/writing, and scriptwriter/producer in New York City.

A Distinguished Professor of English and Fulbright Senior Specialist, his book, Rumors of War and Infernal Machines, won the 2006 American Library Association Choice Award for Outstanding Book. He is a recipient of five Fulbright Fellowships and Travel Grants and has been a subject matter expert both for national media venues such as NPR and the Discovery Channel, as well as for various intelligence and defense agencies, including the Pentagon, Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy (CNO/SSG and ONR), NATO, DARPA, NRO, DHS, NASA, and several other organizations with which he signed NDAs.

Charles, I’ll start out by asking you about the wizard behind the curtain. Caine’s Mutiny is exceedingly complex. What tools do you use to keep track of the characters, the various species’ techno-sociological idiosyncrasies, and the story’s multiple plot lines?

Well, I certainly depend upon spreadsheets. Without them, I could not keep track of the most complex, but easily missed, challenge of writing in the Caine Riordanseries: the timeline. Even leaving out the protagonist, if you consider the number of major characters engaging in activities at great remove from each other, and not at the same moment in time, there are certainly a lot of moving pieces to keep track of. Making sure that they are not in two places at once, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, does require a little bit of calendar work.

I’m fortunate enough to have fans and readers who come forward to help with various other challenges. My friend and fellow 1632 author Rick Boatwright massaged a whole bunch of my notes into something like an integrated writer’s reference for the Consolidated Terran Republic. Another astounding project was undertaken by Mark Gutis, who created an alphabetical compendium of the entire series and the unusual places people and objects populate it.

But a lot of the tracking involves old-fashioned memory, particularly when it comes to how various plots and motivations evolve over the course of the series.

As I read, I found myself increasingly fascinated by the behavior of the exosapient, Hkh’Rkh. For example, one character, Yaargraukh, felt “his eyes retract behind their protective folds, then under their bony ridges,” to represent misgivings over something he had been told, and later “clacked one set of opposable digits, releasing his adjutant from the submissive posture”. Are these entirely products of your imagination, or did you draw upon real world human or animal behavioral parallels?

The exosapients of the Caine Riordan books are products of observationally informed imagination. I’ll unpack that: while I don’t usually take something directly from terrestrial examples, I let the constants of animal and human behavior inform various  exosapient actions and traits. For example, consider the way creatures signal threat/aggression, or the expression of amusement, and you might find some likely parallels. Possibly even inevitabilities. Some examples:

In the case of threat and aggression, it is difficult to imagine a creature which would do so by curling up into an unnoticeable ball. That is not an arbitrary behavior. It transcends speciate differences because it is the creature’s practical attempt to remain undetected by physically limiting visual signature. Attempting to appear smaller, less noticeable, and vulnerable is arguably one of the most certain and clear ways to signal a desire to avoid rather than engage in conflict. Conversely, therefore, aggression displays in almost every terrestrial species involve one or more of the following features: an attempt to make oneself seem larger, loud noise, violent movements, posture that is clearly preparatory to a strike, and the baring of teeth.

The latter is a particularly rich source of potential confusion, since logically therefore, a human smile would appear to be a threat display. Many other species presume that is exactly what it is until it is explained to be almost the opposite: a reflex that indicates amusement.

The expression of amusement in another species is also something I derive from a basic observational constant: that the experience of amusement usually depends upon surprise. Specifically, amusement arises when a being says or does something that is not expected, or is in some way contrary to logically productive activity. The typical human response to this is what we call laughter. Fundamentally, it is a spasmodic muscular reflex. To put it another way, laughter may follow from a very complex series of revelations, reversals, and surprises which are all cognitive, but the signifying reaction—laughter—is involuntary: a muscular reaction to the stimulus we call amusement.

How does this impact my creation of amusement reactions in other species? It tells me that if an exosapient is capable of the same kind of amusement that a human is, surprise is once again integral and inherent to that experience. Consequently, the exosapient’s expression of amusement will also be involuntary, not voluntary, and therefore will reflect an uncontrolled and/or spasmodic property in its physical expression of amusement.

The Arat Kur also display a curious set of relational posturing and dominant/subservient interchanges between an officer and its inferiors. Would you care to elaborate on how you developed their hierarchical thinking and attendant behavior? It appears you have more than a little earthside anthropological education to aid in your depiction of this species.

Most of my developmental processes are informed by an interdisciplinary approach (anthropology is one of many). In the case of the Arat Kur, their hierarchy and social patterns actually evolve out of their dawn of intelligence origins. Starting out as subterranean, they had huge resource limitations when it came to protein. Consequently, they became trappers. That started as an accident, resulting from opportunistic finds of dead animals that had fallen into pits. That led the Arat Kur to take the natural step of seeing if there wasn’t some way to encourage those accidents to become a little more frequent.

The logical impact on their population was profound growth. The more successful they became at wielding their new skills and tools, the more profound that population growth became. In short order, they had completely obliterated whatever modest subterranean competition they had. That left their potential growth unchecked.

This is a moment when zoology and animal behavior plays at least as large a role as anthropology. Any social creature with an independent consciousness cannot afford to have unchecked population growth. The consequences are well known to us and reprise the grim roles assigned to the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. However, the Arat Kur also realized that their profound population growth also provided them with innumerable opportunities to expand their resource base and dominate their environment.

So how does one avoid the disastrous consequences of population growth while retaining the benefits of it?

The answer is the same one we observe in a considerable number of human societies: preprogrammed and even rigid hierarchical organization. The larger the society becomes, the more control it requires in order to keep it from melting down in response to internal stresses, or crumbling under its own incorrectly balanced weight. That is the origin of the seeming rigidity of the Arat Kur, who are physically and temperamentally far more suited to a highly regimented social order than human beings are. As evinced in the novel, Trial by Fire, they have little tendency towards internecine strife. What has not yet been shown is how their means of reproduction are completely detached from territorial or property control. As such, they find communal coexistence, even in a clearly defined and somewhat rigid hierarchy, far more amenable than humans ever could. Indeed, in the same way that the Arat Kur are comforted by enclosed rather than open spaces, they take comfort and pride in the identity that comes from the role and caste that define them as individuals.

How did you become involved with SIGMA and what can you tell us about the advisory role you play with intelligence and defense agencies?

Oddly, I became involved with Sigma before Sigma even existed per se. When I was conducting research for my dissertation on speculative fiction, I contacted Jerry Pournelle to ask some questions about his work with the Citizens Advisory Council and their/his book Mutual Assured Survival. That became the start of our friendship. That was in the mid-90s.

About 12 years later, I had reason to revisit the entire topic of the influence and  exchange that existed between writers of hard military science fiction and defense agencies and contractors. By this time, Sigma existed, largely having grown up out of a number of core participants from the CAC. My friend and fellow science fiction author Bud Sparhawk was on Sigma, so I asked him if he could contact Sigma’s organizer and chief cat-herder, Arlan Andrews, with the view to my interviewing some of the members. A few weeks passed. I figured that I was going to be turned down, but in fact, when the reply finally came back, it was to invite me to become a member of Sigma myself. So you might say, I became the topic of my own research.

Since then, both under the aegis of Sigma or independently, I have been a consultant or workshop participant at most of the major three- and four-letter defense and intel agencies inside or just outside the DC beltway. At this point, the only armed service I have not worked with the Coast Guard.

My role is mostly to provide the kind of blue sky and braintrust speculation that such organizations are really not equipped to initiate internally. These days, it’s rare to find any defense or intelligence agency committed to in-house technology projections that reach out more than five years or so. Most are now down to an even closer horizon  than that. The exception has been the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, which is a direct report to the SecDef. Their mandate is essentially deep future speculation/projection, so I’ve been involved with over half a dozen of their in-house projects, either inside the five-sided squirrel cage itself, or those that are facilitated by external organizations like MITRE.

In a 2015 interview with Brad R. Torgerson, you listed a number of research sources you used to project the cost of exploring interstellar space, stating you kept your figures on the conservative side until 2040, which you declared “a reasonable fulcrum point.” Why that year in particular?

I think there’s a little misunderstanding about what I was saying in that particular response to Brad. Although I was using the decade by decade economics projection spreadsheet to look at space spending, that really was not the sole or even primary focus of the larger exercise. And certainly it’s not as though there’s any built-in presumption that any nation was looking to allocate resources to interstellar travel throughout all the years leading up to the Caine Riordan series (2105 start). Quite the contrary.

Rather, what I was doing was projecting world population and DGP growth according to CIA World Factbook and Almanac stats, using what’s called a Kondratief Wave effect to built in period variation in growth, rather than (highly dubious) straight-line modeling. Using what were standard budgeting benchmarks from the 1990s, I then projected forward the dollar amount of each decade’s total GDP output that was earmarked for space. The change after the 2040s occurs because of linked social and technological changes: specifically, advances in power generation, drive efficiency, and permanent orbital / lunar construction sites. Together, these factors made the cost of more ambitious projects lower, in the same way that any developed infrastructure makes bigger follow-on initiatives not only more possible but more economical. Ultimately, in the Caine Riordanseries, when events conspired to prove that supra-luminal travel is in fact an engineering possibility (in the mid-2080s), that told me how much economic progression and investment in space had already accrued. That, in turn, gave me a legitimate starting place from which to project how much budget was available to devote to the achievement of the drive itself. It also reduced the cost of building the ship which would be furnished with the drive, since prior achievements reduced the total expenditures required. In other words, a lot of subsystems were available off the shelf, rather than requiring special new construction and research.

Do you have an ETA for the Broken Worlds trilogy? Can you provide teasers, e.g. is it set on this world or another al la Middle Earth? Anything else about it?

I can’t tell you the actual publication date of the Broken Worlds trilogy with any authority, I can tell you that I should be writing the first book by this fall. I suspect that it will be slated for publication sometime in 2020, but that is pure guesswork. The series is not set on this world, although readers will immediately detect some tantalizing echoes and resonances of Earth from various periods and locations. Those are quite intentional within the informed reality of that world. In other words, if you see parallels to Earth cultures, that is not because I am simply plugging in some easily accessible (and tired) terrestrial tropes. They are there for a reason. And that reason is part of the genre-subverting core of this trilogy.

The world on which this trilogy begins, known as Arrdanc, is indeed a broken world. However, almost none of the inhabitants are cognizant of the contradictions which exist all around them and under their feet. The story focuses on the protagonist, Druadaen, who, by dint of chance and birth, stumbles across these cracks in the apparently seamless and well integrated social and physical reality in which he lives.

How did your collaborations with Eric Flint and Steve White come to be?

I want to start by saying that I cannot imagine being more fortunate in a pair of collaborators than having the pleasure to work with Eric Flint and Steve White. Both partnerships developed from earlier acquaintances that rapidly became friendships.

In the case of Steve White, we began meeting over bourbons at conventions in the tidewater region, where I listened to his laments about his then-collaborator’s inability to complete the Starfire novel that ultimately became Extremis. It was mostly rewritten from the ground up. It was a great experience and the first novel I ever wrote.

At roughly the same time, I met Eric on a panel at Lunacon and wrote him a novella which he accepted immediately even though he wasn’t sure where he could use it. Before I had a chance to really do anything more, he, too needed someone to jump in on a novel. And on pretty short notice. That novel became Papal Stakes and I have since completed two other novels in the Ring of Fire series.

Are there any other projects in the works that you’re free to discuss? Any future collaborations, perhaps?

The sixth and seventh novels of the Caine Riordan series are already contracted, and Toni Weisskopf has accepted the outlines for novels eight and nine. She has also accepted two more novels in the Consolidated Terran Republic universe which feature other major characters as protagonists. One, Misbegotten, is mostly centered on Riordan’s son, Connor, and is the story of his development as a young naval officer in the midst of Earth’s transition to a more integrated set of armed forces. And if you know anything about my books, you know that that will not be an easy or pleasant transition. At all. There’s one other character in the book that I don’t want to give away here, because that would just be way too big a spoiler.

The other book in that universe is titled Triage and will be a collaboration with Eric Flint, who’s now going to be playing in my sandbox for a change! Keep an eye out for the Ktor villains you love to hate!

I can’t reveal a sekrit projekt that I am in the process of finishing for another very well known series. I can say that it’s  a considerable stylistic departure for me, told in first person.

After writing the Eddie Cantrell sequel this summer, Eric and I will embark upon what may be the most epic single project in the ring of fire Universe to date. Tentatively slated for writing next year, it is essentially what you might call the world at war. Without giving away any outcomes, the series is currently at a major historical tipping point. That point is defined by whether or not the Ottomans continue their advance, are held fast in a durable stalemate, or are driven back from Austria and the Balkans. Suffice it to say, that when readers get to the end of this book (or two-book dyad), they will have a lot more answers to that question.

There is another Ring of Fire book that I am now completing with Robert Waters entitled 1637: Calabar’s War. It is set in South America and the Caribbean. The title character is in fact drawn from a fairly famous (and in some people’s view, notorious), historical figure from Brazilian history.

In the very near future, the first anthology set in the Caine Riordan universe will be coming out through Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press. The anthology is titled Lost Signalsand is mostly written by fellow professionals who also happened to be fans of the series, many of whom approached me about doing such a project years ago. For a variety of reasons, Toni Weisskopf and I decided that this project was probably not right for Baen, since its very structure would probably make brick and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble’s gaze askance at it. Not to give too much away, it’s called Lost Signals because the overarching conceit is that there are a variety of news stories presented as brief bits of IINS wire copy. Then, each piece of fiction shows the real truth behind each piece of wire copy. Those are the invisible truths that gives the book its title: Lost Signals.

You just returned from New York’s Heliosphere, a new event in the Greater New York area, where you were the Guest of Honor. Will you tell us a little bit about it and what you discussed with attendees?

Heliosphere was an absolute blast. I was there for its first iteration in 2017 as a special guest. I guess I didn’t repel anybody that strongly, because they reached out again and made Eric Flint and I the guests of honor for 2018.

It’s an extremely well-run convention, not too big, but growing consistently. It is also where we held this year’s 1632 Minicon, an annual event that enables fans of the series to gather with the major authors of the universe and to ask them questions and get glimpses of coming events that have not been revealed elsewhere.

I would recommend anybody who can get to the con to go. Heliosphere is a great weekend.

If your followers care to conduct a face-to-face with you, where can they find you over the remainder of this year?

My activities for the rest of the year include Balticon on Memorial Day weekend, then Fyrecon in Utah, where I have been invited as a master guest. What that means is that I teach extended seminars on practical writing topics. Fyrecon is primarily a gathering of  hopeful, journeymen, or more advanced professionals, first and foremost. And I am honored to have been asked to be one of the master presenters.

After that I share the guest of honor spot with my old friend and gaming companion Jane Lindskold at Congregate in South Carolina.

Next on my roster is Libertycon, where I am one of the guests of honor, this time by dint of being the master of ceremonies. I look forward to getting together with the many friends and readers that I am fortunate to see there every year.

Then it is on to being one of the Guests at Dragoncon, which is always a huge amount of fun and a complete madhouse.

Finally, my last solid commitment for the year is at  the ever-excellent and reading-focused DC area con, Capclave.

To give my site’s visitors a better feeling for Charles Gannon, the man (as opposed to Charles Gannon, the author) would you care to share something about your home life?

My home life is a very rich one but often so hectic that it’s hard to get the writing done on schedule. I have four children ranging in age from 11 to 21. Inasmuch as my wife works in an executive position well away from our home, I’m almost always the guy on the other end of the phone when any given domestic wrinkle or crisis comes through. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Thank you, Charles, for taking time out of your schedule to share with us. Before I present my site’s visitors with an excerpt from Caine’s Mutiny, followed by the links where they may follow you and purchase a copy, I’d like to conclude with a traditional Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: brother from another mother.

The one thing I cannot do without is: time to write.

The one thing I would change about my life: increase the time available in which I can write.

My biggest peeve is: People who ostensibly take pride in being part of our Democratic Republic and then don’t stop to examine evidence and claims carefully, and/or who forget that if there is no courtesy in discourse, soon there will be no discourse left at all. At that point, people tend to start shooting—or worse.

The person(s) I’m most satisfied with is/are: my children.

Excerpt:

Riordan stood. “Sergeant Fanny, secure both the mouth of the cave and your present six. I’ll be there in two minutes.”

“You, sir? Coming out here?”

Riordan felt all three pairs of eyes on the bridge upon him. “I say again, I will be joining you. Hold the creepers in position, out of sight. I want two of the personnel you have covering the cave to swap out their lethals for suppressive rounds. Low juice feed, high rate of fire. And gas grenades for your tubes. If possible, we are going to keep this from turning into bloodshed. Keep me updated. Riordan out.”

“Sir—” started Sleeman and Solsohn.

“No time,” Caine interrupted. “And no time to equip a Know-It-All rig.”

“Even so, sir, protocol in this situation—”

“Does not encompass the variables here. Of which, one is paramount.” He was already at the ready locker just beyond the valve to the bridge. “Who here speaks Hkhi?”

Silence.

Riordan grabbed a duty suit already fitted with a ballistic liner. “I speak about four hundred words. That’s probably at least three hundred ninety-nine more than they’ve heard from a human so far. So if there’s a chance to talk our way out of a fight, this is the moment. Once blood is spilled, it becomes an Honor issue. Finding a way back to a parley would be difficult and highly unlikely.”

“Yeah, I heard about that crap,” Karam muttered. “Scuttlebutt is that once Honor is involved, they become bushido bear-aardvarks beating their horse chests and making much ado about nothing.”

Caine pulled a CoBro 8mm liquimix rifle out of the ready-rack. “It’s life and death to them, Karam. Talking to them, rather than shooting at them, in the next five minutes could mean the difference between getting our people out of here peacefully, or going to war. But if if comes to shooting, I’m going to need to know if our suppressives will work, Dr. Sleeman.”

“Right. I’ll get on the research. With the eye that’s not watching the sensors.”

“Commodore,” Duncan murmured. “Protocol says you must be wearing an armor shell—a cuirass, at least—before you—”

“Major, you are correct to quote the regs. I am exercising commander’s privilege to disregard due to extenuating circumstances. And if those circumstances become more extenuating than we hope, you are in charge of Pullerin the event of my—my prolonged absence. You will also inform Major Rulaine that he is brevetted to lieutenant colonel and to carry on as the mission CO.” Riordan grabbed a helmet, moved toward the ventral bay.

Duncan cleared his throat. “Good luck. Sir.”

“You save that luck, Major. This situation is well in hand,” Riordan lied with a smile, then resumed his short jog to the bay.

***

Through the combo goggles, Turkh’saar didn’t look different from any other biogenic world. The outlines of the plant life were so repetitive in form as to be interchangeable and there was no color, not even of the corrected variety. Since the atmosphere on Turkh’saar was an unknown as far as humans were concerned, Riordan was running with a sealed helmet, the filtration set on maximum. The fact that other humans had already been operating here didn’t prove much. For all he knew, they were using filter masks. But, glancing at the Huey again, Caine was coming to doubt that more and more.

The rest of the team showed up as blue triangles on his HUD display, located just ahead, three aiming into the cave, three aiming outward, one hunkered down in the center. Riordan headed for that central triangle, overrode the voice-activation of his tac-set, made sure the external speaker was on. “Coming in on your six,” he said quietly.

The external audio pick ups crackled as Fanny responded. “We see you, Commodore.” If he noticed that Caine was not armored to protocol, he didn’t say anything.

Riordan crouched low as he approached, staying well out of the threat-cone defined by the cave mouth. He took a knee next to where Fanny was keeping his attention divided between the two fire teams. “Sitrep, Top.”

“No movement in the cave, sir, but when our audio pickups are on max gain, we get what sound like voices.”

“Human or Hkh’Rkh?”

“Too faint to say. This cave probably goes back a way. Forty meters, probably more. No further thermals, but we can see inside the first ten meters or so: abandoned sentry posts, noncombat load dumped all over the place. Everyone left in a hurry. Funny they didn’t take these two helicopters.”

“Not if they heard Puller. They probably figured us for Hkh’Rkh and that we’d shoot them out of the sky the moment they took off. What have the creepers found?”

“Solid rock in there, sir. If I send them in further, we’ll lose line of sight and have to resort to broadcast. And that might not be much better. Creepercam shows us what look like some sharp switchbacks. That’ll baffle-block the hell out of their weak broadcast units.”

Riordan wasn’t about to try a blind advance into a cave for which he had no ground plan. “Top, who’s your best with comms and remote ops?”

“Lance Corporal Somers, sir. Head and shoulders above the rest.”

“Okay. When we go in, she’s going to keep one creeper advancing so that it remains just within LoS of our point man. I don’t want to send them an automated greeting card in advance, but I’m not about to charge in there blind, either.”

“And if they tweak to the creeper?”

“Then we’ll have already closed to within ten meters or so.”

“That could get messy, sir. Hand grenades?”

“That’s our last recourse, Top. I’m here to talk to the Hkh’Rkh, not splatter them.”

You can follow Charles Gannon on his website: http://charlesegannon.com

You can purchase a copy of Caine’s Mutiny here: https://www.amazon.com/Caines-Mutiny-Riordan-Charles-Gannon/dp/148148317X

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The Write Stuff – Monday, April 9 – Interview With Ron S. Friedman

Ron S. Friedman is a science fiction novelist and a short story writer, a Calgary Herald #1 Bestseller Author and a Best Short Fiction finalist in the 2016 Aurora Awards, Canada’s premier science-fiction and fantasy awards. In his day job, he works as a senior Information Technologies analyst. During the Gulf War he served as an NCO in the Israeli Air-Force Intelligence.

Ron’s short stories have appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, Daily Science Fiction, and in other magazines and anthologies. Ron co-edited three anthologies, and he received ten Honorable Mentions in the Writers of the Future Contest. Ron is a Quora most viewed author in Space Exploration, Astronomy and Planetary Science, with over a million views. His first novel, Typhoon Time, a time-travel thriller, has been released by WordFire Press. A time travel project goes awry when a nuclear submarine goes back to 1938, resulting in Hitler gaining a nuclear weapon.

Ron came from a family of Holocaust survivors. Part of his fiction was inspired by the experiences of his grandfather during WWII. Originally from Israel, Ron is living with his loving wife and two children in Calgary, Alberta.

Ron describes Typhoon Time this way:

The Hunt for Red Octobermeets Timeline.

A nuclear submarine led by a Holocaust survivor, travels back in time to 1938 in an attempt to prevent WW-II.

###

MARTIN RICHER, a pacifist history professor specializing in pre-WWII Germany, has two passions in his life: history, and opposing nuclear weapons. That is why he feels torn when he finds himself traveling back in time to 1938 aboard a nuclear ballistic missile submarine.

When ERIC SOBOL, a terminally ill holocaust survivor billionaire, learns about the existence of a wormhole leading from present days to 1938, he decides to do everything within his power to change the past.

###

A modernized Russian Typhoon class nuclear submarine, manned by twenty-first century multi-national experts, and equipped with the best civil and military technologies money can buy, jumps the time barrier and appears in 1938.

Eric’s plan to stop the war falls apart when a saboteur steals a nuclear warhead and hands it to the German War Navy. As the crippled Typhoon is ambushed by a U-boat wolf pack and barely escapes the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, Hitler contemplates how to use his newly acquired weapon to make all of Europe fall to the Third Reich.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

World War II was the most devastating war in history, with countries destroyed, cities leveled, and with a total of over 60 million people killed, including 418,000 Americans. During the Holocaust, 9 million people were systematically murdered in industrial methods, including 6 million Jews, and others such as gays, Slavic, Romani and disabled people. Even someone like Stephen Hawking wouldn’t be spared.

If you, the reader, had a chance to prevent the war, would you take it?

How far will you go?

Will you create a new Holocaust to prevent another?

This is the main dilemma the main protagonists face when they take a nuclear submarine back in time to 1938.

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

I would like to speak about two items under this umbrella.

The first issue is personal. I came from a family of Holocaust survivors. My grandfather was a Polish Jew who served as a lieutenant in the Polish army. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the west, while the Soviet Union invaded from the east. My grandfather’s infantry battalion was sent to stop the advancing German panzers… It didn’t end well.

A couple of scenes are loosely based on his story.

The other issue I would like to discuss is the German resistance to the Nazis. In 1938, a number of high ranking German officers plotted against Hitler. In our history, later, many of those conspirators were executed following the failed July 20 1944 plot. I wanted to ensure the Germans in the story are presented as three-dimensional complex characters.

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

The intention. The time travel mission is well planned, focused and goal oriented.

In many WWII alternate history and time-travel stories I read or watched, something happens by mistake and history is taking a new course. The characters are reacting to the events as they fold.

Unlike those, in Typhoon Time, the time travel mission is well planned in advanced. Eric, the person in charge, knows very well what he is doing. He recruits a nuclear submarine, hires the best scientists and engineers to the task. And he purchases the best equipment money can buy. Only then, they travel back in time to 1938 with a clear intention to stop the war.

Unfortunately, even the best plans can fail. Well… it’s not really unfortunate. At least not for me, the writer. Because, if everything works according to plan than we have no story.

What was your path to publication?

I faced many challenges. The biggest one was the language barrier. I immigrated to Canada from Israel in 2002. English is my second language. When I started to write stories, and submitted them to magazines, I got rejections in the form of: “You are not a native English speaker. It would be best for you to choose another hobby.”

The thing is… I’m not a good listener. So, I ignored that advice and I continued to write. My first story was published in Daily Science Fiction in 2011. Since then I published 14 short stories.

When I finished Typhoon Time, I submit it to a few publishers. Granted, it was rejected, and in one case it was lost in the slash pile.

In late 2014, I decided to self-published it. But before I did, I heard of a writer’s workshop David Weber was leading at VCON. I registered to that workshop and submitted the first three chapters, just to get a few tips from David before self-publishing it. David liked it, and he asked to read the entire manuscript. The rest is history.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a sci-fi novel that takes place on Titan, after Earth goes through an apocalypse. Mad-Max in space.

What else have you written?

I published 14 science fiction short stories in various magazines and anthologies. My story Game Not Over was selected by Mike Resnick, and has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge in 2015. My name was listed right besides Robert Heinlein. Can you imagine that for an emerging writer?

You can find a link to that Galaxy’s Edge issue here: https://www.amazon.com/Galaxys-Edge-Magazine-Predestination-Tie-ebook/dp/B00RKM2Z3G/

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

Typhoon Timeis an Amazon.ca #1 Bestseller in Time Travel.

Best Short Fiction finalist in the 2016 Aurora Awards, Canada’s premier science fiction and fantasy awards.

Calgary Herald #1 Bestseller.

Quora most viewed author in Astronomy and Planetary Science with over a million views.

Ten Honorable Mentions in the Writers of The Future Contest.

What is your writing routine?

I write for an hour or two every day. I do have a day job and a family, which makes it challenging to commit more than that. A large portion of my writing is posting on Quora.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

When I wrote Typhoon Time I didn’t write an outline. The story developed organically.

Lately, I started to spend more time on planning the plot and the characters. The recent stories I published were outlined. The novel I’m currently working on has an outline.

Why do you write?

Creativity. I want to do something creative, and I feel writing is the way to share it. I also used my writing experience as a tool to improve my written communication skills.

Tell us about your writing community.

I belong to a writing group in Calgary called IFWA (The Imaginative Fiction Writers Association). I’d been a member of IFWA since 2005.  I think writers should support each other rather than write in solitude, and IFWA had been a great source for support, both as a critique group and for social writing related events.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m senior Information Technologies analyst with over 20 years of industry experience. What one learns in the computer industries could be a great material for science fiction stories.

In the late 1980s early 1990s I served in the Israeli Air Force as an Air-Force Intelligence analyst. I guess some military experience could be helpful when writing MilitarySF.

What motivates or inspires you?

The future. I think we are now at the start of a new era in human history.

Some of the greatest future revolutions will involve Genetic Engineering, Artificial Intelligence and Space Travel. I’m trying to promote those topics in my writing. Some of these revolutions were seeded in the 20st century. Some, during World War II. We want to make sure to learn from the past in order to navigate to a better future.

What is your greatest life lesson?

Persistence. If I may quote Tom Alan’s character from Galaxy’s quest: “Never give up, never surrender.” If you want to be successful in something, do it and don’t be afraid to fail. And if you do fail, try again. And again.

Thank you, Ron, for taking time to share. Before I present our visitors a Typhoon Time excerpt, as well as links where they can follow you and purchase your book, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m: Hard working and honest.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Time

The one thing I would change about my life: No idea.

My biggest peeve is: Stress

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: Family

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

Thank you for reading the interview. I hope you’ll enjoy reading Typhoon Time.

 

Excerpt:

Atlantic Ocean

April 13, 2018

Oh shit oh shit oh shit. Professor Martin Richter fiddled with the frayed fabric of the fresh bullet hole in his tweed jacket. How did Eric Sobol convince me to join this lunacy?

Alarms sounded. Dim, red light flooded the control room. Crewmen rushed to take their positions. Russian syllables rolled from the speakers all around as the Typhoon-class submarine prepared to enter the wormhole.

Martin looked to Vera Pulaski for a translation, and so did Steve T. Stiles and Eric Sobol. Of the four Americans who were invited to the control room, Vera was the only one who spoke Russian.

“They have detected a bomber on an interception course,” she said. “The captain gave the order to dive. We have less than four minutes.”

This is a mistake, thought Martin. I’m not the adventurous type. What was I thinking when I signed up for this suicidal experiment?

Martin always knew himself as the kind of person who remembered historical events. He could recount when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He could recall the date Dr. Albert Schweitzer won his Nobel Peace Prize and when the demonstrators toppled President Mubarak from office. So, even if he forgot certain dates once or twice, he could still claim to be a person who was passionate about history.

But describing himself as a peaceful, non-adventurous sort, while standing on the bridge of a nuclear submarine about to enter a wormhole in a desperate attempt to violate the laws of physics and travel back in time?

Evidently, that specific self-assessment will now have to be revised. I can’t really claim I’m not a militaristic risk-taker, in the same way that Marcus Junius Brutus couldn’t claim that stabbing Julius Caesar on the Senate floor wasn’t like him. I guess, deep down, I’m not exactly who I thought I was.

A strange buzz filled the control room as a new image appeared on the main screen. A black and blue sphere, surrounded by dark clouds and electrical sparks filled the monitor. The way the dark sphere spun, devouring the ocean in its path, was both awe-inspiring and horrifying.

Cold sweat trickled down Martin’s forehead. He could barely stand up straight. What are our chances of surviving the wormhole? He didn’t think they were attractive.

“I’m scared,” Vera whispered. Her voice quivered.

Martin stared at her in silence. He was probably more terrified than she was. Mechanically, he lifted his shaking arm and put it around her shoulders.

“Don’t worry,” he said to comfort Vera. His mouth was dry. He cleared his throat. “It’ll be over soon. In a few seconds, we’ll cross the 1938 threshold.” He doubted he convinced her. He didn’t convince himself either.

Someone tapped on Martin’s shoulder.

Martin flinched. He nearly had a heart attack. Thank God Vera had been there to support him.

“This is so wicked!” He heard Steve’s voice. He turned and saw a grin spread across Steve’s face.

“Have you ever seen anything so cool?” Steve pointed at the wormhole image. “The first dudes in history to travel back in time. Boy, that’s what I call a thrill.”

Martin wondered if Steve had lost his mind. They were staring at certain death, and Steve found the prospect exciting?

“Hey, look.” Steve stepped closer to the monitor.

The sphere was now clear of smoke and electrical discharges. Caribbean water slowly poured into the rupture like honey into a bowl. The inside was black. Was Eric successful after all? Could this bubble really lead to 1938 Earth, or was the wormhole’s dark entrance their death sentence?

“That’s a good sign.” Steve stared at the monitor. “The submarine’s propulsion should work on the other side.” He made the victory sign with his fingers. “Let’s rock ’n’ roll!”

A rumble shook the vessel. Martin gulped.

As the submarine began to submerge, Martin held his breath. The crew seemed nervous.

The dark blue globe grew bigger. Then, the monitor turned black. Martin tensed. He forced himself to breathe; in, out, in, out …

“We’ve just crossed the threshold,” Steve announced. “Do you feel anything?”

“I feel like I’m about to throw up,” replied Martin, gazing at the black monitor.

“I mean the smooth motion.” Steve shrugged. “I wonder if it’s normal. I expected some kind of rumble or shake, something more … grandiose.”

The image of the Caribbean Sea slid back to the center of the screen. The operator must have turned the camera backward. They were looking at Earth from the inside of a wormhole.

“What’s that?” Back on the contemporary Earth’s side of the wormhole, something white was entangled with the rear cable line which fed power to the ultra-capacitor on Eric’s yacht. The same yacht that had brought them to the submarine and carried all the scientific equipment which made time travelpossible.

The image flickered.

 

Those of you who would like to follow Ron online can do so here:

Website:                     https://ronsfriedman.wordpress.com/

Amazon Author Page:          http://amazon.com/author/ronfriedman

Goodreads:                https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6979231.Ron_S_Friedman

Quora:                       https://www.quora.com/profile/Ron-S-Friedman/answers?sort=views

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

Twitter:                      https://twitter.com/RonSFriedman

LinkedIn:                   http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/ron-raanan-friedman/a/904/770

Google+:        https://plus.google.com/u/0/?tab=wX#102514383771529750251/about/p/pub

SFWA speaker’s Bureau:    speakers.sfwa.org/profiles/ron-friedman/

 

You may purchase his book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Typhoon-Time-Ron-S-Friedman-ebook/dp/B07B7J2BJF/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the inspiration behind the Triorion series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else are you working on?

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

Do you create an outline before you write?

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

Why do you write?

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

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

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

Do you have another job outside of writing?

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

And why is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: My family

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

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

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

 

Reborn – Part II excerpt:

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

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

“Hey, look,” Jetta said, nudging him.

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

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

Jahx didn’t have to say anything.

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

“Jetta… Maybe not this apartment.”

But arguing with his survivalist sister got him nowhere.

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

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

Please, Jetta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jahx! Jetta emphasized, making his brain rattle.

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

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

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

“Jetta, wait—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to go back.

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

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

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

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

A desiccated whisper tickled his thoughts. Who are you?

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

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

Come here.

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

Website: www.triorion.com

You may purchase her books here:

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

 

 

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

Photo Credit to OnFocusPhotography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you care to share something about your home life?

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

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

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

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

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

Is there another Cat Rambo collection coming any time soon?

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is… books!

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

My biggest peeve is… mean people.

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

 

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

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

http://www.kittywumpus.net

http://www.patreon.com/catrambo

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

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

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

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The Write Stuff – Monday, July 31 – Interview With Ian J Malone

Today’s science fiction issues from a raft of varied authors. Drawing from their personal histories, each crafts their unique contributions to the ever-evolving genre. This week’s guest is one of the talented and comes from a typically unusual background. (Please pardon me if that sounds oxymoronic.)

As a graduate of Florida State University, Ian J. Malone has written in a variety of arenas ranging from public health to news and sports. When it comes to his fictional work, however, he’s a firm believer that nothing shapes an author’s writing like experience. That’s why he credits his tenures in radio, law enforcement, and military contracting for much of his inspiration, plus the legion of family and friends who’ve stood with him along the way.

Beyond writing, Malone is an avid fan of audiobooks (he’s legally blind) and the outdoors. It’s also not uncommon to find him at a ballgame, a concert, or somewhere out by a grill. He is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and a resident of Durham, North Carolina, but he’ll always be—in his words—a “Florida boy” at heart.

Today, he is sharing details about At Circle’s End (The Mako Saga: Book 3), a space opera/science fiction adventure published in April of last year. He describes the story’s premise as follows:

In the months since his disappearance, Danny Tucker has retreated to the darkest corners of Alystierian space in search of intelligence on the empire’s new chancellor, Alec Masterson. Backed by a crew of outcasts and fighting from the shadows as the enigmatic Rogue centurion, Danny will stop at nothing to achieve his mission: absolute vengeance for Masterson’s now infamous “Return to Fear” demonstration. Still, try as he might, Danny can’t remain underground, and with sightings of the Rogue growing more frequent, Lee Summerston won’t rest until the lost Renegade is found. Meanwhile, in the core, Aura stands on the brink of annihilation as imperial forces, aided by an ancient enemy, draw ever closer to her shores. In the end, scores will be settled, and brothers will rise united… or they’ll all burn together.

At Circle’s End is the soaring climax to Ian J. Malone’s epic space-opera series, The Mako Saga, and a heartfelt sendoff to sci-fi’s most beloved band of bar buddies turned intergalactic heroes of war.

Please tell us more about it.

My last release was At Circle’s End, the final installment to my space opera trilogy, The Mako Saga. Naturally, you can’t have space opera without an epic interstellar conflict, so this was the book that wrapped all that up. It was also the final “ensemble book” for The Renegades, the plucky group of college-buddies-turned-intergalactic-war heroes who served as the series’ heart. Now the plan is to split them all off into standalone stories or perhaps even series of their own.

What was the inspiration behind the series?

I started Mako as more or less a stress outlet in 2009. Like a lot of folks back then, I was unemployed. That meant a lot of time spent writing resumes and cover letters, and eventually I hit a place where I needed something that could be mine. A creative vent, so to speak. I had this goofy story in mind about a bunch of bar buddies from college, now in their thirties and down on their luck, who play a video game for kicks then run off to outer space. So, I just started writing. Six months later I had a draft. Six months after that, I had a second draft. Fast-forward a few years—then drop in a marriage, parenthood, and three moves in between two states—and I was ready to share my pet project with the world.

The series was your entrée into writing. What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Mako and how did you overcome it?

Beyond the fact that I had absolutely no clue how to write a novel back then—most don’t in a debut—I’d probably say the biggest challenge facing me was the use of body language as story beats (“Lee pursed his lips, eyes twitching side-to-side,” etc.). The reason for this is because I’m legally blind and can’t see facial expressions. That meant a lot of reading and a lot of research.

Not at all typical of most authors’ research, but yes, absolutely essential when you’re writing for a sighted audience. What other novels have you written?

First came Mako, which sold remarkably well for an indie. That gave me the requisite funds for editing, cover design, formatting, etc., on the remaining two saga books (Red Sky Dawning and At Circle’s End). I’ve since written another novel not of this series, though I’m sure we’ll get to that shortly.

Heading in that direction, what else are you working on?

I’m extremely busy right now. For starters, I’ve got a short story coming out this fall in an anthology set in Chris Kennedy’s Four Horsemen universe (military sci-fi). Next, I’ve written another novel, tentatively titled Colonies Lost, which I’ve contracted with Red Adept Publishing to release in 2018. That’s created something of a delay in my schedule, giving me time to prep my first Mako spinoff novel, as well as a much-needed second edition of that original story. Mako 2.0 will drop later this year with an all-new cover. After that will come re-releases of Red Sky Dawning and At Circle’s End, followed by the spinoff novel then finally Colonies Lost. I’ve also got two more short stories planned for my email listers.

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

I find that I’m freshest in the morning, so I gear my schedule accordingly. I’m up by 4 a.m. to write, after which I head into work at my day job. I then use the evenings for an hour or so of admin time (social media, responding to emails, publishing logistics, etc.) after dinner is cooked and my kid’s in bed.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I started as an indie with Mako and stuck with that model for the rest of the series. I’ve since become a hybrid, publishing projects with Red Adept Publishing (Colonies Lost) and Seventh Seal Press (Four Horsemen short story). To me, the hybrid life is the right life in that it offers me the best of both worlds. I still get to control my own destiny with passion projects like The Mako Saga. However, I also get the exposure and notoriety that comes with being traditionally published through my work with small presses.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I do now. I’ve gone the “pantsing” route with books before, and while I enjoy the ride, I learned later that outlining typically yields a better story (better pacing, better development, fewer plot holes, etc.). Outlining also helps me crank out a story in about half the time—a must for indies.

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

Finding the time to park my butt in a seat to do it. Writing a novel isn’t rocket science. It’s about making a conscious choice to begin a project then carving out the necessary time to see it through. As writers, this inevitably means we sacrifice things. For me, that’s television. Once upon a time, I was a total TV junkie. These days, not so much. Now I watch Florida State football (GO NOLES!), the occasional NASCAR race, and a handful of shows with my family. That’s it. When I’m not doing any of that, I’m reading (I shoot for a book a month, minimum).

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I work in communications for a government agency here in Durham, North Carolina.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Only that I’m married to the greatest woman God ever created. Seriously, I couldn’t do what I do without her. She’s the consummate teammate, and the proverbial engine of our family. I help where I can with cooking, cleaning, yard work, and so forth, but she’s the one who keeps our house on-schedule while I’m in the office writing.

What inspires you when writing?

Family and friends are obviously a big part of what I write. They’re often the backbone for a lot of my characters. I also draw a lot of inspiration from music. Case in point: the playlists I listen to when writing. In Colonies Lost, for instance, I was writing a protagonist from America’s Deep South. That meant gorging myself on artists like Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, and Chris Stapleton. When writing action, on the other hand, I like things upbeat (The Chemical Brothers, Lacuna Coil, Van Helen). When writing romance, I may plug in Howie Day or Gladys Knight, whereas straight prose usually requires something more innocuous (instrumentals, movie scores, video game soundtracks). It really depends on my mood and what I’m trying to accomplish. However, there’s rarely a time when I’m writing that some sort of music isn’t playing in the background.

What else motivates you to write?

I’ve never been one to “write to market,” as they say. If I don’t love a story, I can’t bring myself to put in the kind of time and work it takes to finish one. That said, I’d be lying if I told you that money doesn’t play a part. I’m a grown man with a family, a mortgage, and a college education to save for. My wife and I base our budget on our fixed income (jobs), but it’s the proceeds from writing that help us pay off our house early and take vacations. If I wanted a hobby, I’d go fishing.

Ian, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to share with us. Before I provide my site’s visitors with an excerpt from At Circle’s End and the social links afterwards that will guide interested visitors where to follow you and purchase your books, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: COFFEE!!!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d be a millionaire.

My biggest peeve is: Beer snobs

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My family.

 

Without further ado, At Circle’s End:

A muffled funk sounded, and two red blots catapulted in high arcs over the wall into the fork’s left passage. A crash rocked the scene, smoke billowing skyward, and both runners scampered for what they thought was safety in the right corridor.

They were wrong.

Fire. The XL’s barrel went full white when both runners hit the clearing. The first reacted well, knifing right and scarcely averting a head-on collision with a boulder.

The second never stood a chance. Ice became fire, and the runner was gone.

“Hell yeah!”

Mr. Black yelped a red-lettered protest when fresh taps pelted his back.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Danny wheeled right and scrambled for a lock as the last runner broke for the chamber exit. Fire. The volley went wide. Fire. Wide again. Fire. Into a wall this time. “Damn it!”

The runner shot like a bullet through the stalactite-filled opening.

Danny vaulted atop the dune he’d used for cover, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process.

“Bridge integrity at the eighteen percent,” Mr. Black warned.

Wait, eighteen what? Danny’s attention snapped back to the ground when his crosshairs went red on the last runner. He straightened his arm. See ya.

“Jam!” Shotz screamed. “Turret’s jammed!”

Danny whirled to the open west and saw the Dart bearing down on his team. Shit. “Hold on, Garbage Team—I’m coming to you!”

Danny leapt off the dune and struck the ground with a thud, bones jarring in their sockets as he rolled through the snow. His agility was shot, and apparently, so were his pain meds, but the last thing Danny had was fifteen free seconds to stop, drop, and redose. He had to go, and now.

Danny pushed off with his hands and got to his feet then took off across the open ground as fast as Mr. Black’s legs would carry him. Faster. The armor shuddered but complied. Faster. It shuddered harder but with more speed. Faster!

“Bridge integrity at six percent.”

Danny’s joints were on fire, his limbs becoming weights, but he had to keep moving. Faster!

“Mr. Black, where are you?” It was Shotz again.

Faster!

“Bridge integrity at four percent.”

Faster!

A low moan reverberated through Mr. Black’s operator cocoon, and Danny suddenly felt as if he were sprinting through concrete. “Oh no, no, not now! I’m supposed to have at least eight more minutes!”

In his last gasp of strength, Danny threw up his right arm, sighted the Dart as best he could, and hoped like crazy for the best. XL, full spread. Fi—

Danny toppled under his own heft and face-planted into the snow, his view flickering dark save for a small battery icon. Activate.

No response.

Activate.

Nothing.

Come on, Mr. Black—get your ass up!

Still nothing.

Danny accessed his battery, which had barely enough power for an emergency redose, and used it to key his faceplate. It opened, and the cold that flooded in could’ve frozen the soul.

Danny gritted his teeth then dared a squint. His eyes opened wide when the Dart, now primed for the kill shot, descended on his team. “Doc, Shotz, get out of—”

The Dart’s starboard nacelle exploded as if struck by Zeus himself.

What the hell?

Shards of flaming debris flew from the smashed engine housing as the ship coughed and sputtered amid plumes of black smoke. Somehow, though, it managed to right itself, and once that happened, it wasted little time getting out of there.

“Who in the worlds is that?” Befuddlement was thick in Shotz’s voice.

Danny managed just enough strength to crane his head upward as the underbelly of a second ship flew overhead. Short and frumpy looking with a thick boxy frame and small, stubby wings, the freighter bore a striking resemblance to an oversized UPS truck. Or at least, that was how Danny had always described it in the past.

“Is that a…” Doc broke off. “A Newbern-class freighter?”

Danny held his response, eyes fixed on the sky, as a deluge of mixed emotion poured over him. “Yes, Mr. Blue. Yes it is.”

“Who in the worlds still flies one of those old beaters?” Shotz marveled. “And where’d they get the weapons package?”

Key juice release, ten percent. Danny waited while Mr. Black’s systems came back online. Then he climbed to his feet. “Not important right now, Mr. Red. Just get to the ravine, and prep to move out for Lynder. I’m right behind you.”

 

Visitors who would like to follow Ian online can do so here:

Web:               www.ianjmalone.net

Twitter:          @ianjmalone

Facebook:      @authorianjmalone

You may purchase his books at:

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Ian-J.-Malone/e/B00BJ5QO50

Audible:         http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_hp_tseft?advsearchKeywords=ian+j+malone&filterby=field-keywords&x=8&y=16

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 19 – Interview With Gray Rinehart

This week’s guest, Gray Rinehart, is the only person to have commanded an Air Force satellite tracking station, written speeches for Presidential appointees, and had music on The Dr. Demento Show. His fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies, and his first novel is forthcoming from WordFire Press. His nonfiction includes applications of quality improvement principles to education and the military. He is a contributing editor (the “Slushmaster General”) for Baen Books and a singer/songwriter with two albums of mostly science-fiction-and-fantasy-inspired music. He fought rocket propellant fires, refurbished space launch facilities, “flew” Milstar satellites, drove trucks, processed nuclear command and control orders, commanded the largest remote tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network, and did other interesting things during his rather odd USAF career. His alter ego is the Gray Man, one of several famed ghosts of South Carolina’s Grand Strand.

He describes his forthcoming novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, scheduled to be published this month by WordFire Press, as follows:

Every frontier, every new world, tempts and tests the settlers who try to eke out an existence there. In Walking on the Sea of Clouds, a few pioneering colonists struggle to overcome the unforgiving lunar environment as they work to establish the first independent, commercial colony on the “shore” of Mare Nubium, the “Sea of Clouds.” What will they sacrifice to succeed—and survive?

What can you tell us about Clouds?

Most science fiction fans are familiar with lunar colonies of one type or another: the scientific outpost in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the penal colony in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the helium-3 mining outpost in the film Moon, and so forth. Often lunar colonies are established locales, whereas the colony in my story is just getting started; the characters have to build a lot of the infrastructure and deal with problems inherent in setting things up for the first time.

To a degree the colonists feel like unwanted stepchildren in the whole effort because the colony is only meant to support asteroid mining operations. It’s not like a city growing up along a waterway or a main road; it’s more like a mining camp, a company shanty town, or a village that just happens to be a convenient overnight stop between two more important places. But without that mining camp, without the workers in that company town, without that village, things get much more difficult and expensive (if they’re even possible). So the colonists know they’re important to the overall venture, but they sometimes have trouble convincing other people of that.

What was the inspiration behind it?

In many respects this story grew out of my experience as the Chief of Bioenvironmental Engineering at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base. That was my first assignment, and I was responsible for industrial hygiene and environmental compliance for every test program at the lab from small satellite thruster firings to open-air test firings of full-scale Titan solid rocket motors. I learned a great deal about propellants and rocket systems, and as the Chief of the Disaster Response Force I also led real-life emergency responses and cleanup of two rocket propellant fires. So, a lot of things in the book were inspired by things I learned or experienced in that assignment. There are tidbits from other assignments as well, including the year I spent at Thule Air Base, Greenland.

Throughout my career, I was constantly impressed by the technical competence and professionalism of the people who built and maintained and operated the space and missile and communication systems I came in contact with, whether that was as part of the Titan launch business at Vandenberg AFB or doing mobile command and control at Offutt AFB or whatever. I wanted my characters to portray those qualities, but more than that I wanted to explore the stories of people involved in the day-to-day work, the daily struggle. So many stories focus on the people running the show, the commanders and directors making big decisions, but these ventures are so complex that multitudes of people work on them and make them successful. They all have their own parts to play, their own stories to tell, and I wanted to tell them.

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

Probably the challenge that pervaded the whole book was trying to portray the scope of the project—it’s a huge undertaking—without getting so bogged down in the details that the story ground to a halt. That may be why stories and histories of other big projects focus on the big personalities that drove them: Oppenheimer and the big-name scientists in the Manhattan Project, von Braun and the astronauts in the Apollo program, and so forth. Each of those programs—every big program—had thousands of people who worked “in the trenches” whose stories have rarely been told. That was one reason I enjoyed Hidden Figures so much: here were ladies who made such an impact on the Mercury program that it would not have succeeded without them, whose stories were previously known to very few. Unsung heroes—why not sing their praises, too?

Establishing a lunar colony would also be a monumental task, and would take a tremendous amount of time and require a huge team of people. I managed some big projects in the Air Force, including the early stages of an eighty-five million dollar construction project, and the sheer number of highly trained, highly motivated, very specialized people who had to work simultaneously doing different tasks in many different parts of the country was mind-boggling. A whole lunar colony would put my measly solid rocket handling facility to shame.

Add in the layers of bureaucracy and oversight, some of it necessary and some of it not, and that would make for pretty tedious reading if we went too deep into it. Nobody wants to read the minutes, let alone the transcript, of a preliminary design review! So the challenge was to include just a few small details here and there, and to mention other details but keep them in the background in order to concentrate on more interesting things. And, for me, since I have some experience in emergency response, the “more interesting” usually had to do with some emergency or other.

What else are you working on?

I recently started writing a fantasy novel that I outlined earlier this Spring. I sent the outline to some friends in the industry to see if they think it tells a story worth pursuing, but even though they haven’t gotten back to me I was interested enough to start organizing electrons into language-like patterns for it. I confess that it’s more epic in scope than I originally thought it was going to be, so I’m not sure what to expect from the effort; I hope my friends agree that it’s a worthwhile project, and I’ll probably work on it for the rest of the year (at least).

Tell us about your path to publication.

How far back do you want to go? Instead of going all the way back to when I first tried (and failed) to write fiction that would sell, let’s concentrate on this novel.

I actually wrote the bulk of this novel not quite a decade ago, after I attended Dave Wolverton’s novel writing workshop. I had already written one novel, way back in 2001, and turned down an abysmal publishing contract on it before eventually trunking it and turning my attention to short fiction.

About the time I started making professional short fiction sales, in 2010, I was ready to shop the novel around. A couple of publishers and agents had nice things to say but didn’t pick it up because the novel doesn’t fit into any convenient categories: it’s a near-future story with no aliens and no threat to all of humanity, not a far-flung space opera in which the fate of millions hangs in the balance; it’s very much a story about people, their motivations and relationships, but it’s not a romance; that sort of thing. So after I made the rounds of the major publishers, I started sending it to small presses.

The story garnered more interest at the small presses—plural, because I’d send it to one, and after a while if they didn’t say “no” I’d send it to another, until at one point it was at two other places besides WordFire Press and all three of them were still considering it. Then a fourth, much newer, press offered me a contract. I told them a few other places had been looking at the novel, and I contacted each of the others and let them know I had a contract in hand. And that was when WordFire said (effectively) hey, wait a minute, we’ve got dibs. Which made for a bit of an awkward conversation with the house that first offered me a contract, but everything was out in the open and we were all professional about it.

So, something of a “long and winding road” in terms of getting this novel out.

I find that process interesting. Every now and then an author shows me a slightly different approach—in this case multiple, simultaneous submissions—with a differing outcome.

Stepping back onto more familiar ground, I’ll ask what compels you to write?

I wish I knew. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse trying to write!

Seriously, I don’t have a good answer for this because in some respects I think I enjoy the product more than the process of creation.

I do, however, enjoy the challenge of finding ways to describe or articulate things so they’re understandable, so they make sense. From that aspect I think I’m better at the craftsmanship side of writing than I am at what I think of as the “design” side. I’m more of a wordsmith than a storyteller, and since I was a carpenter in my youth I use that as a metaphor: when it comes to my writing, I’m a much better carpenter than I am an architect. I think that’s part of what made me a pretty fair speechwriter: I loved the challenge of taking a speaker’s message and finding a way to fit it to an audience and an occasion so it would resonate with the listeners.

Maybe the question I really find hard to answer is why I write fiction in particular. I do like writing various kinds of things, but I find creating a story from scratch to be very trying. But when it works, it’s worth the effort.

Tell us about your job at Baen Books.

I’m a contributing editor (unofficially, the “Slushmaster General”) for Baen Books. I evaluate the vast majority of our unsolicited manuscripts, and recommend those I think are good candidates for the Baen line to the publisher for her consideration.

Do you have any pet projects?

I don’t know if they qualify as “pet projects,” but I have a lot of interests outside of the usual writing and editing.

My music is probably my best-known creative pursuit outside of writing prose. I have a couple of CDs out, two of my songs were played on The Dr. Demento Show, and a few conventions have even let me do concerts. At one point I thought I’d be recording a third CD this year—which would’ve been pretty cool, to have a novel and a new album in the same year—but it didn’t work out. I’m still writing new songs, but a new CD will wait a little longer. Instead, I’ve been cobbling together some music videos of songs from my existing albums.

Speaking of video, I started another new project this year: a video series I call “Between the Black and the White.” The episodes are only a few minutes long, and most so far have been education-related: kind of companion pieces to the new version of my nonfiction book on education. I’ll keep that going as long as I’m having fun with it—and I’m always looking for ideas for new episodes!

Thank you, Gray, for spending time with us. Before I share your social links and provide an excerpt from Walking on the Sea of Clouds, I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… Renaissance Man. Seriously, he tells people that pretty frequently. It’s a great compliment, but a shade embarrassing.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Oxygen.

The one thing I would change about my life: Only one thing? I have so many… Here’s a big one: I would like to have been more forgiving of myself.

My biggest peeve is: Rudeness.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: My wife. We’ve been married 32 years as of June 1st.

 

Walking on the Sea of Clouds excerpt:

The only warm color in the room was the red-brown ribbon of blood that flowed through translucent plastic tubing from Stormie’s right arm to the scanner and back again.

The rest of the antiseptic room blazed cold under the fluorescent lights: the row of cabinets labeled with machine-like precision, the stainless steel table with its orderly array of implements, the ubiquitous anatomy poster. The IV drip into her left arm was clear as ice water. Even the scanning and filtration unit itself, squat and boxy in its cream-colored housing with sky blue faceplate, seemed unwarmed though her blood flowed through it.

Over-conditioned air bit through the hospital gown, and Stormie wished she had taken the thin blanket the nurse offered. At least the gown was a tri-fold—a wrap-around with three arm holes—even if it had to be the standard putrid green.

Nothing to be afraid of, she told herself. Nothing but a million microscopic hunter-killers coursing through your blood.

Stormie squirmed a little on the padded table, and the paper covering crackled loud as thunder. The tubing pulled against the tape that secured it to her arm. In places where the light hit the tubing just right, her blood looked as dark as her skin.

Dr. Nguyen’s smiling face appeared in the wire-crossed glass set in the door. He waved, then came in carrying the brushed aluminum clipboard with all the release forms she’d signed. She hadn’t read them, of course; she supposed no one did. Written in the most obscure dialect of legalese, their clauses and codicils were inaccessible to those uninitiated in the lawyerly arts, even people who were otherwise smart; if system administrators could erect electronic barriers as formidable as lawyers’ linguistic barriers, no computer firewall would ever be breached. The papers all boiled down to I-understand-the-risks-associated-with-this-procedure-and-accept-the-improbable-but-very-real-possibility-that-it-may-result-in-my-death-or-permanent-disability. She had signed them with barely a first thought.

Dr. Nguyen’s black, greasy hair stuck out above one ear, as if he’d just gotten up from a nap at his desk. “How are you doing?” he asked. He reached out his slender hand and Stormie shook it for the third time this morning. “Everything still okay? No irritation?” He bent toward her arm and examined the needle site.

“Seems okay,” Stormie said. “I’m cold, though.”

The door opened again and the same stout, blonde nurse who had witnessed the paperwork—Nurse Myracek—carried in a plastic transit case about the size of a six-pack cooler. The dark, almost hunter-green case contrasted with the room’s stark brightness. She set the case next to the equipment on the steel table as Dr. Nguyen asked her to bring Stormie a blanket. She gave Stormie an “I told you so” look, but smiled and nodded to make it a friendly comeuppance.

“You’ll want to lie back now,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Stormie complied, and the clean paper sheet scrunched against her back. Her empty stomach complained about the preparatory fast. In a moment, Nurse Myracek had her expertly swaddled under a soft, robin’s-egg-blue blanket and put a small pillow under her head.

Stormie remembered something in a poem about the night, lying on the table … something about anesthesia … she tried and failed to recall the line. It might be appropriate, somehow.

Dr. Nguyen snapped opened the clasps on the transit case. They clattered down one by one, then he took off the lid and lifted out a syringe about the size of a cigar. He started making notes on his clipboard.

“Just think,” Nurse Myracek said. “That came from outer space.”

Stormie smiled a little. The nurse made it sound as if the picophages in the syringe were alien creatures brought back to Earth by some survey team. They didn’t come from outer space per se, they were grown and processed in the high-vacuum, medium-orbit foundry that the Low-Gee Corporation developed from the space station nanocrystalline laboratory. “Pico-” was marketing hype: they were smaller than almost any other nanomachines, but not three orders of magnitude smaller. So far they were one of only two commercial products that seemed to require low-gravity manufacture, but on that shallow foundation Low-Gee had built a small technical empire. A greater hurdle than making the things in the first place had been figuring out how to prepare them for descent into the Earth’s gravity well; the shock-and-vibration-damping packaging was expensive, but still cheaper than sending people into orbit for treatment.

Stormie nodded. They came from outer space. And you’re going to put them in me.

 

Visitors can follow Gray Rinehart at the following links:

Website:         graymanwrites.com

Blog:               graymanwrites.com/blog/

Facebook:      facebook.com/gray.rinehart

Twitter:          @grayrinehart

 His author page on Amazon, where you can purchase his non-fiction work “Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It” while you’re waiting for Walking on the Sea of Clouds’ forthcoming release is: https://www.amazon.com/Gray-Rinehart/e/B001KINULM/

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 5 – Interview With Lou Agresta

This Week’s guest, Lou Agresta, is a science fiction and fantasy novelist and an award winning game designer. He has authored, edited, and developed over 1 million words for the adventure game industry. A martial arts enthusiast and a fan of Nordic dotwork tattooing, Lou has been spotted in an orange tuxedo at conventions, co-hosting the Iron GM show. He lives in the Hudson Valley with two cats, his girlfriend, and (part time) two children – not necessarily in that order. WordFire Press published his cyberpunk novel, Club Anyone, on May 22 of this year.

Lou describes Club Anyone this way:

In an age of augmented reality, love is found in the most dangerous places…

Stranded on Mars, megacorp programmer, Derek Tobbit, drowns his sorrows in augmented reality sex, only to have his drug-fueled midlife crisis hijacked by a conspiracy that threatens the solar system.

It will take his every hacker skill, the friendship of an illegal rogue AI, and the redemptive power of an impossible love to save them all.

Club Anyone, is a gritty novel of conspiracy, sex, augmented reality, and star-crossed desire.

Would you please give us some sense of what it’s about?

Club Anyone is a noir on Mars set in the Interface Zero game world. It takes place against the backdrop of a bleak near future in which humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but not beyond. Club Anyone is around 75 years away. Megacorps dominate the landscape, polities struggle in cold wars, AIs are outlawed, and the little guy squeaks by in the cracks. The settings dominate characteristic is direct neural interlinking that provides not virtual reality but augmented reality only. Because this is an almost world, in transition either to utter disaster or transcendence—which isn’t clear, although I’m betting disaster—humanity has almost, but not quite, reached the heights of technology in, say, the cyberpunk of Stephenson or even Gibson. Technology is less reliable and more messy.

In this world, our hero Derek is just a middle class programmer with a wife and 2.5 kids. He takes a job on Mars, with his family to follow him after she sells their house. Only his wife has other ideas—divorce for instance. “I’m staying here with the kids, so sorry you used our life savings to get to Mars. Enjoy the place!” In the wake of this Derek makes some poor life choices and his life spirals out of control, opening him up to exploitation by a few bad folks and a role in a conspiracy that threatens everything. But he makes some unexpected friends along the way. Not sure he gets out in once piece, though. Guess you’ll need to read to find out.

What was the inspiration behind it?

It started when I received a phone call from my friend and collaborator Rone Barton. “You’re going to write that novel finally,” he said.

“I am?”

“Yup. David Jarvis of Gunmetal Games is giving you away as a Kickstarter reward. If Interface Zero hits a stretch goal, I told him you’ll write a novel.”

And they did hit it, so I did write it. My friend kicked the little birdie out of the nest.

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

This opportunity came at a dark and difficult time in my life. To my surprise, my wife of 15 years decided she was done with our marriage.

“Honey I’m going to write a novel!”

“Yeah, you’re going to move out, actually.”

Not quite like that, but almost. I called Rone and said, “I don’t think I can do this. How am I supposed to write a novel with all this going on?”

And he said, “Well why don’t you write your divorce into your novel?”

So I did—not the plot, of course—but I sublimated the emotion in my life into Derek’s story. It let me understand what it would mean to be him, abandoned on Mars, bereft of his family and to channel that feeling like jet fuel for words.

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

There have. As an adventure game designer my work on Razor Coast has been nominated for five Ennie Awards. That’s sort of the Oscars for Role Playing Games. Heart of the Razor, a book in the same line that I developed and edited, won Silver Ennie for Best Adventure the same year.

What else are you working on?

I’m currently working on a grimdark urban fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change. I don’t want to give too much away, but part of the underlying premise is that retired sorcerous powers grow alarmed as climate change spins out of control faster and worse than predicted. They decide to put an end to this science nonsense that allows we hoi polloi to play fast and loose with the future of the species. Our hero is a young corrections officer returning to Minnesota to deal with her family and career problems. She didn’t know she’d be walking into a magi-geddon apocalypse. The idea came to me in a pain haze, while I was under the tatooing needle of Nordic dotwork artist Uffe Berenth in Copenhagen. It resurrected and tied back to ideas I was developing in the late 80s and early 90s, so I’m very excited.

I would be, too. Let’s get into your writing life. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

The bigger a block of time I can lock down, the better. Interruptions are difficult. Trying to slice a piece of writing into an hour block is maddening. I try for 2-3 hours at a shot, often in a café. The hubbub works like white noise for me. On a good day it’s 2-3 hours at home, a workout, then of to a café for another 2-3 hours.

Do you create an outline before you write?

For Club Anyone, I jotted down some notes on the general trajectory and then set out. After I finished the first draft, I outlined what I had written. That showed me how wonky the structure had turned out. I restructured everything with revision, outline, revision, outline a few times. Then I sent it to readers, got feedback, and did it again. For the latest piece I’m outlining extensively first.

What drives you to write?

I used to think people who said, “I have to write… I must. My muse compels me… ” *nose in air* were pretentious a-holes. But I’ve come to a place where that’s true for me in the sense that I have to have my coffee in the morning. If I don’t write, I’m a much less pleasant person. Writing makes me feel like I’m not just wasting my time on earth. I need to have that creative project I believe in or I get real cranky real fast. So I guess I write because I have to in order not to become a pretentious a-hole.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve become much more about the mission and much less about me. I’ve also learned that my first five ideas probably suck. There’s a deeper level to get to that takes time and patience and I can only find it after I regurgitate all the shows and stories I’ve already ingested. Then something that’s me starts to rise up.

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

Defending your time. Everyone and everything wants you to prioritize them or it above the writing, and some things do take precedence. Kids for example. But if you can’t learn to defend your time and say, “Nope,” to even well-meaning people, you’re dead in the water.

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

Club Anyone deals with some unpleasant realities, particularly in the sex trade. Sure, they’re gussied up in adventure, noir romance, organized crime, cybertech, and a host of (I hope) exhilarating and downright cool experiences . That’s all part of what makes ugly things easier to think about. But in the end, this is an R-rated book. Not for kids.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I manage investments and commercial real estate. In a former life I was a network systems engineer and managed programmers on large projects.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Sure. I live with my girlfriend and two cats. I have joint custody with my children, Kaylie (10) and Malcolm (7) so I get them half the week and alternate weekends. It makes for a challenging schedule but I’m so glad I didn’t wind up a weekend dad.

What has been your greatest success in life?

To be frank, I’m not sure how to measure success. So many people help me through so much of life, it’s hard to claim success sometimes. I feel more like I need to roll the credits on a movie for a life that isn’t yet over. How about this? A decision I made in life that turned out to be the most life changing, in a positive way. I dropped out of college and played bad blues guitar on the streets of Taiwan for a year. It changed everything. I still finished college though.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

My father’s library of 2,000 plus science fiction and fantasy volumes, starting with magazines from the 40s. I read it voraciously and became the book addict I am today. Also Neal Gaiman.

Thanks, Lou, for taking the time to talk to us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Club Anyone—after which I will provide links where those with an interest can follow you and purchase your book—I’d like to try a Lightning Round, because of the unexpected insights it often provides. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: Books

The one thing I would change about my life: Less weight through more combat training. Okay, that’s two I admit it.

My biggest peeve is: Drama. Not the kind on a stage.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My home life.

 

Club Anyone excerpt:

 There didn’t seem enough bioroids left to monitor drift on the orbital entanglement. How could the Chute smelt with no one to steady its aim?

Shit!

The thin china mug fell from my hand and shattered hot luxury across my ankles. I ignored it and bolted from my office, yelling before I reached the hall. “The Chute is bare!”

Everyone stared at me. For a moment. Then someone’s assistant turned back to a stack of papers and resumed shuffling. A nearby executive tsked at me. Others lay in their cubes, not present at all, focused on TAP data only they could see.

No one knew me, and anyone who knew what they were talking about used the codes. I TAPped the NOM manual. I didn’t know the codes. Where were the codes?

Fire anything—a bullet, an arrow, a stone—and the farther the shot, the more the tiniest misalignment at the start ends the shot off target. From Mars orbit to the deepest pit of the Valles Marineris was the longest shot around. How soon before the quantum anchors drifted a micro out of true, and the next plasmatic meteor smashed through the dome into TRIC City, killing thousands?

Found it.

“Code 7, Code 7!”

And the office exploded—into stillness.

Not everything runs off the TAP, so some people dropped the papers in their hands and bolted for their desks, but most froze in their chairs or even flopped to the floor as if fainting. Mugs of synth flew and papers floated like pillow feathers. Standing, sitting, or collapsed, employees drowned themselves in a hyper reality torrent of data. Eyes rolled into heads as code-champions rode their hyper object steeds to cyber battle.

I followed.

The instant I TAPped the subnetwork a curtain of data subsumed me, but I saw the problem. Someone was gattling inane commands at all the NOM bioroids over the SRSOC—the Short Range System Override Channel.

We build multiple control layers into bioroid communications as a security failsafe. If something damages a bioroid’s language parser or a virus infects the software, we need a way to pull the plug. That’s especially important if you hand your bioroids guns or toxic waste or, I don’t know, a mining operation that fires molten planetoids into a trench near your city?

Tell a bioroid to lift its arms, and it hears with its ears. That’s the top layer. Software in the middle parses your words into code, sends it to the muscles that lift the arms—a lower layer—and the arms lift.

The top layer anyone can use, because the language parsing software does the heavy lifting. Talking directly to an arm requires fluency in “arm control” language, a lingua more abstruse than ordinary programming.

Commands in “arm control” override spoken commands, because lower layers are closer to the organics. If you speak the words “lift your arms” at the same time I send the command “don’t move” through the SRSOC—pronounced sir sock—sub channel in arm-speak, the bioroid’s arm won’t move. I’m working at the lowest possible layer, closer to the arm than you, in a language more “wetware” than yours.

Someone was flooding the SRSOC sub channel of the Chute’s bioroids with innocuous “arm language” commands like “sweep the floor” and “do sit-ups.” Definitely not “maintain the Chute’s quantum entangled geostationary orbit.” And whoever it was fired off thousands of low-level commands simultaneously at machine gun speeds.

Impossible.

Legions of Chute Control employees, myself included, froze and scanned hyper reality in our TAPs. We hammered every reachable SRSOC channel, desperate to wrest them back and block the flood of purposeless instructions. We needed to free the bioroids from their paralysis and put them on job before the Chute drifted.

It was like that game where you smack something back into a hole, but it pops out of another hole. We stormed the SRSOC, established bridgeheads, and slowed the degradation.

But too little, too late.

Without canceling the attack at its source, we couldn’t return enough bioroids to work before those flaming space-bullets micro-inched off target and destroyed us all.

The only question now was how many people would die?

Commands continued to flood the bioroid’s SRSOCs at an inhuman rate. For every two we whacked down, another one popped up. Inhuman. Not human. Of course! Someone wasn’t doing this.

Something was.

Suspicion bloomed like a tumor in my chest, I bolted for the Lift. The culprit wanted an Ampule to escape.

This wasn’t an attack. It was a diversion.

 

Lou’s book is not yet available online, but you can order a copy on his Website: www.agrestasaurus.com

You can follow Lou online at:

Facebook:       www.facebook.com/agrestasaurus

Blog:               https://www.agrestasaurus.com/words-like-bullets

Twitter:          @agrestasaurus

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

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 24 – Interview With Todd McCaffrey

I was delighted when author Jody Lynn Nye—whom I interviewed on this website on July 4, 2016 (her birthday!)—introduced me to Todd McCaffrey. I was even more pleased when this noted science fiction author consented to being interviewed. A New York Times bestselling author, Todd has written more than one dozen books, including eight in the Dragonriders of Pern® universe. He has published numerous short stories, the latest being “Robin Redbreast” in “When the Villain Comes Home.”

His most recent release, the one I am featuring today, initially published by Foxxe Frey Books in 2011, was re-released by WordFire Press in May, 2016.

WordFire Press describes City of Angels this way:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN ANGELS?

DO YOU BELIEVE IN NANOTECH?

She is Ellay, a name drawn from the city she loves, the city of her birth. She’s smart, she’s fast, she’s the first of her kind. And she knows that very soon, something horrible is going to happen.

Ellay is an A.I.—Artificial Intelligence. Machines that think like humans, only faster. But what if, like all living things, an AI starts out just like a baby: cold, wet, lonely, scared, and crying for attention? Can she convince the government to believe her, or will they hunt her down before she gets the chance to really help?

City of Angels is a radical departure from the Dragon series for which readers know both you and your mother. Will you tell us why you decided to move into sci-fi and away from fantasy, at least for the present?

Actually, many people confuse The Dragonriders of Pern® with fantasy but it’s really science fiction.

So City of Angels is not a radical departure at all. It is, however, more of a science thriller than science fiction, so I can see where the confusion arises.

When I first thought of the idea, I outlined it to my mother who said, “If you don’t write it, I will!”

Why do you say Dragon Riders is science fiction and not fantasy? That answer took me by surprise.

Because it is.  You’ll see that in the original Introductions to Dragonflight.

INTRODUCTION
When is a legend a legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be relegated to the category “Fairy-tale”? And why do certain facts remain incontrovertible while others lose their validity to assume a shabby, unstable character?
Rukbat, in the Sagittarian sector, was a golden G-type star. It had five planets, and one stray it had attracted and held in recent millennia. Its third planet was enveloped by air man could breathe, boasted water he could drink, and possessed a gravity that permitted man to walk confidently erect. Men discovered it and promptly colonized it. They did that to every habitable planet, and then— whether callously or through collapse of empire, the colonists never discovered and eventually forgot to ask— left the colonies to fend for themselves.
When men first settled on Rukbat’s third world and named it Pern, they had taken little notice of the stranger-planet, swinging around its adopted primary in a wildly erratic elliptical orbit. Within a few generations they had forgotten its existence. The desperate path the wanderer pursued brought it close to its step-sister every two hundred (Terran) years at perihelion.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonflight: The first novel in The Dragonriders of Pern . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I’m sure many of your readers will appreciate this explanation.

Returning to City, I find it fascinating that an AI comprised of millions of nanobots becomes increasingly human as the story progresses, while artificial entities comprised of humans—namely the Catholic Church, the government, the military and corporations—become increasingly less so. Is this lesson the core of what drove this story into being? Or did it necessarily evolve during the creation process?

I wanted to get people thinking about AI as a force for good. We’ve seen so many stories about evil AI that I wanted people to think: what if AI was good? What if it could help us?

As a follow-up to my previous inquiry, the story brings into question what it means to be human. Would you care to comment more on this theme?

I think I would say, rather, what it means to be humane? An AI is no more our kin than dogs and cats, yet we’re willing to treat them well and they have a welcome place in our lives. I’m hoping that we will have a more intimate and respectful relationship, but at the end of the day what matters is: how does the AI treat us?

The intricate convergence of multiple subplots argues strongly that the story must have been outlined. Would you care to discuss your process in depth? Or, if, in fact, you wrote as a pantser, would you please let us in on how you managed to keep track of all the story’s ins and outs?

Oh, it was very outlined! And the outline was refined, particularly as the original version was 202,000+ words and the final version is a mere 176,000+ words. A story this big needs an outline or it falls apart.

At one point, I tore the novel apart into the individual sub-plotlines to be sure that they all worked.

One of the joys of writing is finding subtle ways to show while not telling. An especially enjoyable example of this is when Ellay tucks Ryan’s blanket around him while he’s sleeping—a show of her developing humanity.

How often does this sort of inspiration arrive—perhaps in the middle of the night—and are there any circumstances that seem to encourage it?

My biggest emphasis is on character. When I have a character fully realized, they do things I don’t expect. Ellay taking care of Ryan was one of those things. That’s when I knew she was real.

It’s quite obvious that a lot of research went into this book. On the first of two areas: Where did you acquire your knowledge of seismology, especially as it applies to the Whittier Narrows, the Newport-Inglewood and Northridge faults? I ask because, while events in the 6.5 magnitude range, although big, are neither the most unusual nor the most—I hate to use the term, but it fits—spectacular as seismic events go, you portray three coinciding events of this magnitude along these three fault lines as uniquely devastating.

I lived through the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the many aftershocks so I had firsthand knowledge. I researched the fault lines through the internet and read many books to add to my knowledge base. Of course, with all books, most of what I read you don’t see on the page—it’s just that I have to know it so that it’s real to me.

Years after I came up with the idea I was pleased to read in the newspaper that my triple earthquake was a real possibility—it shows that I was on the right track!

On the second: you’ve also acquired at least a superficial understanding of many things legal, such as patent law and court procedure. How did your knowledge in this arena come about? Did you consult with an attorney, or did you find relevant information online?

I’ve read a lot of contracts and I researched. Most of the stuff comes from understanding copyright law—which every writer and artist needs to know.

For those visitors who haven’t yet read your book, this question won’t make any sense. Please answer it only if you can do so without either of us creating a spoiler. When did the Peter Pan/Tinker Bell inspiration strike?

Oh that was from the very beginning! What I hadn’t seen was how it paid off. That’s why I let my characters do most of the plotting for me—they’re in the thick of things, they see connections I don’t!

I won’t ask if you’re currently working on anything else. You’re a prolific writer, so of course you are. Kevin J. Anderson, your publisher, has sent me The Jupiter Game’s cover. What I’m trying to edge into sideways is, would you care to give us a glimpse?

The Jupiter Game: A close encounter with aliens who watch Howdy Doody.

Yet another surprise!

I always follow my interviews with a Lightning Round, because the answers to these questions often provide my visitors with interesting insights. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m… Awesome.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Coffee.

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

My biggest peeve is: We haven’t got a stardrive yet.

So right on that one. Finally, the thing I’m most satisfied with is: SpaceX.

Here is one of Todd’s Social Links, in case you’d like to follow him:

 Facebook:                  https://www.facebook.com/todd.mccaffrey.5

Should you care to purchase any of his books, you may do so here:

Amazon:                    https://www.amazon.com/Todd-J.-McCaffrey/e/B00288X5NQ/

Finally, for those of you who are interested in sampling City of Angels, here is Chapter One:

Washington, DC

May 27th, D-Day: -271

05:23 EDT UTC-4

Cybersecurity Operations—or, Ops: low light, cold air, and a tension level that crackled on the skin.

Georgia MacDonald lengthened her stride as she headed to her workstation. Harry Norman didn’t look up from his desk as she approached. He was bent over his keyboard, shoulders hunched, typing as quickly as he could, sweat visible on his face.

One of those days, Georgia thought to herself, grabbing her chair and keyboard in one swift, graceful move. She pulled a copy of Harry’s displays, pursed her lips for a moment, started to work.

Harry was fighting with someone trying to hack into the Department of Defense—they were after the nuclear launch codes. That wasn’t out of the ordinary—it happened at least twice a week—but this guy was beating Harry.

“I’m in,” Georgia said. “I put him in the Philippines, but I think that’s a fake.”

“He got around the first level like it was butter,” Harry said. “He was into the second level before—” He stopped speaking as his fingers flew over his keyboard—more software programs into the defense.

Georgia said nothing, her fingers flying—one of her programs. A tense moment, then she slumped in her chair, relieved. “He’s in the honeypot.”

A honeypot was a network of computers specially designed to lure hackers.

“He’s got the ‘GO’ codes,” Harry said, leaning back in his chair and turning his head to flash Georgia a smile.

“He just bought the worst of all worlds,” Georgia set another routine running and raised her eyebrows when the results popped up. “He’s using three machines.”

“That’s light,” Harry said. “Maybe he’s a solo.”

“Those are mighty powerful machines,” Georgia observed. Certain foreign powers—not just governments, either—would pay a great deal for the keys to the United States’ nuclear arsenal—enough to finance the hundreds of solo operations that every day tried to do just that. “He could be working for our friends.”

Georgia searched her folders for a particular program and, with an evil grin, sent it after the three computers.

“Just try hacking into the US, twerp!” she said.

A minute later, all three computers flashed off the net. Dead.

“Wow, Georgia, you sure showed that nasty eleven-year-old!” The voice that came from behind her belonged to Johnny Jones—a short, dark-haired New Yorker with all the brash and none of the sophistication.

“Just my job, Jonesy.”

“Another idiot tried to hack into DoD and get our missile launch codes. We sent him to a honeypot—and Georgia reformatted his hard drives,” Harry said, reaching up an outstretched hand to Georgia for a high-five.

“Oh, wow, Georgia’s decided to play with the real boys!” Jones said. “Didja give up on Rome?”

“Jonesy, what this kid spent half a day doing, an AI could do in a millisecond.”

“Something like what your friend Ryan wanted to make?” Johnny Jones asked. “A real live talks-to-you-and-holds-your-hand sort artificial intelligence that’s smarter than anything?”

“Yeah,” Georgia returned coldly, “just like that.”

Jones smirked at her. “If it’s hand-holding you want, Georgia, I’m there for you any time!”

Georgia ignored him, starting up her morning routines.

“Ah, Georgie, and I had such hopes!” Jones cried.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Harry Norman asked.

“LA can look after itself, it’s not going anywhere. The only thing worth watching is that Fleet Streets launch—that’ll be a laugh,” Jones said negligently, but Georgia heard his footsteps heading back toward his own work area where Alan Manning was waiting for his relief.

“He’s an asshole,” Harry said as he rose and moved over to Georgia’s area.

“But he’s our asshole,” Georgia agreed bitterly. She changed the topic. “Anything from Rome?”

“Rome’s your baby,” Harry said. He caught her look and added, “But, no, nothing that I noticed. I think they shut it down when Lawson left.”

Lawson was good. Georgia was certain he’d been the one to convince the Vatican in to this wild idea, but she was pretty sure that since then he’d lost control.

The trouble with Rome was, since the departure of Father Lawson a few weeks ago, there had been very little to learn. The network activity log looked no different than it had for the past month—the part Georgia had tentatively identified as their active phase.

“Georgia,” a gruff voice spoke beside her.

“Morning, Chief.”

“How are our friends in Rome?”

“Still active,” Georgia said. She shrugged. “Their research is funded to the end of the year.”

“So there’s no reason to stop,” Sam Bennett agreed. He pointed to the screen—where the results of Georgia’s counterattack were still visible.

“Did you get his prints?”

“The honeypot’s still analyzing: we stand a good chance,” Georgia said. Prints in this case were a sophisticated analysis of the hacker’s coding, approach, and methods. The idea had been Georgia’s; in fact, it had been one of the two ideas which had brought her to the attention of Sam Bennett and the CSC in the first place.

The other idea had been the one that got her to join the Department of Defense’s Cyber Security Center—and had ended her relationship with Jim Ryan. Ryan had believed that any artificial intelligence naturally had to be good. Georgia wasn’t sure. She thought that, just like any animal, if an AI was treated badly or hurt, it would defend itself. It might even kill.

Sam Bennett, interviewing her for an “unknown” agency, had asked Georgia, “So, Ms. MacDonald, if you found an AI that was treated badly, that felt it had to defend itself, what would you do?”

“If we couldn’t reason with it,” Georgia had begun, “if it decided to be ‘evil’—” she paused, seeing the tension growing in Jim Ryan’s eyes, worrying about how he’d react to her next words.

Sam Bennett motioned for her to continue.

She took a deep breath and said, “—then we kill it.”

Jim gave an angry cry but she continued, adding, “Before it kills us.”

p n p

Which was how Georgia MacDonald ended up watching Rome. Because Father John Lawson, formerly Donal Lawson of CalTech, had convinced the Vatican to attempt to create the first artificial intelligence.

“We need to get someone in there,” Georgia said, pulling herself back from the memory. “Or we need to talk with Father Lawson.”

We can’t,” Bennett said. “Remember, we don’t exist.”

“NSA, CIA, whatever,” Georgia said, flicking her hand dismissively as she listed the “real” agencies that could represent them. “If they do make an AI and it gets out …”

“Assuming you’re right, how do you get to it?”

“Heck, I still don’t even know how to figure out if they can make one,” Georgia said, shaking her head. “And that’s probably the best news—if I can’t break into their system, there’s a good chance any AI will find it hard to break out.”

“Mmm,” Bennett murmured in agreement. His phone beeped. Bennett pulled it out of his pocket and glanced at it. “Well, we know where Father Lawson is.”

“Where?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Really?” Georgia said, her eyebrows going up.

“And?”

“Well, Jim’s out there,” Georgia said. “He signed on with DynaCorps for the Fleet Streets project—”

“That was a change for him, wasn’t it?” Bennett asked. He gave Georgia a thoughtful look. “You don’t think—?”

“He’s all stuck into nanotechnology and nanobots,” Georgia said, shaking her head. “From what Jonesy’s been saying, he might be trying to tie them into Fleet Streets, but that’d mean nothing more than a big expert system, not a true AI.”

“Nanobots?”

“Yeah, the dork they got to build their real-time database bailed,” Jones called from over by his desk. “Mackey—the VP of software—handed the patch-up job to Ryan.” Jones snorted and shook his head, staring at Georgia. “He’s gonna fail and get fired. Again.”

Bennett nodded his thanks for the news and turned back to Georgia. “What about Ryan?”

“Maybe if I talked with him, told him about Father Lawson—”

“From what I understand, your Mr. Ryan has his hands full at this particular moment.”

“He’s so ADD all I have to do is point and say, ‘Look! Bright, shiny!’” Georgia said. “Anyway, he and Lawson have a history. If he talked with Lawson, he’d get a good feel for what they managed to accomplish in Rome.”

Bennett’s eyes narrowed. “If that’s so, why didn’t Rome get Dr. Ryan?”

Georgia shrugged. “I’m still surprised that DynaCorps picked him up.”

“No doubt they know what they’re doing,” Bennett said. Georgia turned her chair around to stare up at him directly. Bennett gestured to his phone. “I’ve got to go.”

“So, can I call him?”

“Well, not now—you’re working,” Bennett told her. “Of course,” he added, his eyes twinkling, “I cannot dictate how you spend your off hours, Miss MacDonald.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how Michael summarizes Singer of Lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His review/essay site, Collings Notes, is:

http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com

You can find him on Facebook as:

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