The Write Stuff – Monday, September 25 – Interview With RR Virdi

I first connected with R.R. Virdi— a two time Dragon Award nominee—through Facebook. He is a part of a growing community of authors I regularly connect with. His first Dragon Award nomination was for his series, The Grave Report, a paranormal investigator series set in the great state of New York. The second nomination coming for Dangerous Ways, book one of The Books of Winter, an epic urban fantasy series set in the same overall universe as his Grave Report novels. He has worked in the automotive industry as a mechanic, in retail, and in the custom gaming computer world. He’s an avid car nut with a special love for American classics. As he relates it, his hardest challenge up to this point has been fooling most of society into believing he’s a completely sane member of the general public.

 

He describes Dangerous Ways like this:

Jonathan Hawthorne has lived over a century beholden to one rule: do not meddle in mortal affairs. He’s broken it twice. So when he crosses paths with Cassidy Winters, he’s forced to interfere again.

Strike three. And the third time’s not the charm.

Hawthorne is swept along as Cassidy slips through the cracks in reality.

And being hunted by bands of monsters doesn’t help.

To find the answers they need, they’ll have to play in a dangerous world. One where the odds and rules are stacked against them. They will have to navigate magical courts, queens and lords all while trying to keep Cassidy out of their scheming hands.

If they fail, she will end up a pawn in a plot that will consume them all.

Hawthorne will have to face the consequences of his past, and risk his future to ensure Cassidy can have one of her own.

For a man with all the time in the world—it seems to be running out—fast!

Please tell us more:

Dangerous Ways is book one of The Books of Winter, an epic-sized urban fantasy. It follows Jonathan Hawthorne, a member of the Timeless, a group of semi-immortals removed from the effects of time but bound by rules to never overtly interfere in paranormal and mortal world problems. He’s broken the rule twice. At the start of book one, he finds himself heading to trial to explain his two involvements when bumping into a young woman falling uncontrollably in and out of the Neravene, the paranormal world of many worlds. Helping her earns him his third strike. The trial is abandoned and he’s up for execution as he races to try to find the powers after the young woman, possibly prevent a supernatural war, and explain that his involvements aren’t really his faults. At the very least… he has good reasons.

What was the inspiration behind it?

It was a spinoff from my successful urban fantasy detective series, The Grave Report. I wanted to showcase more of the supernatural world than possible in that series. I always loved Neverwhere…and thought this could be a wonderful blend. My world, my creatures, my storytelling, meets someone able to open doorways to show it all off. My fans loved it.

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

The sheer scope of it. Balancing moving the plot forward, the world building I wanted, the plot structure, and peppering the right clues all the way through.

What other novels have you written?

Oooh boy. The Grave Report, which has two out right now, Grave Beginnings, and Grave Measures (last year’s Dragon Award finalist). A third is coming this fall, Grave Dealings. That’s book three out of twenty.

I’m in a number of charity fiction anthologies. And, I just sent off my first sci-fi, a space western, off to a publisher.

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

Two Dragon Award nominations, one in 2016 along with Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, and N.K. Jemisin. The second came this year and I placed with Mr. Correia again. Great honors!

What else are you working on?

Right now? Well, I’m editing up Grave Dealings for a late fall launch, writing a novella in the series, then I’m starting a new series/genre (unnamed as of now) in the cyberpunk field. It’ll be my fourth concurrent series. I know I might be biting off a bit more than I can chew, but I’ve been managing so far. I plan to write and stagger releases and this allows me a reprieve from one world after it gets to be a bit too much on my mind.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I self-pubbed. Proud of it. Honestly, fear kept me from pursuing agents with Grave Beginnings…after its success, I was told I should have submitted. But, it’s too late now. What it is, is what it is. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Do you create an outline before you write? Outline…is a French word, right? What’s that? Pantser.

Why do you write? I honestly couldn’t imagine having another life. No, seriously. There’s no replacement. Why does someone commit to becoming a career competitive barbeque chef? Same reason, I guess? Passion.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve learned no ideas are sacred, they’re all respun from something else. It’s what you, the author, you bleed into them, spin with them, that makes them unique/special.

Describe a typical day.

Wake up, furrow my brow and squint at my immortal enemy, the Sun. After that, grumble to myself as I plod to the kitchen to eat. Forget why I came to the kitchen. Put on a pot of tea, leave, log on Facebook, forget about the tea, catch it just in time, pour, sit and write. Hours later, I’ll remember breakfast. Repeat this process with various meals until I finish my day’s work. Occasionally, I leave to socialize. After reaching the adequate human interaction, I retreat home and realize that interaction can be overrated. I continue this cycle for some odd reason.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My room is slowly being overfilled with otter plushies fans are sending me. No, I’m not joking. It’s a small room filled with bookcases, art prints and originals, a 4,000 dollar gaming pc, there’s not much room for plushies. People keep sending them anyways.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Meeting my heroes, especially this past DragonCon 2017, and finding out they’ve read my work and loved my stories! I have to be doing something right to have that happen!

Thank you for agreeing to participate in The Write Stuff! Before I present visitors with an excerpt from Dangerous Ways, after which I will provide book buy and social links, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… strange, but nice guy.

The one thing I cannot do without is: my writing.

The one thing I would change about my life: My bank balance.

My biggest peeve is: interrupting my writing.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My pillow, it’s never let me down.

 

Without further ado, here is the Dangerous Ways excerpt:

That settled it. I set my jaw and walked towards them, trying to close the distance as best I could. When I was close enough to be heard, but still out of arm’s reach, I barked, “Hey!”

The deep rumbling ceased. I couldn’t see a thing, but felt their eyes. The pair of them stared at me. I raised my hands above my head, hoping to appear as non-threatening as possible.

“Hey,” I repeated, trying to keep their attention on me.

“Who are you?” asked Blue Hood.

“Hrmm, leave,” ordered his pal.

I was sorely tempted to heed the advice. Getting involved was my problem. One that had landed me in an inquisition. Some people never learn.

I took several more steps, praying they would take no hostile action. “I just want to know what’s going on. When two people follow a third down an alleyway, it raises questions.”

The cavernous grumbles echoed again, but I pressed on.

“Go away—”

“—or you next,” cut in the second voice.

“Next for what?” I was close enough to make out the pair now, their outlines at least.

Another rumble left their throats. I could see the vague shape of the third figure, huddled against the brick wall at the end of the alley. He shuddered, arms wrapped tight around himself. I had a feeling it had nothing to do with the cold.

I let an edge of heat into my voice. “Next for what?”

I sucked in a breath as my feet left the ground. Two fists clenched the collar of my coat, holding me with ease. The hood of the black parka fell back to reveal the face of gruesome man. It was too solid and layered in generous mass. There was no grunt of effort as he shifted his body. The world sailed by.

Pain blossomed across my left shoulder blade, making its way to my right as I hit the ground, rolling through the snow. I blinked. The muscles in my throat fought for air as my lungs pumped in futility. Lying there was not an option, and doing something—anything—was beyond my ability. The gray-hooded figure was within arm’s reach. My head lolled to the side. The man in the black parka approached.

He cracked his neck. The air around him shimmered, and his features changed. There was no subtle transition. His head and face increased in mass, becoming inhumanly thick and flabby. The creature’s skin was a pale, unhealthy gray with a wet sheen. Purplish lips, missing a chunk of flesh, pulled away from his mouth. A handful of teeth remained, chipped into sharp edges. Bits of rotting meat wedged between them.

The putrid odor increased.

Fabric tore as the monster took its true form. It towered well over eight feet, built of ropey muscles engorged to grotesque proportions. The creature’s body was bare save for a haphazard assortment of clothes tied together in a makeshift girdle. Its hands dwarfed my skull, and, if things continued the way they were, those hands would crush my head.

“Trolls.” I coughed and spat. “It had to be trolls.”

The advancing creature was missing a fair bit of his left ear. It looked as if it had been gnawed on. It pointed to me. “Mine.” The troll jabbed a finger at the shivering figure behind me. “Yours.”

Blue Hood chortled and followed his companion’s example. He dropped the illusion. Shreds of clothing fell to the ground.

The bitter winds and having been tossed by the troll left my fingers hesitant to move.

“This is bad,” someone whispered behind me.

I grunted, trying to dig into my coat.

“I’m sorry for this,” said the man in the gray hoodie.

“For what?” I turned to look at him, and for the first time that day, my loss of breath had nothing to do with physical reasons.

His hand slashed diagonally through the air. Silver light burst into existence; a tear in the space before me.

A Way. The stranger had opened a Way.

My collar constricted against my throat as he hauled on my coat. “Come on!”

Both trolls let out defiant snarls and lunged. I kicked, bringing myself to my feet without proper balance. I tumbled back. My newfound friend held onto me.

We fell through the tear.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to read more and perhaps follow this author, here is where to do so:

Website:         www.rrvirdi.com
Facebook:     
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1380786495293139/
Facebook:
      https://www.facebook.com/rrvirdi/

Book Buy:      https://books2read.com/u/4XonN9

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The Write Stuff – Monday, February 29 – Interview With Laura Resnick

Last August at Sasquan, at the WordFire Press book launch party for Mike Resnick, the author promised to introduce me to his multi-award-winning daughter, Laura, for an interview. I’m pleased to tell you he’s a man of his word. I was equally pleased to find, after reading her work—something I should have done long ago—that her prose is crisp, compelling and filled with the dry, cutting humor I and many other readers enjoy.

Laura Resnick is the author of the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series, whose releases include Disappearing Nightly, Doppelgangster, Unsympathetic Magic, Vamparazzi, Polterheist, The Misfortune Cookie, Abracadaver, and the upcoming Goldzilla. She has also written traditional fantasy novels such as In Legend Born, The Destroyer Goddess, and The White Dragon, which made multiple “Year’s Best” lists. She began her career as the award-winning author of fourteen romance novels, written under the pseudonym Laura Leone. An opinion columnist, frequent public speaker, and the Campbell Award-winning author of many short stories, she is on the Web at LauraResnick.com.

I asked Laura to tell us about her most recent release, Abracadaver, the seventh in the Esther Diamond series. She describes it this way:

R.I.P. = Reanimated, Infernal, and Pretty damn dangerous

Struggling actress Esther Diamond, whose year got off to a rough start (what with incarceration, unemployment, and mystical death curses), finally catches a break when she’s hired to reprise her guest role as prostitute Jilly C-Note on The Dirty Thirty, a TV crime drama about depravity and corruption in the New York Police Department.

Esther’s ex-almost/sometime boyfriend, NYPD’s Detective Connor Lopez, who hates that show with undying passion, vows he’ll never forgive Esther for convincing her narcissistic co-star to add verisimilitude to his performance as a morally bankrupt cop by shadowing Lopez on the job. But Esther’s fellow thespian is her best bet for keeping an eye on Lopez 24/7—and, more to the point, on Lopez’s new partner, Detective Quinn. Esther and her friend Max, a 350-year-old mage whose day job is protecting New York City from Evil, suspect Quinn of being involved in the latest mystical mayhem to menace Manhattan—where corpses suddenly aren’t staying quite as dead as they should.

While Max and Esther try to determine what Quinn’s role is in the supernatural reanimation of the deceased downtown, a part-time mortician courts Esther, and a dangerous foe with deadly intent changes everyone’s dinner plans one cold winter night…

When did you start writing and, more important, when did you know your were a writer?

When I was 24 years old. I read a book called How To Write A Romance and Get It Published by Kathryn Falk (publisher of Romantic Times Magazine), and I thought that writing a short novel about two likeable people who fall in love might be something I could do. So I gave it a try. I got hooked, and as soon as I was done, I started writing the next book, and then the next after that.

A friend, who is a best-selling romance author, has used a pen name throughout her career as an admitted strategy to insure that any success she received was not due to her prominent New York family. When you wrote as Laura Leone at the outset of your career, was this a similar consideration, or was it just a way to keep both genres’ readerships distinct?

Neither.

When I sold my first romance novel to the Harlequin/Silhouette all those years ago, they had just instituted a policy whereby all new writers were required to use a pseudonym when writing for them, and we could never use the pseudonym anywhere else without their permission. Obviously, this meant that if a new writer built a readership while writing for them, she would thereafter face a choice between continuing to write for this company no matter how dissatisfied she was with the terms and payment, or else, upon switching to another publisher, losing her audience by having to start all over under another name. Various individual writers and organizations opposed this policy over the next decade or so, and it was eventually abolished; but back when I first signed with Harlequin/Silhouette, the choice presented to new writers like me was that I could agree to write under an exclusive pseudonym or I could forget about selling books to them. So I took the pen name Laura Leone and sold them about a dozen novels over the next five years. (This wasn’t a tough decision for me, since selling books mattered to me more than what name I used; and when I left, H/S released my pseudonym to me, so I have control of it.)

However, I was still writing for H/S and bound by the terms of that clause back when my dad and the legendary anthologist Marty Greenberg invited me to write a short story for one of their sf/f anthologies. I saw no reason to fight with H/S to try to get the use of my professional name (Laura Leone) for one sole short story in another genre, so I just wrote it under my real name, which seemed simplest. If I had known at the time I would eventually write fantasy novels, I would have chosen a different name, since there has occasionally been some confusion about there being two Resnicks in the genre. (For example, after my first fantasy novel, In Legend Born, was released, I kept hearing that Laura Resnick was Mike Resnick writing under a female pseudonym.)

To what extent has your father nurtured your career and how much has he stood aside? 

Around the time I was writing my 8th romance novel, my dad and the late Marty Greenburg started inviting me to write short stories for some of the anthologies they were producing together. I don’t know whether I’d ever have ventured into sf/f if not for that. It wasn’t something I had my eye on, and I initially just viewed the short stories as a refreshing change of pace from writing romance novels back to back to back. But it led to more sf/f people inviting me into more anthologies, which ultimately led to my writing sf/f novels. Pop subsequently also acquired my travelogue, A Blonde in Africa, for a nonfiction imprint he was editing at the time; it’s a book that might not have gotten published otherwise. Most recently, he asked me to write for his new e‑mag, Galaxy’s Edge, and I recently sent him a story for that, which will appear later this year. So, as an editor, he’s certainly given me plenty of work. Apart from that, he occasionally introduces me to editors (or interviewers!), or tells me about work opportunities, and if we talk business, he gives me advice or feedback based on his decades of experience.

With all that said, please describe your path to publication.

While living in Sicily years ago, I read Kathryn’s Falk’s How To Write A Romance Novel and started working on one. I wrote it by hand in notebooks, then typed it on a manual typewriter. Then I spent 24 hours on a train to Rome, which was where the nearest English-language library was, and got some addresses from a copy of Writer’s Market, so I could start submitting the book proposal to editors and agents via trans-Atlantic mail. All the literary agents I queried turned me down, but a young editorial assistant (with whom I am still in contact) asked me to send her the rest of the book. She was tired of doing office grunt work, and the way to get promoted to an editing position was to find a new writer in the slush pile whose book the company would buy. So she championed my manuscript through the multiple readings involved in acquiring a new writer, keeping me informed by mail. I was back in the US when they finally made an offer on the book the following year, and I published about a dozen books with them over the next five years. And like so many other writers who started there and are having long and busy careers, I learned a lot about my craft at H/S.

No matter an author’s success, I believe there is always the thought of the greater work inside that has yet to emerge. Does that ever nag at you, and what do you do to address it?

What nags at me is the question of whether any of my work will ever become popular enough to make me financially secure.

Coming at this from a different angle, does winning an award, such as the John W. Campbell, serve just to validate your work, or can it leave you daunted—as in, “what do I do now to surpass this?”

An award is very gratifying. It can also be an excellent addition to your résumé.  But I  believe that assigning any more weight than that to an award is illusory. Also counter-productive. If I worried about validation from awards or about how to surpass this-or-that milestone, then I’d freeze with anxiety and couldn’t keep writing book after book after book… which is what a career writer does. And then—GOOD GOD, MAN!—I’d have to go find a job.

Hah! “Who would want to do that?” asked the man with a day job. You’ve postponed Goldzilla, the eighth book in the Esther Diamond series, until later this year. For your eager fans, do you have an ETA?

I didn’t postpone Goldzilla, I just wound up being very, very slow on this one, which happens sometimes. I’ll post the release date front-and-center on my website as soon as I know it.

What do you love most about Esther and what, if anything, about her do you hate?

I love that she’s full of try. Esther is not always enthused about confronting challenges, but she never gives up, quits, chickens out, or freezes. I don’t think I hate anything about her, though I know from readers that there are things about her that exasperate them.

On an entirely different note, I noticed that in 2006 you wrote several articles for the Associated Press while serving in Jerusalem as a journalism intern. That caught my attention, because in 1972 I interviewed for the post of stringer photographer with Marcel Castro and Hal McClure, AP’s bureau chief, at the Mariv Building in Tel Aviv. This compels me to ask, did you write those articles in Hebrew, or were they for AP’s English-speaking audience?

The Associated Press is an American news service and publishes in English. I don’t speak Hebrew, but it didn’t limit me much, since The AP’s work is conducted in English. And since many Israelis speak English, I got sent out on a lot of stories, handled the phones often, and delivered a lot of copy despite not being a Hebrew speaker. (This is an an intern, though. Regular staffers needed to know Hebrew.)

I appears you haven’t abandoned journalism altogether. Will you tell us a little about the op-ed column you write for Nink?

Nink is the monthly journal of Novelists, Inc. (http://ninc.com/), an organization of career novelists. I’m allowed a lot of latitude with my column, so I research and opine on a wide variety of topics related to writing professionally: the Amazon-Hachette negotiations of 2013, the ongoing problems writers are having with reversion clauses in publishing contracts, the HarperCollins lawsuit against Open Road Media, the flow of successful writers leaving traditional publishing to self-publish, the Authors United letter urging the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon.com, imposter syndrome, fan fiction,  ebook pricing, and the pressure on introverted writers to be social media extroverts.

Is there such a thing in your life as a typical day and, if so, how does it unfold?

Not really. I’m always striving for a life in which there is such a thing as a typical day, since I suspect that having more routine and structure would make me more productive.

Would you care to share anything else about your home life?

I volunteer for the Cat Adoption Team (C.A.T.) a small group that does big work—last year alone, we placed 350 cats in adoptive homes, after rescuing them from kill shelters or the street. So my home life includes the 3 madcap cats I adopted, which is how I first encountered C.A.T, as well as whatever kittens or cats I’m fostering at the time. If anyone would like to know more about us, here’s out website (where we welcome donations): http://catadoptionteam.net/. And here’s a link to the eBay site where we auction donated goods to raise funds for our fosters’ medical bills: http://www.ebay.com/usr/catadoptionteam.

I wish more people would care for their neighbors, both human and animal. What you are doing speaks well for you.

I always finish my interviews with what I call a Lightning Round, because the answers often provide unexpected insights. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: Sleep; if  I go more than 3 nights without enough sleep, I am barely functional.

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d write more prolifically, which would resolve a number of other things I’d like to change.

My biggest peeve is: People who are inconsiderately noisy—drivers who blare their stereos, neighbors who bellow right outside my window, people who talk in the cinema or theatre or opera, people yammering on cell phones in libraries, people thundering up and down hotel corridors at 2am, etc.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My friendships. I am very fortunate to have the friends I have.

Thank you, Laura, for agreeing to prticipate in my The Write Stuff interviews. Before we close, here is an excerpt from Abracadaver, after which, those of you who would enjoy learning more about Laura Resnick or would like to purchase her books will find the appropriate links.

Abracadaver coverExcerpt from Abracadaver, the 7th Esther Diamond novel, by Laura Resnick

Actress Esther Diamond questions a colleague who’s shadowing an NYPD cop whom Esther and her friend Max suspect is involved in mystical mayhem.

While Nolan had been talking, Max had been scribbling on a notepad in his elegant, archaic handwriting. Now he pushed his notes over to me. I saw he’d made a list of questions he wanted me to ask Nolan.

I read them, then gave Max an uncertain look. He nodded encouragingly. So I sighed and dived in.

“So,” I said into my cell phone, “have you guys entered any churches or houses of worship today?”

“No,” said the actor. “Well, not yet.”

“Does Detective Quinn appear to avoid them?”

“Huh?” Nolan sounded puzzled. “No. We just haven’t had any reason to—”

“Does he exhibit any ritual behaviors?”

“He chews on a pen sometimes. He says it became a habit when he quit smoking.”

Probably not the sort of ritual Max meant.

“Have you observed him encountering any dogs or other animals?”

“No. Not many people are out walking their pets in this weather. Why?”

“Has he appeared violent or menacing at any point today?” I asked as casually as possible.

“Uh, no . . . but that’s something I’d like to see. It could give me some background i—”

“Have you noticed any odd smells or odors in his presence?”

“What kind of odors?” Nolan sounded perplexed.

I made a gesture to Max indicating I needed more information, then I read what he quickly jotted down. “Excrement? Rotting flesh?”

“What?”

“Sulfur? Decay? Putrescence?”

No.” Nolan added, “Jesus, Esther, I’m eating.”

I moved on to the next question. “Have you observed any peculiar changes in his eyes?”

“Whoa, does Quinn have a drug problem or something? Is that what you’re getting at?”

“I’m just worried about him,” I said, which was not entirely untrue. “He, um, doesn’t look after himself.”

“Yeah, that’s obvious. Have you seen his posture? It’s no wonder he talks about aches and pains. I should make him an appointment with my chiropractor.”

“He talks about aches and pains?” I prodded, meeting Max’s gaze.

“Yeah—in fact, about an hour ago, he kind of doubled over for a few seconds when he got this stabbing pain in his stomach. I think something’s wrong with his appendix. But, you know, that could be referred pain from his heart. My cardiac doctor tells me—”

I held the phone away from my ear as Nolan prattled on, and I relayed this information to Max, who looked gratified.

“Recurrent, unexplained pain like that is another common sign of demonic presence,” Max said, keeping his voice low. “The evidence is mounting to the inescapable conclusion that Detective Quinn is oppressed.”

“Oppressed?” When Max started to explain, I said, “Wait, not now. Is there anything else you want me to ask Nolan?”

“Find out where they are now,” Max instructed. “This could be an opportunity for us to confront Quinn.”

When I held the phone to my ear again, Nolan was still talking about cardiac stuff. I interrupted him. “You said you’re having dinner? Where are you righ—”

“Whoops, not any more,” said Nolan. “Quinn is waving at me to get up and come to the register. I guess we’re paying and leaving.”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“A funeral in Chinatown.”

“What?” I blurted.

“It’s for that tong boss who flew off a balcony last week.”

“You’re going to Joe Ning’s wake?” I asked shrilly.

Max’s eyes widened and our gazes met.

Chen’s Funeral Home. Quinn. And a body in a casket.

The last time Quin had visited Chen’s, a corpse suddenly climbed out of its coffin.

“This is gonna be great,” Nolan enthused. “Loads of texture, a tong boss’s wake, authentic underworld characters . . . Jackpot.”

“Nolan, listen to me very carefully,” I said. “You mustn’t let—”

“Gotta go, Esther.”

I sighed heavily and set down my phone in frustration when I realized he’d ended the call.

“So that’s what it wants,” Max said, rising to his feet.

I rose, too, and followed him to the coat hooks by the door. He started donning his heavy outerwear. I grabbed my coat, since I gathered we were going to Chen’s Funeral Home now.

“Max, I still don’t understand. What exactly does the entity want?”

“It wants a cadaver!”

“A corpse?” I said with a frown. “A dead body?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “That game is afoot!”

* * *

Website: http://lauraresnick.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laura.resnick.3

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LaResnick

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Laura-Resnick/e/B000AP8KXO

The Write Stuff – Monday, November 9 – Interview With Josh Vogt

WordFire Press of Monument, Colorado has graciously allowed me to interview a number of its authors, many seasoned, some in the process of debuting their work. In the process, I’ve been learning that, with WordFire, “debut” does not necessarily mean “unseasoned.” In fact, this week’s featured debut author, Josh Vogt, is a publishing world veteran. He has been published in dozens of genre markets with work covering fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. He also writes for a wide variety of RPG developers such Paizo, Modiphius, and Privateer Press. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, is a tie-in to the Pathfinder roleplaying game. WordFire Press has also launched his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). He’s a member of SFWA, the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and a Scribe Award finalist.

Josh-8194-2 - smallerI first met Josh in August at WorldCon in Spokane and found him to be at once engaging and intelligent, likeable to say the least. A quick glance inside his books reveals a brisk writing style and atypical, engaging characters. Also atypical of The Write Stuff’s usual line of suspects, Josh is releasing two debut novels this year. When I asked him to tell us a bit about each, he provided these two insights:

Forge of Ashes, Sword and sorcery (RPG tie-in):

A female dwarven barbarian returns home from war to discover her family in disgrace and her mother missing, presumed dead. Monsters, magic, and mayhem ensues as she risks all to fix the situation.

Enter the Janitor, Urban fantasy:

A janitor working for a supernatural sanitation company must track down a fledgling demigod before it’s corrupted or destroyed, all while training a rebellious new employee whose fluctuating power could trash an entire city.

Please tell us about this year’s releases.

I had quite an interesting debut year as an author, as I had two books come out in the same month from different publishers. As they were almost simultaneous, I treat them as my “collective debut.” Technically the most recent was Enter the Janitor, which launched during Denver Comic Con. It’s about janitors (and other sanitation workers) employed by a supernatural sanitation company that keeps the world clean and safe—be it from sewer monsters, magical muck, or trash golems.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Enter the Janitor and how did you overcome it?

Well, urban fantasy is a somewhat crowded genre these days. It can be hard to make a story stand out or seem unique. Aside from taking the idea of supernatural sanitation, I feel that by emphasizing the absurd humor, it can provide a fun, entertaining (and unique) experience for readers.

PZO8526Tell us a bit about Forge of Ashes.

This is my first media tie-in novel, based on the Pathfinder roleplaying game. Set in the fantasy world of Golarion, it features a female dwarf as the main character. She’s been away from home for a while and returns home to find a bit of a family disaster waiting for her—and with anger issues and an identity crisis already looming over her, she’s not best equipped to handle things in the healthiest manner.

What else are you working on?

Lots! I’ve currently got the second Cleaners novel in production and it should be out later this year. Then I’m getting into the draft of the third in the series. I’m also working on a Pathfinder novella, a possible middle grade scifi tale, and other RPG tie-ins. Plus a number of short stories and plenty of other novel ideas brewing. Oh, and I’m taking on a new job as a full-time editor for Paizo (the publisher of Pathfinder)!

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

It’s a job that requires you to be a little insane and obsessive in your persistence. It also involves a lot of sitting (though I try to work at a standing or treadmill desk to balance that out). Oh, and it can do terrible things to your finances and work/life balance…sometimes causing you to have none of either.

A number of my site’s visitors are aspiring authors. What can you tell them about your path to publication.

I had a moment of clarity in college where I realized I wanted to be a career writer and author. At that point, I launched into learning how to improve as a writer, researching how to get published, going to conventions, and connecting with other writers. I also started writing. A lot. And I started submitting stories, getting rejection letters, and trying to constantly improve.

Honestly, that all went on for several years before I made my first short story sale. I wrote during lunch breaks, in the evenings, over weekends…anything I could do to reach a professional level of writing. So just picture a “Cool Writing Montage” and let it play for a while. It’ll be far more entertaining and probably have a better soundtrack.

Eventually, I wrote Enter the Janitor, got an agent, and started shopping it around. It didn’t sell for a while, and the agent and I amicably parted ways for various reasons. But in the meantime, I’d also become a freelance copywriter, making a living solely off my writing. I got into freelancing for some RPG companies, connected with Paizo, and sold them a couple short stories. At that point, my editor, James Sutter, asked if I wanted to pitch a novel to them. And thus Forge of Ashes was born, becoming my first contracted novel. Enter the Janitor found a home with WordFire Press later that year, and things continue to evolve in exciting ways since then.

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

For me, it’s finding the tone of the story and the character voices at the beginning. Once I’m about 10k words in, I usually hit it and it flows better from there. Then I have to go back and rework the beginning based on that.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Since college, all of my jobs have been either publishing, journalism, editorial, copywriting, or freelance writing. Only the context has changed. I love being able to make a living from my passion.

You’re a fortunate man. Very few can make that claim. Can you tell us what a typical day is like?

There is no such thing.

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

A belief in hope, and that people have inherent value. A love of exploration and the weird and the strange. And the constant desire to grow and learn new things.

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

I give myself time to recover, try to avoid beating myself up for getting knocked down (counter-productive, no?), and then remind myself what my real priorities are. Then I start working toward them again.

Before we take a peek at Enter the Janitor, let’s take a stab at a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a… person with very good taste in books and video games.

The one thing I cannot do without is: My nervous system.

That would pose a problem.

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d start writing earlier and read even more widely.

I’d like to thank you for sharing your time with us and for the following sample of your work.

For those visitors who’d like to learn more about Josh, or are interested in reading more of his work, you’ll find social and book purchase links at the bottom of the page.

 

Enter the Janitor

UfG0VEcPKvjI8B2Q16bhu9lkvb0ohZTtvoTq2y-mQUMBen pushed his squeaky-wheeled cart out of the elevator and into the underground lot of HQ’s office complex. Dani walked by his side, her gaze darting to every dark corner as if checking for monsters.

They ambled between rows of identical white vans until they came across one which might’ve been white in a previous lifetime. Mud splatters, rust, and flaking paint covered the paneling, and it wouldn’t have looked out of place on someone’s front lawn alongside plastic flamingos and beer cans.

Dani stared at it in faint horror. “I thought we were supposed to maintain a clean image.”

He patted the side. “Mebbe all the rest like to waste time sprayin’ their vans down every time it gets a speck of dust on the bumper. Me? So long as it gets me where I gotta go, it’s all the fancy-shmancy wheels I need.”

“Still, shouldn’t you take better of your company car?” she asked. “I mean, that thing looks half-fossilized. What’s Francis’ ride? A white stretch limo?”

“When you reach his level, limos are beneath you,” Ben said. “So unless your new powers include teleportation, you’re gonna just have to enjoy the ride.”

She stood back as Ben slid the van’s side door open. It rattled aside to reveal built-in metal shelving that held all manner of buckets, cleaning fluid, bottles, extra mops, bundles of rags, and other cleaning paraphernalia. A regular janitorial treasure chest.

She perked up. “Got any gloves in there?”

He scrounged across one shelf until he came up with a pair of yellow rubber gloves and tossed them her way. As she tugged them on, he levered the cart into an open space at the back and locked the wheels in place.

“Why janitors?”

He glanced back. “Eh?”

“Why janitors?” Dani repeated. “If the Cleaners are some big magical society, why not act like it? Why hide behind this corporate front? Wouldn’t it be better to take on an image people respect more? Like law enforcement. Or superheroes.”

“First off, you really wanna go ’round wearin’ tights and capes? Or seein’ me in ’em?” He chuckled at her grimace. “Second off, if you think about it, janitors, maids, plumbers … all sortsa cleanin’ folks have been keepin’ the world from turnin’ into one big ball of mud since people started figurin’ out that sleepin’ in their own filth ain’t exactly the brightest idea. Mebbe politicians and military folk look like they’re the ones with all the say-so, but we’re the ones that keep things runnin’ from the ground up, whether they know it or not.”

“Still, isn’t it a little on the low end of the totem pole?”

“If you look hard enough, there’s plenty to be proud of.” He grinned. “You just gotta think like a janitor.”

“I wasn’t aware janitors did much thinking.”

“That sorta mindset is gonna get you in a lotta trouble.”

He rummaged around the shelves until he came up with a dusty-brown cleaning jumpsuit which zippered up the front, and a pair of black rubber boots. These he handed to Dani. “Get changed.”

She held the suit doubtfully. “These are way too big for me. And I am not changing clothes in a garage.”

“Fine. But that piece you’re wearin’ right now dissolves if taken outta HQ, so I guess you’re ridin’ shotgun nekkid.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You’re joking. I know you are.”

An engine started in the distance as they stared each other down.

At last, her glare turned pleading. “Please say you’re joking.” When he remained silent, she stalked around to the other side of the van, calling out, “You try to peek and I’ll break your nose.”

Ben waited as groans of disgust and shuffling evidenced her attempts to change without falling over. A squeak of surprise was followed by Dani running back around, now wearing a hot pink jumpsuit. She plucked at the waistband and arms, which were just loose enough to give her free range of motion. Otherwise it fit perfectly.

“What the … this thing shrunk! And changed color!”

“One size fits all ’round here.”

She craned her neck to study the outfit from all sides. “But why pink?”

“It switches to the wearer’s favorite color.”

“I don’t like pink.”

“Accordin’ to the suit, you like it a lot.”

“How do I change it?”

He briefly shut his eyes. When he opened them again, his dusty blue jumpsuit had turned forest green. “Just a mental command. ’Course if you get too distracted or knocked unconscious, it’ll revert back. Pink’s nothin’ to be ashamed of.”

 

Website:                              JRVogt.com

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

Twitter:                               @JRVogt

You’ll find Josh’s books at:

http://www.amazon.com/Enter-Janitor-The-Cleaners-Volume/dp/1614753180/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1431709208&sr=8-1

and

http://www.amazon.com/Pathfinder-Tales-Forge-Josh-Vogt/dp/1601257430/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431707452&sr=8-1&keywords=forge+of+ashes

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 22 – Interview With Ksenia Anske

Ksenia Anske is, without doubt, one of the most delightful authors I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Not the least bit shy—she’s been known to do handstands at book signings—her inviting smile and eyes gleaming with mischievous humor and canny intelligence are guaranteed to win you over in a heartbeat. Oh! And have I told you about her sparkling personality and marvelous way of looking at life? Then, there are her unique writing style and story concepts. No wonder she sells so many books.

Ksenia Anske 2015Ksenia was born in Moscow, Russia, and came to US in 1998 not knowing English, having studied architecture and not dreaming that one day she’d be writing. She lives in Seattle with her boyfriend and their combined three kids in a house that they like to call The Loony Bin.

Her newest release is titled The Badlings. It’s a paranormal urban fantasy adventure for young people and is slated for release by the end of this month. When I asked her to give us its premise, this is what she replied:

“Of all of the naughty, mischievous, disrespectful, and downright horrible things that children can be, a badling is perhaps one of the worst. Badlings abandon books without finishing them, leaving their characters sad and lonely—not to mention angry. Meet Bells, Peacock, Rusty, and Grand, four ragtag friends convicted of this monstrous crime. As punishment, they get sucked into a book of unfinished stories, whose patchwork pages they must traverse…and read to the end this time.”

The Badlings is a book that grew out of my nostalgia for the books I read when I was a child and memories of biking with boys in the parks of Moscow. I was the daredevil girl who liked to climb roofs and trees and throw tomatoes from the balcony and do other mischievous things that boys loved and therefore accepted me into their tribe. I started rereading them all in English and thought, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to write a book about kids hopping from book to book?” Voila. I decided to write it.

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

I have not done research and just plunged in, covering thirty different books that I loved as a child, and it’s only on the second draft that my editor asked me, “Did you think about copyright?” And I was like, “Oh shit.” I forgot to check them, and had to cut out twenty books from the thirty due to copyright issues. In the process I tried to make the book a comedy, therefore avoiding the copyright thing, but then it didn’t work, so I almost gave up, then came full circle to the original idea, diving deeper into the ten books left, like Dracula and Don Quixote and The Snow Queen and others. In the end it turned out fantastic. I’m very proud of it.

What other novels have you written?

My first trilogy is Siren Suicides, about a teen who commits suicide but instead of dying turns into a siren and then gets hunted by a siren hunter, her father. Rosehead is about a rose garden that eats people, and a girl and her talking pet whippet investigate it to stop the murders. Irkadura is about an abused teen escaping her home in Moscow and seeing people as beasts as the way of surviving her nightmares, all set against the disbandment of Soviet Union. TUBE is an upcoming novel for which I have completed the 1st draft: it’s about a train killing Bolshoi ballerinas that are riding it as part of their US tour. This book was born out of me winning the Amtrak Residency and writing on the train.

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

I guess winning the Amtrak Residency was the biggest thing so far that happens, and also being on stage with Amanda Palmer. There is a video of that on YouTube. That’s about it so far, but more fabulous things will be coming, of course.

What else are you working on?

Just novels! I have about 12 of them outlined, and about 6 other non-fiction books planned, so just focusing on cranking them out one by one.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Yes. Flat ass (from sitting all day long). Tired eyes that tend to go cross (from all this writing and reading). A tendency to forget to get out of the house (after all, why do it when you can visit a gazillion universes in your head). A tendency to forget to wash your clothes (why dress when you can write in your pajamas). A tendency to shun everyone away while writing (stop distracting me!) and to nag everyone when done writing (I finished my book! Read it! Read it!!!) A glazed look 24/7 that some people might interpret as a stupor while it’s actually work.

Tell us about your path to publication.

It was a long and arduous one. No, I’m kidding. I started writing because I was suicidal and my therapist told me to journal. So I did. I also started blogging about it, and when my first trilogy was completed, a few agents were interested in representing me but all turned away upon learning that the topic of my books was suicide. It was a hard sell, they said. By then I have had people who have read the drafts of the trilogy and wanted it in the book shape. So I decided to take a plunge and self-publish. I did and don’t regret this decision for a second.

If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

Whack someone on the head with the tome of Oxford Encyclopedia. Or War and Peace. Or I would bury them in books. Alive. That sounds like a tortuous way to go. As to it being perfect, I don’t know how perfect that is, so maybe I should make them suffer through paper cuts so they bleed to death? Yeah, that sounds about right.

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

Anyone who gets in my way is being thoroughly shredded to mincemeat by a chainsaw. Or sometimes I use pitchforks, to impale those who dare to block me. Stabbing with a fork is also good, makes them juicier when I broil them.

Ever dispatched someone in a book and then regretted it?

Nope. Killing off characters is the biggest fun you can have while writing (but you also cry buckets over every death).

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

Trusting your gut. The endless doubts just drive you insane. Is this the right story? Is it interesting enough? Smart enough? New enough? Unique enough? Bla-bla-bla. It’s recognizing that those thoughts are just that, thoughts, and not actual truths, and keeping writing despite them that is the hardest thing I face every day.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Nope. I have been writing for 3 years full time now, and that’s all I did. I did do ghostwriting between drafts for one client, but it was also writing, and I was getting paid for it, which blew off my socks because when I started writing I didn’t think anyone would ever pay me for it. I started writing for therapy.

Describe a typical day.

My chatty brain wakes me up around 7ish am. I get up. I put on socks and go to the kitchen to get coffee. I come back to the bedroom where my writing corner is, sit down and start writing. While I write, I might have a significant thought and share it on Twitter or on Ello without checking the status of others or replying so as not to get distracted (I do it later). I might take a picture of my coffee cut of my hair and post in on Instagram. I write until it’s about 3pm or until I produce at least 2000 words. Then I tell everyone online I wrote 2000 words, and answer all the tweets and comments and emails and whatnot, which takes about 1-2 hours (hey, I’m proud of this, social media used to take me 6 hours a day), then I read at least 100 pages (although I’m currently reading Lovecraft and I can’t process more than 50 pages a day) which takes about 2 hours or more. I can also be interrupted by having dinner with kids (yes, sometimes they get to see me) and kiss my boyfriend when he comes home from work. When all of that is done, I might write a blog post or chat online for a bit again, then I exercise (I have a stationary bike) and if I’m really busy, I combine that with meditating (I bike with my eyes closed for 20-30 minutes). If I do have the time, I meditate after I bike. Then I take a vodka bath, and then we turn off the lights and climb on the roof naked and make love and fall asleep under the stars (though when it’s raining in Seattle, it gets pretty wet). The next day everything starts over again.

What motivates or inspires you?

There are so many untold stories in my head, they not so much inspire me as they drive me forward to get them out. Does it make sense? Also, art, all kinds of art. Any time I read a fantastic book or see a beautiful painting or a gorgeous photograph or an exquisite dress or a anything that someone made with love to express their emotions, all of this inspires me. Also, the orgy of mountains and trees and rivers and flowers and clouds. Nature is magnificent.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Getting hit by a truck on my way home from work while I was on a bicycle. I woke up in the hospital and have decided to quit my career for good and start writing before I end up in a box.

Ksenia, you have made my work today so easy! I usually have to try to be glib in order to make my guest shine a bit more. In your case, I’m puttin’ on my shades.

Before I share some of The Badlings with my visitors, let’s try a Lightning Round. Answer the following questions, if you will, in as few words as possible:

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: Writing. Also, reading. Also, coffee. Also, socks.

The one thing I would change about my life: Start writing earlier.

My biggest peeve is: Work done sloppily. I’m a perfectionist and drive others to perfection as well (which annoys them to no end). When I see something done half-ass, I can’t stand it. I abhor it.

I couldn’t agree more. The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: My children. They have turned out better than I ever hoped for. I love you, Anna and Peter. You are my everything. XOXO

For your reading pleasure, here is a sample from The Badlings:

The Badlings Final FrontChapter 1. The Duck Pond

 

What if you found a book stuck in dirt? Would you take a peek inside, or would you chuck it at innocent ducks that happened to waddle nearby? Poor ducks. You wouldn’t hurt them, would you? Because who throws books instead of reading them?

Meet Belladonna Monterey, or Bells, as she’d like you to call her—she has decided that Belladonna was too pompous a name for a scientist. See her dark flashing eyes? Her ponytail all askew? Don’t try talking to her, lest you want to be throttled.

On this sunny September morning Bells was mad. Mad at her mother, the famous opera singer Catarina Monterey, for calling her a “poor scientist.” The argument started at Bells refusing to go to her Saturday choir practice and escalated further into a shouting match when Bells declared that under no circumstances would she ever become a singer.

“So you want to be a poor scientist?” said Catarina, hands on her hips. It was her usual intimidating pose mimicked by Bells’ little sister Maria from behind her mother’s back.

“What does it matter if I’m poor?” asked Bells, stung to the core.

Maria stuck out her tongue.

Bells ignored it, refusing to descend to the level of an eight-year-old.

“Oh, it matters a great deal,” replied Catarina. “How do you propose to make a living? You have seven years left until you’re on your own, Belladonna, and every year is precious.”

“I told you I don’t like that name. Call me Bells.”

Her mother’s lips pressed together. “As I was saying, Belladonna, every year is precious. I’ve picked out an excellent stage name for you, and I expect you to thank me.” Her demeanor softened. “You are destined to become a star, with my talent running in your blood. If you stop practicing now, you might never develop your voice.”

“I don’t want to develop a voice,” blurted Bells.

“You’re a girl!” cried Catarina. “What future do you think you have in science?”

“Why does it matter that I’m a girl? I certainly have no inclination toward prancing around in stupid period dresses and hollering my lungs out like you do.” As soon as she said it, she regretted it.

Her mother looked hurt. “Is that what you think I do? Holler my lungs out?”

“I hate dresses,” said Bells stubbornly. “I hate singing. I hate it that I’m a girl. I want to do science. Stop sticking your tongue out!” That last bit was directed toward Maria.

“Mom, Belladonna is being mean,” she whined.

“Shut up,” said Bells.

“You shut up.”

“Don’t torture your sister,” snapped Catarina. “Look at her. She’s younger than you, but she has the presence of mind to follow my advice.”

Maria flashed a triumphant smile and twirled, showing off her gaudy pink dress, the type their mother liked to buy for both of them. Bells made a gagging noise. She hated pink or anything decidedly girly. She made sure to never wear dresses, and if she absolutely had to, she smeared them with mud so thoroughly, her mother pronounced them as ruined.

 

If you’d like to follow Ksenia and buy her books, these are the appropriate links:

Blog/website: http://www.kseniaanske.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kseniaanske

Ello: https://ello.co/kseniaanske

Instagram: https://instagram.com/kseniaanske/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7111759.Ksenia_Anske