The Write Stuff – Monday, February 26 – Interview With Hilary Benford

In addition writing to sci-fi, Hilary Benford writes historical fiction. Born and raised in England, educated at London and Cambridge Universities she taught French in England and English in France. She eventually moved to California to take up a teaching post in a private school, intending to stay for a year or two and look around at the States. She says her mother told her when left, “‘Whatever you do, don’t marry an American!’ No animus against Americans, but wanted me to come home. Of course, I married an American and am still in California.”

Her first publication was the 1980 winner of the Hugo Award, Timescape, co-written with her brother-in-law, Gregory Benford. “Part of the deal with Simon and Schuster, when I agreed to take my name off Timescape, was that they agreed to buy a historical novel I’d started.  I signed a contract for two books and worked with David Hartwell, the famous editor. He requested some changes in the time sequence, which I made (reluctantly).  I was paid the advance and then Dave was fired from Simon and Schuster and the project was shelved and the rights reverted to me. But I kept the advance!

“A few years back, I came upon the old manuscript, thought I could do something with it, OCR’d it to my computer and finished writing it. This was published by WordFire Press in 2016 as Sister of the Lionheart. I had always been fascinated by Joanna Plantagenet, daughter of Henry II of England and the wonderful Eleanor of Aquitaine, favorite sister of Richard the Lionheart. Mentions of her cropped up everywhere from the murder of Thomas Becket to the 3rd Crusade and other famous moments of the 12th century.

“The first book deals with her earlier life, her family, her years in Poitiers at the Courts of Love, her marriage at age 12 (asked her father for a King, young, French-speaking, preferably handsome!) up to the moment when she talks her brother into letting her accompany him on crusade.

“The second book is about the rest of her life as a strong-willed grown woman, making her own decisions, and was also published by WordFire Press in 2017, as Joanna Crusader.

“I am currently back to science fiction and working with my brother-in-law Greg again, on a time travel novel (or novella) about Jane Austen.”

I asked her to describe Joanna Crusader, and this is her account:

Recently widowed, Joanna, sister of Richard the Lionheart, accompanies her brother to the Third Crusade. The book opens with a storm in the Mediterranean in which Joanna shows her mettle, causing the ship’s master to exclaim that she is “truly the sister of the great Lionheart!” Time and again, Richard rescues Joanna from dangerous situations, first in Cyprus (where Richard stops to marry Berengaria of Navarre) and later in Jaffa where Joanna is trapped by Saracens. The Crusaders retake Acre after a lengthy siege but Richard was never able to liberate Jerusalem. He proposes that peace might be achieved by marrying Joanna to Saphadin, the brother of the great Saracen leader Saladin. Both sides agree to this, but when Joanna hears of it, she explodes in a Plantagenet rage and refuses in no uncertain terms. At the end of the Crusade, Joanna actually visited Jerusalem (Richard never did) and met Saladin himself. True historians will be shocked that I sent someone to the Crusade who never went there in order for Joanna to have an affair with him, that never happened in real life. I explained it all in an afterword. I just could not resist the story it made.

Joanna and Berengaria return to France to find that Richard has been captured and held hostage for ransom. Along with his mother, the two women work to raise the money to free him.

Joanna, highly eligible, marries for love, at a time when that was a rarity. It is far from happily ever after though. Things go badly wrong when she finds that someone is trying to have her killed.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

Well, first, that Joanna Plantagenet had an amazingly eventful life, lived with all the principal characters of her age and participated in so many famous events, and yet no one really knows anything about her as a person. Most people have never heard of her.

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

This is the story of a life, so the plot is a given. But beyond that, I see an arc: there were two basic options open to women in that age, marriage or the convent. Joanna must have been a great admirer of her mother (the first book, Sister of the Lionheart, opens with an incident which may have been Joanna’s earliest memory, of an attempt to kidnap her mother, who shows herself to be indomitable). So I have Joanna’s first ambition as a desire to become a Queen, like her mother. She achieves that and finds that she is more of an ornament to the court than a mover and shaker. Then she tries love, with first a romantic affair, then a marriage, and that turns to disaster. Finally, she turns to what had been advised her from the beginning—the Church. She can find peace only in a love that will never betray her.

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

My writing may be different for several reasons. First, I am English (not sure how much difference that makes). Second, I have a degree in French language and literature, and that included medieval literature. So, especially in the first book, I was able to quote from works that were popular in Joanna’s time. She loved the Chanson de Roland and in Poitiers, she actually meets and talks to the very popular Chrétien de Troyes who wrote Arthurian epic poems, among others. Third, I have been to all the places where Joanna lived, from Fontevrault to Poitiers and Toulouse in France, to Palermo in Sicily and Acre (modern-day Akko) in the Holy Land. Fourth, well, I’m a woman, writing about a woman and I think I can enter into her feelings to some degree (though not the desire to become a nun!).

What was your path to publication?

I have to thank my brother-in-law Greg Benford for this. I have no agent and had tried submitting my manuscript to various publishers with no success. Greg suggested I try Kevin Anderson and I met with him on one of his visits to the Bay Area and he agreed to take it on. We signed a contract for both books on the spot!

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on another book (or it may end up as a novella) with Greg Benford. His concept, mostly my writing. It is a time travel theme and is set in excerpts from Jane Austen’s diary. Greg thought I could more easily capture Austen’s voice and in fact it’s great fun doing it. Basically, an American from the 2300s comes back to Jane Austen’s age to bring her futuristic medical treatments and keep from dying young. He ends up marrying her. She lives a long life and becomes the most prolific and famous of all 19th century writers, even turning to SF novels after she learns of her husband’s life in the 24th century.

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

Timescape won several awards: the 1980 Nebula, 1980 Best Science Fiction Award and the 1981 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. I like to think that I brought a lot to what is generally considered Greg’s best novel.

What is your writing routine?

I don’t really have one. Some days I’ll write a whole lot, others nothing at all.

Do you create an outline before you write?

Absolutely. In detail.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Not my problem! If anything, I suffer from logorrhea. Give me a subject and I’ll trot out half a dozen pages for you within minutes. But how and when to stop??

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Many friends have told me that my second book is better than my first, so I hope I’ve evolved creatively.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

No other job at the present time (but lots of travel).

Describe a typical day.

Coffee and the New York Times crossword. Can’t start the day without that. Breakfast and then find anything to put off doing useful things. Eventually settle down and write but also have to practice the piano, go for a daily walk, get some exercise, cook 3 meals a day, do some gardening, plan our next trip—retirement is so busy that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

What makes you laugh?

Almost everything these days. If I didn’t laugh, I would cry.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I like Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Peters (secret vice: Georgette Heyer) and of course Jane Austen.

Thank you ever so much for participating in The Write Stuff and for adding your delightful sense of humor. Before I provide our guests with an excerpt from Joanna Crusader, I’d like to conclude this interview with a traditional Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: Hoot

The one thing I cannot do without is: Chocolate

The one thing I would change about my life: I would not develop diabetes 2.

My biggest peeve is: People who talk too loudly in restaurants

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: Has to be my husband, Jim Benford.

Finally, would you care to leave us with a parting thought? As a ghost in one of my dreams said to me: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.


Excerpt from Joanna Crusader:

But Raymond was looking seriously at her. “Would it be presumptuous of me to say that seeing two such beautiful ladies here in this filthy place is like finding roses blooming on a dung heap?”

“Yes, indeed, sir,” she said, lifting a hand to stop him, “it is presumptuous.” Then, smiling, yielding, “But pleasing, too. Like cool water in the desert—there, there’s one for you. God knows it is as hot as the desert here. I think we shall be in need of many compliments to keep our spirits up in this dreadful place!”

“I stand ready, my lady, to express my admiration whenever you should need it, or to hold up your glass, which should serve the same purpose.”

“I fear I should not continue to believe you, day after day, as my skin grows more sunburnt and my temper more irritable.”

“My lady, I could find enough new compliments for many days to come and after that, knowing you better, I would surely know new attributes to praise.”

She laughed then. “I mistrust you already. What do you say, Berthe?”

“Why, I say that he speaks so well I hardly care whether what he says is true or not. Besides, it’s the intention that counts.”

“Ah, but what is the intention? I think I mistrust that more than the words.”

“My lady,” he protested, “no intention other than giving you pleasure and speaking my true thoughts, I swear it.”

Joanna knew she should not be encouraging him like this. The daughter, sister, widow of Kings, she should not stoop to flirt and exchange banter with a King’s vassal. But the pleasure was heady, almost irresistible, whether because she loved to hear him speak in the rich, warm langue d’oc, or because it was the kind of talk that took her back to her childhood in Poitiers, or because Raymond himself was undeniably attractive. She felt she should leave, and she wanted to stay. As a compromise, she shifted their talk to less personal matters, hearing an extra loud cheer from one of the tents.

“There is much rejoicing in the camp tonight.”

“Indeed. The siege is as good as over in the minds of most of them. But little enough rejoicing in the tents of my dear cousin the King of the Franks and his kinsmen. I wager he is biting his knuckles right now.” He laughed sardonically.

Joanna was shocked. “He is your liege lord.”

“I only say what any of us there could plainly see. And he was not the only one to show his pique. Duke Leopold of Austria was none too pleased. Nor Burgundy, I think, nor Flanders. If it comes to that, there is little love between the King your brother and myself. I speak plainly so that you can know I do not dissemble in other matters either.” He smiled teasingly at her, but she was not to be drawn in again.

She knew that Richard had taken vengeance in Toulouse for certain attacks on Poitevin merchants and pilgrims passing through there. He had in fact taken eighteen castles and the town of Cahors by the time Raymond’s father’s appeal had reached the French King.

“But now we are here, we must all put our personal differences behind us, must we not? It doesn’t matter whether we are Franks or English or Poitevins, but only that we are Christians fighting infidels. And surely if my brother’s coming will help that cause, we should all rejoice because of that. It will help. I am sure of that.”

“Yes. No doubt of that. King Richard’s reputation will put heart into the Franks and others. His reputation is deserved. I know that only too well! He is a great warrior, your brother. I have little cause to love him, as I say, but I have the greatest admiration and respect for him.”

“I was so proud when he landed today,” Joanna said, glowing.

“He looks every inch the King, certainly. No wonder my poor cousin is jealous! Yet Philip has his qualities. Less showy than King Richard’s, to be sure. But he has a good mind, he thinks, he plans.”

“Richard has clerks to do that for him. But who can win his battles for Philip?”

“You laugh at it but I have heard that among the Saracens, it is considered impolitic, rash, even foolish, for a ruler to fight in the front ranks of his men. They say that if he is killed or wounded, then all is lost, but if he directs the battle from a safe place, then it little matters how many men in the front ranks die, the battle can still be won.”

“You talk of infidels. Of course they have not our sense of honor or shame. What kind of leader would lead from the rear? That is not sense, but cowardice. But they know no better, being without the True Faith.”

“I think they do have honor. I have heard many tales that prove it. As for faith, theirs is not the True Faith, but they certainly believe it is. They are as willing to die for their God as we are for ours.”

She looked at him with narrowed eyes. “What you say sounds dangerously like heresy to me. They have resisted hearing the Word. They have fought consistently against the servants of God in God’s own land. They have defiled the holy places, stolen the Wood of the Cross—would you defend these infidels?”

“Against your eloquence? Never. You have convinced me. But I think, when you stare at me like that, you could convince me of anything.”

He had lapsed back into his flirtatious manner, evidently abandoning his defense of the Saracens. He smiled at her and his eyes went over her head to Berengaria’s tent. Joanna turned to see where he was looking. In the entrance to Berengaria’s tent, the girl Beatrice stood watching them, with a sly, knowing expression on her face.

“Who is the girl?” Raymond asked.

“That is the daughter of Isaac of Cyprus, a traitor and rogue whom Richard defeated.”

“Ah yes, whom he put in silver chains.” Raymond looked amused. “And the girl is here with you?”

“With Berengaria,” Joanna said shortly. “She is a sullen, vicious girl.”

“But pretty enough, in all conscience. Yes, you are right. She looks sullen. And how she stares at us! Perhaps she is jealous of your beauty as King Philip is of your brother’s?”

“You are absurd! She hates me only because I remind her of Richard who imprisoned her father. Come, it is late. I must take my leave of you and prepare for tonight’s feast.”


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The Write Stuff – Monday, February 12 – Interview With Liz Colter

Today’s featured guest is Digital Fiction Publishing’s author, Liz Colter. Due to a varied work background, Liz has harnessed, hitched, and worked draft horses, and worked in medicine, canoe expeditioning, and as a roller-skating waitress. She also knows more about concrete than you might suspect. Liz is a 2014 winner of the international Writers of the Future contest and has multiple short story publications to her credit spanning a wide range of science fiction and fantasy sub-genres. Her novels, written under the name L. D. Colter, explore contemporary fantasy and dark/weird/magic realism, and ones written as L. Deni Colter venture into the epic fantasy realms she grew up reading and loving. I asked her about her adult contemporary fantasy, A Borrowed Hell, and she cited its underlying premise:

Lost in a barren alternative world, July Davish has two options: Confront his hellish past or be trapped there forever.

Fate has dealt July a lifetime of nothings; no happy childhood, no lasting relationships, and now, no job. His mantra of perseverance has gotten him through it all, but faced with losing his home, he finally sets foot on the same road of self-destruction the rest of his family followed.

An accident changes everything. When two colliding cars send him diving from a San Diego sidewalk toward safety, he lands somewhere far from safe—in a bizarrely deserted version of San Francisco. Though he wakes in his own reality, he continues to pass out, dragged back to that strange world each time. July is willing to do anything to end his world-hopping, right up until he learns the price: reliving a past he’s tried his whole life to forget. He’s not sure his sanity can take it. Not even to get back to his own world, a woman he’s falling in love with, and a life he finally cares about.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

A Borrowed Hell is my debut novel, a contemporary fantasy for adults with heavy literary themes. Think Neil Gaiman’s American Gods meets Philip K Dick’s The Adjustment Team (the story on which the movie The Adjustment Bureau was based).

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

Nothing specific. I love tortured hero stories (don’t we all?) and set out to write one. I’ve written four novels and many short stories, but this book ended up having the most real characters I’ve ever written. For me, it feels like July and Val could walk out of the novel and show up on my street.

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

The book ended up having much stronger literary themes than I expected when I set out. I think that succeeding more than I expected to in accomplishing my tortured hero storyline and creating realistic characters, I ended up with a novel that feels a little slipstream between fantasy and literary.

What was your path to publication?

A bit convoluted. I think the slipstream aspect of this book coupled with an unusual length (longer than a short novel, but slightly under standard length), on top of being a debut novel, made this a hard-sell as a large press title. It did well in open calls and contests, but I decided to submit it to a newer small press that opened, and it was picked up by them and published in March, 2017. Unfortunately, the press changed its publishing model and closed to outside authors in October. Happily, Digital Fiction Publishing picked it up right away, and so the second edition, shiny new cover and all, was released in ebook at the end of 2017 and the paperback has just become available.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m neck-deep in a challenging set of books—a loosely-connected series of contemporary fantasies about gods from various cultures. The first one (Greek mythology based) is being shopped, the second (based on Maya religion and myths) is very nearly in final draft, and the third is in the planning stages.

What else have you written?

I’m thrilled to announce that my epic fantasy novel, The Halfblood War, has recently been acquired by WordFire Press. The novel is in pre-production at this time, and should be coming out sometime this year. It’s a stand-alone novel that contains everything I love most about epic high fantasy: terrifying and powerful fae, romance, and war.

In addition to my four novels, I’ve also written many short stories. I have a published works page at my website with links to many of them. The newest one coming out will be in the WordFire Press anthology Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath.

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

I had the honor of being selected as a winner in the international Writers of the Future contest in 2014 for a short story I wrote, and am currently an active SFWA member. I’m also flattered that, though nominations for the award have not yet been announced, A Borrowed Hell has been suggested to the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

What is your writing routine?

Daily. As close to full-time as possible. I was able to give up my day job when my elderly mother moved in with my husband and me, which she did, in part, for me to have more writing time since I was already making professional sales. A win-win for us both. There are commitments associated with that and with, well, life in general, but I look at writing as a job and I’m pretty much butt-in-chair all day, every day when I have unscheduled time.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser. Outlining just isn’t a tool that’s in my writer’s toolbox. Maybe I’ll acquire it someday, but I doubt it. On the other hand, I’ve never seen pantsing and plotting as black and white options. Both approaches have big gray areas for most writers. Even the people who outline in the thousands of words have to let go of the outline at some point and wing it, or the book would be nothing but an outline. In the same way, most pantsers have some level of plotting going on, even if it’s at a scene-by-scene level as they get there. For me, I begin with atmosphere (dark, humorous, gothic, whatever), then get an idea of the main character, sometimes a theme early on, and then an opening. While all that’s coalescing in my head, a sense of the story arc usually comes to me with some idea of where the story will end. At that point I start writing. In fact, at that point I have to start writing because the words of the opening start coming to me.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

I don’t believe in insurmountable writer’s block. Yes, there are days where it’s hard to get going and days where the ideas feel like they just won’t come. When it’s just a day that the words aren’t coming to me easily and I want to keep procrastinating, it’s usually just a matter of buckling down to it. I need to turn the internet off and turn my voice recognition program on. Once I start dictating and forcing words to happen, all of a sudden that dam breaks and it starts to flow and I have 1000 new words. The harder problem is when the struggle goes on for multiple days in a row or a couple of weeks at a time. If I hit a long stretch of trouble, it usually means I’ve taken a left turn in my story when I should have gone right. I go back to my reverse outline (the list of scenes I’ve already written) and try and analyze what’s not working or where the story went off the rails. Usually I’ll see the problem and have to do some rewriting before I move forward again. If I can’t see it, then sometimes a beta reader can. I find a word goal per day when I’m writing new material is invaluable. I don’t let myself stop for the day until I reach that goal.

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I’m actually glad I started writing later in life because I feel that my life experiences in general, and some of the more specific and unusual things I’ve done in particular, definitely enhance my writing. I have a pretty rich background to mine from including some of the things listed in my bio, like Outward Bound instructor, field paramedic (I worked a year and a half of my five years in downtown San Diego), firefighter intern, concrete dispatcher, athletic trainer, draft horse farmer, and ten years of waitressing. Even though I rarely write directly about any of those things, I can draw on the diverse knowledge base it gives me in things like medicine, sports from a sideline perspective, horses and harness, first responder protocols in a variety of agencies, and outdoor travel and camping.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I love that my husband and I both enjoy rural living. I’m someone that can’t get too much quiet (as long as there’s at least one other person in my life) and can happily stay on our bit of acreage days at a time with no desire to leave. It’s a lifestyle very conducive to writing.

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

I’ve always been a very self-motivated, goal-oriented person. It’s why I’ve had such a variety of careers. Learning a new thing that fascinates me will also motivate and inspire me to work insanely hard to achieve that learning/skill.

What are some of your favorite authors?

Reading Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, and China Mieville in particular in the past decade probably inspired the single biggest change in my writing since I began writing more than 15 years ago. Discovering their work was eye-opening, and was the inspiration that lead me to leap from writing epic fantasy into literary-leaning magic realism and weird. I cut my teeth in my teens and twenties on Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe, John Crowley, and Ursula Le Guin. Immersing myself again in magic realism, contemporary fantasy, and literary genre writers has definitely influenced the direction I want to take with my own writing.

Thank you, Liz, for taking time to share with us. Before I give our visitors a sample from A Borrowed Hell and links to your book and social accounts, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m: Not a night owl

The one thing I cannot do without is: Dogs

The one thing I would change about my life: Lose the sugar addiction.

My biggest peeve is: Flies. Commercials. Or coat hangers sticking together. Maybe cooking. No, wait – phone solicitation! Okay – being interrupted when I finally hit my writing groove for the day.

A Borrowed Hell Excerpt:

“He’s here,” a woman said.

July opened his eyes.

The first thing he saw were buildings jutting high into the foggy sky, forming a tall, jagged skyline that matched nothing on the San Diego coastline. He sat with his back against a rough, brick wall. Across the street rose the unmistakable pyramid shape of the Transamerica building in San Francisco’s financial district. July’s mind struggled with the incongruity. He should be five hundred miles to the south, squashed like a bug under a three-thousand pound Prius. The last thing he’d seen before opening his eyes here had been a close-up of the car in mid-roll.

Maybe he was dead. The thought was too uncomfortable to contemplate.

A man squatted next to him. Smudges of dirt stood out in grey-brown streaks against his dark skin. He wore faded green fatigues — the jungle kind that had preceded the desert kind — and an olive green T-shirt covered with dirt and holes. His hair lay flat against his head in small, tight plaits, and a single, bone-colored bead decorated the end of each braid.

“Hey there,” he said. His smile was genuine, wide, and natural. It was the smile of someone at ease with himself and his surroundings. July found it reassuring in this place where nothing else was.

“How did I get here?”

The man shrugged. July looked to the woman standing behind the man. She shrugged.

Woman may have been a stretch; she looked more a girl, ultra-thin and waifish. Her worn blue jeans sported gaudy sequins at the frayed hems, and her long T-shirt emphasized her skinny legs. Dish-water blonde hair hung lank on either side of her face. Her eyes held a hunted look.

“I don’t understand,” July said.

“Then best to just move on,” the man said, standing and stretching. “Come on.”

He and the young woman turned from July and began walking. July pushed to his feet, still finding no pain or injuries. He looked the other direction, down the length of the empty business district. Empty. The wrongness he had been feeling crystallized. Not only was he in the wrong city, but the city itself was wrong. Other than the two people walking away from him, there was not a car or a person in sight.

The pair receded at a steady pace. Panic prodded July to jog after them. He wanted to believe this was a dream but couldn’t, everything here felt too visceral. The man and the young woman walked side-by-side taking up the center of the sidewalk; July caught up to them and walked behind.

The silence of the city hung heavy around him, the slap of shoes on concrete loud in the unnatural quiet. It brought to mind old Twilight Zone episodes of people thrown into muted, artificial environments, but everything around him confirmed the reality of his surroundings. He could feel the breeze ebb and gust against his skin, heard the rustle of a candy wrapper crunch underfoot. He saw low clouds drifting above, and smelled warm brick, paved road, and the odor of the two unwashed people in front of him.

“Where is everybody?”

The young woman looked back at him without answering. The man answered without looking back. “They’re around.”

A dozen questions formed in July’s mind but none of them made sense. He let the silence take him. Chinatown lay empty and quiet only a couple of blocks to his left and Telegraph Hill just ahead. The Embarcadero must be to the right. They were walking through perhaps the most quintessential square mile in the city; places that would normally be some of his favorite to visit. They climbed steadily for twenty minutes or so until they reached Pioneer Park, where a tall, whitewashed cylinder dominated the grassy knoll. A sign near the parking lot announced it was Coit Tower. It looked like a lighthouse had gotten lost and wandered into the park for a rest. He found it as eerie as the rest of the deserted city.


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The Write Stuff – Monday, January 22 – Spotlight on J.T. Evans

J.T. Evans arrived on this planet and developed into an adult in the desolate, desert-dominated oil fields of West Texas. After a year in San Antonio, he spent a year in the northern tundra of Montana. This year-long stint prepared him for the cold (yet mild compared to Montana) climate of the Front Range of Colorado.

He has thrived in The Centennial State since 1998 with his lovely Montana-native wife and rapidly growing son. He primarily pays the bills by developing interactive voice recognition systems. Like most writers, he dreams of earning enough income via publications to drop the Day Job and prosper. His debut urban fantasy novel, Griffin’s Feather, was released in October of 2017.

J.T. rekindled his love for writing with his discovery of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group in 2006. He was the president of the organization from January 2009 to January 2013. Even though he’s no longer part of the CSFWG, he has continued writing and expanding his knowledge of the business and craft.

J.T. is also a member of Pikes Peak Writers, which he joined in 2008. J.T. was elected the vice president of PPW in January of 2013, and stepped into the role of president of PPW in September of the same year. In April of 2017, he resigned from the role of president.

When not flinging code at the screen or throwing words at the wall, he enjoys role-playing games, home brewing, Cub Scouts with his son, but dislikes anything related to long walks on the beach. His favorite genres to write in are fantasy and urban fantasy, but he writes the occasional science fiction or horror short story.

J.T. once held 13 different jobs in a single year, and at the age of 15, his right arm was amputated in a violent car wreck. Don’t worry. He’s become more stable in the job area, and the arm was successfully reattached shortly after the car crash.

Today, we’re discussing J.T.’s urban fantasy, Griffin’s Feather, published by WordFire Press on October 29, 2017. He describes the novel’s premise this way:

Marcus Barber is an immortal Roman Centurion who works as a bounty hunter for the deities of the ancient world while living in modern-day San Antonio. In this fast-paced adventure, Marcus must recover an escaped griffin for Nemesis (Greek goddess of vengeance) while trying to rescue a kidnapped ice pixie of Cailleach before she melts in the southern Texas heat. If he fails at either task, Nemesis and Cailleach will battle over who owns him for the next few centuries. While embroiled in these two tasks, one of his mortal clients calls up Marcus and demands he find a missing mistress. This mistress and Marcus have their own past… a distant past that Marcus must reconcile with before his supernatural deadlines whiz past.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

I had more fun writing this novel than any other work I’ve done. I think the enjoyment I had really shines through in the prose, story, and characters. I typically write to music with headphones on to drown out the rest of the world. At one point, I was so engrossed in the story I was telling, I didn’t notice that my playlist had ended. My wife popped her head into my office and asked what music I was dancing in my chair to. That’s when I realized I danced, not to music, but to Marcus’s story that unfolded before me.

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

I think the seed of my idea was that I really enjoy shows about skip tracers (also known as bounty hunters) because there is the thrill of the hunt against the most dangerous prey, humans, but typically without death involved at the end of the day. One day, I decided to write a little something about a bounty hunter, but I wanted it to be urban fantasy, not real life. This led me down the path of creating Marcus who is an immortal Roman Centurion who works as a bounty hunter for the deities of the ancient world. Things pretty much fell into place from there.

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

Most urban fantasy protagonists wield some form of supernatural power that can get them into and out of trouble. Marcus’s only non-mundane power is to return from the dead, but when he does so, he’s weak as a newborn, starving, and in pretty rough shape for several weeks. This means his ability to return to the living realm isn’t much of an advantage on the tight deadlines he finds himself facing. He has to use millennia of experience, his wits, his stubbornness, and his driving desire to avoid failure to press forward in his missions.

What was your path to publication?

Griffin’s Feather was the fourth novel I wrote. I consider the first three to be my “practice trilogy” that will never be published in their current form. I’m actually working on a completely fresh rewrite of the first book to see what I can make happen there. I’ve tried the “get an agent” route through query letters and met many editors and agents at conferences. Making friends with people in the industry is what led to WordFire Press requesting the novel. I was hanging out at WorldCon (2015) with the acquisitions editor, just chatting. He asked about what I was writing at the time and I told him about Griffin’s Feather. He was immediately interested and requested the novel. One thing led to another, and Kevin J. Anderson approached me at WorldCon (2016) to make an offer on my novel.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two things at the moment. I’m querying a sword and sorcery novel to agents, and while I wait for responses to those query letters, I’m actively rewriting (from scratch) the first novel I ever wrote. The story, characters, plot, and world are strong in my first novel. However, the mechanical execution of the story is lacking. I’m a much better writer now than I was then, so I’m hoping a fresh take at the words will lead somewhere.

What else have you written?

I have a handful of short stories published in various anthologies along with one non-fiction piece about the night my arm was amputated in a car wreck. Lists of those anthologies can be found at my web site.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Absolutely! I even outline short stories. The only things I don’t outline are my improv exercises that I do to get my brain in gear and get the writing juices flowing. Before I start in on a novel (and many of my short stories), I have to know the opening scene and the ending scene. Then I outline the steps to get from A to Z. If I ever try to write by the seat of my pants, I feel like I’ve just screamed, “Road trip!” and jumped in the car without knowing where I’m going. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’m not as nice to my characters as I used to be. I used to be very protective and precious about my protagonists. It took me a while to learn that readers love it when characters get beat up, thrashed about, and torn down before overcoming the odds. It’s no fun for a reader to experience a character that can handle anything, do anything, and never really faces true obstacles while going through their adventures.

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

This has been a challenge for me, on and off, through my career: making the time to write on a regular basis. I have weeks where I write daily. I have weeks where I write sporadically. I tend to get 3-4 days of writing done each week, but I need to really buckle down and increase that to 5-6 days a week. That’s all on me to make happen, though.

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I’ve been doing martial arts (on and off) since I was 13. I’ve practiced pretty much every major martial art, and probably a few more esoteric ones. I’ve done punching/kicking martial arts. I’ve done grappling/submission martial arts. I’ve done unarmed and armed martial arts. I was also raised around firearms and know them quite well. The decades of combat experience I have really helps me out when it comes to describing physical conflict of any kind. I’ve always received high praise for my fight scenes, so this has freed me up to focus my improvements in other areas (like dialogue) that need to be shored up.

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

Honestly, I’m too stubborn to quit. I set goals for myself, ensure they are realistic (yet challenging) and press forward to get to those goals. I set a goal of having a novel published within ten years of restarting my writing career. I managed to do it in eleven. For that year gap between my goal and the actualization of that goal, I was a real pain the butt to be around. I was moody, down, angry, and generally not a nice person. Friends and family talked some sense into me, and I managed to get over it. If I find myself stalled or “dead” on a project, I typically write about a dozen pieces of flash fiction in an improv manner. This helps kick me back into gear, and I never know what form of exciting ideas I’ll get from the improv stories.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

I’ve made myself quit writing several times throughout my life. I quit at ages 10, 15, and around 22. If I’d stuck with things from that young age and pressed forward, I can’t help but think how far ahead I’d be of my current self in my writing career. I don’t look back too deeply on those times, though. I’ve managed to accumulate plenty of life experience, and maybe that’s what I needed to get to where I could seriously buckle down and start writing again.

What are some of your favorite authors?

This is a rather lengthy list, and I know I’ll leave some out… so I’ll just stick with two: Terry Brooks and Carol Berg. I picked up my first “adult” book at age 7. It was Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and that set the stage for a lifelong love of the fantasy genre. I especially love Carol Berg’s works because of the interesting characters and plot developments she manages to spin. Both of these authors are great studies for anyone wanting to delve into the fantasy genre as a writer.

Thank you so much, J.T., for spending time with us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Griffin’s Feather, as well as your book buy and social media links, I’d like to conclude this interview with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: Paladin

The one thing I cannot do without is: Caffeine

The one thing I would change about my life: I wouldn’t have quit writing at a young age.

My biggest peeve is: Personal insults during any kind of debate.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: My son. He’s a great human being, and will be a wonderful man.

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

Grab your dreams, don’t let go, and keep them close as you travel through life. If a dream escapes, that’s okay. There will be replacements ones. Just keep dreaming and achieving!


Griffin’s Feather excerpt:

I stared at the Rorschach patterns of the piss stains on the wall of my motel room in an effort to ignore the busted springs that could only be generously called a mattress. I turned my head side-to-side trying to find some semblance of art or pattern in the yellow-on-smoke-stained-white. I’d slept in more comfortable ditches during my time as a Roman Centurion almost two-thousand years ago. I’d also squatted over better smelling holes while in the field than the emanations coming from the mattress when I shifted my weight.

Accepting the discomfort without complaint like a good soldier always does, I turned to the television. The twenty-four-hour news crackled from the flickering screen. I hated the modern news, but I couldn’t find any other channels on the damn thing. The newscaster shifted her tone from fake sorrow about some natural disaster to the even more false happiness as she moved on to an “on the lighter side of the news” story.

Her lips moved, and the words fell from her face. “As you can see in this home video, someone glued feathers to this lion’s head and set it loose during the Strawberry Festival in Poteet, Texas. The animal doesn’t seem to be in any distress, but local authorities have asked citizens to call animal control if the festooned feline is spotted.”

The news puppet chirped her words, and a blurry video captured a few seconds of a large lion bearing feathers leaping a fence and vanishing from sight.

A griffin ran free in southern Texas.

]The mythological creature walked on the feet of an eagle but had the body of a lion. In addition to the eagle claws, a griffin also sported the head and wings of the majestic bird.

]Mortals had a strange way of lying to themselves when it comes to supernatural happenings. It was as if their fragile minds couldn’t handle proof there is something greater and more powerful than them sharing this world. Those who saw and talked about the truth of things were labeled as “crazies” or “kooks” or “religious fanatics.” I usually kept my mouth shut, and my eyes opened to avoid the stigma of someone bereft of their senses. This was true even around those I considered close friends.

I shook my head and put away one of my father’s journals I had been reading. His neat handwriting, precise words, and terse phrasing let me know the events of his life, but without much in the way it impacted him emotionally. His written words always brought back memories of my childhood with him. He wasn’t especially cold or distant, but he had a hard time getting close to me and my mother. Was he immortal back then? Did he know it? Is that why he vanished when he did?

I’ve never known why, but my gut told me finding my father was the path to figuring out who I really was. He’d obviously been gifted, or cursed, with the same immortality I’d grown accustomed to. I thought he had the key to unlock the answers I’ve always sought. Even if he didn’t, it would be nice to see his face again. To hear his voice. Is he proud of me? Have I done well in his eyes?

I looked around the ratty motel room surrounding me. What would he think of me now?

Shaking my head to clear them of sentimentality, I prepared for an Ancient to appear. Some Ancient was going to have me fetch the griffin. I just knew it. When something strange happened in my neighborhood, they always showed up. I was the bounty hunter for the Ancients, after all. The only lingering question I had concerned which Ancient would appear and claim ownership of the griffin.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this passage, here are links where you can follow J.T. Evans online and purchase his work:






Amazon Author Page:


Book online sales links:

Amazon (UK) (Canada)

Barnes and Noble



Signed Copies Directly from J.T.

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 8 – Spotlight on Kevin J. Anderson

Most of you know Kevin J. Anderson’s massive epics. Here is a take you may not yet be familiar with. Larry Correia has this to say about Kevin’s lighter side, “A good detective doesn’t let a little thing like being murdered slow him down, and I got a kick out of Shamble trying to solve a series of oddball cases, including his own. He’s the kind of zombie you want to root for, and his cases are good lighthearted fun.”

For those of my site’s visitors who are unfamiliar with this series’ protagonist, will you tell us something about Dan Shamble?

I’m certainly best known for my big SF and fantasy epics, like the Dune novels with Brian Herbert, my Saga of Seven Suns, my Terra Incognita trilogy, or the big new fantasy, Spine Of The Dragon.

But Dan Shamble is something different entirely: short, funny, even ridiculous comedy mysteries in a world where all the monsters have returned and are just trying to live their everyday lives in the Unnatural Quarter. Dan Chambeaux (everybody mispronounces it “Shamble”) was a human detective working in the quarter, because even vampires, werewolves, and ghosts still have divorces, bankruptcies, business deals that go sour. But he was killed on a case, shot in the back of the head in a dark alley…but in this world, he came back as a zombie. And now he’s back from the dead and back on the case. His first order of business was to solve his own murder (in Death Warmed Over). He has a politically incorrect cop as his Best Human Friend, a beautiful bleeding-heart lawyer as a partner, and a ghost for a girlfriend. They solve crimes with mummies, necromancers, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, and even more unusual suspects.

How did he originally percolate up from the depths of your subconscious mind?

I enjoy zombie movies, and particularly a fan of the Walking Dead…but it’s so grim and horrible. I felt it was time for the zombie equivalent of Spaceballs. Sometimes you just want to be funny, even silly. This is a spoof, filled with all the wonderful clichés of all the monster movies I used to watch. I carved out time in my writing schedule and wrote my first novel in the series, Death Warmed Over, as a complete surprise to my agent, a labor of love. I just published the fifth novel, Tastes Like Chicken, and over a dozen short stories, as well as a crossover comic with Dan Shamble and Kolchak the Night Stalker.

Between 2012 and 2014, you produced four installments. Since then, it’s been just over three years since you turned out the last one. Why the hiatus?

The series was originally published by Kensington Books and they came out without much fanfare, though the fan base steadily built up and I got a lot of fan letters. And besides, they were just so much fun to write. But Kensington decided to discontinue the series after the fourth novel, Slimy Underbelly. In the meantime, I kept writing new Dan Shamble short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies, and I got the rights back to the original first novels. I rereleased them in my own editions through WordFire Press, published the first collection of Shamble short stories, Working Stiff… and I kept promising that I would get around to writing the next novel on my own time. But fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), my own writing schedule was so full of contracted books (which I get paid for), I couldn’t scrounge the time to write a new book that I would publish through WordFire. But the fans kept writing me letters, nagging me, and I finally cleared the decks for three weeks this summer and wrote the whole thing, Tastes Like Chicken.

What is this episode’s premise?

Dan Shamble, zombie P.I., faces his most fowl case yet, when a flock of murderous feral chickens terrorizes the Unnatural Quarter. Also in the caseload, Dan deals with the sinister spokesman for Monster Chow Industries, a spreading contamination that drives vampires berserk, a serial-killer demon from the Fifth Pit of Hell, a black-market blood gang led by the nefarious Ma Hemoglobin, a ghost fighting a hostile takeover of his blood bars… and a cute little vampire girl who may, or may not, be his daughter.

With his ghost girlfriend Sheyenne, his bleeding-heart lawyer partner Robin, and his Best Human Friend Officer Toby McGoohan, Dan Shamble is back from the dead and back on the case. The feathers will fly as he goes face-to-beak with the evil peckers.

How long does it take you to get from Page One to The End when you’re turning one out? I ask, because these are no mere forty thousand word, just-under-the-wire novels. With the exception of the half episodes, each one is a three hundred give-or-take-a-few-pages book.

These are still short novels, 60-80,000 words (my big epics are more like 200,000 words!) Well, they seem quick to me at least. I can do one of the short stories in a day or two. Writing Tastes Like Chicken took me two weeks, and then another three weeks to edit it several times.

Now that you’re releasing Tastes Like Chicken, do you believe we can expect to hear more from Dan in the reasonably near future?

Absolutely. I’m finishing up a new short story right now for Pulphouse magazine, and another new one was just published in Jonathan Maberry’s anthology Hardboiled Horror. I just got the rights from Kensington to do an omnibus edition of books #3 and #4, Hair Raising and Slimy Underbelly. So that book will be called, appropriately, The Hairy Slimy Zomnibus. I will be releasing the second collection of Dan Shamble short stories in November, and I already have the idea outlined for the next novel.

Now, I just have to find the TIME!

Might I ask if something else bizarre is lurking, trying to become the premise for another series?

I just sold Spine Of The Dragon and two more epic fantasies to Tor for another giant series. And I’m working on an idea for another series in the Seven Suns universe, and I just sold a new high-tech thriller Doomsday Cascade with my coauthor Doug Beason… so I have a full plate right now.

Something cool for your readers, though: If you sign up for my KJA readers group (it’s free), I’ll send you a free copy of the Dan Shamble Working Stiff collection, some other free stuff, sneak previews, and updates.

For those of you who are yearning for more, here is an excerpt:

Some monsters are friendly. You learn that while working as a private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter, where you never know what size, shape, species, or temperament your clients might come in.

Some monsters want to live their daily lives without undue hassles, just like anybody else.

Some monsters even eat cookies and are adored by children nationwide.

But some monsters eat people. They’re vicious, violent things that deserve to be called monsters.

The demon Obadeus fit into that last category, without question. And McGoo—Officer Toby McGoohan, beat cop in the Quarter and my best human friend—had tracked Obadeus down before he could murder again. I was along for backup, moral support, and, if necessary, a diversion.

Serial killers are bad enough, but a bloodthirsty demon serial killer, now that’s not a good thing at all. Obadeus’s death toll now stood at nineteen, and since demons can be a little OCD about round numbers, we knew he would strike again just to make it an even twenty.

Fortunately for us, although not for his numerous victims, a monster with so much enthusiasm for killing isn’t very good at covering his tracks. Some supernatural psychologist or monster profiler might speculate that Obadeus wanted to be caught, deep down inside. I had a different theory: he was just too lazy to clean up his messes.

We had tracked the demon down to his lair, which Obadeus called his “man cave.” The place reeked. The walls were decorated with dripping blood and flayed skin or pelts from his victims, both human and unnatural. I didn’t envy the crime-scene cleanup team, or the landlord who would have to make the place ready to rent again, after McGoo and I took care of this creep. At least Obadeus wouldn’t get his cleaning deposit back, so there was some justice in the world.

The big demon bolted from his blood-soaked lair just as we arrived—which was a lucky break, because McGoo and I didn’t exactly know how to arrest a serial-killer demon from the Fifth Pit of Hell. I had no idea where the pits of hell fell, on a scale of one to ten, but pit number five must be a nasty place if it had spawned something like this.

Obadeus was ugly, with a capital U-G-L-Y. He had a leathery hide with knobs, warts, scales, and leprous patches, a face full of spikes and tendrils, triangular pointed ears, and a jaw that extended all the way to the back of his head filled with enough fangs to keep an orthodontist in business for life.

“Ick,” McGoo observed. “He makes vampire bats look cute.”

Whether Obadeus was insulted, or enraged, or just shy, he spread his thorny wings and lurched toward the door of his lair, where the two of us happened to be standing. Letting out a roar that sounded like a cow caught in a barbed-wire fence, Obadeus charged past, knocking both of us aside like bowling pins, and smashed out the door. He ran off into the streets.

“We must be scarier than I thought,” I said as the demon fled. “He could have torn us limb from limb and sipped our entrails through a straw.”

“Law enforcement carries great weight.” McGoo drew his Police Special revolver, and I pulled my .38, which I considered to be just as special, even though it didn’t have the word “Special” in its name. We set off after Obadeus in hot pursuit.

It was the dead of night in the Quarter, which meant the streets were busier than at any time of day. Though the monster’s great wings got in the way as he bounded out among the pedestrians, they also generated a tailwind for him as he flapped them, giving him a boost as he ran.

“Make way!” I shouted. “Killer demon on the loose!”

Readers who are interested can purchase Tastes Like Chicken here (click image):

The Write Stuff – Monday, December 18 – Interview With J. B. Garner

I am closing out the year with WordFire Press author, J. B. Garner. J. B. was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 1, 1976, the youngest of three children. While he was still in his early years, the family moved to Peachtree City, Georgia. His parents always encouraged his creative side and J. B. began writing and drawing from early on. Although considered talented by his teachers, he never fully applied himself and bounced through high school and into college at the Georgia Institute of Technology. During his freshman year, his father died without warning. Grief and lack of purpose caused J. B. to drop out of school. If not for a few close friends, he says, he might have dropped out of life as well. Taken in by his friends and given a second chance, J. B. matured, applied himself, and finally, after over a decade of hard work, is now back to doing what he loves the most: writing.

His varied interests include fantasy, science-fiction, gaming, professional wrestling, and all manner of media consumption. All these interests form the core of his novels, leading to a mix of genres such as superheroes, urban fantasy, steampunk, sports, and litRPG.

Today, we are focusing on his debut novel, Indomitable. J. B. describes it as follows:

Irene Roman never wanted to be a hero. She was a scientist living an otherwise normal life, and that was enough for her. One fateful evening, though, Irene discovers a betrayal that undermines everything—one event that, in the blink of an eye, changes not only her life but the future of the entire planet.

Now the world is inhabited by people with powers and abilities far above those of mortal humans. The repercussions of superhuman battles on the Earth are great and terrible. Lives are shattered, communities destroyed, and mankind’s destiny is plucked from its grasp. At the center of it all is Irene, who not only is one of two people on the planet who knows the cause of this unbelievable change, but she is one of the few people who may be able to stop it. The only problem is the only other person will do anything in his vast power to keep the world in its terrible altered state.
Who dares to claim the right to choose humanity’s fate? What price will Irene pay to be the hero she never wanted to be? In the end, will Earth return to the safety of the mundane … or will it remain in the chaos of the superhuman and the supernatural?

Please tell us more about it.

To get a grasp of The Push Chronicles, imagine what would happen to our nice, normal world if you woke up tomorrow to a world suddenly filled with people possessing superhuman powers and acting like they had stepped off the page of a comic book. Imagine the chaos and destruction that might cause. If you can do that, then imagine if you were the only person in the world who knew how it happened, you believe you know how to fix it, no one believes you, and you were among those who didn’t get a gift of superpowers. What would you do to try to save the world?

That question and how Irene Roman, the protagonist, answers them form the central story of The Push Chronicles. Faced with this monumental event in history, knowing its cause, and feeling in part responsible for it, she is forced to walk among titans, pretending to be one of them with only a few strange quirks of the altered reality around her to aid her quest, and try to convince the world’s new heroes to save the world from themselves.

In essence, it’s a deconstruction, a reconstruction, and a celebration of superhero comics wrapped into one package.

What was its inspiration?

The biggest inspiration for The Push Chronicles was naturally comic books. I’m a long-time fan of the superhero genre, growing up reading comics and still staying connected to them in my adult years. The resurgence of the superhero in movies and television has only rekindled a passion that never left.

The other big inspiration may sound a bit stranger. I’m a big tabletop roleplaying gamer and in my younger days, I was a big fan of the TORG game world from West End Games. It was a setting about alternate realities that were invading Earth, creating areas where reality itself was overwritten and people were altered by it. That idea of how realities could insinuate and take over each other fascinated me.

What other novels have you written?

I’ve written an eclectic variety of other novels, all coming from my wide range of interests and whims. The Songstress Murders is a fantasy-steampunk-LGBT-romance-film-noire-murder mystery. Rune Service is an urban fantasy/comedy that stars a bearded Dwarf lady who works at a convenience store. My other multi-book solo series—my passion project, you could say­—Three Seconds to Legend, is a blending of family drama, martial arts action tropes, a pinch of Greek mythology, and modern pro-wrestling.

What else are you working on?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Rune Service titled Once in a Blue Rune. Yes, all the titles in the series will be puns involving the word “rune”. Rune Service was probably the book I most enjoyed writing and I’m having about as much fun penning the sequel. Hopefully, it will be out before the end of the year.

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

As a full-time writer, I do my best to maintain a ‘traditional’ eight-hour workday. I wake up around eight in the morning, grant myself an hour to wake-up, grab a bite to eat, and get my morning coffee. From there, I try to maintain something a good friend of mine suggested and that’s a 40-20 ratio of work to rest. The fact is that, being self-employed and working from home, distraction abounds. The idea behind the ratio is to keep those distractions at bay by giving into them in a limited, timed fashion.

From there, midday is lunch and as long as I reach my set goals for the day, I usually can start to dial back work by dinnertime. Of course, working with people in other time zones, countries, and work habits means that I might have to talk to someone, look at art, or confab on an edit at all sorts of hours. That potential to lose off-time at any moment is one of the prices you have to pay to be an author.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Yes, well, a vague one. Most will tell you that the two main paths to novel planning are ‘architects’, the folks who write out detailed outlines, and ‘discovery’, the writers who essentially follow their instincts and write as their muses demand. I consider myself something of a hybrid of those two styles.

I like to start with a rough outline, a very general series of points, and some more detailed notes on characters, the world, and especially character motivations. From there, I write in a more ‘discovery’ style, letting events flow organically in the rough outline I have, updating and fleshing out the outline as I discover more things about the characters and their actions. This occasionally leads to some pretty big changes to the outline, but that’s part of the fun for me in writing, finding out those moments where a character shifts the course of the story.

Why do you write?

I need to express myself creatively, I always have. I wrote when I was younger for that reason and I managed to scratch that itch in an imperfect fashion during my adult years through roleplaying, group storytelling in essence. However, none of that has quite compared to the novel writing I have done over the past few years and nothing has satisfied me so much as this.

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

Finishing. They say that everyone has a book in them to tell and that’s not wrong. However, while it’s easy to start writing a novel, almost everyone I know has fragments of an attempt squirreled away somewhere, so few finish. To finish a novel is something worthy of the feeling of achievement it brings, even if you never intend to publish it.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Nope. Though I have worked plenty of different jobs in my time, from factory work to work on construction cranes, my full-time devotion is now writing.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Finishing my first novel. It was the first time I had completed something so, well, big and it helped cement in my mind that I could do this, that I had a real shot at being an honest-to-God author.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

The time in my life when I was so swallowed by self-doubt and depression after my father’s death that I let my relationships with so many friends and family fell apart. While I eventually grew enough as a person to set most of those right, that time still represents lost years, years I could have shared with more people and made their lives and my own better.

Do you have any pet projects?

So, if you haven’t noticed, I’m an avid consumer of all kinds of media, including anime and manga from Japan. That inspired me to start a peculiar little pet project combining my feelings and experiences as both a writer and editor with the “magical girl” genre of anime into a light novel—a form of short novel with added illustrations—focused on a clash between a magically-empowered writer and editor. Yes, it’s strange but it’s still being worked on. Might even be published early next year!

I’d like to thank you, J.B., for taking the time to share with us. Before I present an excerpt from Indomitable, and provide some social and book buy links, I’d like to attempt a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… hobbit. Lives in tight, dark spaces, loves to eat, normally quite friendly, with a hidden reserve of resolve.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Coffee. Well, coffee and a creative outlet.

The one thing I would change about my life: Exercise. I would have never have stopped being active after my life of factory work.

My biggest peeve is: Nitpickers. Can’t stand ’em.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: My big brother.

Indomitable excerpt:

“Who the hell are you?”

I couldn’t blame the officer for his attitude. His partner was gushing blood, he was pinned down by an apparently homicidal superhuman, and some crazy woman in a motorcycle suit and a mask came sliding in out of nowhere. It didn’t help that I had Rachel yelling in my ear, wondering if I had been shot. Frankly, I was shocked that the police hadn’t started shooting anyone in a mask on sight, just to be safe.

“Look, officer,” I said, raising my hands, still on my back, “I know you have no reason to trust me but I’m here to help.” It was obvious this man had seen plenty of action and frankly didn’t look impressed. “Do you have a choice right now? We can both be pretty sure you don’t have backup coming and the only way your friend is going to make it is if you can get her to a hospital.”

“I can’t leave these people to get picked off by some maniac up there. At least now he’s—” the officer, Officer McDaniels from his name tag, was interrupted as another projectile ripped through the top corner of the police cruiser’s top “—shooting at us instead of those folks over yonder.” At this rate, there wouldn’t be a car that could drive anyone anywhere in a few more moments.

I took a deep breath and looked McDaniels in the eye. “Okay, how about this? I’m going to go out there. If he shoots twice in a row at me and I’m not dead, will you take that as a sign that I can keep him from killing anyone else long enough for you to save this woman’s life?”

I could tell that she was fortunate to be holding on as it was. She must have only been nicked by whatever this crazy was throwing down at us and, even then, it had torn a horrific wound through her side.

McDaniels looked torn for a long second before he spoke. “Deal.” I took one last fortifying breath and started to stand. “You’re crazy but, still, good luck, lady.”

I nodded and rose to my full height, reminding myself that no matter what this Pushed guy was doing, it wasn’t entirely real. The real world didn’t have people flying or throwing jets or made of fire. That’s when I felt the impact into my right shoulder.

The pain radiated out along my nervous system like wildfire and, snap, just like in the office and the graveyard, my mind and body hit that zone. Time, at least my perception of it, slowed, pain became simply a series of indicators instead of crippling agony, and every muscle in my body was primed and ready.

Even so, whatever hit me was forceful enough to send my unbraced body into a twisting spiral, flung off my feet. I landed in a heap on the pavement but I was already in motion, pushing myself back up a split-second after I hit. As I reoriented, testing my arm as I moved, I could see McDaniel staring at me with his mouth agape.

There was something lodged in my shoulder but a glance told me it was only a sharp shard of rock, no more than two inches long. It would be messy to clean and probably bleed horribly later, but at the moment, the rock itself was jammed in so good it was staunching the bleeding. Nothing I couldn’t handle, not in this state I was in.

Without realizing it, I had been counting the time between shots. That subconscious count informed me that the sniper hadn’t shot any faster than once every twenty seconds. As I pushed off into a full sprint, I figured it was theoretically possible I could make it to the building before he shot one of those rocks into my skull, not that I would let that stop me.

I had only one thought, one focus right now, to stop this man before anyone else died. I ate pavement in rapid strides. Exactly at twenty seconds, another sonic boom shattered the last remaining windows in the apartment building as a street light to my left was blown neatly in half. I hit the front doors, now just metal frames with a few hanging shards of jagged glass, and burst into the front lobby.

If you would like to follow J. B. online, you may do so here:


Twitter: @JBGarner_Writes


You may purchase his books at these locations:






The Write Stuff – Monday, December 4 – Interview With Bill Ransom

This week’s featured author, Bill Ransom, is a writer who, after modest but solid literary beginnings, has had varied, impressive achievements.

His first publication was a short story in a literary magazine; the second was a poem in a different literary magazine. He studied American Minority Literature and Old and Middle English for two years on an NDEA Title IV fellowship at the University of Nevada, Reno. Poetry publications in literary magazines and anthologies led to participation in an NEA pilot project with the Poetry in the Schools program in Washington State. His first poetry collection, Finding True North & Critter, was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Bill received an MA from Utah State University—27 years and six books later—in Theory and Practice of Writing with minor in Folklore, specifically Folk Medicine. He founded and directed the popular Port Townsend Writers’ Conference for Centrum, an arts foundation in Port Townsend, Washington, now entering its 45th summer. He appeared in An Officer and a Gentleman and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (Robert Altman, CBS). Through his friendship with Frank Herbert, he co-authored the trilogy now known as The Pandora Sequence, also available from WordFire press individually as The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect, and The Ascension Factor.

Learning the Ropes (Utah State University Press), a hybrid collection of poetry, short fiction and essays, was billed as “a creative autobiography.” Three of his short stories from this collection were selected for the PEN/NEA Syndicated Fiction Project, often called The Pulitzer Prize of the Short Story: “Uncle Hungry,” “What Elena Said” and “Learning the Ropes.” These appeared in the Sunday magazine editions of major newspapers around the country with a circulation of ten million. Blue Begonia Press published The Woman and the War Baby, another hybrid (multi-genre) collection dealing with multi-generational war experiences.

Bill received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, one in poetry, one in fiction, and residencies at Centrum, an arts foundation in Port Townsend, WA. WordFire Press e‑published the Pandora books and his solo novels Jaguar, ViraVax and Burn. Most recently, in October of this year, WordFire re-released these three novels as trade paperbacks.

When I asked him about his chosen genre, Bill replied, “I’ve never made up my mind about any species of writing.”

Today, we are focusing our attention on Jaguar. Reviewers have had this to say:

“A helluva good book.”—Science Fiction Review.

Jaguar is a psychodrama with the emphasis on story and characterization, not effects… Ransom, best known for his collaborations with the late Frank Herbert, has written an intense and intriguing tale that will keep you riveted to the pages.”—Jeff Scott Smith, Rave Reviews

“A tense thriller…recommended.” –Booklist

“A helluva good book!” –John Dalmas, Science Fiction Review

“Every page of Jaguar is a cliffhanger!” –Sandra Morgan, Fiction Forest

“A powerful, scary tale of the dark side of the human mind.” –Jane Toombs, Scribes World (5-star)

Amazon describes the book’s premise this way:

In waking life, he is a combat vet with a mysterious sleep disorder, confined to a VA hospital bed. When he sleeps, he roams the plains of another world, invading the minds of the people as they dream and forcing them to do his will. They call him . . . Jaguar.

In both worlds, there are those who know the Jaguar’s secret. They are learning to link their minds across the void between worlds, following the dreampaths the Jaguar created—all the way back to where his body lies helpless . . . an easy target for their justice.

Please tell us more about it.

Jaguar is actually a re-release that came out first as an Ace mass market paperback in 1990 and remained in print for two decades. Kevin and Rebecca resurrected it first as an e-book, following the release of the Herbert/Ransom The Pandora Sequence, and then as a trade paper edition in September, ’17 with a new, gorgeous cover.

What was its inspiration?

The earthquake in Puyallup, Washington in April of 1949 was half of the inspiration. My volunteer work as a medic and firefighter training instructor in the Guatemalan civil war was the other half. I was four, on a sidewalk taking apart a broken clock my grandfather had given me to get me out of his way. My cousin was playing with chalk. Suddenly, nightcrawlers came out of the ground and into the lawn. My grandfather usually got them to come out at night by putting a bare electrical cord into the ground with two nails, but this time Grandpa was back in his saw-filing shop. Then the sidewalk rose up and shook itself out like a blanket, and the power poles started coming down, and adults went crazy. I got home from a particularly tough stretch in Guatemala one night in the early ’80s, couldn’t sleep, and decided to write my daughter something of a memoir. When I got to the nightcrawlers, suddenly they were foot-long bugs with nearly two-foot wings (set of 4), like flying ants (termites, with those yellow bellies) that come out every August, only much, much bigger. The story started to unfold from there and I never got back to the real memoir.

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

I wrote it during the time that Frank Herbert and I were working on the Pandora stories, and my challenge was to stop worrying about what critics would say after my work with Frank, comparing me with Frank. Frank’s advice: “Worrying what other people might say before you’ve written the book never filled a blank page. And afterwards? Never read reviews.”

What other novels have you written?

ViraVax and Burn, both manmade viral catastrophe stories perpetrated by the “Children of Eden”, a fundamentalist religious group determined to return the Earth to its original, Eden-like state. Minus those pesky other religions, in the process. The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect and The Ascension Factor were co-authored with Frank Herbert. I ghost-wrote the originating story, “Songs of a Sentient Flute,” for Frank—details of how that transpired and how it became The Pandora Sequence are revealed in the three-novel omnibus edition from WordFire Press: The Pandora Sequence.

What else are you working on?

One genre novel, one mainstream novel and a long and increasingly longer sequence of short fiction.

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

Mornings, feed cats, coffee, no conversation, no music with lyrics, phone and internet off. Closing on the end of a novel, the last few weeks are write, coffee, toast, nap; repeat; repeat with shower; repeat, etc.

Tell us about your path to publication.

Literary magazines for short fiction and poetry. Poetry happened to get popular.

Do you create an outline before you write?

No. That’s what rewriting is for. I don’t worry about writing in order because I know I’ll put it in order later. Usually taking off from some real incident that then gets the “what if” treatment, as in the nightcrawler example above.

Why do you write?

I like having written, as I liked breaking records in track—the grind to or to train is not always fun, often painful. After a few delicious moments of having written comes the ominous question of “what now?” and that inevitable blank page.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I worry very little about first draft, and I very much enjoy revising, especially at the sentence level.

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

Intrusion by the rest of the world. Saying “no” to friends, family and fun gets old. By the time you’re finished and are looking for human contact, they’re long gone. Ditto relationships—people can tolerate abuse, but not being ignored.

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

I write multiple point-of-view novels, which expects a different kind of attention from readers than a straightforward narration. No witness in court sees “the truth,” but taken collectively, witnesses can reveal “a more complete truth” to jurors. Multiple point-of-view allows that.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I retired as a Dean of Curriculum at The Evergreen State College about six years ago. I still do work, but I hope never to have a “job” again.

What motivates or inspires you?

Acts of kindness and compassion, perhaps coming from my medic background, touch me mightily. Oblivious is easy, and all too prevalent.

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

I hope to be an example of courage and determination for my three grandchildren. Moving on to something new helps—building, gardening, travel.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Getting several children out of grave danger; resuscitating three infants and numerous old people.

Do you have any pet projects?

Currently assisting daughter and her husband in building a home on some property we have in common. Framing is my contribution.

What has been your greatest inspiration?

Hyphenated-American writers now offer us readers our greatest literary riches.

Thanks, Bill, for taking time to share with us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Jaguar and links where they can purchase it and follow you online, I’d like to conclude with a brief Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m sarcastic, beware.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Well, air first, then….

The one thing I would change about my life: Never have to go before audiences again.

My biggest peeve is: All genres are not equally respected by writers in other genres. And what’s a non-genre writer, anyway? “Mainstream?” “Literary?” “Important?” There you have it.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: I love my daughter a lot.


Jaguar excerpt:

When the rolling stopped, Rafferty woke up squashed in place with the blanket over his head. He was pinned so tight his chest and back felt like they met. He could move his left arm and his head.

He worked the blanket across his face and saw that he was lying on the ceiling of the car. His head was lower than the rest of him and the back seat had popped out to wedge him in. Gurgles and gasps came from the front seat. He called out but the noises only came farther apart and finally stopped. The roof of the car beneath him was littered with shards of broken glass, incense butts and pink plastic hair curlers.

Rafferty could hardly breathe with the seat jamming him in so tight. He tried to shove it away but it wouldn’t budge. He panted tiny, burning breaths from the effort and a lot of small black spots in front of his eyes melted into one big one. He wasn’t really asleep, he hadn’t caught his breath yet, but he knew he wasn’t getting out of there.

When he knew he couldn’t get out he had to go to the bathroom. He beat on the back of the seat but that made the spots come back so he started crying but that hurt, too. Outside, the familiar rasp and tick of those bright bugs played against the metal of the car. By the time Rafferty had wet himself, the inside of the car was crawling with them. They didn’t bite or sting, they just crawled over him with their stickery feet.

He was wedged inside there with them for three nights before he ate the first one. It wouldn’t get out of his face and he could barely bat it away. He caught the bug by the root of its wings with his free hand, shook it once and popped it into his mouth. His lips were cracked, his tongue and throat swelled dry from thirst.

What happened between Rafferty and the bug was purely some kind of reflex, Uncle explained that later. Rafferty kept hold of the wings and spat out the legs because they were long and skinny and they stuck in his throat. He lost count of the nights after that, and thought of the rest of the bugs that he ate as corn-dogs. A scattering of wings and legs tilted in the wind under his head, little bronze-petalled flowers with dark brown stalks. He learned not to smell the incredible stench that rolled in from the front seat, and he learned to live with the mice.

Rafferty slept with the scuttle of feet across his face, learned that crying only made his throat worse, learned that sometimes there was no border between waking and dreams.

He woke up crying in one dream because the boy in his dream was crying. Rafferty watched him climb up and down a ladder outside a ratty-looking building with vines choking its sides. In another dream, the boy called his name, and it was so clear that Rafferty woke up with a start and said, “Here. I’m here.” His voice was raspy and sore in his throat from his crying.

He had a lot of dreams, but they were strange and felt like they belonged to somebody else. He always woke up exhausted, with a pounding headache and he would sleep then without dreaming for awhile.

Out of a dream of drinking from the well behind the dream boy’s grandparents’ house, Rafferty heard the heavy crunch of footsteps and the clatter of gravel against the side of the car.

“Verna!” a hoarse voice shouted, a male voice. “Verna?”

Someone pulled glass out of one of the windows in front.

“Oh, no,” the voice whispered. Then it coughed a couple of times, and gagged.

When the man sat down outside the car and slumped against it, Rafferty listened to everything as though he perched on a tree limb above the whole broken scene.

Rafferty knew this: if he didn’t speak, the man would leave and he would die there. He knew that without knowing much about death except for the brittle creatures that he snatched from the seat-back and stuffed into his mouth. That, and what his senses told him about Verna in the front seat.

He remembered he wanted to say, “Thirsty,” but what his throat managed to hiss out was, “Hungry.” The word sounded like the struggle of dry wings against steel. He repeated it, louder.


 You can purchase Bill’s books here:

His Facebook link is:

The Write Stuff – Monday, November 20 – Interview With Bryan Thomas Schmidt

This week’s guest, Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. Especially known for his knowledge and passion for space opera, his debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online and include entries in The X-Files, Predator, Joe Ledger, Monster Hunter International, and Decipher’s WARS, among others. As book editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s WordFire Press he has edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir’s bestseller The Martian. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games, Little Green Men–Attack! with Robin Wayne Bailey, and The Monster Hunter Tales with Larry Correia all for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for various small presses and Joe Ledger: Unstoppable with Jonathan Maberry for St. Martin’s Press.

Today, we are discussing his most recent release, The Exodus (Saga of Davi Rhii Book 3), the concluding volume in his epic space opera trilogy published by WordFire Press this September. It is described as follows:

The tyrant Xalivar is dead, and yet the Vertullians are weary of the persecution against their people. They have decided to leave the Borali System and start over somewhere else. But the attacks begin again, first by space pirates, and then by something more. When large numbers of officers from the Borali Alliance military disappear, High Lord Councilor Tarkanius is forced to ally with Davi Rhii and the Vertullian leaders. Once again, they have to face a threat that might destroy them all. Can ancient enemies ever live in peace?

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

The small press that published the first two books went out of business shortly after launching the second book, which had little press and success compared to the first. It had been several years since I wrote either so I had to go reread, and, in the process, decided my writing level had advanced enough that both needed revisiting and revising in order to match whatever I would write as the final novel. I did new passes on both, involving revision on The Worker Prince and major replotting and revision on The Returning, book 2, and then wrote this one, so it was a bit more involved of a process than just one book.

What other novels have you written?

Two unpublished epic fantasies and a near future police procedural which is being marketed by my agent. I have several others in proposal and development stages as well.

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

Mornings and late nights are for writing. Mid-day to afternoon are for editing and PR stuff. Meals in between as well as emails and social media. Rinse and repeat.

Do you create an outline before you write?

It depends. For the first book, usually not, unless it is required, such as with a tie-in novel or story. With original pieces, usually I outline a few scenes ahead and keep in the back of my mind key scenes and turning points as well as character arcs.

Why do you write?

I can’t not write. I have stories to tell, things to sell.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

My skills, knowledge, and interests certainly have as well as my knowledge of genre and storytelling tropes and types. Beyond that boring answer, I do less drafts as I incorporate from draft one many elements I used to have to go back and work on individually, and as a result, writing is easier and more fun and satisfying from the start than it often was in the beginning, of course, back then I didn’t know how bad my prose was…so maybe that is just my bias at looking back.

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

Finishing. It is great to think it up, start it. But seeing it through is most important. Finishing that first draft. Until you have that foundation, nothing else can happen. It is key. The foundation for everything else.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I am a full time freelance editor of anthologies, novels, and short fiction.

What motivates or inspires you?

Injustice in the name of justice. We have too much of that now. Tolerance is worth nothing if it only applies to you, and there has to be a give and take to living together that gets lost in the shuffle a lot these days. I think we need to work on that to salvage our sense of community and belonging to and with each other. A lot of my stories revolve around those ideas.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Founding a non-profit and leading leadership training teams in Ghana, Brazil, Mexico and more. Then writing and editing novels and anthologies in collaboration with some of the writing heroes who inspired me growing up.

Thanks, Bryan, for taking time to share with us. Before I show our visitors a sample from The Exodus, as well as your online social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a … Stubborn, determined bastard.

The one thing I cannot do without is: My dogs. They are my loves.

The one thing I would change about my life: I would start earlier with my creative focus. Because I am still struggling to build audience and financial stability after 8 years and it would be nice to be a bit further along in some ways.

My biggest peeve is: People who assume things about you off one sentence or two without taking time to find out the truth.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My latest project, whatever that is at the moment.

The Exodus

The Xanthian’s fist struck Farien’s jaw like a hammer, twisting his head back and to the right as he shifted his body to cushion the blow, then launched a strike of his own. The Xanthian merely chortled at the weak effort, and Farien wondered how his team had gotten off mission so fast.

“I don’t think this is what Lord Aron had in mind when he sent us to locate supplies,” Tela muttered from beside him as she ducked the swinging arm of the Xanthian’s companion, a Tertullian pilot who looked alarmingly like a steroid-enhanced version of Farien’s old friend, Yao.

Farien winced at the memory, but he knew she was right. It was the first combat any of them had seen since the engagement off Tertullis six months before. At least then they’d been in fighters, not face to face with their enemy. “Let’s just wrap this up before Matheu gets back, all right?” he replied.

He spotted his pilots—Virun, Jorek, Os and Ria—squaring off against other bar patrons nearby and wondered why he’d been so quick to jump in and try to save their asses. After all, they’d started this foolishness.

“He insulted Ria,” Os had claimed, when Farien and Tela came running at the sound of the commotion.

“I can take care of myself,” Ria had growled back, sending a Xanthian flying with a punch from her fist. Her foe flew across the bar top, shattering glass as various liquors splattered then pooled out in her path from their broken containers. Patrons scattered.

The two young pilots had just joined them, and to Tela they looked like kids. Inseparable, Os was blond, bulky, chubby, and short, while Ria was tall and thin, with dark red hair stretching halfway down her back making her appear far more feminine and frail than anyone who dared tangle with her would discover. Their flying skills rivaled anyone else in the squadron and their fierce loyalty to and competitiveness with each other drove them to excel far more than Farien’s orders ever would.

The dimly lit bar was crowded and the raging techno music had cut off mid-chorus when the fight broke out. Now groups of patrons lined the bland, wooden walls, making bets as they cheered on various participants, like gamblers choosing their champions at an Old Earth cockfight. The bartender and waitresses also stood in a group, watching with dismay as their workplace became a shambles. Other than smashed tables and chairs, broken glass and spilled drinks, Farien barely noticed a difference. With its creaky worn floor and unpainted, undecorated wood-slate walls, the bar had been nothing to brag about from the beginning, but still, shack or not, some people did come to consider their workplaces like second homes.

“Do you think they’ll make us pay for this?” Farien wondered again to Tela, as they stood back to back, preparing to repel yet another attack from the Xanthian brute and his Tertullian sidekick.

“They started it,” Tela answered as she planted a foot and reared back with her fist, launching it toward the Tertullian.

Farien echoed the move and both struck their opponents at the same moment to little effect. “If we don’t find a way to finish it, none of that will matter. What are these guys made of?”

“Your nightmares,” the Tertullian said with a laugh as he and the Xanthian swung their own fists, and Tela and Farien bowed and ducked, trying to avoid them. Pain shot through Farien’s right shoulder as the Xanthian’s fist grazed him, but Tela swung clear, untouched yet again.

“For a woman, you’re way too good at this,” Farien muttered.

“What? Women can’t fight?” Tela laughed. “You’re starting to sound like Davi.”

Actually, it had been a misunderstanding that caused a deep tension between Tela and her fiancé for several months, but they’d worked it out. “I thought you’d settled that,” Farien replied as the Xanthian rushed forward and got him in a choke hold. The brute dragged Farien backwards on his feet as he punched him in the lower back from behind.

“Feel free to prove it on this big guy,” Farien choked out as he struggled to free himself.

“You’d rather fight the one that looks like Yao then?” Tela asked as she and the Tertullian circled, each trying to anticipate the other’s next move.

“I was trying to take it easy on you,” Farien said again as his hands pulled at the Xanthian’s sweaty bluish-gray skinned arm and his back raged with pain from the continuing blows. “These guys don’t fight fair.”


Those of you who would like to learn more about Bryan, can do so here:

Twitter:                      @BryanThomasS

You may purchase The Exodus here:


The Write Stuff – Monday, July 17 – Interview With Ryan English

Ryan English is an author of fantasy who was published just last month by WordFire Press. Although his debut novel, Obstacles, has been out for less than one month as of this writing, it has already earned seven five-star reviews on Amazon. When I asked him to describe himself as an author, he told me, “I write fantasy exclusively. I read The Hobbit when I was 7, and childhood exposure is often incurable. I’ve got a BA in English (useless) and an MA in Political Science (mostly useless), and I work in IT. I live in Brigham City, UT, and dream fondly of San Antonio, TX, where I lived while attending grad school.”

Ryan describes his novel this way:

Androkles, son of Paramonos, spent twenty-five years in the world’s greatest army trying to earn enough money to buy back his good name. He’s battle-scarred, weary, and heartbroken after decades of watching dear friends die, but he survived. He’s ready to retire and be welcomed as a hero, finally able to see the reward he sacrificed so much to achieve.

There’s only one problem: his wife just fled civilization with all his hard-won savings. Now he must pursue her north, through desperate bandits, ravening beasts, and worse. But after he rescues a pair of orphans from starvation, he is faced with his most difficult challenge yet: a question that goes to the very heart of honor. The consequences might be deeper than he realizes, and it’s not just his life on the line…

Will you please tell us something more about the book?

Obstacles is a fantasy novel of just under 300 pages. It stands alone as a single book, but was intended to introduce a series. It features Androkles, a Greek-inspired soldier, wandering into a Basque-inspired region of pre-Christian Europe. I draw heavily on themes of honor and family, and although my hero is 40, it’s an “adolescent travel fiction” novel in a lot of ways. It’s about a man trying to go somewhere, and all the things that get in his way.

This is not your typical fantasy plot line. Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I’ve had a hobbyist fascination with ancient Greece for a while now, and when I start the novel I decided 340 BC was a more interesting setting to me than medieval Europe. Instead of just making a generic Greek thing, however, I took some liberties with the setting and added some ideas I stole from Japan, like people with cat ears and the fairy Puck from the manga Berserk. It’s got a sort of stone soup thing going on, if you know what I mean.

One thing I was really interested in while I wrote it was exploring alternate systems of morality. How do you take someone seeped in the old heroic ethic of Homer, and make him relatable and interesting to a modern audience? What would some of those ideas really have looked like in practice? One of the big conflicts of the novel is between “what you know in your head you should do” and “what you know in your heart you really want”. Homer didn’t think the heart was the source of personal truth. Rather, emotion can lead a person to act wrongly against his better judgment. Morality in ancient Greece was largely trying to find the right balance between one’s obligations to family, society, and the gods.

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

My challenges were largely related to the fact that it was my first novel and I barely knew what I was doing. Although the final edit reads like I did it all on purpose, smoothly and deliberately, I had a lot to learn about writing emotion into a scene, and describing things adequately. It took a lot of editing to make sure that the characters all came through how I wanted, and to make sure that there’s enough tension there to keep readers flipping pages in between the “exciting” parts. On, I think, my first serious edit, I went through with the intention of cutting all the unnecessary or uninteresting bits, and ended up added 10,000 words to the length. Each successive edit grew the novel a bit more, as I’d keep finding places where I wasn’t happy with how the characters were coming through and have to add a sentence or two.

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

When I wrote it, I had just been laid off after having an IT contract end early, and I spent most of the day in front of the computer. I’d write for as long as I could, play some video games, and come back to it an hour or so later. Nowadays, I try to do my writing in a big chunk of time instead of bits here and there throughout the week, because it takes me a while to warm up. I’m like a diesel engine in that way, I suppose.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I’ve been in a writer’s group with a good friend named John D. Payne for years, and after I wrote the book he convinced me to come to the Superstars Writing Seminar. I can’t recommend it highly enough, because it’s a business seminar, not a craft one. You learn about contracts, agents, marketing, and all that. But anyway, he not only made me attend, but he made me pitch it to the acquisitions editor for Wordfire. I wasn’t that confident about it at the time, but he was persistent. It’s safe to say that the person most responsible for the book’s existence is John D. Payne. Other than me who wrote it, I suppose.

Why do you write?

I have a pretty active imagination. I’ll get lost in some vivid daydream world and be deeply moved by the imaginary things that happen there. I then try to recreate some small aspect of that through writing, and never pull it off.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

In my writer’s group, we focus on the craft of writing from an almost academic viewpoint. The question is never ‘what kind of story should I tell’, it’s ‘how do I most effectively tell my story’. I’ve learned that ideas are cheap and no one cares about your crappy plot. You have to make them care with good writing, from the sentence level to the structure of the whole novel. Honing this skill is a lifelong commitment. Approaching it with that view has made helped me become a much more effective writer than focusing on having the coolest ideas.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I’m not married, but it’s been fun watching my little niblings (that’s a word, go look it up) learn how to have a body and interact with the world and society. Having them around makes me deeply aware of the web of life, by which I mean how we place and understand ourselves in relation to others, and their effect on us. This is one reason why, I think, children figure so prominently in the novel. It’s simply alien to me to imagine a world in which they aren’t around, or in which they don’t act like children. I feel this is one shortcoming of modern fantasy—seldom does a book present what I think of as an integrated person. We’re still doing the adolescent travel fiction thing. We have lots of books about noble, heroic young men running around doing exciting things, but we neglect the deepest and most important motivation in a man’s life: his family.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Either writing this book, or getting my MA in Political Science. Those may not be much, but they’re mine.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

Making it to age 35 without getting married.

Considering how half of all marriages end up, that’s not much as far as failures go. Moving on, do you have any pet projects?

I’ve got a long list of stuff I’d like to do, and some of it I’ve even tried. I play several different weird flutes, for example, and I’m going to start learning Greek one of these days. I’ve always got something going, and usually it doesn’t go anywhere. I sometimes wonder if I’m more interested in learning about doing a thing than actually doing the thing. Once I learn how you learn to do a thing, then I don’t really have to master it anymore.

Thanks, Ryan, for taking time out of your day to share with us. Before I present our readers with an excerpt from Obstacles, I’d like to indulge in a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… somewhat tolerable houseguest.

The one thing I cannot do without is: an argument

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d get married

My biggest peeve is: slow drivers in the fast lane

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: I’m never quite satisfied. There’s always more to learn.

Obstacles excerpt:

Looking over toward the fire, Androkles noticed that the kits surreptitiously watched the proceedings. The talking must have woken them again, after only a few minutes of rest. How would they feel, to be listening to this? Not that he cared much, he reminded himself.

“You said what I look like to you, so let me tell you what you look like to me. I thought it was a bit strange you dress like a guard, but that was fine. You had a good explanation. But it was strange that you took so long to find things in your cart, like it was the first time you inspected it. I bet you haven’t found the silver yet, have you? You don’t know where it is,” said Androkles, loud enough for the boys to hear, “because you are bandits and you stole the cart.” Then he gave Theodoric his best intimidating stare, which was a pretty good one. They had no reply.

Androkles stood with a wince as he straightened his back and legs. Even though he stood quite a bit taller than any of them except Tulga, to their credit they didn’t flinch. “You have to be kidding me,” he said to the sky. “I’ve got things to do. First the kits, and now this. The gods are bastards. You know that, Theodoric? The gods are bastards.”

Androkles made a show of stretching his arms and legs, flexing. Then he declared, loud enough to make sure they all heard every word, “I’m not going to sell you the boys because you stole that cart and probably killed the merchant who owned it. It’s my duty as a just man to kill you all, actually, so here’s my deal: You’re going to give me whatever supplies I want for free and leave me and the kits here. You won’t tell anyone about us. You’ll say nothing about slaves or runaways or anything of the sort. In return, I won’t kill you and hang your corpses for a warning. Sound like a deal?”

Someone snorted behind Androkles. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the three guards stood with maces ready, several paces away.

Theodoric said, “We seem to be at an impasse. I have no doubt we can kill you—no doubt at all—but there’s a chance you’ll take one of us with you. Is the money you’re going to get from those kits worth dying over?”

Androkles said, “I’m not giving anything to thieving trash like you. And they’re not even really for sale. I’m either going to find their parents, or some other good home, and not give them to slavers or rogues.” He surprised himself a bit with that, but as soon as he said it, he knew it was right. He was obligated now, and that was that. The kits were staring right at him, their intense golden eyes bright in the morning light. He sighed in mild frustration that he didn’t truly feel.

“We’re not as bad as you think, southerner. We might be bandits for now, but it’s not like …” said Pansy, but she was interrupted by Androkles.

“You’re every bit as bad. Tell me, did you stab your master in his sleep, or was he awake for it? I’m curious.”

Theodoric readied his mace and shield and said, “This is getting absurd. Let’s just kill him like we should have in the first place.”

Those of you who would like to take the plunge and dive into this story should click on:


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:




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:


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?


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.


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.


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