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.

“Hungry.”

 You can purchase Bill’s books here:

https://www.amazon.com/

His Facebook link is:

https://sites.google.com/site/billransomauthor/

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:

Website/Blog:         www.bryanthomasschmidt.net
Twitter:                      @BryanThomasS
Facebook:                  https://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass
Goodreads:               https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3874125.Bryan_Thomas_Schmidt

You may purchase The Exodus here:

https://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Saga-Davi-Rhii/dp/1614755582/

https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-exodus-bryan-thomas-schmidt/1127080518

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/747162

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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:

https://www.amazon.com/Obstacles-Acts-Androkles-Book-1-ebook/dp/B072JX2PTK/

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

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

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

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

What can you tell us about Clouds?

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

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

What was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else are you working on?

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

Tell us about your path to publication.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your job at Baen Books.

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

Do you have any pet projects?

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: Oxygen.

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

My biggest peeve is: Rudeness.

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

 

Walking on the Sea of Clouds excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Visitors can follow Gray Rinehart at the following links:

Website:         graymanwrites.com

Blog:               graymanwrites.com/blog/

Facebook:      facebook.com/gray.rinehart

Twitter:          @grayrinehart

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

 

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

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

Lou describes Club Anyone this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the inspiration behind it?

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

“I am?”

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

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

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

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

“Honey I’m going to write a novel!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else are you working on?

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

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

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

Do you create an outline before you write?

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

What drives you to write?

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

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have another job outside of writing?

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

Would you care to share something about your home life?

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

What has been your greatest success in life?

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

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: Books

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

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

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

 

Club Anyone excerpt:

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

Shit!

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

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

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

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

Found it.

“Code 7, Code 7!”

And the office exploded—into stillness.

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

I followed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible.

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

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

But too little, too late.

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

The only question now was how many people would die?

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

Something was.

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

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

 

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

You can follow Lou online at:

Facebook:       www.facebook.com/agrestasaurus

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

Twitter:          @agrestasaurus

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent release.

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

What was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

What other novels have you written?

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

What else are you working on?

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

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

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

Do you create an outline before you write? 

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

Why do you write?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any pet projects?

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir, that’s him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Website:         www.davidboop.com

Facebook:      www.facebook.com/dboop.updates

Twitter:          @david_boop

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

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

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

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

WordFire Press describes City of Angels this way:

DO YOU BELIEVE IN ANGELS?

DO YOU BELIEVE IN NANOTECH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another surprise!

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: Coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC

May 27th, D-Day: -271

05:23 EDT UTC-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just my job, Jonesy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia ignored him, starting up her morning routines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Georgia,” a gruff voice spoke beside her.

“Morning, Chief.”

“How are our friends in Rome?”

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

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

“Did you get his prints?”

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

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

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

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

Sam Bennett motioned for her to continue.

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

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

p n p

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where?”

“Los Angeles.”

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

“And?”

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

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

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

“Nanobots?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, can I call him?”

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

The Write Stuff – Monday, April 10 – Interview With Doug Dandridge

WordFire Press is noted for taking on prolific and widely read authors. This week’s guest, Doug Dandridge, is exemplary of their decisions. Doug had been writing since 1997, and had garnered almost three hundred rejections from publishers and magazines before trying his hand at self-publishing on December 31, 2011. A little over a year later he quit his day job with the State of Florida, and has been a full-time author ever since. Doug has published thirty-two books on Amazon, science fiction, fantasy, steam punk and one nonfiction about self-publishing, and has sold over two hundred thousand copies of his work. His Exodus books, with twelve volumes in the main series, plus five in the two spinoff series, have sold over a hundred and seventy thousand books. They have consistently hit the top five in Space Opera in the UK, as well as top ten status in the US. Doug likes to say that he does not write great literature, but entertainment, and his fans agree enough to keep buying his work. He has well over three thousand reviews on both Amazon (4.6 star average) and Goodreads (4.12 star average).

Doug attended Florida State University (BS, Psychology) and the University of Alabama (MA, Clinical Psychology). He served four years in the Army as an Infantryman and Senior Custodial Agent, followed up with two years in the National Guard. A lifelong reader of the fantastic, he had an early love for the classics of science fiction and fantasy, including HG Wells, Jules Verne and the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He writes fast moving, technically complex novels which appeal to a hardcore fan base. He has plans for several future series, including several space operas, a couple of classic fantasies, some alternate history, and even a post-apocalyptic tale. He puts out about five books a year, and still has time to attend several conventions, including Dragon Con and Liberty Con. This year he added board member of Tallahassee Writers Association to his resumé.

He describes the most recent contribution to his space opera catalogue, Exodus: Empires at War: Book 12: Time Strike, as follows:

The New Terran Empire is still trying to recover from the Ca’cadasan strike that left over three hundred million dead and ripped the heart out of the ship production of Central Docks. The Donut, the huge station in orbit around the supersystem black hole, was almost destroyed in that strike, and its defenses have been strengthened considerably. That Caca strike didn’t do all they had wanted, but it had hurt the Empire’s war making capabilities.

The Ca’cadasans are at it again, with a two-pronged attack on the Empire. Sean has to decide, and quickly, how his fleet is to counter this move. The fleet, short of resources, could use the almost thousand ships destroyed and damaged in the enemy strike. And Sean would give his soul to get his heir, killed in the Caca strike, back. The lure of changing time, something he learns is very possible, beckons. Despite the warning that time travel was the undoing of the Ancients who had once ruled his sector of space.

But the Ancients are not extinct, and they will do whatever they can to prevent the humans from disrupting the time stream and destroying their own race. Even if it means destroying the one weapon the humans have that might win their war of extermination against the Ca’cadasan Empire. They will try to prevent the Time Strike with their last resources, with their lives.

Please tell us about this one.

Exodus: Empires at War: Book 12: Time Strike is the twelfth book (as per the title) in the main Exodus series. The series is about a war of extermination between two enormous empires spanning thousands of star systems and tens of thousands of light years. In book eleven the Ca’cadasans (the bad guys) had hit the capital of the empire and killed over three hundred million citizens. The emperor has decided to use his empire’s wormhole technology to change the timeline so that the strike didn’t happen, despite the many warnings about trying to change time.

What was the inspiration behind it?

I have always had a problem with the paradoxes of time travel. In another series, I dealt with time travel by having some unknown power in the universe snuff out the offenders before the changes can take place. I had hinted about time travel throughout the series, and decided now was the time to tackle it.

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

I have tried to keep the Exodus series fresh from book to book, changing tech, throwing in tactical innovations. That has become more difficult as the series has advanced. I also have a desire to get on to other projects, and keep getting sidetracked by research and development. Still, I kept slogging through, and I am now almost finished.

How many other novels have you written?

Thirty-one. The Hunger (vampire novel), Daemon (steampunk fantasy), Aura (fantasy), Refuge (five book fantasy/technothriller series), Exodus: Empires at War series, Exodus: Machine War series, Exodus: Tales of the Empire series, The Scorpion (near future scifi), Diamonds in the Sand (near future science fiction, and the Deep Dark Well series.

What else are you working on?

I am still trying to get books out in the Refuge and Deep Dark Well series. I also just signed a two book deal with Arc Manor to develop a space opera shared universe. I also plan on writing a post-apocalyptic series and have ideas for several World War 2 alternate history series.

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

I usually get up late, about 10 AM, and go out for breakfast, reading something I’m interested in while at the restaurant. I then work out for an hour, then come home and take a nap (I know, rough life). I then write into the evening, usually knocking off at midnight, then in bed at 2. If I am editing a book, I will download it into my kindle and take notes on mistakes while I read it at breakfast and sometimes dinner. I am going to try and rework my schedule to get up earlier, because cons kind of throw a wrench in that schedule, and I really need to stay on a consistent schedule for my health.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I spent about thirteen years trying to get traditionally published. The rejections letters improved, but they were still rejections. On December 31, 2011 I self-published two books, The Deep Dark Well (scifi) and The Hunger (urban fantasy). The Deep Dark Well sold about twenty copies in eight months. Then I did a giveaway for DDW and gave over four thousand books away. A month later Exodus: Empires at War: Book 1 came out, and sold almost a thousand that first month. By January 2013 I was selling a hundred a day of both 1 and 2. Have since sold twenty-four thousand of book 1, and about twenty thousand of book 2. And it went from there. In March of that year I quit my job and have never looked back. Over four years I have sold about fifty thousand books each year, for a total of two hundred thousand.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I used to, but now just take a general idea and then pants it the rest of the way. I found that I was almost always veering away from the outline. Currently, in the project for Arc Manor, I have been asked to produce an outline, with the understanding that I will probably make changes along the way. I will probably be using more outlines in the future with long running series, because I find myself getting stuck in corners more and more.

Why do you write?

I love the nerd life. I love researching new things in science and history. And I love to make up stories, especially when I see lazy writing in TV and movies, and figure I can do better. To me it’s the absolute best job I can imagine. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s gravy that I can get paid to do it, and don’t have to hold down a day job.

What was your previous working life like?

I had a day job for thirteen years while writing, trying to get published. My last job was working for the State of Florida. I hated that job with a passion, and it drove me to write continuously, struggling to get out of that job. I wrote the equivalent of seven novels in 2010. I quit my job in 2012 because I was selling online. I used the day job as motivation to get the career I really wanted. Luckily, I don’t have to go to work every day, getting on the road so I can get to the office at a certain time. I do what I want when I want. The only problem lately has been to have enough discipline to get enough work done to keep progressing.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have five cats. A lot of people think that is too many, but if I had room I would have more. They force me to get up in the morning even when I don’t feel like it, since the litter has to be scooped, and they have to be fed. They are spoiled little brats, but I love them, and they can make me laugh even when I’m feeling down.

What follows is an excerpt from Exodus: Empires at War: Book 12: Time Strike, after which visitors can find Doug’s social and book buy links:

“There is no one here, my Lord,” said the sensor officer. “We are detecting nothing.”

“And this was supposed to be one of their most important systems in Fenri space,” replied the chief of staff, looking up from his station.

“Then they have pulled out without a fight,” growled the high admiral in charge of this force. “Cowards.”

While they would still achieve their mission by taking the system without a fight, that was not all they wanted to do. They needed to destroy human ships as well as orbital installations and industrial plants. If they spent their time chasing an enemy that kept running, luring them off their path, what would the accomplish? And an enemy they hadn’t chased down could always come in behind them. Even if they never fired a weapon, they still needed antimatter to run the reactors so they could boost. And even more to run the hyperdrive arrays. An enemy that was striking their supply line would keep them from resupply.

This was the third marked system they had come to that was empty. Each time they had jumped down through hyper, costing even more fuel, to find the system unoccupied. Yet they had to check out these systems. And if they started sending smaller forces in to recon them first, they were likely to run into ambushes a small force couldn’t contend with.

“Why in all the hells haven’t they tried to fight us,” growled the tactical officer.

Because they’re smarter than we are, thought the high admiral. Most Cacada would still not admit that they weren’t the absolute masters of the universe, the strongest, the most intelligent. The high admiral was at the high end of the intelligence scale for his species, so he knew how stupid the average male could be. And he had a better idea of how his people stacked up against other species, including the much too clever humans.

“We’re picking something up on the sensors,” called out the sensor officer. “I’ve never seen a reading like this before.”

“Their impossible fighters?” asked the chief of staff.

“Doesn’t look like them,” said the sensor officer. “Though there are some similarities to their resonances. Small objects, moving very fast.”

The high admiral looked at the plot that was showing thirty-six objects heading straight for his force. They still couldn’t track the inertialess fighters worth a damn. They could tell they were out there on a general heading. They could definitely tell when they were close enough to waste fire on with the chance of a hit. But these things were pretty easy to track, even though they were moving.

“Twenty times light speed?” blurted the high admiral as the velocity figures filled in under the vector arrows. Of course those were only estimates, but still.

“I can’t tell you what they are, my Lord. But they are heading straight for us, and they will be here in about seven minutes.”

* * *

“Any changes in the targets?” asked Captain Wilma Snyder, the commander of the truncated wing that was moving into the attack.

“No, ma’am. They’re coming in fat and sassy. Not that’s there’s much else they could do.”

Snyder nodded. The enemy ships had jumped down before hitting the barrier at point three light, their maximum translation speed. They had started to accelerate as soon as they were through. There really was no quick way back into hyper, where the warp attack craft would not be able to hunt them, not that the Cacas knew that. It would take them several hours to slow to a stop, before they could start accelerating back out, which would take several more hours.

“We’ll be in range in six minutes, forty-three seconds,” continued the wing tactical officer. “Launch at that time.”

“Very good,” said Snyder, leaning back in her chair. She was trying to look as cool and calm as she could, and was not sure how she was doing. This was a first ever strike by the warp attack craft. Theoretically, they should come as a lethal shock to the Cacas. Theory was fine, but this was where they found out if they were a good as advertised.

“I want us to go to the port after launch. All ships will come out of warp at three light minutes from the Cacas, then spun and go back into a second attack.”

Her ships each had four missiles, also using warp technology. They carried lasers as well, as a last resort. The captain didn’t want to get into that kind of a knife fight with capital ships. Her craft would be in normal space, trading beams with ships that outmassed them by over three thousand times. Her lasers might not even make it through their screens, while theirs would vaporize her craft.

She looked at the plot, willing it to expand to cover the entire system and beyond. The carrier was out at ten light hours beyond the barrier to spinward. The craft could reach it in warp in about forty minutes, rearm, and be on their way back in. Snyder smiled as she thought of some of the other weapons on the boards for her babies. She wouldn’t have them, but sometime further into the campaign the Cacas would meet their acquaintance, and she hoped enjoyed the meeting.

“Launch in fifteen seconds,” called out the tactical officer, as the command went out over the com to the other thirty-five craft.

There was a one second delay between the time her ship fired and the last got off its missile. Thirty-six weapons jumped from the launching craft, erecting their own warp bubbles and then streaking off on their prearranged tracks. Warp field penetrated warp field. As soon as the missiles were out into normal space they dropped their fields for a couple of seconds, then went back into warp on tracks that would hit their designated targets. The launching ships meanwhile turned in space and lit out to the front and side of the enemy force. Unlike craft in normal space there was no accel or decel to deal with. Changing vectors meant they were now moving at warp in that direction.

The missiles took off, going from a standing start to ten times light speed in an instant. The weapons were all right on target. Each hit the side of their targets, their warp fields blasting through electromag screens and into twenty meters of armor before the missiles broke up, their warheads going off and flashing into the interiors of the ships. When the flares died down they left behind twelve spreading clouds of plasma and twenty-three still intact but seriously crippled ships.

If you’d care to learn more about Doug or dive into his works— at this point I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t—here is the wherewithal:

WordPress Blog:       http://dougdandridge.com

Website:                     http://dougdandridge.net

Twitter:                      @brotherofcats

Amazon:                    https://www.amazon.com/Doug-Dandridge/e/B006S69CTU/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the clouds lurks an evil older than man…

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

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

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

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

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

What was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

What other novels have you written?

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

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

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

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

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

What else are you working on?

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

Do you create an outline before you write?

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

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

Why do you write?

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

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have another job outside of writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any pet projects?

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

Hank turned his horse toward the figure.

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

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

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

Then the figure collapsed out of sight.

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

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

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

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

“Oliver McCoy! That you, boy?”

Another groan, barely intelligible. “Marshal?”

“It is. You gutshot?”

A faint wheeze came back. “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dammit to hell.”

But Hank was going to try today.

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

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

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

“Son of a bitch.”

The McCoy boy was already getting heavy.

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

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

 

Follow Travis here:

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

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

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

Twitter: @TravisHeermann

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

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

 

You may purchase his books here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

Baen Library

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

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

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

This is how he describes Killdeer Winds:

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent release.

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

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

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

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

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

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

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

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What motivates or inspires you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing I cannot do without is: stories.

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

My biggest peeve is: my angsty inner life.

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

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

 

Chapter One

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

—Robert “Dob” Howerter

Colorado Courier Interview

August 3, 2057

(i)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like where I was and who owned the house.

Book online sales links:

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Amazon

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

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Kobo

Killdeer Winds (The Juniper Wars Book 2) – Smashwords

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