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

Social Links:

www.aaronmrichey.com

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

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 16 – Interview With Brooks Wachtel

As I continue to feature WordFire Press authors, I never cease to be amazed by both their writing acumen and their impressive backgrounds. This week’s guest, Brooks Wachtel, is no different. Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead, a detective historical novel, may be Brooks Wachtel’s first novel, but he is no stranger to crafting stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning writer with a long resume in television and film. Mr. Wachtel spent his youth as a “Navy Brat” traveling the world. While attending Hollywood High and in college, he produced several student films. One, a forty-five minute Sherlock Holmes spoof was the first film ever shot at Hollywood’s famed “Magic Castle.” Wachtel co-created, executive produced and co-wrote many episodes of the hit series DogFights for the History Channel. He also wrote and produced many History Channel documentaries, including episodes of Defending America: National Guard and The Coast Guard. Additionally, he has written The Great Ships, Search and Rescue, The Royal Navy and Fly Past, which won the Cine Golden Eagle Award. Wachtel also wrote and co-produced an independent documentary feature illustrating the history of his famous alma-mater, Hollywood High School. All rights and royalties were donated to Hollywood High to help fill the school’s scholarship funds. His latest documentary project, Silver Tsunami, which he co-wrote and co-produced, details the calamity of the massive and aging baby-boomer demographic. In addition, Wachtel has written more than 100 produced episodes of television fiction, with shows as diverse as Fox’s live-action Young Hercules (starring Ryan Gosling), to animated hits like PBS’s Liberty’s Kids, Tutenstein, Heavy Gear, Spider-Man, X-Men, Robo-Cop and Beast Machines: Transformers. For younger viewers, he has penned episodes of the pre-school hits, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Rainbow Fish. His script for Tutenstein won an Emmy Award. Wachtel has written several live-action features, including Goddess of Death, which he also directed. Wachtel serves on the Steering Committee of the Animation Writers Caucus of the Writers Guild, as well as teaching screenwriting at UCLA Extension. He is also a performing magician member of Hollywood’s Magic Castle.

When I asked Brooks to give us a sense of his new book, he characterized its premise as follows:

Lady Natasha (Tasha) Dorrington, an emancipated and brilliant detective in 1906 London, is drawn into a deadly mystery involving an ancient pagan curse and a diabolical scheme to plunge Europe into a devastating war.

Will you please tell us more about it?

My most recent release is also my first novel, Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead.

The book chronicles the adventures of Lady Natasha “Tasha” Dorrington, a fast-thinking, hard-fighting and very sensual leading lady. The story takes the reader from fog-bound Edwardian London to a remote island in Scotland, where a terrified man is taunted by the power of a thousand year curse closing upon him.

Tasha finds herself embroiled in a much larger game. She has been lured to the island to play a life and death contest with Deirdre, the brilliant leader of an ancient and sinister cult who plots to plunge the world into war. The prize between these powerful adversaries is no less than civilization itself – and the life of Tasha’s daughter, held hostage by the cult.

The novel is also elegantly illustrated in the fashion of the original Sherlock Holmes stories as they appeared in the Strand Magazine.

I’ve been a television writer for more than three decades with over a hundred produced episodes in animation and live-action as well as documentaries, but “Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead” is my first step into prose. However, even that step had its launch-point in script-writing.

What was the inspiration behind it?

Before Lady Sherlock was a novel, it was a screenplay. The idea came about as the confluence of several of my favorite interests.

First, I love writing strong female characters. I became known for this with my television writing and often was the pick to do episodes which featured the female leads (e.g. An episode I wrote for “Young Hercules” featured the Amazons). I also have a love of history, especially the late-Victorian-Edwardian era. Fitting comfortably in that era is another interest of mine: Sherlock Holmes. Add to that, growing up a military-brat (or more properly, Naval Dependent) gave me an appreciation of ships, sea-power and its place in history.

I decided to combine these interests; history, naval, the supernatural, Holmes, powerful female characters, in one story. The story has a basis in real history as H.M.S. Dreadnought and the naval race and political collision between Britain and Germany which that ship help set in motion are a part of the book.

Making my main character a woman—a very capable, confident woman—in a particularly chauvinistic era would be fun and offer story and character opportunities that a male lead would not. There would be so many circumstances and attitudes, which would simply not exist for a man, of that era, that she would have to overcome. She’s a character equally skilled with women’s rights—and lefts. There’s a lot of humor in the book and much of it is the collision between a witty, smart woman who will not easily tolerate chauvinistic attitudes.

The character also had a visual inspiration. My friend, actress Tanya Lemani George had a wonderful look that I thought would be a great image for a feminine take of Holmes. She is the model for the cover and many of the interior illustrations.

Originally a screenplay that never sold—alas—but worked wonderfully as a writing sample, the script landed me lots of television (and screenplay) assignments. When I reread it several years later, I felt it was too good a story to languish in a drawer and only be seen by a few producers and story-editors. As I reacquainted myself with the script, I felt it had the makings of a novel. I’ve been writing scripts for decades and was looking for something new. Little did I know what vast changes lay ahead…

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

I have had two Emmy Award nominations and one win. My Emmy Award was for the animated series “Tutenstien.” An episode of the History Channel series “Fly Past” titled “The Cutting Edge,” which I co-wrote with Cynthia Harrison, received the Cine Golden Eagle Award.

While “DogFights” did not win any awards, it is a huge favorite in the aviation community. When I visited the Palm Springs Air Museum – which is one really superb enterprise – I discovered they are running excerpts from the series that show some of the aircraft they have on static display in action. When I visited Vancouver a few years ago and explored the Royal Canadian Navy Museum, one of the docents informed me that a World War One episode of “DogFights” is used by history classes at her university.

Episodes of “Liberty’s Kids,” a series about the American Revolution (with Walter Cronkite doing the voice of Benjamin Franklin) are used as an educational tool in elementary schools.

In fiction writing, I have worked on many series which are fan favorites. I wrote several episodes of the X-Men animated series, including the conclusion to the “Dark Phoenix” saga and, continuing in the Marvel Universe, the Spider-Man series I worked on is still fondly recalled. It was fun to be a part of the Hercules-Xena universe by scripting for “Young Hercules,” starring a very young Ryan Gosling.

One thing that always brings a smile is when twenty-somethings I meet find out I wrote episodes of “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” it always gets a very enthusiastic and happy response.

“Silver Tsunami,” a documentary I co-wrote with my often writing/producing partner, Cynthia Harrison-Wallach, dealing with the challenges the vast baby-boomer demographic will present to the world won several film-festival awards. Here’s the link to the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LJqt6fj8uI

Thanks to youtube most of my career is now online. If I ever need to review a show I wrote, no matter how vintage or obscure, chances are it will be posted.

There is a promotional video for Lady Sherlock, narrated by yours truly. The character inspired composer David Raiklen to write the wonderful theme which scores the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o39owXZHrRs

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

I suppose, like most of us, we just force ourselves to get back into life and work. I’ve had some losses in the last few years—my mother and brother passed away within four days of each other—and it hit me hard. There are still days when I am down and don’t feel like doing anything… and sometimes I don’t. Then there comes that time when life and work beckon and you simply start. Friends, and I have some wonderful ones, help a lot. But ultimately we all just find it in ourselves to place one foot in front of the other and continue on the journey.

What has been your greatest success in life?

That depends on the definition of success. Professionally, receiving an Emmy Award was certainly a high point. Co-creating, co-exec producing and writing “DogFights” was a professional highlight, as was getting to interview some of the amazingly heroic aviators and pilots whose amazing exploits we brought to life in the series.

One other success about “DogFights” that was important to me: at the time we were the only WGA covered series on the History Channel. I was proud to help several writers get the credits they needed to join the Guild.

But perhaps I treasure my friendships: the people that you are there for and are there for you, most of all. I have been blessed with some wonderfully caring people in my orbit. And I am exceedingly and always grateful for them.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

I was about to answer with some literary or other notable or some book or film… but on reflection, perhaps it was, after all, my parents. They gave me the values and perspective that I think define me in the most important ways.

Lastly, what is the one thing you cannot do without?

Good friends, music, books, finding outlets for creativity.

Before I provide our visitors with online links where they can follow you or purchase your book, I’d like to give them a taste of Lady Sherlock: Circle of the Smiling Dead. Here is an excerpt:

Before Ian could halt the gig, Tasha—like Ian, soaking wet from the cold rain—leapt to the road, peering ahead to the ruins. Above the rain and fierce wind, they could hear the eerie chanting of more than a dozen voices.

“Utter fool that I was to desert him!” yelled Tasha over the din. “Look!”

The ruins odd appearance was even more distorted by the ferocity of the storm. The ancient shrine was torch-lit and full of black-robed people standing on various levels of the rocks. There were eighteen in all: nine men and nine women; every one of them wore masks that mimicked a goat’s heads with exaggerated horns. The torches were sheltered from the elements by alcoves cut into the dolmens. They created a harsh contrast of flickering red light and dancing black shadows that that exaggerated the malevolent atmosphere. Some sort of ceremony was transpiring, and the gathered all gave voice to a rhythmic chant. The horns of the masks turned in unison to the altar stone, where there was erected a black-robed effigy of an ancient demon-god, with crescent-moons on the robe and flaring horns protruding from the distorted goat-like animal skull that formed the sinister head.

From the roadway, Tasha and Ian scrutinized the proceedings in front of them.

“I don’t see McGloury!” yelled Ian.

“They have him. Depend on it!” said Tasha bitterly, as she drew her revolver and dashed to the ruins as fleetly as the mud-soaked ground would permit. Ian followed close behind.

Two masked men dragged a live goat to the altar. The robes of the effigy parted as Deirdre, in her priestess robes and bearing an ornate mask, emerged in flowing white with a crescent moon dangling near her breast. She raised a crude stone dagger and with one accurate stroke, slit the animal’s throat left to right. The chanting abruptly stopped and, save for the rain—the wind had died down—there was silence. Deirdre addressed the assembly in a disguised whisper. She pointed to a dolmen and motioned, “Come here.”

Tasha and Ian stepped from behind the towering monolith, weapons in hand.

Deirdre, with a bend of her finger, bid them forward.

Tasha boldly marched in, but Ian, his eyes darting from place to place, followed nervously. They reached the altar, and he pointed his revolver at Deirdre. “Up with your hands … ma’am.”

He was ignored, even by Tasha. She was focused on Deirdre—who, with her face concealed and her voice disguised, Tasha failed to recognise from their meeting at the Hermes. But she had put enough together to ask, “Deirdre, is it not?”

The priestess nodded.

Tasha nodded in return. “We meet at last.”

Deirdre’s smirk was just visible under the lower part of the mask. The cult members burst into laughter. Ian scowled at the masked faces made hideous by the malicious hysterics that surrounded them, but Tasha kept her eyes on Deirdre. The priestess raised her finger and the laughter stopped.

“We’ve met before,” came the mocking reply from behind the priestess’s mask.

“When?” There was no answer. “Where is McGloury?” Again no answer, just Deirdre’s maddening half-smile behind the ornate mask. “You are already responsible for two murders,” continued Tasha.

“Three,” Deirdre whispered. “Now four.” At once there was a vicious howling and human scream from the direction of the cliff. Tasha spun to see, indistinct through the storm and distance, the blur of a dog lunging for the throat of the vague shape of a man. That shape screamed again.

“McGloury!” yelled Tasha as she sprang into action.

She heard Deirdre’s mock sympathetic taunt. “Help him. You never fail.”

As Tasha and Ian raced toward the cliff, Deirdre, unmoving and regal, removed her mask, revealing her luminous eyes. Somewhere, faint in her throat, was a chuckle. “The cleverest woman in Europe.”

At that moment the “cleverest woman” was aiming her gun at the dog, but hound and human were intertwined as they struggled toward the cliff, making a clean shot impossible. She was too late. The battle ended as man and beast tumbled over the precipice, their screams and howls vanishing with them. Tasha stopped and staggered as if she’d been physically hit. Her mind screamed in protest as she bolted toward the cliff. Then the muddy ground crumbled under her feet and she slipped over the edge. She plummeted only for a second—Ian grasped her arm and, painfully, pulled her back up.

Tasha’s normal reserve was gone; she was desperate and fighting back tears. She had failed. Her client was dead.

If you’ve enjoyed Brooks’ writing and would like to read more, here are links to purchase his book, as well as ways you can follow him online.

Book online sales links:

Amazon                      https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Sherlock-Circle-Smiling-Dead-ebook/dp/B01LYDJTJL

Barnes & Nobel        http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lady-sherlock-brooks-arthur-wachtel/1124734777

Kobo                           https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/lady-sherlock

Smashwords              https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/669578

iBooks                                    https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/lady-sherlock/id1162237016

Social Links:

Lady Sherlock Blog:            http://ladysherlocknovel.blogspot.com/

Lady Sherlock FaceBook Page:      https://www.facebook.com/TheLadySherlock/

Lady Sherlock FaceBook Fan created page:         https://www.facebook.com/groups/321693048210287/

Lady Sherlock Youtube promotional video:         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o39owXZHrRs

(Please note: Brooks Wachtel’s headshot was taken by Steven Sears)

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 2 – Interview With Anthony Dobranski

dobranski-photoI am so glad to start off 2017 by getting to know WordFire Press author Anthony Dobranski, who is currently writing a historical thriller based on real people and real events. Apparently, there are no bounds to what this talented writer can do. A native of Washington DC, he lives there now. Anthony studied English at Yale and made his first career at AOL working in Europe and Asia-Pacific. WordFire published his debut novel, The Demon in Business Class, on October 26, 2016. He describes his book this way:

An international modern day fantasy —

A demon-possessed spy trying to start the next global war falls in love with a psychic trying to stop it.

A shady powerbroker forces Zarabeth Battrie into a secret plan to start the next global war, giving her a demon that lets her speak all languages. But the people now trying to kill Zarabeth might know more about her job than she does.

When hallucinations drive Gabriel Archer to violence, a steely investigator shows Gabriel his repressed psychic powers. Recruited to help a visionary corporate leader turn others from evil, Gabriel struggles to master his own senses, and his doubts.

When Zarabeth and Gabriel meet by chance in Scotland, their brief passion becomes a fragile, troubling love, until the demon’s betrayal drives Gabriel away. Before Zarabeth’s cruel vengeance can destroy the visionary’s plans, Gabriel must stop her — but for both to survive, neither can win.

With witches, gangsters, prophets, cultists, and two angry angels, The Demon in Business Class is an edgy modern-day fantasy set around the world, on the uneasy ground where the worldly meets the divine.

Tell us about your most recent release.

The Demon in Business Class is an international modern-day fantasy, about a demon-possessed spy trying to start the next global war, who falls in love with the psychic trying to stop it. It’s a hybrid-genre book, with corporate thriller elements, a central star-crossed romance, and stylized language. It’s my first novel.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

My career before writing was at the internet service AOL, during its heyday, going overseas for months at a time to help launch editions in Europe and Asia-Pacific. I got to see the world, and to see how it is changing in our globalized era. Cultures rub against each other uncomfortably, in multiple dimensions, of nationhood and class and wealth, old and new. Societies on both sides of both oceans have been destabilized, some by new poverty, others by sudden and unequal wealth. People fear loss, fear the other, crave older certainties.

Fantasy cuts to the heart of culture, highlighting its hidden assumptions. I wanted to write a book that did that for our time, the way Jekyll and Hyde does for Victorian England or The Master and Margarita does for Stalin’s Soviet Union.

How I achieved this was its own, different inspiration, or at least a powerful motivation. Writing about our time is different from writing a book set in our time before escaping it, like Lev Grossman or J. K. Rowling. I also didn’t want to just bring a modern sensibility to a traditional fantasy world like A Song of Ice and Fire. I wanted a fantasy that came out of 21st century Earth, and I had the fervor of a convert, taking a great gleeful joy in bending and reworking as many genre norms as I could. Neil Gaiman blazed the trail I walked, for sure, but I walked a lot of it with Chuck Palahniuk.

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

The biggest was the style. I needed to evoke the crisp and often acid language of businesspeople, which is a kind of armor, yet still have it express doubt and fear and desperation, without ever sounding highfaluting. It’s a tall order, and I had to let go a lot of my “literary” airs – these are not people who drop allusions to Austen, or who really spend a lot of time expressing their interiority.

I did it by writing and throwing out writing, mostly. I tossed my first 400 pages and started over, wrote a thousand pages and cut half of that. I constantly read my work aloud – I built myself a standing desk so it was easier to breathe and talk! Always looking for leaner rhythms and tighter phrasing. Oh, the flocks of darlings I killed. When my editor told me I had to add a chapter, I have to tell you, it was quite the strange moment.

Hah! That would have thrown me for a loop as well. What else are you working on?

My novel-in-progress is a post-climate-change sci-fi tale set in a war-ravaged Budapest, working title The Cooperative Spiders. It was my NaNoWriMo winner in 2015, based on a short story I wrote, based on a dream. It’s gender-bending yet oddly genteel and Old World — think of it as Wes Anderson loosely adapting a Samuel R. Delany novel. Compared to Demon — which is rooted in real-world places and secret histories — Spiders is a freeing experience, since all that seems to stick to it is craziness.

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

 10a-12p, 2p-5p, weekdays. I have a family and I do cons, so weekends are basically out.

Tell us about your path to publication.

It’s not one any sensible person would follow, and I only discuss it to give hope to those like me who feel they’ve painted themselves in corners. I did everything wrong. I dove straight into a passion project with almost no understanding of the industry or market. I had no smaller works published. I sent out blind queries to both literary and fantasy agents and got form letters in return. I felt like I was living on crumbs. I woke up New Year’s Day 2015 crying. My resolution was, in one year I would feel more like a writer than I did that moment, whatever it took.

My writing-group colleague Wayland Smith had been to Superstars Writing Seminars, a business-focused seminar in Colorado Springs, and spoke well of it. Actually, he gushed, and Wayland doesn’t gush. So, I signed up. One morning at the seminar I met a writer and editor named Vivian Caethe. Demon intrigued her! She brought me to Peter J. Wacks of WordFire Press. I didn’t get the feeling it intrigued him at all, and when he asked me for ten pages I figured it was his favor to Vivian. Seven months later, Kevin J. Anderson, who owns WordFire Press, sent me a Facebook message inviting me to submit the whole manuscript.

Kevin also asked for a marketing plan — and it was clear he was throwing down a gauntlet.

Let me circle back and say that, other than my brief bright moment with Vivian, I first found Superstars incredibly depressing. It’s a professional seminar, so it skews to people with an obvious shot at making money, to series writers, to genre-mainstreams. They might as well have started every lecture saying, “Hey Tony, this one doesn’t really apply to you either.” By the time of the celebratory dinner, I was very low in spirit, really ready to chuck the whole enterprise. James Artimus Owen gets an acknowledgement in my book solely for the hours he spent talking me off the ledge of my discouragement, in deep, personal terms.

The techniques, though, are still applicable, and by the time Kevin wrote me, I had given them some months of thought. I had also read a great book about business called Mission in a Bottle, by the founders of Honest Tea — it’s a comic book, so it’s wonderfully accessible. Bringing an unsweetened high-end iced tea to market in a Snapple and Lipton world was akin to my taking my older-but-newer kind of fantasy to the mainstream fantasy market. I didn’t need to pretend to mass appeal; I needed to appeal to people left behind by all the other writers seeking mass appeal. Time and time again, Honest Tea made their difficulties into strengths, their bugs into features that other manufacturers couldn’t copy without violating their brands. I would do the same.

I gave Kevin eight single-spaced pages of multi-year marketing plan: about the market, about hybrid genres, about the slow building of literary cred, about modern bookbuying, about WordFire’s current stable and how I fit in it – which was to say, as an outlier, and how that meant a new audience WordFire didn’t really have. I even had the synopsis of Spiders – not a sequel, but enough to show I had more for Demon’s audience, maybe enough to build a tiny, quirky brand.

I got a contract.

My entrée to WordFire was equally circuitous, so it’s clear that they recognize talented odd-balls! Why do you write?

It’s not simply that I’m a highly verbal person, and a hugely analogical thinker. I suspect it’s something deep and simple involving how I understand the world. When I go to other countries, I buy local fiction. One of the few “eureka” moments I’ve had involving writing was Samuel R. Delany’s note in Dangerous Visions about how science fiction let him unite “the disparate and technical with the desperate and human.” I read that in eighth grade and it still rings true now.

I grew up with an inadvertently secret history. My parents came to America from Poland in 1961, having survived WWII and Soviet domination well enough to escape them. After they did, they didn’t really talk about their pasts, didn’t really want to. They couldn’t know this gave me a great discomfort, a sense of unrootedness and not belonging in America, in ways I was too young to understand or express, save in my love for Mr. Spock.

I think Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was the first time I had both a complete cultural history and an understanding you could discuss the world in real ways through the manifestly unreal and impossible. Now they’re tied together in my head. Perhaps if my parents had told me about their lives sooner, I would have been a historian.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Because of my traveling AOL career, I really only started having a home life rather late in life. I married in my early forties. My wife and I met at the dog park, so animals are a big part of our lives, and my wife is on the board of our local shelter. I’ve always loved live theater, and we try to get out to new plays as often as we can. Washington is a huge theater town, with dozens of companies, from scrappy to plush. I served on the boards of two DC theater companies for many years, and as a volunteer script reader for one, until children and novels overwhelmed my volunteer time. Reading twenty scripts a year is fantastic dialogue training, by the way!

“Winter is coming” holds no menace to this avid skier, only joy.

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

Sourly, then wryly. As Samuel Beckett wrote, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” But failing better is different from failing bigger. I try to look at what went wrong and see if it ever could have gone right. Sometimes, it couldn’t have, and my eager ignorance baked in the failure I should have avoided.

Do you have any pet projects?

I have a small side-project, derailed by Demon’s launch, which I plan to pick up next spring after the next draft of Spiders. It’s a serial thriller novella called The Scientists and The Spy, about the secret WWII military work done in my own Washington DC neighborhood by the scientists at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology). It’s very different from my usual – all-ages audience, historical fiction – but it turns out evoking the past is worldbuilding too. Plus, the research is a hoot!

Thank you, Tony, for taking the time to share with us. Before I present our visitors an excerpt from Demon, I’d like to finish with my customary Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m… not nearly as good a drinker as I like to believe.

The one thing I cannot do without is… a myth that I had to stop indulging long ago.

The one thing I would change about my life is… to worry even less about what I’m “supposed” to do.

 

For those of you who’ve been waiting, here is an excerpt from The Demon in Business Class:

dobranski-demon-coverIn the fake-oak-paneled conference room, Zarabeth Battrie found a dozen others standing. All looked wilted and worn, with bunched shirts and bowing ankles. The plastic tables were gone, the plastic chairs stacked in the corner. More people arrived but no one unstacked the chairs. A herd instinct, Zarabeth decided, to keep a clear path for fleeing.

A natty beige man in a crisp blue plaid suit came in, pushing a low gray plastic cart with stacks of documents. If the standing people surprised him, he didn’t show it. With practiced ease he lowered the room’s screen, plugged in his power strip. Someone passed the documents around but no one spoke. In the silence, Zarabeth felt anxieties around her, about money, status, children, groping her like fevered predictable hands. Too intimate, these people’s worries in her skin when she didn’t know their names, or want to. She shook them off, pushed through to the front so as not to stare at men’s backs all meeting.

Projector light bleached the natty man while he talked through slides of sunsets and bullet points, with the real news a seeming afterthought. Her office and two others were merging with Optimized Deployments, in Boston. A great move. Efficiency for all. The animated org-chart realigned over and over, three squares gone and Optimized’s no bigger. Reorganized like a stomach does food.

People asked tired questions, their hot worry now clammy hope. The natty man smiled no matter what he said. Yes, redundancies. Jobs would move, details to work out. All would be well and better.

He left to spread his joy. The room lights rose.

Zarabeth’s boss, Aleksei Medev, slouched in the corner like someone had whacked his head with lumber. His unshaven olive skin hung gray and limp. With all eyes on him, he straightened.

“A very challenging time,” he said. “We’re sending reports to justify—to guide the transition. Client work is secondary.”

Zarabeth was in no hurry to fill out Aleksei’s useless reports. Nothing she had done in the last two months justified keeping her employed, she knew that. She went out the broken fire exit to a stand of pine trees behind the parking lot. She lit a cigarette, paced in the shade.

Once, Zarabeth Battrie had traveled the country as an Inspiration Manager, connecting the best people at Straightforward Consulting to an in-house knowledge network. She had good instincts which managers to flatter, which to cow, which to sneak past. It surprised her how much she understood when she finally got her quarry to talk their special arcana, over morning jogs, lobster lunches, steak dinners, midnight hookahs with shots of tequila. Later, on airplanes, she’d think of those and other conversations, watching the pieces fit together in this strange unity and balloon, her world growing with a drug-like jolt. To let her do that, week in, week out—taking off, landing, on the move, on her feet—had been the greatest praise.

On Valentine’s Day, it had evaporated without explanation. Zarabeth had been reassigned from downtown Washington to Reston, in the Virginia suburbs, to do public-relations grunt-work for industry trade groups. Aleksei Medev, still shiny then, had put his feet on her new desk and spun a great tale, core knowledge toward a turnkey marketing solution, select team deep study. At least she got an office with a door.

Zarabeth had visited Boston twice in her old job. Optimized had smart people and kept them by being greedy. They would suck the money from her division like marrow from bone. Everyone fired, no matter how they danced.

Doubt ate through her like some parasite come to lay its eggs. She pinched the cigarette’s cherry to burn it off with pain. Six years at this firm would not end this week.

You may follow Tony on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram as ADobranski.

His website is: www.anthonydobranski.com

You can purchase The Demon in Business Class ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/Demon-Business-Class-Anthony-Dobranski-ebook/dp/B01MFG0ARS/

 If you are interested in following his progress on his historical thriller, The Scientists and the Spy, you may do so here: http://www.foresthillsconnection.com/category/style/sci-spy/

 

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, August 29 – Interview With Ramón Terrell

R_Terrell_030513_0129_webIt was my good fortune to run into Ramón Terrell at Sasquan—WorldCon’s 2015 incarnation—last August at the WordFire Press book launch party for Mike Resnick. A genial and easygoing man, I warmed to him immediately. I’ve been trying to feature him ever since, but one thing or another always got in the way. He is a prolific author with a rich imagination and always seems to have multiple irons in the fire.

Tell us about your most recent release.

I actually have two books releasing at the same time, this year. One, Hunter’s Moon, with Wordfire Press, the other, Out of Ordure, from Tal Publishing, my own label.

Hunter’s is the direct sequel to Running from the Night, and is the second book in the Hunter’s Moon series that take place in Vancouver BC. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t read the first book, let’s just say things are out of control. After the events of Running from the Night, it’s a miracle that Jelani and his friends are still alive. The Eldest Hunter, Yako, is under pressure due to the interference of a certain powerful woman, which has complicated his life in the vampire world. Top that off with random vampires in the street who can smell Saaya’s halfblood scent all over him, and Jelani’s life continues to plummet. Lots of action, sprinkles of humor, and camaraderie and loyalty of two best friends. Jelani’s steadfast devotion to protecting his friends, even if it means the forfeit of his own life, may just be the one thing keeping himself and his friends alive.

FairyCover-text copyIn Out of Ordure, we follow the adventures of Ordure Engineer Fairy, Fecanya, and her three coworkers, a Bloom Fairy, a Garbage Fairy, and the every bubbly Sugar Fairy. Fecanya hates her job (can you blame her?) and would like nothing better than to go on vacation. Permanently. This is one sassy fairy, and I think you’ll find her sarcasm and antics to be quite a riot. Her uptight satyr therapist, however, begs to differ.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

For Hunter’s Moon, I would have to take it back to the first book. Running from the Night was a relentless story demanding to be told. I had no intention of writing a vampire story because they were everywhere at the time. But the story became so insistent, I practically had to promise it that I would write it once I was done with the project I was working on.

51RqGPUlOsLOut of Ordure came about from a day in the woods. I was out hiking with my wife and her friend, and we came across dog… “leavings”, and I went into a rant about people not cleaning up after themselves or their pets. Then I mentioned the *insert expletive that rhymes with hit* Fairy must have been working overtime. We laughed, and I just kept going. Eventually both of them said I should write a story about it. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I’d never written humor and wasn’t sure I could. After a couple of months of my wife rather insistently asking if I’d started the fairy book yet, I finally did. This little novella was a blast to write, and I think readers will find it quite funny.

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

My biggest challenge with Out of Ordure was confidence. I’d never written humor and was unsure I could. Comedy/humor is not only subjective, but also a little more technical in some ways. It’s quite easy to fall flat on your face. In the end, I just sat down and wrote a page, passed it to a few author friends to see if this would work. The end result became Out of Ordure, and I’m quite enamored of my sassy little Ordure Engineer Fairy friend.

What other novels have you written?

There are two more books that follow Echoes of a Shattered Age: Legends of a Shattered Age, and Heroes of a Broken Age. This is the Legend of Takashaniel Trilogy. My vampire series, Hunter’s Moon, begins with Running from the night, and is followed by Hunter’s Moon, Darkness of Day, and Revenire. Wordfire Press is currently re-publishing these five books. Lastly is Unleashed, the first book in the Saga of Ruination.

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

The Hunter’s Moon series is currently in early works for a television series. Although I can’t say much about it at this time, the process is ongoing. I hope to be able to speak more about it in the coming months. Sadly, that’s all I can say about it.

Most authors dream about something like this, but few ever see their dream materialize. You’re one of the fortunate ones. What else are you working on?

I am coauthoring a new set of books with amazing author Peter J. Wacks, and also will begin work on a YA series set in the same world as the Takashaniel books. You can look for that one to appear some time this year.

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

I go to the coffee shop in the morning around 8:30 a.m., write until 12:30 p.m., then meet my wife for lunch. I then return to the coffee shop an hour later to write until about 5:30 p.m.. I sometimes work at home afterwards, but only if I’m really pushing for a deadline.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I do now. For Echoes I did not, because I didn’t know how. I would have gotten that book done much quicker had I employed an outline to stay on track. Now, I outline every book, beginning to end. The story and characters evolve and things change and go in different directions, because it is a living thing, but the outline is the guide to keep things on track and for readily available details.

Why do you write?

Same reason why I breathe. Well, maybe not quite so essential for sustaining life, but it’s a close second. I write because I can’t not write. When I’m not writing, I get antsy. I can’t rest. I already have more story ideas than I could write in a few lifetimes, and they’re only getting more crowded. The stories and characters have lives that must be recorded. Writing is a creative love that is shared only with acting. I write because I love it, and because I must.

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

If you like fun and adventure, camaraderie, and sweeping tales of diverse characters, enter my sandbox. I’d love for us to play together.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes. I’m also an actor, and have appeared on Arrow, Supernatural, iZombie, Minority Report, and I am one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men in the show Once Upon a Time. I’m also in the hilarious hit web series Single and Dating in Vancouver.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have the most supportive and loving wife a guy could dream of, and two awesome cats that occasionally drive me nuts. To have a warm, dry, comfortable home to share with my amazing wife and two awesome cats is a blessing bigger than anything I could have hoped for.

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

I ask my self one question: Would I be happy doing something else if I gave up today. The answer is unthinkable. You pick yourself back up and keep going. You learn your craft. You do the work. You do lots of the work, and I mean a LOT of the work. This is my career, my job. There is no such thing as giving up because I’ve failed. Failure is a verb, not a noun. I learn from failure, cast it aside, and succeed.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Deciding after years of telling myself I couldn’t do it, and that it was too late to pursue my dreams. Deciding that I didn’t want to just “settle”, and that it was okay to achieve more, and that I deserved more, as long as I was willing to work for it.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My parents and my brother are my biggest inspirations. My mother was the most loving mother a son could have. She worked hard, tolerated no excuses, and “co-ruled” the house with a firm and loving hand. My father was a big gentle soul yet as strong as a mountain. He also took no excuses, worked hard, and taught us to be hardworking men that do what we must to get the job done and see our responsibilities met. My brother was my closest and best friend before I had any true friends. He was the person I looked up to, and still do. Childhood social life wasn’t much fun for me, and my brother was always there, occasionally letting his much younger brother hang out with him and his friends. I’m forever grateful to them all.

Thank you so much for taking time away from your busy schedule to join us, Ramón. For those of you who have dropped in to acquaint yourselves with this fine, emerging author, here is an excerpt from Hunter’s Moon, after which you will find links that will help you connect with Ramón online, as well where you may buy both of his new releases and others he has written.

Hunter’s Moon

Humans. An oblivious species. So caught up in their daily lives, and working so hard to dull their senses to everything around them, that they almost always failed to intuit danger when it was right in front of them. Animals were different. The lower on the food chain an animal lives, the more wary they are. But even predators gave Remy a wide berth. Not humans.

Humans.

So fragile, so clueless. So easy. Not all, though. No. He had walked through crowds of people, even receiving the occasional flirtatious grin from a passing female. Remy had always thought it rather humorous; like a deer smiling at a passing lion. Some few actually shied away from him. On rare occasions, a human would glance at him with nervous eyes, knowing he was trouble but not really knowing how or why.

And then there were his current targets. Despite his firm belief that Yako’s skills were lacking, evidenced by his failing to dispatch two humans, Remy still had to grudgingly admit that these two were more careful and more alert than most. Remy had always enjoyed toying with his prey. Oftentimes he would walk right by them, making kindly eye contact. Then he would walk by them again, on another street, then another, causing his target to become disconcerted, then panicked. The increased rush of blood flow gave it a more tangy, sweet taste.

The one named Jelani and his friend, Daniel, were somewhat…different. Remy had thought to play his game with them, and walk by on the street. Maybe he would even wink at them. Despite the fact that they were more wary, knowing someone was after them, they had reacted unexpectedly. One of them, Daniel, had noticed Remy as soon as he was within ten feet of them, and alerted the other. They both had stolen several glances at him and moved to the other side of the sidewalk, all the time keeping an eye on him.

Remy had to admit he was at least a little impressed. In the middle of a crowd of people walking on that sidewalk, they had felt something out of place about him and moved to avoid contact. The Hunter had chosen to continue on and not give any show of recognition. There would be time enough for a little reunion.

He lifted his head and licked the blood from his lips. In his iron-like grip, a woman twitched uncontrollably. He glanced down at her with pale red glowing eyes. With a mind infinitely more focused than that of a frazzled human psyche, he managed to glean valuable information in bits, piecing them together into something resembling coherency. To be fair, he couldn’t imagine anyone maintaining any kind of order to their thoughts and memories when being unexpectedly attacked.

“And what shall I do with you?” he hissed, though he knew she was beyond hearing. He had studied every person who worked in the department with one of his targets. There were twenty two in total. This woman -Claire, her name was- had unfortunately been quite taken with the one named Daniel for over three years. After half a year of dating, they had mutually agreed to remain friends. Lovely Claire, here, had never quite gotten over her attraction to him. Apparently, Daniel loved the snow, hated the rain, enjoyed video games and watching movies at the theater, as well as going for walks with his fiancée, Wen.

Remy smirked at her. Through the memories embedded in the cells in her blood -blood he now had in his body- he could feel the envy toward the other woman as if it was his own. Remy never understood how humans could become so devastatingly taken with one another to the point of depression when things didn’t work out. There were over a billion of them walking the earth. Vampires accounted for a very small part of that population. Perhaps a shaquora could relate. Being a pureblood, Remy had no understanding of this aside from whatever information he gleaned from his occasional feedings.

“And what do I do with you?” he repeated, playfully tapping the poor woman on the nose with a finger. He had brought her to the crossroad, as vampires called it. He hadn’t drained her to the point of death, but had not fully injected the vampiric essence that would seek to re-create her.

Remy rarely re-created a human, having no love for the hated turned vampires who had little, or no control over the thirst, and reveled in their newfound abilities. Shaquora were the primary reason Hunters were necessary. The woman convulsed, and Remy gently stroked her sandy brown hair.

To connect with Ramón online, go to:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ramon.terrell

Twitter:  @Ramon__Terrell

To purchase Out of Ordure, Hunter’s Moon or Ramóns other books:

https://www.amazon.com/Out-Ordure-Fairies-Ramon-Terrell-ebook/dp/B01JVGB084/

https://www.amazon.com/Hunters-Moon-Ramon-Terrell-ebook/dp/B01JWZ1AKM/

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Ramón+Terrell

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 18 – New Releases by Quincy J Allen & Dave Butler

This week, The Write Stuff breaks away from its customary author interviews to showcase new releases from two former Interviewees, Quincy Allen, featured on December 7, 2015, and Dave Butler, whom we met on January 4 of this year.

1000-Headshot1Quincy describes Blood Curse, published by WordFire Press on June 2, 2016, as a Western Steampunk Epic Fantasy with a clockwork gunslinger destined to stop a demon apocalypse that could wipe out two worlds. It starts in the old west and pretty quickly morphs into fantasy (magic and dragons in the world) and finally becomes epic fantasy where a number of factions all must work together to stop the apocalypse.

A ruddy sun has set on the gauntlet that nearly killed Jake, Cole, and Skeeter in San Francisco. Storm clouds loom on the horizon, promising the inevitability of an airship battle with the nefarious Colonel Szilágyi. Blood Curse, the second book in the Blood War Chronicles, drops Jake and is friends into the middle of a war between the Free Territories and the Empire of Texas. In the shadow of warships, mechanized infantry, and spies, he discovers a world he couldn’t possibly have imagined and begins to understand what fate has in store for him. Jake doesn’t want that destiny, but his growing feelings for the Lady Corina Danesti lead him down a path of death and destruction on a scale that could encompass worlds.

The Blood War Chronicles series is set for six books, and WordFire Press, Quincy’s publisher, has already signed a gaming contract that will reach out to dozens of countries. There’s artwork already available and a website that should go live in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes open! Here is where you can find Blood Curse on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Curse-Book-War-Chronicles/dp/1614754322/

Take a quick peek inside:

1625CoverJake eyed Brewer. “Cromwell’s committed himself. Either he takes the city or he writes these bastards off. And the gates are the key. You said it yourself. He has a large ground force south of the city and heading this way.”

Brewer nodded, giving Jake an appraising eye. “That’s what I’ve been told. And their air support has beaten the hell out of the Dragun. She’s still holding her own, but so long as she has to defend herself, she can’t tear into the ground forces. She’d make quick work of them otherwise. A bunch of our other ships went down in the first pass, taken from above. We have a contingency plan, but they’re holding off on that for some reason.” Brewer chewed on the end of his cigar as he thought about what Jake was saying. He took a long pull on the cigar and blew the smoke up into the air. Finally, he relaxed. “What did you have in mind?”

“Ghiss and me, with a little help from Cole and that there Thumper,” Jake nodded to the rifle Cole leaned against, “will be your right flank. I want you and your people to hit that south side with everything you got. Crash vehicles into the barricade … melt your barrels if you have to. I want you to make as much noise as possible, but keep your heads down. Just keep their attention on you without risking any lives.” Jake looked at Ghiss and Cole. “We’ll take care of the rest.”

Brewer looked at Jake like he was loco. “Just the three of you?” He gave out a great guffaw. “You’re out of your damn mind!”

Ghiss spoke up. “Oh, I agree, Mister Brewer. By all accounts I believe we all are. However, our sanity, or lack thereof, does not change the simple fact that, provided a proper distraction, we are fully capable of tearing those men to pieces.”

Brewer looked the mercenary up and down, noting the pistols and their cables. He’d seen enough energy weapons to know the things probably wouldn’t run dry … at least not for a while.

“It’s still just the three of you,” Brewer finally replied, his voice filled with doubt. “And there has to be at least forty or fifty of them … plus that assault unit.”

“You let me worry about the armor,” Jake said with more bravado than he felt. “And there’s four of us, actually,” he added. His smile was overflowing with all the confidence he could muster. He hooked a thumb behind him, pointing through the gap at the Brahma. “We’ve got Lumpy.”

Brewer leaned over slowly and looked at the bull who was busily licking his nose.

“You’ve got Lumpy,” Brewer said in a flat tone, blinking his eyes. He kept puffing on the cigar. He looked back at Jake who kept smiling.

Jake gave Brewer a sly wink. “And you’ve got nothing to lose,” he added, “except a bit of ammunition.”

Brewer thought about it and nodded slowly, realizing that he had almost no risk aside from the ammo, and they had plenty stored around the city. It was enough to put the man’s decision over the top.

“Alright.” Brewer looked over his shoulder. “Billy, pass the word and get on the talkie. We leave eight defenders here to guard the hospital. Every other fighter who can still carry a weapon meets at the southern position in ten minutes.”

“Sir!” the boy shouted and dashed back into the warehouse.

“You better be right,” Brewer said, turning back to Jake. “For your own sake.” He stepped over to a stack of crates near the gap in the barricade. He pulled out two chaingun drums and handed them to Cole. “Here, you’ll need these. They’re full.”

“Thanks,” Cole said, hefting them, and then started swapping out the drums.

“Y’all better get ready,” Brewer said. “In about twelve minutes all hell’s gonna break loose.”

Jake nodded. “We’ll wait about thirty seconds after you start shooting before we hit ’em. I’ll give you a high sign from inside their barricade if we make it, then you and your people can come in and take back what’s yours.”

Brewer held out his hand. “Good luck.” He shook hands with Jake, Ghiss, and Cole. “You’re gonna need it.” Without another word, he walked back into the warehouse.

… … … … …

Butler 2Dave Butler, whose scientific romance, City of the Saints, was also published by WordFire Press, just landed a contract with Knopf Doubleday. His most recent release, The Kidnap Plot (The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie), a steampunk fantasy, hit the shelves on June 14, 2016. It’s available in your favorite bookstore right now. Or, if you’re thinking about purchasing The Kidnap Plot online, here is the Amazon link:

http://amzn.to/28S1NDM

He describes the story this way:

Charlie is a reader. He’s not allowed outside the house, but then one day his father is kidnapped, and Charlie has to launch a rescue mission. This is a story about matriarchal warrior pixies, heartbroken lawyer trolls, fantastic steam-powered devices, and a hero with a secret even he doesn’t know.

Dave has composed a filk song for the book. you can listen to it here:

https://youtu.be/xilOU5JCKaw

 

The Kidnap Plot’s first 500 words follow:

Chapter One

 

Butl_9780553512953_jkt_all_r1.indd“Charlie Pondicherry ain’t got no mum!”

Charlie cringed. There would be a rock. There was always a rock.

“What are you talking about, Skip? Charlie Pondicherry ain’t even got a dad! Charlie Pondicherry’s a toenail fungus; that’s why he’s always got that goop smeared on him!”

Skip, Mickey, and Bruiser followed Charlie down the Gullet. Charlie was sure the three boys had just waited in the alley for him to come out. Charlie’s shoulders slumped.

He hunched down lower over the basket of dirty laundry he was carrying. Sooner or later, there would be a rock.

“A fungus . . . ha-ha! A fungus!”

Whack!

That was the rock. It hit Charlie between the shoulders. He stumbled, but kept his feet.

He wanted to turn and stand like a ship’s captain, letting the pirates have it with both pistols . . . but he’d soil the laundry. Plus, they outnumbered him three to one, and any captain knew those weren’t great odds. Charlie gritted his teeth and hoped they’d give up.

The steam clouds that surrounded Lucky Wu’s Earth Dragon Laundry were just ahead. Behind him he heard the sucking sound of the other boys’ feet in the mud.

“Where you going, fungus? Get him, Bruiser!”

Bruiser grabbed Charlie by his jacket and shoved him against the brick wall. Charlie gripped tight with both hands and managed not to drop any of the laundry.

“You got any brass, fungus?” Mickey sneered. Mickey had ears like jug handles and teeth too big for his head. He spat when he talked.

Charlie glared at the bigger boy. “Do I ever have any money?” Charlie’s bap—his dad, the other boys would have said, but Charlie’s father was from the Punjab in India and insisted Charlie call him Bap—never gave him money.

“What you think we are, stupid or sumfing?” Skip shouted. Skip had a loose lower lip that flapped down and almost covered his chin. Also, Skip smelled terrible.

“Stupid or sumfing!” Bruiser echoed, and he laughed. Bruiser was a big boy, with man-sized knuckles.

“Going to Fathead Wu’s again, yeah?” Mickey spat. “What, you ain’t got a bit of brass to pay old Fathead?”

“Are you an idiot?” Charlie snapped. He was shaking, but he might as well speak his mind; whatever he said, he was going to get punched. “I always go to Wu’s. And I never have any money.” Charlie wished he were bigger. He’d pound Mickey and his friends flat. Maybe then Bap would let him out of the shop more. “Clock off!”

“How many times we gotta teach you this lesson?” Skip jeered.

Bruiser pressed Charlie against the wall with one hand and balled up his other fist. His big hand hung in the air like a wrecker’s ball.

Charlie laughed. “You’re slow learners, I guess.” He smirked to distract them from his hands while he shifted his grip on the basket and made a fist inside one of his bap’s shirts. He was Captain Charlie Pondicherry, priming his pistols.

Bruiser didn’t know when the joke was on him. “Slow learners, ha!”

Mickey looked at Bruiser, irritated.

Charlie threw the basket of dirty laundry at Bruiser’s face.

“Huh?” Bruiser shouted, and swung his fist—

Charlie ducked—

and pow! Bruiser’s fist plowed right into the top of Mickey’s head.

“Ow!” Mickey staggered back.

Charlie hurled his fistful of shirt at Skip’s face and turned to run, but the shirt missed and Skip knocked Charlie down.

Charlie hit the mud in a rain of dirty laundry.

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, June 20 – Interview With Ken Scholes

I couldn’t be happier than I am to feature this week’s guest, Ken Scholes. I had been trying to corral Ken for two or three months, but several events got in the way and many of the questions I had prepared for him were based on flat-out misconceptions. In order to get around these issues and present something both cogent and revealing, we arranged to get better acquainted over lunch at a restaurant near his home. As a result, much of what follows after his bio reads like the recorded conversation it actually was.

Ken Aug 2014For those who don’t know him, Ken is an award-winning, critically-acclaimed author of five novels and three short story collections. His work has appeared in print for over fifteen years. His eclectic background includes time spent as a label gun repairman, a sailor who never sailed, a soldier who commanded a desk, a preacher (he got better), a nonprofit executive, a musician and a government procurement analyst.  He has a degree in History from Western Washington University. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Ken makes his home in Saint Helens, Oregon, where he lives with his twin daughters and plays gigs at his local Village Inn Lounge. You can learn more about him by visiting www.kenscholes.com.

Although he’d been turning out stories for many years prior, 2009 was when the publishing world stood up and took notice. His debut novel, Lamentation, earned high praise—“Ken Scholes mixes wildly beautiful imagery with the sharply visceral; the profoundly mythic with the profanely human. These keenly observed stories of faith, love, and loss will resonate in your bones.”  ~ Tina Connolly—as have his subsequent books. Followers of The Psalms of Isaak series that Lamentation began, may feel sorrow when the saga concludes sometime in 2017 with the release of volume number five, entitled Hymn, but also joy over its completion. Until then, his readers will have to content themselves with Ken’s short stories… an entirely pleasurable task, to be sure. At the interview’s end, we will take a look at part of that collection.

Several obstacles kept us from getting this interview out of the blocks as soon as we had intended. Most recently, you were out of town at the end of May. As I understand it, you were teaching a class.

I was at MisCon in Missoula, which is a science fiction and fantasy convention that runs every Memorial Day weekend from Friday through Monday early afternoon. It’s much like OryCon or the others here locally, but what I like about it is that it’s small and intimate and a lot of fun. Kevin J. Anderson was there along with Jim Butcher. Pat Rothfuss made an appearance. J. A. Pitts was there, as well as Peter Orullian and Rhiannon Held. It’s just a nice gathering of science fiction and fantasy writers. There were a ton of us. While I was in town, I did my Muse Management and Production in the Story Factory Workshop the day before the con started, so I offered a Con discount and I think maybe a dozen to fifteen people spent the day with me learning to write short stories.

You’ve told me you intend to write a book dealing with PTSD. That’s quite a departure from your usual fare. Would you care to tell us what inspired it?

I’ve had complex PTSD since early childhood. We factor probably age two is when it was fully in place for me. So it’s been a lifelong struggle that I wasn’t necessarily aware of having until my kids were born and my parents died all in a mad rush over about fifteen… eighteen months of my life in my early forties. Ultimately out of that experience, not only did I try out a bunch of other things for PTSD like medication, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy, I also discovered Dr. Eugene Lipov’s use of the stellate ganglion block—a nerve block for pain—and its effect on PTSD by rebooting the amygdala and turning off the panic signal. So I go into Chicago as needed for an injection to the C3 ganglia nerve cluster. It’s a normal pain treatment. It’s used in pain centers all around the country. It’s just not been authorized for PTSD yet by the FDA.

And what do you intend to include in the book itself?

In the book, I’ll be talking about my experience with Lipov’s work on the stellate ganglion block. I’ll be talking about my other experiences around PTSD: tips and tricks for living with PTSD, staying the course when it comes to finding the best path for treatment of PTSD, but certainly advocating at this point—because I’ve now been in remission for close to eighteen months—advocating that the people look to what he’s doing as a first line. There’s nothing invasive, other than an injection. There’s no ongoing medication. It’s a shot of anesthetic that shuts down the PTSD.

You’re involved in a lot of social issues and you’re now planning on using your kick starter books to address them. Do you want to tell us something about the book or books in that series and what you hope to accomplish in the near future?

Sure. I’ve been doing a lot of thought on how to expand my life in the direction that it needs to go in, now that I’m divorced and don’t have that second income supporting this writer. So one of the ventures I’m looking at is beefing up my indie pubbing presence. And in the midst of thinking about all of that, I suddenly realized that there really doesn’t appear to be an e-book publisher out there with a specific focus just on doing good: a social justice approach to publishing. For instance, I’ve had Walking Bear Media as a DBA for several years and have done very little with it, other than a few indie pubbed collections. And now I am looking at a team of writers coming together, both allies and transgender people, to address the bathroom laws issues that are cropping up in North Carolina and other parts of the country. So I am looking at a model, now, where a group of authors or creatives would come together to donate various bits of their art, whether it’s essays, blog posts, short stories they’ve already sold. I wouldn’t be looking for any real fresh material, other than maybe supporting essays. But primarily, I’d be looking for folks of passion who care about a cause, willing to offer up something that’s a reprint. Put it all together along with a plan for what they want to do that’s good out of the proceeds of that anthology, and then leverage a $2.99 book through Amazon’s Kindle, so that at a dollar fifty of that’s going back in. If you are familiar with the Amazon model, you get about two dollars back on a $2.99 book. So having three quarters of that go directly to whatever cause they’re wanting to work on seems like a good starting place. I’m hoping to do a few of those. We’ll start with the transgender bathroom laws anthology, and then we’ll see what we can do in the quarters ahead.

Can you talk a little bit about the METAtropolis book that you wrote with Jay Lake and maybe discuss a little bit about his passing?

The Wings We Dare AspireJay was involved with the initial METAtropolis, which was the brainchild of John Scalzi and Steve Feldberg over at Audible and they invited Jay along with a group of other writers. And then John Scalzi bowed out for various reasons and Jay took on editing that project for the second version which was METAtropolis Cascadia. At that point, he invited me in, along with a couple of other writers. And when I did that, I thought that it would be fun for Jay and I to connect our stories together, since we were best pals and we lived in within close vicinity of each other. So, he and I both worked off of each other. And he and I used the character and the setting from his first METAtropolis story, which I think was called “In the Gardens of the Night,” that dealt with a character named Tygre Tygre and a security officer named Bashar. I took that story and expanded it and set it later. I dropped in new characters, mixed with the Bashar character, to write the novella “A Symmetry of Serpents and Doves.” He then took the world that he had created in that first novella and did a story interconnecting with mine called “The Ball Dancers.” He put his at the beginning of the anthology and mine at the end of the anthology, and it did well. The anthology had an all-Star-Trek cast with various stories—mine, his, Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Karl Schroeder, Tobias Buckell and I think Elizabeth Bear. I can be missing some names. But anyway, the second one went on to win an Audie Award.

And then for the third one, because Jay’s health was declining, he asked me if I would co-edit it with him. So we did METAtropolis Green Space together. And, out of that, we decided that, because we had so much fun at the last round, we would tighten the stories up even more so. And so this time around, he wrote the first novelette which was called “Rock of Ages.” And then, I took his novelette and added to it, creating a second novelette that basically stood alone, but finished out his story, and called it “Let Me Hide Myself in Thee,” referencing back to the old hymn, “Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee,” also bringing in the same characters.

So we had five novelettes and novellas set in the same universe, using the same characters, but we had not been able to find a print market for the entire METAtropolis Cascadia or Green Space projects. So volumes two and three lived on in audio, but nobody wanted to do a print version of these books. Then, Jay and I packaged it together with the five pieces, each written under our own individual names—three by him, two by me—and Kevin J. Anderson picked it up at WordFire. We were really fortunate in that we wanted to get this done and into Jay’s hands before cancer got him. And we managed, I think, by about two weeks. We put a copy of the book into his hands and two weeks later he was gone. It’s our first and only book together and I’m proud of it. Oddly enough, it’s not sold really well, but I’m hoping that it will pick up some steam as people start to hear more about it.

You recently finished the first draft of Hymn, the fifth and final volume of The Psalms of Isaak series. The series has taken several years to complete. Will you tell us about your journey?

I started the Psalms of Isaac with a short story that I wrote in 2005, and that short story evolved into the novel, Lamentation, which I wrote in 2006 over a mad rush of about six and a half weeks on a dare from Jay Lake and my wife at the time. It came together fast and everybody loved it instantly. It went out and landed the first agent that touched it. It went out and landed the first publisher that touched it. The publisher, Tor, loved the book so much that Tom Doherty said, “Hey, get all five of these.” I was about halfway into the second book when all of this happened. I came home from that experience and my mother died within just a few weeks of coming home from this whirlwind Cinderella trip to New York. So, we instantly were challenged around productivity and I found myself writing through major losses all the way up until this book, Hymn, the last book in the series. My mom died halfway into Canticle. I finished Canticle, and my nephew died while I was starting the revision process of the second book. I was halfway into the third book, Antiphon, when my father died. I was at the tail end, as I remember, as I typed the last sentences of Antiphon, while Jen and the girls were in the hospital right after they were born. I managed to get Antiphon done and then, at that point, I did not come around to finishing Requiem until 2012. That was a long, long gap. And, of course, that was during the time that I was dealing with PTSD at its worst. It was 2011 that I first discovered the block and I went off to Chicago to experience Lipov’s magic cure, so to speak. It’s great having a mad scientist in your pocket.

Of course, sales suffered as a result of Hymn not being written and Requiem not being written and turned in on time. But at the same time, I had such a splash front end, with world rights and foreign publications, that we were able to earn out my advance rather quickly. I had an advance against all five books and we had earned that out by the time the second book was in paperback. So we did well in that regard. However, it’s still not been a big money maker and sales have gone down with each book. My tardiness on the books has not helped that process at all, but the hope is that now it’s done—it’s ten years of my life that I’ve poured into this by group of people, these characters, the problems they’re solving—now that it’s a complete package, Tor can push it, I can push it. Now that it’s finished, more people may be inclined to pick up and start a new series.

Thank you so much for giving us all a glimpse into the often not-so-simple life of a writer. I, for one, am glad I persisted and cornered you.

For our visitors, here is an introductory blurb, followed by a very short story from Ken’s most recent work:

Blue Yonders CoverScholes’s third Imagination Forest collection which he released in August of 2015 (after Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars, and Other Unusual Suspects) continues exploring the limits of speculative fiction in seventeen short stories whose genres include playful fantasy and SF as well as edge-of-your-seat suspense. Scholes revels in the offbeat and surreal, marrying otherworldliness with very real human fears and concerns, and his stories are all the richer for it. Curious characters abound, including “The Starship Mechanic,” about an alien mechanic fascinated with the holdings of a San Francisco bookstore, and a cat-woman trying to escape her former owner in “A Chance of Cats and Dogs.” The collection has a distinctive rhythm, with the novella-length standout piece, “A Symmetry of Serpents and Doves”, bookended by shorter vignettes. Scholes’s work is considerably inventive, and this collection showcases his versatility as a writer.

 

Awash in Autumn, the Queen Reflects

 

Every day is the same and yet different.

Emily goes to him on her lunch break, her eyes flitting over him and away quickly though she knows he knows.  And Tony smiles and asks her what she wants but she always wants the special — his special — and he always adds magic to it.

“Pumpkin spice latte?”

Her eyes are on him.  They are away again.  “Please.”

Then, small talk.  But the best conversation of her day.  Concluded by the flourish of his art in the foam and money changing hands.

What magic be today?  She looks a the foam and her eyebrows furrow.  She doesn’t recognize the tiny image.

“You’ll see,” Tony says.

She sits in the park on a bench in the gray October day.  She eats her sandwich first.  Then her apple slices.  Only after does she consider the latte.

Emily ponders it, then sips it.

Antlers.

She smiles and closes her eyes.  He’s never done antlers before.

It is warmer in the clearing; she stands in it in her gown, the crown heavy upon her head.  In this place, she is a queen.  And the world is on fire around her, the leaves blazing autumn red and yellow, orange for as far as her eye can see.  Her feet itch to run the leaf carpet but she waits for Tony, wondering how he will come to her in this place

He snorts as he runs into the clearing, scattering leaves with his hooves as he tosses his antlered head.  He prances around her, then sets off east and she follows.

She runs after him, feeling the crown grow lighter upon her brow as she picks up speed.  When she reaches him, she leaps and mid-leap, she lands upon his back and seizes hold of his neck.

They run the forest now, dodging fallen branches and racing through alternating shafts of sunlight and shadow.  He carries her for hours before the trees fall away and they run old pastures gone to grass, leaping the fallen stone walls that occasionally intersect them.  The sun is low in the sky behind them, the sky shot through with red, when she bids him stop beside a burbling creek.

There, she stretches out upon her stomach to drink her fill while the stag stands beside her doing the same.

Crickets are singing and she sees the forests that surround them in the distance blazing with glory beneath a crimson sky.  Emily sees the meadow taking on the same glory.  And the white hide of her friend, Tony.  Last, she looks at her own arms washed gold and red in the setting sun, and closes her eyes.  Glory shining everywhere about me and upon me, Emily realizes.

Awash in Autumn, the queen reflects.

When she opens her eyes again, there is just enough time to walk back to the motel and re-stock her cleaning cart.  She drinks the last of her latte and when she walks past Tony’s espresso stand she looks away and smiles when he winks at her.

 

You can purchase it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Yonders-Grateful-Other-Fanciful-Feasts/dp/1933846518/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462473599&sr=8-1&keywords=blue+yonders%2C+grateful+pies

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, January 18 – Interview With Alan Dean Foster

You can imagine my delight when WordFire Press asked me to interview the legendary author, Alan Dean Foster, about his two new books, Star Wars – The Force Awakens and his long-awaited original novel Oshenerth. Equally pleasing, I found Mr. Foster both easy to work with and prompt in his responses.

Author and friendAlan Dean Foster’s work to date includes excursions into hard science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He has also written numerous non-fiction articles on film, science, and scuba diving, as well as having produced the novel versions of many films, including such well-known productions as “Star Wars”, the first three “Alien” films, “Alien Nation”, and “The Chronicles of Riddick”. Other works include scripts for talking records, radio, computer games, and the story for the first “Star Trek” movie. His novel Shadowkeep was the first ever book adaptation of an original computer game. In addition to publication in English his work has been translated into more than fifty languages and has won awards in Spain and Russia. His novel Cyber Way won the Southwest Book Award for Fiction in 1990, the first work of science-fiction ever to do so. His sometimes humorous, occasionally poignant, but always entertaining short fiction has appeared in all the major SF magazines as well as in original anthologies and several “Best of the Year” compendiums. His published oeuvre includes more than 100 books.

The Force Awakens CoverI understand that you spoofed the audience at the Star Wars Celebration 2015, Del Rey panel, where it was announced you would be novelizing the movie. Will you give us a recap of what you did?

The notion was mutually developed by Del Rey and myself. We thought it would be fun for the audience if, instead of my simply appearing on the stage with the other panelists, they announced that they were still looking for someone to do the novelization. They then opened the floor to questions.   As was prearranged, I was called upon first, whereupon I (as a presumed stranger) offered to write the book, as I was “familiar with the characters and setting”. After some easy back and forth, they said, “Okay, you can do it”. Whereupon I was introduced. The audience loved it.

After Michael Arndt, the original screenwriter, left the project and J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over, the movie was put on a production fast track. Since it wasn’t until April 9 of 2015 that the above announcement took place and the book’s release had to coincide with the movie release, how much time were you actually given to complete the book?

Three months. I finished it in less than two. That’s just the way I write, whether it’s a novelization, a spinoff, or an original novel.

It’s not surprising, then, that they selected you. How satisfied are you with the result?

Quite, although as with any work, one always wishes for the opportunity to do another polish.

Was there any sort of collaborative process between yourself, Abrams and Kasdan, or were you just left on your own?

Making even a small film with no expectations is a 24/7 task. Making something on the nature of Star Wars is a 25/7 task. Directors, producers, writers, actors are completely focused on and absorbed in the making of the film. Even if they wished to participate in the development of what is at base an ancillary product, the time simply is not available. So yes, I was left on my own, albeit with input from my editor at Del Rey, Shelly Shapiro, and the Star Wars story group.

How much access to the screenplay and production materials were you given?

I had a full screenplay. I requested, and was provided, with as much in the way of production material as Lucasfilm/Disney was able and willing to provide. This consisted primarily of still shots of characters in costume, sets, and props.

Did The Walt Disney Company exercise any sort of supervisory role?

As will be the case with all Star Wars-related material in the future, the Star Wars story group vetted everything I submitted.

Because your “Pip and Flinx” series is as rife with both the intergalactic populace and dry humor one finds in the Star Wars saga, I thoroughly expected your distinct writing style would bleed over into Star Wars – The Force Awakens. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find your book sounds exactly like George Lucas. Was it difficult to take on his voice?

When doing a novelization, I try to stay as true to the work of the screenwriters as possible. I’m doing a collaboration, an expansion…not a revision. Over the decades I’ve had to assume the “voices” of many other writers, most notably that of Eric Frank Russell in my expansion of his novella “Design for Great-Day”. It’s very flattering when readers feel that the expansion is a seamless development of the original writer(s) style.

While on one hand, a novel can take a reader inside a character’s head and provide background in ways a movie cannot, but on the other lacks a movie’s visual cues, there are inevitable differences between the way each tells the story that raise certain questions:

 In many instances, your book provides much more detail than the movie does, for example the exchange between Rey and Unkar Plutt concerning BB8 or, much later on, when Finn and Statura were talking about Starkiller Base, its weaknesses and capabilities. Are these your embellishments, or were they in the original screenplay but lost on the cutting room floor?

Those are mine, as are a fair number of similar bits of expansion in the novel. If you don’t provide such material, then you as a collaborator are not doing your job and the reader is not getting their money’s worth when they buy the book.

Where do the character or cultural backstories included in your book—that I suspect could not have been part of the screenplay, for example as pertain to Poe and Finn—come from?

I take what there is in the screenplay and develop the material further, attempting to envision what the characters themselves would say if they were present to fill in the blank spaces in their own backgrounds.

Oshenerth CoverI’d like to switch to something else that I suspect is much dearer to your heart. As long ago as 2009, I saw references on your website to a trilogy of your own creation titled Oshanurth, but never saw the work materialize. Now I learn that WordFire Press has published it with the revised spelling Oshenerth. Are you excited it’s finally in print and why has it taken so long?

Legacy publishers are less and less willing to take on material that doesn’t fit into pre-conceived (read: pre-sold) slots. I think the fact that Oshenerth takes place entirely underwater might have caused some hesitation on the part of assorted editors…though there was one who wanted to publish it immediately, only to have it rejected by the conservative owner of the company.

What was the inspiration behind the story?

I’ve been an avid diver for more than 30 years, fascinated by the ocean and its life. I always wanted to incorporate what I’ve seen and experienced underwater into a full novel. I’m especially fascinated by cephalopods.

Is there anything else you want readers to know about it?

One of the main characters, a cuttlefish, is based on an encounter I had with two of them off the coast of Blupblup Island, northern Papua New Guinea. Watching them communicate with color changes (white means danger in cuttlefish talk, by the way) as well as watching them watch me, I could not help but be taken by their evident intelligence.

Will you eventually release the full trilogy and, if so, when may we expect to see volumes two and three?

Oshenerth is a fully stand-alone work. As to continuing it, time and readership will tell.

As I calculate it, over your writing career, you’ve produced more than two books a year. What is your writing routine?

Rise around 7 am, read international and national news on the web, do research, write something, have lunch, go to gym or do the shopping, write some more. Write something every single day.

Just for fun: I understand you used to be quite the world traveller. While my own travels have provided many unique experiences, one of yours really caught my attention: You’ve actually cooked and eaten a piranha. I have to ask (1) how did that come about and (2) what did it taste like? Please don’t tell me it tasted like chicken.

You’re safe. Piranha broiled in a pan with a little butter, salt and pepper, and spices to seasoning, tastes just like fresh-water trout.

Yum! Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in my author interview series. Before I close with an excerpt from Oshenerth, I’d like to attempt what I call a Lightning Round, since it often produces unexpected insights. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m… talkative

The thing I’m most proud of is… getting a tooth from a live great white shark

The one thing I cannot do without is… iced tea

The one thing I would do over is… travel even more.

The thing that always makes me laugh, right down to my gut, is… Chuck Jones’ work.

And now, a quick taste of Alan Dean Foster’s original work, Oshenerth:

Chapter 1

As soon as he had the sleek, toothy slayer cornered, Chachel knew the shark was going to use magic. He was not worried. The heavy spear of pure white bone that he held had been shaped and carved by Fasalik Boneworker himself from the massive, scavenged lower jaw of a dead rorqual. You could slam it against rock and the shaft would not shatter. Furthermore, he had surprised the shark from below while it was busy patrolling the mirrorsky. Now it was trapped between the waterless void above and reef wall behind.

Cradling the spear under one arm and aiming it with the other, Chachel adjusted the strap that held the woven patch over the socket where his left eye had once resided and swam forward. The webbing on his left foot and the fin growing from the back of his calf fluttered in perfect synchrony with the artificial counterparts that occupied the space where his right leg was missing below the knee.

Above and in front of him, the blacktip’s eyes darted nervously from side to side as it searched for an escape route. If the shark made a dash for it, Chachel was ready with the spear. If it began to spout time-honored shark sortilege, the hunter’s well-honed vocabulary contained a clutch of stock counterwords. The gills of trapped shark and merson alike pulsed furiously, flushing water and extracting oxygen as they strained in expectation of the coming confrontation.

A powerful, yard-long tentacle slithered over Chachel’s taut left shoulder.

“Watch for a combination of teeth and talk. It may try to attack and invoke at the same time.”

Chachel nodded tersely. He knew that Glint was only trying to help. But it would have been better if the cuttlefish, who was as big as Chachel himself though not nearly as heavy, had stayed back out of the way. The last thing a hunter needed at killing time was to feel crowded.

Then the blacktip charged.

To anyone who has never seen a shark strike, it can be said that the great fish does not actually appear to move. One moment it is swimming lazily, and the next it is somewhere else, as if no water in-between has been transited. Some mersons called it wish-swimming: wish you are another place, and without a single kick or flick of a tail you find yourself therewith transported. After all, to catch something as fast as a fish, the shark must be faster still. Couple this intrinsic speed and ferocity with traditional shark magic, and surely an intended target has no chance to escape at all.

But Chachel was ready for the charge. Ready physically, because over the years he had pushed and worked his body to compensate for the loss of his left eye and right leg. Ready mentally, because he had laboriously learned the appropriate counterspells and protections. And ready emotionally, because he liked killing. He especially liked killing sharks because it was sharks who had taken his eye and the lower half of his right leg. It was sharks who had killed his father and mother in the same unanticipated pitched battle.

It was always sharks.

Visitors who would like to better acquaint themselves with Alan Dean Foster, or purchase his books, may do so via the following links:

email:                  adf@alandeanfoster.com

Oshenerth via Amazon:                    http://www.amazon.com/Oshenerth-Alan-Dean-Foster/dp/1614753806

Star Wars – The Force Awakens via Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Force-Awakens-Star-Wars/dp/1101965495

Website:                                             http://www.alandeanfoster.com/version2.0/frameset.htm

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