January 28, 2015

Smells Like Voodoo Spirit: an interview + giveaway with Russell James, author of "Dreamwalker"

Russell James grew up on Long Island, New York and spent too much time watching Chiller, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and The Twilight Zone, despite his parents' warnings. Bookshelves full of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe didn't make things better. He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Central Florida.
After a tour flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales best read in daylight. He has written the paranormal thrillers Dark Inspiration, Sacrifice, Black Magic, Dark Vengeance, and Dreamwalker. He has two horror short story collections, Tales from Beyond and Deeper into Darkness. His next novel, Q Island, releases in 2015.
His wife reads what he writes, rolls her eyes, and says "There is something seriously wrong with you."

I had the chance to ask Russell a few questions about his new book, Dreamwalker, so enjoy!

Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for Dreamwalker?

Russell: I have dreams the way the main character, Pete Holm, does, with recurring storylines. When I am in a dream, I remember previous dreams in that same imaginary location. I wondered what it would be like if one of those places was more than just somewhere in my head, actually happening in parallel on some other plane. I was also doing unrelated research on voodoo and the two ideas meshed pretty well.

Gef: With your previous books released through Samhain, the settings seemed to have a supernatural element imposing itself on a contemporary setting, whereas Dreamwalker appears to go one step further with a fantastical world setting as well. What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Russell: Doing the world building for Dreamwalker was really fun. I can usually only to do it when I write science fiction. I liked building Twin Moon City and all the details of the castle Cauquemere, the voodoo spirit, rules from.

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Russell: Some books don’t need much research, like Dark Vengeance, where I did a little research on a South American horror myth. I just finished a historical novel that need a ton of research. Most books are somewhere in between. I can find most of what I need on the Internet, but for upcoming Q Island I plied a friend of mine who’s a nurse for lots of medical details. She still talks to me for some reason.

When I’m writing I have two files, one is the manuscript, and the other is research. That second file has notes and ideas about the story, and vast swatches of stuff cut and pasted from the Internet, some of which I only use a sentence of as a reference. It never fails that the research sparks even more items in the notes and ideas page.

Gef: Growing up on Long Island, was there any kind of local folklore to influence your taste for horror? How about living in Florida for that matter? The Sunshine State doesn't strike me as a place steeped in the supernatural like New England states.

Russell: Growing up, my horror tastes were more influenced by television. In those long-ago pre-cable/satellite days, there were the three network stations and two local independents. The locals played B-movies, Twilight Zone, and Chiller Theater with the creepy hand coming out of a swamp in the credits. Those got the ball rolling.

You would think that sunny, tourist-friendly Florida wouldn’t have its scares, but I set my novel Black Magic in south Florida. The Everglades is pretty chilling, full of alligators, boa constrictors and nasty insects, even before I layered in a little supernatural.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the horror genre?

Russell: Horror lets us explore the human condition at a distance, look at the darkness within us without having to experience it first-hand. For example, The Walking Dead TV series lets us see the heights of people’s personal sacrifice and compassion right alongside the depths of their depravity and avarice. And you also get to watch people shove tire irons through zombie skulls, always solid entertainment.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Russell: I wish that people would stop encouraging writers to self-publish as a start to a career, unless the author is willing to make the investment needed to make it work. That means an investment in the author’s skills through practice and some sort of classes on writing. That means an investment in editorial services for content and proofreading. That means getting a cover and promotional blurbs that are professional grade. Badly prepared writing does not sell, and that failure makes people who have potential quit in frustration, and weakens the public perception of the market.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Russell: Comic books. My wife got me Justice League and Superman omnibus collections for Christmas. Each one is four inches thick. I could sit and read those all day, but I’m trying to pace myself.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Russell: I’m in two benefit short story collections that just came out, Still Out of Time (time travel stories) and Centauri Station (space-themed sci-fi.) Royalties from both of these go to Doctors Without Borders. A new Samhain novel, Q Island, goes on sale this summer. In that one, a plague breaks out on Long Island and it becomes a quarantine zone. Then there’s a mostly finished novel about the Devil trying to get his hands on a portal to Hell and a few other ideas in the half-cooked phase. Drop by at www.russellrjames.com or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Russell-James-Author/172907172791996 .

Gef: Well, thanks for stopping by, Russell. As for the rest of you, how about a little GIVEAWAY to sweeten the deal. Russell and Hook of a Book are offering up 2 of Russell's already published novels. If you'd like a chance to win one of them, just click on this link and fill out the Rafflecopter form or enter below. The giveaway ends on February 28th.

January 27, 2015

An Excerpt of W.R. Park's "The Franciscan"

About W.R. Park's The FranciscanWritten 14 years ago, The Franciscan eerily forebodes current events in the Vatican predicting the coming of the current Pope Francis and proves to be a timely novel more than a decade after it was penned. This is the first book in The Franciscan Trilogy.

The pope is not infallible.” When the newly elected Pope Francis utters this bold and unprecedented statement, he captures the attention of the world’s population. His reforms leave no corner untouched as he strips away the mask so long held before the face of the papacy. Bringing with him and open-minded candor rarely seen by public figures – he’s an inspiration to his followers – and a threat to those who oppose him.

When I penned this novel about a fictitious Pope Francis fourteen years ago, I never envisioned that a future pope would select the name, Pope Francis I. This novel’s Pope Francis is a bold and courageous pope whose sweeping reforms reversing ancient Vatican edicts place his life in grave danger. The world can only hope and pray that today’s Pope Francis, as bold as he is, will be fruitful in his endeavors and have a lengthy and healthy reign,” said WR.PARK.


NEARLY A WEEK HAD PASSED since Symon's discovery, and he had read the translated manuscripts numerous times. He consumed the written words as a dying man gasps for breath. The mystery surrounding the ancient narrative fueled his imagination and stimulated his craving to know more. While he sat by the opening of the cave, the sun warmed his body, and meditation purified his soul. What could have been Assuri's last words on earth, and the narrative of his days at the Library of Alexandria bewitched him beyond belief.
“Somewhere,” he thought. “Somewhere between the lines, somewhere hidden within Assuri's journal could be a clue to a far greater treasure. A treasure that has eluded humankind for thousands of years. A treasure that could help answer the question: what was the history of the world prior to the mass destruction in Alexandria of recorded chronicles?” Once again, Symon read the rendering of the second journal-manuscript.
I, Assuri, a trusted slave of Babylon, journeyed by the great river to the northwest (Symon's note: Euphrates River), disembarking at a predetermined site before reaching the town of Carrhae. Then west by land over the mountain range to the sea and Tarsus. My beloved master had a relative who lived in Tarsus and who arranged passage by boat to Alexandria. In all, I witnessed ten suns rise and set, and paid homage to the gods for my safety, which was in peril as I will relate.” (Symon's note: Estimating a distance of some 2,000 kilometers.)
“My thoughtful master, knowing all well that I have never ventured far from the city, dispatched two mercenaries to accompany, guide and protect this humble servant on the trek to Alexandria with our most cherished volumes in tow. When the request from Hypatia (Symon's note: A most highly respected female mathematician and astronomer.) of Alexandria arrived, my master immediately routed a message to inform his dear friend that he would certainly comply. It was an honor to have the writings of our late high priest Berossus' three volumes of
the world dating from Creation to the Great Flood copied and preserved in the Great Library at Alexandria.” (Symon's note: About all that is presently known about the volumes is that Berossus estimated the time between the two events to be 400,000 years—a hundred times longer than Old Testament chronology.)
I was excited beyond belief. The journey would be tedious and dangerous, but my master's description of Alexandria and the library, and Hypatia's beauty filled my being with joy. His entrusting the volumes greatly humbled this person. My love for him grew like a raging river as he told me of rooms upon rooms filled with writings gathered for hundreds of years and valued more than gold.” (Symon's note: There were an estimated 500,000 scroll-books
from Greece, Persia, Israel, India, Africa, and many other countries, all comprising the knowledge and history of the world to date. Alexandria was a community of scholars studying and teaching: physics, literature, astronomy, philosophy, music, medicine, biology, mathematics and engineering. The world's first research institute. In the early 300's BC King Ptolemy I wrote: ‘To all the sovereigns and governors on earth. I implore you to immediately send me works by authors of every kind: poets, rhetoricians and sophists, doctors and soothsayers, historians, and all others, too.’ Thus began the Library of Alexandria, and for hundreds of years the known writings, including history, were duplicated and stored. The line of Ptolemys, ending with the death of Cleopatra, set out to not only collect every book in the world, but to translate them all into Greek.)
With Berossus' works slung over my neck, close to my person in a large leather sheep-lined pouch, and my guides aboard, we set sail northwest. The night's encampments were uncommonly dark. On the fourth night, berthed on the bank where the great river sprang streams to both the north and south, I overheard the two men plotting to kill the servant and nip the valued prize. On the fifth night, playing the fool and obedient servant, and after grinding a powder from a known venomous plant, I sprinkled an amount sufficient enough into the
wine jug to render them in a death-like state for at least two days. If they survived. They fell for my offering, and drank with gluttonous passion. At first light I left them in slumber, and pushed on, knowing full well they would not follow once they realized I was two days ahead of them.

About W.R. Park: Author, columnist, teacher, lecturer, past president of three advertising agencies, William R. Park, Sr. is nationally known and respected in the advertising and literary worlds—and a Member of International Thriller Writers, Inc. His past works include: The Talking Stones, Overlay, Fatal Incision, plus ten others, each backed by glowing praise from numerous bestselling authors.

WR.PARK currently resides in the Kansas City area with his wife Genie. To learn more, and read what bestselling authors said about his body of work, visit: http://www.wrparkpublishinggroup.com 

Connect with WR.PARK on Twitter and Goodreads:

January 26, 2015

Spilling Red In the Green Hell: an interview with Mel Odom, author of "Master Sergeant"

Mel Odom is the bestselling author of many film and computer game tie-ins, including Forgotten Realms, Mack Bolan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He won a prestigious Alex Award for his YA fantasy novel The Rover. He currently lives in Oklahoma.

About Master Sergeant: They call it The Green Hell. A maze of tangled jungle, the planet Makaum is one of the most dangerous places in the universe. And for Terran Military Master Sergeant Frank Sage, it is now home.

The war between the Terrans and the Phrenorians rages, and both sides have their sights set on Makaum. If the planet's rich resources fall into enemy hands it could mean devastation for the Terran Army. To ensure that doesn't happen, Sage is sent to assess the Makaum troops and bring them in line with Terran Military standards. But soon after arriving at his post, he realizes the Phrenorians are not the only threat. Heading up a small but fearless unit, Sage must stop a brewing civil war with the power to unleash a galactic cataclysm unlike anything ever seen.

Master Sergeant (The Makaum War: Book One) by Mel Odom

Gef: With MASTER SERGEANT, you've got a soldier tasked with getting troops in fighting shape for a war over a resource-rich planet lovingly nicknamed The Green Hell. Any winks and nods to Earth's present-day resource exploitation in this new novel? Where does the impetus for this story come from anyway?

Mel: Resource exploitation has been a subject of every war I can think of. The early Roman wars were fought for trade routes, ports, fertile ground, water, and slaves (which many countries/corporations call the “labor pool” these days. Case in point, when the Berlin Wall fell, many West German corporations located in East Germany or hired employees from there because the labor price differential took ten years to even out. Across the border in Mexico, a lot more violence against women has erupted because many of them were hired in place of men, which disrupted the gender roles.

War, occupation (also called industrialization) in other countries, has always been about natural resources, trade, and labor. In MASTER SERGEANT, it’s the same story, but I worked hard to develop the world and the cultures, and I think military SF readers are going to have a good time with this one. The Green Hell is just one of those names that immediately echoes in a reader’s mind because many places have been called that.

Gef: We recently watched a satellite land on a comet. How likely is it that outer space could wind up humanity's next gold rush?

Mel: Outer space WILL be the next gold rush for the simple reason that we’re overpopulating this planet, and one of the drives that manifest within humanity is to go into underpopulated areas and set down roots. The United States is known for that. There is a land grab coming once everyone figures out how to make the technology work so the profit & loss statements are in the black. And, again, once you have people in colonies on the Moon or Mars or in the asteroid belt, you’ve got a labor population waiting to be exploited because they won’t be able, at first, to pick up and leave.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I still believe there’s a lot of great things that we can see and learn in space, but given the present corporate and national thinking, profit is going to have to be the thing that lays the tracks and powers the steam engine. When I was a kid, I loved the idea of traveling into space, and I still do.

Gef: Whether this new series fits in the military scifi genre, or maybe space opera, who am I to say? But your talents have you writing in multiple genres. Is there any kind of gear shift in your approach when going from one story to the next?

Mel: I read widely. I’ll drift from SF to mystery to horror to suspense to Western to Brit crime to whatever catches my eye. I grew up in rural southern Oklahoma. You had to learn to be a storyteller there if you wanted to take part in family discussions. I love stories. I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert A. Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Isaac Asimov. And comic books. Lots and lots of comic books. I was a comic nerd back when that was a BAD thing! Now we have THE BIG BANG THEORY. I wear comic book tee shirts to teach in at the University of Oklahoma and many of the students congratulate me on my shirts.

I don’t really think about the “gear shift” when I write. I know how a certain genre is supposed to go and I play around with those tropes. If you think of stories as potatoes, it doesn’t take long to realize that you can prepare potatoes several different ways: baked, mashed, hash browns, scalloped, etc. I start with a story idea (a potato) and figure out how I want to serve it, then just get to it. I love stories of all kinds.

Gef: How intensive was the research process for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Mel: I guess the best trick I’ve picked up is to research your new project while working on an old one. I read a lot of nonfiction, talk to people that have specific knowledge/ideas about the area I’m going to be working in, and let it kind of seep into the back of my mind. Then, while I’m writing, I might touch the research again, but a lot of it is already there, shaped into the story by my subconscious. I’ve learned to trust my subconscious and let it do most of the heavy lifting, but the subconscious is ALWAYS ravenous. Kind of like the plant in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. “Feed me, Stanley!”

Creating alien culture can be the most difficult. The Phrenorians in the Makuam books are a lot like scorpions. I read about scorpions (a group of scorpions is called a cyclone) and so on, then extrapolated that to an alien race with its own myths, legends, pecking orders and drives. I do that for all of the cultures I create. They have to be interesting and believable.

Gef: What do you consider to be saving grace of speculative fiction?

Mel: Speculative fiction takes readers out of the “here and now” and launches them into the worlds of “maybe” and “what if”, which are POWERFUL landscapes if you’ve got a reader willing to go with you. I love opening a book because if the writer has done it right, I’m sucked into a new and wonderful (and potentially fearful) world.

You can work in serious issues and cover them with adventure, or you can jettison today’s issues and pick up a light saber without worrying about overt ramifications. Speculative fiction makes people daydream, and sometimes think.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Mel: I don’t think there’s any “worst” piece of writing advice. A writer has to figure out what applies to his or her work and use that. A writer writes the way a cook cooks. You start with basic ingredients, which I think most of us can agree on, and then you season to taste (genre). For every rule or “writing advice” you can throw out there, I can find you a book where that rule is broken or advice is ignored successfully.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Mel: Lots of guilty pleasures when it comes to cinema! I just watched TAKEN 3 today and enjoyed it. I love THE WALKING DEAD, FLASH, NCIS, JUSTIFIED, CONSTANTINE, there are a number of good television shows on these days, and Netflix is great for binge watching series. When I’m not writing, I’m reading or watching television/movies, and I squeeze in extra books in the car on audiobook. I’m a media junkie.

Gef: Everyone and their mama have been furiously writing year-end lists, since that's what folks do once the snow starts to fall. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites last year?

Mel: I just read THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley, which features one of the best narrators you’ll ever see on the page. I’m catching up on Chelsea Cain’s Archie & Gretchen novels, John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books, THE AMULET series by Kazu Kibuishi, Scott Snyder’s Batman and Superman graphic novels (which are amazing), anything by Geoff Johns, handfuls of science fiction and fantasy novels, Bernard Cornwell’s history novels. LOVED GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and that has spawned the greatest soundtrack ever! LOVED THE WINTER SOLDIER! With all the writing I’m doing, I don’t have a lot of time for video gaming, but DESTINY and DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION are two that I want to sit down with soon, as well as the new CALL OF DUTY.
As I said, I love story!

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Mel: I’ve always got a lot of irons in the fire. I’ve still got one more ROGUE ANGEL book coming out sometime this year, I think, and I’m working on another Makaum trilogy. I’m also laying out a new military SF series that involves all kinds of intergalactic upheaval and alien war mechs that are mysteriously haunted by US Marines that went missing in Afghanistan.

People can catch my blog at www.melodom.blogspot.com or check in at www.melodom.net.

Thanks for your time!

January 23, 2015

Go Hard or Go Home: an interview with Anonymous-9, author of "Bite Harder"

Anonymous-9 is the pen name of Elaine Ash. Although her work is synonymous with Los Angeles, Elaine was born and grew up in eastern Canada. At seven years old her first published work in the church paper won a Temperance Award. It inspired her to take up drinking responsibly at an early age. (source: http://www.anonymous-9.com/)

Her Books:

I had the chance to ask the pseudonymous crime writer about her books and writing in general. Enjoy!

Gef: With Hard Bite, and by extension its sequel that was released this year, Bite Harder, the premise sounds absolutely amazeballs. At the very least with the inclusion of a helper monkey as partner-in-crime shows an aptitude in bad-assery. Where did the impetus for this series come about?

Anonymous-9: Hi Gef and thank you so much for the work you do promoting authors. The impetus for HARD BITE came about with a short story that won Spinetingler Magazine's Best Short story on the Web 2009.  Everbody said, 'That should be a novel." So I wrote one and it got picked up by Blasted Heath. They didn't TELL me they wanted a series. I thought it was a standalone book and Al Guthrie writes and says, "You know, we really want a series." Sometimes, you can't plan stuff, it just comes along and you have to roll with it.

Gef: How intensive was the research process for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Anonymous-9: I'm always looking for the unlikely protagonist, the premise I haven't read before. That's what I want to read so that's what I want to write. In terms of research YouTube is my friend. I spend butt-busting days searching out videos and then watching them over and over to gleam information. One trick is to watch videos not for what's said or done, but for what's in the background. I'll take screen shots and them import them into a program and blow them up, finding clues and details the cameraman isn't aware he/she's getting. That's a good trick.

Gef: You very recently came out with a novella, Crashing Through Mirrors, that has earned its share of praise from readers and writers alike. How much of a gear shift is it to go from writing a novel to a novella?

Anonymous-9: Ha! An easier shift. I've adopted trying stories out on readers before putting in the investment a novel takes. (CRASHING THROUGH MIRRORS is technically a novelette at 15,000 words.) I'm a natural short sprinter as a writer. It's easier for me to writer shorter than longer. That being said, CTM has done so well, and been so well received, that I will probably turn it into a novel and sell it. Releasing it as a novelette first means it can find its readership, get rated, and ultimately sell for more money as a "known" quantity. I like to be as "out of the box" businesswise as I am premisewise.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the crime genre?

Anonymous-9: The saving grace of the crime genre is the kind of writers it attracts. The crime genre is concerned with ugly violent things and when people exorcise ugly and violent urges out of their systems and onto a page, they can then turn around and be civil and supportive to one another. Unlike musicians, who are team players. and have to watch their aggression or nobody will want to play with them, writers for the most part are lone wolves. Writers can savage each other at the drop of a hat. Just throw a bunch of comedy writers into competition and watch the blood squirt. But crime writers aren't like that. They're civil and kind to one another, excepting rare aberrations. That's the saving grace of the genre, and why I'm sticking with crime.

Gef: What's the allure of using L.A. as a backdrop? Is it just the kind of city that lends itself as a character or is it as simple as just living in California? How 'bout Texas? Or eastern Canada for that matter?

Anonymous-9: It's as simple as living in California where I can write realistic descriptives. I do want to end up in Texas cause it's rich in so many ways: history, culture and storytelling. I would love to be a southern writer, at least for a little while. In terms of eastern Canada, I wrote my first novel set there and in Toronto (now out of print). I may spend some time in Newfoundland before I'm done and at least write a novella there. For my latest work contracted to Uncanny Books, I referenced Farley Mowatt's GREY SEAS UNDER. A great Canadian writer from the old days.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Anonymous-9: A major New York agent advised, "Get rid of the monkey." That person shall remain nameless.

There's no writing advice I wish would go away, but I wish the industry would stop WHINING. The book industry has never stopped complaining and crying and heralding the demise of the book since it was born. In the 90s, when Borders/Chapters and the big chains came in, and my first book was nationwide in Canada, the barking and howling was deafening. The biz was going into the toilet they said! There was no future in publishing they said! I believed the hype and left writing novels to try screenplays because "it was the future." But novels were my first love and what I did best. I lost ten years of my novel-writing career because I believed those lying complainers. Have you seen a reduction in books since 1990? Heck NO!!! But they never stop. I think it's a ruse to beg for everything they can get and keep writers cowed. They whine because it works. My best advice is make a name for yourself and then charge what you want. Learn to negotiate and stop with the "I don't know anything about business" mantra. That's a guaranteed losing mindset. Not that I'm such a genius but at least I know it's a vulnerable place to be.

Now would you like me to tell you the way I really feel?

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Anonymous-9: I have no guilt regarding sex or pleasure. I know it's very American and I want to be a good citizen but I don't get it. Why feel guilt about pleasure? Does not compute.

Gef: Looking back at 2014, everyone and their mama has written year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites of the past year?

Anonymous-9: Hunger Games captured me in a big way. Streaming free episodes of shows I can't get on my TV via Amazon Prime hit me big in '14.  

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Anonymous-9: I'm snailing it to the finishline on a novelette for Uncanny Books called DREAMING DEEP, a Lovecraftian tribute set on a tugboat in Long Beach, CA. Just when I think it's almost finished I throw out the second half and start again. I'm a perfectionist and no amount of drafts are too many to get it right. I read Part 1 out loud to a gathering of Port of Long Beach tugboat operators not long ago and they loved it. So I refuse to let those people down. It's got to rock hard from start to finish.

I also landed a gig bringing an untold story in the life of Tennessee Williams to light. Mia Phoebus was a housemate and cohort of Tennessee Williams back in 1940 in Provincetown. I have delightful vintage pictures of them together at the house and on the beach. Incredibly, her story has never been told and I'm beyond thrilled to be part of a book that will join the chronicles of Williams' life and times. It's a bit of a change from the hardboiled crime fiction scene, and still exciting. Mia will be using her exposure with the book to cross promote her original poetry, some of it dedicated to Tennessee. She's marvelous with language. No big surprise, with Tennessee Williams as her confidante.

Great talking with you, Gef. Again, THANK YOU for your blog and all you do for books and writers.

January 22, 2015

Building Castles in Hugh Howey's Sandbox: an interview with Timothy C. Ward, author of "Scavenger"

I first heard about Timothy C. Ward a couple years back when he was doing his AudioTim podcast, then transitioned over to the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast. Now he's entered the realm of writing with a serialized book set in Hugh Howey's Sand universe, called Scavenger. I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his books and his journey thus far. Enjoy.

Timothy C. Ward on Amazon.com

Gef: What was the impetus behind jumping into Hugh Howey's Sand universe?

Tim: Hugh writes my favorite kind of scifi, the kind that is only a touch on the science and mostly about a rapid adventure with characters that evoke strong emotions. Sand is an incredible story of a family who's lost their father and is struggling to survive in a future America where sand diving and treasure hunting is both exciting and deadly. I wanted to explore that world with my own characters, one of which came from a scene near the last tenth of the book. I won't ruin the story, but a kind of people were described in passing and I wanted to see what they looked like up close and in the flesh. 

Gef: What kind of a gear shift is it when writing a story set in someone else's creation as opposed to one purely of your own invention?

Tim: I don't know if there is more prep before writing than I would do in my own world, but I read the source material at least twice (in this case four times as I had the audiobook and listened through twice). I kept notes on world and science and just made sure I stayed true to what was built. In a way, it is easier with someone else's book because it is firmly established.

I generally only work on one story at a time. I finish the draft and then go back to something else and edit or write a new story. No real difference in how those gears shift.

Gef: What kind of little tip and tricks have you picked up in working in these shared universes like Hugh Howey's and Michael Bunker's?

Tim: My success varies between my stories set in Hugh's and Bunker's worlds. With Scavenger (Hugh's world), I am self publishing one novella at a time. This has made editing cheaper than a whole novel, but my sales are nowhere near covering that expense. It has challenged me on whether or not I'll be able to afford to keep publishing them. Life happens and I've had a rough four months. Scavenger: Blue Dawn (#2) published Oct. 1 and while I'm almost done with Scavenger: Twin Suns (#3), three months between novellas is a bit to ask of readers. On the other hand, #2 only has 3 reviews, so I wonder how many people are ready for #3. People have so many books in their queue, it is very hard to slip in. I hoped to do that with Scavenger: Red Sands (#1) being only a novelette length story, but while I got more readers for that, many haven't had time to read part two, which is four times as long.

My tip then for my experience with Scavenger is to understand that self publishing fan fiction as a new writer is likely going to cost more money than it will make, at least in the first six months, maybe more. Granted, Hugh Howey's experience publishing Wool #1 is my model, he had like seven books out by then, so his audience helped push the sales needed to invest in writing the rest of the parts. I don't know if he had them edited or not and he did his own covers. Self publishing has grown to the point where you have to get professional looking covers and editing. The competition is too great to go cheap on those.

If Scavenger were not fan fiction, I might scrap the idea of self publishing, finish the story and submit to a trusted small publisher. I don't know if I can do that with fan fiction. I haven't asked Hugh if he'd care. I did ask for permission to write and sell in this world, so definitely do that if you're planning to write fan fiction and sell it.

As for writing in Michael Bunker's world, I was invited to write a story for his anthology, Tales from Pennsylvania. I was not a first choice, and was given a week to produce a story. My tip: when given a professional paying gig to write a story in a world you've enjoyed, take it, even if the time frame seems impossible. I spent the weekend rereading Pennsylvania and making notes, then connected an emotion I had from reading an article in the paper (a mother soldier returning from war to embrace her son) and wrote a story with that in a setting in Michael's world. Thankfully, I'm experienced enough to have made that opportunity work. And the paycheck I'll get in six months will go toward self publishing costs. I've contemplated taking more time to write short stories for paying markets as a way of paying for self publishing. The return on investment is higher than self pubbing at the moment.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of fan fiction?

Tim: Sharing fan bases with your favorite writers. Not only is it a good way to get new fans, it is an amazing experience to share a story in the same world as someone you look up to. For many, this is how we've been given a start in publishing. I'm eternally grateful for that.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Tim: No piece of writing advice is worse than any other because all of them make you think about what you want to do and if you agree or not. Becoming a writer is reading, writing, editing and thinking about how to become a better story teller. When someone gives me advice, it makes me think, and I can come out just as good after hearing advice I disagree with as advice I agree with. That said, I wish I had been more confident to stick to my guns earlier on. 

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Tim: I'm a huge Walking Dead fan. Yes it is a popular show, so maybe it isn't guilty, but I say Walking Dead instead of just zombies because I'm not a give me all the zombies you can dish out kind of fan. I am very picky with my zombie stories having solid writing and characters. Fiend by Peter Stenson (meth zombie apocalypse) and The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey (parasite like none other zombie apoc) are two highly recommended zombie stories. 

Gef: We're coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Tim: I need to make a top five list. Without thinking too hard on order, here are my top five I read this year:

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (released earlier than 2014)

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Tim: I'm hoping to publish Twin Suns in January. I submitted a novel about the newly opened rift between Iowa and the Abyss, so we'll see on that. I'm trying a new blog at www.timothycward.thirdscribe.com, which includes a community of readers and writers as well as website creation for those who want to focus on writing. I have a newsletter for updates on new releases and sales athttp://eepurl.com/NA__X. I'm offering a first one hundred reviewers program where if you review Scavenger: Red Sands (#1) and sign up for my newsletter, I'll email you the next part free. Review part two, I send you part three free, and so on.

January 20, 2015

Lost and Confound: a review of Brian Keene's "The Lost Level"

The Lost Level
by Brian Keene
Apex Book Company (2015)
186 pages
ISBN: 9781937009106

Available on Amazon.com

Brian Keene's brand of horror is the kind that will rip your heart out and feed it to you. But he's got a knack for delving outside strictly horrific fiction, especially the zombies that made him famous, for more rollicking fare. His collaboration with Nick Mamatas on The Damned Highway would be a good example of that. So I was curious how he'd pull of some pulpy fantasy adventure.

Aaron Pace finds himself trapped in a distinctly alien land after getting a little too complacent with his self-taught dabbling in the occult. Oh, sure. Opening portals into alternative dimensions is fun and games at first, but all it takes is one brain fart and suddenly you wind up in the one universe that doesn't have an exit. And it's not like he wasn't warned. The books he read referred to it as The Lost Level, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross that threshold has never returned. So Aaron's only hope of seeing home again is to be the first jabrone to find a way back.

A little bit Edgar Rice Burroughs, a little bit David Gerrold, Jules Verne, a little bit Lovecraft, yeah-yeah-yeah. There's a heaping bowlful of winks and nods to what's come before, but this book is all Keene. Throw a blue-collar stiff with an unsettling acumen in the occult and fling him into a cosmic meatgrinder, and you've pretty much got a Brian Keene cult classic in the making.

Now, while the book never felt it reinvented the wheel, it remained true to the genre, and lured it off the beaten path just enough that Keene's indelible voice rings through, kinda like a Springsteen song echoes through the halls of a sanitarium.

It's pretty simple, really. If you're already a fan of Keene's work, there's no question as to whether or not you should read this. If you've yet to sample the man's writing, either because he hasn't been on your literary radar or you've been squeamish about reading all that horror fiction, then you've got a great gateway drug here in the form of The Lost Level.

January 19, 2015

An Excerpt of "Surviral" by Ken Benton

About SURVIRALThe deadliest flu season in a hundred years is about to turn a whole lot deadlier. When an accident at a famous medical research facility lets a mutated avian flu strain out, a nightmare scenario unfolds.  Before authorities can react, millions are infected—and that’s just the beginning. The mortality rate exceeds 80%. Leaders and elected officials soon learn the man-manipulated virus respects neither rank nor stature. The resulting chain reaction leads to a collapse of modern society—even in Colorado, where no cases of the killer strain have yet appeared.

Clint Stonebreaker, a happily-married software engineer living in Denver, doesn’t like watching the news. He especially doesn’t let Jake, his wacky doomsday-prepping brother, watch it when he visits. But when chaos goes viral through the entire country, Clint and his wife Jenny are forced to acknowledge reality. They find themselves hitting the road with their gun-enthusiast neighbor to escape the deteriorating city. Their goal? Reaching Clint’s hunting cabin in Southeastern Colorado and trying to make a homestead of it.

They don’t get far before running into a gauntlet of obstacles. Colorado seems to have become a giant sociological experiment, with dire consequences for making the wrong decisions. The spirit of American resolve is pitted against the ugly realty of criminal opportunism in every direction they turn. Ironically, Clint isn’t sure which is worse: being forced to survive in the midst of civil unrest, or knowing he’ll have to admit to Jake that he was right. Assuming he can find him…

Available at Amazon.com

An excerpt of SURVIRAL
by Ken Benton

Because Harold and Barry were both light sleepers, they decided Clint should take the first “watch.” It was only prudent for someone to stay awake and keep an eye on the cars, as well as the personal belongings Barry and Shay had to unload in order to fold their rear seat down for their makeshift bed. Harold would relieve Clint in a couple hours, and then Barry would take the last shift. Barry assured them he would be awake in the wee hours anyway.

“There is one thing that concerns me,” Barry said. “I’d feel better if our perimeter was more …secure.”

“I know what you mean.” Harold scanned their surroundings. “Well, we could move the cars to fence us in better.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Jenny said.

Harold and Barry adjusted the two wagons so they were back to back, overlapping just a little. They decided it was good enough and everyone but Clint retired to try and sleep.

Clint sat in the comfortable canvas chair he brought along and gazed at the night sky. The smell of campfires was still heavy and the stars were out. He thought about Jake. Jake always liked the stars. Clint checked his cell phone for the twentieth time, but there were still no bars.

Jenny came out of the tent. Clint expected her to come over and kiss him goodnight, but instead she scurried to Harold’s tent and called him. The two of them talked in low voices before Harold got up and walked to his car. He came back with a small vinyl bag and handed it to Jenny. She thanked him and they both went back inside their tents.

Clint could still hear bits and pieces of conversations from the other campers. Not enough to understand the exchanges, but he picked up certain words that gave him the gist of the topics being discussed. Everyone was trying to go somewhere. People were concerned about their own safety, in addition to the safety of the ones they were going to see. Complaints about phones not working were also popular. Clint realized he and Jenny were in the same predicament as everyone else. Barry and Shay, too. They were nice folks. Good thing Clint picked this spot, so they could partner up with them for the night.

Clint caught himself nodding off twice. He eventually decided to move to the picnic table to prevent any further occurrences. Harold got up and relieved him shortly thereafter. He had a book, and turned the lantern back on so he could read.

Inside the tent, Jenny was sleeping lightly. She rustled as Clint found a comfortable position next to her. That’s when he noticed the vinyl bag Harold gave her was partially unzipped. He couldn’t be certain in the dark, but it looked to contain one of Harold’s pistols. Clint wasn’t sure whether that should relax him or make him nervous.

It must have relaxed him, because the next thing he knew it was morning. The sounds of people talking—along with car doors shutting and engines starting—caused his eyes to open and find sunlight.

When he and Jenny crawled out of the tent, Harold was talking to Barry next to his brown Volvo. Barry and Shay were packed up already, and apparently about to leave. Shay waited in the passenger seat. Clint and Jenny approached them.

“Good morning!” Barry said “The roads have reopened. Here.” He held out a piece of paper. Clint took it. There was writing on it.

“That’s the name, address, and phone number of Shay’s sister in Pueblo. If you need anything, or have any trouble travelling, feel free to contact us there. Or, if you happen to find yourself in Pueblo, stop by and visit.”

Shay rolled her window down. “Bye, guys. So nice meeting you. Bye, Jenny. Good luck!”

Clint was still groggy as they said their final goodbyes. He wished he had a cup of coffee. They had a bag of grounds packed away, but no practical way to make it.

Barry got in his car and joined the crowd of vehicles that were all attempting to leave at the same time. He first tried to wedge his way into the line, but then seemed to have an inspired notion. He turned and drove right through the trees to get to the side road, his windshield acquiring a small pine branch in the process. Several other cars then followed his example.

“We might as well wait until this clears out more,” Harold said. “Go ahead and use the bathrooms if you need to. I’ll start packing up.”

Harold had everything loaded when Clint and Jenny returned from the restrooms. The field cleared out fast and was nearly vacant by now. Unsightly patches of burned grass marked the sites of last night’s campfires. One of them was still smoldering.

“Are we ready?” Harold said. He appeared to be in good spirits.

They took one final look around before climbing into the car for the road trip. Clint was hopeful of a reunion with his brother before this day was through. Harold started the engine and put the car in gear.

But then he put in back in park.

“No,” he said. “Dear God, no!”

“What’s wrong?” Clint didn’t like the sudden desperation in Harold’s voice.

Without answering, Harold turned the ignition off, opened his door, jumped out, and ran through the trees towards the road.

“What’s the matter now?” Jenny asked.

“I don’t know. Not car trouble, I hope. Looks like he tried to run after Barry and Shay. Did they leave something behind?”

“Or accidentally take something of ours, maybe?” Jenny asked.

Clint looked at her and tilted his head. She raised her eyebrows. They both got out of the car. Harold had disappeared. The traffic was now thinned out, so the remaining cars were moving freely.

Clint turned to Jenny and made an exaggerated shrug. As he did, he noticed a black Chevy Suburban driving on the field. It parked next to the still-smoldering fire. A well-dressed man got out and stomped on it.

“There he is,” Jenny said, pointing to the trees. Clint turned back around.

Harold was back in view, shaking his head and muttering as he slowly returned.

“I’m so stupid,” he said. “So stupid. We’re screwed. Damn those shysters!”

“What’s the problem?” Clint asked.

“They siphoned us. Took all our gas. We had over three-quarters of a tank. Now on empty!” He walked up to his car and pounded a fist on the hood. “Dammit!”

“Are you sure?” Jenny asked. “How can that be? You guys watched the cars all night, right?”

“Let me see,” Clint said. He came around to the driver’s side, slipped in sideways and turned the key one click to the accessory position. The gas gauge rose only to E and the need gas light came on. He cranked the ignition. The car started right up, but the gas reading didn’t change.

“Oh, no.” Clint turned the car off and rested his head on the steering wheel.

Jenny came up next to him. “I don’t understand. Who could have stolen our gas? How could this happen?”

“Our friends,” Harold said. “Barry and Shay. They must have been low.”

“No,” Jenny replied. “No, I don’t believe it. No way it was them. Maybe we punctured the gas tank or something?”

“It was Barry,” Harold said. “Only person it could have been. There’s no gas leak. I saw the gauge when we repositioned the cars last night. There would be a smell, and a puddle under the car.”

“Well then it had to be someone else—like that Zane character, maybe.”

“He’s right, honey.” Clint shook his head. “I remember thinking the position he put his wagon in was a little weird, overlapping the rears like that. It was so the gas caps were lined up.”

“Right,” Harold said. “Remember when he offered to siphon some gas to us? That struck me as odd. Obviously, he had a siphon. Now I see it was a sly way of finding out how much we had.”

Jenny looked shocked. “I …I just can’t believe it. They were so nice. And they gave us their address and phone number.”

“Fake,” Harold said. “Guaranteed. That’s why he wanted the last watch. I shouldn’t have fallen for that. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

“Not your fault,” Clint said. “They fooled all of us. Good actors. But what are we going to do now?”

“We need help!” Jenny shouted to the air. She began waving her arms frantically. “Somebody, help!”

She then lowered her voice and looked at Harold. “We need to find someone who will give us some gas.”

“Not bloody likely,” Harold said.

The sound of a big motor drew close as the black Suburban on the field suddenly pulled up next to them. The passenger window rolled down and the driver leaned over in his seat.

“You folks all right?” the driver said. “Having some kind of trouble?”

Jenny ran up to his window. “Oh yes, yes, thank you for stopping! Someone siphoned all our gas last night while we were sleeping. We made friends with this other couple, but we think they ended up stealing our gas! Please, can you help us? We just need some gas. At least enough to get back to Denver.”

The driver turned his engine off and climbed out. Clint thought the man looked out of place as he came around the front of his big SUV. Probably in his early fifties, he was too well-groomed, and appeared too well-rested, to be one of the campers from last night. He wore a dress shirt and sports jacket, which smartly complimented his jeans, cowboy boots, and partially-gray hair. This man moved with a certain confidence. Somehow, his presence here relieved much of the stress of the current situation.

“Name’s Wade. Sorry to hear about your trouble. Gasoline has become a scarce commodity, so I’m not surprised by your story. Unfortunately, I can’t spare any, either. And I’m not going to Denver anytime soon—like for the rest of my life, if I’m lucky. About the best I can do is offer you a ride into Springs.”

“Did you spend the night here?” Clint asked. “I don’t remember seeing your car.”

“No.” Wade shook his head. “Not in the park. I got stuck in the Black Forest, too, though. Fortunately, I have some friends with a house here. Heard about the impromptu communities of stranded motorists and decided to take a quick survey of the scene before heading home.”

“You look familiar,” Jenny said.

“You folks live in the Springs area?”

“No, Denver. But we have a second home down near Springfield.”

“I see.” Wade looked disappointed. “Too bad. Well, my offer stands, anyway. You seem like nice people. I’m your fifth-district congressman, Wade Bennett.”

“Oh.” Jenny giggled. “That must be why I recognized you. I’m Jenny Stonebreaker. This is my husband, Clint, and our neighbor, Harold. We were trying to make it down to our second home.”

“Maybe we still are,” Harold said. “Would you mind making room in your truck for some of our equipment?”

“I suppose I could do that. Not the entire load, I hope.” Wade eyed the rear compartment of Harold’s wagon.

“No,” Harold said. “Only the bikes and backpacks.”

“Wait a minute,” Clint said. “We need to discuss this.”

Wade nodded. “Of course. Talk it over. I’ll wait a bit. Those look like good bikes, and you all seem to be in decent shape. You might be able to get back to Denver by early afternoon. Although…”

Everyone looked at him.

“It might be safer heading south. Guess it depends on your second home. Denver had some problems last night, from what I hear. More riots and looting. Just so you know. Up to you.”

Wade sat in his car while Clint, Harold, and Jenny talked. Clint wasn’t initially sure about trying to finish the trip by bike, but when he heard the congressman’s warnings about Denver he was much more inclined towards it. The ride would be difficult either way. But at least going south figured to be more downhill than facing the steep inclines back to Denver.

Then there was Jake. Clint still had no way of knowing if he was okay. Stopping by his house in person might be the only way to do that now. And travelling by an internal-combustion powered vehicle no longer seemed to be an option.

Harold, predictably, was all for it. Jenny took some persuading. Ultimately, though, she was sympathetic to Clint’s fear of riots and acquiesced.


Ken Benton appears to be your run-of-the-mill city slicker at first glance, blissfully playing with his iPhone at the bar of the local barbeque joint while sipping on craft-brewed IPA. But he has a secret passion: doomsday survival prepping. And if you ever snuck up behind him to see what he was reading, it would likely be one of those apocalyptic-survival stories set after the collapse of modern society. Yes, he’s one of those nuts. But someday soon, Ken believes, those nuts may become the new upper class in society. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with story-telling. And preparing. Cheers.


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