January 30, 2015

The Heavy Price of Being a Hero: an interview with Jake Elliot, author of "The Wrong Way Down"

Having lived all across the United States, fantasy author Jake Elliot currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and their giant cat. (He’s twenty pounds and a bit sensitive about his big belly.) Jake has been published nine times, including two novels and seven short stories.

Birds fly, fish swim, Jake writes.

Gef: What was the impetus behind The Wrong Way Down?

Jake: Hmmm, do I answer this honestly, or do I lie?

Fine, honesty it is.

Long ago, in the 1990s, a time before the publishing revolution began, I read a popular fantasy author and arrogantly professed I could do better than he. I no longer feel such egotistical sentiments; writing fantasy is a tough gig.

I wrote my first fantasy novel soon after college...and it wasn’t very good. So, I wrote it once again, and it got better, but it still couldn’t stand on its own. Six years ago, I changed the main character from Popalo to Popalia. Popalo got a sex change. Every relationship and interaction he’d developed in the initial story needed revision after his ‘gender surgery.’ The new Popalia gave my world a very fresh breath of life.

The old book needed to be re-written and renamed again, this time it became The Wrong Way Down and was published with a small press. Early last year, it went out of print. There were a few spots needing patchwork before reprinting. Mostly, I smoothed the action and tightened the dialogue. Now the tale is at its sharpest.

Gef: What do you suppose is the saving grace of epic fantasy?

Jake: As a writer, epic fantasy is a clean palette, an open sandbox. As long as the rules for your world are written and kept true, the only limitations are the dimensions of imagination for both reader and writer. Seriously, if you want knights that wear flamingo-pink armor and ride flying unicorns, fantasy is the only genre that will stand for such foolery.

I dare you, John Grisham, put flamingo-pink knights riding flying unicorns in one of your courtroom thrillers. Heh. (I haven’t crossed that bridge either.)

Another aspect I like about fantasy is that the least likely loser is generally destined to save the world from some harrowing apocalypse—it is common for Good to triumph over Evil—an occurrence that rarely happens here on Earth. In my writing, I like to explore the nature of law versus chaos and see how dirty ‘Good’ is willing to get to beat big-bad ‘Evil.’ Being a true dork, I like philosophical abstracts and absolutes.

Gef: When did you first feel the lure of epic fantasy and the like?

Jake: I love JRR Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. Tolkien created Gandalf, Howard created Conan. Beyond them, I’ve read some, but not much epic fantasy. I find writing fantasy as fun, especially when it is spotted with a smidgeon of horror.

I think of the Heretic Series as being ‘Mock-Epic.” The ‘heroes’ in The Wrong Way Down will pay heavy prices for the title of ‘hero,’ and ‘hero’ is questionable at best. Under-equipped for the road ahead, Popalia’s gang will experience a random meeting with an abnormally hostile beast deep in the woods, they’ll be conned by cunning thieves, as there are a few other surprise mishaps that I shouldn’t spoil here. The ‘Heretic Series’ isn’t a success story, but more like watching a train wreck in slow motion. In each of the four books it only gets worse.

Gef: While I've never played Dungeons and Dragons, that's where my mind instantly wonders at the mere mention of the genre, even more so than to Tolkien's or Martin's work. In the grand scheme of things, do you feel the genre is well represented in pop culture, or does is still need some educating for the casual reader/viewer?

Jake: I think the genre is right where it needs to be. Fantasy and Sci-fi are ‘dork genres,’ and they should remain so. Seriously, if you read and liked the Lord of the Rings books more than the movies, then you’ve got serious ‘dork tendencies’ and you just might love what I’m writing too. (Don’t get all hurt by my name-calling antics, I fly my ‘dork-flag’ with pride.) As a reader’s ‘meter of dorkiness’ wanes, fewer and fewer people see The Wrong Way Down for what it is—a fast paced, sometimes goofy story about a gang of losers who fail epically.

Sci-fi and fantasy readers are highly imaginative people. Escapists love fantasy too. In my unimportant opinion, high fantasy books will never appeal to a popular market. Clearly, J. K. Rowling took fantasy to new heights, but in a lot of ways, she kept her mythologies relatively palatable to a common audience. Gearing Harry Potter toward the most imaginative minds out there, she hit her mark—children.

I’m writing adult subjects. Deep imagination in adults is a hard variable to compensate. From the gate, I expected a small, but rabidly loyal fan base. So far, so good, but it would be nice to see a few more in the ranks.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

Jake: “Write what you know.” How dull. I could write about a guy who delivers pizza. I know a lot about pizza and driving. I even know how to drive a standard transmission. I don’t like black olives on pizza, so in my upcoming pizza-delivery/murder-mystery, black olives will probably point out who the murderer is. Oops, sorry for that spoiler.

“Write what you know.” Seriously, by that advice, no writer could write about murder. I guess my next book could be an insider’s look at prison life. My books would be filled with boring pages if I wrote only what I knew. (See later question about ‘research.’)

Gef: How much research goes into a novel like this, which doesn't take place in our world so much, but comes with its own rules so to speak?

Jake: That depends on how realistic and believable you want your new world to be. I put in a fair bit of research. General concepts and theory of biology, geography, and physics make for the base construction of my warped little world. The world is Earth-like, but slightly exaggerated and mutated in spots. Having an interest in Philosophy and Religious History helped me build credible religions and distinct cultures. A few books on medieval weapons, pirates, and religious inquisitions helped as well. I’m no expert in any of those subjects, but I’ve learned enough to build a relatable world.

Gef: The Wrong Way Down features a bumbling sorcerer, Wynkkur. My favorite kind. Do you have a favorite wizard or sorcerer from previous works, whether it be book, movies, games, or TV? Dibs on Orko!

Jake: I’m glad you brought up Wynkkur. He got a raw deal with the name and all. Wynkkur’s plight isn’t so much that he is bumbling, but more that he lacks training in how to use the magic he’d accidentally learned. It’s all rather complicated, but imagine a dirty bomb with an unreliable timer.

Gandalf, a.k.a. the Grey Pilgrim, is my top wizard. I love the idea behind Gandalf; a benevolent force for good who not only walks his talk, but stands true by his companions. He relied more on his wisdom and cunning than reckless displays of power. When Gandalf conjured up his powers, we readers knew the situation had turned dire. It is almost Clint Eastwood cool for a wizard to maintain that kind of restraint. (Wizards don’t live long in my world— remember ‘dirty bomb with an unreliable timer’—self-destruction is the most common form of expiration for magic users.)

Gef: The third novel in the Heretic Series is scheduled for a mid-2015 release, if I'm not mistaken. How is that outlook faring? And how can folks keep up with your future projects and overall shenanigans?

Jake: Book Three: Hounds of the Hunted is about desperate fugitives and an unstoppable gang of pirates. Both books three and four are technically finished, but book four is still too rough to whisper its cool name. Hounds just got back from my most trusted beta readers and all the test reads have been well-liked. I will soon make necessary adjustments.

Carter Reid, who put together the awesome cover for The Wrong Way Down said he is on-board for Hounds of the Hunted. As with The Wrong Way Down, there will be two editors to help me make this story awesome. I’m projecting HotH to be ready by May 1st, but I might be a little overambitious.

If you are looking for me, I can be found at –


January 29, 2015

Hope Within a Haunting: an interview with Michaelbrent Collings, author of "Twisted"

Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He has written numerous bestsellers, including Darkbound, Apparition, The Haunted, The Loon, Rising Fears, and the bestselling YA fantasy series The Billy Saga, beginning with Billy: Messenger of Powers.

He hopes someday to develop superpowers, or, if that is out of the question, then at least to get a cool robot arm.

I had the chance to ask Michaelbrent a few questions about his new haunted house novel. Enjoy.

Twisted is available on Amazon.com

Gef: What is the impetus behind Twisted?

Michaelbrent: Twisted is, at its heart, a story about abuse. The father in the story struggles with a past rooted in abuse, and the terror that he might abuse his own family someday. The ghost that serves as the villain has a similar background, and has let it twist him beyond recognition, to the point that he has renounced all his humanity and now exists – even in death – only to cause terror and pain. Unfortunately there are real people in these situations. Not the paranormal aspects, but children who live in fear of their parents, and parents who live in fear of their past and of themselves. The pain of abuse that, once inflicted, never completely heals. I thought there would be a story in there, and once I followed it to its end it became dark, frightening, and (hopefully) a bit illuminating.

Gef: What do you suppose the allure is with ghosts and hauntings? They've been around for as long as recorded history it seems, but the last decade has seen a real renaissance of sorts in pop culture--or at least reality TV? What's driving it?

Michaelbrent: That’s a very interesting question. I think that as we move into a more and more secular society, there is a loss of spirituality that we miss. Additionally, as we become more “connected” – Facebook, Twitter, other kinds of social media – we also become at the same time more isolated. There are sudden, lonely holes in our hearts that we long to fill. With friendship. With love. With money. With drugs. With answers to the great questions: where are we going, why are we here, where did we come from?

Ghosts allow us to discuss these last. Because if there are ghosts, there is indeed an after, even if it isn’t the after we imagined. There is the possibility of more than just this place, this now. Not only that but, because of this emptiness so many people suffer from, I think horror in general offers a unique opportunity for people to receive something they desperately need: a sense that they are alive. When staring numbly at a computer screen, or tablet, or TV, what better to remind us of our humanity and the fact of our existence than a pounding heart, the pulse beating in our ears?

Ghost stories, scary stories, give us an odd sort of hope, and let us talk about things nothing else ever could.

Gef: How much research goes into a novel like this for you? Are there any bits of local folklore acting as an influence, perhaps?

Michaelbrent: Research varies for me depending on the novel. The one before Twisted was called This Darkness Light, and that had a tremendous amount of research. There are different kinds of advanced weaponry, hospital setups, disease vectors, all sorts of things I had to know for an apocalyptic thriller. For Twisted I had to do less, though there was a bit. I looked at photography in the 1800s, examined different writing styles back then, and (oddly enough) researched bike messengers. I like to get things right, but I also don’t want to spend so much time researching that I forget to do the actual writing.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

Michaelbrent: Hmmm… I can’t remember. Why dedicate brain space to something dumb?

Gef: What do you believe is the saving grace of the horror genre?

Michaelbrent: The saving grace of the horror genre is just that: grace. Horror is a genre – the only genre – that not only allows for but at times demands the reality of life after death, a Great Beyond, powers both good and evil that watch from places unseen. It allows us to talk about God, because if there is a devil possessing a little girl, then who can save her but a man of God? And with this peculiar characteristic comes an ability to talk about questions of life, death, and beyond that no other genre can touch as fully. Horror exists largely in the darkness, but in so doing it also becomes the only genre capable of fully appreciating the light.

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

Michaelbrent: Ha! I must say that when I’m up at two in the morning I have a habit of turning on TNT or TBS or one of those basic cable stations and seeing what horrifically bad splatter movies they have on, all cut to pieces so the swearing is gone and the nudity has disappeared and the violence has been cut out so the movie makes even less sense than originally. Nothing is better than Wrong Turn 16: Hillbillies Love Nubile Teens with all the “good parts” taken out so the movie is basically a Mystery Science Theater 3000 set piece. I don’t know why, but this kind of thing cracks me up.

Don’t judge me. There is a whole generation out there that thinks the Star Wars “prequels” are better than the original ones. Those are the people that need judging. <grin>

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

Michaelbrent: I’m currently working on the next in The Colony Saga, The Colony: Buried. It’s book six in a zombie apocalypse series that’s been incredibly popular – probably because unlike most z books the zombies don’t die when you shoot ‘em in the head (they just get more dangerous), they’re getting smarter, and the people in the series are largely good (as opposed to being horrible folks who kind of deserve to get eaten). I’m also working on a few screenplays (I’m a produced screenwriter in addition to my adventures as a bestselling writer), and after that I think I’ll write a book about a police officer who gets framed for multiple murders, called Night Patrol. Or not. Who knows?

As for best way to keep up with me, you can follow me on Facebook at http://facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings or you can sign up for my mailing list at http://eepurl.com/VHuvX - the list only has new releases and sales for my books (NO SPAM!) and subscribers are guaranteed safety when The Glorious Revolution begins!  

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.