Tuesday, August 31, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #13: Keith DeCandido

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Keith DeCandido!

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

All-the-Way House is part of a series of standalone books about cryptids—monsters of various types from folklore. In my case, the primary character is the Jersey Devil, but other cryptids show up as well. All-the-Way House tells the origin of the Jersey Devil, taking the various legends and stories about that monster that is so popular they named a hockey team after it, and puts a different spin on it. In particular, a big chunk of the story takes place during the week in January 1909 when there were dozens of sightings of the creature in central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

The book takes place in my urban fantasy universe in which there are supernatural hunters for hire called Coursers, who deal with various issues involving creatures and magic and such.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer? 

Well, I was raised by librarians, and reading and storytelling was part of my life from birth. I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. From as early as I can remember, I was always fascinated by stories and the telling of them, and when I was six I wrote my first book: Reflections in My Mirror. I did it in pencil on construction paper. It was terrible (I was six!), but I still have it to remind me of my roots.

What inspires you to write? 

Everything. That's a facile answer, yes, but there is literally nothing that doesn't inspire me to write. News stories. Walking around the neighborhood. Stuff I see on TV. Conversations I have with my family and friends. People-watching.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

I have a tendency to be interested in the minutiae of how people survive in the world, even if it's a made-up world. How do people feed, clothe, and house themselves? It's a factor that tends not to be present in far too much fiction, yet it's the most critical aspect of pretty much everyone's life.

I love to take a look at characters' histories and see how that affects them in the presence. We're the sum of our experiences, and in particular, when I write media tie-in fiction, I love to look at the entirety of the characters' experiences as seen in prior stories and see how I might use that to facilitate characterization and plot.

I also love to deconstruct tropes 'cause it's fun.

What would be your dream project? 

Being consulted on the creation of a movie or TV series based on one of my works of fiction.

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

Ursula K. Le Guin. Chris Claremont. J.M. DeMatteis. Harlan Ellison. Laurie R. King. P.G. Wodehouse. J.R.R. Tolkien. Robert A. Heinlein. Kurt Busiek.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

My third Supernatural novel Heart of the Dragon was written in the midst of a very ugly breakup. I wish I could have had one more pass on it when my brain was actually functioning properly.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

Oh, much more on the art end. There is some science to it, but it's definitely art, mainly because science requires replicable results and consistency, which pretty much never happens with writing……

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

Organizing my time. As I type this answer, I've also got a short story to finish, a bible for a series of novellas to finish, a comics script to write, and a novel to finish. Plus, there's that whole eating and sleeping thing, plus we can finally go out and see other humans again. It's a tough juggling act…..

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not? 

Mostly by gabbing with each other about our projects. We're always talking to each other about our works-in-progress, and at times it's incredibly helpful, even if it's just to have someone to bitch and moan at.

11. What does literary success look like to you? 

Knowing that at least one reader was touched by something you wrote.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

I've got a story in Devilish & Divine that'll be out soon from eSpec Books. Over the course of the next nine months to a year, I should have three new books out: Feat of Clay, the second book in the Adventures of Bram Gold, an urban fantasy series that's in the same setting as All-the-Way House, from WordFire Press; Phoenix Precinct, the sixth novel in my fantasy/police procedural series, from eSpec; and Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet, my second collection of Key West-based urban fantasy stories, from Plus One Press. In addition, my wife Wrenn Simms and I have launched our own very-small-press publisher, Whysper Wude, and we just successfully funded our first project on Kickstarter: the anthology The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, with alternate takes on the four horsemen of the apocalypse (the four cats! the four lawyers! the four PTA Moms! the four librarians! and so on…) by more than two dozen authors, including Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, David Gerrold, David Mack, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Jody Lynn Nye, Laura Anne Gilman, Gail Z. Martin, Adam-Troy Castro, and tons more. We're hoping to have that out by the fall of 2021.

Also I continue to write about pop culture for the award-winning webzine Tor.com, including a rewatch of Star Trek: Voyager, which will be followed by a rewatch of Star Trek: Enterprise, as well as reviews of current shows, and twice-yearly looks back at superhero movies.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #12: Jeff Young

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Jeff Young!

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Written in Light, a collection of future-focused short fiction will be coming out in August or September. My second book contains stories that range from the near to far future and cover everyday events to those of galactic importance. I also took the opportunity to explore alien viewpoints as they interact with humanity.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?

In seventh grade, our English teacher read us a number of horror story collections before Halloween and then tasked us with writing a short story. She was the first of many supportive teachers who kept encouraging me to write. Eventually, I started getting published in small-press magazines, won an award with Writers of the Future and I’ve just kept writing.

What inspires you to write?

Ideas. I like the thought that ideas travel in packs. Sometimes a good story can survive on one idea, but in most cases it's several ideas running together that make a really good story. So, I collect ideas until a group of them come together and flesh out the structure for a story. Then they bay at me like wolves until I write it all down.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

One I tend to enjoy looking at is how alien thought and culture must differ from ours. Of course, I can’t write something truly alien, or a reader wouldn’t be able to connect with the character. But, on the other hand, they are not going to react the same way that we are and it’s fun and inspires good ideas when you can run human reactions into the maze that is alien thought. I am always inspired by C.J Cherryh’s aliens like the atevi (Foreigner) or the hani and kif (Chanur Saga) and Larry Niven’s puppeteers and kzinti (Ringworld books).

What would be your dream project?

Write the follow-up book to Roger Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand. Be given that million dollars to live in a cabin for a year without wifi as in the internet meme- because I would like to believe I could write like a devil…

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

I like the big ideas, “big dumb objects” and sharp humor of writers like Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds and Larry Niven. They are mostly space opera writers who paint with broad strokes on a huge canvas. If I am writing well, I am pushing the boundaries and running with sharp words (instead of scissors.)

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

I am working on some of those. The one that comes to mind is something called “The Round the Clock Man” that is a noir story set on a cylinder world and contains elements of voodoo. It was for a shared world project that fell through, so I have the opportunity to reframe it and make it completely my own. There are some slippery bits in the logic throughout because noir is a new thing to me in terms of writing, but it’s something that I come back to and tinker with bit by bit. I think it also has the potential to be a novella instead of a short story as well.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

I feel that writing is more of an art. I am not always a plotter, more often a “pantser” (writing by the seat of my pants instead of having an outline) and I think that it’s more of fuzzy thinking aspect that ties to art rather than the neat and orderly expectations that go along with a science. I also like to open up a big world inside a short story in terms of the world building. Why shouldn’t things be widescreen in a smaller piece instead of pan and scan? That feels more like a vibrant piece rather than a refined kinetic one, I would associate with science.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Continuity. I work retail selling books. My schedule is all over the place. It’s not easy to set aside time to keep working on a project. Also, I am just as bad as anyone else when a bunch of shiny new ideas come along, so it generally takes a little longer for me to complete things. However, deadlines, those I can usually hit without a problem.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not?

I really have missed just talking in person with the people who enjoy building the castles in the air out of words. The Covid lockdowns put us all in our own little rooms. Some people found that an opportunity, others, like me, didn’t. I seem to do better when I can talk things over in person and gauge the reactions to ideas in real time. Definitely, looking forward to doing conventions in person as soon as it makes sense. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Since I sell books, the idea that my books are on the shelf in the store where I work makes me feel like I have succeeded in a way. If someone wants to throw money at me for film rights, I would certainly be okay with that as well.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

My second book, Written in Light will be coming out in August or September, and you can preorder it now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s websites. I’ve also got a story in the anthology Beer, Because Your Friends Aren’t that Interesting due out in the Fall. Finally, I am the editor for the magazine Mendie the Post-Apocalyptic Flower Scout whose first issue should be out soon.

For more information, visit:

Website – jy.watchtheskies.org

Facebook – facebook.com/jywriterguy

Instagram - @ironmind42

And other author pages on Goodreads, Bingebooks, Amazon, Bookbub and LibraryThing

Saturday, August 28, 2021

[Link] Roald Dahl's family is sorry about all that antisemitic stuff he said

by Sam Barsanti

Like a kid-friendly Stephen King, Roald Dahl’s books have proven to be an endless revenue stream for Hollywood, most recently with Robert Zemeckis’ new adaptation of The Witches, but it’s often hard to talk about Dahl without someone coming along to point out that he was an avowed antisemite (internet comment sections were invented for that sort of thing). It’s a dark cloud that has hung over his work for decades, both because his books are so timeless and because studios keep going back to them for new films and TV shows, with The Guardian sharing a primer on the various terrible things Dahl (who died in 1990) said over the years—like, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews.” and “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

Now, possibly to get out ahead of it the next time this comes up, Dahl’s family has shared a statement on the Roald Dahl website apologizing for “the lasting and understandable hurt” caused by his antisemitic comments. The family’s statement goes on to say that Dahl’s “prejudiced remarks” are “incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories.” The statement ends by (somewhat oddly) putting a positive spin on his history of offensive comments, saying, “we hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.”

Read the full article: https://www.avclub.com/roald-dahls-family-is-sorry-about-all-that-antisemitic-1845820202

Friday, August 27, 2021

Six Gun Red, Characters and Stories for Worlds of Pulp: Wild West Horse Opera RPG now available!

Ride Boldly Ride!!!

Hyperlinks for quick navigation through the characters and stories in this exciting addition to the Wild West Horse Opera-RPG!

15 Exciting Characters for Wild West Horse Opera. They are fully detailed and ready to stand with or against your characters. Most are stars of the Golden Age. Three of these magnificent characters are historical figures, ready to ride into your story.

  • Bass Reeves (historic)
  • Stagecoach Mary (historic)
  • Tom Horn (historic)
  • Arizona Ames
  • Black Cobra
  • Ghost Rider
  • Harpy
  • Iron Mask
  • Kit West
  • Lobo
  • Masked Marvel
  • Rudolph Sevarian (vampire)
  • Sam Morrow
  • The Black Whip
  • Tirza

Each character has been carefully adapted from history and fiction to give an accurate portrayal of their abilities in your game.  Their individual abilities are outlined here as well to be added to and expand your game.

Plus, kick down the door with six original stories in a western anthology that is sure to thrill!

Buy now! 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #11: Aaron Rosenberg

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Aaron Rosenberg!

Tell us a bit about your latest work.   

Gone to Ground is the second book in the Systema Paradoxa series. It’s a period mystery, set in the Roaring Twenties, with a bit of a cryptid twist. Trevor Kincaid throws the best parties, and only the most fashionable and elegant get to attend. But when a lady is found dead in the midst of one, all signs seem to point to Trevor himself as the killer. He claims he didn’t do it, and that someone can confirm his innocence—but his supposed witness cannot be found. Can an earnest police detective—and a quiet young woman—discover the truth? 

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?  

I’ve always loved telling stories, even as a kid. Then, when I was in third grade, I won my school’s Writing Award. The school was K-4, so I actually beat out the fourth-graders for it. Going up and getting that award was the first time I realized that my writing could impact more people than just myself and my family and friends. I was hooked. I still have the plaque, mounted on the wall next to my desk. 

What inspires you to write?  

For me, it’s all about entertaining my readers. Maybe I’m trying to make them laugh, maybe I’m trying to make them think, maybe I’m trying to keep them on the edge of their seats or have them scratching their heads, but I always want to engage them in the story and to have them feel, at the end, that they enjoyed it and that their time was well-spent. 

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?  

I’m a big fan of turning things on their head, taking a standard trope and twisting it around to see what it looks like that way. I also love mythology, so a lot of my stories have to do with gods and monsters but also with the difference between perception and reality, story and truth, legend and existence.  

What would be your dream project?  

That’s tough because I’ve been pretty lucky so far, both with tie-in work and with my original fiction. There are still some properties I’d love to write for, like Doctor Who or Marvel, but I’ve gotten to write for things like Star Trek and World of WarCraft and The X-Files and Sinbad the Sailor, and I’ve been able to write mystery, thriller, action-adventure, comedy, science fiction, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy/horror, western, and superhero. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique?  

On the literary side, Jane Austen and Mark Twain have always been my inspirations—humor, character, and story, plus both perfectly capture their time and place. For genre fiction, I started with Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Andre Norton, all amazing. Then I expanded to people like Ron Goulart and Douglas Adams and Julian May and R.A. MacAvoy and Piers Anthony and finally Roger Zelazny and Tim Powers and David and Leigh Eddings.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?  

My first OCLT novel—that’s a series of occult thrillers I created with David Niall Wilson—is a novel called Incursion, about a pair of FBI agents who go to investigate murder on a reservation in the Pacific Northwest and find themselves dealing with a killer who is not quite human. I’m still very happy with the book but I’ve done two more OCLT novels since then and so I know the characters a lot better now. That’s just something that happens as you continue a series, though, where people you created who started out a little rough and a little hazy are now in much sharper focus. 

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?  

Depends upon the kind of writing. Fiction and poetry are heavily on the “art” side. More technical forms of writing are on the “science” side. But I’d say it was more accurate to distinguish between “art” and “craft”—at the one end you have writers who care nothing for standard grammar, punctuation, etc., and are all about the feel of the writing and the emotions and images, while at the other end you have writing that is technically proficient but lacks any of that passion, and of the spontaneity. Fortunately, most writers call somewhere between the two extremes. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?  

Starting the story. That first page is a killer! It’s always tough to get going, because you’re doing it from a standing start. And if it’s a new project, you don’t know the characters yet, you don’t have the feel for the story, you don’t have the pacing down, the rhythm. It’s a lot easier when it’s a book in a series because then at least you’re picking up where you left off, with characters you already know and a rhythm you just have to relearn. 

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not?  

Oh, of course they do. All the time. One way is simply being around other writers, talking about writing—like so many other topics, you sharpen yourself and your ideas and opinions by running them by others, getting feedback, and adjusting to take that into account. It’s also great to be able to bounce specific story ideas off friends, asking, “how does this sound to you?” and knowing they can respond as a fellow writer. And then there’s hearing about their writing, and reading it, and getting to see how they approach certain aspects of storytelling—some of it may be completely different from how I go about things, but it’s still instructive to see, and at times you go, “Oh, that makes so much more sense than what I was doing before! I’ll try that method!” 

What does literary success look like to you?  

I’ve already achieved some of what I consider literary success—I’ve written for major properties, I’ve had books released by major publishers, I’ve been translated in multiple languages, I’ve been an author guest at various conventions, I’ve won awards, and I’ve hit bestseller lists. I haven’t hit The New York Times list yet, so that would be a big one for me, and I’ve never had a work optioned for, let alone developed into, a movie or television series. But honestly, my proudest moment as a writer, what I’d say was my greatest success, was at a con a few years back. Someone stopped by my table in the author library, and after I told him about one of my books—No Small Bills, the first book in my SF comedy series The Adventures of DuckBob Spinowitz—he got all excited and said, “that sounds awesome, I need to bring my friend over here.” Then he left. But the next day he turned back up, dragging a friend with him. They came straight to my table and he pointed at my book and said, “There, that’s the one I was talking about, it sounds awesome.” And his friend said, “Yeah, I bought it last year, I loved it—wait, there are two more?” And bought the next two in the series right then and there. It really doesn’t get any better than that. 

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?  

My next book out should be Bones at Rest, which is the fourth book in my Anime-esque epic fantasy series The Relicant Chronicles. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Game of Thrones, in a kingdom where the only remaining magic is literally consuming the bones of your ancestors to access their skills and knowledge. In this book, the characters have to contend with a nationwide event that throws everything into turmoil and inadvertently creates opportunities for chaos and strife. After that is Focal Point, my next OCLT novel, where several members of the team are asked to travel to a small Eastern European country to help protect a scientific installation that’s being threatened—but when they arrive they discover that all is not as they were told, the site itself is wrapped in ancient and powerful mysteries, and things are far stranger and far darker than they seemed. Then I have Crossroads, the fourth and final book in my Time of the Phoenix series, about the immortal Phoenix and his attempts to move through the ages of Man and help foster humanity’s creativity and passion while fending off those who would doom us to colorless uniformity in the name of safety. 

For more information, visit: 

You can find me at gryphonrose.com and also at Crazy8Press.com, an author collective I helped found. I have an author page on Amazon, and one on Facebook, and my Twitter handle is @gryphonrose

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: The Eclipse

Don't let the fact that this beautiful and intentionally slow-paced drama is billed as a ghost story convince you away from it because it is not at all a horror film. It is absolutely an A+ dark indie romance about an author and a widower. It also features a brilliant, atmospheric mood piano for a soundtrack. 

Lena is a horror author who is afraid of the idea of ghosts, so much so she chooses to sleep in a lighted living room and sleep on the sofa rather than moving to the bedroom because it's "spooky." 

Michael is a widower who dabbled in story writing and lives with his two kids and is haunted by visions of his dying father-in-law and apparitions of his dead wife. He always seems on the verge of falling apart from some unresolved issue with his wife's death. 

Nicholas is a popular author whose latest novel is being turned into a movie. He's also a huge asshole who has slept with Lena before, but she called off any relationship when she found out he was married. 

Nicholas chases Lena but consistently refers to Michael as a stalker (deference, clearly), while Michael seeks Lena because he feels she can help him with his visions. Of course, the two do actually begins a friendship and possibly something more. 

Unlike many of the movies I've reviewed here, this one doesn't dig down into the actual work of writing so much as the character of writers. 

If you've been writing for any length of time at all, no doubt you've attended a writer's convention or two (or 12 or 412!). If so, you will have met the archetypes presented in this film, which begins with a small Irish town hosting a literary festival, which features both Nicholas and Lena as keynote readers and speakers. Michael is the driver assigned to pick up Nicholas from the airport, but also assigned to Lena since her home during the event is out of the way. 

Naturally, Nicholas "interviews" Michael in the card, assuming he is either an aspiring or failed writer, and immediately dismisses him (as Nicholas is wont to do over people who don't benefit him. Almost every line he speaks early in The Eclipse is about himself or the money he expects from his film project. Nicholas completely sees himself at the writer with a capital "W" -- the self-declared auteur of words. 

Lena, on the other hand, always feels a bit like a fraud. She doesn't like going to events like the festival because she feels her work isn't really good enough and that she's not a natural performer like Nicholas. 

However, in trying to seduce Lena, Nicholas proclaims to her: "I'm a fake. I'm a miserable fake, and the dishonesty has to end." But later, when pushing for physical attention from her, he says (very tellingly) that "I realise I'm a little overwhelming." 

Nicholas is everything most other writers hate about self-declared Authors (with that "A" at the beginning). He brags, but humble brags and outright brags, he flashes his writing credits around, he expects his status as "arrived" to line up not only the groupies, but the wait staff, and fellow authors at the side of his bed for the experience of being with him. 

I trust you know the type and have probably met them at shows. I know I have. 

Lena, early in the film, reads a passage from her story, "The Eclipse":

When you see a ghost something very interesting happens. Your brain splits in two. One side of you is rejecting what you're seeing because it doesn't tally with our ordinary idea of reality. And the other side is screaming, "But this is real!" And in that moment, reality itself is collapsed and reconfigured in a way that changes you profoundly, although at the time you're not aware of it.  
When Mary felt someone sitting on the bed, a tiny depression, she assumed that her daughter had come back to ask her about the fortune teller. Half asleep, she reached out to reassure her, not feeling anything. She opened her eyes and looked up. What she saw was so casual she hardly thought about it for a moment. Seeing the dead woman's face, she thought, "Oh, I must be dreaming." However, when the woman opened her mouth, her jaw hanging slack and her sad eyes imploring to Mary from the gloom, then she knew. She knew that she was seeing a ghost.  
Then she realized for perhaps the first time in her life that she too would die, that her husband would die, and that her children would die. She knew in that moment that she was looking at reality. 

Aside from this being an amazing passage for a ghost story, I believe it is supposed to say something about Lena herself as she speaks the words to the Irish crowd gathered to hear her read. Lena is describing that moment when a writer learns he/she/they are a writer, that moment when one side of our brain refused to believe your words matter or you "earned" the title, but also that moment when your tiny little writer brain is screaming from inside, "But this is real!" And it changes us who feel it profoundly, although, at the time, we may not be aware of it. We are in that moment looking at reality. 

On the other hand, some simply don't wait or they ignore the magic of that moment and self-declare themselves to be (W)riters or (A)uthors and treat the world as though it owes them something since they have obviously earned their capital letter. They are in that moment faking their reality and living in  (as Nicholas said so aptly, dishonesty). 

As writers, it's a good thing to let the ghosts sit with us and change us, and we ignore them at our peril.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #10: Ty Drago

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Ty Drago!

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

Dragons is a young adult science fiction thriller set at the end of this century. By now, space travel has been wholly privatized. Mining colonies have been established on the moon, Mars, and some of the asteroids, all of them controlled by the powerful Coffin Solar Exploration (CSE) and its billionaire founder, Charles Coffin.

In this world, Andy Brand, an eighteen-year-old high school senior from a small town in New Jersey finds himself a prisoner in a strange, hi-tech cell. His captors want no ransom. Instead, they seem interesting in compelling Andy to do the seemingly impossible: to create fire without benefit of a match. Andy, having been trained nearly from birth to do so, denies and resists them at every turn—that is, until his captors push him too far and force him to reveal what they already know.

Andy is a Dragon, a member of a vanishingly small subspecies of humanity capable of generating enormous amounts of thermal energy at will. Dragons have been hidden among us since the dawn of time, living quiet lives, trying to stay under the radar, because they know full well what can happen when they don't.

But there are always those who feel they can control the uncontrollable. Charles Coffin needs a Dragon to help with a rescue effort, and he's stolen Andy from his home and family to make that happen.

All is not as it seems, however, and Andy soon finds himself embroiled in a complex web of deceit and betrayal, a political and scientific puzzle that will test not just his considerable power, but his courage and intellect as well. Lives are at stake, and only a Dragon can save them.

That's all you get.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer? 

I've always been a writer. At the age of three, before I could read, I wrote stories. This usually involved me sitting naked on the living room floor, scribbling with a crayon (I've seen the pictures). But, in my head, I was telling a story. Later on, I "graduated" to drawing comics books. These I shared with the kids in the neighborhood, my first readership. But it was clear from a young age that I'm no kind of graphic artist. So, in high school, I embraced the written word and it's been my religion ever since.

What inspires you to write? 

Author David Morrell once said that every writer should ask the question, "Why do I write?"  For me, that's easy to answer. I want to be a hero. I wish I was a hero. But I'm not. So, instead, I write about heroes. These heroes vary drastically, from the "super" to the "anti," from the surprisingly ordinary to the over-the-top. I enjoy finding new ways to tell their stories, and I absolutely love it when my readers appreciate them. In fact, I guess you could say that I write for two reasons, the second one being the audience. As I write largely for children, I know firsthand how enthusiastic they can become about my tales and characters. It's a joy to write for them.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

Most of my novels deal with some kind of "kid empowerment," the idea that children make the best heroes—that they can be, and sometimes are, so much more than we give them credit for. Whether my protagonists are twelve, sixteen, eighteen, or twenty, the story always revolves around their struggles. Sometimes those struggles are against evil, invasion, or oppression. Sometimes they deal with growing up or coming into one's own under complicated and often dangerous circumstances. But, in every case, they are in the middle of it, relying on themselves, their own courage and ingenuity, to see them through.

That's the heart of children's fiction.

What would be your dream project? 

Well, I don't know if this is a "dream project" exactly, but it's a deeply personal one. I recently completed a rare adult novel, one based on a rough outline that my father left for me on cassette tapes before he died in 1992. Called The New Americans, this long family saga is a huge departure for me. It doesn't focus on speculative elements (science fiction, fantasy, and horror), which have been my bread and butter all these years. Instead, The New Americans tells the story of three young men from rural Sicily, who are forced by circumstance to emigrate to the United States in 1915, at the heart of what is now called the "Great Arrival," the single largest influx of immigrants in this country's history. It's a story of family, betrayal, and redemption. As of now, it's out in the market, looking for a home.

If you'd to know more, you can check the podcast that my wife and I did about this novel and the tapes that inspired them. Look for "Legacy: The Novel Writing Experience" wherever you get your podcasts!

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

Wow. That's a tough one. I have authors I love: Yann Martel, Lee Child, Eoin Colfer, Jonathan Maberry, Heather Brewer, A.S. King, Stephen King, and others, but I'm not really sure how any of them may have influenced me. They certainly inspire me; reading their work often gets my own creative juices flowing. But I've worked hard to find my own voice, to tell my stories as best I can with my own style. 

I guess, if I'm as honest as I can be, I've been touched to some degree by Maberry's wit, Martel's irony, and A.S. King's truth. But I like to think that's more about motivation than influence. 

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

Ouch! One of my earliest published novels is an adult SF mystery called Phobos. It came out way back in 2003. I've grown quite a bit as a writer since then and sometimes when I re-read it, I think, "Oh, I should have done told this part this way, or changed this character like this." I think all of us do that at one time or another. Second-guessing oneself is an author's favorite hobby! 😊

But madness lies that way, or at the very least useless frustration. It's hard enough to stay positive as navigate this business—and, make no mistake, writing for the modern world is most definitely a "business." It does you no good to dwell on the nettles of your past.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

Writing is a craft, rather like knitting. Everyone, to some degree, can be "taught" how to write. Over the past several years, I've taught many classes on writing, both to adults and children. And, while the teaching style for each is, by necessity, different, the underlying lesson is the same: Practice.

Storytelling, however, is definitely an art. I've read some technically well-crafted novels that suffered from poor execution, slow pace, or had downright boring stories. Conversely, I've read great stories that were simply badly written.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

The first thing I need to do before I start a novel is to find its music. I literally put together an entire "soundtrack" for each story I write. Then I play these songs, over and over, while I plot things out in my head. In the case of Dragons, the music is largely that of one of my favorite bands, Imagine Dragons.

Without that music, I can often find myself stuck or, even worse, losing interest in a particular project. So, I make it a point to find the "soundtrack" first. This isn't always easy and can often take a longer time than I'd like. But, for my process, it's crucial.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not? 

My "first read" for the last thirty years has been my wife, Helene. I honestly don't know what I'd do without her. She is, without any doubt, the toughest copy editor I've ever worked with. But every single one of my books is better for it!

What does literary success look like to you? 

I love to write. I love for my writing to be read. I've happily reached the stage where I can write full-time and, at sixty years old, I now find that I'm living my best life. I've been fortunate to have partnered with some wonderful, forward-thinking publishers, most particularly eSpec Books, which published Dragons. It's a great ride and I intend to keep at it until they pry the keyboard from my cold, dead fingers.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

I recently completed a YA horror novel called Rags that I'm hawking around. It's a scary, somewhat gruesome tale set in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the early 1980's when the casinos were just starting to come in. It tells the tale of sixteen-year-old Abby Lowell, an orphan whose life is saved by a mysterious stranger who hides his face and wields his long black knife with deadly precision. Soon, Abby is unwillingly drawn into a life-and-death struggle against forces she can barely comprehend. I'm really proud of the book and its dark anti-hero, whom Abby dubs "Rags."

Look for it!

For more information, visit:

My website and bookstore are easy. We're at www.tydrago.com.

If you're a writer of speculative short fiction, check out my amazing ezine at www.allegoryezine.com. We're always looking for fresh talent!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #9: Robert E. Waters

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Robert E. Waters!

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

My latest is a novel that I co-authored with Compton Crook Award winner, Charles E Gannon, set in Eric Flint's 1632/Ring of Fire Alternate History series, published by Baen Books. The novel is titled 1636: Calabar's War and it's available now through Barnes & Noble and Amazon, etc. 

The 1632/Ring of Fire series is about a small West Virginia town (Grantville) that was transported back in time to fall right in the middle of the 17th century during the Thirty Years War in Germany. The series tells the story of these Americans as they try to cope with the sudden change in their world and location, and how their arrival impacts the people of the period, plus the social, religious, military, and political lives of everyone in Europe. 

Since its inception, however, the series has moved into many other parts of the world: India, China, Africa, North and South America. Calabar's War is the 30th novel in the series and is set in South America and the Caribbean. It deals specifically with the issue of African slavery which, unfortunately, has been in place in the Portuguese and Spanish territories since the early 16th century. 

The main character of the novel, Domingos Fernandes Calabar, is what the Portuguese at the time called a "Mameluco," a man of mixed Portuguese and native Brazilian heritage. The novel recounts his service to the Dutch in Brazil, but it carries him into the Caribbean as he struggles to save his family from slaveholders and tries to begin the long and arduous task of bringing slavery to an end in Brazil.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer? 

Well, I can't say that there was any one thing that occurred to make me want to be an author. I enjoyed stories from an early age. In fact, I recall writing my first story when I was around five or six, though I can't tell you what the story was about, except that the main character was a kid with a switchblade. What he did with that switchblade, I haven't a clue anymore. But from that early attempt, I always had an interest in telling stories. It wasn't until high school, however, that I began to give serious thought to writing. I spent a lot of my high school years writing stories and submitting them. All rejections in those early days, but I kept trying and eventually, I struck gold. 

What inspires you to write? 

Stories that other authors have written that I have read. I remember back in the mid-90s, shortly after I had moved to Baltimore, Maryland, I rededicated myself to trying my hand at fiction. Science fiction and fantasy, to be specific. But, I was reading a John Updike novel called Brazil, and wow, did it inspire! Updike is known for his mainstream prose, but this one had some fantasy elements in it. But it wasn't those elements that inspired me. It was his writing style, a kind of lyrical prose that I found quite enjoyable. I was so enthralled by his style that shortly after reading it, I sat down and penned a story that almost... almost!... got published. It was a little piece about a woman in an alien concentration camp that survives and thrives against adversity. It was actually accepted for publication, but the magazine that bought it went belly up before the story saw print. Such is life! But the novel was so inspiring that it had me penning my first acceptance and almost first publication. Other stories/novels that I have read since then have been just as inspiring. 

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

I like a main character with a good internal conflict, a man or woman who expresses a little self-doubt in what he/she must do. I don't like overly-confident characters who always make the right decisions, the right choices. Why would anyone bother following those people through a narrative if you knew that at the end, they would prevail? A character that questions his/her place in the universe, who stumbles along the way, but who, in the end, overcomes adversity and prevails against poor odds. Wasn't it William Faulkner who said the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself? I'm not sure it's the only thing worth writing about, but I agree with the concept, and I try to work something like that into all of my stories. 

What would be your dream project? 

A multi-book deal with a high 5-figure or 6-figure advance with a highly respected publisher. I have lofty dreams. :) 

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

They are legion, and I'm still being influenced today. Early influences were Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, CJ Cherryh, Clifford Simak, Orson Scott Card. Middle career influences were John Updike, TC Boyle, many of the cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, and John Shirley. These days, Timothy Zahn, George RR Martin, Scott Westerfeld, Charles E Gannon, Louis L'Amour, Eric Flint. I don't think an author should ever stop finding new authors to read and being influenced by them.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

My "Assassin's Lament" series of short stories, which were published in WEIRD TALES magazine and in various online and print anthologies. The world-building in these stories is a little half-baked, to be honest, and if I had to do it all over again, I'd spend more time shoring up the fantasy universe in which they are located. My original idea was to create a kind of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser type of setting and storyline, but it got a little too twisted up in the convoluted mythology of the various gods that the main character had to deal with. If I ever have a chance to revisit that series, I'd improve the world-building. 

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

I'd rank it further on the "art" side of the spectrum. I've known a lot of technical writers in my day, having gotten my degree in technical writing. Many of those professionals can write a good rulebook, or a manual, a brochure, an environmental impact study. But most of them lack the imagination to write a good story. Science plays a part (the grammar, the style, etc), but storytelling is more of an art form IMO. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

Keeping the details straight, and the longer the story, the harder that is. I wind up copying a lot of tiny snippets, names of characters, unique terms, etc. as I go along, so that by the end of the project, the bottom portion of my file is strewn with errant names, places, descriptions, etc. that I had to refer back to as I wrote the story. For some of my projects, like for my Mask Cycle novels published by Ring of Fire Press (The Masks of Mirada, The Thief of Cragsport), I've created a full glossary of character names, locations, terms etc. just to keep it all together in my mind. 

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not? 

They absolutely make me better. I've done a number of collaborations and with each one, I've learned something from my co-authors. Everyone has their own unique style and voice. Each approaches narrative in at least a slightly different way than I do, and that difference teaches me something new that I can apply in my next project. 

What does literary success look like to you? 

I suppose the "ideal" literary success would be both critical and financial: readers liking your work enough to buy it in quantities such that you could make a living doing it. But the sad reality of it is that most authors do not make a living writing. So, if I had to choose one over the other, I'd pick a critical success. I hope that at the end of my days, someone will look back fondly on my work, smile, and say, "I liked it!"

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

In July 2021, Grantville Gazette IX, reprinted stories from the online 1632/Ring of Fire magazine, will have my story "Letters from Inchon." After that, scheduled for December 2021, will be 1637: The Coast of Chaos. This will contain novellas and novelettes set in the New World of the 1632/Ring of Fire series. My contribution will be a novelette called "The People from the Sky," co-authored with Eric S Brown. Our Algonquin warrior, Fast as Lightning in the Sky, will find himself heavily embroiled in the political changes taking place in the eastern United States as the Americans, who came through the Ring of Fire, begin to change the world. 

For more information, visit:


Saturday, August 21, 2021

[Link] The Things That Go Bump On The Web

Explaining the power of collaborative fiction on the web—particularly the extremely compelling work of the SCP Foundation.

by Andrew Egan

People collaborating on works of fiction is nothing new. (Without meaning to cause an uproar, collaborative fiction is probably the best way to describe most religious texts. Maybe Shakespeare too.) But modern literary and fiction writers tend to eschew collaboration outside of occasional experiments. One such recent example: And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a mystery written by William Burroughs and Jack Keruac and published posthumously in 2008, years after both had died. Loosely based on the events surrounding the death of David Kammerer at the hands of Lucian Carr, ATHWBITT (as no one calls it since it’s a mediocre mystery and book in general) wasn’t published in either author’s lifetimes. And like too many works of collaborative fiction, it is more interesting for reasons other than the joy of reading it.

Canadian literary historian Lorraine York explains the difficulty facing collaborative works: “Twentieth-century bibliographical and editorial practices have been particularly susceptible to this fixation on parsing collaboration because of what [literary historian] Jerome McGann calls their fascination with the singular author.” Scholarship on collaborative texts does have an obsession with attributing specific passages to individual authors with scrutiny of handwriting being particularly common.

Squabbling over who wrote what isn’t limited just to literary critics, of course. Tensions arose between the various screenwriting teams behind Jurassic World. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the duo behind the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, were hired to write “Jurassic Park 4,” but their efforts were put aside when Colin Treverow took over the project. Eventually the WGA ruled that Jaffa and Silver would receive “Story by” credits, much to Trevorow’s dismay. According to the director, he and his writing partner provided the final script with little being taken from the original team’s efforts. At least now we know who to blame for the uber-dinosaur and German shepherd like velociraptors.

With all this squabbling over attribution in collaboration, is it really worth it? Famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung would argue yes and no. His work defining individuation, or the process of differentiating oneself from others, has been foundational in the study of psychoanalysis. From this perspective, it is understandable that Jung was also concerned with the nature and role of the artist, saying, “As a human being, the artist may have many moods, and a will, and personal aims, but as an artist he is ‘man’ in a higher sense—he is ‘collective man’—one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic life of mankind. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realise its purpose through him.”

Read the full article: https://tedium.co/2021/07/30/online-collaborative-fiction-history

Friday, August 20, 2021


Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to announce its new thriller from Oklahoma-based fantasy author, Peggy Chambers.

Teasy Sanders patrolled the streets at night wearing her lime green F. U. tee shirt from Flatiron University where she wished she could have attended. Like so many people in her neighborhood, she tired of the criminals like the Gray Wolf gang who’d taken over. Gangs had killed her family and friends and she wanted her neighborhood back. She had the tools to put an end to the criminal activity, but the air pollution in the city was getting worse by the minute. And Teasy and her new gang may have found an answer to that.

The Civil Rights Act had once more been amended, and now included all life forms: humans, werewolves, vampires, and the most hideous, zombies. And suddenly the world was full of them. But could they save the world before everyone choked to death on the pollution?

Peggy Chambers delivers a fun romp through a world where fantasy becomes reality and the answer to the world’s problems could be sitting in an abandoned subway tunnel just waiting to be discovered. First-time Airship 27 illustrator Gabriella Saenz provides the black and white interior illustrations while Canadian artist Ted Hammond the action-themed cover.


Available now in paperback from Amazon and soon on Kindle.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #8: Ken Shrader

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Ken Shrader!

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

My latest work—a short story titled “Brimstone” appears in the Predators in Petticoats anthology. "Brimstone" is a Weird Western where Chaha'oh—a Navajo scout—is offered the opportunity to both avenge the deaths of her family, and stop a madman from burning a bloody trail across the West. To do this, she must become Coyote’s Shadow.

"Brimstone" was a lot of fun to write and, since the anthology was female-themed, it was an easy decision to also portray Coyote as a woman.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer? 

On some level, I have always wanted to be a storyteller and I can remember a few times where I thought it would be writing. There were a few false starts over the course of my life. Animation and Film-making were two of the more formative attempts but, where the lights really clicked on for me was back in college (for the second time) and an introductory screenwriting class.

The End-of-Semester project was to complete thirty pages of a script, after handing in a *very* rough outline of the full story. After the class, I went on to finish the script. Naturally, it never went anywhere but that class gave me a real taste. This was something I could do. I was writing every day, there was feedback beyond the form rejection. From there, it was a short step from scripts to short stories, to novels.

What inspires you to write? 

On its most basic level, I write because I can’t not tell stories. I am constantly making up little entertaining—or what I hope is entertaining, you’d have to ask my wife—embellishments and anecdotes about everyday stuff. Writing is a greater outlet for that.

On a higher level, great stories inspire me to write. I won’t get into specific authors yet, because your mileage may vary about a particular author but I guarantee, if you’re reading this, you’ve read *that* story. The one that grabs you and just won’t let go, even after you’ve finished it.

I finish a story like that and I’m like, “I want to write something like that.” It’s something to work toward—not to duplicate, exactly, because that’s impossible. More like a drive to improve, where the destination is a moving target and not nearly as important as the journey.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

Found Family is something that appears in my work over and over. Disparate people coming together for a variety of reasons and finding that ties of friendship and love are much stronger than any blood ties. That feeling of belonging, that knowledge that there are folk out there who simply love you for you, that is important to me.

One other thing that is a constant in my work is that good will ultimately triumph over evil. It won’t be easy; neither will it be without sacrifice and struggle. I suppose that makes me predictable, in a way, knowing that no matter what story of mine you pick up, you know that it’s going to turn out a certain way. What you don’t know is how I’m going to get there, and who is left standing at the end.

What would be your dream project? 

I would *Love* to write a Star Wars Novel—either a movie novelization, or a tie-in. Just to say that I’ve written for that universe—created “Canon”—would be such a blast since it’s had such a tremendous impact on my life. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

I think initially, when I was just starting out, the writer who had the greatest impact on me was Jim Butcher. Overall, though, the writer who has had the greatest influence on me has to be Kalayna Price. When I wanted to learn how to write better female characters, I read her Alex Craft books  - among others, namely: Faith Hunter, Rachel Aaron/Bach, and Kim Harrison to name a few. And not just for female characters. I learned a lot about description and worldbuilding from them as well.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

The story I read most often at conventions is called “Haven.” It appears in the Weird Wild West anthology and I read it more often than any other story is that it’s got a perfect cliff-hangery stopping point at about (at my reading pace) 12 minutes in—which is the usual cutting off point for a 3-person panel reading.

As I read it, I can see how my voice has developed over the years and the language/style that seemed so smooth back then, now seems a little clunky to my ear, after so many readings. I think I would take Haven, which I am still very proud of, and run it through an editing pass with my current voice and smooth it out some.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

For me, writing is far more of an art than a science. Certainly, there are bits of science to be aware of though.

Let’s say that you’re writing a romance. As you’re crafting that romance, you need to be aware that your readers expect a certain outcome. If you’re conducting an experiment using Hydrogen, there are also certain things that you’ve got to be aware of:

A romance is expected to end with a “Happily ever after,” or a “Happy for Now” scenario.

Hydrogen is Flammable.

You ignore both at your peril.

That’s the science bit—the underlying structure, or the canvass if you will. But what you choose to put on that canvass? That’s pure art, all the way.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

The hardest part of my process is that no two projects are the same. As such, the parts that worked for a previous project, might not work for this current project.

I’m working on a draft right now, that I couldn’t get anywhere with until I had an idea of what each character looked like, so I scoured Google images for pictures of actors and actresses until I had a ballpark look. I’ve never needed that before but being able to work on character creation having a particular face to refer to…well it helped out a lot. And it’s not like this change just appeared with a “Ding” sound when I opened up Scrivener to get to work. I had to flail around a bit until I ran across it.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not? 

Oh they do. Far and away they do.

The most obvious way is generously offering their time to read what I’ve written and, even more importantly, to let me know what they think about it. A second and third pair of eyes is essential for me, primarily because by the time a project is ready for someone else to see it, I’ve gone over it several times before then, and I need a fresh perspective.

Less obvious is that my writer friends “Get it.” They’ve been there on the bad days when it seems like every word is crap, or your rejection pile seems to be visibly growing while you watch. They’ve been there on the good days when you *Nail* that scene, or that paragraph, or that line. They know what that feels like and you can talk to them about it. My writer friends are folks who I can talk to about the story when it isn’t working, and about when it is. And I can do the same for them when they need it. We’re all in this together and the support system I’ve found in the writing community has been invaluable.

What does literary success look like to you? 

Literary success means being able to at least partially support myself by publishing stories. That’s one level.

On another level—a more important level - hearing from readers that I’ve given them some kind of escape, or provided entertainment, or moved them in some way—I would count that as success. 

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

I am currently working on a project with eSpec Books on a steampunk adventure as part of the Systema Paradoxa series. Crimson Whisper will take readers from London, England down to the jungles of South Africa. That’s about all I can say about it at the minute but, when I can provide more, you can find out all about it on my website—speaking of which…

For more information, visit:

You can visit my website—www.ken-schrader.com. I keep a running blog that updates twice a week. You can also find excerpts, appearance information, and a link to sign up for my Newsletter there.

You can also find me on Twitter @kenschrader4882 where I shout about all of the awesome stuff my friends have coming up, women’s rugby, music, and the occasional moment of semi-brilliance on my own behalf.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Secret Window

This movie begins with plagiarism. "You stole my story," says John Shooter to published author Mortimer Rainey. And from there, Shooter does everything in his power to get revenge on Mort for that theft... maybe. 

But that's all I'm going to say about the plot, other than Mort (Johnny Depp) and his wife (played by the amazing Maria Bello) are in the middle of a divorce after the loss of a child, and he has gone off to live in their mountain cabin and write. Then Shooter (John Turturro) shows up. So, right off the bat, there's a fantastic cast with lots of room to play in a sparse story. 

But we're here to talk about what it says about writing and the writer's life. 

There are quite a few major points of interest for writers that this movie really bangs a drum about (typical of a Stephen King story). 

The first is the fear of inadvertently copying bits (little or much) from things you may have seen before. There are no original stories, as the saying goes, just your personal way of telling them, but even knowing that, we don't tend to steal outright from existing works, at least not to the degree of flat-out plagiarism. 

After being accused of stealing Shooter's story, Mort denies the accusation. 

John Shooter: You stole my story.
Mort: I'm... I'm sorry, do I... I don't believe I know you.
John Shooter: I know that, that doesn't matter, I know you Mr. Rainey, that's what matters. You stole my story.
[holding out his manuscript to Mort]
Mort: You're mistaken. I don't read manuscripts.
John Shooter: You read this one already. You stole it.
Mort: I can assure you...
John Shooter: I know you can. I know that. I don't want to be assured.
Mort: If you want to talk to somebody about some grievance you feel you may have, you can call my literary agent.
John Shooter: This is between you and me.
[sees Chico under him]
John Shooter: We don't need no outsiders, Mr. Rainey.
Mort: I don't like being accused of plagiarism, if that is in fact what you are accusing me of. Chico, inside.
[Chico goes back inside]
John Shooter: I don't blame you for not liking it but you did it.
Mort: You're gonna have to leave. I have nothing more to say.
John Shooter: Yeah, I'll go. We'll talk more later.
[hands the manuscript to Mort to take it]
Mort: I'm not taking that.
John Shooter: Won't do you no good to play games with me, Mr. Rainey. This has got to be settled.
Mort: So far as I'm concerned it is.

Later, in the lonely warmth of his sofa in the cabin, Mort wonders, if he may have actually stolen it, but inadvertently or during a drunken stupor. 

But here's the wild part of all this, just as Mort's story, "Secret Window," is about a man who kills his wife and buries her in a garden through her secret window, he himself is harboring anger and bordering on rage toward his unfaithful wife. 

Writing echoes life, and particularly writing echoes the life of writers. Pain, anger, loneliness, family issues, job losses, unrequited love, etc., they're all real and they all end up in our stories. But because so many experiences are shared by so many, it's only natural that bits and pieces from one end up in several stories -- both simultaneously and/or across a number of years. The law of probability backs it up. 

Similar experiences and emotions can trigger similar stories. 

The trouble for Mort is that he has done it before and had to pay off another author for his trouble. The movie drives this home even with his "stealing" the words from a Talking Heads song when he looks at the home his estranged wife lives in: "This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife. Anymore." 

But in most cases, the comparisons are merely random coincidences, different writers pulling from a fixed circle of possible stories, and sharing a few details in common. No matter how much you lock your manuscripts away or refuse to share details while simultaneously asking other writers for help will help avoid this eventuality. Sorry. 

The second bit I gleaned from a scene where Mort is staring at a paragraph and reading it aloud. "This is just bad writing," he says to himself. After deleting the entire paragraph, he added. "No more bad writing." 

But he really misses the point here. Sometimes bad writing is the catalyst for the truly inspired words to come. Sometimes we have to work through the stuff we're not happy with in order to trigger the good writing we live for. Nobody gets it perfect right out of the gate. That's what editing is for. 

Perhaps the one that hits closest to home is that writers live in their heads... a lot of the time. While arguing over the phone, Amy tells him "You were always gone," and he responds "I worked from home, Amy." She tells him that he knows what she means, he wasn't there really -- he was in his head all the time, not with her. 

Sadly, there's a lot of truth in that, and that's why it's important for writers to learn some kind of balance between family, regular life, and their writing worlds inside their heads. 

Finally, and this is the biggest one in the movie -- the important thing is the ending. Says Mort: "You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story, the ending. And this one... is very good. This one's perfect."

I love the sort of self-deprecating wink and a nod from King in this line. It's no secret that plenty of reviewers have accused him of botching his endings -- or rushing them. So to have his lead character make this statement is a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek moment. 

And he's dead-on. The ending is the important thing. When a typical reader closes the book and puts it down, the only thing on his/her/their mind is the ending. Was it worth it? Did it come out of nowhere? Was it satisfying?

A "bad" ending can ruin an otherwise perfectly good book for readers. What is a good ending? Or a "perfect" one to quote Mort. It's going to be different for each story and each writer. It's something both personal and shared with an audience of readers. It's a way of writing "The End" without having to write "The End" at all. I know that's a sort of spiritual answer rather than a practical one, but "them's the breaks" my writer friends. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

eSpecs Books Focus #7: Michael A. Black

I've got a special treat for you this month and next month. I'm going to devote Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays to writers from eSpecs Books. They're a great bunch of folks whom you need to get to know. 

Next up, Michael A. Black!

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

In spite of making everyone sick and miserable, the pandemic and the lockdown had a salubrious effect on my writing in 2020. In December of 2019 I signed a contract to write a four-book series for Wolfpack Publishing called Trackdown. I did a quick outline of the first novel in the series, Devil’s Dance. Since I had the idea for this one pretty well thought out, I was able to jump in with both feet. I started the novel in January 2020, and turned it in by the March deadline. (I pride myself on never having missed a deadline.) While I was finishing up this one, an opportunity arose to do another western in the Gunslinger series under the house name of AW Hart, and coincidentally I had an idea for a western story with a “monster” in it. I signed a contract to knocked out Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost by the end of April. The virus scare was in full swing by this time. Since virtually everything was shut down, even my gym, I got into a non-stop writing routine. I’d long ago mastered the process of working on two projects at once, so I worked on the western (Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost) and the second Trackdown book, Devil’s Fancy, which was due in June. After completing both of those on time, I started and finished the third Trackdown book, Devil’s Brigade, and then wrote the fourth book, Devil’s Advocate, by December 31st to cap off the story arc. The books were released in quick succession, the first one coming out in November 2020 and the fourth one coming out this past February. So far this year I’m maintaining my pace. I wrote Gunslinger: Killer’s Gamble, which is due out on June 23rd, and I’m tying up the series with Gunslinger: Killer’s Requiem, which will follow later this summer.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?  

I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade. I kept badgering the teacher to let me write some fiction, and finally, she agreed. One Friday she told me I could write a story but I had to read it in front of the class on Monday. The realization then hit me as I walked home. I had no idea what to write about. After a searing, soul-searching weekend, I managed to scratch out a story on Sunday. When I got in front of the class to read it, I was nervous as hell. When I finished there was a stunned silence, followed by a couple of giggles. (It wasn’t supposed to be a funny story.) The teacher gave me a “come hither” gesture. I went to her desk and handed her my story. She scrawled D-POOR WORK in bright red ink across the front, thrust it back to me, and said, “Don’t ever do this again.” I look back on this experience as what they call a paradigm shift in my writing life. It foreshadowed everything yet to come. I got my first writing assignment, my first deadline, and my first rejection all in the space of three days. 

What inspires you to write? 

I love everything about it. A friend of mine once told me that I was “in love with words.” As a youth, whenever I read a book and came across a word I didn’t know, I’d fold down the corner of the page and look it up later. I kept a notebook with all the words and their definitions. When I was visiting my grandfather as a youth, he gave me his Roget’s Thesaurus and told me to keep it. In the inside cover he’d written, “A man’s thoughts are limited by his vocabulary.” He was a navy lifer and had little formal education, but he was self-taught and highly intelligent.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work? 

My works are meant to be entertaining, not didactic. For me it’s all about telling the story in a way that will keep the reader turning the pages, and leave them with a satisfied feeling upon closing the back cover. This is not to say that I don’t occasionally try to imbue certain important truths and principles into my work. In one of my westerns, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, for instance, I portray things as they were, warts and all. I have an ex-Buffalo Soldier falsely charge with murder due to his race. I put in a trial sequence that pays homage to and is reminiscent of the one in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I never beat the reader over the head with a message, though. If you want to do that, I’d advise you to write non-fiction.

What would be your dream project? 

I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to be published in several different genres. I’ve done mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, westerns, horror, historicals, sports, and pulp to name a few. My dream project … I’d have to say it would be writing a book with James Patterson. I heard he recently acquired the rights to the Shadow. I used to listen to the old-time radio show when I was working midnights, and loved reading the old pulps. So, Mr. Patterson, if you’re listening … ;-)

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

I’d credit my two mentors, Stuart Kaminsky and Donald Bain for being major influences on me. Stuart was a tireless writer and inspired me to write, write, write. Donald once told me that a professional writer should be able to write anything, and should never turn down a writing assignment. As far as styles I admire, I’d say John D. MacDonald, James Dickey, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, and Michael Connelly have all influenced me.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do? 

I think it’s every writer’s goal to evolve and improve as a writer and stylist, but as far as a “do-over” I’ll take a pass. Don’t look back is my motto. My early work stands on its own and I’m proud of it, but I do think my more recent stuff is much better written.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why? 

Writing is definitely art. Science is based on facts and is black and white. It’s empirical reasoning that is used to prove or solve problems based on the laws of science. Art, on the other hand, is in a myriad of colors and is all about portraying something with a bit of flourish and panache. Let me put it this way. In science, two plus two equals four. It’s a fact. In art, two plus two can equal five, if Big Brother says so.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

It’s all difficult, but it’s the kind of difficulty that you love. It’s like running a marathon or going ten rounds in a boxing match. (I’ve done the latter and maybe someday will accomplish the former.) You may feel the pain and exhaustion as you’re doing it, but you also know the payoff will be crossing that finish line or finishing on your feet, win, lose, or draw.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not? 

They help me by being my first readers. They tell me if I need to work on something that’s awkward or unclear. They help me by being honest. Every writer should get feedback on that first draft. Find someone who will read your work and tell you what’s working and what’s not.

What does literary success look like to you? 

Literary success should be typing those final words on your manuscript. When I was in grad school one of my professors had some cogent advice. “We may not all become published authors,” he said. “But we’re all writers.”

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

Yeah, my first horror story, “Seven Ravens,” is coming out in a fabulous new anthology called Devilish & Divine, edited by the peerless Danielle Ackley-McPhail and John L. French.

For more information, visit: 

Amazon.com where my books are on sale for 99 cents right now!