Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Movie Reviews for Writers: Allegoria


Allegoria is a pretentious little arthouse horror flick about pretentiousness. It’s also directed by Rob Zombie’s little brother, Spider One from the rock group Powerman 5000. Where older brother Zombie went into carnival madness and gore, Spider seems to have something more to say about the creation process, even if wrapped in some over-the-top oddness where various songwriters, scriptwriters, actors, and painters discover the hard way that releasing their inner demons can become far too literal. 

All in all, it’s a lot more entertaining than one might think at first glance. It clearly doesn’t have the budget of Zombie’s slashers, but honestly, it doesn’t need it, not for these stories about people first and monsters and killers second. The segments work together in the same way a mosaic novel (like the first few Wildcards collections) with a shared cast who interacts in minor ways with each other as each new segment begins. 

The first story is about an actor teaching a class how to dig deep and channel the true horror inside them. But the second is where we finally hit some gold about the creative process. Marcus is a painter who is up against a deadline. Benny is his manager and is far more concerned about dollars than art. 

Benny: Marcus? Marcus, can you hear me?
Marcus: I can hear you.
Benny: Okay. Yeah, well, it's Friday, and you said that you would have it done by Friday.
Marcus: I'm sorry, I didn't realize my soul was punching a time clock.
Benny: Hey, hey, come on. Don't act like you don't know how this works.

Let’s unpack that exchange. It’s the two sides of the same coin for folks who create art as a way to make a living. Step one: Pour out your soul onto canvas or paper or a piano. Step two: Do that in such a way that commodifies the very thing your soul creates. 

If we want to even begin to make a living in art, it’s a line we have to walk. And we can’t ignore either side. To be true to ourselves we have to create something we find fulfilling. That’s true enough. But to continue paying rent and buying groceries we have to honor deadlines and often argumentative (and even clueless) customers who want to reduce your art to something less. (Just ask any comic artist about the crazy sketch requests they get from fetishistic fans.)

Moving on to the next sequence, which is perhaps the best of the bunch, which features a scriptwriter named Andy Park knocking out the final scene of his newest screenplay. It includes two potential victims and a killer with a knife called “The Whistler,” who whistles the same notes over and over before he kills. 

When he plugs in the words “The End” Andy is convinced he’s done it again. He’s created gold with his laptop. 

Eddy: Eddy Park, you are a fucking genius... Well, my friend, you did it again.

But his excitement is short-lived as someone responds. Surprise, it’s The Whistler somehow come to life from the script, and he’s not happy with the way things turned out. 

It’s not uncommon for us writers to talk about how our characters speak to us, how they tell us what should happen next, and what shape our stories should ultimately take. This just happens to be the way to make that happen in a horror story. 

Whistler: Worthless. Fucking. Trash.
Eddy: What?
Whistler: I said, "Worthless fucking trash."
Eddy: I... I don't understand.
Whistler: Clearly, there's a lot you don't understand, like how to write a decent, fuckin' violent bloodbath.
Eddy: What?
Whistler: First of all, we need to discuss this whistling bullshit. Is that really the best you can do? Whistling?
Eddy: It's... It's just like a-a-a gimmick, you know? Like... Like... Like whistle while you work. This is whistle while you kill. Th-That's gonna be the tag line on the poster. "Whistle while you kill."
Whistler: I hate it.

I love this exchange. I really, really do. Just like all of us have felt at some time, Eddy wants to hold onto something that is actually hurting his work. His character is trying to tell him how stupid it is, but Eddy doesn’t want to listen. First, the story is done, and why in the hell would he want to go back and rewrite now? Second, movies are built on gimmicks, right? And as the writer, Eddy knows better than the character. Well, that doesn’t sit well with The Whistler, who proceeds to beat the shit out of Eddy to demonstrate just how to create an effective (and rather visceral) “decent, fucking bloodbath.” 

Let’s just be glad that our interactions with our characters happen in our heads, and I’ll leave it at that to avoid any important spoilers. 

Next, we come to another stand-out segment, this one featuring Scout Taylor-Compton from Halloween. She stars as Ivy, a sculptor on a blind date. She is clearly way out of her date’s league even if he’s cute in a nerdy way. John’s a neat freak more concerned with keeping things in perfect condition, and she likes to deconstruct things to find the art beneath the surface. As such, he doesn’t remotely understand Ivy when she talks about art. 

Ivy: I believe that art is in everything and everyone. It's just that not everything and everyone is being used properly to transmit its power.
John: I... I have no idea what you're talking about.
Ivy: Okay. For instance, this table.
John: Mm-hmm.
Ivy: Give me your hand. You see it as a table because you treat it that way. And you are afraid of this wine stain, but maybe this wine stain is exactly... what this table needs to express a feeling and in turn transform this meaningless object into art.
John: So I should... I should just spill wine all over the table, because that's the thing? I mean, I just... It's expensive, so I didn't want to ruin it.
Ivy: It's not about the table. It's about how you feel.

Whether or not Ivy is a role model for us as creatives, she definitely knows where art hides and how to get to it. I love her definition that is espoused here. “Maybe this wine stain is exactly what this table needs to transform this meaningless object into art.” As she says, “It’s not about the table.” It’s about the feelings the art produces. 

Art has never been about concrete meanings and lock-it-in-a-box definitions. It has always been about the sensations, thoughts, and feelings it creates in those who see and/or hear it. 

All this brings us to the final segment of this pretentious anthology flick. With an expert framing device, we visit Brody, an aspiring actress from the first segment on the night before her acting class. She lives with a rock and roll singer for a punk band. She’s also dating Marcus, the painter from the second segment. We see a repeat of the conversation with him from that segment, only from her perspective this time. 

Brody: Whatever, Marcus. I just want to act.
Marcus: You want to be famous.

Okay. Marcus may be a pompous Artiste (capital A intentional) and a total dick, but he’s right in this case. Brody is less concerned about creating. She wants to get famous. She sees art as a means to that end. 

But, let’s be honest, a lot of folks do, and when they find out what a fat load of garbage that way of thinking is, they either reframe their expectations because they’ve fallen in love with creating or they relegate such endeavors to an “every now and then” sort of hobby or get out of that creative world entirely. 

This writing life isn’t likely to make any of us famous or rich. Sure, some people find that dream, but the odds are stacked against us from the beginning. When we stick with it, we usually do that for the addiction to seeing our art children venture out into the world, regardless of how they are received by the public.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Gray Valley -- Good Villains and Bad Heroes (A Roundtable)

We all know that for the most part, our characters are supposed to be fully fleshed out and multidimensional. That means we need heroes with things we don't like and villains with traits we actually admire. But how do you do that?

What's the danger of a hero who is solely heroic or a villain who is purely villainous?

Ef Deal: I would hope that writers take the time to study human nature enough to know that -- outside of comic books and Marvel Universe -- people are people. Once they become characters in a story, they require agency as well as fully formed humanity, with aspirations, plans, goals, and foibles. Doesn't matter if they're the pro or anti, hero or villain (I dislike those terms), they've got to be people first.

John L. Taylor: The danger of a purely "Lawful Good" hero is that it doesn't leave room for internal conflict that leads to character development. It's part of why Batman seems more relatable than Superman. Also, when the character is that rigidly good, they take on an authoritarian air that doesn't sit well with the modern reader. As for the purely villainous "Chaotic Evil": compare Thanos (the MCU version) to Jason from Friday the 13th. Both exist as avatars of death in their respective stories, but Thanos is also more relatable as he has some degree of moral ambiguity in his intentions. Heath Ledger's Joker was another prime example of this. Vile intentions wrapped in a layer of social criticism and acute awareness of the corruption of those who believe they are the "good guys." That's solid story material there. 

Bobby Nash: Perfect characters are just that. Perfect. There’s a place for those types of characters, but you go in knowing exactly what you’re going to get. There are no moral gray areas so few surprises based on character. That said, having a heroic character do the occasional morally questionable act adds a new dimension to them. It doesn’t always mean the character will go that route, but we know there’s a line for them. Here are two examples from TV that stick with me:

In the Magnum, P.I. (OG version) episode, Have You Seen The Sunrise?, Magnum and friends are targeted by an old enemy from their time in Vietnam, a cold-as-ice killer named Ivan. The episode sees one of Magnum’s friends killed, another injured, another programmed to become a killer, and even Magnum gets shot and blown up along with his car. Ivan is a bad guy who does bad things, but he has diplomatic immunity so the two-part episode ends with him being asked to leave the United States and to never return. This does not sit well with Magnum or Rick so they divert the car and Magnum confronts Ivan. Ivan tortured all of them years ago as POWs and he tells Magnum that, despite all he’s done, he knows that Magnum is a good, honorable man who would never commit cold, calculated murder. Magnum shocks him, and the audience, when the episode ends with him pulling the trigger. Does this make him a murderer? Yes. He murdered the guy. Does it make him a bad guy going forward? No. Isolated incident, but one that added a new layer to the character.

The second is a Stargate: SG-1 episode titled “The Other Side” where the team meets an advanced race on another planet. They start the procedure to form an alliance when they learn that this group, who we’ve been told are under attack by a vicious force, are in fact the instigators, having tried to wipe out those on their planet they believe to be impure. The alliance isn’t happening and the team makes their escape as the other side attacks. Colonel O’Neill warns the leader not to follow. We are reminded earlier in the episode that, if the iris is closed on Earth’s gate, an incoming traveler will die when they reform against it. O’Neill enters and, knowing the bad guy is following, steps through and orders the iris closed immediately. His teammates look at him with shock as we hear the villain die as he hits the iris. As with the Magnum example above, the character did commit murder, but it did not irrevocably change the character going forward.

Of course, in both these instances, the characters were soldiers and had been trained to compartmentalize and do whatever needed to be done. I think those are great story examples of facing those shades of gray.

Lucy Blue: I write very character-driven fiction, regardless of the genre I'm working in, and I never stop to think if someone is a villain or a hero. I'm all about motivations. I start with a protagonist, someone whose personality or goals or situation particularly interests me, and I immediately dive into their motivations. What does this character want? Why do they want it? What would have to happen for them to have it? How are they going to make those things happen? What are they willing to do to make those things happen--and what are they not willing to do? What roadblocks am I going to create and drop in front of them, and how are they going to pivot to get around them? Coming up with the answers to these questions for my protagonist inevitably creates the other characters, some of whom will help them, some of whom will seek to stop or harm them, and I ask the exact same questions about those characters, too. (Incidentally, that's one strategy for avoiding racial and gender stereotypes in your characterization--focus on the individual characters' own motivations rather than what they're doing for or against your protagonist. 

John Morgan Neal: I don't see why we can't have both. It seems there is too much either or in our culture sometimes nowadays. Old grumps not liking the new-fangled stuff and kids dismissing all the old stuff as has been. My mantra has always been 'variety is the spice of life' If everything is the same, that can get very dull very fast.

Richard Knaak: In my Rogues Gallery, the hero is missing, so the villains are falling all over each other. Not great for 1930 Chicago -- well, an alternate one -- but not every villain has the same motivation. Some just want to steal nice things, for instance, not try to take over. It's the backgrounds of the various villains and the choices that they make based on both that background and their overall desires, that brings them into conflict with one another... and makes some even a bit heroic. I think that rounds them out better overall.

Brian K Morris: The problem with a solely heroic hero is the problem usually given to characters like Superman and most comic book protagonists, that they're "Boy Scouts" and thus, "dull." Heroes need a quirk to help make them interesting (Batman hates guns, Doc Savage is emotionally reserved, Frank Castle and Mack Bolan are motivated by revenge, Indiana Jones hates snakes, etc.). They can be interesting for a while but mostly become tedious after a time because there's nothing to get to like the character on a personal basis.

The same with villains, except you don't have to empathize with them as you would a protagonist. But you should understand why they do what they do, simply beyond the mere accumulation of power/wealth/influence.

Nancy Hansen: I prefer reading stories that have complex characters, no matter whether we're supposed to root for them as they bumble, blunder, and batter their way through the situation or wish someone would flatten their faces with a sledgehammer because they are so incredibly detestable.

Emily LaFlame Jahnke: Funny you mention that because I’m working on a character who did horrible things but is on a journey of redemption.

There are really good examples of good heroes and bad villains, (i.e. Doc Savage, Superman, the Joker, Lex Luthor, etc) but really good writers focus on what makes them heroes or villains.

Pól Rua: For mine, one of the dangers of an 'infallible' hero is absolute conviction. And what's worse than that is when that absolute conviction always pays off.

A character who is 'solely heroic' is not a problem. That characters like Superman, James T. Kirk, and Doc Savage, for instance, act in a way that is 'always good' is entirely plausible. Where it becomes problematic in terms of storytelling is when those characters act in a way that suggests they are supernaturally aware of the best course of action.

In a standard narrative involving this sort of character, the crucial dilemma for the hero should be discerning what that course of action IS.

Most Doc Savage adventures, for instance, begin with some sort of impossible situation or cryptic warning. The goal then, is to use the character's considerable talents, resources and intellect to investigate and gather information. His greatest virtue is intellectual curiosity.

In the case of James T. Kirk, he is often placed in a situation where he is not in possession of all the facts. Because he is confident in himself and in his trusted allies, he will quickly act based on what information he has, knowing that inaction could lead to disaster. This confidence also means that, in a case where his initial response was incorrect, he and his allies can gain new information and perspective and change their strategies accordingly. His greatest virtue is self-confidence.

Superman, on the other hand, is often forced into dilemmas based on the scale of the situation he is forced into. Despite his abilities, Superman doesn't consider himself better or more important than others. He sees a capacity for heroism and goodness in everyone, and while he appreciates that his powers give him the ability to act on a larger scale, he rejects the idea that his actions are more virtuous or important than that of any person who chooses to help someone out in a time of need or who puts another's wellbeing ahead of their own. His greatest virtue is humility.

But if you have a character who ALWAYS seems to always make the correct decision, even when not in full possession of all the information necessary, then it begins to feel less like competence and more like author fiat. At that point, you're not playing fair by your audience, and consciously or not, audiences can sense that.

What tips do you have for creating heroes and villains who defy simple one-note portrayals and are able to appeal to readers as much than just flat, cardboard cut-out caricatures?

Bobby Nash: For me, it always starts with character. I work hard to make my characters as three-dimensional as possible, as fully formed as possible. That means the good and bad. As the writer, I know those things, even if we don’t always show it. All characters have bad days. How do they handle it? Does the character shrug off problems or do they piss them off and spoil the rest of their day? Those are important character-defining traits I like to know upfront, but I’m also open to learning new traits and tidbits about my characters as we move through the story we’re telling. Once I get to know the characters, they will tell me what they’ll do and how they’ll react.

Emily LaFlame Jahnke: My biggest tip for creating good villains or bad heroes is to show their heroic sides and to make them compelling. Scarlet O’Hara for example is no Angel. But she’s still compelling and interesting.

Brian K Morris: Give them a non-standard quirk, both heroes and villains, that make them a little more interesting and might even be an impediment to accomplishing their goals every now and then. Or give them an almost redeeming quality, such as when Dr. Doom killed his flunky for attempting to destroy the Fantastic Four but risking Doom's stolen art treasures in the process.

Alycia Lynn Davidson: Make them human, even if they aren't. Even the most heinous of individuals will have wants, needs, desires, and goals, and the most pure of heroes (the interesting ones, anyway) will have flaws, quirks, moments of doubt and growth. They all have relationships and routines, things in their childhood/creation that shaped them. I take those small things and use them to ground my characters to reality. My favorite character in each project shares my birthday. One of my novella characters is a type 1 diabetic, like myself. The big bad of my space opera gets his own prequel novel to help flesh out his powerful, decades-long arc. Find the small traits that add depth and weave them throughout the narrative in the way they speak, act, and think.

John L. Taylor: A tip I have in creating rounded heroes and villains is this: give them both a conscience, but a tendency to self-interest. Each should believe they're working for the good of someone, but their motives for that don't have to be altruistic. Put heroes in situations where they have to cross the line they swore they never would to get the job done. Give the villain someone they truly care about (Not Joker and Harley Quinn style, really cares about selflessly). I can tie this off my picks for best-written heroes and villains. Best Hero: Indiana Jones. Morally ambiguous but would never side with the true evil of his time. A self-interested adventurer who's worldly wise but never lost the sense of wonder and leaves a trail of broken hearts in his path. The best villain will be controversial: Jenny from Forrest Gump. Though the story has a very patriarchial moral, Jenny is the villain of the piece. Everything she does has contempt for Forrest, and even in the end, he doesn't "get the girl" as Jenny only marries him when she knows she's dying and won't have to live with him for long. Yet anyone in the audience would probably have done everything Jenny did if put in the same situation. The Hero and Villain have intimately connected sources of conflict in each other's lives in Forrest Gump. to the point you don't even realize that's what their relationship is. That. in my opinion is the highest level of writing such characters.

John Morgan Neal: I tend to write villains both ways. It depends on the story, character, genre, and medium. For comics, I clearly go for the classic over-the-top villains. I try to bring a new wrinkle to them and add a bit of gray and nuance. But I fully admit the fun part is being evil because it's fun. My character Aym Geronimo's main nemesis Sean " The Rooster" Riley is a perfect example of my take. He is Aym's ex. A reformed terrorist whom Aym fell in love with and tried to help him by fixing his brain and making him far worse. Now Sean is THE terrorist of the planet and loves playing the villain and loves dirigibles as all classic villains should.

However, in the Westerns there is a bit more nuance as I write Spaghetti Westerns and mean 70s paperback-style Westerns. There isn't always a lot of room between good, bad, or ugly as my favorite western I just paraphrased demonstrated.

Lucy Blue: Remember that nobody is an NPC in their own story, and every character has their own story. What makes them a background character isn't that they exist to serve the protagonist but that our story isn't focused on their journey--they're incident, not throughline.) I usually write in limited POV third person, meaning I follow my protagonist from inside their head. That usually results in the protagonist and those who help them coming across as heroic within the context of the story and those who hinder them coming across as villainous. But because even the villains have their own goals and reasoning and even the heroes are serving their own needs and desires (which may or may not serve a greater good), nobody is purely a hero or a villain.

Nancy Hansen: Because of that personal preference, I try and write them that way as well. One-dimensional heroes or villains tend to bore me. I want to know not just what they're doing, but why they're doing it, because that adds a layer of reality to a story that pulls you in. It doesn't have to take up a lot of room, I try to drop in just enough insight here and there to get a peek at those clay feet or the traumatic motivations that made them who and what they are today.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Classic Monster Anthology Launches on Kickstarter: League of Monsters Brings Everyone’s Favorite Universal-Style Monsters Into the Pulp Era


Contact Name: James Palmer
Company Name: Mechanoid Press

GAINESVILLE, GA – Author, editor, and indie publisher James Palmer has unleashed the monsters once more. But instead of the giant kaiju variety, these beasties are a little closer to home. 

League of Monsters is the tale of some of your favorite classic monsters who join forces to fight a remnant Nazi splinter cell in post-war America, chiefly the 1950s. Wealthy industrialite Moira Harker, great-great granddaughter of Mina Harker, has brought together Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, a reluctant wolf-man, and a missing link gill creature and his beautiful telepathic handler, marine biologist Stephanie Gordon, to cross the globe battling all manner of supernatural threats. 

Bringing these pulse-pounding tales to life is a veritable hoard of award-winning writers including Bobby Nash (Snow Fall, Suicide Bomb), Teel James Glenn (A Cowboy in Carpathia: A Bob Howard Adventure), and Russell Nohelty (Katrina Hates the Dead, Cthulhu is Hard to Spell).

“Many of my author friends really fell in love with the idea and promised to send in stories, more than I had room for in one volume,” says Palmer. “I guess I’ll have to publish subsequent volumes to contain them all.”

For the cover, Palmer tapped none other than multiple Rondo Award-winning classic horror artist Mark Maddox. 

“I wouldn’t dream of doing an anthology like this without Mark,” says Palmer. “His work is classic horror, and I couldn’t be more excited that he agreed to do the cover. It looks amazing, as I knew it would.”

Kickstarter backers apparently agree, because the campaign fully funded in less than 24 hours. But there is still a way to go and a couple of stretch goals to hit. The first stretch goal is $1,500. If that one is reached, Palmer will write an original story called “Date Night of the Living Dead.” 

“I have lots of great add-ons and cool stretch goals,” says Palmer. “I really want to make this a no-brainer. This is a cool anthology that people are going to love, and I’d like as many folks as possible to be a part of it.”

This is Palmer’s fourth Kickstarter project, and the third one to successfully fund. 

“Kickstarter has been a game-changer for me. It lets you do things that might be cost-prohibitive to do otherwise.”

The Kickstarter campaign for League of Monsters runs for 28 more days [ed. note: from 5/10], and until midnight EST on Tuesday, May 16th you can get ebook add-ons for only $1. To check out the campaign head over to

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Steven Prouse: Monkey with a Hand Grenade

Steven Prouse loves stories. Writing. Reading. Watching. He believes they are our doorway to understanding what it is to be human. A self-professed social hedonist and leftist atheist writer, he lives in the Bible Belt and makes pastries (in addition to stories). 

Tell us a bit about your latest work. 

Handlebars is my first novel. The concept was born during the Clinton/Trump presidential campaign. I was listening to the Flobots song of the same name and couldn’t fathom either of those two ever riding a bicycle. I sat down to write it last year and what came out was incredibly fun.

Handlebars is the faux memoir of Quinn Constance, a man who came of age in rural American poverty and abuse and found himself at the center of global power in his adult years. His childhood friend, Louis Bryant, becomes a focal point of Quinn’s jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, and he remains that way as they both find their own success. Quinn’s pursuit of power to overcome his childhood powerlessness morphs him into something dark, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance as the human race enters a new evolutionary stage. 

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

I was the quiet kid. I stayed in my head. In one way or another, I have always been writing. My earliest stories followed an alien being stranded on earth facing another of his kind in epic battles of superpowers and magic. I told these as comic strips. Since I couldn’t draw very well, the aliens were stars… with capes. Once I entered my pre-teen years, I focused on superhero comic books. 

What inspires you to write? 

I always have plenty to say and I believe that our strongest introspection and organization as a species are communicated through the parables we tell. Story is the strongest teacher. Sadly, it’s also where so very many of us miss the point of life. 

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

I love horror and I love social commentary, so a lot of my work will be found to have those elements. I like protagonists who find their strength through solidarity with others and intersectional action. I am most concerned with systems of social control and how they affect the individual, so religion, class organization, and tradition/taboo are my general topics while I love to incorporate heroes who don’t always look like me. 

What would be your dream project? 

I absolutely love the stories I tell. But, if I needed to choose something existing out there, it would be taking my The Matrix: Wrath of the Grigori short I released through my Substack (originally written for my children for Christmas) and expanding it into an animated or live-action film. I absolutely love the world the Wachowskis gave us with that story. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique? 

I’m sure there are other writers closer in style to me, but I tend to feed off writers with a free spirit when they tell a story. I feel like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Nnedi Okorafor, Oscar Wilde, Chuck Tingle, etc. While none of these writers really have the same style, they are all so very free as writers and I’m eager to go along for that ride. I want my style to feel authentic. I want it to feel like I’m sitting there telling the story. 

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 actually doing that now. In 2008-2009, my short comic book story Graffiti was optioned and shopped around. Ultimately, it went where so many IPs go… to the development graveyard. The show was based on an 8-page story I published in 803 #1, my first nationally distributed, self-published anthology. Incidentally, I’ll be re-releasing my original comic work in an expanded re-release of Notes from a Monkey with a Hand Grenade. Since it was such a short story, I had to do a LOT of research and concept work to get something I felt was unique. The project made it to script and even attached an incredible rapper-actor but didn’t make it to pilot production. 

It took a few months after Christmas for my boys to read Handlebars, but, when they did, I received some of the most amazing feedback I have or will ever receive. They put it on the top of the list of books they’ve ever read – and they’ve read a lot. And they asked me for a sequel. I initially told them that Handlebars was a one-and-done story, but the request hung with me for a couple of weeks. One thought leads to another, and I strolled through my memory of the incredible world-building I did with Graffiti. The stories clicked. I realized that the world of Graffiti and a few new characters made for the perfect continuation of Handlebars. I currently have planned a 3-book Graffiti trilogy.

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

Unlike the rest of my life, I’d put myself as a centrist. The heart of a story is interactive art. A writer has something to say and says it a certain way. All writing is like this. Articles. Ads. Histories. True crime. Fiction. They have a worldview and experience that colors their message. The choice of word and sentence structure in writing is the same as the choice of color and texture in painting. Yet the readers bring to any piece their own life choices and experiences and worldviews. No matter what the writer hoped to convey, they are at the mercy of the readers’ viewpoint, and, through those interpretations, they create a multiverse of stories. In that, writing is art.

But there are structures and the mechanics of language that make writing functional. You can creatively experiment with anything as artistic expression, but the framework has to be agreed upon between the writer and the reader. Commonly accepted message construction methods will have a broader appeal and will, ultimately, reach more eyes. In that, writing is very much a science. The most sophisticated manipulations and propagandas have the structure perfected to communicate the exact amount of outrage and fear. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

Editing. I wish everything I wrote came out perfect the very first time. To edit is to acknowledge that it didn’t. And, often, it was awful. It’s tedious to pick over your creation because that’s where the art stops and the science begins. 

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

I have a network of writer friends from my comic book publishing days who are as much fans of mine as I am of theirs. I hold their praise and opinions above other writers. But we’re all going our separate ways. I believe we’re remembering how amazing the collaboration from a decade ago and we’re bringing our works back together for that mutual support. 

But, with the silence and my recent return to writing, I reached out for new writing friends. Finding the right ones can take some time. Finding the wrong ones can derail your work. Writing relationships are like any other. If the feedback loop only serves to bolster the ego of one person, it can become very toxic very quickly. 

What does literary success look like to you? 

Simply financial stability. I would love to replace my daytime income with writing so that I can devote more off-work time to my family. That’s asking a lot from a writing career, but that is what I daydream about between conference calls.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

As I mentioned, I will be re-releasing Notes from a Monkey with a Hand Grenade, a collection of short comic book stories I wrote, expanded with additional content. I am also releasing a collection of short stories as Notes from a Monkey with a Hand Grenade 2 closer to winter this year. And I will be pushing to complete book one of Graffiti later this year.

For more information, visit:

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Centre Is Not Central -- Normal Heroes Among Dragons

"This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales
endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is
his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal.
But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is
not central. ... You can make a story out of a hero among dragons;
but not out of a dragon among dragons."
-- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

There are several great questions from literature and writing. Among them, why is a raven like a writing desk? To that, add this one: 

Q: When is a hero not a hero?

A: When he or she or they are too heroic and extraordinary. 

Maybe this is the reason Hollywood chooses to rewrite Superman so often. As a purveyor of stories, the movie machine gets that no matter how much Supes is the perfect specimen of purity and goodness and power, that makes his stories far less interesting. Yes, I know lots and lots of people who would argue with me about that and say that "feet of clay" is the last thing Superman needs to make a story compelling, but I disagree. I really think Chesterton is one to something here. 

In this case, Superman is neither a hero among dragons nor even a dragon among dragons -- he's a dragon among normies. 

I think it's also the reason Pulp fans haven't seen a Doc Savage movie. He's just too... much... for modern audiences or even older audiences. We know we need those larger-than-life, good guys in the white hats, the strongest and the purest hero types to hold as ideals, but we also know that telling stories about them never really facing any real challenges gets old after a while. 

A Hero We Can Be

One of the first rules we learn for a classic adventure story is that of identification. In other words, give your readers a hero they can identify with and see themselves in. Give you readers they could strive to become. 

Now, I hear you rebutting. I do. Any writer worth his, her, or their salt in the craft can make any hero identifiable and someone readers can empathize with. And you're correct. The hero who may be all-powerful but doesn't know how to "people" effectively can be as ordinary as any of us who feel that same weakness. A hero who may be almost all-powerful, but can't do anything in a single situation can be as useless as any of us can feel in certain moments. 

The trouble comes when writers choose to refuse to give their heroes any kind of weakness. She's a dragon, damn it, and she's going to be a dragon all the way. I don't want readers to identify with her. She is supposed to be above us all. 

One of my early stories for Cyber Age Adventures struggled with this line. The character (Starlight) was no longer human and was virtually indestructible. But she was a mom. So, as a writer, that's where I could hurt her and make her normal and ordinary. That's where I could take a bit of the dragon out of her to make her relatable. So I gave her a kid with leukemia, a disease that even with all her powers she couldn't cure or do anything to extend his life. She grieved. And that's something we all do. Bam. Instant identification. So much so that it's the story I still (20+ years later) have people talk about with me online and at conventions and shows. 

If your hero (not necessarily in the capes and tights sense, but think Indiana Jones, Jay Gatsby, Janie Crawford, Hazel Motes, or yes, even Superman and Scarlet Witch) is "too much," then you run the risk of losing the empathy and interest of your reader. 

Even the gargantuan Lemuel Gulliver who couldn't be defeated in battle by the Lilliputians could fail at being able to stop a war if he couldn't get them to meet and come to terms. Sure, he could drag the boats from the sea, but he couldn't change hearts and minds. That potential inability knocked the proverbial wind out of his giant, nigh-indestructible sails. 

Can it be done? Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. That's the way rules work. But typically, it's important to remember that according to the law of averages, you're not that exception. Not only that. It's best to learn how to play within the rules in order to see how best and when best to break them. 

A Hero Who Isn't Yet a Hero

This is probably the most often used workaround for a hero who is way too powerful or unrelatable. It's also called "The Chosen One," "The Prophesied One," or "The One Who Was Called." It's when young Harry Potter or inexperienced Luke Skywalker (who are destined to be the unattainable best) are called by Fate (with a capital F) or some other oogy-boogey mystical reason to go from zero to hero within a story arc of how-ever-many (usually an epic series) books. 

This works because until the hero loses his, her, or their zero-ness, they are instantly identifiable. Not only are they weak or even totally helpless, they also typically begin at the lowest point of life they could be experienced. 

For example:

  • Orphaned or might as well be (Cinderella, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker)
  • Living in poverty (King Arthur, Rey)
  • Sickly (Thomas Covenant)
  • No family name to speak of (In the Hall of the Dragon King)
  • Loss of title, money, or security (Robin Hood)
  • And the list goes on

These have become so overdone they have all become cliches. Of course, the reason any cliche attains such a "revered honor" is that it works. 

The reader in this case plays along and goes on the journey with Harry, to the ball with Cinderella, into alternate lands with Thomas Covenant, or against the powers that be with Robin Hood. We root for them to achieve their eventual ultimate badassdom that will in turn separate them as "the" hero from the very ordinary us. 

A Dragon Among Dragons

This is the one place I disagree with Chesterton's quote. A dragon among dragons is just another normie, especially if there's a bigger, more badass, more powerful dragon he must face and overcome. Then we're back to our ideal story of a normie among dragons. 

For example, to return to our Superman analogy, there are several fantastic stories in which the Kryptonian becomes more or less human and loses his powers -- either by visiting the bottled city of Kandor or via some shade of Kryptonite. In these stories, Kal-El, who isn't much of a fighter without depending on his strength -- I.E., when you can punch a hole in a building, what's the point of learning technique? -- goes from being a greater-than to a less-than. Now, he's at the mercy of regular Joes and Jor-Els who know some skills and have bigger muscles or are smarter than him. 

Humanize the dragon and you create a much more identifiable hero. Because we don't relate because of wings and fangs and claws, nor do they get in the way. We relate because of emotional and psychological characteristics that create human-feeling characters, not human-looking characters. 

I do however understand what Chesterton is saying. 

Let's say all those dragons are indestructible and all equally powerful and equally smart and emotionally well-balanced, blah, blah, blah. Suddenly our story takes a sudden nosedive. Who cares? ("Not I," said the Little Red Hen.)

Heroes need maybe not impossible tasks but at least one that's well beyond their ability to achieve without real effort and possible loss. The point of being a hero is to fight for something, whether to win Daisy from Tom and rewrite the past, to escape the war with the one you love, to battle all your ex's old boyfriends/girlfriends and win the heart of the girl/guy, or to literally fight off an ancient mummy to undo a curse you accidentally activated through plundering.  

The point is that there is something at stake, something the hero is capable of losing. Period. And when all things are equal, those stakes tend to disappear. 

A Normie Among Dragons

Here's where, in my admittedly less than humble opinion, the best stories live. A weakling among the giants. David among the Goliaths. The trick is to avoid the cliche of David and Goliath, and that's no small feat. 

This hero is truly the every-person. There's no destiny to become a savior, a chosen one, a prophesied king, nothing of the sort. This is just a person vs. the whatever (the classic conflicts being vs. person, vs. self, vs. nature/fate, and vs. society) with no option for godhood or boss-level boost for winning. 

In the dragon example, life and limb are on the line. But in a lot of fiction, that may not be the case. In most genre fiction, however, it may be. The normie may have to suddenly face the mob, Nazis, green-lipped aliens from planet Groomba, or even the sexy two-headed Amazon of the Himalayas. 

Most fictional dragons aren't going to actually be dragons, mind you. The before-mentioned Hazel Motes' dragons were his own faith he needed to overcome and recreate. Laura Ingell's dragon was the very land her family tried to eke out survival on. The family in As I Lay Dying must face not giant lizards but each other and rivers and other obstacles to bury their kin. Hemingway's fisherman just wants to bring his fish in. 

Just a personal aside, I think when a writer can combine an actual physical enemy like a villain or a dragon with a more psychological or emotional or spiritual enemy like personal faith or lack of confidence, well, then they're really off to the proverbial races with a truly formidable, multi-faceted antagonist.  

This brings us to the single most crucial element of the conflict. For a hero to be a hero, he, she, or they must have the very real possibility of failing. It must be an earned possibility, not some random bullet from an off-camera (or off-page) sniper we weren't previously told was there. This must be rooted in who the hero is and what the hero does or doesn't do. 

Without the possibility of failure, there are no stakes, no reason for readers to care. And that failure can't come via a trick from the writer. It must come from the character of the hero. I will repeat that. The possibility of failure can't be a gimmick from the author, but it must instead be part of the very nature of the character facing the challenge. 

The more a hero has to overcome, the greater the suspense for the reader. The greater the obstacles a hero has to survive, the more invested readers will be in the story and the more like they will tag along for the journey. 

The Adventures Are Startling

Let's revisit to the question we started with, but with a twist.

Q: When is a hero most like a hero?

A: When he, she, or they are at their least powerful, their least idealistic, maybe even their least heroic. 

And sometimes as writers that's a tough little idea for us to deal with.

Saturday, May 20, 2023



For centuries, princesses have been portrayed in fairy tales and beyond often as damsels in distress, waiting until the shining knight or errant prince rides in and saves them.

Those stories…weren’t Pulp.

PRINCESSES IN PULP, now available in print and digital formats from Pro Se Productions, imagines three royal daughters from legends near forgotten in stories that definitely put the emphasis on distress, but more from what these newly recast leading ladies cause those around them. Light and love are replaced by darkness, action, and adventure. Davide Mana, Emily Jahnke, and T.N. Goode tarnish the shine cast by fairy tales and reimagine Princesses pounding asphalt, running for their lives, and diving crown first into danger.

PRINCESSES IN PULP from Pro Se Productions.

Featuring a haunting cover by Antonino lo Iacono and print formatting by Carol Morris, PRINCESSES IN PULP  is available from Amazon for only $8.99 at

Formatted by Morris, this quirky anthology is also available as an ebook for only 99 cents for a limited time from Amazon at Kindle Unlimited members can read for free!

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies for review, email

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Friday, May 19, 2023


With a licensing agreement with Steeger Properties LLC for anthologies and novels featuring characters Steeger either owns or manages, Pro Se Productions proudly announces that submissions are being accepted for RACE WILLIAMS-SHOOT FIRST, TALK NEVER, an anthology of all-new stories featuring John Carroll Daly’s two-fisted hero, considered to the archetype for the hardboiled detective.

First appearing in BLACK MASK in June 1923, Race Williams fought and shot his way through short stories in various pulp magazines and novels through 1955. Though not quite the gentleman or smart guy later detectives proved to be, and, by some standards, more thug with a license than PI, Race Williams busted down the door and paved the way with bullets and blood for what would become known as hard-boiled in the mystery scene, one of the enduring sub-genres of detective tales since Williams’ first story.

"Pro Se has had the honor for the last twelve years," says Tommy Hancock, partner in and Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, "to bring new life to many characters from the past, both those in the public domain and licensed concepts.  None, however, have the historical significance of Race Williams.  The character that established what hard-boiled means from the get-go, revolutionizing detective fiction in a way probably no other has, I mean, for Pro Se to be able to contribute to this canon, to this life in fiction. I really don't have words, except to say we are looking forward to doing right by Race Williams."

Writers interested in proposing a story for RACE WILLIAMS-SHOOT FIRST, TALK NEVER should contact to request the bible for the anthology, which consists of six of the published stories. Proposals must be 1-3 paragraphs long and must include the entire plot of the story, these are not elevator pitches or back cover blurbs. The stories should be approximately 5-6,000 words. This is a work-for-hire arrangement. 

The image with this release is the cover of the March 1931 issue of BLACK MASK featuring Williams on the cover. 

Following the anthology being filled with accepted proposals, there will be a call for a full-length RACE WILLIAMS novel as well.

For more information on this announcement, email

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Robin Burks: The Courage To Be Who You Are Meant To Be

Robin Burks is an entertainment and science/technology journalist, published author and cosplayer. Robin is the author of Madame Vampire, as well as The Alex Grosjean Adventures Series, which includes Zeus, Inc., The Curse of Hekate and Return of the Titans. In 2014, Indie Reader named the protagonist of that series, Alex Grosjean, as one of its Top Five Smart, Strong and Relatable Female Characters. The series was also inducted into the 2018 Darrell Awards Coger Hall of Fame.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My new novel, The Dream Seeker, is the first of the "Children of Magic" series. It's a young adult fantasy about Alessa Grey who learns that her dreams are real and that she can use them to unlock magical powers.

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

I've been telling stories my whole life, so I guess I've always been a storyteller. I've been writing them down since I've known how to write, so I've pretty much always been a writer, too.

What inspires you to write?

Just about everything! TV shows, movies, books, life, you name it! My brain files everything away into a disorganized mess in my head and I just pull from it when I need creative ideas.

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

The theme of my current book is about courage and finding the courage to be who you are meant to be. That seems to be a pretty common theme in most of my other stories, too.

What would be your dream project?

I think I've just written it. The story I'm telling in the Children of Magic series is one I've been wanting to tell for a very long time.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Neil Gaiman and his brilliant imagination -- just the way he sees his worlds and the way he describes them has been a huge influence on my work. I've been a fan since Sandman.

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

The first rule of writing (well, there aren't rules, but it's my personal rule) is to never look back. So I don't think I would or could go back to a previous project to change it.

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

I didn't realize this was a thing! I mean, to me, it feels 100 percent like art most of the time.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

The actual writing part. Sometimes you have to fight those words to get them out and to make them work so that they tell a story. That first draft isn't called a "rough draft" for nothing. After that, everything else, the rewriting, editing, etc, feels easy!

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

I've had so much good advice from other writer friends on everything from how not to beat myself up so much to how to promote my books to how to sell books at conventions. They also keep me motivated and always have words of encouragement, especially when I need them.

What does literary success look like to you?

If just one person reads one of my books, loved it, and told me they loved it, that's a success to me. 

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Not at the moment. I'm also a cosplayer and I'm always working on a new costume.

For more information, visit:

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Movie Reviews for Writers: You Are My Vampire

You Are My Vampire is a Korean rom-com about a lonely, socially awkward writer and a brilliant scientist who may or may not be a vampire. Gyu-Jung has had some minor success with writing either novels or scripts (it gets confusing, but apparently that's an issue with the way the movie was translated into captions, according to several sources on the 'Net). After the mysterious young scientist Nam-Gul moves into her father's apartment complex, she begins to suspect that he is one of the undead. He creeps around at night, doesn't go out during the day, requests all his food without garlic, and has elongated incisors, for example. Also, neighborhood pets are being found drained of blood. In an effort to create a better story, Gyu-Jung befriends him in an effort to beef up the details in the newest script she is writing -- a vampire movie, obviously. 

It's a very light fare, with likable leads and lots of charm. But, I know, that's not why you're here. You want to know what it says about this writing life. 

So, here we go. 

Let's talk about parents. Gyu-Jung's mom runs a corner shop and her dad is an inventor. Yet, neither supports her dreams of being a writer. In this exchange during the opening bit of the movie, her mom pretty much lays out her thoughts in no uncertain terms when she asks for a loan to pick up a new laptop, one that her dad has already said "No" to. 

Mom: He wants you to come to your senses.

Gyu-Jung: I'll do that after I write my vampire story. 

I can't speak for anyone else, but I've had conversations similar to this. Not about asking for money, because I have always tried to avoid that with family unless the straights were particularly dire. When we chase dreams it always scares people who love us, people who have different ideas about what's more important -- financial security or pursuit of dreams. Sure, they only want what's best for us, but often, non-artists just can't wrap their heads around the kinds of things that make us tick as artists and choices we make to do that in a way that doesn't send us directly to the poor house but still gives us the freedom to pursue our less practical endeavors (i.e., art).

One of my favorite exchanges from the film comes when Gyu-Jung is sitting in the police car with her boyfriend (or at least she thinks so). He asks her about when they first met.

Do you remember the first time we met? I went to your store and you asked me to handcuff you. You said you were writing about a detective. 

All BDSM jokes aside, that's a testament to a writer's commitment to research. I've always wanted to do a ride-along back when I was writing a procedural. When my wife and I were working on a (never finished) fantasy that featured creatures living in caves, we took a trip to Ruby Falls to do insane research stuff like close our eyes and feel the walls in order to better describe the setting in a world of darkness. But I'm not alone in this. I hear from other writers all the time about how they use both real-life and virtual Internet tours to learn about the places they're writing about.

I've heard it said that the three most important skills for a writer are (1) writing, (2) editing, and (3) research. I believe it. Writing and editing may help us deliver a story with technical and artistic prowess, but it's research that puts us in the right place and provides us the details that keep readers locked into the story instead of being jerked right out of it. Trust me, nothing pulls a reader out of even a gripping narrative faster than a blatantly wrong detail. (The Russians never used that kind of rifle in WWII! Hummingbirds can' fly that fast!)

After a long back and forth of will-they or won't-they, romance blooms eternal (but for whom -- no spoilers, darling). It's about that time when even non-supporter can be won over. While on the phone with a friend who more or less ridiculed her dreams earlier, she finds that same friend now can't get enough of it. She asks:

Friend: You used to tell me crazy stories when you were a writer. 

Gyu-Jung: You used to hate on them. 

Friend: Did you ever finish the vampire story?

Gyu-Jung: Why are you so interested now?

Eventually, those crazy stories can get from our brains into a place under other people's skins. Et voila! A new fan is born.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Green-Eyed Monster: A Writer Roundtable

We've all seen the meme. It's the standard visual for jealousy now, it seems. A man and a woman are walking and the guy looks back at another woman, an action that causes the woman he's with to cast them both a sidelong glance (or glare). But what about jealousy in regard to our writing careers. Or maybe it's just plain envy. I wanted to know, so I asked a few folks who have been in that life of words for a while what they thought. 

Do you get jealous of the success of other writers you know? How do you deal with that? How do you avoid the comparison trap? 

Elizabeth Donald: Another writer’s success does not diminish my success, my accomplishments, or my potential for either. There isn’t a finite quantity of success to go around; it’s not pie. When my writer friends have a great new contract, a stellar review, major sales, etc. I am happy for them. I know they have worked very hard to get where they are, as I do, and I have faith that one day my hard work will be rewarded as theirs was. I find it distasteful when I see a writer complaining about someone else’s success, or that they don’t understand why it hasn’t happened for them yet. Is it so hard to simply be happy for someone else’s good fortune?

I remember something Frank Fradella said once when we were holding a Literary Underworld panel: that when many authors support each other and provide an artistic community for each other, the work is inevitably better. I am mangling what he said, but he brought up the Lost Generation of writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald bashing around Paris together in the 1920s. And he wasn’t arguing that we were all incipient Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, but more that their natural talent was enhanced by being in community with others. (Not that Hemingway is a great example of lack of competitiveness, be that as it may.) It’s one of the reasons the Literary Underworld exists; to help authors support each other and help each other succeed. Jealousy, competitiveness, resentfulness… None of these things make any sense to me. They’re counterproductive to the goals of art, and they eat away at the soul.

Ef Deal: Another writer's success means people are still reading and books are still important. I feel confident there will be readers for what I write, and I say huzzah to all.

Just one thing more: I set a modest goal for myself when I was very young (9) that I would publish in Fantasy & Science Fiction and I would publish a novel. I've done both, and I'm still writing and publishing short stories and I have at least a few more novels to put out there, so I don't feel any reason to be jealous of someone else. Would I like to be #1 on some list? Sure. Would I like to win some obscure or famous award? Absolutely. Will it change anything about my writing? Not likely.

Susan H. Roddey: For me, it's not "jealousy" so much as a feeling of inadequacy. It's Imposter Syndrome, and thanks to being a card-carrying member of the Gifted Kid Burnout clique, I'm exceedingly hard on myself for reasons that have nothing at all to do with other people. Even when I do experience success, I'm always looking for the storm cloud to block the silver lining. Success for others, though... I'm 100 percent here for it and will be the biggest cheerleader anyone has seen. I WANT my friends and colleagues to do well.

Relevant aside: This weekend Misty Massey won an award that we were both nominated for, and I am so ridiculously happy for her that I could burst. Am I disappointed that I didn't win? Eh, kinda. Or I was for a whole quarter of a second. I know she absolutely deserved to win though, and we still have cause to celebrate.

Bobby Nash: Another writer's success doesn't make me jealous. I'm thrilled to see others succeed.

HC Playa: Generally I am inspired by other's success....even when that success doesn't particularly seem warranted. Say a work isn't really that good. We can all point to well known titles that hit it big and got movies, etc, but they are at best mediocre, sometimes downright trash. It can be easy to play the 'why not me' game, but rather than fall into that trap, it's better to say "Well, if they found success, so can I. I simply have to keep writing."

For the vast majority of writers, it's a long game; intermittent success amid many rejections. I focus not on comparing myself to other writers, because that too is an easy trap to fall into and self-sabotage, but on the fact that the feedback I have gotten from my stories is overwhelmingly positive. People enjoy the stories. No, I haven't hit it big, but I am doing my job well--I am writing stories that others enjoy. All the rest is luck.

Alan J. Porter: Jealousy doesn’t really enter the equation. I’m always happy to see others succeed - especially if it’s someone I know. And seeing other writers succeed is always an inspiration to keep pushing on. 

An editor told me early on not to make comparisons as no one else can write the books/stories I write the way I write them. - One of the best pieces of advice I’ve had.

H. David Blalock: As print books become scarcer, magazines go online, and AIs become authors, it's hard to be jealous of anything coming out today. I'm just grateful there are a few human beings left actually writing and not depending on AI or ghostwriters to flesh out their ideas. Kudos to the actual creators. More power to them.

John Linwood Grant: I go down into the cellar again, and trawl through my collection of other writers' hair, toenail clippings, and general bodily detritus - until I find the right bits for my next set of clever little clay dollies. 🙂

Sean Taylor: For me, it gets down to what I see as the difference between envy and jealousy. Jealousy for me is when I want someone else's stuff and I don't want them to have it. Envy is when I want to achieve the same kind of things. For example, when I was writing for Gene Simmons for IDW, I tried and tried to parlay that into a new gig for when that one was over. But it didn't happen. I got a few invites to pitch for everything from Jem and the Holograms to Transformers, but either the line was going to an author that fit the demographic better and was more well known, or the whole license was moving to another publisher. So, when I failed, and then I saw folks I had worked with before move into major gigs like TMNT, Ghostbusters, Godzilla, and New Warriors, I got frustrated. Sure, I was envious and I wanted to understand why and how they could translate one gig into something bigger and I hadn't been able to. But in the end, it pushed me to keep trying, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. And yes, I was incredibly happy for those friends to succeed at bigger gigs, but I could be happy for them and a little envious too, couldn't I?

Krystal Rollins: I'm not jealous of others' success. I applaud them. Just makes me work harder.

Josh Nealis: I always say there's good jealousy and bad jealousy. Bad jealousy is obviously being mad that somebody else is succeeding where you have not. Good jealousy is the same thing except for you understand that it's likely they deserve what they've received, and you be happy for them, but you turn that jealousy into motivation and push yourself harder.

Brian K Morris: It's been a long time since I compared my skills or success (or lack thereof) to any other writer's. It's just not a productive use of my time or energy.

When my friends succeed, I find it a cause to celebrate. Their accomplishments make me work harder so when they move up, I still can justify my presence at the table with them.

James Tuck: I love seeing writers I know succeed at this weird wonky gig we all chose. I hope every one of them kicks ass!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Airship 27 Production Proudly Presents MARK JUSTICE’S – THE DEAD SHERIFF Vol 5: A COLD AND LONESOME GRAVE

For Immediate Release

Airship 27 Production is thrilled to announce the release of the fifth entry in their Dead Sheriff series created by the late Mark Justice.

When Indian half-breed Sam, journalist Richard O’Malley and their charge, the Dead Sheriff, encounter a group of Irish free-fighters in the Canadian Rockies, it sets them on their strangest adventure yet. The Fenians are led by Lizzie Callahan, O’Malley’s first love from Boston. Nicknamed the Banshee, she and her group are set to ambush a British expedition out of Vancouver that is looking to capture the fabled Bigfoot. The Brits, led by one Lady Throne, believe the creature is the missing link in human evolution. The Banshee plans on disrupting those plans and taking the Sasquatch for themselves and ransom it for money to help fund their activities.

Against Sam’s protestations, O’Malley commits them to partner with the rebels unaware that there is another of the Demonic Master’s agents inhabiting that frozen wilderness. This one exists in the shape of a supernatural cannibal known as the Wendigo. Aware of their destination, the Master directs the Wendigo to find and destroy them.

“This continues to be one of most enjoyable series,” says Airship 27 Production Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “In creating the zombie lawman, our dear friend Mark Justice created one of the most bizarre weird Western characters ever envisioned. It is our great joy to keep the series going. And the adventures only get wilder.”

Writer Phillip Pan pulls out all the stops in delivering another gripping tale of horror and suspense in this, the sixth chapter in the saga of the West’s weirdest hero, the Dead Sheriff.  While Pulp Factory Award-winning artist Rob Davis provides the interior illustrations and Michael Youngblood the cover.


Available now from Amazon in Paperback and soon on Kindle.

Friday, May 12, 2023

[Link] How the Paperback Novel Changed Popular Literature

Editor's Note: An oldie but a goodie.


by Anne Trubek

Classic writers reached the masses when Penguin paperbacks began publishing great novels for the cost of a pack of cigarettes

The story about the first Penguin paperbacks may be apocryphal, but it is a good one. In 1935, Allen Lane, chairman of the eminent British publishing house Bodley Head, spent a weekend in the country with Agatha Christie. Bodley Head, like many other publishers, was faring poorly during the Depression, and Lane was worrying about how to keep the business afloat. While he was in Exeter station waiting for his train back to London, he browsed shops looking for something good to read. He struck out. All he could find were trendy magazines and junky pulp fiction. And then he had a “Eureka!” moment: What if quality books were available at places like train stations and sold for reasonable prices—the price of a pack of cigarettes, say?

Lane went back to Bodley Head and proposed a new imprint to do just that. Bodley Head did not want to finance his endeavor, so Lane used his own capital. He called his new house Penguin, apparently upon the suggestion of a secretary, and sent a young colleague to the zoo to sketch the bird. He then acquired the rights to ten reprints of serious literary titles and went knocking on non-bookstore doors. When Woolworth’s placed an order for 63,500 copies, Lane realized he had a viable financial model.

Lane’s paperbacks were cheap. They cost two and a half pence, the same as ten cigarettes, the publisher touted. Volume was key to profitability; Penguin had to sell 17,000 copies of each book to break even.

The first ten Penguin titles, including The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers, were wildly successful, and after just one year in existence, Penguin had sold over three million copies.

Read the full article:

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Swords, Magic, and the Armor of Author David Wright

A Georgia Bulldog and Atlanta United fan living in Middle Tennessee, David Wright grew up on comic books and Swords & Sorcery novels, where he gained an early passion for storytelling. Ever since he read Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in 1984, he knew he wanted to write an epic medieval fantasy series. He's also a friend, and I think you should get to know him too!

What prompted you to start this series?

David: Well, I've had a lifelong love for swords & sorcery fantasy and Arthurian legends. This includes playing 1st Ed. AD&D and Red Box/Keep on the Borderlands Basic D&D in the early 80s at the very height of the "Satanic Panic" media scare surrounding the game at the time. I found all the hoopla ridiculous because as a player I knew how innocent and fun the game was.

Now fast forward 20 years and the Lord of the Rings movies are being praised for their (alleged) Christian themes by some of the same type of conservative watchdog groups that once condemned Dungeons & Dragons. I found that hilariously ironic and also as equally ridiculous as the early 80s scare.

In other words, I didn't see the Devil in D&D and I didn't see Jesus in Lord of the Rings. Now, I know it's possible to play a very dark campaign, but I also know it is not intrinsic to the game and there's room for something quite the opposite. I've always seen D&D as an exercise in collaborative improv storytelling and that always appealed to me.

Now I should make it clear that I am a professing Christian and I do my best every day to live accordingly (with full acknowledgment that I fail often and sometimes spectacularly so), but it is quite interesting to me that so many conservative groups and a subset of Christians have such discomfort with the entire genre of Fantasy. I've spent time pondering that. How is a fantastic story blasphemous or threatening to the Faith? It's interesting how quickly the conversation then turns to the idea of religion or the common use in Fantasy of a polytheistic pantheon. There just seemed to be *something* that intertwines the subjects of Fantasy and spirituality in people's minds, for whatever reason that I can't explain.

I simply felt like this disconnect and this discomfort was where the dramatic conflict could be. I wanted to lean into the idea of Christianity existing in a fantasy world where magic is real. I wanted to set out to disprove the Satanic Panic of the early 80s while knowing full well the Bible warns us strongly against witchcraft and divination.

By the mid-80s I was an assistant DM and helped develop the original campaign setting that we used. In 1984, the original Dragonlance Chronicles came out and I knew right away that I wanted to one day adapt D&D adventures into a novel. Now, it was in no way a Christian-themed campaign. It wasn't until the LOTR movies that I started considering writing a novel, but once I did hit upon the idea of that central dramatic conflict, I remembered our old campaign setting.

So very quickly I had a theme and a setting. And I even brought in three characters that were PCs in our mid-80s campaign. The rest of the cast (including the main character) and all of the plot were created after I started developing the novel series. This included role-playing sessions with just me and a single player, a friend of mine who helped me develop the main character. And through our game sessions, many of the series' action set pieces were devised and improvised.

I developed story ideas throughout the first half of the 2000s, spending all of that time not thinking it was very realistic to actually put out a novel. That all changed with Van Allen Plexico launching White Rocket Books and publishing his Sentinels series, beginning (I believe) in 2006. Suddenly, a novel seemed very realistic and that really lit my fire and I finally got serious about it all. I ended up getting a tremendous amount of support and encouragement from Van, and it is likely none of these books would have ever seen the light of day without him. So big shout out to Van!

Is there something in particular about knights and the genre that draws you to it? What is that?

David: There must be, but I'm not sure I can articulate it. I saw a production of Camelot at a young age and my Dad raised me on Errol Flynn's Adventures of Robin Hood and the Robert Taylor Ivanhoe film. I just always loved that romanticized idea of the Age of Chivalry. I was particularly drawn to the King Arthur and Robin Hood stories. But then you add in fantasy elements like wizards, dragons, and magic swords and how can anyone resist? Having a great D&D group at the right impressionable age probably really cemented things for me.

It's rich ground for themes revolving around duty and honor and other heroic ideals. It also lends itself easily to epic stories with the fates of entire kingdoms often at stake. What's not to like? Knights are cool.

You have said before that you wanted to write something that talked about faith but not as a direct allegory, such as Lewis, or to a lesser degree, Tolkien. Why did you want to avoid that and what did you want to say about the life of faith?

David: Well, to clarify, while I do not think I've written in allegory, I've also not done anything to hide the idea that this story very much is set in a world that has had Christianity introduced to it. The backstory is that at the fall of Camelot, Merlin cast the final act of magic our world would ever see to send Sir Galahad away. Galahad is the knight of the round table that found the Holy Grail and in my version of the story, Mordred was after it in that final battle at Camelot that saw him kill King Arthur. Honoring Arthur's final wish, Merlin kept the Grail safe by sending it with Galahad through a hastily summoned portal.  That portal took the knight to the world of Lanis and he happened to have his Bible with him.

My story opens several hundred years after that and we see that Galahad spent the rest of his days traveling and spreading the Word and now there is some form of his religion from the World of Adam that has taken root and grown prevalent. Before he died, he was given a vision of basically a global reboot, similar to the Great Flood account in Genesis in which the world is all but destroyed for the purpose of starting over. This prophecy of his became known as Galahad's Doom.

But I did write the story to not be preachy, to not be some kid-friendly, contrite Sunday School lesson. I very much was concerned with writing an epic-scale action-adventure that would appeal to everyone regardless of their beliefs, or absence of beliefs. Partially to that end, the names God and Jesus never appear in the books. The words Christianity and Bible never appear in the books. It's not that these ideas are avoided, but that different nomenclature has taken root in this world of Lanis.

This is a cool action adventure first, albeit one that just happens to be informed by my personal faith. This is not written at a juvenile level; I wrote for me. The story I wanted to read didn't exist, so I wrote it. There's a large cast, a complex plot with multiple subplots, and shades-of-gray characters. Not every good guy is a believer, and not every believer is a good guy.

Think of it like this: Krynn -- the world featured in the Dragonlance series-- includes gods such as Paladine and Reorx that I do not actually believe in. Yet, I'm able to accept that they are the gods of that story and I'm still able to very much enjoy it. If someone out there believes in Jesus about as much as they believe in Paladine then they can still enjoy my story, just like we all do with Dragonlance. It doesn't have to be any different than that and, by the way, the story is awesome. I'm especially proud of the third book in the trilogy, The Armor of God, that just came out. If you'll come along for the ride, I promise you'll be blown away. I'm just so extremely pleased with how the final book turned out and how the whole series ends. It is so worth the investment of reading the first two books to get to it. The best part is I am 100 percent convinced that every single member of my large cast got exactly the right ending. I can't wait to hear back from readers.

As for what I want to say about the life of faith, my themes are universal, dealing with duty, honor, temptation, corruption, and redemption. And in Galen Griffon, I have a protagonist who struggles with feelings of unworthiness and is forced to choose between serving his god or his king. Church or State.

His arc in the first book, My Brother's Keeper, is very much a metaphor for my own journey. (Even though I've never had a magic sword. As far as I know.)

What is your work schedule during the time you bust out a novel the length of these?

David: Ha! Well, for anyone who's been following along, it's no secret that years and years have gone by between each of my novels. That's one reason I'm so happy to have completed the trilogy: now, all the delays are behind me and people can start the series and not be left hanging.

I wrote the first book in just under a year during a time when I was traveling a lot for my job. Hours and days spent in airports and hotels, away from my family, gave me plenty of time to work rather quickly.

By the time of the second book, I had a different job and had a regular life of coming home to a family every day who needed me for the boring real-life stuff.  So I just wrote when I could and never really figured out a good writing schedule.

With this third book, I developed an idea for a new workflow approach that I think could have helped me a lot, but as it turned out I didn't need it, so I haven't tested this idea yet. So my biggest challenge with sitting down to write is having the time to go back over my notes and what has been written before and just needing a long ramp to tap back into that creative vibe to be able to start knocking out scenes again. I came up with an approach to minimize or possibly eliminate that long ramp. Maybe detailing that idea could be a subject for a different interview, but suffice it to say that the third book came to me so easily that "ramping up" was never an issue.

While this third book has come out several years after the previous one, it was actually written in a trio of 60-day bursts. I first cracked the story in 2018 and wrote about 30k words in just a couple of months. Then a bunch of Real Life happened. I got a new job which involved a big move to a different state and I also lost my laptop. I knew I had backed up my work to Dropbox but I couldn't restore access to that account so for a long time I thought my work was lost. Luckily, that got resolved. Then in early 2020, I opened up the project again and it all just started pouring out of me. I couldn't type fast enough. It all came to me so fully realized that I just had to get it all down... until I got to the end of the second act.

Then I came to a screeching halt. I had two ways in my head for possible endings, but I also didn't know what role my large supporting cast could have in the final act. So I walked away and trusted my characters to solve it for me. I was not the creator of this story, I have been merely the reporter. All this stuff has really happened, it has just been my job to discover it and present it in the coolest way possible. Eventually, a character whispered the answer in my ear one night and I was off to the races again.

I've never had writing go so easily for me as with the writing of The Armor of God. As the third installment, it was just a race to the finish line and the pace of the book is exactly that. It's just relentless with the only levity coming from my bard character's storyline. I'm proud of that one. A true bard's adventure where winning the day requires writing the perfect song. (If it all lent itself to dozens of hidden Beach Boys references, well, I just can't help that. I'm just the reporter, after all.)

What are the books and who are the authors who influenced you in your growth as a writer?

David: My four main inspirations for the Galahad's Doom series are: L'morte d'Artur by Sir Thomas Malory, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and The Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman.

(I pay homage to all of these with a quartet of redshirts named Malory, Lewis, Reuel, and Krynn).

I also owe a huge debt to Van Allen Plexico and all the New Pulp and indie authors I know.

I have studied Joseph Campbell and also found studying short stories to be an easy way to discern story structure. To that end, I read a lot of Poe and O Henry.

Tell us about your other work too.

David: The books in my Galahad's Doom trilogy (My Brother's Keeper, Marching As To War, and The Armor of God) are my first three novels. In addition to those, I have had short stories included in The Sentinels: Alternate Visions and Gideon Cain: Demon Hunter by White Rocket books and in Hero's Best Friend from Seventh Star Press.

We'll see what's next. I have both Untold Tale-style short story ideas and prequel novel ideas for the world of Galahad's Doom. I'm also definitely open to the idea of inviting other writers into my sandbox for an anthology. So if that sounds good to any writers out there (including you, Sean!) then reach out and let me know.

In addition to my writing, I have a YouTube channel called American Soccer Quick Kicks where I discuss the Men's National Team, MLS, and the rules of the game to casual fans of the sport, or just soccer-curious sports fans. It's all short-form content: no deep dives, usually just ten minutes or so to keep you updated and then get you back to your day.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

David: My website is

My YouTube is

On Twitter, I am @defdave

Now that the series is complete, I hope to devote more time and effort to marketing. I thank you for this interview. I'm open to other bloggers and podcasters out there and I'll be looking at getting into whatever library shows, lit fairs, and retailer expos I can manage to find regionally.

What's the best advice you ever received about writing?

David: Observe life. Our world is too rich to ever have boring characters.

Also, make sure writing stays fun. Take pleasure in language. Relish it, savor it. Wield it like a scalpel... or maybe a Sword +2.

But what really unlocked me as a writer was understanding story structure. Take that seriously. Understand what makes stories work. Once I got my head around structure, the rest came easy for me.