Thursday, February 29, 2024

On the Dark Side (Yeah, Yeah) On the Dark Side...

For this week's roundtable, we're all going to take a walk on the dark side. (It's okay if you sang the Eddie and the Cruisers song just then.) 

Do you have limits to how dark you will allow your fiction to become? How do you determine those limits?

Sara Freites Scott: Yes I do have limits. I go by how it makes me feel when writing. I push it a little but if I start to feel too uncomfortable reading it back or even writing it I’ll scrap it.

John L. Taylor: Since my writing is mostly of a darker tone, I'll answer here. As to how dark I let it get, two things determine my limits:

1. The community standards of the publisher/platform, and 

2. the needs of the narrative and characters. 

Sometimes going needlessly dark works against you, but as a rule the less likable or "good" my protagonist is, the darker the antagonists need to be by contrast to still accept the point of view of the main characters. Stories like Blood Meridian and The Hellbound Heart wouldn't work with lighter treatments. But darkness isn't always just horrible deeds being done to someone for shock value. It's as much the way they process their experiences, beliefs, and traumas that's dark. There I wish community standards on platforms like YouTube were more context-flexible. I have a half-complete yet unpublished novel. The protagonist is someone who engages in self-harm behaviors and a big part of the plot is her overcoming her trauma and evolving beyond it. In no way does the work glorify this behavior or encourage it. Indeed, it takes a stand against self-harm. Still, any such descriptions are against Facebook and Amazon's standards, so the project remains unfinished because content platforms deem any depictions of such behaviors unacceptable without regard to context. That said, I do have hard limits on some content as both my wife and mother are survivors of abuse situations which I refuse to portray in a positive light or for rote shock value. Simply put, I'll write like Clive Barker or Dean Koontz, not Bentley Little or Aaron Beauregard. 

Lucy Blue: I write in two very clearly defined, very much opposite modes--light stuff like the Stella Hart books (which are downright frothy) and dark like The Devil Makes Three, which is very dark indeed. But yeah, there are limits. I'm good with disturbing or frightening my readers--I love it. I even enjoy the idea that my story might haunt them later. But I don't want to make them vomit. As a reader, I'm a total wuss, but as a writer, I blow right past my reader limits like I don't even know they're there. 

Ef Deal: There is a bottomless well of rage inside me. I have been to so many dark places myself that I have no choice but to go there when the story requires it, but I hate it, and I feel filthy with it afterward. 

Jason Bullock: I haven't tried to push my writing into darker elements in my writing anymore. As a storyteller doing tabletop RPGs for 20 years, I explored really dark themes often visceral in nature. Beyond what I would call sinister in my stories was what I now avoid. Imperfect man can perpetrate enough "evil" on his own not to involve external individuals or forces of a negative supernatural nature. There is a line I will not cross anymore. I had several personal encounters which shaded my own family life. I don't want to go down that terrifying part of my past again. So I take great effort to avoid it. Man and Science have enough order and chaos for me to write about.

Scott McCullar: I have an upcoming storyline in a future THRILL SEEKER COMICS story featuring Yellow Jacket: Man of Mystery as he attempts to retire by putting his guns in the ground so that he can finally find peace that gets REALLY dark. It was so dark for me to write and draw, I couldn’t even believe I was doing it… but the story demanded for me to do it and I could never escape not doing it. I finally completed it and I feel it is one of the strongest and most emotional stories that I’ve written and drawn. It’ll be in the next issue.

As for determining limits? I pushed beyond even what I was comfortable with but what was needed for the story to be effectual.

Bobby Nash: There are certain darker themes that I simply haven’t been interested in exploring. Never say never though. You never know when a great story will hit you that focuses on darker elements.

Danielle Procter Piper: Apparently not. I go deep, like Marianas Trench deep, into places most writers wouldn't venture into. I am all about disturbing people if it can make them think and/or at least entertain them in some way. 

John Hartness: Not until I start writing. Then I know how dark it needs to go.

Sean Harby: I write as dark as a story requires. As to how I decide that, I just kinda feel my way.

Susan H. Roddey: Oh, I can get pretty dark. The limit to how dark varies from book to book because different characters, just like us real breathers, have their own limits. There are a few hard stops for me personally - I don't like body horror, can't do terrible things to kids, and refuse to glorify assault - but beyond those, quite a few things can be considered fair game.

Jessica Nettles: I don’t have the limits written in stone and am willing to push when needed in a story. My stories and characters tend to let me know how far into the darkness to walk.

Raymond Christopher Qualls: The darkest story I wrote is "Manipulations." The daughter of a billionaire who needs multiple organ transplants, and he convinces members of a religious cult to kill a child so she can have pristine organs in his daughter's age range. It's in my Cosmic Egg for Breakfast and Six More Short Stories collection.

John French: There are some things I will not write about or do to my main characters. But when it comes to dark fiction, I recently found that just when I thought I'd reached my limit, I went further into the blackness.

If you are using the term “darkness” to refer to certain acts of violence, then I tend to avoid things like violence for the sake of violence or splatterpunk elements or slasher-style writing in my horror stories. It’s not my style.

Darin Kennedy: My stuff that is horror-adjacent typically is a lot darker. A little darkness, however, always makes the light stand out.

Sean Taylor: Not really. I like to go where the story needs me to go. If that means dark places, then I'll just light up a torch and make like Peter Cushing during the Hammer glory days. That's a kind of flippant answer, but it's true. Stories will let you know where they need to go to convey what they want to and need to say. 

TammyJo Eckhart: Most of my stories tackle something "dark" usually so that we can see success against it. The characters and the purpose of the story dictate how "dark" it should be.

Robert Bear: I'm in a sort of grim phase right now, and because it is specifically grimdark, I get it to where I start to feel uncomfortable with it, and then go a little darker. I think in my grim work, I'm exploring my own darker side... seeing just what I am prepared to experience (through storytelling)... because if you can't visualize, smell, or taste it... how can you write it? So, I have to research a lot of these things in order to get it right. So, 'how dark of a material can I stand to research' is what becomes the question.

Robin Burks: I like to push myself to go as dark as I can -- at least when I'm writing adult fiction (not YA, obviously). I love horror and the more uncomfortable it makes me, the better I think the scene is. However, there are some lines I won't cross, like rape, sexual situations with children, etc.

Dale Kesterson: I've noticed a lot of my short stories are considerably darker than my mystery novels, but I try very hard not to think about why. 

Jordan Leigh Sickrey: I feel like for me, I don’t like darkness for the sake of darkness. My main character in my fantasy novel was primarily built on the fact that female leads end up hardening themselves due to the “harsh realities” or they start off hard and maybe only dull their edges over time, and I wanted a female lead who could retain that softness and optimism. Yes, dark things happen. My prologue alone requires quite a few content warnings when I share it. But darkness isn’t the total story. It’s about finding the light in the dark and shining anyway.

Robert Lee: I once wrote a story, where the main character was a hitman and the very idea and notion of the story was everybody was a shade of gray and a level of hypocrisy for each person's position. The main character, The Hitman, tortured a gentleman by using a sharpened orange peeler, or maybe a lemon peeler. Yeah, I have no problems going in like that because it shows you the reflection of humanity's inhumanity toward others. I also abide by the concept that crime fiction at its darkest reflects society and humanity at its worst, but it also can show moments at its best but those moments are few and far between.

Teel James Glenn: I don't really write dark--for its sake. If I go dark it is to give my protagonists in the light balance and a challenge. Not a fan of nihilism.

Do you find writing darkness in your stories liberating? In what way? Or why not?

Lucy Blue: The silly thing is, I just write the story; I don't stop and think about how dark it might be. It's only later when my editor says, "geez, Lucy!" that I realize it might be darker than I thought. 😉 And that is liberating; that makes me feel like the story has taken on a life of its own that isn't limited by my own fears. 

Danielle Procter Piper: Is writing darkness liberating? I've never considered that...but it's as close to the rawness of my dreams as I can get, and I love dreaming. Many of my stories, screenplays, and pieces of art are dream-inspired. I suppose I'm hinting that the darkness in my stories is often a psychological mind-f*ck. Manipulating my readers' emotions is the highest pleasure I achieve with my work. 

Sara Freites Scott: Sometimes yes I do find it liberating! I’ll either find myself feeling thankful that I haven’t had such darkness in my own life OR share a dark moment in my writing from my past or someone else’s past that I know as part of the character's story that helps me to feel not so alone about it.

John Hartness: I haven’t thought about it in that way, so not currently.

Susan H. Roddey: I wouldn't necessarily call it "liberating," but there's definitely catharsis there. Going full dark is good for purging demons. It's how I work through things.

Dale Kesterson: Possibly cathartic? I do know I love 'killing people on paper' in the mysteries (third one came out very recently). I don't think I'll go overboard with it though.

Sean Taylor: It can be. But it can also be scary, not because of the content but because of the lack of outside edges to box me in. If I'm really free to go anywhere in a story, then I have to maintain a tighter grip on the reins of the storytelling itself. It can be too easy to go a step too far or let all that freedom go to your head and suddenly you're writing yourself out of a genre's or a publisher's and a target audience's good graces. When that happens, you have to make a choice. Keep the story going in a direction that might not be as marketable, or whip out that editing eraser. 

Ef Deal: It's not cathartic in the least; in fact, it feels more like wallowing, like picking at a scab until the blood flows anew: The wound never heals that way; it just gets worse. And no, I have no limits to the darkness I put on the page, although my publisher does, and she reins me back in.

Sean Harby: I do find it a little liberating. I had a Rockwellian youth, so darkness appeals to me.

John L. Taylor: Most dark stories emerged to sort out their emotions in bad situations. The very first recorded story, Gilgamesh, is really about the grief of losing your best friend. Yes, I do find writing darker material to be cathartic. Dark materials can both be a way to work through trauma and depression and to hold up a grim mirror to negative aspects of society. Some of my darkest work was either socially satirical or based on deep-seated anxieties. I've always had the philosophy that people flourish when they admit the darkness in their own subconscious and vent it. Take, for example, two very different works the hymn "It is Well with My Soul," and James O'Barr's The Crow. Both were written by men processing the senseless loss of their significant other. O'Barr's work took a much more visceral path to it than the hymn did, but both are lamentations of the human condition and attempt to reconcile a loving God with an indifferent universe. Each succeeds in its own way. I believe it is vital to the human condition that fiction be able to tackle difficult and disturbing subjects in an expressive fashion. 

Jessica Nettles: I mean, all good stories have elements of darkness, don’t they? I have never seen this as a factor for me.

Bobby Nash: I find something liberating about every story I write. Writing can be part therapy, part exploration of thoughts and feelings that are outside the norm for me, even a way to study and understand behaviors not my own.

Scott McCullar: I never thought about the word “liberating”. I think “cathartic” and “revealing” are more appropriate descriptions of what I have experienced.

Jason Bullock: Writing dark themes, I mean really dark themes, costs. The current chaos in our world tears enough at the individual but I don't feel liberated by diving into the truly abyss-level miasma. For me , crime, murder, and other such activities are about as far as criminal activity I would explore in my writing... well at this time in my life.

Are there advantages to writing darker stories that you don't have when writing lighter fare?

Sara Freites Scott: I think there are advantages! It can help connect a reader to a writer/character if there is some darkness because the world we live in is rather dark and we all have that darkness in us to some degree.

Sean Harby: Dark always seems more real to me.

Susan H. Roddey: I don't know that I can call it an advantage really, but I believe that darker stories are often more relatable. We've spent the last several years living in an actual dystopian horror show come to life, so we can relate to that kind of scenario. We all know what that despair feels like. So channeling that darkness into a situation where the good guy can win? Yeah, that's definitely going to draw people in and give them a sense of satisfaction at the end. Then there are some of us who sometimes just want to see the bad guy win.

Bobby Nash: There are certainly stories that benefit from darker themes or scenes. Evil Ways, my first novel, has some far darker stuff than I generally write today. It all depends on the story I’m telling and the audience I’m telling it to. Being able to delve into darker aspects when the story requires it is an advantage. Also, knowing when not to put the darkness on the page is an advantage.

Danielle Procter Piper: The only advantage to writing darker stories is the fun of taking the filters off, but it's also a dangerous thing to do because you may find your audience shrinking. Then again, writers always find their audience one way or another. Stephen King has gone to some pretty dark, weird places and still reigns in the world of horror. I'd like to write stuff that makes him squirm, that too far? Maybe that's perfect.

Lucy Blue: I like knowing I can "go there" if the story demands it.

Jessica Nettles: Both can explore themes and characters in similar fashions. I see comedy and horror as different sides of the same coin, which is why they can work well together. The advantage could be in the audience you are trying to reach and what you want to say to that audience. For me, I don’t find an advantage in either. What I do find is a joy that I can write both and get a response from my audience that is positive.

Yes, I’m in it for the applause, folks. I ain’t gonna lie.

Scott McCullar: I like to balance both the light-hearted, fun, and loving as well as the darker opposites. There are advantages and disadvantages to both that I find. I have personally experienced death, despair, fear, darkness, and more in my own life and I think storytelling allows for those demons to be revealed just as much as the angels that need to show us the light (for example, in my MS. TITTENHURST Dame Detective stories… she is a guardian angel and not a femme fatale… which I wasn’t originally setting out to do when I began telling her stories in the THRILL SEEKER COMICS universe.)

John Hartness: I have to come up with fewer dick jokes on the darker works. Usually.

John L. Taylor: Piggybacking off of the last entry, darker subject matter leaves more room for whimsy than some lighter, but more serious fare. I'll hold up the works of H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński in this respect. Their works, despite being visual, were genre-defining works of darkness not matched since Bosch or Goya, yet there is an overriding sense of whimsy and a shadowy allure to their images. Authors like Clive Barker, E.L. James, and Brian Lumley accomplish the same effect in words. That alone makes darker tones worth writing to me. The room for innovation in processing pain and reckoning with our mortality can create some such beautiful art if you have the tenebrous vision to appreciate it

Jason Bullock: Many people make excuses in those instances as there can not be moments of lighter fare if they are not contrasted by darker fields around them. I find that they are indeed diametrically positioned elements of everything and or everyone now in man's existence at this point in history. Writing is no different. When writing about negative elements, I try to end with presenting a positive outcome. In that way, my catharsis is less myopic and rather panoptic in its results.

Sean Taylor: I think a lot of folks, both writer and readers, confuse "dark" with either "gross" or "horrifying details." That's sad, because true darkness in a story is more of a context than content. It's more the overarching something that makes a story feel uncomfortable, even without a healthy (or unhealthy) slathering of body parts or icky descriptions. It's more akin to the difference between an atmosphere of dread and a laundry list of creepy images or plot points. A dark story needs light moments to let a reader breathe, even if just for a moment. So, for me, it's hard to write lighter fair because if I have a motif to all my work thus far, it's this: Humanity doesn't learn anything from the fluffy, happy moments, because it takes tragedy or near-tragedy to make us stop and listen in order to learn anything. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

John French: Writing in the Ruins

John French is a retired crime scene supervisor with forty years experience. He has seen more than his share of murders, shootings, and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he started writing science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.

Tell us about your latest work.

My latest book is In the Ruins of Caerleon. It’s a collection of stories about Conor of Scotia, a knight who begins as a sword for hire and gradually becomes a hero. Some of the stories were previously published, such as The Good, the Bard, and the Ugly, which is a tribute to the late, great C. J. Henderson. Others were written to round off the collection and tell a more complete tale of Conor’s journeys.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to plug?

Oh yes, a few. I have two collections coming in 2024. One is a companion piece to my book The Last Redhead, which collected my stand-alone crime stories. This one is called When the Devil Drives. This is a collection of my weird stories — horror, supernatural, and the just plain strange — and will be published by Bold Venture Press. The title comes from a Facebook poll I did on a few groups in which I gave the readers the titles of some of the stories and asked them to pick the one they liked best. “When the Devil Drives” beat out “Pajama Skulls” and “Chuckles in Hell.” 

The second collection is coming from Padwolf Publications and is called The Last Ride of Cadillac Jack. All the stories are set in a future version of my Harbor City and are a mix of crime, capers, and the strange. The title story features a “gimmick crook” who commits car-based crime for fun, profit, and the amusement of the crowds.

I also have stories in the upcoming anthologies Zorro: Swordplay and Romance (Bold Venture Press) and A Cry of Hounds (eSpec Books).

For more information, visit: 

No website I’m afraid. But my books are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as my books’ publishers. I’m on Facebook and my email is if anyone has any questions, comments, or offers of six-figure advances and/or movie deals.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Rest in Power, Ramona Fradon

Ramona Fradon (October 2, 1926 – February 24, 2024), a comics artist for more than 70 years, has died at 97. She retired just last month. Fradon’s death was shared by Catskill Comics, a comic book art dealer, on Facebook.

She began her career in 1950, beginning to work for DC Comics early on. She’s best known as an artist on “Aquaman” and co-creator of the superhero Metamorpho, set to be played by “Barry” actor Anthony Carrigan in James Gunn’s forthcoming “Superman: Legacy” next year.

Catskill Comics posted, “It comes with great sadness to announced that Ramona Fradon has passed away a few moments ago. Ramona was 97 and had a long career in the comic book industry and was still drawing just a few days ago.”

“She was a remarkable person in so many ways. I will miss all the great conversations and laughs we had. I am blessed that I was able to work with her on a professional level, but also able to call her my friend. If anyone who wishes to send a card to the family, Please feel free to send them to Catskill Comics and I’ll be happy to pass them along.”

Fradon announced her retirement on Jan. 9 via Catskill Comics. A post on the art dealer’s site read, “After an extremely long run in the comic industry, at 97, Ramona has decided it’s time for her to retire. She will no longer be doing commissions. She apologizes to all the fans who have been waiting patiently on her wait list to get one. She did say though from time to time she’ll do a drawing or two to put up for sale on the website.”

“Ramona Fradon started her career in 1950. She has worked for DC Comics, drawing ‘Aquaman,’ for which she co-created the character Metamorpho. She has also worked other DC titles such as ‘Superman,’ ‘Batman’ and ‘Plastic Man’ along with comic strip Brenda Starr.”

Fradon was born on Oct. 2, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in New York City. She graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1950 and was hired by DC Comics in 1951. Fradon began working on “Aquaman” comics that year, and she also cocreated the characters Aqualad and Metamorpho. She paused her career in 1965 to raise her daughter, but returned to DC in 1972.

She took over as the lead artist on “Brenda Starr, Reporter” in 1980 and continued to work on the series until 1995. From there, Fradon began working on art commissioned through Catskill Comics.

Sunday Funnies: Contractions Are Weird


Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Power of Whimsy

Whimsy: "Behaviour which is unusual, playful, and unpredictable,
rather than having any serious reason or purpose behind it"
(Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers). 

When we think of whimsical writing we often default to the same kind of ideas. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Wind in the Willows. Mrs. Fisby and the Rats of NIMH. And typically books for children or young adults. But there's plenty of whimsy to be found in adult fiction too. Anansi Boys. The Left Hand of Darkness. Kim Harrison's The Hollows books. Something Wicked The Way Comes. (Just to name a few.) Some might even argue that pulp fiction and lots of action-adventure fantasies are nothing but whimsy stories for adults, feeding the hunger to see ourselves as the heroes unbound by the regular world. (Die Hard, anyone?)

How about you? Do you embrace the whimsy when you write? I figured that was a good question to put to the folks in the hot seat this week. 

How do you define whimsy for your writing? Do you think about it as you write?

John L. Taylor: For me, even in Horror, whimsy is a factor I incorporate into most of my work. I define it as a dreamlike quality that awakens a sense of wonder in the reader. It's one of the powerful aspects of fiction. being able to process the human condition through the lens of whimsy. Every truly successful classic of fiction has used it to some extent. Even Jane Austen and Herman Melville used small amounts of it to great effect, whether it was Austen's Regency-era visuals that seem dreamlike today, or Melville's legendary White Whale, the sense of whimsy helps the reader bond with the work. 

Susan H. Roddey: Whimsy is at the heart of my writing. It's a natural occurrence, probably because I write to escape the real world. 

Danielle Procter Piper: A bit of whimsy appears in my work when I add humor in a cheeky manner to either break up too much seriousness, to spin the storyline off in an unexpected direction, or to punch it up with a bit of humorous showmanship that is intentionally a bit unrealistic but fun. In one of my sci-fi stories, I added whimsy when my astrobiologist had to sedate a large, rampant alien, and when asked how he'd known what to do, mentioned he'd only seen it done on TV. It's unrealistic because he's serious enough about his job that he would never risk a life in such a reckless manner, but it's a pretty funny moment it exposes a bit of daring in the old boy, and it actually foreshadows an event further into the story. I might get a "joke" in my head as I'm writing and realize it will fit a section I'm working on, then include it, but I don't typically plot these moments. The muses flick them at me occasionally to see what may stick. 

Bobby Nash: Not really. I use wit and humor in my stories, usually character-based. I can't say I've ever thought about whimsy for whimsy's sake.

Jen Mulvihill: Whimsy is an important part of my writing because I write Y/A and I feel it shows how real the characters are and how they have not been fully jaded yet. My characters may have whimsical moments either in dialogue or by actions born of the spontaneity of the moment. There are a few characters who are whimsy by nature at all times. For instance, in the Steele Roots series there is a character named Raine who everyone thinks is just a bit touched. The truth is she just lives in her own little world and can’t be bothered with everyone else’s problems. She is no Lune Lovegood, but her comments and actions come off as unpredictable and out of step with the rest of the characters.

Sean Taylor: For me, whimsy is the power behind my writing before I ever start. I usually begin with "what if" questions, and that's where the whimsy sits enthroned. Only whimsy leads to questions like, "What if the mirror in Through the Looking Glass was the same mirror in "Snow White"? Or "What if a zombie writer came back from the dead and started writing her own posthumous work for her publisher husband?"

To what extent do you let a sense of whimsy guide your writing? Or are you more a meticulous follower of "the plan"?

Susan H. Roddey: I have a whole book series built on the most whimsical of premises (an Alice in Wonderland reimagining, as it were), so in the case of those books, I do let the whimsy lead. There's movement to it, sometimes hard and poetic, and sometimes goofy to the point of absurdity. The books are dark, violent, often gory, but also sensual and often funny. 

Jen Mulvihill: Other characters in my novels have whimsical moments and those are unpredictable even to me. I never plan them they just seem to happen as I write the story. It’s the characters who choose their moments and I simply journal the action or dialogue as it unfolds before me. I don’t think I could ever force or plan too much whimsy because I think it would feel forced and not flow properly or organically. But that is my style of writing and not necessarily the right way or wrong way of doing things, it is simply Jen’s way.

John L. Taylor: It's a cyclical process for me. Often a surreal or dreamlike visual theme or really moving line of dialogue occurs to me. I then go "so, how did this happen?" and create a plan on how to connect several of these through a linear plot. Sometimes that throughline will suggest new possibilities for the characters, adding further new scenes. Repeat until a finished first draft is ready.

Sean Taylor: I don't consciously think about whimsy as I write, but it does, as I said above in question one, drive the questions that create my stories. 

Danielle Procter Piper: I have seen that minimal use of whimsy in a story tends to be of greater benefit. Too much can destroy a story. Case in point; there's just enough magical whimsy in Raiders of the Lost Ark to open your eyes and make you question your beliefs briefly, which quickly turns humorous as we get to gleefully watch Nazis melt. There's too much in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which helped tank that film. If, for the most part, your stories are realistic...then, for the most part, keep them that way. If you've ever seen the original script for The Blues Brothers, you'll be glad Dan Aykroyd's whimsy was held in check. It's already a silly movie that gets sillier as it goes, but if you don't know, the Blues Mobile was nearly sentient and could perform on its own in a magical manner...which would have pushed things too far. 

Bobby Nash: No idea. When it happens, it just sort of happens. Usually, any sense of whimsy in my stories comes from my characters. You'd have to ask them. 🙂

Have you found that by embracing the "playful" and "unpredictable" as you write, you actually end up accomplishing the purpose after all? Why or why not?

Danielle Procter Piper: Playful moments in a story are certainly valuable, depending on what you're writing. I have found that my sense of humor seeps into everything I write even when I don't wish it to. Because I write's sometimes expressed in an incredulously dark manner, often extraordinarily disturbing if you're unable to recognize the humor in it. Again, to me, "showmanship"— that is, going over the top to grab the attention of the reader and drop a big hint on them they may not recognize until later, is often accomplished in a moment of whimsy. An example of too much whimsy would be Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings, or Harry Harrison's Bill, The Galactic Hero series. They're both actually very funny and enjoyable, but most people don't like them because they're too "far-fetched" and silly. Chevy Chase's Modern Problems is another example of too much whimsy killing a project, while Three Amigos works despite a heaping helping of it because it's a screwball comedy.

Sean Taylor: I try to keep myself open to the playful as I work, but I don't automatically default to the most "out there" ideas. For me, a lot of it depends on the story I'm writing. Sometimes a story gets so serious or dark that something odd or flippant really needs to happen. For example, I'm working on a story for my next horror collection about a house for sale at a basement-level bargain -- with the following caveat: the dead squirrel in the jar must remain in the cellar, or you can't buy the house. Because of the way I plot by questions, my plots are pretty much set by the time I actually start writing, but I try to remain open to where whims can take me.

Jen Mulvihill: I think by embracing the whimsical you embrace being human. Those little whimsical moments in life when you trip over your own feet, or do something laughably stupid and then turn around and own it, this makes life real; this makes characters real.

I also feel the need for whimsy in writing given sometimes the seriousness of the subject or event taking place, a little whimsy breaks up a serious moment without damaging the message if done correctly and organically.

Bobby Nash: Unpredictability is my method. Trust the characters and see where they take you. It's not the most elegant method, but it works for me.

Susan H. Roddey: It's fun to play with every aspect of human nature, twisting them up into magic and exploring the blurred boundaries between reality and fantasy. [Just for reference, writing narrative poetry and iambic tetrameter is not easy.]

John L. Taylor: Playful more than unpredictable. I'm not afraid to blend elements that don't seem to go together. An example of this was my novella The Rocket Molly Syndicate. Despite being an alt-history pulp action story, we meet our protagonist in a scene with biplanes chasing pterodactyls. At first, the editors and proofreaders were like "What the hell is this?" but reviews by readers often praised that scene for its whimsy as a great metaphor for the chaos in the protagonist's life and making it read more like a 30's era serial/pulp tale than some modern pulps had. By going for the dreamlike aspects, much of the other out there visual cues like scenes on rocket packs or fights on airplanes seemed more grounded by contrast. Fear of whimsy is the death of imagination itself, the real mind-killer.

I used the above line to illustrate my point. In Dune, the Gom Jabbar makes no sense in the universe. Even with the Bene Gesseret having psychic powers, the Gom Jabbar is a magic box in a universe with no magic. But the scene is so powerful and establishes characters so well, and foreshadows later events that it becomes indispensable. That is the power of whimsy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Scott McCullar: Bringing the Thrills

Scott McCullar is a Professional Graphic Designer, Writer, and Visual Artist currently working for the Illinois State Board of Education as a Principal Consultant (Graphic Designer) in the Software Solutions Department. Outside of his day job, Scott is also the creator-owner of THRILL SEEKER COMICS™ ANTHOLOGY Pulp Action & Adventure Series featuring The Yellow Jacket: Man of Mystery™ that he writes and illustrates under his independent publishing banner named Bandito Entertainment™.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.  

I just recently released THRILL SEEKER COMICS ANTHOLOGY #1 through my label BANDITO ENTERTAINMENT. This creator-owned, self-published independent comic book series was decades in the making after many false starts and stops due to roadblocks in my personal life that are now overcome. 

THRILL SEEKER COMICS is a pulp action and adventure series featuring various interrelated stories told in a non-linear manner jumping around in different time periods about a ragtag group of heroes fighting evil in globe-spanning adventures on Earth-24 (as seen recently in INDIEVERISTY – A guidebook to the varied worlds of the independent comics multiverse). At the center of these two-fisted tales is the Dust Bowl-era vigilante known as THE YELLOW JACKET: MAN OF MYSTERY, who pursued by lawmen, is conscripted into THE STAR-SPANGLED SQUADRON to battle Axis Powers during the outbreak of World War II. Alongside THE EMERALD MANTIS and other colorful characters encountered, their enduring mission to fight crime, crush tyranny, and protect the world is carried on by a generation of successors. 

It was just over 20 years ago my series first appeared as a cornerstone feature in each and every one of the six issues of SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY and a few other sister titles.  Now rebooted, THRILL SEEKER COMICS returns in this relaunch with all-new stories alongside reprints of the original tales that have newly remastered and restored artwork in full color in printed comic book anthology format. New heroes also join the fray in the first issue that includes several short stories in this same shared universe.  

This series was inspired by Golden Age, Silver Age, and Bronze Age classic comic books and newspaper comic strips. The films of Quentin Tarantino. The Coen Brothers, and a touch of Akira Kurosawa also influence the stories. The genres in this anthology include superheroes, pulp detective and mystery, martial arts, and war stories with dashes of romance and humor to be injected in the tales. 

Spinning out of the comic book, I’m also currently co-writing and illustrating a related online comic strip web series based on one of the brand-new characters from the anthology comic. She is a rookie private investigator in the early 1940’s. The webcomics series is called THRILL SEEKER COMICS PRESENTS MS. TITTENHURST: FINDER OF LOST THINGS about the divorced, red-headed Dame Detective from Texas who is also a college student. This feature and the comic strip were co-created and co-written with my wife Jennifer McCullar. 

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

Personal struggles. Family. Friendship. Pushing boundaries. Sly humor. Combative violence. Repentance. Revenge. Adventure. Trying to escape from personal matters. Interweaving fiction with history. 

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

I don’t view myself as a traditional writer though I’ve dabbled and written some fictional prose short stories here and there. Instead, I mainly moonlight on the side on and off as a comic book writer and comic artist. I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a professional writer as I would rather use the term ‘storyteller’ to identify myself as I combine writing and drawing together to tell stories. Plus, I like the term “Storyteller” and it is the title of a damn good Rod Stewart song collection. Every picture tells a story and for me it isn’t always words. 

What inspires you to write?  

I enjoy writing and drawing comics.  For me, creating comics is a bit of a release valve opening up all these stories out of my head to release and share them with others. My characters bounce around and talk to me in my head telling me stories that they want to share and let out in the world. I sometimes feel like I’m just transcribing events and bringing the visuals in my mind’s eye to view with the artwork. Hopefully I am entertaining a few folks along the way with the comic books and webstrips that I release. I think my life experiences and interests seep into my writing. I enjoy sharing and connecting with others with my work, but honestly, making comics is a creative and artistic expression done primarily to appease myself first and foremost and the audience second. Maybe that’s wrong of me, but it is my truth as to my satisfaction and why I do this. I love the creative process and seeing something tangible in front of me. 

What would be your dream project?  

When I was about to graduate from college around age 22, I wanted to become a comic book writer/artist with the goal of working for DC Comics. I especially wanted to write GREEN ARROW for DC Comics.  I worked hard at it. At age 32, I was given the opportunity for a few years to be and advisor to the writers and editor of the book, and just for one fleeting moment, I  wrote a story for GREEN ARROW SECRET FILE AND ORIGINS #1 (2002). For a brief time, I believed that DC Comics was going to hand off the monthly book to me after Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer were done with their turns at bat, but instead, it went to Judd Winnick who held onto the writing chores for quite a while. That was my original dream project. 

I’m still thankful for the opportunity to have written that one GREEN ARROW comic that I felt hit the bull’s eye. Elements from that single story popped up in the ARROW television series that they borrowed from my writing. I’m proud of that. I even received a letter of thanks and a bonus check from DC Comics twenty years later for that. Again, I just wished that I had a long run on the book years ago, but I don’t imagine that will ever happen and I’m okay with that now.  

As for future dream projects… what I’m doing right now at age 52 with my THRILL SEEKER COMICS projects is my dream project that I am happy and content working on at the moment. Sure, I wish I could write, draw, and self-publish THRILL SEEKER COMICS as my only full-time job without the worries of having to keep a “day job”. I’m not there yet. I cannot do that financially with my bills that need to be paid, so working on these creator-owned stories is something that I do on the side on my own time and enjoy. 

I do want to take a stab at writing some pulp fiction novels in the future… probably start off with a few shorter novelettes to test the waters. I’d like to dabble in some of those pulp adventures in prose. 

I’d also like to work on Popeye as a writer/artist… or  I guess the term should be “cartoonist”. Sounds a little out there, but that was a dream that I has as a kid in elementary school. 

Other than that, my dream is to see that what I self-publish is well hopefully received and my readership grows.  

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

About 20 years ago, I wrote an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL that another artist illustrated (and actually Sean Taylor was the editor on).  And while that artist did a fine job, I wish I was the one who had illustrated it instead.  

Since A CHRISTMAS CAROL is in the public domain, perhaps one day if I have time, I just might self-publish a new version of this classic and illustrate it myself as it is one of my all-time favorite stories. 

What inspires you to write?

I really don’t ponder this question very much. I focus on putting out comic book stories and comic strips. For me, the storytelling is in both the script and artwork. I focus on that more as I’m handling both chores and trying to strike a balance that the written words will work hand-in-hand with the artwork to tell the proper story. I tell these stories out of enjoyment, passion, and the need to get them out of my head and put them out in the world. I’m not thinking about inspiration. It just comes to me. I’m concerned about finding the time to do the work. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique?  

The novels of Ian Fleming and Elmore Leonard greatly influenced my writing. Also movie script writers like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers have also been major influences on my storytelling. Comic book writers that include Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon, Mike Grell, and James Robinson had a strong impact on me.  

To tie this in with the visual arts, I was inspired by those who could do both write and draw like Mike Grell (GREEN ARROW, WARLORD, JON SABLE) and Mike Mignola (HELLBOY) as well as some legendary newspaper comic strip creators like Milton Caniff (STEVE CANYON) and EC Segar (POPEYE) who did both chores. I wanted to be like them.  

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

I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that question. If I were to say what I’ve experienced… it is both an art and can also rely on formulas to some extent to work and thus be a science. I have kept in mind “rules to writing” that I’ve learned from writers such as Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon, Bud Sagendorf, and Elmore Leonard. I’ve read and listened to what they have had to say about writing and they’ve all sort of compiled checklists of do’s and don’t’s that I’ve found helpful. Those checklists seem to me to be more formula-driven science but it is also an art. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?  

Time management for me. Finding time to write (and draw). I have a 40-hour-a-week “day job” and thus writing and drawing take place when I can find those select moments to work outside of my day job and family life. 

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

I’m inspired to see the passion and success of my writer friends. They inspire me to pursue my own creative passions and publish. I also occasionally bounce ideas off of them and they are my sounding boards when I seek private consultation. 

What does literary success look like to you?  

At this point in my life and with all the ups and downs that I have experienced, success for me is to follow through from start to finish on a project and have a tangible book in hand that also gets into the hands of others. If along the way I hear some positive feedback that someone enjoyed my work, then that feeds my soul and gives me the satisfaction that my work wasn’t done in vain. I no longer seek fame and wide recognition like I did in my youth when I was ready to take on the world. I had my Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame sometime around 2002. Those 15 minutes of fame are long over and I don’t need that again. Now I just want to enjoy peace in my life and to scratch some creative itches. 

 Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

Currently, THRILL SEEKER COMICS ANTHOLOGY #1 was released during the holidays and is still available. You can purchase directly from me on my website and it will soon (any day now) be available as Print-on-Demand from Also, I am currently running a free online comic strip THRILL SEEKER COMICS web series that updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Again, the comic strip web series is co-written with my wife Jennifer.  

On May 1, 2024, I will be launching a Kickstarter Campaign for the 52-page THRILL SEEKER COMICS ANTHOLOGY #2 and a tie-in book THRILL SEEKER COMICS ADVENTURES #1 featuring the first collected MS. TITTENHURST: FINDER OF LOST THINGS web series “Case of the Missing Guitar”. If all goes well, THRILL SEEKER COMICS ANTHOLOGY #3 and THRILL SEEKER COMICS ADVENTURES #2 will be available for Thanksgiving 2024. The online comic web strips featuring the Dame Detective will also run weekly all year long in 2024. All are self-published through my label Bandito Entertainment. I also have a “secret” non-Thrill Seeker Comics project that I recently began working on that I’m aiming to release in January 2025. 

For more information, visit: 

My personal website is located at  

The official website for my comic series is with links to our online store, additional information, the online comic strip, and has an onramp to our official Facebook page where I hope you will like and follow us there, too. 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

[Link] What It Means to Be a Writer: John Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech About Slicing Through Humanity’s Confusion

by Maria Popova

“Mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself. Therein lies our hope and our destiny,” the great marine biologist and author Rachel Carson addressed the next generations as she catalyzed the environmental movement with her courageous exposé of the industry-driven, government-concealed chemical assault on nature.

Six months after Carson delivered her poignant and prescient commencement address, another writer of rare courage and humanistic idealism took another stage to deliver a kindred message that reverberates across the decades with astounding relevance today.

On December 10, 1962, John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) took the podium at the Swedish Academy to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” Two decades after he contemplated the contradictions of human nature and our grounds for lucid hope, the sixty-year-old Steinbeck proceeded to deliver a stunning, sobering, yet resolutely optimistic acceptance speech, later included in Nobel Writers on Writing (public library) — the collection that gave us Bertrand Russell on the four desires driving all human behavior, Pearl S. Buck on the nature of creativity, and Gabriel García Márquez’s vision of a world in which “no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible.”

After some endearing and strangely comforting opening remarks, indicating that even he — one of the world’s most celebrated minds, standing at the podium to receive the Nobel Prize — is bedeviled by impostor syndrome, Steinbeck considers the abiding role of storytelling in human life:

"Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches — nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tin-horn mendicants of low-calorie despair.

"Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species."

Read the full article:

Pulp Convention to Create New Characters and Anthology!



Lombard, Illinois – February 8, 2024

Every year, the Windy City Pulp and Paper convention features writers of New Pulp as part of their Sunday panel programming. On Sunday, April 7th, several New Pulp authors will gather as part of a unique interactive panel.

This panel’s moderator will encourage collaboration between the audience and panelists to establish genre (and appropriate subgenres), setting, and four individual characters. Audience members will provide elements to be incorporated into that genre. Panelists will come up with a broad character concept and aspects.

During the session, panelists will take input from the audience and their peers in fleshing out these characters and concepts. Once this has been done, both the setting and characters will be featured in an anthology of short stories to be written by the panelists and published in time for the following year’s Windy City convention.

This panel will be held on Sunday, April 7th, exact time TBD.

For more information about the panel, please contact Andy Fix at

For more information about Windy City Pulp & Paper (including attendance information) please visit

Friday, February 16, 2024


THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME FOURTEEN DEBUTS! PRO SE’S ‘THE YEAR OF REESE UNLIMITED’ BEGINS! Click below to get Your copy today! Remember, Kindle Unlimited Members read for free!




From the author imprint of scribe Barry Reese comes perhaps his greatest and best-known creation in yet another collection of action and pulp intrigue. THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME FOURTEEN! 

He is a legend mentioned in fearful whispers. He is a faceless, heartless, savage destructive force of nature. If the Devil were vomited from the darkest pit of Hell into this man's path, he would grudgingly concede that he encountered a creature whose soul was black with deeds so cruel that they made him turn away in disgust.

In the City of Light, he is a darkness unending, but he has turned his gaze toward a goal that lies an ocean away in Sovereign City, and he will not be denied. He is an unrelenting evil known to many by a single name.


And he is unlike any foe that Lazarus Gray and Assistance Unlimited has ever faced.

THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME FOURTEEN by Barry Reese, from Reese Unlimited and Pro Se Productions, is the first volume in Pro Se’s ‘THE YEAR OF REESE UNLIMITED’. Twelve works written by or based on concepts created by Barry Reese as a part of his author imprint will be released, once a month, throughout 2024. 

With an atmospheric, gritty cover by Gilbert Monsanto and print formatting by Sean Ali, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME FOURTEEN is available for 12.99 via Amazon.

Reese’s latest entry in his longest-running series to date is also available on Kindle formatted by Antonino lo Iacono and Marzia Marina for $2.99. Kindle Unlimited Members can read this exciting tale 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 Pro Se Productions.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Herika Raymer: Creepy, Hold the Gore

Herika Raymer is a bookwright who wants to do each story right! She grew up consuming books - first eating them and later reading them. Reading was better, but writing was fun! A writer of mixed genre - science-fiction, thriller, horror, fantasy (dark and/or rural), and even some humor (yes it can be dark) - her style leans towards thriller/horror. No gore, she explores either monster-based or psychological horror. No explicit sex, she claims such scenes make her blush. Still, her characters are passionate and engaging enough to win short story competitions/awards. Intrigued? 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest published work is CHICKEN PULP, available from Hireath Publishing. It was inspired by a dinner I heard about. A bunch of authors, tired after a convention, ate together and discussed possible upcoming projects. The night wore on, spirits were improved by consumption of alcohol, and… well… ideas got weird.

One idea was of a horror anthology, and the draw was the main ingredient was chickens.

Yup, chickens.

Readers are treated to my imagining what the dinner must have been like in the opening scene.

Still, it got me thinking. I did a bit of research, found some interesting facts and tidbits about chickens, and viola - CHICKEN PULP emerged.

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

Mostly horror combined with thrillers and dark fantasy. I try to throw a bit of humor in where possible.

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

An enjoyment of storytelling, whether oral or written. The ability to not only visit the imaginations of other people via their work, but allow people to visit mine for a time. It’s interesting to see their reactions sometimes.

What inspires you to write? 

Depends on the subjects. Most times it’s the desire to explore ‘what if’. How many events in not only my lifetime but also other generations always have a ‘what if’ in them. ‘What if’ laws were enforced more? ‘What if’ punishments actually matched the crime? ‘What if’ a utopia could be achieved, what would it look like? ‘What if’ we could visit other planets, what could be there? ‘What if’ myth and lore were true, how would we coexist? Those are ponderings I like to explore.

What would be your dream project?

Honestly, something that would outlast me. Something dedicated to my kids, to family.

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

MAKE MINE WITH A SIDE OF CREEPY is a collection of previously published short stories that was released by Dark Oak Press / Kerlak Publishing many years ago. Dark Oak Press / Kerlak Publishing has since moved on from the printed work from what I understand. I have the right back, and would like to re-release the stories. The current task is finding a home for the stories. It would need to be divided up, I’m sure, but I’m willing to put in the work. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

I’d like to think Ray Bradbury, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, and John Brunner influenced my writing. Though I also read J. R. R. Tolkein, C. S. Lewis (love THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS), and David Eddings. I admire Neil Gaiman and Robert Aspirin’s perspective on worlds, very adventurous. Of course, I have fellow authors I admire - Jen Mulvihill, H. D. Blalock, Kristi Bradley, Robert Krog, Larry Hoy. Our styles and topics are different, but our passion is the same. So, I try to weave imagination with respect to the styles of not only authors from before, but those of today and tomorrow..

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

Writing? It is an art. It is an expression of creativity. Then again, so is science isn’t it. Yet where science deals in hypotheses of proving aspects of our reality, writing explores hypotheses of how ideas will result.

As the astronaut Mae Jemison, said, "The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin... or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? 

Overcoming procrastination.

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

They are my soundboards, my editors, and my Beta Readers. More importantly, they are my support group. They understand the difficulty and disillusionment, as well as the crippling effect of ‘imposter syndrome’. All of us hope to earn a living from our writing, but the frequent reward is sharing our tales with eager readers/listeners.

What does literary success look like to you? 

First, I want to say financial success. It would be nice, believe me. Yet now, I realize it is more recognition of voice. We read our favorite authors repeatedly because of how they turn a phrase, how they bring us to their lands and tell us about them, and help us escape for a time. I’d like to be able to do that.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?  

I’m currently working on three. 

The first of three JUDGEMENT DAY novels should be released around October 2024.

The second is a fantasy piece Three Ravens Publishing has expressed interest in. I hope to have it published with them before the end of this year, but I have no scheduled release at this time.

The third is a set of short stories in my COLLECTOR series to be featured in Hireath’s ParAbnormal Magazine.

For more information, visit: 

Unfortunately, my author website is in between homes. However, you can see a list of where to find my works on my Amazon Author Page.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

[Link] Readers Can Now Access Books Banned in Their Area for Free With New App

Based on users’ locations, the Banned Book Club provides e-book editions of titles banned in nearby libraries

by Christopher Parker

As book bans spike nationwide, access to particular texts varies tremendously depending on where readers are located. “If you’re after a particular title by Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood,” writes Literary Hub’s Janet Manley, “you might find that it’s available in Georgia, and effectively banned next door in Florida.” 

A new program aims to change that: Earlier this month, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) launched the Banned Book Club, which provides users with free access to titles pulled from the shelves of local libraries.

“Today book bans are one of the greatest threats to our freedom,” says John S. Bracken, executive director of the DPLA, in a statement. “We have created the Banned Book Club to leverage the dual powers of libraries and digital technology to ensure that every American can access the books they want to read.”

The app uses “GPS-based geo-targeting” to stock virtual libraries across the country. After visiting to see a list of titles banned in their area, readers can download those books for free via the Palace e-reader app.

Read the full article:

Friday, February 9, 2024

Echoes of the Dead: Gone But Not Forgotten

The dead are gone but not forgotten. Each life leaves an imprint, a legacy, an echo...

A mother drowning in lonely Despair. A man suffering a hellish night dealing with his father's Demons. A woman caught up in a twisted and supernatural Desire. 

These stories and more explore the aftermath of loss and the struggle of the living as they fight the maddening reverberations that loss spins through their own lives - as they find themselves caught up in the echoes of the dead.


Echoes of the Dead: Collected Hauntings 

by Heather Daughrity 

Release date: April 16, 2024

Cover art by Christy Aldridge 

Cover design by Susan H. Roddey 

Parlor Ghost Press 

Watertower Hill Publishing

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Dan Jolley: From Unknown to Obscure!

Dan Jolley grew up in a rural Southern town as a huge fan of all things science-fiction and fantasy, and now considers himself lucky enough (and stubborn enough) to make a living writing novels, video games, comic books, and children's books.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

I’m right in the middle of my first-ever fantasy series, The Demon-Sleuth Scrolls. It’s actually a genre mashup of high fantasy and mystery – it takes place in an original setting, where an all-human empire has been using rune-based magic to solve crimes for the last three hundred years. When something begins to break that magic down, it falls to the first-ever non-human member of the Imperial Criminal Investigation Ministry to begin introducing actual detective procedures for the first time in twelve generations, as they try to figure out what’s going on and maybe keep the empire from crumbling. I’ve had a lot of fun building a brand-new world, as well as a brand-new species – the protagonist, Nysska Stonegate, is a sethyd; they all have deep violet skin, yellow or orange eyes, and horns. Male and female sethyds alike are uniformly tall, graceful, gorgeous, they’re faster and stronger than humans, the entire species is pansexual, and the humans hate their guts. So Nysska has no choice but to become a reluctant ambassador for her people and an even more reluctant detective.

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

I’ve found that I like to write from the perspective of the outsider. I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life – pretty much no matter what situation I’ve ever found myself in – so I guess it comes pretty naturally. I’ve just never felt any real connection to “mainstream” characters in any kind of media. I’d rather read about some obscure superhero like the Creeper than Superman; I’d rather play (and I know this is going to date me horribly) some oddball like Blanka or Dhalsim than Ken or Ryu. The only “standard” character I think I’ve ever created was Travis Clevenger in my creator-owned comic book series Bloodhound, in that he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy, but even that was because my then-wife wanted me to model him after the professional wrestler Triple H.

Also, no matter how I try to get away from it, I always seem to include either lightning or bears. Or both. I just really like lightning and bears, apparently.

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

I have two older siblings, a brother and a sister, but they’re a lot older – eleven and nine years, respectively. Thanks to that, by the time I was in third grade, they were both out of the house and gone, so I was basically what a sociologist would call an only child. We were juuuust above the poverty line, so we never went anywhere and I didn’t have any fancy toys. I also didn’t have any neighborhood friends to hang out with, and we didn’t get cable TV till I was seventeen, so I spent a ton of time in my most formative years alone. That’s where the overactive imagination that every writer has comes in. To entertain myself I just started making stuff up. I was writing short stories at six, and I wrote my first novel at thirteen. (It was about as horrible as you’d expect.) As soon as I realized it was possible to earn a living by making stuff up and selling it, that became my career path, and I’ve never really wavered from it.

What inspires you to write?

Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Every now and then – not as often as I’d like, for sure – an idea will just appear in my head, fully formed, out of nowhere. That happened once when I was mowing the lawn. Other times I’ll see a sign on a business, or notice some detail out in public somewhere, that’ll give me the germ of an idea that I’ve got to think about for a while and nurture before it grows into something worth writing down. For example, I got an idea for an entire series of novels (that I haven’t started on yet) when I saw the chicken wire in a window in a restaurant in the Atlanta airport.

Realistically, the other kind of inspiration you get when you’re a working professional writer is the knowledge that if you don’t come up with something good and get it turned in by the deadline, you won’t be able to buy groceries or pay the mortgage. I’ve been doing what I dreamed of as a kid – earning a living by making stuff up and selling it – for better than twenty years now, and let me tell you, nothing gets me in the right creative space faster than knowing my financial security rests on finishing a comics script/book manuscript/video game scenario in a certain time frame.

What would be your dream project?

Hmmmm…I don’t know. I mean, another key aspect of doing this job, for me anyway, is being able to fall completely in love with whatever project you’re working on at the time. Kind of like my favorite cat is whichever one is in my lap at the moment. And, y’know, in theory, you’re supposed to get better at stuff the more you do it, so whatever my latest project is should be the best thing I’ve ever written.

That being said, if I could ever figure out how to get Travis Clevenger from Bloodhound, Janey Sinclair from The Gray Widow Trilogy, and Nysska Stonegate from The Demon-Sleuth Scrolls all in one project together – and have it actually make sense – that might be Peak Dan Jolley. 

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

I’d make some different choices about how I handled the DC Comics series Firestorm. I rebooted the character, making the change from the Ronnie Raymond incarnation to the Jason Rusch version, and I’m proud of the work I did on it, but the behind-the-scenes was really messy. Basically I had one editor who wanted me to do one thing, but then his boss wanted me to do something completely different, and I got stuck in the middle. And I didn’t have the experience or the confidence to stand up for myself and get the situation straightened out. Plus I would have pushed back on utterly useless nonsense notes, such as, “I don’t feel like you’re bringing your A game, Dan.” That was the entire feedback I got on one script. What can you do with that? Nothing. But instead of saying, “Sorry, you’re going to have to be more specific about what you want to see,” I just wrote draft after draft after draft until by chance I produced what the editor was looking for. What a waste of everyone’s time that was.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

The shortlist is Robert E. Howard, Larry Niven, Dean Koontz, Louis L’Amour, John Sandford, and James O’Barr. Those were the ones I read growing up and into college. I think I read every Western L’Amour ever wrote, with particular love for his Sackett Family series. Then, getting into film and TV influences, two huge ones were The X-Files and The Silence of the Lambs, followed closely by Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction was a huge turning point for me in the way I approach dialogue. Quentin Tarantino made me realize that when you’ve got characters who know what they’re doing when they’re in the process of doing it they don’t talk about it.

In fact, Tarantino was the reason I wrote my first real book. I had decided to do a screenplay, and I got a book that had his scripts for Reservoir Dogs and True Romance so I could study them. Well, in the introduction, Tarantino basically said, “Screenplays get changed. Film is a collaborative medium, and what you write will get changed. If you want to keep control of your words, write a novel.” So I took that to heart and wrote a novel. 

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

I’d say it’s probably 65 or 70% art and 35 or 30% science. The science part, for me at least, comes in in the form of story structure, which I learned thanks to the late Scott Ciencin recommending The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. That book takes Joseph Campbell’s work on “the hero’s journey” and applies it specifically to writing. I cannon laud it highly enough. That, along with Invisible Ink and The Golden Theme by Brian McDonald, are the keys to the kingdom. My productivity skyrocketed after I absorbed what they had to say.

That’s about plot. Plot is necessary, and not to be neglected, but I have also learned that it is by far not the most important part of writing. The most important element in your writing is your characters, and that’s where the art comes in. Especially in any kind of serialized format, the reason people come back to anything is the characters. You have to make your characters memorable, vivid, evocative – alive. Sympathetic and heroic, hateful and despicable, whatever, your characters need to occupy space in your readers’ minds and stay there. Move in. Sign a long-term lease. Audiences will come back to, for example, a TV show where the plots are absolute gibbering madness if they love the characters. Creating living, breathing, resonating people who live in readers’ heads is one of the greatest forms of art I can imagine.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Probably when I need to learn to write in some new format. That usually involves scouring the web for examples of existing works, so I can understand the nuts and bolts of what’s needed. Like, just recently I had the opportunity to write a short audio drama script. I had never written an audio drama before, and, y’know, bang, I’m back to amateur status. All the decades of experience I’ve had doing comic books and video games and novels doesn’t go out the window, exactly, but I am kind of busted back down to “figuring out how to do this” stage. It’s humbling, and sometimes frustrating, but I don’t shy away from opportunities like that, either, because taking in new information – learning new skills, figuring out new processes – is kind of crucial. Not just to being a writer, but to being a human.

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

I’ve never been a part of a writers’ group, but I have enlisted a few writer friends as beta readers, which has been super-valuable. Most of the time, though, I see people I know doing amazing things, getting new jobs, publishing astonishing new works of fiction, and it just inspires me to work that much harder. There is no resting on one’s laurels. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Well, on one hand, I kind of feel as though I’ve already achieved it. I mean, I’m making a living by writing, which is something not a lot of people can say. Am I a household name? Hardly! I often joke that my career has finally moved all the way up from “unknown” to “obscure.” But I get to sit around and think up stories and characters and get paid for it, and that’s kind of amazing. I’m grateful for my career.

On the other hand, I see book series getting adapted into film and TV…I see these six- and seven-figure deals announced for an author’s latest novel…I see end-cap displays in bookstores and novels on the shelves in airports. It’s easy to look at that kind of rarefied success and feel bitter or discouraged, or beat yourself up for not having achieved it. And, y’know, would I take my own Netflix adaptation, or an advance big enough to buy a beach house in Malibu? Well, yeah. Of course.

But I’m about to have my eighteenth original novel published. And I added to the official canon of DC Comics. And I got to sit in a recording studio where Peter Cullen, as Optimus Prime, read lines that I had written. So, yeah – I’m in a pretty good spot.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

The first two books in The Demon-Sleuth ScrollsThe Runemaster Homicide and The Black-Horned Grave – are already available, and Falstaff Books has plans to debut the third book, entitled The Runebearer Curse, this year at DragonCon. If you like high fantasy, or police procedurals, or badass sword-wielding female protagonists, or sentient animals – or all of the above – then these are the books for you. (Not if you’re a little kid, though. They’re super-R-rated. I don’t want any parents coming for me with torches and pitchforks.)

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