Author Interview — James Slater

Imagine discovering a fellow fiction writer at the place where you work. You find someone who, like you, works a day job in your building but authors books on the side. That happened to me recently, and I just had to interview him.

James Slater works at the Washington Navy Yard. He authored the short stories Tuck, Bishop Takes Night, and Ten Bucks, each published in book form. Most recently, he’s written a science fiction novel, Claustrom, the first book in a planned trilogy.

Let’s get to the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

James Slater: When I was in 3rd grade, my family moved out of the city to a 4-acre property in the country in Western Washington state. It was a beautiful place, but both to my benefit and my disappointment, we had no TV signal there. I filled my spare time with reading and music, and the talents I developed as a result have served me throughout my life.

I guess I’ve always been drawn to mystery and adventure. Treasure Island; 20,000 Leagues under the Sea; and Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn were all books I read more than once. When I was in elementary school, I read all the Hardy Boys books the library had on the shelf. Oh, and can’t forget to mention Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I was quite intrigued by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Now, I didn’t read that one again, and I won’t spoil it, but once you understand the twist, the novelty is gone. I was quite enamored with Catch 22. More recently, The Patrick O’Brian Master and Commander series and Lee Child’s Reacher books became obsessions.

P.S.: How did you come to love science fiction?

J.S.: If I remember correctly, my first science-fiction-esqe books were the Chronicles of Narnia. The fantasy of other worlds and other dimensions tickled something inside my mind. Then I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. And I couldn’t put it down. I think that’s the series that hooked me. I began to scan the library shelves for sci-fi authors and read everything they had to offer. I pretty much always had a book with me. The amazing possibilities of space travel fascinated me. We’d put a man on the moon, and I was sure amazing breakthroughs were just around the corner.

P.S.:    What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

J.S.: The easiest thing to do for me is just to write. On the days that I’ve decided to write, I always set a goal of writing 500 words, and once I start, I’ve never not achieved that goal. Often I double and triple that in a day. Now, the most difficult thing is closely related. And that’s getting started. It’s like a train. Once I’ve stopped, it really takes me tremendous energy to get started again. I struggle to budge that train, and usually my activities at work and home have an impact. I only have a finite amount of mental energy, and if I’m writing appraisals or if we’re in the market for a new home (both turned out to be giant energy sinks), my writing batteries can’t come up with the power to move that train an inch. But once I start and rediscover my writing muses, it’s like the story takes on its own life–and me with it. I’m more like a transcriptionist, struggling to keep up with the storyline.

P.S.:    Please describe your novel, Claustrom. What inspired you to write it?

J.S.: Sure. I like to call it a science fiction adventure. It’s set at the dawn of the third millennium and tells the story of three people, an accountant a security specialist and an heir to a mining fortune, who catch a ride back to Earth from a new high-tech construction project, New Manhattan. They run into some trouble and have to put down on the hostile surface of the prison planet, Claustrom. Each of them has talents and secrets, but only by working together, pooling their knowledge and talents, can they hope to make it home. I took the name from its Latin origins meaning a gate or an enclosure (think of a church’s Cloister) and modified it incidentally as might happen over time, like words that evolve over the centuries. In the end, I liked the subtle suggestion within the name of both a “claw” and a “storm.”

P.S.:    I understand Claustrom is Book 1 of an intended trilogy. When can your readers expect to see the second book?

J.S.: I’m about 80 percent done now with book two. I had intended this one to be a novella, a short prequel project started last November that would fill in some of the backstory of our Claustrom characters. It was supposed to be done by the end of November, but at the end of the month, the train was rolling. I couldn’t stop it, so I went with it. Turns out, it will be a full novel, so I’m shooting for its release in early 2018. So much for the Trilogy, eh? Moving on now to embrace the Tetralogy. I’ve outlined the better part of book three, the sequel to Claustrom, which will introduce the final book in the series. I’ve not outlined that yet and only have a rough idea of how that will play out, but I’m really looking forward to getting started on book three. The current working title is Midway.

P.S.: Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

J.S.: Hmmm. Interesting question. First, I guess I have a pretty vivid imagination. I love to entertain the fantasy of the impossible. Or, at least, the impossible as compared to what we currently perceive as reality. See what I did there? What if I were independently wealthy? What if aliens did land on Earth? What if the Earth is a rest stop on some galactic highway? Second, as I go through my day and the half of my brain that’s filling in plot holes and coming up with twists is aware and looking for new ideas. Here’s an example. One of my co-workers is from Texas, and he was telling a story about wild cougars. So my brain asks, night there not be a giant cat-like creature on a distant planet? Why not? And maybe it has a hunger–you know, for people. So I wrote it in. But check it out. That’s not the end of the story. I go to a writer’s conference, and I’m talking to author Reed Farrell Coleman, a guy who knows a thing or two about rough crime neighborhoods. So he tells me about a crime organization in New York that used a big caged cat as part of their attitude adjustment strategy for those who owed them money. Now, the book was already done by this time, so I’d already envisioned and completed that type of a similar scene. Guess it just goes to show you. Just because you made it up, doesn’t mean that someone hasn’t thought of it–or tried it before. Lots of science fiction has already become reality.

P.S.: In what way is your fiction different from that of other authors in your genre?

J.S.: I think the thing I love most about good stories, especially mysteries, is that there’s always something hidden. The parts almost make sense for a logical assessment of what has happened, but the protagonist, for some reason, doesn’t believe it. Sometimes it’s even just a single element. At the point where the secret is unveiled, the story and the stakes shift. Doyle and Christie were masters of this. Nothing makes sense until the end, and then it all falls into place. So, in addition to being an adventure, I like to have a puzzle to for the protagonist to solve. I love to read Lee Child because his protagonist, as smart and as powerful as he is, usually jumps to the wrong conclusion until he puts it all together for the finale. If the reader has figured it out by the end of the first act, the author has cheated everyone, including himself.

P.S.:    Both you and Poseidon’s Scribe have day jobs at the Washington Navy Yard, and write fiction during your commute to and from work. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that writing process?

J.S.: I think the real advantage is that it gives me an hour or two each day without interruption to read, write, edit and plan. And when I’m on, it works really well. I finished my first book in seven months this way. I guess the real disadvantage is that with other personal, family and career projects and thoughts and emotions, I can easily either get distracted or exhausted. At the end of a day, and I’m on my way home, I may look at my laptop and think that I really want to log some words, but my creative fuel is already spent. Now, I know if I can get past the first few minutes, the writing will reach out and engulf me, but some days I need to read or to listen. Other days, I put on headphones and turn nothing on. Silence, like sleep, is a great rejuvenator for me. Then I’m looking for inspiration and creating energy, not depleting it.

P.S.: On your website, you mention that the Washington Navy Yard shooting in September 2013 influenced you toward becoming a published author. Please expand on the connection between that event and that decision.

J.S.: I think I always wanted to become an author. It was just that my vision of an author was someone who made a living by writing books and had nothing else to do. Now I do a good amount of writing in my current position and had always used the excuse that I’d written so much that I was too tired of writing to write. Looking back, I think that was probably my own code for, “I don’t know how.” I mean, I joked about putting people in my book when they’d do something odd or spectacular. Then the shooting. It affected a lot of people in a lot of different ways. For me, it brought me face-to-face with my own mortality. I realized that if I waited until I retired to start writing a book, I might never finish it. So I started reading. I read like a fiend for a year. Fiction and non-fiction. Some sci-fi; some mystery; some literature. In sci-fi, I wanted to see what I was up against. Amazon now gives you that sneak peak? So I started walking through the latest and greatest contributions to science fiction. The more I read, the more my confidence grew. Clearly there were greats to contend with. John Scalzi. James A. Corey–who is actually two authors–and Ernest Cline. I loved Ready Player One. Oh, and Andy Weir with The Martian. But on the whole, the genre was littered with trash. In my opinion anyway. And I could tell by reading the first chapter. So I realized, suddenly, that not only did I have the desire to write a book, I had limited time, and my talent was, at the very least, on par with other, more established writers in the genre. I think that realization made it possible.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring fiction writers?

James Slater: I think there are two things. To me, an aspiring fiction writer is someone with both writing talent and a vision. My assessment is that there are many folks out there who would sell the dream of becoming a writer and would do so through selling books about becoming an author. For those, I recommend an approach with a skeptical eye. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Lots of people can sell books. Few can write them.

That said, I think writers should dedicate a good bit of time to reading. If you don’t have time to read, you certainly don’t have time to write.

Second, follow the rules. Novels follow a really standard structure. Following this structure will help bound the project and serve as the first step in breaking the project down into manageable bites.

Third. Write. Follow your structure. Express your style. Don’t stop. Even if it’s just a few sentences or some ideas, keep the effort going. Do it on a regular basis. It will ebb and flow. That’s a normal part of the process. You’ll get distracted. You’ll get off track. You’ll get blocked. Join a writer’s group. Expect criticism and welcome it. It’s a different point of view. Value it, but don’t let it cripple you.

I guess the final piece of advice is not to psych yourself out. Writers often bump into great barriers of self-doubt. There’s a lot of trash out there passing as literature. But if you want to be a writer, you have to write and you have to publish. If you’re struggling to make your book perfect, think of yourself not as an author, but as a perfectionist. Writers write, so think up a great story. Write it. Publish it. Then do it again.

 

Thanks, James. Great answers, and I hope to see you around the building.

Interested readers don’t have to go to the Washington Navy Yard to learn more about James. Check out his website and his Facebook page.

Poseidon’s Scribe

When and Where to Find Me at Chessiecon

You say you’ll be in the Baltimore, MD area during Thanksgiving weekend and you’re up for some SciFi excitement? Lucky you; you can meet lil’ ol’ me, Poseidon’s Scribe, at Chessiecon, a great science fiction convention running from November 24-26 at the Radisson North Baltimore Hotel.

  • On Friday at 3:00, I’ll moderate a panel titled “Is it Easier to Teach an English Major Science, or Teach a Science Major English?” about combating the fears people have about writing science fiction. I’ll be joined by panelists Michelle Markey Butler, Leslie Roy Carter, Nicole Jamison, and Valerie Mikles.
  • At 10:00 on Saturday, I’ll serve as a panelist for “Join the Mod Squad: Enhance Your Moderation Skills,” about how to serve as a moderator for panels at cons. The moderator will be Carl Cipra, and other panelists will be Don Sakers, Heather Rose Jones, and Annalee Flower Horne.
  • Saturday at 8:00 pm, I’ll participate in an Author Meet & Greet where we can chat; I’ll answer your questions and sign books. I’ll be there with other authors J.L. Gribble, Martin Wilsey, Steve Kozeniewski, Michelle D. Sonnier, and Andrew Hiller.
  • Finishing out the weekend, on Sunday at 11:15, I’ll read an excerpt from my science fiction artificial intelligence story “The Cats of Nerio-3” which appears in the anthology In a Cat’s Eye.

Go ahead—try to imagine a better weekend. I knew you couldn’t. I’ll see you at Chessiecon. In addition to super panels, workshops, art, and music, you can even meet—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Is Life Too Short for Re-Reading?

Do you read the same book multiple times? If so, why, and what does that say about you?

With Dr. Carl Sagan’s help, I’ve made the point before that the human lifespan is too short to read all books ever written. You can’t hope to read a tiny sliver of a percentage of them all. Therefore, time spent re-reading a book is time not spent enjoying a book you’ve never read.

Re-reading a book is different from ordering the same meal at a restaurant or re-watching a favorite TV show or movie. Reading a book is a significant investment in time—many hours or days—repeating something you’ve already done.

At this point, you might ask, defensively, “So what? Since I can’t read them all, why not re-read a few I enjoy? And since it will take a few days, why not spend that time doing something I know I’ll like?”

Fair points. Also, I must say, you avid re-readers are in good company. Here are the thoughts of some famous authors on this topic:

  • “Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.” Ernest Hemingway
  • “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.” Gail Carson Levine
  • “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C.S. Lewis
  • “An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. . . . We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading.” C.S. Lewis
  • “No book is worth reading that isn’t worth re-reading.” Susan Sontag
  • “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

Reddit has an interesting discussion of this topic. Commenters cited several different reasons to re-read. Some just found it comforting. A few re-read a favorite book during the same month every year, and associated that time of year with that book.

Over at Melissa’s Book World, Melissa says she falls in love with favorite books and their characters. If forced to choose between never starting a new book again or never re-reading a book again, she’d choose never to start a new one, since she couldn’t bear to part with her favorites.

Sara Jonsson came up with 10 good reasons that we re-read, including some interesting rationales like “the movie adaptation is coming out,” and “you have a test on that book tomorrow.”

I’ve noticed the experience of reading a paper or electronic book visually is different from listening to an audiobook. It still counts as re-reading, but the experience is different.

From my research, it appears the prime reason to re-read is the comfort it brings, the familiarity of the known. However, it’s not completely familiar. It’s like trying to go back to your childhood home again, or trying to dip your toe in the same river. You can’t. The experience is different. The book hasn’t changed, but you have.

In subsequent readings, you know what will happen. You won’t have that same sense of wonder, that same eagerness for the action to advance. You have time to relish the clever foreshadowing, the subtle ways the author set things up for the climax, the techniques the author used to draw you in to loving the main character. You couldn’t have noticed these things the first time.

The difference is most stark when decades separate the initial reading from the re-reading. You’ve likely forgotten a lot, so re-reading may repeat some of the joy of a first read. Also, you’ve matured significantly; your interests and outlook have changed. You might dislike a book you once enjoyed, and say you’ve outgrown it. Or you may enjoy other aspects, less concerned with plot and setting, and more with characters, style, and theme.

I’d say reading is important, even vital. If you feel the need to re-read on occasion to sustain your love for the reading experience, then go ahead and re-read, especially books by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Be Positive about Negative Capability

As part of our shared journey through the realm of fiction writing, let’s explore a few rooms within a stately mansion belonging to the English romantic poet, John Keats. In particular, what did he mean by the term negative capability, and how does it relate to creative writing?

photo By William Hilton – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 194

Nearly two centuries ago, on December 21, 1817, Keats wrote a letter to his brothers where he mentioned negative capability:

“…at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

That may be confusing, but here’s what I think he means—If you want to be a great writer, be willing to:

  • delve into the essence of your characters (or objects, like a Grecian Urn),
  • shed your preconceived world-view,
  • abandon any search for meaning or the urge to fit things into a logical structure, and
  • accept any mysteries and ambiguities you find without trying to resolve them.

Keats praises Shakespeare for the Bard’s ability to show us his characters, through their speech and actions, as they would be, without the author’s heavy hand fitting everything into a coherent whole. Keats criticizes Samuel Coleridge for starting with a philosophical vision and fashioning poetic characters to illustrate that vision.

Why did Keats call this approach ‘negative capability?’ The Wikipedia entry offers an electrical explanation. However, I believe Keats was saying that a true poet should negate her own capability (to make judgements; detect patterns; deduce from, or induce to, general principles) and instead immerse herself in the object of study and absorb all that is there, with all its contradictions and inconsistencies.

For those of you still stuck on the word ‘Penetralium’ in Keats’ letter, let me digress a moment. The word refers to a building’s innermost part, like a temple’s sanctuary. By extension, it can mean the secret inner essence of a person—the soul. Keats thought in terms of rooms of the mind, as illustrated by a letter he wrote, which is cited in the Wikipedia article: “I compare human life to a large Mansion of Many Apartments…”

For another description of negative capability, see this video with author Julie Burstein, especially from 1:00 to 1:25. Also, check out this post at Keats’ Kingdom, and this one by Dr. Philip Irving Mitchell of Dallas Baptist University.

As for me, I take a nuanced view of negative capability, as it regards creative writing. I agree writers should empathize with their characters, to know them as directly as possible. That keeps all the characters from seeming to be slight variations of the author. I also concur writers should embrace “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts.” The worldview of any character and even the universe of the story itself don’t have to fit neatly together in every detail. The writer should approach the characters and story with an open mind, allowing things to develop as they would in their world, not necessarily in step with the worldview of the writer.

But where Keats asserts “the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration,” I suggest this applies to the story as a whole, not just one character. Characters are not works of art for a writer to portray, however empathetically, in isolation. They are part of a greater whole, the story, and that whole—with its plot, themes, style, setting, and characters—is the thing the writer must strive to optimize for reader enjoyment.

I hope you liked our visit to this mansion of John Keats’ mind. It’s time to continue with the rest of the tour, led by your literary tour guide—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Purge the Pompous and Pretentious Padding of Purple Prose

When that editor rejected your story because your prose was “too purple,” she wasn’t referring to your font color. What is purple prose and how can you avoid it?

Purple prose refers to text using overly long and fancy words, elaborate phrases, and flowery language. It overuses abstractions, figurative language, modifiers, similes, and metaphors. It stretches sentences out until the reader drowns in pleasant-sounding but meaningless words.

Since that description is rather subjective, I prefer the simpler version provided by Stephanie Nolan: “Purple prose draws attention to itself.”

That may sound like something you’d have to do intentionally, something requiring extra effort, something easy to avoid. In reality, it’s easy to slip into the trap of writing purple prose. One method is by familiarity. If, like me, you enjoy reading books written in an era when purple prose wasn’t abhorred (looking at you, Jules Verne), then you can come to believe such writing is still acceptable.

Or, like Liz Bureman notes, you can drift into the purple zone when you can’t think of anything relevant to write about the characters or the plot. At such times, you might be tempted to litter the page with long descriptions of the setting, or of a character’s clothing.

Some of you might be thinking I’m being unfair to purple prose. What, you’re asking, is so bad about it? After all, some readers like high-sounding writing with ornate phrases, detailed imagery, and delicious turns of phrase. True, a few readers may enjoy that. However, the purpose of fiction is to tell a story about the human condition. If your prose meanders off on some tangent and strays too far from the characters and plot, most readers today will recognize they’re being cheated. They’ll cease reading, never read anything else you write, and post a harsh review of your book online.

By the way, the term purple prose isn’t exactly new. As Richard Nordquist states, it was coined by Horace (65-68 B.C.) who mentioned purpureus pannus (Latin for purple patch) in his Ars Poetica. Nor is ‘purple prose’ the only label for such writing. Nordquist also cites related terms: Adjectivitis, Bomphiologia, Cacozelia, Euphuism, Gongorism, Grand Style, Overwriting, Bugbear Style, Skotison, Tall Talk, and Verbosity.

For humorous examples of purple prose, skim through the winning entry and dishonorable mentions in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest’s Purple Prose category.

How can you avoid writing purple prose? Early on, the surest method is to have someone else point it out to you. You can hire an editor, join a critique group, or trust a Beta Reader. In time you’ll learn to pick it up yourself while self-editing your work. Look for excessive descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and (especially) adverbs, and any significant deviations away from the action or characters.

Tracy Culleton says whenever you find yourself showing off, that’s a sign you should delete that phrase. However, if it serves the telling of the story, keep it. Stefanie Arroyo says admiring your own phrasing is a danger sign. If you find yourself thinking, “That’s a lovely phrase,” that’s reason enough to consider killing it.

There are a couple of times when purple prose is okay. First, you can certainly use it for humorous effect in a story intended to be funny. Second, feel free to let your prose run purple in your first drafts, so long as you cut out the worst parts in later drafts. In that first draft, your subconscious (or your muse) is having fun lingering on a long description of an object, or setting, or clothing, etc. Maybe some description is called for, but in later drafts you should trim it down to the essentials.

Purple is a fine color, but purple prose is not fine writing. Pledge to purge purple prose from your paragraphs and passages, and proffer all praise for your newly procured perception and proficiency to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Rebecca Gomez Farrell

Every now and then, do you meet someone who just plain gets more done than you do, someone who does it all? These people somehow cram way more into a 24 hour day than you possibly could. They make you feel like you’re living in slow motion while they jet around at hypersonic speed. I felt that way when I encountered author Rebecca Gomez Farrell, who has a story in the upcoming anthology, Dark Luminous Wings. Luckily for you and me, she had four minutes and thirty seven seconds to spare recently, and answered some interview questions.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell writes in all the speculative fiction genres she can conjure up. An associate member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Becca’s shorter works have been published by The Future Fire, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Typehouse literary magazines, and Pulp Literature among other outlets. Meerkat Press just published her debut fantasy novel, Wings Unseen, in August. Her food and drink blog, theGourmez.com, has garnered multiple accolades and influences every tasty bite of her fictional worldbuilding. In the past, she has also contributed her photography skills and commentary to her love of General Hospital, which has been in her blood since the womb. She credits soap operas for heightening her fiction’s romantic elements and appreciating the layers generational history can add to her work.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

Rebecca Gomez Farrell: I’ve wanted to be a writer since childhood. Other than a flirtation with being a veterinarian—cut short once I realized blood was involved—writer has always been my chosen profession. I was writing horror poetry during family vacations as a kid, and I still have my short stories from the second grade. Ghost cats, mean older sisters, and an ominous presence in the attic were reoccurring characters throughout elementary school. I’ve always loved fantasy and horror. Apparently, a little blood is okay with me as long as it’s fictional.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

R.G.F.: I’m deeply influenced by the fantasy classics, especially J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. I love when a fictional world’s invented history informs the narrative. George R. R. Martin showed how well multiple points-of-view can be pulled off, which my novel also uses. I also take inspiration from important writers on the American experience, including James Baldwin, Mark Twain, and Kurt Vonnegut. Favorite books: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, Banjo by Claude McKay, and the works of the authors I’ve already mentioned.

P.S.: In the fiction world, you write fantasy, romance, horror, and science fiction. In nonfiction, you write food, drink, and travel blogs as well as reviewing TV shows, movies, plays, books, and concerts. Whew! How many projects do you have going at one time, and how do you keep it all organized?

R.G.F.: Too many! That’s a constant challenge for me: prioritizing my projects. I like having my hands in different pots, but I’ve learned to only focus on a couple at a time. I’ve transitioned away from entertainment writing and copyediting so I can focus on my fiction and my blogging. At this point, I’m cutting down on the blogging, too, because I want to use my energy for fiction for as long as I’m able to financially. But I can’t bring myself to let it go completely – I’ve worked hard for my perks like free menu previews and sample wines!

P.S.: Do you use facts and trivia picked up from your nonfiction writing and research in your fiction? If so, can you give an example?

R.G.F.: I do, in as much as any writer’s passions will end up in their works. An example would be that as I’ve honed my senses as a food and drink critic, it’s improved my worldbuilding. Food and drink are such essential parts of the human experience, whether that experience is on Earth or on a secondary world setting. Just today, I revised a Halloween-themed micro-fiction story in which the narrator is lured into an old, abandoned house by the potential for finding an amazing aged Scotch in the alcohol cabinet. Paying attention to the culinary scene also sharpens my writing’s sensuality – describing the smell of a homey chicken soup can conjure up a lot of powerful emotions.

P.S.: Your short story, “Treasure,” will appear in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. Eager readers can get introduced to the story with the brief description on your website. Can you tell us something about the story’s setting?

R.G.F.: “Treasure” is a secondary world fantasy. The action primarily takes place in Trilonea, which the protagonist, Enkid, has been taught is dangerous for people from her country to visit. But what she finds are people who live a peaceful, happy, communal existence, and that is very different from the dog-eat-dog world she comes from. The Triloneans also have a sea monster who protects them from others who may be a threat to their way of life…and Enkid must decide if she is.

P.S.: In addition to your other activities, you offer fiction editing services. Has that experience affected your own writing?

R.G.F.: Oh yes. I’m doing more critiquing than editing these days, but both exercise the same part of my brain. Letting myself loose to write a first draft without pausing to edit is difficult and slows me down. I just gave my first workshop on the basics of how to polish a manuscript for submission, and those small mistakes pop into my mind all the time as I write. It’s a challenge to turn off that voice in my head and just get words down. That’s part of why I describe myself as a slow writer. The benefit is that my drafts are very clean, even if they take me forever to get done!

P.S.: It appears you’re a significant presence on Twitter, with nearly 32,000 tweets (averaging over 9 per day) and nearly 5,000 followers. Do you believe tweeting has attracted potential readers to read your fiction?

R.G.F.: Definitely! I draw in different audiences from all my different genres of writing, and that ultimately attracts more eyeballs to my fiction. After all, wine lovers read, fiction readers enjoy a good meal, and so on. The success of that strategy was evident on my recent book tour, when I often had bookstores pulling out more chairs to accommodate the folks who came out to support me from all different aspects of my writing life, sometimes buying books for a friend if they weren’t fantasy fans themselves.

P.S.: Congratulations on the publication of your first novel, the epic fantasy Wings Unseen. It’s getting wonderful reviews so far. What sort of readers should try it out?

R.G.F.: Fans of classic fantasy will enjoy Wings Unseen, because it’s a tale with a deep history and mythos that informs the narrative. If they also like multiple points-of-view and a greater focus on inner transformation than big battles, it’ll be a perfect for them. Some readers may have no stomach for misogynistic behavior, and they won’t get past the first chapter, which I understand. But if they push through, I think they’ll be rewarded with rich character arcs, fast plotting, and twists that lead to a rather optimistic take on the interplay between faith, free will, and our better natures. The light shines ever brighter through darkness.

P.S.: After writing so many short works, including short stories, blog posts, and reviews, did you find it difficult to keep focused while you wrote your novel?

R.G.F.: Ha ha, you’ve discovered why my chapters are so short! In all honestly, I don’t think those shorter forms of writing affect my focus when novel writing. But I do tend to imagine a story in terms of scenes I want to write for it. Once those scenes are written, the rest of the narrative comes together through my piecing together how to best link them to form the overarching plot. So shorter works are my natural tendency, but novel writing requires I find the connective tissue to create a larger whole.

P.S.: You’re co-organizer of the East Bay Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers critique group. Do you recommend that beginning writers join critique groups? Why or why not?

R.G.F.: For beginning writers, just getting the words down is the most important skill to work on. If the beginning writer doesn’t hate writing after accomplishing that first draft, and they want to share their story with the world, I think critique is absolutely essential. Learning how to give and take critique helps us hone our craft so readers can truly connect with the story. Without critique, that story might be obscured by the cobwebs of beginner mistakes. Don’t we want to sweep those away so readers can fully view our masterpieces? Critique is an essential part of getting our stories to the point that they shine.

P.S.: Since you first began writing, how has your writing evolved in terms of style, theme, genre, etc.?

R.G.F.: Well, I’ve moved on from ghost cats to alien-possessed Thanksgiving guests! In all seriousness, I hope I’ve gained a better grasp of plotting, as characters are always the beginning of story for me, and the plot is secondary in terms of my interest. So I’ve worked on having clear through-lines in place for my plots from the beginning of the creative process. I’ve also learned that my love of poetic prose can undermine the effectiveness of my storytelling, so I spend a good amount of time cutting my flowery phrasing down after that first draft. I’ve also been surprised to write a fair bit of humorous science fiction along the way, and I’m more and more interested in the personal essay.

P.S.: You’re working on a second novel, Natural Disasters. Care to provide any hints about what we can expect with that?

R.G.F.: Natural Disasters is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future Earth in which seasons are no longer differentiated by weather but by the natural disaster most likely to strike within them. The remaining human population migrates from island to island based on where the natural disasters are less extreme each season. The government is composed of psychologists who’ve reduced the suicide rate by using fairy tales to discourage the development of emotional connections, so people are less distraught when a natural disaster claims another life. Oh, and it’s a paranormal romance.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Rebecca Gomez Farrell: Honing your craft is as important as your passion for storytelling. Be open to learning how to become a better writer, and steel yourself for taking rejection and critique along the way. It’s all part of the process, and any true writer will want to tell their stories so well that readers will respond to their passion for it.

 

Thank you, Rebecca. I’ll pass on some links for you interested readers out there, but you’ll have to keep hitting the ‘update’ or ‘reload page’ button since there’s always something new for Rebecca. Find information about her new novel here. Just try to catch up with her on her website, her food, drink, and travel blog, her Instagram page, her personal Facebook page, her author Facebook page, on Twitter, at the Writers’ Meetup group she co-leads, and at the national organization where she’s the SF chapter leader.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Jason J. McCuiston

Over the years, I’ve interviewed plenty of experienced authors. However, it’s also instructive for you beginning writers in my blog audience to hear from an author just beginning his writing adventure. Lucky for you, Jason J. McCuiston stopped by the towering Poseidon’s Scribe mansion and I asked him some questions.

Jason J. McCuiston’s short story “The Last Red Lantern” was published in the anthology Triangulations: Appetites, and was a semifinalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. His story “The Wyvern” will appear in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. He’s working on a series titled The Shadow Crusade.

Let’s get to the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

Jason J. McCuiston: I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was little, before I could read or write, I used to draw pictures of cowboys, soldiers, and knights, then sit in my parents’ or grandparents’ laps and tell them these elaborate stories of what was going on in the pictures. Eventually, I got good enough at the drawings that people could see what was going on, and so I gravitated toward a career in art. By the time I finished high school, I had discovered Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and knew I just had to go into comics.

That was my plan when I went to college to study graphic design and illustration. Then, in the mid to late ‘90s, the comics boom busted. While I was working as a security guard after graduating with my near-useless degree, I read an absolutely awful vampire novel and decided I could do that. So I did. I wrote my own absolutely awful vampire novel.

I then flirted with writing, off and on, for the next seven years until I found myself unemployed in 2004, and I decided to write a scifi/fantasy hybrid novel. I had done zero research on the industry (or on the craft for that matter) and yet I cranked out a neo-noir interplanetary heist caper featuring dwarves, elves, and space pirates blasting their way across a cold-war era star system in search of the ancient secret of FTL technology. It was crap but had enough good points that I got a couple requests from agents. These didn’t pan out, of course, so I went out and bought my first book on writing, James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers, and I decided to get serious about becoming a writer.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

J.J.M.: I have to say I’m heavily influenced by the works of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as Alexandre Dumas, Edgar Allan Poe, and Rafael Sabatini. I have to include Lloyd Alexander here as well. I loved his Prydain Chronicles as a kid before I ever read Tolkien, and it doesn’t take much to see the influence of those stories on my own. My favorite contemporary authors are Bernard Cornwell, Jeff Shaara, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and Stephen King. My favorite books of all time, in no particular order: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

P.S.: Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

J.J.M.: I love history. I love learning new things. And I love the mysteries you can find in history. I like to say I write in the cracks of history; anytime there’s a question mark on the page, I let my mind fill it in. My story, “1057 A.D.,” for example, is my attempt to answer two questions: What really happened when Edward the Exile returned to England to be named Edward the Confessor’s heir? And why are European vampire stories as equally prevalent in England as they are in Central Europe?

P.S.: From your blog posts, it appears you enjoy horror stories, but have a preference for monsters and magic. What attracts you to that particular sector of the genre?

J.J.M.: The short answer is, I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. But I’m an escapist at heart. When the antagonist or the obstacle to be overcome in a story has a supernatural or science-fiction element to it, I think it gives the reader a way to process real-world issues in a safer environment. I’ve never been a fan of the slasher flick or torture horror. Our world is too full of real, all-too human monsters to waste my time reading or watching a piece of fiction based on what people are capable of doing to each other. We have the twenty-four hour news cycle for that.

P.S.: Do you illustrate some of your own books? Do those two talents—writing and graphic illustration—mix for you in some way? Do your drawings inspire your writing or the other way around?

J.J.M.: I did some cover mock ups for my completed manuscripts just to put on my website and on my Goodreads profile, but for the most part, I just write the stories now. However, whenever I feel the goblin of writer’s block rearing its ugly head, I break out the sketchbook just to keep the creative juices flowing. Occasionally I’ll sketch characters or scenes from the story I’m working on just for my own benefit, but for me the story usually comes before the imagery.

P.S.: Your story, “The Last Red Lantern,” was published in the anthology Triangulation: Appetites. What can you tell us about that story?

J.J.M.: I don’t recall what inspired me to research the Boxer Rebellion at the time, but I did and out of the horrors of the Siege of Tientsin grew this idea of a young Chinese girl rescued by an American soldier, taken and raised on a Montana Ranch. She later returns to Asia to seek her mother, a legendary leader of the Red Lanterns, an all-woman martial-arts organization. Like most of my stories, it has speculative elements (in this case a warlock and a zombie army) in a historical setting (the eastern edge of the crumbling Russian Empire in 1917). I think it met the theme of the anthology, “Appetites,” because many of us hunger to know where we come from and how our origins can affect who we are.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

J.J.M.: The easiest part is the actual writing when I get into that zone, where it feels like I’m just transcribing the words and actions of what these characters are saying and doing in this amazing time and space that only exists in my head. Sometimes, in those moments, I feel like I could write the whole manuscript in one draft in one day. The hardest part for me, being a lifelong introvert, is adapting to the social media aspect of self-promotion. Don’t get me wrong, I have met some amazing people (yourself included) via the internet, and I love the sense of community I’ve discovered with other writers. My problem is just trying to get my mind to switch gears from blog posts, tweets, and that sort of thing back to real, honest-to-goodness fiction writing.

P.S.: Are you a member of a writer’s critique group? If so, please tell us about it, and tell us if you think the group has helped your writing.

J.J.M.: It’s not a group, per se, but I’ve got a couple of writer friends with whom I’ve swapped manuscripts this year. The three of us happen to live on different continents, so I affectionately call them my “International Critique Partners.” From G.L. Cromarty, the amazing author of the Divided World Series, I’ve learned a lot about pacing a large-scale plot and how to keep the human element relevant in global dramas. She’s also my social media coach, helping me out of my 20th century shell! Marcus Henson, author of the upcoming Honour Among Thieves novel, is a world-builder extraordinaire, and a master of fast-paced action sequences. Not only have I benefited from studying their impressive skillsets, and getting their constructive criticism, but I’m also recharged by their passion for the craft. Sometimes I love reading writers write about writing more than I enjoy reading fiction.

P.S.: Your story, “The Wyvern,” will appear in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. Please tell us a little about the setting and protagonist of that story.

J.J.M.: I love the Fallout video games, and I was replaying Fallout 3 last year when I watched a little horror movie called The Atticus Institute, about the MK Ultra government experiments in the 1960s. In the film, the psychic experiments go completely of the rails when a subject turns out to be demonically possessed instead of being a normal human psychic. So I thought, “What if the world was destroyed not by a nuclear holocaust, but by a supernatural one?” And so I created what I called “The World after Tomorrow;” our world where the human race has finally started to recreate civilization six centuries after magic and monsters have completely reshaped the planet. It became my sandbox where I could just practice the craft of writing; I could write horror stories, westerns, high fantasies, neo-noir detective stories, military adventures, and in the case of “The Wyvern,” a steampunk ghost-ship story set in the skies above the Mojave Desert. As a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, I wanted the story’s lead, Captain Noah Oggs, to be incapacitated with broken legs when the horror hits his airship the Cibola.

P.S.: You’re writing a series of short stories and novels called The Shadow Crusade. Please tell us about the world and main character of that series.

J.J.M.: The Shadow Crusade begins in the England and Normandy of 1096, just as the First Crusade is getting underway. I was inspired by Umberto Echo’s The Name of the Rose, and really liked the idea of a Sherlock-Holmes style character in the Middle Ages, but of course, me being me, he would have to deal with magic and monsters. Much like the protagonist of your story, “Instability,” Godric is a Renaissance man centuries ahead of his time. However, he is really too smart for his own good sometimes; he is a hedonist and an iconoclast, despite (or because of) being raised by monks. He is a Saxon orphan who is forced to ally with Robert, an introverted and dogmatic Norman squire, in order to save the world from evil. At its heart, the series is about true friendship; two young men have to overcome their racial and social differences in order to rely on one-another and form a lasting bond as strong as brothers.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Jason J. McCuiston: Understand that rejection is just part of the process. If you can’t handle that, do something else. If someone gives you feedback, take it in, digest it, and let it make you better. Also, just because your story is not right for this agent or that editor, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t right for another one. Keep writing, keep revising, keep submitting, and keep going. I have said, “I may write more bad stories than good ones, but I do write good stories.” My goal is to change that ratio, and the only way to do that is to just keep writing. Remember that: writing in itself is the goal, not the means by which we achieve something else. Write good stories and success will take care of itself.

 

Thanks, Jason, for your answers and for mentioning my own story! Readers eager to find out more about Jason can check out his website, his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, and his Goodreads profile.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — A.L. Kaplan

My series of interviews with intriguing writers continues today; author A.L. Kaplan happened to stop by the sprawling complex of Poseidon Scribe Enterprises, Inc. Like me, she has a story in the anthology In a Cat’s Eye, but unlike me, she’s written a novel. Star Touched will launch on October 1st; that’s tomorrow!

A.L. Kaplan’s stories have been included in several anthologies, including in several anthologies: In a Cat’s Eye, Young Adventurers: Heroes, Explorers, and Swashbucklers, and Suppose: Drabbles, Flash Fiction, and Short Stories, as well as Indies Unlimited’s 2014 & 2015 Flash Fiction. You can find her poems in Dragonfly Arts Magazine’s 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions, and the BALTICON 49 and 50 BSFAN. She is a past president of the Maryland Writers’ Association’s Howard County Chapter and holds an MFA in sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art. When not writing or indulging in her fascination with wolves, A. L. is the props manager for a local theatre. This proud mother of two lives in Maryland with her husband and dog.

Now for the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

A.L. Kaplan: For as long as I can remember, I’ve created stories. When I was young, these ideas would keep me up at night as I rewrote them in my mind multiple times. Getting words on paper was a whole other ballgame. I couldn’t figure out how to get all those wonderful speeches from my head into the written word. My ‘artistic’ handwriting and ‘creative’ spelling got in the way. For some reason, my teachers just didn’t appreciate that kind of creativity. It wasn’t until college that I finally gained the confidence (and an introduction to computers) to write creatively. Finally, I could get all my ideas out, not just the still images I used in my art.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books? 

ALK: Where to start? I’ve always loved reading. I grew up reading James Herriot, Jack London, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Albert Payson Turhune, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien. Lord of the Rings may have birthed my love of fantasy, but there are three other books I read that were a huge influence: Island of the Blue Dolphins, My side of the Mountain, and Julie of the Wolves.

P.S.: Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

ALK: Many of my ideas come from dreams and nightmares, but I’ve drawn inspirations from songs and pictures as well.

P.S.: On your website, you state that you’re the props manager for a nearby theater. Has that experience helped with your writing? Do you find it easy to describe props in your stories, for example?

ALK: Some of the props I’ve needed to find or make required a bit of research, so yes, it has helped with some descriptions. One of my favorite props was the intestines I made for Little Shop of Horrors. They looked awesome and were fun to make.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

ALK: Ideas are easy. Finding time is always a challenge. Marketing is a pain in the butt.

P.S.: What prompted you to write your novel Star Touched (which has a great cover, by the way)?

ALK: Star Touched was born from a series of nightmares with huge waves of water, giant fireballs, and unusual abilities. The story grew from there.

P.S.: There are lots of dystopian YA novels out there. What makes Star Touched different?

ALK: Star Touched is more than a book with a somewhat dystopian world. Sure, it’s rough living and people have been forced to do thing to survive this new crazy world. But it’s not all bad. Some places have held onto or rebuilt peaceful societies. Then there are the star-touched who can access earth energy and do some amazing things. In biblical times they may have been called miracles, or magic. That kind of power scares people. The constant persecution makes survival even harder for the star-touched. There are good people and bad people in this world. How they react to different situations can bring out which side of the spectrum the land on. Are they going to work together with their neighbors and help each other? Or are they going to loot the town, grab whatever they want even if it hurts others. It’s a constant battle.

P.S.: Do you plan a sequel to Star Touched?

ALK: Yes, a sequel to Star Touched is in the works.

P.S.: Star Touched launches on October 1st. Where should readers go to get it?

ALK: You can find Star Touched at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Kobo.

P.S.: Aside from your novel, you also write flash fiction. That sure covers the long and the short of things. Not too many authors are skilled with both those extremes. How do you manage it?

ALK: I started writing flash fiction for a weekly contest as a writing exercise. At the time, I’d only written novel length works. Keeping a story 250 words or less isn’t easy. It forces you take a good look at all your word and get rid of extras. Once I figured it out, it helped make all my writing more concise.

P.S.: Your website mentions a fascination with wolves. Really? Wolves?

ALK: When I was in high school I had a dream about wolves. The next day I went to the library and started reading. The more I learned, the more I liked. My collection now includes books, art, toys, and a few odd things like a howling cookie jar. Wolves have also inspired several stories, including my short story, “Wolf Dawn,” which is in the Young Adventurers: Heroes, Explorers, and Swashbucklers anthology.

One added note: I love wolves, but have no illusion of what they are — wild animals, hunters. I’ve met people who have had wolf/dog hybrids and have been lucky enough to have a great companion. For every story of a good hybrid pet, there’s another about an uncontrollable animal. A wolf is not a domestic dog. They think and behave differently. Think very carefully before you consider taking on the responsibility of adopting a hybrid. I opted for an Alaskan malamute – wolf like appearance in a domestic dog. If you’d like to learn more about Praeses, check out For the Love of Canines: Praeses parts 1 and 2 on my website.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

A.L. Kaplan: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed. You can, no matter how tall the roadblock. Follow your dreams and always travel with some method to record your words. You never know when inspiration will hit you.

 

Thanks for the interview, A.L., and best of luck with Star Touched! For readers of my blog, please be sure to find out more about A.L. Kaplan at her website, on Twitter, and Facebook. Also sign up to receive her newsletter.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — TJ Perkins

Today, let’s welcome another fascinating author, TJ Perkins, who has a story appearing in the soon-to-be-released anthology Dark Luminous Wings.

TJ is a gifted and well-respected author in the mystery/suspense genre, but she recently expanded into the world of fantasy for teens. She wrote the Shadow Legacy series, a unique crossing of the fantasy and manga genres. Her short stories for young readers have appeared in the Ohio State 6th Grade Proficiency Test Preparation Book, Kid’s Highway Magazine, and the webzine “New Works Review.” TJ’s book Four Little Witches won the 2016 Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) Visionary Art Award. She’s been published in the Who’s Who in America. Her mystery/suspense books for kids are Wound Too Tight, Mystery of the Attic, and On Forbidden Ground. Articles on TJ Perkins have appeared in the Carroll County Times, Chartley Chatter, Maryland Family Magazine and The Community Times. She’s been interviewed on WTTR radio. She’s made many trips to elementary and middle schools to talk about her books. Her biggest seller, Mystery of the Attic, has been made into a play, brought to life by the Cafe Theater Company in Brick, NJ.

Let’s get to the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

TJ Perkins: I discovered a love for storytelling when I was a little girl going to sleepover parties. We would pass the flashlight and add-on to a story. When it got to me, I made the story creepy and the girls just wanted me to keep telling the story. By the time I was in middle and high school I was on a roll; getting straight A’s in creative writing and English class. In my late 20’s I got a computer and never stopped writing. My story Mystery of the Attic is based on a very scary thing that happened to me as a young teen; I never forgot it and had to write it down. It became my biggest seller.

What prompted me? My grandfather (on my dad’s side). He would tell spooky stories at the dinner table and I would listen, captured by every word.

 

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

TJ: My favorite authors are Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Maria V. Snyder. My favorite book of all time is The Three Musketeers.

 

P.S.: Primarily, you write mystery, suspense, and fantasy. What attracted you to these genres?

TJ: I fell in love with spooky storytelling because of my grandfather.  I started going to Renaissance Festivals, fell in love with dragons, fairies and mystical realms, and then discovered fantasy books by Maria V. Snyder. Now all of my fantasy stories have an element of mystery to them and readers love it!

 

P.S.: Most of your books are for teens and young adults. What is different about writing for that audience compared to writing for adults, and how do you know what stories will work with that age group?

TJ: Kids are just as critical with the books they read as adults are. If they don’t like something, they will sure let you know in no uncertain terms – and they spread the word real fast. But young people are also fun to write for, offering more of an open, playful mind ready to be challenged and plunged into exotic worlds. Adults are exhausted, stressed out, they don’t have a whole lot of free time and most feel they’re seen movies or read books that have shown them pretty much all there is. They want something different, which makes them a more difficult audience. Bottom line is – you don’t know what will work. You just tell the best story you can and hope for the best.

 

P.S.: Your story, “The Sapphire Circle” appears in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. Please tell us about the main character in that story.

TJ: The main character, Nick, is my son; making mistakes and doing stupid things as a young man. But he develops more of an adult mentality and wants to help society, rather than hurt. To me this personifies most young people in their early 20’s, doing dumb stuff, then something snaps in their minds and they change, start to figure things out and develop a sense of who they are.

 

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

TJ: The hardest parts are starting or ending a story and staying in the character’s heads. The easiest is developing the characters and world.

 

P.S.: Since you first began writing, how has your writing evolved in terms of style, theme, genre, etc.?

TJ: My kids were the basis of what it was that I wrote. When they were little, I started off writing mysteries for YA readers, going for the clean, non-violent stories. Then I realized that bad guys today wouldn’t just give up if caught; they would put up a fight. So, I added in some sort of a struggle to catch the bad guys. As my kids grew older, our love of video games and anime helped me create the Shadow Legacy series. When I became Wiccan it helped shape many of the themes in my stories for older readers and even my picture book Four Little Witches that won the COVR Visionary Art Award. In a nut shell – I grew older, wiser and evolved as a person and it helped shape my writing.

 

P.S.: Your book Mystery of the Attic was adapted into a play. That sounds like a fantastic honor. How did that come about, and what was it like for you to see your story performed on stage?

TJ: I was actually soliciting my mystery books for all sorts of venues. Thinking out of the box, I presented Mystery of the Attic to be a play and a theme for an amusement park ride since it was one of my most popular books and biggest seller at the time. Only one children’s theater in New Jersey accepted. It was amazing to see the kids act it out perfectly. It was even more amazing to see the kids in the audience get so quiet you could hear a pin drop while they were watching it. That play helped spike sales for several weeks afterwards.

 

P.S.: Your recent Shadow Legacy series sounds fascinating. Please describe the ‘world’ and premise of this series, and the protagonist.

TJ: The world is actually modern day Japan, but with a twist. There’s a village where past marries present day and they produce the finest assassins in the world. All countries have their own version of ninja, but nothing like the Chaio (means fire). Duncan’s parents died when he was very young and he was raised by his uncle. Duncan has an entity inside of him and it’s triggered by his teen anger. It uses that anger to grow stronger and tries to take over, but Duncan needs to understand what it is and learn to meld with it to stop the growing threat of a mysterious dark ninja magic that binds the user with a demon. Plagued with all the issues a teen becoming a young man has to deal with, learning all new powers, honing existing skills, keeping control of a inner power with a mind of its own and trying to save the world is way more than a teen should have to deal with – but that’s Duncan.

 

P.S.: You’ve achieved marketing success other writers dream about, with articles written about you, interviews on radio, and appearances at schools, etc. For those of my blog readers who are beginning writers, please discuss the importance of these activities.

TJ: You have to stay in the public eye any chance you get. Attending Cons, speaking on panels, and promoting are essential. If you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will and no one will know your book exists. YOU have to be the one to promote and market your book in as many ways as possible. Even if you get picked up by a large publisher YOU still have to be the one. Can it be made into a play? If yes, then send out emails to theater groups. Can it be produced on Broadway? Can it be turned into an amusement park ride? Are you skilled enough to conduct writing workshops? Do mailings to all schools to let them know your book is ready for purchase or to have you in.

 

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

TJ: My current work is a three-book story called Runes & Relics. This is high fantasy unlike anything anyone has done before. It has a strong female protagonist, a vicious love triangle and, of course, the fate of the world resting on her ability to control the elements and bring balance to her world. Only one of the men she loves can exist in the world at the same time, and she must decide which one – and kill the other. Her choice will set the stage for her future. Every decision she makes brings change to the world, either good or bad, bringing balance or allowing chaos to continue to unfold.

Book One is complete and in the hands of Tor. I’m working on Book Two.

 

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?

TJ Perkins: Take writing classes and learn how to write your story perfectly. The biggest mistake I see is that new writers do not know how to ‘show’ their story unfolding on the pages. They simply ‘tell’ it. Get an editor or ask people on Facebook to be beta readers – and they must be brutally honest. Also, get thick skin, (learn to take criticism), but mostly don’t give up.

 

Thank you, TJ! My readers can find out more about TJ here, at her Amazon author page, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Poseidon’s Scribe

 

Author Interview — Todd Sullivan

The interview series continues, this time with author Todd Sullivan, who’s got a story in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings.

Todd writes fiction, mainly speculative and urban horror/fantasy. He’s been published in several venues, including Eastit Journal, Tokyo Yakuza Anthology, and Tincture Journal. He attended his first serious writing class at Stanford University, then participated in the National Book Foundation’s 10 day summer writing retreats. He graduated with a Bachelors in English with Concentrations in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, and has earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Queens College in Flushing, New York. Todd moved to Jeju, South Korea, where he taught English in the public school system for five years. He is now in Suncheon-Si in Jeollanam-do province, where he teaches pre-K students English.

And now, the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

Todd Sullivan:  I started writing quite young. Sometimes in early elementary school. I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to pick up the pencil and put words to page, but I’ve surmised over the years that it probably had something to do with the severe speech impediment I was born with. I have no phonics skills, and learned how to speak by memorizing the way words sound. I took speech therapy before I started school, missing pre-k as a result. However, it was still always difficult for others to understand me when I spoke. I believe it this difficulty at verbal communication that prompted me to write. As a child, I filled brown spiral notebooks with stories, and had quite a collection that I kept up until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The home I grew up in in New Orleans was destroyed along with all of my earliest writings.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

T.S.: One of my earliest influences was Dungeons & Dragons. My older brothers were avid players. I was too young to play with them, but I would watch them play, and would read the books when they weren’t around. Reading Dungeons and Dragons’ campaigns helped me develop a sense of plotting. However, learning the art of storytelling probably came from my father. Every evening at dinner my father would tell us about his workday, and he was great at building up narrative tension for dramatic effect.

My love of reading came from my mother. Growing up, I seldom saw my mom without a book in her hands, and our shelves at home were full of books. Sometimes in elementary school, I read Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat, and this novel was probably the first style that I tried to emulate in my own writing. After that, it was Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, and then Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy, and Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy, that I tried hard to emulate in my own writing.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s and read a manuscript by a young guy I met here in Korea that I finally figured out what I was missing in my own writing. Reading Jarmo, a self-published book by Adam Spielman, made me realize the one mistake I kept making, and it’s a common one among writers. I was being too nice to my characters, making their burdens too light when readers are more interested in the trials and tribulations of fictional creations.

P.S.: Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

T.S.: I am a writer of the immediate. I have to have very close, personal experience of what I write about. My muses are the people I meet, the places I live, and the jobs I work. I am a writer who must keep experiencing new things in order to write.

P.S.: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

T.S.: It never occurred to me to write anything besides fiction. I am more of a novel writer than a short story writer, though I think I’ve finally figured out the short story form. The ideas I come up with tend to have a lot of depth and it’s usually easy to see them being developed further into more complicated works.

The novel is a massive commitment, however. I’ve written four, and I’m always relieved when I can write ‘The End’ on a first draft. Writing a novel is like travelling out into deep space with a destination in mind but so many ways in which you can get sidetracked along the way. And space is so vast that once you get caught up in one corner of it, it can take a really long time to get back on course.

P.S.: How has your experience with living and working in South Korea shaped your writing?

T.S.:  I lived in Korea two years before finally completing a short story based on my experiences here. My attempts to craft fiction the first 24 months all felt flat because they were too closely related to the prose I wrote in my Master’s program at Queens College. I wanted to write something new and different in this foreign country, and it took a couple of years of living in Korea before I met the right person and had the right conversation that sparked a novel called Natural Police. I finished this novel over a three-year period while living on Jeju, a small island at the southernmost tip of Korea.

With everything I write in Korea, however, I’m always careful to say that my fiction is not a Korean story. I feel that only Koreans can tell a Korean story. Instead, I write western fiction that takes place in Korea. It’s rare that my main characters are solely Korean. They are supernatural in some way, a species outside of mankind. This allows me to fill in the blanks that I don’t know about Koreans with my imagination.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

T.S.: The most difficult has been the lifestyle I’ve lived, at times voluntary, at times involuntary, of constant change to find new material. I can say without hesitation that I’ve spent far too much time alone between periods of transition in my life, and this is difficult.

As for the easiest, I don’t have an answer. Writing has been one long personal trek, an uphill climb of an Everest with no pinnacle. I think the only reason I kept climbing over the years is because I never found anything worth stopping for.

P.S.: Your story, “Wheels and Deals” will appear in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. Please tell us about this story.

T.S.: The story is actually based on an old idea I conceived in my 20s. I had always wanted to write this story, but it wasn’t I lived in Seoul and studied Korean at Yonsei and Sogang Universities that I could clearly perceive an actual narrative. “Wheels and Deals” is about an angel that has lost its grace in pursuit of autonomy. In order to gain greater power, it now sells pure souls to demons and devils in Hell.

P.S.: Who is the protagonist of “Wheels and Deals,” and what is fascinating about this character?

T.S.: The protagonist is a Congolese girl who is studying Korean at Sogang, a Catholic university in Seoul. She’s fascinating because she risks everything to return the angel to grace. Her selflessness, in comparison to the angel’s selfishness, creates an intriguing dichotomy in the story.

P.S.: In what way is your fiction different from that of other authors in your genre?

T.S.: When I try to objectively analyze my writing to determine if it truly is unique, what I see of my narratives are first and foremost genre stories. I write about ghosts and goblins and the creatures hiding in the dark.

However, I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I was trained to write literary fiction, so I pay a lot of attention to character develop, dialog, and the construction of prose on the page.

From spending so much time alone over the years, I’ve indulged in a lot of philosophical ruminations, and plug that into my literary based genre fiction.

I have had many close, intimate relationships with a variety of the world’s people, so the characters in my fiction reflect this. My narrative worlds have been populated by people from South American countries, Asian countries, Middle Eastern countries, European countries, as well as by North Americans.

My literary based genre fiction has philosophical leanings and is multiracial and multicultural. I read a lot, and I don’t see this type of narrative combination out there.

P.S.: We understand you’ve written Natural Police, a novel that is not yet published. What is that novel about?

T.S.: Natural Police is about a Korean woman who is manipulated into joining a secret organization of undead government employees. It’s a horror novel, but the monsters are the main characters. It’s a speculative fiction novel because the narrative goes through great pains of exploring how a society like this could literally exist unknown in the mortal world. It’s at times unsettling because readers are seeing the world through the eyes of the beasts, but it’s an engaging read with lots of cliffhangers and surprises to maintain reader engagement.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

T.S.: I am working on my first fantasy story in many years. It’s a long short story, and will probably clock in around 15,000 words. The title is “The White Tiger,” and it takes place in feudal Korea. It’s been a difficult story to write as I’ve had to do more historical research than I’m comfortable with. However, the story is coming out well, and I believe it’s going to be one of my best pieces to date.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Todd Sullivan:  Pursing writing for anything more than a hobby is a mistake. Most people who write are trying to get to a “there” that isn’t going to happen. And they pay a heavy toll for that failure, because the “there” in which they are as close to happiness as they’ve ever been in their lifetimes.

I would tell aspiring writers to forget about getting “there”. Treat your writing as you would any other hobby you may have taken up. If you ever did martial arts, you didn’t seriously expect to be the next Bruce Lee. If you ever took up cooking, you didn’t except to be the next Gordon Ramsey. If you ever played tennis, you didn’t expect to be the next Serena Williams.

Well, perhaps once as a child you did, but then you grew up and came to realize that that type of success is really never going to happen. So you just did these hobbies for the personal fulfillment they brought you.

Do not chase the mirage. You’ll die of thirst before you realize the oasis is just an illusion. Don’t write to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings. You’re only building yourself up for disappointment. Write solely because it is one of many things that bring a sense of completeness to your very short life. And if, for some reason, your writing becomes massively popular, so much the better.

 

Thanks for the wonderful interview, Todd! Readers can find out more about Todd Sullivan at his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Poseidon’s Scribe