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

Author Interview — Brian Trent

Today I interview Brian Trent, author of a story appearing in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings.

Brian is a science fiction writer with an interest in technology and society. His story “War Hero” was a winner in the Writers of the Future Contest. His work appears regularly in a wide array of publications, including Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Cosmos, Nature, The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, Galaxy’s Edge, Escape Pod, Apex, Daily Science Fiction, and more. He also writes nonfiction, with work appearing in UTNE, The Humanist, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and more. His works explore how human society, and indeed humanity itself, changes in the face of developing technology.

Now, the interview:

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

Brian Trent: Reading is what got me into writing. From a very young age, I cut my teeth on Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, but also on the Thousand-and-One Nights, Joseph Campbell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and plenty of Doc Savage. I was instinctively attracted to stories of adventure, exploration, dark wanderings, and possible tomorrows. I wrote my first stories on large lined Legal pads that I’d buy by the dozen, then graduated to a Brother 11 typewriter, electronic typewriter, and computer. Who knows what we’ll be using in the future?

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

B.T.: H.G. Wells and Jules Verne had a huge impact on me, as did Poe, King, Clarke, Lovecraft, Bradbury. A friend of the family bought me an anthology of Golden Age science fiction stories, and that helped propel me fully into the genre. When I’m interested in something, I really dive in; I read sci-fi from the pulps of the 1920s through the then-nascent cyberpunk revolution. I also studied the lives of the authors I admired, until it felt like I knew them personally. If there had been a celebrity gossip column for literary figures, I’d probably have subscribed.

Favorite books are too many to list, but I would count Ender’s Game, The Jungle Books, Snow Crash, Neuromancer, and especially The Stars My Destination among them.

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

B.T.: Beginning a story is always the hardest part for me. Facing the glacial whiteness of a blank page and trying to think of a good entry point into the tale is always a challenge. For that reason, I rarely open my drafts at the beginning. Rather, I jump right into a scene or dialog that might take place anywhere other than the start!

The easiest part? That’s tough to say, as it varies from story to story. I love crafting the plot, building layers and setting them into place like the gears of a clock. And I adore exploring characters through dialog; you know when you’re on the right track as a writer when the characters are in full conversations that seem to spring directly out of their heads.

P.S.: You’ve written a considerable number of nonfiction articles in addition to your many fictional stories. How difficult is it to shift between the two types of writing?

B.T.: I have a background in journalism, which can help polish your writing. Steven King made the same observation way back: it encourages you to write to the point, and to write lean. Most of my reading is nonfiction, too. I find it an easy switch between the two styles, probably because a lot of my published nonfiction is in the field of science and technology, and has appeared in science fiction magazines — I’ve published nonfiction pieces with Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld, for instance.

P.S.: What is it about the science fiction genre that draws you there?

B.T.: Science fiction is a wonderful journey into unknown country. There are well-worn trails, sure, but plenty of uncharted territory as well. What I love about science fiction is that its speculations are often based in the probable: the “science” part is an essential part of the definition and scope. While I enjoy fantasy and I write in that genre as well, I appreciate the rational extrapolations of sci-fi more than “magic is the answer.” I’d say that the genre also serves the dual purposes of lighting hopeful beacons into the future, as well as sounding the warning bells on that same journey. It’s one thing to wonder about the potential dangers of, say, genetically engineered viruses, but it’s more effective (visually and viscerally) when you can read a fictional story that examines those ramifications. Really, it comes back to Wells (the pessimist) and Verne (the optimist). And both approaches are needed.

P.S.: Your story “Enchantment Lost” appears in the anthology Dark Luminous Wings. Please tell us about the story.

B.T.: “Enchantment Lost” is set in the far future, when a centuries-old woman hires a recovery specialist to undertake a rather unusual mission. As expressed by the story’s opening lines: “I need you to find my childhood. I know where it is. I’m hiring you to recover it, and return it to me.”

P.S.: What prompted you to write “Enchantment Lost?”

B.T.: I did a lot of ruminating on the anthology’s theme: Dark Luminous Wings. That can mean so many things. For me, the setting (which I won’t spoil) suggested itself immediately, as it exemplified all three words in the anthology’s title. When I set out to outline the tale, I built that theme into the aesthetics, the setting, and the underlying motivation of the characters. What does “flying” mean for us? It can be a destination or an escape, a nod to Icarus and also a promise of future travels. I ended up writing the story in a week, as things just clicked into place.

P.S.: Many of your science fiction stories contain historical references or are inspired by historical events and people. Why is that?

B.T.: I’m obsessed with history; I devour history books by the score. And I like to build my science fiction on the bones of history, as it springs off of known elements into tomorrow’s inventions, explorations, and developments. One lesson from history is that people don’t change: we are fundamentally no different from the people who lived in ancient Athens or Babylon or… well… the meltwater marshes of the Neolithic. The props change, the technology improves, political and cultural zeitgeists come in and out of fashion, but humanity remains the same. Even when we contemplate post-human futures (which is one of my favorite subjects) they still arise from an underlying human framework. In “Enchantment Lost,” the characters of Jack Saylor and Sylvia Tornquist are people who possess motivations we can understand, even if the world they live in is very different from ours.

I also love classical-era aesthetics. I dislike the monochromatic, sterile look of a lot of sci-fi, or conversely, the grimy patina on so much dystopia. I like color and vegetation infused with colonnades and vibrant agoras, while computers hum and glow in the background.

And lastly, I admire the zeitgeist of scientifically-minded eras like the Enlightenment, and the art-minded eras like the Italian Renaissance. I like to import both into my invented futures.

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

B.T.: I don’t know if it’s for me to say, really, but I do think my areas of interest (history, mythology, literature) infuses some different elements into my fiction. I do write across a wide array of genres and subgenres, from hard SF to steampunk, alternate history to space opera.

P.S.: The Published Works section of your website lists many, many published stories. Some are award or contest winners. What’s your secret for being so prolific?

B.T.: I habitually work on numerous stories at once, toggling from one to another so these batches tend to “grow up” together. And they’re usually very different from each other, so that I don’t burn out on one particular subject. If I’m working on a hard SF tale requiring lots of research and plotting, I like to balance that with a fantasy story, and balance that with a more action-oriented tale, with maybe a gothic horror story on the side. It keeps me on my toes, helps prevent stagnation, and it always keeps me writing: I don’t get bogged down in one story’s composition, because if progress is slowing for one project, I’ll alight onto another one and work there for a time. I guess my varied approach also matches my own interests: I don’t watch just one kind of film or read one kind of book. I’m interested in how things work, in the details of the universe I live in. Working on multiple projects comes naturally, as my daily imaginings, readings, and travels are all over the spectrum.

Another thing that aids this productivity is that roughly seventy-five percent of my stories are set in my “War Hero” universe. This universe is already a well-defined setting with its unique history, politics, and technology, so I don’t need to invent from scratch all those details any more: each new story in that timeline expands on the scaffolding that earlier stories have constructed. A lot of my stories will themselves suggest events that I’ll later explore. One recent example is in an upcoming novelette, where I make an offhand reference to a newspaper headline concerning an orbital heist. It has no bearing on the story other than serving as a local detail… but the story of that heist is told in my Galaxy’s Edge story “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates.”

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

B.T.: I’m continuing to write books in my historical fantasy series RAHOTEP; each book explores another episode in the life of a four-thousand-year-old entity from ancient Egypt. And I have a science fiction novel being published next year. I can’t say too much at this time, but details on that and other pending work will be released on my website, www.briantrent.com.

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

Brian Trent: Polish your craft until it gleams. Open yourself up to learning from the greats in the field. Read, read, and read some more, seeing how others do it. And when you’ve done all that, strategize your approach to the industry. It isn’t enough to say “Never give up.” You need to look at the industry with a tactical eye. Never stop growing as a writer.

 

Thanks, Brian! Readers can get to know Brian better at his website and at his Facebook page.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Jeffrey G. Roberts

It’s been awhile since I’ve conducted an author interview, but Jeffrey G. Roberts recently landed a WW II Spitfire on the airfield here at Poseidon’s Scribe Enterprises. He and I both have stories appearing in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. So I asked him a few questions.

Jeffrey’s Dad was a pilot in World War II, and that’s where Jeffrey got his love of aviation. He graduated from Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1974 with a Bachelor’s degree in writing and a Master’s degree in history. He’s lived in many places—Florida, New York, California, Ontario, Canada, and now Arizona. He started writing seriously around 1978. Since then, he’s written The Healer, plus seven novels of science fiction, fantasy, horror, as well as numerous short stories. Jeffrey says he’s attracted to the weird & unexplainable; he wrote his master’s thesis on the lost continent of Atlantis.

Now, the interview:

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

Jeffrey G. Roberts: I started writing in college, Northern Arizona University. I simply have a creative imagination. My Dad did too, as he wrote for radio just after WW II. I like to create worlds that do not exist – but might; characters that are not yet in existence – but could be; and situations that never happened – but someday could. A writer is like a god – creating, destroying, altering, then creating again. I often wondered, in my overactive imagination, if, when I go to sleep at night, if my characters keep looking at their watches, frozen in time, waiting for the morning, when their creator will breathe life into them once again—to move, to love—to be!

 P.S.: On your website, you list some of your favorite authors as Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, James Thurber, Thornton Wilder, and H.G. Wells. If you could pick just two or three of these, what do you like about their fiction and how did they influence you?

J.G.R.: I’ve always admired Ray Bradbury for his surrealism and child-like fantasies, such as Dandelion Wine and The Halloween Tree. He explores that twilight world between dreams and reality, which I love. Douglas Adams, in his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, was a brilliant comedic wit, who I try to emulate in my work.

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

J.G.R.: I dabbled in story writing in Junior college, but really began to explore my abilities when I attended Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, AZ, where I eventually received a degree in writing.

P.S.: You’ve written some stories utilizing time travel, notably your novels The Healer and Cherries in Winter. What fascinates you about time travel?

J.G.R.: What might be, what could be; either in the distant future, or in an alternative future where everything has changed from what we know—like the American flag being red, white—and green; or interstellar travel as perfectly normal in 2017; or the geographical boundaries of nations are completely different than when we left on our journey of discovery—these are ideas and concepts which fascinate me, and whose depths I delight in plumbing.

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

J.G.R.: For me, the easiest part of writing, ironically, is the writing process itself. The most difficult, undoubtedly, is the tortuous process of self promoting my novels and stories. It’s like blood-letting of the creative soul.

P.S.: Your story “One Day in the Hills of Milan” will appear in the upcoming anthology Dark Luminous Wings. Please tell us about it.

J.G.R.: I’ve always been deeply involved in the love of aviation. My Dad was a decorated ace in WW II, flying Spitfires, as an American in the RAF. So I guess I got the flying bug from him; soloing in 1968. And I’d always been fascinated by the fact that history has never been able to conclusively prove 100%, that Leonardo da Vinci did not fly his man-powered glider. Some accounts say his assistant actually did, breaking both kneecaps upon landing. And I thought – what if?

P.S.: What inspired you to write “One Day in the Hills of Milan?”

J.G.R.: The genius of Da Vinci has always fascinated me. How could he have been centuries ahead of his time? Perhaps he had ‘help?’

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

J.G.R.: At the risk of sounding conceited, I never start a story or new novel, if I know the concept has already been done. If it has, I tweak it, I twist it, and I present in an entirely new light; i.e., I try to march to the beat of a different drummer, creatively speaking.

P.S.: You have a book coming out titled In the Shadow of the House of God. When will it launch and what is it about?

J.G.R.: It will be out in May of 2018. Hatred has run amuck in our civilization. Blood is being shed planet-wide, as mutual animosities, suspicions, and antagonisms between the 34,000 religions on Earth (believe it or not!) threaten to erupt into Armageddon. And this is where the Devil devises an insidious plan to take advantage of all this hate, once and for all! So he makes a wager with God: “I believe humanity is basically vulgar, vicious, and filled with wondrous hate. I’ll wager, if you pluck one representative of every religion on Earth, and put them into a titanic edifice of your own design, beyond space and time, then eventually this beautiful hatred will cause them to slaughter each other!” God thinks for a moment—and accepts the wager! But every wager has a condition, or price. The stakes here? Creation itself! But there is something the Devil does not know. And for 3 people: a Hindu from India, A Christian from San Diego, and a bitter agnostic from Vancouver, B.C., what plays out in this interdimensional arena will forge lasting friendships—as the Devil and God look down on this cosmic chess match, to observe what happens next. A new age of peace? Or hell on Earth?

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

J.G.R.: I am currently working on another novel, The Horror on the HMS Cottingly.

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

Jeffrey G. Roberts: My advice for aspiring writers is: A – have patience; B – Develop a thick skin, able to take rejection (Something I have to work on daily!); and C – Persistence. Someone once said that to be a successful writer, an aspiring author should go out and buy all the books on the art of writing you can; study them all—them throw them in the garbage! Because if you follow their advice to the letter, do you know what your book will be—bloodless, with no soul, no color, no voice. Your voice! Your style! How many writers in the past broke many literary rules? Writers like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Bradbury. But in so doing, they developed their own voice & style. Learn your craft well – then develop your own voice!

 

Thanks for winging your way here, Jeffrey! Though his plane has been fueled and is taking off, readers can find out more about him at his website, on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. His novel The Healer is available here, here, and here, and you can watch a trailer video here (or here on some browsers). His novel Cherries in Winter is available here, here, and here. You can watch its trailer video here.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Book Review — Star Touched

Here’s a dystopian YA novel you’ll want to check out: Star Touched, by A.L. Kaplan. It contains fascinating characters, a challenging future world, and themes sure to interest teens and adults alike. Isn’t the cover intriguing?

The book immediately immerses you in Tatiana’s world, eight years after a meteor has wiped out much of the Earth’s population, and civilization is back to Nineteenth Century technology levels, without electricity. People struggle to grow food and survive in scattered cities, now walled to keep out invaders. While some work hard to restore good relations and a semblance of civilized society, others scheme at ways to take advantage of the weak.

The meteor did more than kill; it also left a small minority of people and animals “star-touched” with strange powers that are difficult to control. Eighteen-year-old Tatiana is one such person, along with her small dog, Fifi. Tatiana has lost her family and gone roving, finally settling in the town of Atherton, hoping to be accepted and to work for her food and lodging. Since most people fear and distrust the star-touched, she tries to keep her special powers hidden.

Author A.L. Kaplan

She finds work at an inn run by a kindly owner. But not everyone on the staff treats Tatiana well. Moreover, the corrupt town leaders are forming terrible plans for the future of Atherton. To make things worse, a new religious order is seeking out the star-touched, and Tatiana doesn’t know why.

Burdened by all these difficulties along with a ton of internal guilt over a long-ago death she couldn’t prevent, Tatiana will need to confront all her problems and find out if she has the strength of character necessary to endure.

Aimed at the Young Adult market, this novel touches on themes of being different from others, acceptance, maturity, and friendship. Readers will be perceptive enough to deduce the novel’s real message, a powerful and relevant one: we may not have superhero powers like Tatiana, but each of us is different, with our own special abilities and talents. We shouldn’t have to hide our gifts, and we shouldn’t hate the gifts of others. In a sense, each of us really is star-touched.

When the novel launches in October, I urge you to buy and read your own copy of Star Touched by A.L. Kaplan, published by Intrigue Publishing, LLC. How did I get an advance copy to read for this review? That’s a secret to be kept by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Steampunk’s Gentle Decline

The signs are there; steampunk is waning. Gear rotation is slowing; goggles are fogging; airships are losing gas.

Don’t get me wrong. Steampunk will always be. An enthusiastic minority will forever celebrate it. I’m not saying it’s dead and gone.

I just mean the mainstream public’s fascination with steampunk is declining as it moves on to other things. We’re riding the downward side of the curve now. Steampunk had its day, and we’re watching its sunset.

You want proof, I know. But the passing of a movement is hard to quantify. Others have proclaimed steampunk dead before and been wrong. All I’m going on is my general observation of the world. Internet searches of the term ‘steampunk’ turn up fewer new mentions each day. The number of steampunk movies, video games, and books appears on a downward slope.

So far I’ve been referring to the story-telling side of steampunk, the part that started the movement. That’s not all there is. There’s a side of steampunk that’s as popular as it ever was—fashion. When it comes to costumes, jewelry, and custom-made gadgets, that aspect remains in full swing, still going strong.

As a writer, I pay more attention to the literary side of steampunk and, frankly, it’s sputtering. Within the steampunk realm, there will always be stories left to write and movies left to shoot, but authors have explored the wide expanses of the territory pretty well. The map is there, the boundaries drawn, areas surveyed, most of the acreage settled. A few caves and swamps remain uncharted, but for the most part, it’s difficult to come up with a truly new steampunk story idea.

Personally, I’ve never cared for the magical, fantasy side of steampunk, with its vampires and werewolves. Still, that’s just about all that remains of literary steampunk. You want to write a steampunk story people will read?—think Bram Stoker, not Jules Verne.

I say all this with a tear rolling down my face. There’s no joy in reporting steampunk’s downward trend. I write steampunk stories and wish the genre could remain popular forever. But that’s not the way of things. A genre can only fire the public’s attention for a few years before fading into the background noise.

That raises the question about what’s next. What picks up where steampunk leaves off? My hope was that steampunk’s ‘children’ and ‘grandchildren,’ namely dieselpunk and atompunk, would strut their hour on the stage next. After all, these waves of nostalgic interest in retro settings seem to follow 20-30 year generational cycles. Like steampunk, both dieselpunk and atompunk come complete with a look, a style, a feel for the age. Plenty of ideas for the jewelry and costuming crowd.

Don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe we’re heading for a crest in Diesel Age or Atom Age fascination among the mainstream soon, but the signs aren’t apparent to me.

Maybe the term ‘punk’ itself is wearing out. Perhaps folks are tired of punking everything. Slapping ‘punk’ on a thing no longer makes the thing cool.

It could be that if dieselpunk or atompunk are to take off, they need renaming. They need a different descriptor, a better term to evoke the feeling of their times.

That’s where you come in. In the comments, let me know your suggestions for renaming dieselpunk and/or atompunk. Let’s find some catchy and appropriate tags for those movements—names free of ‘punk.’ How about it? Are you feeling creative and up to the challenge?

In the meantime, some of us soldier on. Still bravely writing steampunk stories, hoping that genre can beat the odds and return to past glory, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

6 Ways to Get Those First Words Typed

There before you glows that blank word processor screen. It’s staring back at you, mocking you. It’s daring you to type something, but you don’t know how to begin. It’s so intimidating.

You’ve been thinking about your story a long time, plotting it, developing the characters, working on the setting. You have notes, outlines, plot diagrams, and character descriptions up to here. Now it’s time to write, but no words are coming out.

Friend, you’ve surfed to the right blog post. I’ll get you through this. Most likely, you’re suffering from one of six conditions making it difficult to start. For each condition, I’ll suggest a remedy.

Condition 1: You’re so comfortable with planning your story that the idea of actually writing it paralyzes you. Remedy: Start writing an email to your Mom, or someone else with whom you correspond informally. Write: “Dear Mom, An odd thing happened today.” Then start writing your story. After all, it’s just an email to your Mom…or is it?

Condition 2: You’re looking for excuses to avoid writing. Remedy: Turn off, shut out, and eliminate all distractions. Then take five minutes to immerse yourself in your story notes again…regain the enthusiasm you had when this story was just a glorious notion in your mind. Then let words flow.

Condition 3: You’re afraid your writing will stink, that your first words will be so awful they’ll confirm your suspicions that you’re no writer. Remedy: You may have a misconception about first drafts. Trust me: your final story will look nothing like the first draft you’re about to write.

Condition 4: You believe, if the first words are this tough to write, the rest of the story will take forever. Remedy: Actually, the first ones are the most difficult. Beginning any task is the hard part. Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Accept this, and take that first step.

Condition 5: You’re afraid the hook (the beginning of the story) won’t seize the reader’s attention. You’re so worried about this that you can’t start. Remedy: Start writing a different section of the story. Come back to the hook later. You might even find that the “later” place you started is the real hook.

Condition 6: You believe you must write the hook first, and can’t imagine a way to entice the reader. Remedy: Okay, if you really must start with the hook, start by writing a bad one. Then write twenty alternate versions, trying diverse ideas and different ways to grab the reader’s attention. If none of those are any good, keep writing hook variants until you have one you like; you’ll know the one when you write it.

I’m confident one or more of these remedies will help you. When you successfully begin typing, take a moment to laugh in triumph at the once-blank screen that stymied you moments ago. You can tell it you won; you conquered it, with a little help from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Getting Through the 3 Filters

Let’s say you have a thought in your brain, a thought you want me to have in my brain also. Since you and I lack mental telepathy, we must settle for some other communication method. For our purposes today, we’ll say you’ve chosen written communication.

You convert that thought of yours into words of a standard language, a language you can write and I can read. You put those words into tangible form, either electronic or printed. Someone conveys your written document to me by some means. I read it, converting the words I read into a thought.

Will the thought in my brain match the one in yours exactly? Probably not. Considering the signal loss in the filters through which the thought passes on its way, it’s amazing two people can communicate at all.

The process is usually not as bad as the way I’ve dramatized it in the accompanying image. Still, it’s a less efficient transmission method than mental telepathy would likely be.

The part I’ve depicted as the “writing filter” consists of many things standing between pure thought and actual words. These include the clarity of your idea, your understanding of the meaning and connotation of words, your mood, your skill with language, your vocabulary, etc.

I’ve named the filter in the middle the “copying filter” and it represents any errors that creep into the text between the time you write it and the time I read it. For e-books, there could be a transmission error and some text becomes scrambled. For paper books, there could be smudges, spills, or torn pages that make some of the text difficult to read. Luckily, this filter usually results in negligible signal loss.

The “reading filter” is akin to the writing filter, but it’s everything between the words I read and the thoughts they cause in my brain. These include my understanding of words, my mood, my vocabulary, my ability to interpret meanings on several levels, my attention span, my life experiences, etc.

Remember, your goal was to create a thought in my brain matching the thought in yours. What can you do to increase the likelihood of the thoughts being identical? You can’t do anything about my reading filter; that’s solely up to me. You usually can’t do much about the copying filter, and it’s not much of a filter anyway.

Your focus needs to be on the writing filter within you, the only part of the process under your control. Work toward clear ideas, firm understanding of word meanings, mastery of language, increased vocabulary, and keeping your passing emotions from distorting your writing.

The best authors have nearly transparent writing filters resulting in negligible signal loss. That’s your goal.

I touched on this topic in a previous post, and neuroscientist Livia Blackburne explored these transmission filters in the context of getting bad reviews, in a guest post on Joanna Penn’s website, well worth the read.

Good luck, Writer! Improve the transparency of your writing filter so you can convey thoughts crisply to the world, and especially to—

Poseidon’s Scribe