Author Interview— Peter Schranz

Today I’m pleased to interview another author from the anthology Hides the Dark Tower,  namely Peter Schranz.

Peter SchranzPeter maintains a quirky website and has two published short story collections, Astonishing Tales of the Sea and It Spits You Out. Three of his stories were published in Breadcrumbs magazine here, here, and here.  Mirror Dance published his story “Pond Wife,” and Deimos published his story “Elizabeth.”

Here’s the interview:

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

Peter Schranz: I remember considering the various options and deciding that writing required the fewest resources. If I wanted to paint, I’d have to buy paint, and if I wanted to play the drums I’d have to buy drums, but I already had a computer with a word processor, and I was already literate, so writing felt like the path of least resistance. I was twelve or so when I realized that, but now I think there was probably more going on; my mother is a linguist and she convinced me of language’s significance pretty early on. It would surprise me if that played no part at all in my decision to start writing.

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

P. Schranz: I like the German-writers, such as Heinrich von Kleist and his admirer Kafka, though I’ve only read them in translation. Baudelaire, Plath, and Katherine Ciel are my favorite poets. I think Plath’s prose is underappreciated; last year I discovered a copy of her journals and read it twice in a row. I learned from the writing of David Wallace and von Kleist to delight in complicated, subordinate clause-bedecked sentences, though I’ll stop short of commenting one way or the other on those I write myself. I thought that The Broom of the System was great and I seek to copy off of it.

It’s not narrative, but I liked the Compendium on Reality by the Buddhist monk Santaraksita, where I saw higher degrees of abstraction than ever before or since.

Recently I’ve become a fan of Kristine Ong Muslim, who wrote a series of very scary poems called “the Strangers,” which, if you dare, you can easily find online.

P. Scribe: What is your primary genre, and how did you become interested in it?

P. Schranz: I like to write speculative fiction that cleaves as closely to realism as possible. Realism seems like fiction’s default to me, and for every speculative flight of fancy I pile onto a story, I like to pile on a tempering, realistic element, too. My story “Pond-Wife” in Mirror Dance Magazine is about a woman who hunts monsters, and she has to see a psychiatrist because constant violent confrontations with monsters give people brain-problems.

P. Scribe: You’ve had a couple of collections of your stories published: It Spits You Out, And Twelve More Stories To Rub Your Chin To and Astonishing Tales Of The Sea. The common feature of the second collection is obvious, but what is the shared attribute (if any) in the stories within It Spits You Out?

P. Schranz: If it’s honesty you’re after, Steve, then I should say that I decided, since Astonishing Tales of the Sea was so obviously thematic, that the stories in It Spits You Out could get away with total themelessness. Afterwards, though, it seemed like all the stories were about either surprisingly alive things or things that are neither alive nor dead. “Eel-Thing” and “Public Napkin” for example are about diseases, which I suppose are alive for all the same reasons that, say, weiner dogs are alive, not that I’m a biologist or anything. Then there’s “The House That Fed On Blood,” a story with a spoiler in its title, and “Eve and Erling,” which is about ghouls. So the theme is loose, retrospectively forced, and accidental, but still present, sort of. Also the stories in It Spits You Out are all kind of silly.

P. Scribe: Please tell us a little about your story within Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Hides the Dark Tower, “Tower of the Sea Witch.”

P. Schranz: It was in Astonishing Tales of the Sea first, but the version that appears in Hides the Dark Tower has its hair combed a little bit thanks to its thoughtful editors. The story is about a woman who wants closure so badly that she would rather it be guaranteed than satisfying.

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

P. Schranz: Overall I just get my ideas from what I read, but often there’s some other less straightforward element involved. “Tower of the Sea Witch” started when I went to the beach and saw an oil rig or something on the horizon. I wondered if anyone was on it and how they got there.

I like to keep something to write on by my bed, and if I wake up after a dream, to tell myself that it will escape from all human consciousness forever unless I turn the light on and write it down that very second. If I hadn’t done so last night, for example, humanity could never answer this very important question that I found in my journal when I awoke: “What if, when they see him in the sixties, they see a bird, or a bird unto glory?” My brain always whispers ‘go to sleep, you oaf; you’ll remember,’ or ‘you’ll be wasting both ink and sack-time if you write that down,’ but my brain is lying to me about at least one of those assertions.

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

P. Schranz: The easiest aspect is coming up with the general phantom of a story’s plot. Making the plot intricate and precise is difficult, as is determining whether a part of the story ought to be excised or not; whether a draft is the last draft or the second-to-last; giving the characters distinct voices; making their goals, hopes, and habits realistic and 3D; actually improving the story through subsequent drafts and not just indulging in pencilwork, like changing ‘she mumbled’ to ‘she murmured,’ which covers about ninety eight percent of my revising decisions; and determining whether I need to spell something out and run the risk of making the story too obvious, or trust the subtext and run the risk of making the story a complete bafflement. It’s no walk in the park to pace a story well, either.

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

P. Schranz: I’m not sure it is any different, except very vacuously: I don’t write a lot of stories about dragons or robots or dwarves or spaceships (except for my silly game, “A Spaceship You Go On!”), but I do write a lot of stories about alien corpses. My plan is to take every single corpse ever featured in the horror genre, remove it, and replace it with the corpse of an alien.

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

P. Schranz: I’m revising a story about all these pill-sized coffins full of little tiny alien skeletons, and mulling over a sequel where people think the coffins are the grains of some kind of food.

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

Peter Schranz: Memorize twenty poems.

 

Thank you, Peter! Readers of my blog can find out more about Peter Schranz at his website, and on Facebook.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 31, 2015Permalink

Guest Post – Rie Sheridan Rose

I’ll be interspersing my regular posts with interviews of, and guest posts by, other authors whose stories appear in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001] First up is a guest post from SteampunkRie-e1302614168720-113x300Rie Sheridan Rose, who is already familiar to my readers from her interview on January 14, 2015, and as the editor of Avast, Ye Airships! Her story in Hides is “Leaving the Tower,” and here’s her post:

Why I Wrote “Leaving the Tower”

The moment I saw the call for Hides the Dark Tower, my mind went to one of the most famous towers I could think of—Rapunzel’s prison. This is a story I have explored before from the witch’s point-of-view in my poem “Jealousy” in Straying from the Path, but this time, I wanted to tell Rapunzel’s story.

Just think about it. She was placed in this unassailable tower as an infant, according to the story. Given away by her parents like a loaf of bread. She never saw anyone except the witch her entire life before the prince breaches the tower.

I gave the witch the benefit of the doubt that she would have enough humanity to give the girl books and teach her to read, but she was still a prisoner in a cell that makes max security look like a picnic. What would you do in this situation? Would you develop the same view of the world that a normal child would have? It’s an interesting puzzle to contemplate.

Having a pet chameleon to sing to wouldn’t be all that much relief. (Though I do think Tangled was a fabulous take on the story.)

I love to retell fairy tales, so I thought about logical progression. If A happened, what is the logical B? This led me through my story. I don’t want to give spoilers, but suffice to say, I was pleased with the result—and so was Rapunzel.

Rie Sheridan Rose

Thanks again, Rie! My readers can find out more about Rie Sheridan Rose on Facebook , at her website, on Goodreads, and on Amazon. Her story “Leaving the Tower” is  wonderful; you can take it from—

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October 28, 2015Permalink

Judging Covers

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but some of your potential readers will, and you don’t want them wincing at the sight of your book. Today we’ll be judging covers, or at least reviewing what makes a good one.

After you read this post, please check out Derek Murphy’s take on cover design here. He goes into more depth. Although I’ll only be discussing fiction covers, his post also addresses non-fiction.

Resources

Where do you get cover art? Here are some sources:

  • If you sold your book to a publisher, the publisher may do your cover. They will likely work with you and do their best to accommodate your preferences.
  • If you’re also an artist or graphic designer, you can make your own cover art. If you’re manipulating images found on-line, be careful not to violate public domain restrictions. Sites like Dollar Photo Club and Dreamstime offer thousands of images at reasonable prices.
  • You can pay someone to do your cover art for you. Perhaps you have an artist friend, or you can get in touch with a talented artist at a local high school or college through the art department. There are websites such as 99Designs where you can have artists compete to make your cover.

Techniques

Derek Murphy’s post spells out the secrets to good book cover art in detail, but his overall message is that people will only glance at a cover for a moment, so it has to grab them. Your cover has to convey its message in a couple of seconds. All eight of Murphy’s cover design secrets flow from this principle. I’ll discuss each technique with respect to the covers of my books, or anthologies in which my stories appear.

51aDCvEwjvL1. Make it “Pop.” Use contrast between light and dark, or opposing colors. The cover of 2012 AD uses that technique to show off the explosion.

 

 

 

 

2. Lots of space. Avoid clutter. LeonardosLion3fThe cover of “Leonardo’s Lion” is simple; the reader’s eye doesn’t have to wander all over to get the point.

 

 

 

 

ASteampunkCarol72dpi3. Make it emotional. Your cover should be beautiful; it should appeal to the heart and make readers feel something. Remember, readers of different genres react emotionally to different things. The cover of “A Steampunk Carol” has the brass gears that steampunk lovers enjoy, and adds the red and green flowers of Christmas.

 

 

4. Use a subtitle, teaser or tagline (and a review!). It’s an effective technique, but none of my covers so far have used this.

Cover art5.1jox6w Pick the right font (and effects). The font should be readable and should help deliver the book’s message. In Quest for Atlantis, the main title font has an ancient (or at least olden) look. For “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” the title font has an Asian feel.

 

 

RippersRing72dpi6WithinVictorianMists9. Make it personal (but not cheesy). It’s good to have people on your covers, though Murphy argues against silhouettes. “Ripper’s Ring” gives you a glaring Jack the Ripper. We did use silhouettes for “Within Victorian Mists” but I think we did it effectively, to convey dancing on clouds.

 

ATaleMoreTrue3f7. If it’s too hard, go simple. Murphy argues against trying to cram in all the ideas you’d like to convey. I think “A Tale More True” illustrates a reasonable amount of simplicity. The reader has to wonder how a tricorn hat ended up there.

 

 

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]8. A little more on text placement. Murphy makes some additional points about text contrast with background, as well as fitting in short words (a, by, in, or the) in among the larger words. I like how the tower in Hides the Dark Tower seems to punch through the word ‘tower.’

 

 

 

As writers, we’re not expected to be great cover designers. If you are, or would like to be, then more power to you. For the rest of us, we must depend on (and pay for) the skill of others such as Derek Murphy. Leave the judging of book covers to the experts; that’s the advice of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 25, 2015Permalink

Book Launch of Hides the Dark Tower

The book Hides the Dark Tower just launched! It’s an anthology with stories about towers, by Pole to Pole Publishing, edited by Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist. My tale “Ancient Spin” is in it, along with twenty-eight other stories.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Feel free to read a little about “Ancient Spin” here; I guest-posted on Vonnie Winslow Crist’s website.

If you’re not already surfing off to buy the book here or here, you will after you read this blurb:

“Mysterious and looming, towers and tower-like structures pierce the skies and shadow the lands. Hides the Dark Tower includes over two dozen tales of adventure, danger, magic, and trickery from an international roster of authors. Readers of science fiction, fantasy, horror, grimdark, campfire tales, and more will find a story to haunt their dreams. So step out of the light, and into the world of Hides the Dark Tower—if you dare.”

Don’t be left on the bottom floor. Be lofty and buy Hides the Dark Tower, along with—

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October 23, 2015Permalink

When to Quit Writing

You really, really wanted to be a well-known author. You did everything right; you devoured books about writing; you read every blog post by Poseidon’s Scribe; you joined critique groups; and you went to writers conferences. Most of all, you wrote all the time, turned out stories and sent them to all the markets…

…and got only rejections, no acceptances.

Undeterred, you turned to self-publishing. These days, who needs an editor or publisher, right? You became an “indie” author…

…and sold nothing.

QuittingNow you’re wondering if you’re cut out to be an author. You’re wondering if you should quit.

After all, there have been other times when you hoped to be good at something, tried it for a while, and gave it up—those guitar lessons, those pre-med classes you took in college, high-school basketball, the internship in the law firm.

Sometimes it takes a few tries to find out where your talents are. There’s no shame in trying something and finding out you just can’t do it. Now it looks like you’ll have to add ‘famous author’ to the list of jobs you’re not suited to. Just one more item on the list, that’s all.

But you’re torn. You know that the ‘famous author’ thing is partly about luck. Maybe mostly about luck. What if your next book is destined to be your breakout book, the one that propels you to best-seller lists, fame, huge advances, and movie deals? You’d hate to quit writing when you’re just one book away from all that.

How do you know when it’s time to give up? Lucky for you, you surfed to the right blog post. I’m going to give you a simple equation. Here it is:

A + B – C = D

A = All-consuming inner drive to write for its own sake.

B = Belief that you want to be a famous, successful author.

C = Cumulative frustration with the rejections and lack of sales

D = Decision factor.

Simply figure out the values for A, B, and C and plug them in. If D is positive, stick with your writing. If D is negative, it’s time to quit and find something else.

(Yeah, I know it’s subjective. What do you want from me, a calibrated quit-o-meter?)

Quitting graphsLet’s work through some examples. The horizontal axis is time. The vertical axis is the strength or intensity of each equation term. You might start writing without much drive to write for its own sake (A), but more of a belief in achieving fame and fortune (B). Most often, those reverse over time as the realism of the writing profession sinks in, while frustration accumulates (C). Remember, as long as D stays positive, you’ll keep writing.

Obviously, the key variable is A, the all-consuming inner drive to write for its own sake. So long as that stays greater than the cumulative frustration, you’ll stick with it.

So there you have it, an explanation that’s all scientific and mathematical. With an equation and everything. Are you going to argue with respected scientists and mathematicians?

You can read some great advice on the subject of whether to give up writing by Jane Friedman and Kameron Hurley (guest-posting on Chuck Wendig’s site).

May you meet with enough success in your writing that you won’t have to face a decision about whether to quit or not. That’s the fervent hope of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 18, 2015Permalink

Connessione

Together, you and I have arrived at the end of this seven-part series of posts. We’ve been working our way through the principles in Michael J. Gelb’s wonderful book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. For each principle, we’ve been exploring how it relates to fiction writing.

The last principle is Connessione: a recognition and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena—systems thinking.

ConnessioneLeonardo had a fascination with the connections between things. He’d study how a tossed stone caused expanding circular ripples in water. He wrote, “The earth is moved from its position by the weight of a tiny bird resting upon it.” His notebooks were a disorganized, chaotic stream of consciousness, as if his mind would flit from one thing to a seemingly unrelated thought. In a strange echoing of what we might consider Eastern philosophy, he wrote: Everything comes from everything, and everything is made out of everything, and everything returns into everything.”

In what ways should a writer of fiction embrace the principle of Connessione? Here are some that occur to me:

  • When you’re thinking of plot ideas for stories to write, look for separate ideas from the world around you and connect them. To pick just three examples of this, consider how Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series combines the ideas of TV reality shows and war; how Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein combines Tarzan, Jesus, and Mars; how Herman Melville’s Moby Dick combines whaling and obsession.
  • Think of the interconnections between characters within your stories. For characters A and B there are (at least) four connections: how A feels about B internally, how A behaves toward B externally, and the same internal feelings and external behavior of B toward A. Now imagine three, four, five, or more major characters and convey, in your story, the rich web of interconnectedness between them all. This alone will be the subject of a future blog post.
  • Your stories have an internal, systemic structure. They are a connection of related parts. The chapters (or sections) are themselves composed of scenes, and build on each other to form the integrated whole of the story.
  • The story element of theme is a connection between concrete things in a story to abstract ideas in real life. Similarly, the techniques of metaphor and simile are connections in the form of comparisons—relating something you’re describing in your story to something familiar or understandable to the reader.

See? If you write fiction, you must embrace the notion of Connessione to some extent. In fact, it helps to practice all seven principles— Curiosità, Dimonstrazione, Sensazione, Sfumato, Arte/Scienza, Corporalita, and Connessione. Perhaps you’ll not become as well remembered or universally admired as da Vinci, but you can think like him, and write fiction as he would have. That’s the aim of—

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October 11, 2015Permalink

Corporalita

If you’ve made it through my series of posts this far, you know I’m blogging about the sixth of seven principles put forth in How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb. I’ve been relating each of the principles to the activity I love—writing fiction.

CorporalitaToday’s principle is Corporalita, the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. These aren’t attributes we normally associate with Leonardo, but it turns out the maestro was quite the he-man, fitness buff, vegetarian, and dieter. Who knew?

Now you’re wondering how I’m going to relate this to the story-scribbling art. Well, not to put too fat a point on it, writing is a sedentary activity. A sedentary inactivity, really. Unlike hobbies such as running, weightlifting, or sports, writing won’t leave you in better shape. Worse shape, more likely.

If you’re not careful, writing will make you fat. It’s easy to consume your favorite snack while writing. If you do that once, you’ll form a habit that’s hard to quit. The more you write, the more you’ll eat. The more you eat without exercising…let’s just say you might write a book as good as Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, or you might become a balloon in five weeks.

If we reexamine that definition of Corporalita, we see it’s more than just fitness. It’s an enhancement of your body in many ways, including grace, ambidexterity, and poise. You can boost grace and poise by dance, tai chi, or yoga. Become more ambidextrous by using that ‘other’ hand for more and more things in your daily life. You don’t have to go to da Vinci’s extreme of writing with the other hand.

I’ve been talking about how to embrace the Corporalita principle. Here are some writing-related reasons why:

  • Relate better to your characters. Most often, appealing characters are the young and fit ones. Even if not young, either the protagonist or sidekick should be able to engage in vigorous activity and to survive the hell you’re putting them through. The closer you relate to your characters, the better you’ll convey them to the reader.
  • Have more to write about. I’ve mentioned some activities to improve Corporalita, including dancing, exercise, tai chi, and yoga. Engaging in these activities will expose you to more people (giving you character ideas), problems and skills (giving you plot ideas), and places (giving you setting ideas).
  • Get a better attitude. Your self-image has a lot to do with your attitude. As you improve your fitness, lose weight, become more poised, and gain ambidexterity, you’ll feel better about yourself; those positive feelings of confidence will come through in your prose.
  • Write without tiring. You might think you’d be too tired to write after vigorous exercise. Strangely, it’s the opposite. As you improve your body’s health, you’re sharpening your brain as well. You’ll find yourself able to write longer without drowsiness.
  • Appeal to readers. If you go to conferences and book signings, potential readers will see you. Yes, they choose you primarily for your books, not your looks. But if your great physique happens to attract more readers and you make a few more sales, what’s wrong with that? Also, the more fit you are, the easier it is to endure a long conference.
  • Write more books. Here’s the best reason. If your body’s in good shape, you’ll live longer. If you live longer, you’ll have a lengthier writing career and will produce more output.

If you want to think like Leonardo, work on your grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. Still working on my own Corporalita, I’m—

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