Author Interview — M.J. Ritchie

Today I’m pleased to present my interview with M. J. Ritchie, another author with a story in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]A lover of words, and things that go bump in the night, M. J. Ritchie’s been writing since the age of nine. She has degrees in business from Drexel University and Johns Hopkins University with experience in everything from accounting to sales. As a faculty associate at The Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business, she has helped graduate students learn the intricacies of business processes and organizational change. In her consulting practice, she works with organizations to improve performance. Writing fiction indulges her desire to play god on a small scale. She hopes her writing will educate, entertain, or inspire her readers. She’s married and lives in Maryland. Visit her at www.mjritchie.com.

Now for the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

M.J. Ritchie: Ever since I learned to talk I’ve had a love of words and language. I began writing poetry at the age of nine and have written in various forms for my own enjoyment throughout my life. I began writing fiction with an eye toward publication a little more than a decade ago. At the time, I was working as an independent consultant on a variety of systems projects in which the only project variable that didn’t change was my deadline. Writing fiction appealed to me because it allowed me to play god on a small scale, to be the one in control. I’ve since learned that playing god isn’t easy.

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

M.J.R.: To this day, I remember the plight of the land turtle crossing the road, so vividly described in The Grapes of Wrath. I think I read that book in high school. It was my introduction to Steinbeck, who devoted a chapter to that one scene. That book made me aware of what good fiction could be and do. I made it a point to read all of Steinbeck’s works available to me at the time. I also enjoy the psychological horror of Shirley Jackson, as exemplified in “The Lottery” and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’ve written an homage piece to “The Lottery,” which I hope to get published. I love the Irish short stories of Frank O’Connor, and Frederick Busch’s “Ralph the Duck,” a study in understated writing that packs a wallop. I love the beautiful simplicity of children’s stories. The Velveteen Rabbit and Charlotte’s Web with their life lessons are favorites. I enjoy reading poetry too, especially when I’ve hit a writing wall. Poetry has an evocative effect that helps me work through a stumbling block.

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

M.J.R.: I don’t know that any aspect of writing is easy for me. Like Dorothy Parker, I “hate writing, but love having written.” That being said, I can’t imagine not writing. One of my biggest writing challenges is to write multi-sensory descriptions without having them seem appendages to the scene. I admire those who write scenes so that you can smell the coffee, or the manure; hear the wind or see the room and its garish furnishings. I struggle with that.

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

M.J.R.: Anywhere and everywhere: My own life experiences, watching people, eavesdropping, reading articles. Every once in a while, an idea just pops into my head.

P.S.: What is the primary genre you enjoy writing in? What interests you about that genre?

M.J.R.: To be honest, I don’t know that I have espoused a genre. I’m still flirting with different types of stories. I enjoy writing stories that entail elements of tragedy, lives gone awry, darkness, the supernatural, mysterious events, adversity. I have a curiosity about things that we can’t see or explain. I also am awed by people who, despite misfortune, somehow survive, succeed.

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

M.J.R.: This is a difficult question to answer because my writing is not specific to a genre. I’m interested in character and what motivates people to do what they do. I like exploring how people react to life events. Many of my stories involve a death of some kind. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve experienced the death of loved ones that I’m drawn to that topic or not, but I have a certain fascination with the subject. I also am a great admirer of the human spirit and its resilience, so my stories, though sometimes dark, are usually hopeful.

P.S.: What is your favorite story that you have written? Can you tell us a little about it?

M.J.R.: My favorite story is my novel, Emily’s Child, which is about a happily married couple whose world shatters when their eight-year- old son dies. Each grieves the loss of their son, but in different ways.

The husband, Tony, juggles the increasing demands of work, while tending to his grief. His position as the lead architect on a major project keeps him away from home and his wife, Emily. The stakes are high—this is the career opportunity of a lifetime.

When a project of her own falls through because of a trusted colleague’s betrayal, Emily feels increasingly lost and adrift. She begins acting strangely. An accident causes a psychotic break, and she is hospitalized. Here, she must unearth and confront her past.

This story of a young woman’s confrontation with death and her past is also a study of human relations. The story explores the ways that people cope with loss—some healthy, some not, and the strain that such loss places on relationships. Childhood trauma, betrayal, and mental illness are also potent themes of the novel.

P.S.: Your story in Hides the Dark Tower is “Soul for Sale,” a haunting tale of the value of that thing one shouldn’t offer on an online auction site. What prompted you to write it?

M.J.R.: Several years ago I read an article about the bizarre items people were auctioning on eBay. I remember thinking at the time that the theme might make for a good story. This idea resurfaced when I saw the submission guidelines for the Hides the Dark Tower anthology. I’ve been to the Yucatan and thought that it would be a good setting for “Soul for Sale,” which tells the tale of atheist Nicholas Marsden who sells his soul—something he doesn’t even believe he possesses—on eBay to a wealthy, attractive buyer for whom money is no object. The buyer’s sole condition of purchase is that Nicholas accompany her to Mexico on an all-expense paid trip. Such a deal, right? At the outset, Nicholas finds the whole arrangement amusing, as well as lucrative. He soon discovers, however, that this venture may involve a high price—to him.

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

M.J.R.: I’m currently writing a story with the working title “Semper Fi” that’s about the casualties of war. A couple loses their only son, a young Marine, in the war in Iraq. The fallout of this terrible loss is their relationship with each other. Marva, the wife, who did not want her son to join the military in the first place, handles her grief by building a wall around her emotions. She is unavailable to her husband, Jude, who consequently enters into a brief relationship outside the marriage. Marva has to decide on how to move through her grief and whether she can forgive her husband.

My research for this story renewed my appreciation for our military and the sacrifices they and their families make. We need to remember that their sacrifices enable our freedom and the lifestyle we enjoy. While we sit eating dinner or watching TV, people are putting their lives on the line for us. No one returns home from war the same. Not all wounds are visible. These days, it’s all too easy to forget that we are indeed the “home of the free because of the brave.” We have to honor and value our veterans.

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

M.J. Ritchie: My advice to aspiring writers and to anyone pursuing something that matters to them is to keep at it and to listen to your intuition or gut. Quiet your internal critic as best you can and don’t set up imagined obstacles for yourself such as I’m too old, too young, not smart enough, not talented enough, not whatever enough. Focus on what matters to you. Write what you enjoy writing. I have a saying hanging in my office: Dum spiro, spero. While I breathe I hope. Do the work, put it out there, and hope for the best. Save your old stuff—your rejected work that never saw the light of day. When you become famous, everybody will want to publish it. And if possible, join a solid writers group. My own group has been an invaluable source of knowledge and encouragement. They’ve kept me going when I might have given up otherwise.

Thank you, M.J.!

Readers inspired to find out more about her can visit her author website at www.mjritchie.com.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview—Andrew Gudgel

Today I’m happy to welcome another fellow author who contributed a story to the Hides the Dark Tower anthology. It’s Andrew Gudgel, science fiction author, Chinese poetry translator, and a past winner of the Writers of the Future contest.

Andy GudgelHere’s the interview:

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

Andrew Gudgel: I got interested in writing in high school–essays, poetry, stories. You name it, I tried writing it. I wrote a lot, all the way up through college. Then I went and joined the Army. For ten-plus years I did other things. Fortunately, writing was still waiting for me when I came back.

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

A.G.: I’m not sure I could nail it down to just a couple of authors because I feel a writer should be influenced by all the things he or she reads. But just to pick an example at random: Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ficciones.” He wrote such interesting stories, not only in terms of theme, but in style. Reviews of books that don’t exist. Descriptions of infinite libraries. Fictional worlds that become real and begin invading ours. Borges made me aware of possibilities in fiction that I’d never imagined existed.

I also think a writer–any writer–should read broadly in categories outside his or her preferred genre of writing, and for pleasure as much as for writerly education. For example, I read as much poetry and as many essays as I can, simply because I enjoy both.

P.S.: You recently completed a graduate degree at St. John’s College in their Great Books program. How has that affected your fiction writing?

A.G.: One of the best things about St. John’s is that you read the Classics in philosophy, religion, science, literature, politics, society and history. You learn that there are questions and themes that are eternal in literature and in life. (Plus it gives you plenty of neat ideas and material to snitch for use in your own stories.) It affected my fiction writing by making me more focused on character and what happens inside each and every one of us as we move through life. SF has the advantage that you can create situations and characters that don’t (or don’t yet) exist, which allows you to explore your characters and the human condition in ways other genres simply can’t.

P.S.: Your primary genre is SF, correct? How did you become interested in writing in that genre?

A.G.: I do primarily write SF, but will follow a story wherever it leads me, be that SF, fantasy or literary. I fell in love with SF early on–my father used to read Ray Bradbury stories to me and my brother on summer nights when we were little. And when I read H. Beam Piper’s “Space Viking,” it made enough of an impression that I still remember it, forty-odd years later. Plus I’ve always been fascinated by science, technology, and gadgets.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

A.G.: In terms of science fiction, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Charlie Stross, and Robert Heinlein. As for prose style, Seneca and Sir Francis Bacon. Both were writers of the short, pithy sentences I aspire to.

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

A.G.: I’m very interested in the human/character side of SF: how we interact with technology, how we’ll be different/the same in the future. I hear about these cool–but true–uses of technology that are completely unexpected, and that gets me excited and fired up to write. For example, in India, a tech company is using hand-woven silk strips for their diabetic test kits because it’s cheaper than imported plastic. That’s a low-tech/high-tech solution. Low tech in that it’s local weavers and hand-made fabric. High tech in that it’s a creative human solution to a pressing problem. When I write, I try to concentrate as much people on and how they solve their problems as on the technology itself.

P.S.: In Hides the Dark TowerPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001], your story is “The Long Road Home,” an exciting story involving an immense alien tower. Can you tell us about the protagonist?

A.G.: Wang Haimei is a “Tower Diver,” a person who uses parachutes and hydrogen balloons to explore the inside of a hollow building that’s ten-thousand stories tall. There’s nothing left of the aliens who inhabited the tower, except for the very rare artifact which makes the finder instantly (and incredibly) wealthy. Haimei has just the right combination of meticulous attention to detail, love of adventure, and desire to get rich that all true tower-divers have. But she lost her fiancé, Moustafa, in a tower-diving accident a year ago, and this trip is her first one back since then. When a jealous competitor sabotages her gear, Haimei decides to try and walk back up to the exit at the top of the tower, even though she knows she’ll die long before she gets there. She discovers a kind of quiet courage that keeps her from giving up. As she walks, she discovers she’s being followed—perhaps by an alien that’s remained behind, perhaps by the shade of one long gone. She comes to appreciate the company, though, and uses the time spent walking to come to terms with death–both Moustafa’s and hers.

P.S.: In addition to writing fiction, you translate Chinese poetry. Have you found that your translation work improves your writing of stories in English, or is there no connection between these pursuits?

A.G.: I’ve found that translating, and translating poetry, has had a big influence on my writing. Knowing another language lets you see the world in different ways and makes you aware of connections you might never have thought of. For example, in Chinese nouns have measure words. (They’re roughly equivalent to the word “cup” in “one cup of coffee.”) But every noun has a measure word in Chinese, and they’re often reused. Which groups nouns into “categories.” Snakes and rivers use the same measure word; clouds and flower blossoms share one, too; so there’s a linguistic relation between certain nouns in Chinese that doesn’t exist in English. Being able to see—and make—new connections has made my writing richer. And poetry is a compact, image-rich art form that requires you to pack a lot into a small space. Perfect for learning both imagery and economy of words.

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

A.G.: I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire right now—revisions, that sort of thing. The one I’m currently working on is an alien invasion novel/novella, which focuses on different peoples’ experiences of the event, and in which the aliens are only ever glimpsed at. I was inspired by the fact that you never see the whole shark until near the end of “Jaws.” So the glimpses the characters get throughout the story—are they the aliens or just alien technology? I was also very interested on the effect of such as big disaster would have on people—both as individuals and in groups—and not making the aliens central to the story allows me to focus more on that aspect.

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

Andrew Gudgel: I’m a big fan of aphorisms and mottoes, so I’ll keep it short:

  1. Nulla dies sine linea — Pliny (“No day without a line” i.e. write something every day.)
  2. Read as broadly as possible.
  3. If you try, you might fail. But if you never try, you’ve failed already.
  4. As long as it fits the guidelines, don’t self-reject a piece by not submitting it.
  5. Write, submit, repeat as necessary.

These are all the old saws, but there’s a reason they’re still around: they work.

 

Thanks, Andrew! All my readers will want to surf over to your website to learn more about you.

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 24, 2016Permalink

Author Interview—Robert E. Waters

Another fellow author from the Hides the Dark Tower anthology has consented to an interview. It’s interesting how that anthology gathered so many incredible writers together. Today, please welcome Robert E. Waters.

Robert E WatersRobert E. Waters is a science fiction and fantasy writer. Since 1994, he has worked in the computer and board gaming industry as technical writer, editor, designer, and producer. His first professional fiction publication came in 2003 with the story “The Assassin’s Retirement Party,” Weird Tales, Issue #332. Since then he has sold stories to Nth Degree, Nth Zine, Black Library Publishing (Games Workshop), Dark Quest Books, Padwolf Publishing, Mundania Press, and Rogue Blades Entertainment. Between the years of 1998 – 2006, he also served as an assistant editor to Weird Tales, and is still a frequent contributor to Tangent Online, a short fiction review site. Robert currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their cat Buzz.

And now, the interview:

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

Robert E. Waters: At a very early age, I was interested in story. My grandfather used to tell me stories he made up on the fly. One of my favorites were his “Quirrel the Squirrel” stories, and I’ve considered putting them down on paper and getting an artist to draw them. Perhaps someday I will. I was also into horror movies when I was a kid, and even though I’d have terrible nightmares after seeing the movies, I kept coming back to them. So I’ve always had this thing about story, about strange, fantastic stories in particular. And that early interest eventually led to me to writing my own stories by the time I was twelve.

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

R.E.W.: My early influences were Robert Sheckley, Clifford Simak, and Robert Silverberg, just to name a few. Specifically, science fiction authors (or those authors more commonly associated with SF) have had the biggest influence on my writing, although I must say that the first time I read JRR Tolkien, I was paralyzed with awe. The years, unfortunately, have not been as kind to me when it comes to Tolkien’s staying power. Don’t get me wrong: He’s a terrific author, but his writing style, his manner of dialog, his pacing, etc. have not had the long-term effect on my own work that other writers have had. And some of my favorite books are not SF/Fantasy at all. My favorite novel ever is TC Boyle’s Water Music. It’s in my opinion, a tour de force of stylistic prose genius. It literally took me six months to read anything else afterwards because everything I read thereafter just could not compare. Other novels in the SF/Fantasy genre that I have always considered my favorites include Orson Scott Cards Ender’s Game, Sheckley’s Dimensions of Miracles, Walter John Williams’ Metropolitan, and of course George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Oh, and let’s throw in Glen Cook’s Black Company series for good measure. His and Martin’s fantasy are the kind I like the most; grittier and more realistic.

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

R.E.W.: The easiest part for me is getting into the emotions and personal interactions of the characters. Once I have a good idea of who a character is, how he/she needs to react, their background, their personal relationships with other characters, etc. I can put them into pretty compelling situations. The hardest for me is keeping my prose tight. I have a tendency to meander into backstory. I seize on a nugget of a character’s backstory that I particularly like and want to share it with the audience, even though it has no relevance whatsoever with the story at hand. So I have to be mindful of how much superfluous flummery I am putting into a story.

P.S.: How would you describe the genre or style of the stories you write? Any common themes?

R.E.W.: Well, my genre is almost always science fiction and/or fantasy. It’s funny, but I find that I can write fantasy better than SF, even though I prefer SF when it comes to reading. And no, I really don’t have many common themes, although I do love the character who prevails in the face of insurmountable odds. I like a flawed character, not one who has the right answer for every situation, says the right things every time. I like characters that have to fight to achieve their glory, and I don’t mind a character stumbling into victory, so long as it’s an honest stumble.

P.S.: What sets your stories apart from those of other authors who write in your genre(s)?

R.E.W.: This is a tough question and one that I’ve never given much thought to. But I like to think that my stories bring some real humanity to my characters. I try to create believable characters for my stories, people that the reader can relate to in some way or another. A lot of authors do this, certainly, but oftentimes characters in SF are defined more by the gadgets they carry and not the content of their hearts. George RR Martin is often fond of quoting William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech: The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. There’s a lot of truth to that in writing fiction.

P.S.: You spent several years as an assistant editor of the renowned magazine Weird Tales. How did that editorial experience affect your writing?

R.E.W.: My experience at Weird Tales was a huge factor in my writing. One of my jobs there was reading the slush pile. Stacks of stories would be put in front of me and I’d have to read them all and decide if they were good enough to be pushed up the editorial line, or should they be rejected. Doing this over and over helps in a couple important ways: First, you see errors in the stories that you are doing in your own writing, and second, it humbly reminds you that you are one in hundreds of people trying to get published. I came out of that experience ten times a better writer then when I went in, and I highly recommend to anyone who gets the opportunity to read slush to do it, even if you don’t get paid.

P.S.: You wrote “The People’s Avenger” for Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Hides the Dark Tower. Can you tell us the backstory for this tale?

R.E.W.: The main character in “The People’s Avenger” is Nalo Thoran, a hired assassin who works the streets of Korsham City. A thief by the name of Falco Creed has come to Korsham to find and steal back an ancient artifact that holds cultural significance to his people. The artifact had become a spoil of war taken by the Korsham army in battle against the Brenian’s of the south. The story revolves around their cat-and-mouse chase through the dark, dank streets of Korsham, as Nalo tries to kill the thief, and Falco tries to stay alive.

P.S.: That’s not your only story featuring the character Nalo Thoran. You’ve written several others. Please describe him. Do you intend to combine those stories in a series?

R.E.W.: Nalo Thoran was once a simple urban boy living in the streets of Korsham City. During one of Korsham’s wars against the southern kingdom of Brenia, he was pressed into the army and forced to serve as an assistant to a quartermaster. On a quiet, foggy morning in the midst of this war, he was lured to a waterfall by a beautiful singing voice. There he met Tish, the Mistress of Kalloshin, The Seething Dark Eternalness, the Paton Saint of Assassins, who bathed with him and stole his soul. Nalo was immediately transported to the assassin’s guild in Korsham, where he has served and killed for Kalloshin for decades. But he’s not a happy warrior in this secret war. He serves his master’s purposes, but he hates every minute of it, dreaming of a time when he can be free to live his own life, or to die. Either end game is acceptable to him.

To date, I have published five Nalo Thoran stories. I have a couple more scheduled for publication in the next year, and someday I hope to combine them all in a series, or as a collection.

Wayward EightP.S.: You’ve just had your first novel published, The Wayward Eight: A Contract to Die For. Can you tell us about it briefly? Do you think you’ll write more novels, or go back to short stories?

R.E.W.: The Wayward Eight is a weird wild west novel set in the miniatures game universe Wild West Exodus. The story revolves around a mercenary unit known as the Wayward Eight, led by ex-Confederate officer Captain Markus Wayward. He and his gang of killers have been hired by the Union to find and assassinate the known mad scientist Doctor Carpathian, who has come to America from Europe to create and lead an undead army to crush the Union and all others that may stand in his way. But there are other mercenaries on the hunt for Carpathian as well, and Markus Wayward and his crew find the way fraught with difficulty.

And yes, I do plan to write other novels. There are plans for at least one more novel set in the Wild West Exodus universe, and two other novels which I cannot provide many details about as of yet. But I also plan to work on short stories as well as the opportunities arise. I get invites to anthologies from time to time and I am a frequent contributor to Eric Flint’s online magazine, The Grantville Gazette, which publishes stories set in his 1632/Ring of Fire alternate history series. I’m keeping busy.

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

R.E.W.: I recently finished a short story set in my Devil Dancers military SF series. The Devil Dancers are Apache fighter pilots engaged in an alien war with the Gulo, a wolverine-like race that threatens to conquer all of human space. I have published three stories so far in the series, with three more pending publication. In these stories I explore Native American culture and spiritualism, and try to address issues of both peace and war, and what is the price to preserve and wage both. My latest story is “The First Peace,” which is a title inspired by a bit of philosophy from Black Elk: “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

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

Robert E. Waters: Robert A Heinlein’s advice is still relevant today. To be a professional writer you must: Write, you must finish what you write, and you must put on the market your finished stories. Good advice then, good advice today. Another thing I’d recommend is to study history and science. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with by reading accounts of historical events. I recently wrote a story called “Mungo Snead’s Last Stand” which is another weird wild west story that will be in the Weird Wild West Anthology from e-Spec Books later this year, and the events in that story were inspired by my reading of the Rorke’s Drift battle of the Zulu Wars. The inspiration behind my Devil Dancers stories is my love of Native American culture and years of study in that field. I find it incredibly hard to just sit down and write. I need an idea solidly in my head before I type the first sentence. So, read history, read science, read about other cultures, and then imagine twists to apply to those events that will give you story ideas.

 

Thanks, Robert! My readers can find out even more about author Robert E. Waters at his website.

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 5, 2015Permalink

Author Interview—N.O.A. Rawle

The fun continues today as I interview another author with a story appearing in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower. To obtain this interview, I had to travel all the way to Greece…well, virtually.

NaomiRawleN.A.O. Rawle is a British writer, teacher and translator living and working in mythical Thessalian Plain in Greece. She graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy. After many years of procrastinating, she took the plunge and has started publishing short sci-fi/horror/fantasy stories. She’s had over a dozen short stories and poems published. She’s been published in the anthology Once Bitten, and The Girl at the End of the World, Book II  and the anthology Denizens of Steam.

Here’s the interview:

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

N.A.O. Rawle: First, thank you for having me on your blog, it’s great to talk to you. I grew up with books as my dad was a librarian. He had a study stuffed floor to ceiling with books, mostly about fly fishing and theology, but that’s where I got the bug. The actual writing started with fan fiction when I was in Secondary school and progressed into photocopied comic books in my late teens. Published work came a lot later.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing? What are a few of your favorite books?

N.R.: Harder to answer than I imagined. I can’t say who has influenced my writing style as I don’t think I’ve really found my own. (At the moment I’m going through a phase of stories in rhyming prose and that comes straight from Dr Seuss and ‘The Night Before Christmas’!) Once I had finished James Herbert’s The Magic Cottage, I remember thinking “I should like to do that.” I love Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Iain M. Banks, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Bret Easton Ellis, Harlan Ellison and Bruce Sterling…

P.S.: In your blog, you’ve mentioned having thirty writing projects going at once, in various stages. Have you accepted that as a normal state of affairs for you, or would you prefer to be more focused?

N.R.: That’s normal. I live by flitting from one thing to the other and half finished projects everywhere, and I don’t mean just writing. I can focus and do occasionally, to the point of obsessive! That’s when work gets done fast.

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

N.R.: Being asked to do edits is the hardest. Not because I’m too proud and don’t want to change what I’ve written but because I find incorporating another’s perspective bewildering. Will it look right to the reader? Have I clarified and tidied up the waffle? The easiest is writing. I can sit and type for hours and hours.

P.S.: Your bio mentions your British nationality, your current work location in Greece, your teaching and translation work, and your education in creative writing and philosophy. In ‘Core Craving’ and ‘Those Who Can, Do,’ you touch on two of those aspects. In what other ways do your varied background and education inspire your stories?

N.R.: I’ve done (counts on fingers and gives up) many jobs since the age of fifteen so there’s always a bit of those experiences in my writing but it’s not necessarily what I know about them. In ‘Those Who Can, Do’ I was more interested in the fact that so many teachers appear to have forgotten the purpose of their jobs and get into some sort of power place ‘us’ and ‘them’. I also had some hideous teachers at school who really didn’t understand that the colour of my shirt was not a factor in the learning process. Greece crops up in my work frequently, I’ve spent almost half my life here now and it would be weird for it not to feature. A character might come from someone I’ve met or the atmosphere of a place might inspire a scene, I’m always trying to paint a picture so that my reader can see what I do.

P.S.: It appears you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month) for the first time this year. How is that going?

N.R.: It’s going…I did it in the hope that I could complete one of those projects I’ve been composting for about a decade as there is outside interest in it after a short story grew from some of the remnants that I had cut from the original work. (‘Synchronysi’ due to be published in the New Year). If I can get the plot down then I know I’ll get it sorted.

P.S.: Lately, you’ve been writing some steampunk stories. Why does that genre appeal to you?

N.R.: It’s what Goths do when they discover brown, or so a friend of mine tells me. No, I like that I can mix up fancy frocks with feminism and mechanical monsters! Oh and rhyming prose, ‘A Walk in the Park’ is the first story I’ve self-published that is Steampunk in Denizens of Steam, an anthology that I helped ‘curate’ to promote the Scribbler’s Den writing forum on the Steampunk Empire.

P.S.: You’ve guest-blogged for Rie Sheridan Rose about your story ‘Core Craving’ in Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Hides the Dark Tower and mentioned the research you did on the castle. Had that story idea been kicking around in your mind before the anthology’s call for submissions, or did it all click together afterward?

N.R.: The story was fully formed but had not found a home. Vonnie and Kelly [editors Vonnie Winslow Crist and Kelly A. Harmon] made it welcome in Hides the Dark Tower, an anthology, which is a real treat to read and an honour to be included in! ‘Core Craving’ is such a small story but one that took a long time to build and the first one published which is set in my home town (I have several others) so I’m pleased it’s found its niche amongst so many respected authors.

P.S.: Among your many current Works in Progress (or, as you have quipped, Works in Procrastination), would you mind telling us a little about one of them?

N.R.: I have a story called ‘Touched’ which has been simmering for a long time (read years). It’s a fantasy/horror mishmash involving fae folk who live in the beautiful Greek mountain forests. (I am told, in all seriousness, that fairies do reside there.) I have so much written but on an ancient word processor whose disks I have been unable to print up anywhere since the WP died on me. I’ve been trying to remember the story but there are big gaps in the plot and I am so sad. I’m patching it up but it’s beginning to resemble Frankenstein’s monster not the glorious creation I envisaged. In my heart I know I can make it good but I need determination.

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

N.O.A. Rawle: Jim Morrison wrote “Words dissemble, words be quick, words resemble walking sticks, plant them and they will grow…”

Sow the seeds of stories and see what becomes of them. Some will become roses and others prickly thistles that you’ll need to weed out. Like plants, some tales are therapeutic and others poisonous. Some will charm you with their beauty and there will be down-right ugly ones; they will all teach you something about writing but only if you keep tending them.

 

Thanks, Naomi! I know readers of my blog will want to find out more about you, and, luckily, I have that information handy. You have a blog and you’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. You also appear on Google+, Pinterest, and Amazon as N.O.A. Rawle, and on Steampunk Empire as Lady Naomi.

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 15, 2015Permalink

Author Interview—Jeremy M. Gottwig

When you’re on a roll, go with it. I’ve been landing the most fascinating interviews with the authors of the wonderful stories in the Hides the Dark Tower anthology, and today I present another one.

Jeremy GottwigI interviewed Jeremy M. Gottwig. According to his website, he lives in Baltimore City, and is a trained librarian and programmer. Writing is his hobby, but his favorite job is being a parent.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How long have you been writing?

Jeremy M. Gottwig: I read Watership Down in junior high and caught the bug. Most of my early stories involve talking animals. I am now in my mid-30s. A few weeks ago, my parents sold the house. My mom told me that she found boxes and boxes of notebooks filled with my stories and partial novels. I’m tempted to go through them and see if I discover any gems, but I’m also a little nervous about what I might find. I was a strange teenager.

P.S.: On your Twitter page, you state that you write space opera. How do you define that term, and why do you write in that genre?

J.M.G.: For me, space opera is about exploration, discovery, and relationships. I expect space opera to be epic. Perhaps it takes place over vast distances or over the course of many years. I hope to see substantial character growth throughout the course of the story.

It is my preferred genre, because it was my dad’s preferred genre. I grew up on Star Trek and classic Battlestar Galactica. I am a librarian and programmer, and my first job after graduate school was at NASA. My interest in languages, technology, and information stemmed in part from my early exposure to space opera. I hope to pass a love of science and space onto my son, and I hope that my stories can be part of this effort.

P.S.: I’m sure your son will appreciate it. In what way is your fiction different from that of other authors of space opera?

J.M.G.: I love reading about space battles, galactic conflicts, and seismic shifts, but I tend to avoid these themes in my own work. My space opera tends to be smaller, personal, and somewhat light-hearted. I like to drop ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances and observe their growth across space and time. My stories are more likely to contain marital disagreements than military engagements.

P.S.: Your website includes much of the latest news from NASA. Do current NASA developments give you ideas for stories?

J.M.G.: I use scientific discoveries to help with adding details to stories. I often mine Kepler’s exoplanet data to describe planets. Only on rare occasions do scientific discoveries inspire the stories themselves.

P.S.: Your website states that many of your stories take place in the same “universe.” Do you have a name for this story world, and what are your plans for it (short stories, novels, collections)?

J.M.G.: All of my current stories take place in and around Xevilious, which is an alliance of worlds bound together by an engineered virus. Earth became a member of this alliance in 1988 following a First Contact event. I’ve rewritten much of Earth’s history after that point. (For example, Dukakis won the presidential election rather than H.W. Bush.) I use this world to give me consistent rules when writing. For the most part, I write flash and short stories, but I do have a number of longer pieces. My largest project in this universe is Employee of the Year: a series of novellas (six and counting), which takes place in the years following First Contact. I have two additional collections planned, one in the distant past and another in the distant future. All of these stories feed into one of several overarching threads, and I use short stories and flash to highlight tertiary issues and minor characters.

P.S.: How do you keep track of all the facts about your story universe, to keep from having the stories conflict?

J.M.G.: I keep long and detailed Google Docs that contain planets, races, star systems, and so on. I plan to transition some of this data over to my website and make it publicly available. I also keep all of my stories in Google Docs, and I use the search feature if I ever need to verify a detail.

P.S.: How do you describe your writing style?

J.M.G.: I sacrifice poetry for simplicity.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]P.S.: Well said. You wrote “Who Abandon Themselves,” which appears in Hides the Dark Tower. Please tell us about the story.

J.M.G.: Shy Aubolis struggles with the day-to-day operations of running a monastery, while maintaining a sinful correspondence with a former lover. This story takes within a black hole’s planetary system. I have written more about the characters (and their historical inspiration) on Vonnie Winslow Crist’s blog.

P.S.: You have a book coming out called Employee of the Year. Please tell us about it.

J.M.G.: The story is about teenager and fast food employee, Chet Eubanks. After First Contact, Chet obsesses over strategies to get into space. He is selected for an illegal corporate project to determine how much traction the company’s fast food products might get with alien lifeforms. Chet welcomes the opportunity, but he should have thought things through a bit more carefully.

And there you have the first three chapters in a nutshell. What follows is a multi-year epic that carries Chet from south town South Dakota and into the depths of space.

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

J.M.G.: Employee of the Year is a series of novellas and novelettes rather than an individual novel. It is broken up into “seasons.” I have completed the first season and am hard at work on the second. Whenever I need a break, I write a short story or a piece of flash.

I am releasing the first Employee of the Year novelette in December. I plan to release the other episodes throughout the first half of 2016.

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

Jeremy M. Gottwig: Set a realistic writing schedule. You are busy, and writing is hard work. I tend to caution against setting word goals and prefer to focus on keeping the schedule. If you have writer’s block, edit something you have already written.

Thanks, Jeremy! I invite readers of my blog to find out more about Jeremy M. Gottwig at his website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Pinterest.

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 7, 2015Permalink

Author Interview—Anatoly Belilovsky

You’ll enjoy reading my interview of Anatoly Belilovsky, another author whose story appears in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower.

Anatoly BelilovskyAnatoly Belilovsky is a Russian-American author and translator of speculative fiction. His work has appeared in the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology, Ideomancer, Nature Futures, Stupefying Stories, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, Kazka, and has been podcast by Cast of Wonders, Tales of Old, and Toasted Cake. He blogs about writing here, pediatrics here, and his medical practice web site is here. He was born in what is now Ukraine, learned English from Star Trek reruns, worked his way through a US college by teaching Russian while majoring in chemistry, and has, for the past 25 years, been a paediatrician in New York, in a practice where English is the fourth most commonly spoken language.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Anatoly Belilovsky: I vaguely remember writing fanfic as a child, at least in my mind: a prequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a sequel to the original Lost World of Arthur Conan Doyle, apocrypha of Strugatsky’s Inhabited Island. Nothing I’d ever want to show anyone.

I did publish a couple of stories in my college’s annual magazine, one of them acquired by Gordon van Gelder [editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction] back when he himself was an undergraduate. Nothing I’d want to show anyone these days, either.

P.S.:    What genres have you written in?

A.B.: Alternate history is probably my favorite. When I write SF and fantasy, they tend to skirt very close to mainstream/literary. In humor, I prefer character-driven comedy to situational comedy — a mathematician who can only think of mathematics in terms of Russian swear words seems to have had the greatest impact so far, though an epidemic of otaku based on Russian cartoon characters, and Wagner leading a musical invasion of France in 1870, both got a few chuckles here and there.

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

A.B.: I doubt I am the only one who acknowledges a debt to Gogol, Chekhov, Nabokov, and Poe as their major influences. It isn’t as common as Delany and Le Guin, but certainly not unique. There are several excellent bilingual writers, several physician writers I am proud to call twice-colleagues, several of anything I can ever be labeled as. I guess this is a question best asked of my fans. Shouldn’t take too long to interview both of them.

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

A.B.: Characterization is easiest: I seem to have a good handle on subtext which is what characterization is all about.

Plotting is the hardest. If I do my characterization right, the characters will pick proper fights with each other, the Universe, and the absurdity of existence. If not, they go through the motions, listlessly.

P.S.:    You’ve had many short stories published. Have you written any novels or do you intend to?

A.B.: I have not so far been chosen by a novel to be the instrument of its creation. Also, plotting: novels seem to depend on it more than short stories do.

P.S.:    In describing yourself, you cite your Russian childhood, Star Trek, chemistry, and pediatrics. How do you weave each of those threads of your life into your stories?

A.B.: Well, I learned English from Star Trek, so that’s huge. The chemical principles of self-assembly and tertiary structure — if you think about it, that’s how the best stories work, the characters and their worlds interacting organically, friendships and conflicts never feeling forced or synthetic. Pediatrics — after 30 years, subtext is second nature, you get to read whatever is left unsaid, tease out the meaning behind the exact phraseology used. And growing up speaking a highly inflected language I think gave me a heightened understanding of structure and mechanics of English.

Also, seriously, when everything you say can be used by Big Brother against you, subtext becomes a way of life. I was beta reading a story once that had this exchange:

A: “We hunt dragons.”

B: “There are no dragons.”

A: “That’s because we killed them all!”

My suggestion was to change it to:

A: “We hunt dragons.”

B: “Dragons are extinct.”

A: “You are welcome!”

Same idea, but I think communicating it through subtext made the speaker more matter-of-fact and therefore more believable.

P.S.:    Your stories often contain literary references, some perhaps unfamiliar to American readers. Are your tales intended to be enjoyed on several levels by the casual reader, the well-read bibliophile, and the researching puzzle-solver?

A.B.: Yes. In fact, this is exactly what several reviewers and a number of beta readers said. “Because of your story I googled [X] and wow [X] is now my new favorite thing and likely the name of my firstborn and my next band” — this is what writers live for!

Examples: I wrote a story about Night Witches, a women’s night bomber unit in the Soviet Army in WWII. Got an email from a reader who happily discovered the unit actually existed! Another reader now peppers conversations with Russian swear words. Mea maxima culpa! And Chrestomathy, the patchwork alternate literature story, got a whole bunch of conversations going about Pushkin and Gogol and the nature of ethics.

P.S.:    Your Twitter stream abounds in puns. What is it about that form of humor that intrigues you?

A.B.: I immigrated to US with my parents in 1976, and by end of high school and start of college in ’78 my English was fully functional, but no more. It was on a winter day in 1979 that I felt an almost audible *click* as English became *my* language, and the first manifestation of that was that I started making puns. I scribbled in the margins of my notebooks, Q and A jokes, knock knock jokes, shaggy dog stories ending in a terrible pun —

Also, I always liked math. And math teaches us that the shortest distance between two puns is a straight line.

One of my multilingual idols, Vladimir Nabokov, excelled at puns. Pale Fire has to be one of my favorite books of all time.

P.S.:    Your story in Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Hides the Dark Tower is “Deep Into That Darkness Peering.” Can you tell us what inspired that homage to Poe (with a nod to Chekhov)?

A.B.: Well, Poe is… Poe! I mean, who else can write such purple prose and get away with it? “Deep Into That Darkness Peering” is actually one of three Poe’s purple prose pastiches I perpetrated, the other two published in Stupefying Stories Showcase. Melodrama, bathos, run-on sentences from hell (in my son’s estimation) — and I’m getting paid for it! MWAHAHA! [clears throat] Umm, where was I?

I also admire Poe for what has to be the biggest Deus Ex ending ever. Remember how “The Pit and the Pendulum” ends? The French enter the city and save the protagonist! Agency? Who needs agency when you have the French army! Now I don’t have to feel guilty for how I ended “Deep Into That Darkness Peering.”

Chekhov, by the way, is the author of the best bit of subtext ever written. In “The Lady with the Dog,” a man approaches the lady and the dog. The dog bristles. Quote follows:

“He does not bite,” she said and blushed.

Think about it.

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

A.B.: An alternate history in which Tsar Nicholas II caught the bullet meant for Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911. No WWI, no Revolution. Murder mystery involving several characters born before the point of departure and famous in our timeline for — blimey, I better go and write this, what?

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

Anatoly Belilovsky: Don’t only take writing advice from writers who wrote stuff you wish you’d written. Even people whose writing you don’t find appealing can help you develop your own voice. And if then you develop taste for their work — well, growth happens.

 

Readers aching to find out more about Anatoly Belilovsky (you know you’re one of them) can visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 4, 2015Permalink

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

October 31, 2015Permalink

Author Interview — Stephen Blake

You may have noticed I have not yet interviewed all the authors who have stories in the newly famous anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today I’m pleased to bring you one more; I’m interviewing Stephen Blake.

Stephen BlakeOn his website, Stephen describes himself as just an ordinary bloke (he’s English), and a fantasy and science fiction loving geek.  His Twitter page describes him as “Writer & exaggerator. Cat, Dog & Guinea Pig Wrangler. Tai Chi Enthusiast. Cornish and Proud.”

Now, the interview (British spelling and all!):

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Stephen Blake: I’d always spoken about writing, always dreamed that I might be able to do something. It took a redundancy, illness and a lot of encouragement from my wife to actually go for it. I should say that a trip to a convention (BristolCon 2012) also made a difference. I’d always had ideas for stories but never did anything about it. Finally meeting authors who were real people, who sometimes held down jobs and seeing that they were not that different from me – it got me thinking. I realised the only difference between us were my own excuses – so I got rid of them (the excuses that is; all the authors I met are fine and did not meet their demise).

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

S.B.: Ideas seem the easiest. In fact I probably have too many. Having free flowing ideas is great until you can’t decide which one to work on next.

The most difficult aspect for me is that of personal discipline. I’ll procrastinate and dance around getting on with a job but once I start I am usually very productive. It’s just the getting going part.

I should say I also struggle with the reading in public. Unless you write so well as to not need to promote your work, it seems that giving a reading is an important part of being an author. I get nervous but I read in public at least once a month now and I’m dealing with it better all the time.

P.S.: How did you become interested in writing steampunk?

S.B.: I find the whole idea fascinating. I grew up watching things like “Island at the Top of the World,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Warlords of Atlantis.” Steampunk, for me, encapsulates adventure and excitement. The possibilities are huge. You can go fantasy and discover lost races, you can go sci-fi and have clockwork automatons. The setting, usually the Victorian age, is so interesting. Remember how interested they were in the supernatural, the thing to do back then was to have a séance. Someone will say you can do all these things in any setting or time period. All I’ll say is ‘steampunk’ lets you do it with style.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.B.: I’ve always been a voracious reader. Childhood favourites stay with me now, such as Enid Blyton, C.S.Lewis, and Roald Dahl.

At school I always had one book out of the library over and over and that was a collection of Greek myths. Even now, I enjoy reading them.

More recently I’ve enjoyed R. A. Salvatore, Gareth Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith, and Joanne Hall. I read all kinds of things. I’ve not long finished some Agatha Christie and Robert Louis Stevenson. I like reading all sorts, I even believe Stan Lee has had an influence on me, hence my characters always seem to have a disability of some sort or they are a social outcast. I think as writers we can learn from one another. I’m like a sponge trying to take in every lesson I can.

AvastYeAirships (4)P.S.: You wrote “Beneath the Brass” for Avast, Ye Airships!  Can you tell us a bit about the story?

S.B.: It’s a journal, kept by a young woman who has been put into an asylum. There’s nothing wrong with her but she accused her brother of attacking her and he’s made it seem like she is mad. Pirates rescue her and it is her account of all that befalls her during that time. It’s love, peril, airships and automatons but not necessarily in that order.

P.S.: In your website, you mentioned having joined a critique group. How has that group affected your writing?

S.B.: Well hopefully I’m reducing the vast amount of commas I apparently use. Mostly it is just very supportive, knowing that people are going to be honest with you and give you constructive criticism. I struggle sometimes with confidence – believing myself to be more lucky than talented. I know that these people (Victoria and Inez) will be brutally honest, so that when they say “it’s good”, it really means a lot.

Airship300P.S.: Your story “Lord Craddock: Ascension” appears in the anthology Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion. What is that story about?

S.B.: It’s about fighting slavery, fighting stereotypes and preconceptions and using those preconceptions to your advantage when trying to take down slave traders. It also involves automatic carriages and jumping automatons.

Bristol has history of being part of the ‘triangular’ slave trade route and I liked the idea of someone fighting racism and slavery in a steampunk vigilante kind of way.

P.S.: Before writing your stories, do you imagine a scene, a character, or a plot outline?

S.B.: I get an idea. Usually it’s a ‘what if?’ scenario. After that I just think about it and see how it plays out. It’s usually no more than the beginning and end. I normally take a while to figure out what happens in the middle. I can just think and scribble notes for months before I actually start typing a story.

Recently I had a story accepted for an anthology typed out and submitted within ninety minutes. I don’t see that happening often though, if ever again.

For “Beneath the Brass,” my first thought was, what if Stephen Hawkins was alive in that time period? What if he became a pirate? In the end the story is not about the pirates but about Miss Alice Reynolds, the lady stuck in an asylum. Until you start typing away on your keyboard you can never be entirely sure how it will unfold.

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

S.B.: I’ve a few things on the go. My big work in progress is tentatively called “Blood Key” and is a YA fantasy with elements of steampunk. It’s the tale of a young girl who ends up in a world not seen by us since the days when the Celtic druids travelled there. It’s the story of her trying to get home and those who want to use her to get the magic flowing again and seize power.

I’m also working on a really interesting project called “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” It’s an anthology of children’s stories designed to encourage young boys to read. It’s very fascinating because each story will actually be chapters. I’ve written three stories for it but that is not the end. I now have to work with the other authors to make all our stories fit seamlessly together as if it were a single book. I’ve got to say this has tested my imagination no end. I can dream up tales of Victorian steampunk, demons and zombies quite easily – trying to put myself in the shoes of a mid west American twelve year old has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.

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

Stephen Blake: Go for it – that is the best advice. You’ve got to give it a go. The more you write the better you’ll get. Lord Craddock was my first attempt and it got published (after an awful lot of editing mind you). For some time I believed that was a fluke and yet here I am with a story in Avast, Ye Airships!, and soon I’ll have another three stories in a children’s anthology, “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” All because I just stopped talking about how I’d like to write and did it.

One other thing I realised early on is that writing is like music. One person hears a song and it evokes an intense feeling of dislike within them. Another hears the same tune and they feel it touches their very soul and fills them with happiness. Write the stories you want to write and they’ll find an audience, even if it’s only you (but that is highly unlikely!).

I could go on and on. Join a local group of writers. Read lots. If possible meet authors and compare notes. Keep trying for anthologies because you’ll meet great editors who will take your writing by the scruff and knock it into shape.

Thanks, Steve! All my readers will soon be regular followers of you on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, and will become avid readers of your blog.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Steve Cook

Once again Poseidon’s Scribe has landed a fascinating interview with a fellow author, who has a story appearing in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today’s interview is with Steve Cook.

Steven CookSteve Cook is a part-time writer, part-time teacher, currently dialing down on the latter so he can focus on the former. He’s married and lives with his wife and cat in London, England.

At last, the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Steve Cook: I began writing fiction in 2010. It was my first year working as a primary school teacher and I had prepared as much as I possibly could during the Christmas holiday. Then, the first week back in January, we had a record snowfall for the area and the school was closed. We happened to live opposite a Starbucks, which meant we were basically in there every evening. I just grabbed my netbook and took it over there and started to write, funneling all the readiness and energy into that instead. I rattled along writing chapters of a pretty terrible book idea, and then got into NaNoWriMo in a big way. That’s been responsible for most of my output over the last six years.

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

S.C.: The easiest aspect of writing for me is world-building. I probably spend too long on it, but it pays off when you can write something in that suggests a deeper, richer world beyond it. Short stories and flash fiction that flesh out the world are something I really enjoy doing. The most difficult aspect of writing is editing, without a doubt, and I get round it by showing my stuff to different people. Everyone has a different thing they look for: my wife is a designer and illustrator, for example, and she really focuses on the visual design of what I write.

P.S.: What genres have you written in, and do you have a favorite?

S.C.: I’ve written mainly fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy both of them! Most of my fantasy writing in the last year or so has been for the Dungeons and Dragons group I run; they’ve been playing for the best part of three years now. I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Noctis Point, which is the book I’m working on right now. It’s set a couple of hundred years into the future, and it’s really fun to take technology from today, or even theoretical technology, and apply it to that setting.

AvastYeAirshipsP.S.: You wrote “The Clockwork Dragon” for the Avast, Ye Airships! anthology.  Can you tell us a little about that story?

S.C.: “The Clockwork Dragon” is a story about some privateers working under contract to retrieve an artifact; they’re ex-pirates, so it’s not long before treachery and greed overcome the captain, who teams up with the cook and absconds with the loot. It’s up to the first mate to track them down in a chase in the skies of Ireland and Scotland. Like most of the fiction I write, it grew organically from one image, one scene: a giant clockwork dragon, bellows for lungs, canvas wings and so on, hovering over an airship in lashing rain. I actually own a clockwork dragon miniature, and it has made an appearance in our D&D game!Clockwork Dragon

P.S.: You participated in Nanowrimo last November.  Was that your first nano?  What was that experience like?

S.C.: I’ve been taking part in NaNo since 2010. I honestly can’t remember how I came across it, but it’s brilliant. It breaks up the writing into bitesize chunks and even gives me a little chart to let me know how much I’ve written, what my average is, that sort of thing. It also helped me to come across other local authors in the Milton Keynes area; several of us met up towards the end of the 2010 NaNo to write together. I didn’t make it the following year, sadly; a combination of a lack of enthusiasm in my story idea and a crazy work schedule meant that I fell short by a considerable distance. In 2012, I wrote Poisonroot, and built the world that my D&D group plays in, so that’s constantly being worked on. In 2013 I cheated slightly and wrote ten short stories set in the world of Poisonroot; that was even more fun because I got to play with different styles and techniques within the same body of work. I actually completed two NaNo projects in 2014, because I did Camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year. That was the first version of what would eventually become Noctis Point, the bulk of which I wrote in November 2014. Finishing my most recent NaNo was a close run thing; I was working as a teacher still, and we had the inspectors come in. We had four days of twenty-hour work days, and writing just wasn’t a priority any more. I had to write 12,000 words in two days to finish. My NaNo author page is here.

P.S.: From your website, it appears you are into Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs.)  Do you find that helps your fiction writing, or takes time away from it?

S.C.: Definitely it takes time away from it! I’ve played a lot of MMOs, but for the last eighteen months I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a real timesink, but it’s also a way to talk with my friends and be social. My wife and flatmate both play it as well, so there’s always something going on. There are some wonderful little bits of writing that are inspirational, but mainly I’m in it for the music, which I listen to when I’m writing.

Murder MatchesP.S.: You recently collaborated on a product called Murder Matches.  It looks like a murder story told from eight different points of view.  Can you tell us more about that?

S.C.: Nana Li is a good friend of mine, and incredibly talented. She had been working on an idea inspired by designer matchboxes, and wanted it to be a murder mystery where each matchbox contained a character profile or statement which, when put together, would help a reader solve the mystery. I love things that twist and I’m a real fiend for puzzles, so it was awesome to work with her on this. I can’t give away too much for fear of spoiling the mystery! Writing the characters was fun, as each one had a different voice. It was a real challenge, giving away a couple of clues in each one while at the same time trying to suggest a motive for everyone. We’re working on a sequel for release this year.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.C.: I’ve read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which is pretty much all I write. For fantasy, authors such as Trudi Canavan, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tolkien, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Raymond E. Feist and Peter V. Brett have really inspired me. On the science fiction side, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Stel Pavlou, Iain M. Banks and Dan Simmons are really high up on the list. I’ve read quite a lot of John Courtenay Grimwood’s cyberpunk books as well. The truth is I’ll read pretty much anything going! I can see little things that have inspired me from all of those authors, flairs or personal touches that strike me as being from that particular style of writing, but I try wherever possible to have my own style.

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

S.C.: Noctis Point is a science fiction story set a couple of hundred years in the future. Through war and economic collapse, the Earth has eventually been united into an Empire, which has begun to reach out to the stars for colonization. In the process, it has encountered an alien race living on the moons of Jupiter; imagine spider-centaurs and you’re halfway there. These ‘Spiders’ are initially peaceful, but things quickly turn bad when they ambush a delegation from Earth during peace talks, and battle lines are drawn. Another faction involved in all this is the psychs, living on Mars. They are humans who have evolved psychic powers when they turn sixteen, and more of them are beginning to appear every year. Partly in fear of them, the Empire has ordained that they should live on Mars, in a base known as Noctis Point, where they will be trained in preparation for joining the Empire’s armies as elite soldiers. The story follows two main characters: Alex, a boy who manifests the power and is sent to Noctis Point to train; and Imperial Princess Ariadne Cutter, the daughter of the Emperor, whose role as her father’s spymistress leads her into a terrorist plot that could have grave consequences on the war.

P.S.: Please tell us about your podcasting activities.

S.C.: I run a once-weekly podcast, Pocket Fiction, where I read either a short story or part of a longer piece. Up until just recently it’s been my own work, which has been really useful for me, but I’m looking forward to working with some of my fellow pirates in the anthology. I’m always looking for people to collaborate with, and producing Pocket Fiction is genuinely fun. Having more time recently has allowed me to go for better production values as well. I built a little recording booth and I’ve begun to add sound and vocal effects to deepen the immersion even further. Pocket Fiction is available on the iTunes store, but I also upload each week to Tumblr and to YouTube, where each video is played over a roaring fire. That was one of the initial ideas I had for the podcast; that it was tales told around a campfire, something to make you feel warm and relaxed.

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

Steve Cook: Tell people who you trust to give you honest feedback that you’re writing; they’ll help you and support you, and hopefully you can persuade them to read your work. Sometimes it’s good to plan stories out, but more often than not I find the characters somehow wrest control of the story away from me halfway through and we diverge. It’s ok for characters to be different on paper than how you initially imagined them. Probably the most useful thing I do is read my stuff out loud; having to read each word finds every mistake, every awkward phrasing, and sometimes you pick up on things that you would otherwise have missed.

 

Thanks, Steve! I’m sure you’ve enticed my readers to visit your blog, follow you on Twitter, and visit you on Tumblr.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Amy Braun

North to Canada we go today for the next interview in this series. I’m on a quest to interview as many contributing authors to the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! as I can, and this time, it’s Amy Braun.

Amy BraunAmy Braun is an aspiring urban fantasy and horror author addicted to monsters and mythology. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, watching movies, taking photos, or gaming. She’s a recipient, in 2014, of April Moon Books Editor Award for “author voice, world-building and general bad-assery.”

On a side note (or two), that may be the world’s only award that contains “bad-assery” in its title, and I think General Bad-Assery would be a great name for both a rock band and a senior Army officer.

After that irrelevant tangent, here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Amy Braun: One of my friends once told me I had an overactive imagination. He was more right than he knew. I’m constantly daydreaming, thinking of crazy worlds, What-If scenarios, wicked action scenes with wickeder monsters. I’ve been that way since my pre-teens, when writing was just a hobby for me. I can’t picture myself writing anything but fiction. I love letting my imagination run wild, and just seeing what it can do makes it worth the effort. I once read a quote saying that “creating something that didn’t exist before is as close to magic as I’ll ever get.” That couldn’t be more true for me.

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

A.B.: Most days, writing the words is easy. If I have an ironclad view on how I want a scene to be, the words just flow. The same can be said for action scenes. If I have the right music going, I can dive into the fight scene and make it absolutely insane. The faster paced or more dramatic the story, the better I do. In contrast, I have some difficulty when it comes to research. The Internet is great, but it can be a hindrance when certain “experts” disagree on certain things. For some stories I cheat and use magic, but that doesn’t always work. For example, in Crimson Sky, the novel inspired by “Lost Sky,” my main character Claire is an engineer. Since I know as much about engineering as I do about brain surgery, I had to do some research and find out her limits. Not an easy, or thrilling thing to do. The same can be said with some of the devices Claire uses. You can’t always skim over the truth, and even though this is a fantasy series, I had to at least give some kind of explanation to how her tools worked.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

A.B.: More than I can name, and each for their own reasons. The biggest influences are Rob Thurman for her sharp dialogue and in depth characters. Jennifer Estep for her amazing action scenes, easy flow, and ability to keep ever her longest running series fresh and exciting. Kevin Hearne for the detail he puts into his mythology and lore. Alexander Gordon Smith and Scott Sigler for their skills at writing fast-paced, truly engaging horror. And most recently, Michael J. Sullivan for his ability to show rather than tell, and involve the reader so deeply that they can bring you to tears without trying. Not that that’s happened to me. Ahem.

P.S.: I see you have been participating in the Weekend Writing Warriors‘ 8Sunday promotions, and that they are some of your most popular blog posts. How do you choose the 8 sentences to share?

A.B.: Usually I go with the novel or shot story I’m currently working on. A lot of the authors I read from WeWriWa tend to choose a chapter and have consistency for their posts. That’s a great idea for obvious reasons, but I’m the kind of writer who works too fast to want to do that. I like choosing snippets that I think are engaging and fun, something to draw the reader in without giving too much away. I also like sharing various work to tease at future projects and hopefully draw a more interested audience. 8Sunday has been a huge help for me, and I hope to build a larger following through it.

P.S.: You mentioned in one post that you’re a fast writer and cranked out 78,000 words in one month, even though you have what you call a Real Job. That output is very impressive. How do you manage to write so fast?

A.B.: Honestly, I do nothing else with my free time. My days off are Mondays and Tuesdays, and I take full advantage of the time that I have to accomplish as much as I can. If I’m having a good day, I can write over 10,000 words. Even on a bad day where my focus isn’t 100% there, I can still get out at least 6,000. Literally, all I do is sit at my computer, listen to music and write. If I think of wanting to do something else, that thought strain usually goes, “Well I could be catching up on The Walking Dead… or I could be writing.” It’s become an addiction I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Even when I’m at work, I’m thinking about a story and what to do next in a scene. On my breaks or when I’m caught up on my projects, I use my phone to write. Not as effective as a laptop, but I’ll use what I have available. I love and need writing like a flower loves and needs the sun.

P.S.: Your short story, “Lost Sky” will appear in the AvastYeAirshipsAvast, Ye Airships! anthology. Please tell us a little about the story.

A.B.: “Lost Sky” is sort of a guinea pig. It was a crazy idea I wanted to try since I was in my pre-teens, that I finally took a chance with. The story is about a young engineer named Claire living in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world that has been overrun with bloodthirsty vampire like creatures called Hellions. Claire’s younger sister Abby is kidnapped and taken to the Behemoth, the large Hellion ship that oversees the entire city. To rescue her, Claire is forced to join sides with three Marauders, roguish pirates who are looking for their own revenge against the Hellions. It’s a fun story and I have a lot of pride for it. Hopefully other readers will enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

P.S.: Is it true that “Lost Sky” inspired a trilogy of novels, called the Dark Sky collection? When will those novels be available? What ties them together?

A.B.: Yes, it’s definitely true. Dark Sky dives into the world created in “Lost Sky,” and follows Claire and the Marauders as they search for a machine her parents made that is supposed to close the Breach, the tear in the sky that allowed the Hellions to invade. The novels follow Claire’s adventures as she learns her family’s secrets, begins to take up the work they left behind, and tests it against the horrible might of the Hellions. The first novel, Crimson Sky, is completed its rough draft, though I’m looking at several different publishing options at the moment. I could have a couple publishers lined up should they take to the idea and be willing to publish a full-length novel, though if that fails I will likely self-publish. I know what a long and strenuous process it is to submit to companies and hope they say yes. So right now, the release date is up in the air, though I think I’ll be shooting for late summer/early fall.

P.S.: Recently your short story, “DeathCafe_Hotel_HellDeath’s Cafe: Hotel Hell,” was published. Sounds creepy… What is it about?

A.B.: “Hotel Hell” is one of my favorite short stories ever written. It’s about a man named Milo whose fiancée went missing. Unable to wait any longer, he sets out to find her and encounters a mysterious hotel. As he asks the staff about her disappearance, he begins to feel unnerved by them. He senses something strange about the hotel, and its secrets could cost him dearly. It’s a subtle, more environmental horror story in contrast to my last Mocha Memoirs horror short, “Call from the GCall From The Grave cover 8.27.47 AMrave.” But I loved writing it. Creating atmospheric horror is just as fun as writing splatterfest gore, and I had a great time coming up with the visuals for it.

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

A.B.: Currently, I’m working on the second book in the Dark Sky trilogy, Midnight Sky. I’m about halfway through it now, and hope to have it done soon. Once it’s finished, I’ll be looking into a few open submission calls that have caught my eye, and beginning a project called Bond Unknown, a series of novellas being put together by Canadian publisher April Moon Books, now that the rights regarding Ian Fleming’s famous super spy have been released to Canada.

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

Amy Braun: The same advice that’s been given to me countless times, the same advice hundreds of famous authors give whenever someone asks. Write. Simply write. The more you write, the better you will do. That isn’t to say that your bestseller will be the first book you create. In all likelihood, it won’t be. Every author I’ve ever respected and read has been rejected by everyone in the universe. Despite my successes last year, I know that it’s a long road ahead and I’ll get a million more doors slammed in my face. But I write every day for as long as I can. I get the words out, and don’t think about editing until I’m done. I make little notes, but I don’t edit halfway through. And never be afraid to take chances. If you have a crazy idea you want to write, then write it. Publishers and editors are always looking for something new, something exciting and engaging. Even if the idea you adore with every ounce of your soul has been rejected (and mine have been), don’t give up. This is not an easy a career, and even though I work by the “if you write it, they will come” theory, that doesn’t mean I’ll be signed by a professional, major label. And honestly, I’m okay with that. If you truly, deeply, love writing with the very core of your soul, if you live and breathe it, find peace in it, you will find a way to get your story out there. If I have to self-publish for the rest of my career, I will. I have too much creativity to be restrained by a label’s nitpickiness. Continue to learn, take critiques as advice, and again, never stop writing.

 

Thanks, Amy! After that interview, my readers will want to know more, and they can visit Amy’s author page on Amazon, on Goodreads, on Twitter, and at her website.

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 16, 2015Permalink