Category Archives: Aesc & Thorn Publishing

Posts related to Aesc & Thorn Publishing and various aspects of Rob’s professional life.

Mag Review: Imagination (October, 1950)

Greetings all

After a tumultuous October, it’s time to get back into the normal groove.

This week I’ll review Imagination, Vol. 1, No. 1 from October, 1950. Yes, that’s right, it’s the first issue of this magazine. I’m actually curious how it might differ from a regular issue, so let’s dive into it.

Imagination (October, 1950)
Imagination (October, 1950)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58906

Inside the front and back covers is a neat blurb and pictures about the new “scientifilm” Rocketship X-M. It’s a very 1950s sort of film, especially in how it looks at Mars, but it looks interesting.

We start reading with a rather large Editor’s column with one part by Forrest J. Ackerman and the rest by the regular editor, Raymond A. Palmer.

Most of you probably recognize Ackerman, but maybe not Palmer. However, Palmer was a foundational piece of SF magazines. He helped start one of the first fanzines and as editor for Amazing Stories bought Isaac Asimov’s first professional story. Imagination was his baby, for all intents and purposes.

In general, the editorial promises what Imagination would be. It is not terribly remarkable as it states that it will provide a freshtake on the SF magazine. However, based on what I see in the editorial and his biography, I think Palmer would have loved to be at the 20Booksto50K conference this week. He seemed to really enjoy bringing in new authors.

The first story in the issue is Chester S. Geier’s The Soul Stealers. It’s a workmanlike story, in my opinion. It suffers, I think, from a little too much plotting, in that I struggle at some of the transitions. A certain thing has to happen, so it happens, but I was not convinced by the events in the story that the thing was going to happen. It’s got action and mystery, but it didn’t quite mesh for me. It’s technically good, but left me wanting a harder fight for the protagonist.

Immediately after is a small space-filler that discusses the amazing impact of trucking and heavy earth-movers on American society. This is the most striking line: “All this is a harbinger of the future. Instead of concentration in cities as has been happening all over the world for the last few centuries, it is possible for a civilization to spread itself out all over the country and still produce as effectively as if it were in one spot” (p. 39). This is coming to pass, but Palmer could have had little idea of the internet. Still, it’s a prescient thought.

The next story is Wind in Her Hair by Kris Neville. I confess that when I see the name Neville I *always* think first about a shield bearing the device gules, a saltire argent, with 50 troops attached from the game Kingmaker. Sorry, not sorry.

Anyway, this Neville is a Missourian I have not ever heard of before. The reason why is SF was too limiting for him and after publishing a number of stories, he went to do other things that interested him. Namely, epoxy resins.

After reading this, I really wish he hadn’t shifted to epoxy resins. Wind in Her Hair is one of those “what happens on generational ships” kind of stories. How will our society evolve, and that sort of thing. This is a great example of the subgenre, because, in the end, it’s not really human society that’s evolved, but our physiology.

A screwed up environmental system meant the people on that ship now cannot breathe Earth air or live on Earth at all. The only way they find out is by actually returning to Earth. They’re excited about coming home, dreaming dreams of a future outside the ship, only to have their dreams crushed. Fantastic story.

Rog Phillips is next with One for the Robot – Two for the Same … Phillips, actually Roger Phillips Graham, is vaguely familiar to me, but I cannot recall reading anything by him. I’ll look for him in the future, though. His writing career is a tad tragic, and it’s a shame, because he looks to be a very good writer.

This story is about a scientist who tries to figure out how to transfer a human’s brain to a new, robotic body to make himself immortal. He figures out the secret, but in so doing he discovers something that essentially destroys him. He loses his reputation and becomes an alcoholic.

Another scientist replicates his work and tracks him down. He wants to know what it is that the main character discovered that destroyed him. He wants to try it himself, but doesn’t want to make the same mistake.

The main character’s first name is January. It’s a cool hint at the answer. The procedure doesn’t transfer the brain, it copies it. There is now a second one of himself, one facing back to what he has done, and the other facing to an immortal, robotic future. I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation, either. Very good story that kept me wondering until the end. It is only afterwards I really understood his first name.

Next is a couple of short essays. One discusses how brains work much the same as a TV or telephone does. The second essay talks about the brand new instrument, the encephalograph, and how it can help us understand sanity and why people murder other people. I wonder what we think of as cutting edge will seem so quaint to people in 2090.

We move on to the next story, Look to the Stars, by Willard Hawkins. Hawkins is another author I can’t remember having read before.

I’m a sucker for anyone who writes a mythology to start the story from whence that mythology derives. I like piecing the clues together, and this has all of that.

A crazy scientist creates a spaceship. Eight others come to him, not really by choice. By seeming accident, they get on the ship and it activates, sending them to the stars. But the ship has been encased in a special form of clay that holds anything with a spark of like in stasis, and takes them, along with all of the creatures and plants it has captured to a far distant world. These then repopulate the planet. The mythology is that of the eight’s descendants.

Part of the fun is the fact that seven of the eight are criminals and awful people. But the last line is, “All were gods, stupendous beings of high courage and noble aims…” (p. 149). It’s a good story. It drags a bit, and could have been smoothed, but it is still a fun read.

The last story is Inheritance by Edward W. Ludwig. This is actually his first published story of 25 or so.  It’s a solid story and creepy. A dog and her puppy run down into a cave and gets lost and her master chases them into the tunnel. They get lost for several days. During that time a chemical attacks kills everyone else on earth, but never reaches them.

He is initially terrified of being the only person left alive and contemplates suicide, but decides to have a last meal. He enjoys the best steak he can find, cigars he could never have afforded, and good scotch. He decides to enjoy these good things for a bit. Then he remembers there’s so much left to see on earth, and he decides to go visit them. There may not be people, but he’s got his dog and her puppy and he loves them more than people anyway.

After this story is a personal ad section. These include:

  • Have you seen flying disks or believes invisible beings walk the earth?
  • Selling a collection of SF/F books 3 for $1.
  • The Universal Musketeers , an unofficial fanclub around Newport News, VA, is looking for new members.
  • An F.J. Ackerman at 236 1/2 N. New Hampshire in Hollywood seeks certain magazines and books

Last is the letters to the editor page. First off is one by Chet Geier, yes the first author in this issue, thanking Palmer for the opportunities he has given him. There’s also a similar letter by Rog Phillips. My favorite letter is the one announcing all the things happening at Norwescon 1950. I wonder when this issue of Imagination was actually released, because Norwescon was actually on Labor Day, 1950 and this was the October, 1950 issue.

Anyway, though I didn’t really know any of authors coming into this issue, I really liked it. There’s no earth-shatteringly amazing story in here, but they’re all at least solid. Altogether, it’s an auspicious beginning and I look forward to future issues.

Next Week’s Issue: Fantastic Universe (December, 1957)


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: J.R. Handley

Chances are, if you like military science fiction, you might have run into J.R. Handley on Facebook. He has science fiction podcast and serves as an admin on the Galaxy’s Edge fansite.  He’s a hard worker who adds a ton to the MilSF community. And, oh yeah, he’s a good writer as well.

Interview: J.R. Handley

What is your quest?

I strive to tell compelling science fiction stories that are fun escapism from the drudgeries of the modern world. I love space opera and military science fiction, which are the two spaces where I excise my demons and weave them into the tapestry of my futuristic universe. I let my real-world experiences from serving 8.5 years in the Army, with two tours in Iraq, flavor the action and the soldiers I write about. Hopefully I succeed in creating warriors worthy of the genre that I love to read.

Growing up I devoured science fiction from Orson Scott Card and the plethora of books written in the Star Wars Universe. I read those books clear up through the end of high school, only taking a break from reading for fun when I was in college and then in Iraq. When I rediscovered reading, I found authors like Chris Kennedy (The Theogony Universe), Tim C. Taylor (Human Legion Series), Terry Mixon (Empire of Bones Series), Richard Fox (The Ember War Series) and the deadly duo of Anspach and Cole (The Galaxy’s Edge Series). All of those styles effect the story teller I’ve become, which I hope to bring to the Four Horsemen Universe I enjoy reading.

What is your favorite color?

My favorite color? I’m color blind so I don’t really have a favorite. I only see the basic primary colors, but I guess I like blue and green. Okay, my former fire team would skewer me alive if I didn’t say Infantry Blue!

As for what I like in my creations, I strive to balance the details that make the story come alive with the fast pace expected from the genres where I play. I don’t want to tell the readers about the far-flung battlefields, I want them to BE there with my characters. I would love for them to be able to envision the story, like a movie playing in their heads. One of the biggest tricks I use for my battlefields, since you’re looking for advice for other creators… I make a sand table of the space where the action happens. It lets me see the battlefield in 3D and plot realistic strategies for the situation at hand. Plus, it’s fun playing with Legos and calling it “work.” Unless my wife is reading this, then it is TOTALLY work!

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

An unladen paint brush flies at the speed of sound, divided by pie and multiplied by the weight of a porcupine on Mars. Oh, and make sure you don’t mix in the metric system or you’ll create a space-time singularity that will destroy the fabric of the universe!

Now, on a more serious note… I swear I can be serious! My biggest challenges revolve around overcoming the traumatic brain injury I suffered in Iraq. Sometimes I get my words mixed up, and my minions have to go back and help me figure out what I really meant. Most of the time it’s pretty easy sometimes involves rewriting entire sections because the gibberish was indecipherable. I can get confused very easily and have a finite number of cognitively viable hours in the day, which cuts into my writing time. Overall, I do it all again and still enjoy telling the stories even if I’m slower than molasses. It just means I have to get creative as I fight through the Amazon churn model that is in vogue.

The hardest part to answer here was regarding some of my failures. Even when I have stories rejected by anthologies, I don’t consider them failures. I write as therapy, as a way to process what happened overseas. I also write to keep exercising my gray matter so I can fend off the inevitable dementia that is often associated with dramatic brain injuries. Every day I write something, I call it a win. Most recent failure, or rejection, was from the previous 4HU anthology. I got so distracted by the shiny idea, that I lost sight of the universe canon and the story was rejected. Again, this wasn’t a failure because I can pull out anything that is proprietary to the universe and still salvage the story. Failure is only a thing if you don’t learn from it, or you have a warped view on things. I try to take everything in stride, avoid dwelling on the negative, and appreciate that I’ve got another day above the dirt. Losing so many friends definitely alters your perspective, and I try to honor their sacrifice by not giving up.

Since we focused on the negative, well on failure anyway, I want to take a second to talk about the good things. I truly feel that the story and the upcoming anthology is one of the best I’ve ever written. I’ve read all of the previous anthologies, and many of the main storyline books, and wanted to bring something a little different to the universe. I tried to honor the warrior, by remembering why they fight with this submission. I really hope that comes across and would love for your feedback once you’ve read it!

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

The Holy Hand Grenade is all knowing, it comforts us when we are hurting and smites our foes with impunity! Who doesn’t worship the Holy Hand Grenade? Point me at the blasphemous soul and we will smite them together!

It sounds like what you’re really asking for are my tricks of the trade, and the biggest one I use I’ve previously mentioned. I rely heavily on sand tables to block out my action scenes, and I feel like that’s where I do my best work. I can’t really pinpoint one specific success that I’m proud of, other than to say that my latest work is always my favorite and I hope that I’m growing at every step along the way. The two stories I’m most proud of are the one in the upcoming 4HU anthology titled “CASPers Widow” and one written in my Sleeping Legion Series titled “No Marine Left Behind.” I feel like they are some of my best published work, and I hope the readers agree.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit the Frog
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Coffee
  • Favorite Sports Team? Yay sports ball!!  Wait, I don’t have one… I prefer watching the USA Rugby Team or just reading a good book.
  • Cake or Pie? Coffee
  • Lime or Lemon? Coffee
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  French Dip with those ridged chips
  • Wet or Dry? Wet… cause COFFEE
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard OfJoey and Rory, Dropkick Murphy’s or maybe Dar Williams? I’d guess that these are pretty main stream though.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whichever one fills my glass the quickest!
  • Favorite Superhero? GI Joe or Captain America!
  • Steak Temperature? On my plate!
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Wait, did they have to be back then? Let me run to my local museum and get the historians to answer that one for me!
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Yes, as long as no deserts are involved. I’ve had my fill of deserts! For more serious answer though, I prefer spring or fall because the weather is in the Goldilocks zone.
  • Favorite PetOur benevolent leader, Lord Cthulhu.
  • Best Game Ever? Chess, though DnD is pretty fun as well. But that might just be because I haven’t played the 4HU game that is coming out soon!!
  • Coffee or Tea? Hot coffee or sweet iced tea, the ying to my yang! Clearly the secrets of an awesome life
  • Sci-Fi or FantasyD, All of the Above!

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

Well, I can tell you that the secret of the universe is 42, but you didn’t ask me that!  Or that everyone knows the Devil invented pineapple pizzas, but you didn’t ask that either! Oh, and we can all agree in the heathen blasphemous nature of unsweetened iced tea!!  What about the proper temperature one should drink beer?  I swear it should be properly chilled, but heathen Brits like Tim C. Taylor drink it warm.

Rob’s Answer: You are correct. Beer must be *properly* chilled. That temperature is different for various types of beers. Lagers, especially light lagers, are best really cold. Real Ales, especially cask-pulled ales, are usually better at about 55 degrees. If they’re too cold, you lose much of the flavor.

Stouts like Guinness are perfect examples of this. Cold Guinness is rather bland. Let it warm to about 50, and suddenly it’s rich and vibrant. So, yes. Chill your beer properly.

And one last thing. If you like beer and you go across the pond, look up CAMRA to help you find some absolute treasures. I’m sure Tim C. Taylor would agree.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

You can find my books on Amazon or hear my insanity over at the Sci-Fi Shenanigans Podcast. My website is an option too, I post a lot of book reviews there! Finally, we can chat on Facebook!

And where can we find you?

I’ll be attending the 20 Books to 50K author conference in Vegas in the first week in November 2018! Not sure about any other scheduled dates, since my life is so crazy at the moment. If any event comes up, I’ll be sure to post it on my website.

Do you have a creator biography?

J.R. Handley is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team. He is a veteran infantry sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division and the 28th Infantry Division. She is the kind of crazy that interprets his insanity into cogent English. He writes the sci-fi while she proofreads it.  The sergeant is a two-time combat veteran of the late unpleasantness in Mesopotamia where he was wounded, likely doing something stupid. He started writing military science fiction as part of a therapy program suggested by his doctor and hopes to entertain you while he attempts to excise his demons through these creative endeavors. In addition to being just another dysfunctional veteran, he is a stay at home wife, avid reader and all-around nerd.  Luckily for him, his Queen joins him in his fandom nerdalitry.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

Clearly, you need to ask the Religion Question; Star Wars, Star Trek or Firefly!  The right answer is Star Wars, pre-Disney, of course! And then Firefly, though the show was murdered prematurely by the Evil Overlords over at Fox.


Thanks to J.R. for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Tim C. Taylor

Greetings all

This interview is with someone I hope to hang out with in his neck of the woods. It’s been a while since I’ve been across the pond. He’s also got a wicked sense of humor, as you’ll see.

Interview: Tim C. Taylor
Tim C. Taylor
Tim C. Taylor

What is your quest?

My quest is to fill my backpack with many coins of gold and electrum. I shall win magical treasures, attain level 31, poke my doubters in the belly with a 10-foot pole, and sell a million books.

A million seller, eh? True, it’s just a number, but I love to think that long after I’m gone there will be someone to proudly say, “My great grandfather was an author. He was a million seller.” It’s an achievement that won’t need a word of explanation to be amazing a century hence, unlike for example the Nebula award for Best Novella (not that I’d dismiss such an award, but even today you have to explain what a Nebula award is, who SFWA are, possibly what a novella is, and undoubtedly why anyone not an industry insider should care).

And though it’s just a number, the implications are just as important. You don’t get to sell a million books unless you have an audience who loves what you do, and in that special form of love that means you get paid.

And like all good quests, even if I never catch up with my friends who have already finished this one, the journey itself is awesome.

What is your favorite color?

Bilious orc green.

I like to keep a rough working outline of the entire story before I start crafting scenes. I don’t require much detail; I don’t want it. What I will have is an understanding of the key twists and developments. I update the list as I write and discover more about the characters and the story, but I’ll have enough that I’m always sneaking in foreshadowing, clues, and early signs of big shifts to come. That way, when I throw a surprise twist it doesn’t feel contrived because it hasn’t come out of nowhere. That’s the theory, anyway.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Fast enough to hurt, but not to kill. Stippling brushes can maim, though. Always wear protection.

Imagine the scene. You’ve a great idea for a novel series. It’s commercial. It’s part of a hot new subgenre, and every author you know is already earning thousands from this subgenre every month. But your idea is better. You have the logo. You’ve crafted the killer tagline. Your coffee is freshly brewed, and you’ve even cleared your desk of all clutter.

It’s time to get your fingers dirty and write.

Two months later, you still have the great idea, except that’s not what you actually wrote. Maybe, in retrospect, you wrote a spin-off or a prequel, but it’s no longer matching that awesome tagline.

I’ve had a few like that. My hard disk is littered with the dismembered corpses of good books – and they would have been good books – but they weren’t the commercial idea I set out with. The bodies will lay slowly festering for decades because I’ve already cut out the juiciest morsels and used them in work that did get published.

These days I’m much better at being my own editor and ask myself ‘how I will sell this book’ all the way through the writing process.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My holy hand grenade has the power of light. Dark, ruddy, dappled, strobing, actinic, artificial and primeval: if I can’t get a vivid sense of how the light works in a scene that I’m about to write, then I know I haven’t imagined it well enough to craft it as viscerally as I would like.

I might skim through a rough outline of the scene and come back to it later, or go somewhere else away from my desk, shut my eyes (not advisable while driving or operating heavy machinery) and imagine harder.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? James Corden.
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy. Especially satisfying if it’s the bones of my enemies.
  •  Favorite Sports Team? Colchester United Football Club.
  •  Cake or Pie? Pie. Obviously.
  •  Lime or Lemon? Both. With plenty of ice.
  •  Favorite Chip Dip?  Thick gravy. Maybe with melted cheese. Oh, you mean crisps. Something with garlic, then.
  • Wet or Dry? Dry and then wet for a smooth finish.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Rick Derringer. Maybe he’s better known by American mercs, but he draws a blank when I mention him to Brits. Favourite slab of Derringer vinyl: Sweet Evil (1977). Here’s the official Sony upload of Drivin’ Sideways on YouTube. Rick gets such a rich tone in the solos, not only from his axe but also the Coke bottle accompaniment. https://youtu.be/Qqp1xW8MmjA.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Yes. Speyside whisky mostly, though also Islay malts. I do enjoy a Bourbon or Connemara occasionally. One day, I’ll try an English whiskey; they’re just starting to get bottled after a hundred-year break.
  • Favorite Superhero? SLAINE MacRoth  https://youtu.be/2S-yzQONzTM
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Blake’s 7.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Winter. Strong ales, an open fire in the lounge, and plenty of writing.
  • Favorite Pet? Gandalf the Grey and his late brother, Saruman the White. Here’s a pic of them watching their favorite guinea pig movie series: https://youtu.be/xy2RpVmAQPI
  • Best Game Ever? Best game with clothes on would have to be the Four Horsemen: Omega War Game. Since that’s not available yet, I’ll run with Kevin Zucker’s Napoleonic games with OSG. Pick of the bunch is Bonaparte in Italy (1979).
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee. Strong. Black.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? When I was a kid, it was an even mix, but for some reason – maybe I overdosed on epic fantasy during adolescence – I spent several decades reading almost exclusively science fiction over fantasy. A few years ago, I became curious about Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files because the novel Skin Game placed below No Award in the Hugo Awards. This means that a majority of voters felt the book was so bad that the opinions of the voters who did like Skin Game were invalid. I had no er… skin in the game, because I’d never read Mr. Butcher, but that curiosity led me to pick up a copy from my library where I used to do most of my writing. Did I like this return to reading fantasy? Did I! Within a year, I’d read all sixteen books in the series. Jim Butcher is a superb writer. In fact, he’s so good that I suspect assistance by demons… or maybe that alien octopus beastie, Nemo, who works for Winged Hussars. I reckon Wroguls make fine fantasy editors.

What question(s) would you like to ask me? 

Here’s what we need to know, Rob. How many times have you thrown a critical hit against innocent passersby on your D20 of Doom? (Or were they so innocent…?)

Rob’s Answer: I would say that, in the context of a show, a critical hit is one where someone buys a book solely because of the D20 of Doom. I get at least one critical a show. It’s important enough for my sales that I bought 2 more that sit on my shelf to replace the original when needed.

I also get at least one fumble where I drop the D20 and it bounces across the aisle. I’m klutzy enough that I bought 2 more that sit on my shelf to replace the original when needed.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

  • You can find out what I’m up to at humanlegion.com where you can join the Legion and download a starter library of eBooks for series written by myself and by fellow horseman scribe, JR Handley.
  • Other than my novelette in Tales of the Lyon’s Den, my latest release is my first ever horror story, which is in the Lovecroftian pulp adventure anthology: Adventures in the Arcane: Cthulhu Edition.
  • And my Amazon page is here: https://www.amazon.com/Tim-C-Taylor/e/B004QBGOZO/

Do you have a creator biography?

Tim C. Taylor lives with his family in an ancient village in England. When he was at an imprintable age, between 1977 and 1978, several mind-altering things happened to him all at once: 2000AD, Star Wars, Blake’s 7, and Dungeons & Dragons. Consequently, he now writes science fiction novels for a living, and has been doing so full time since 2011. For a free eBook starter library, join the Legion at humanlegion.com.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

You should have asked if I think there’s a future for serialized science fiction?

It’s funny you asked me that, Rob. Yes. Yes, I do. In fact, I can even put a name on that future: Chimera Company.

My current project is a weekly serial for fans of classic Star Wars. Each episode will be about the length of a story in one of the 4HU anthologies and I’ll run around seven episodes per series. Why not join the Legion and check out some of the Chimera Company prequels?


Thanks to Tim for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Website: www.robhowell.org
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Interview: Benjamin Smith

Benjamin is another author I’m looking forward to chatting with at conventions. He’s quite thoughtful, as you’ll see. Also, he said he really liked “Where Enemies Sit,” my story in For a Few Credits More, so clearly he’s a smart man.

Interview: Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith

What is your quest?

My favorite stories are the ones that feature cool characters in an awesome setting, fighting against the odds with their fists and their wits. And you can find that in just about any genre, but especially in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. I started off reading Arthurian legends when I was a kid, and playing games like Final Fantasy II (IV in the correct numbering system) and Betrayal at Krondor for the PC. When I learned that Betrayal at Krondor was based off a book series by Raymond Feist, that’s what got me into reading as a full-time hobby. Looking back on it, the world of Midkemia is still my go-to example of what world-building looks like, and it’s what I try to emulate with my own stuff.

So, yeah. Cool characters in an awesome setting. With the Four Horsemen Universe, we’ve already got an awesome setting, so that’s half the work right there. It’s my hope that the characters and situation I came up with in “Return to Sender” are cool enough for the readers to enjoy! And if they do enjoy reading about Jackie and her Justin Timers, then let Chris know! I’ve got some good stuff already in the works.

Writers that I really enjoy include Raymond Feist, Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Dan Abnett, and — more recently — Mark Wandrey, Kacey Ezell, Marisa Wolf, Kevin Ikenberry, and the rest of the 4HU crew.

What is your favorite color?

I’d like to think I strike a good balance between action, dialogue, and description in my scenes, even scenes that are sometimes little more than the characters sitting around a table formulating a plan. By mixing a little bit of action and description into a conversation, it keeps readers engaged and makes the scene seem more alive. If all you’ve got is dialogue, it’ll basically just be talking heads in a white space. But, if you put too much description in, you’ll either wind up with paragraphs describing how a chair looks or loads of background information that’ll grind everything to a halt. A lot of writers call this the dreaded exposition dump. I try to describe just enough for the reader to get a sense of where and who, then through action and dialogue fill in the what and why.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

My biggest failure early on was not pushing the emotional envelope far enough. I’m pretty laid back and reserved in real life, so tapping into extreme emotions (Whether sadness or rage or whatever) can be a little bit of a challenge. I thought it would alienate readers, and yet that’s what readers are wanting. It wasn’t until I read David Farland’s “Million Dollar Outlines” (Gimmicky title, but whatever) that I realized just how important emotional connection was in stories. I’d never really thought about it, but it was what I was most interested in as a reader.

I’ve gotten better about it in my more recent stories, but I think a huge reason why a lot of my earlier stuff went through the submission/rejection mill was because of this weakness.

My advice for anyone dealing with this is: take a risk! If a character needs to fly off the handle or fall to pieces, write it to the max, then dial it back in editing if you need to. When it’s raw, it’s real. And when it’s raw, it can be refined.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’ve always heard that I’ve got a knack for dialogue in my stories, so I try to play to that strength. Rather than focusing on a lone wolf character, stories will usually feature a team of at least three individuals, most likely more. Witty banter between different characters makes scenes a joy to write, and hopefully to read as well!

That said, my rough drafts tend to be dialogue heavy, so any editing is usually spent trimming out unnecessary dialogue and creating a better balance between description and action.

I spend a lot of my pre-writing time coming up with backgrounds and personalities for a story’s main characters. In “Return to Sender” I’ve got fairly extensive backstories figured out for the lead character Jackie Warren, her right-hand man Marcus, and the team sniper Sayra. It’s my hope to flesh the others out as the story progresses, and to add in some new characters. In addition to a dropship pilot, I think Jackie’s team needs a dedicated driver for when they’re on the ground, not to mention a finance guy and logistics expert.

Another thing I try to nail down early on in story planning/writing is the flow of the plot. Larry Brooks writes about the 7-point plot format in his book “Story Engineering,” where he describes 7 key points in a narrative that have to occur to achieve a dynamite plot. He’s not the first to come up with this idea (K.M. Wieland talks about it, as does James Scott Bell, etc), but he was the first one I read where it really made sense to me. And once I started planning out my stories a bit better, more of them started getting accepted.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Do Rigel and Pilot from Farscape count as muppets?
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy chips. Creamy soups.
  • Favorite Sports Team? The Midway Monsters from Mutant League.
  • Cake or Pie?  Cake serves as a vehicle by which buttercream icing gets into my body.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon on fried catfish. Lime in pie.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Hot Bacon Cheese Spread. Can’t be beat!
  • Wet or Dry? Both. Dry rubs for home-smoked ribs and pulled pork, then slathered in barbecue sauce once at the table.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Does Hatsune Miku count? She’s a little on the artificial side, but what singer isn’t these days?
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Bourbon-infused chocolate pecan pie. Oh, and barbecue sauce.
  • Favorite Superhero? All-Might from My Hero Academia.
  • Steak Temperature? Gray enough to know it’s dead, pink enough to be edible.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Dukes of Hazzard
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
  • Favorite Pet?  (provide pictures if you want) Long live the Calico Countess!
  • Best Game Ever? For console RPGs, gotta be Chrono Trigger for the SNES with Final Fantasy VI and Shadowrun as close second and third. For PC RPGs, my favorite is still Betrayal at Krondor by Sierra, followed by Baldur’s Gate and its many clones (Icewind Dale, Planescape, etc).
  • Coffee or Tea? Sweet iced tea, and nothing else.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? If I can only have one, then fantasy. Anything from sword and sorcery like Conan the Barbarian or Record of Lodoss War, to epic fantasy like Wheel of Time or Mistborn, with some urban fantasy like Dresden Files or Monster Hunter International. I like pretty much all of it. With sci-fi, I prefer the action-oriented and character-driven rather than the overly technical, and fantasy elements never hurt. Warhammer 40000, Shadowrun, Star Wars (Before the prequel and sequels). Basically, I like to know how a hyperdrive or ion cannon works, but not if entire chapters are spent dissecting one, unless it’s integral to the plot.

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

1. What’s your pre-writing and writing process for short stories and novels? I’m always refining mine, so any tips would be helpful!

Rob’s Answer: If I have a setting or a theme, I wallow in it for a week or two if I can. I started doing this with different medieval poetic types. I have written a bunch of SCA scroll texts, which I usually write in a poetic style to reflect the recipient’s persona. So, I might get one that would want a Shakespearean sonnet followed by something in Norse drottkvaett and then maybe something Mongol.

Whether or not I was familiar with the genre, wallowing in it helps make the writing process flow. Every genre or culture has word choices and rhythms that are sort of expected. Not having them jars me as a reader, so I believe it’s important to other readers. It would be like going to an Italian place and finding they’d never heard of basil.

What I’m looking for in any short story is a bit of a twist. The ending has to be at least a little unexpected. The writer who did the best in my opinion was Randall Garrett. Once I have the twist, and the feel, it’s merely a process of putting words into that particular hole.

Novels are trickier. I usually start by creating a few interesting characters and a situation they have to deal with. I’m not good at outlining, but part of character creation is my expected end result for those characters. I don’t lock myself into those endings, because sometimes the story demands otherwise. I had a character in I Am a Wondrous Thing that I designed to be a longer term character but, uh, well, uh, I could never figure out a way not to kill them.

2. Mind giving us a tag line for your story in the “Luck is Not a Factor” anthology coming out next month? I really enjoyed “Where Enemies Sit” in “For a Few Credits More.”

Rob’s Answer: Thank you very much. I’m actually awful at taglines. I tend to explain too much. So, just for a change, I’ll try to explain too little.

“A Sword for Striking”: What story will your choices tell?

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

  • My blog is at BenjaminTylerSmith.com, and there you can find links to the short stories I’ve had published over the years, as well as updates for the couple of books I’m working on. I try to post a few times a week (The operative word is “try”), mostly about books, audiobooks, games, and anime. Feel free to post comments! I’m always happy to discuss whatever I write about, or to take the blog in different directions.
  • I’m also on Facebook as Benjamin Tyler Smith, and on Twitter as @BenTylerSmith. And I’m following Chris Kennedy’s guide to indie publishing by getting my Amazon author page up, so you can find me there, as well.
  • A few of my most recent publications can be found in the following places:
  • “Return to Sender” in Tales from the Lyon’s Den in the 4HU. Sci-fi action. “When an emergency weapons delivery goes sideways, a young and tenacious arms dealer stops at nothing to save her team, her client, and her bottom line.”
  • “A Salt on the Rise” in Issue 30 of On the Premises Magazine. Dark fantasy, in my own universe featuring an undead city called Necrolopolis and all the shenanigans that go on within its walls. “An overworked necromancer struggles to prevent a war between opposing factions of undead.”
  • “Bag of Tricks” in the Sha’Daa: Toys horror/dark fantasy anthology. This one is also dark fantasy, about a magician who wields magical paints and holy .357 magnum rounds against demons and mindless college kids threatening to destroy his hometown.
  • And while it is still seeking publication, my short story “Ash-Eater” (Set in the same fantasy world as “A Salt on the Rise”) earned itself a finalist spot in the 2018 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award contest. So, if you enjoy “A Salt on the Rise”, please look for “Ash-Eater” to appear somewhere at some point in the timeline! Wish I could say something more definitive, but it is getting shopped around.

And where can we find you?

Barring any sudden life changes, you’ll always find me at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN. It’s a bit of a drive, but well worth the journey! It’s where I first found out about the 4HU, so that alone makes it worth the journey!

Do you have a creator biography?

By day Ben earns his bread keeping track of the dead with digital cemetery maps, and by night he corrals the undead into whatever story he’s working on next. While the focus of his writing is typically in the realm of fantasy, he has a taste for science fiction, and the more action-packed the better. Married to a saint of a woman, ruled by a benevolent calico countess, he can be found at BenjaminTylerSmith.com.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

The lightning round should include the greatest of all internet questions: “.45 or 9mm?” I can only assume you didn’t include it because it’s largely a rhetorical question, as .45 is the one true answer. (Rob’s Note: I’ll add it in the next version)

And the obligatory “What are you working on now?” question is always a good one. To answer that, I’m working on an unnamed Jackie Warren novel. In it, the fate of an entire planet will rest in the hands of our young, yet resourceful arms dealer. This has not yet been accepted, and I haven’t even completed the proposal for it yet. But, it’s in the works, and if the Lord is willing, the book will get finished and hopefully there will be more to come!

I am also working on a novel set in the aforementioned Necrolopolis universe. It will be titled “A Soulful Job” and the tag line is: “Souls are vanishing from the city of the dead, and it’s up to an overworked necromancer to find the culprit before he gets the blame!”


Thanks to Benjamin for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Mark Wandrey

Greetings all

Tonight, at the very end of #FourHorsetober, here’s the interview we’ve all been waiting for, Mark Wandrey. It is his imagination that formed the idea of the 4HU and in so doing created a platform for all of us.

Interview Questions
Mark Wandrey
Mark Wandrey

What is your quest?

I strive to be at the top of my genre, military science fiction. I want fans in my cosplay. Lots of them.

What is your favorite color?

I want my stories full of scenes people talk about, characters people hate, and mysteries people want answered..

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

My biggest challenge has been finding time to write in quantity. I learned by quitting the day job as soon as I made enough. Jump in with both feet, take the plunge. If not now, when? If not late, why?

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My worldbuilding abilities are apparently among the best in the business. I credit that to decades wasted playing role playing games. Wait, maybe they weren’t wasted after all?

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Depends if she’s blonde or redhead.
  • Favorite Sports Team? All Blacks
  • Cake or Pie? Yes please.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Jalapeno queso
  • Wet or Dry? Always use lube
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Meat Loaf
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Neither, rum
  • Favorite Superhero? Rogue (comic book, not the crap from the movies)
  • Steak Temperature? (slightly above room temp)
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Favorite Pet? (provide pictures if you want) Valiente
  • Best Game Ever? KOTOR
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea. Earl Grey, hot.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-fi

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

What’s the drunkest you’ve ever been, and what did you do when you were in that state you are embarrassed about?

Rob’s Answer: Well, let’s get straight to the embarrassing part. The drunkest I’ve ever been was at a Pennsic. I actually didn’t drink that much, only seven IPAs in a several hour period, but there were complicating factors. It might have helped if I had actually eaten in the 26 hours previous to the beers. 

And what did I do? Well, I said some things in public I should not have. It could have been worse, but I still regret it.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

Do you have a creator biography?

Bestselling author of military sci-fi and zombie apocalypse, Mark Wandrey has been creating new worlds since he was old enough to hold a pen. Author of 14 novels, he has many more coming just this year!

Located in rural Tennessee, Mark Wandrey has been writing science fiction since he was in grade school. He launched his professional career in 2004 with the release of Earth Song – Overture. Now, 12 years later, he has more than 10 books out, including an unbroken chain of 6 best sellers.

Sign up for his mailing list at http://www.worldmaker.us/news-flash-sign-up-page/ or check out his Patreon page for free stuff at https://www.patreon.com/MarkHWandrey.


Thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: Warp and Weft

Week 43 of 2018

Greetings all

Lots of catching up to do. I realized this weekend that I my office had gotten cluttered and I did a bunch of cleaning up and arranging. This included a bunch of unpacking (still).

I’ve been fighting The Feeding of Sorrows. I have put a bunch of words on the page, and then cut them out. This seems normal anymore, though, since i seem to reach this point with every novel. Just gotta keep fighting through.

I’ve had a lot of fun with #FourHorsetober, but I’ll be glad when it’s done. Doing one interview is easy. Doing one a day gets challenging, especially when you’re juggling other stuff.

Still, I’m really excited about the release of Luck Is Not a Factor. That’s a fun story that I hope you all enjoy.

Well, I have to take the sweetie to dinner. She’s been working on new weaving techniques this weekend and she has lots to tell me.

Current Playlist Song

The Pass by Rush. It has one of the most powerful lyrics I’ve ever heard, which you’ll find in right below in the Quote of the Week.

Quote of the Week

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salutes for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate
– Rush The Pass, Presto

News and Works in Progress

  • RTM (3,416)
  • The Feeding of Sorrows (approx. 20,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

One more full week of #FourHorsetober, so take a look at all the interviews above.

Today’s Weight: 388.4

Updated Word Count: 228,712

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 443 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Interview: Jon Osborne

Jon Osborne is currently editing his draft of When the Axe Falls, his next Four Horsemen novel. You’ll want to read it when it comes out, because I’ve enjoyed his other stuff. He’s also a fun guy to stand next to at a con.

Interview: Jon Osborne
Jon Osborne
Jon Osborne

What is your quest?

I run cinematic games, relying heavily on ‘theater of the mind’, seeking to tell a fun and immersive story. When I write, I try to bring the readers into the world – I want them to see the action and hear the characters’ voices – and have fun along the way.

What is your favorite color?

As my stories are character-centered. I like for characters to have distinctive traits. I feel it not only makes the story more immersive, it helps the readers readily identify and keep track of the characters.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

My biggest challenge is focus – it is hard to banish the squirrels and be more productive. I admit, I am a little envious of the output of some of my fellow authors. (Rob’s Note: Me too, brother. me too.)

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I think character interaction is my strength. The relationships between my characters are organic – I want them to feel like real people.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy
  • Favorite Sports Team? Colts
  • Cake or Pie? Pie
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Chipotle Hot Salsa
  • Wet or Dry? Huh?
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Patty Gurdy
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whisky
  • Favorite Superhero? Wolverine
  • Steak Temperature? Medium
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Favorite Pet?  (provide pictures if you want) I don’t have one
  • Best Game Ever? D&D
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Yes

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

Do you find it as hard to write about yourself as some authors (myself included) find it?

Rob’s Answer: Depends on the question. If we’re talking about my philosophies, not really. I like good philosophical discussions. I can also talk about things I’m fanatic about, like Rush or the Dallas Cowboys or Firefly.

But there’s a lot of questions I ask that I’ll struggle with when I do my own one of these. Also, some of the questions other authors ask me are really tough. I’m awful at tooting my own horn, so much so that it hurts my sales dramatically. It’s something I need to work on, actually.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

DragonCon 2018 is the last con for a bit.

Do you have a creator biography?

Jon R. Osborne has been gaming since he was thirteen. He studied journalism in high school and majored in journalism in college. Many years later, he finally combined writing and story-telling with his first published work, a short story in the military science fiction Four Horsemen Universe.

A year later, Jon has had a second story published, as well as two novels in his urban fantasy series, The Milesian Accords. The second book, A Tempered Warrior, is a Dragon Awards finalist for Best Fantasy Novel.

Jon lives in Indianapolis, where he continues to play role-playing games, and is working on the third book of The Milesian Accords as well a novel in the Four Horsemen Universe. You can find out more at jonrosborne.com.


Thanks to Jon for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Charity Ayres

I have not yet had the pleasure to meet Charity, but anyone who teaches English in high schools definitely has my respect. Especially given the fact I don’t want her to ever wonder just what kind of play-doh is in my chest.

Interview: Charity Ayres
Charity Ayres
Charity Ayres

What is your quest?

I create stories to live in. The settings might not always be a tropical island, but they’re interesting and unlike normal life in some way. The worlds are magical or strange in a way that is intriguing to the sense of being or interesting to explore. I want to build characters that you love, or hate, or want to be around. My goal is always to create villains who are heroic, or heroes that are screwed up because perfection is overrated.

What is your favorite color?

Coffee. Wait! Spiderwebs. No. Is mythology a color? I love taking known ideas or worlds and sticking my hand right into the chest cavity until I can rip the heart out, squish it around like play-doh, and then I put it back. Known entities in magic, history, war…nothing should ever be the same way twice or what’s the point?

When you read one of my stories, I want you to feel like your senses are aware of every movement until you’re inside the story wondering how the F you got there. A reader should look at my settings and think it’s a tiny bit of Deja Vu or something from a dream they almost recall having.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paintbrush?

Writing is hard. No, seriously. That was the most difficult lesson for me to learn. I’ve always loved to write or create something new, but I never understood why it didn’t just happen for me. Why was it that I didn’t want to sit down, every waking moment of every day, and write these masterpieces that everyone would love and rave about? Writing is easy, right?

Anything you love is work. It’s hard. It ticks you off but then it becomes the most beautiful thing in the world when you can drop your bullshit at the door and create. The hardest failure I’ve ever faced is that I couldn’t just simply write without making myself do it. It didn’t come like breathing, it was hard. I didn’t know everything in the beginning and still have a lot to learn.

I’m still waiting to live on a mountain somewhere and write prose that my adoring masses will fawn over and throw money at me for. I’m still wondering why it’s so damn hard to explain stories to someone in a way that makes them see it’s something they’ll love. Why is that hard when I know I can turn around and write out an amazing story to share?

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I evoke laughter to the point that you should not have a mouthful of drink when you’re reading. My characters are funny, realistic, and sometimes annoying but they’re real. One thing that I hear from readers is that my stories have a strong voice and that’s an amazing compliment. They tell me they can hear the characters when they speak. What’s better than that?

I write what makes me laugh. I write a running dialogue for my character. You know the comments that flow through your head when you’re talking to someone that you’d never say because they’d get upset with you? Yeah, my characters don’t care.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Sweetums because of the name and the fluff.
  • Crunchy or Creamy? This puts the peanut butter song in my head. Thanks.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Does Quidditch count?
  • Cake or Pie? Whichever has chocolate? Or pecans. Or both.
  • Lime or Lemon? Green
  • Favorite Chip Dip? I don’t eat chips. My favorite dip is chocolate-peanut butter.
  • Wet or Dry? My deodorant is working fine, thank you.
  • Favorite Musical Performer, We’ve Never Heard Of? Me? You should totally hear my shower compilations or how great I sing with headphones on.
  • Whisky or Whiskey?  Is this a trick question? How about, yes, please?
  • Favorite Superhero? Hmm. Can I say my dog? She does some pretty amazing things and can bring joy with a single spastic jump.
  • Steak Temperature? Depends on the day. Today, I prefer it mooing
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? I don’t remember the 70s. I’ll say A-Team or He-Man cartoons
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall, fall, and fall. Can we have endless fall tinged by winter, please?
  • Favorite Pet?  I LOVE ALL THE FURRIES!
  • Best Game Ever? The ones that I win. Probably a MMORPG of some kind. I used to Everquest and there was never another I liked quite as much, but something along that lines.
  • Coffee or Tea? Both. Or any hot drink, preferably with that formerly-mentioned Whiskey? Irish or other.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? I lean into Fantasy. I like the lack of rules and the ability to make anything happen that you want. I read both, write both, watch both…but I still lean a little more into Fantasy but I like them mixed, too. Did you see the new DC’s Legends of Tomorrow? Holy glittery heart-eating unicorns, Batman!

What question(s) would you like to ask me? 

Name the first five stories that come to mind. Now rank them. Now identify them by mental color. Next, which one would make the best mixed drink?

Rob’s Answer: Let’s see. Lord of the Rings. Foundation. Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. A Catskill Eagle. Odds Against. That would be Gold (from the One Ring). Black (from the galaxy). Red (from Simon Jester). White (from the cast Spenser wears). And green (from racing turf).

Now to discuss their drink potential. Goldschlager. Hmmm, not my thing. Black porter, definitely my thing. Red IPA. More definitely my thing. Ice cream to make milkshakes. Hmmm, I guess I could use the Goldschlager here. Oh, yeah, and creme de menthe. No, no, no. I don’t drink creme de menthe after an unfortunate incident when I was 3.

So, I think the winner is the Red IPA.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

I have two new releases on the horizon: Winter Born which is book 2 of the Ice Burns trilogy, and another unnamed steampunk Pirate novel that I might be publishing through an amazing independent publisher I’ve worked with before. Shhh.

And where can we find you?

The only scheduled con so far this year is LibertyCon. I can’t wait!

Do you have a creator biography?

Charity Ayres is a Navy Veteran, teacher, mother, and wife in Virginia. Her novel-length works currently include Loki Bound, Loki: Hellbound, Secret in the Wings, and Ice Burns. She has also been published in the Wylde Times anthology, a Four Horseman Universe anthology: A Fistful of Credits, and has won awards from Writer’s Digest and the L.Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest for her short works. Upcoming works include the second and third novels for Ice Burns and a surprise new series.


Thanks to Charity for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Kevin Ikenberry

If you’re a fan of the Four Horsemen Universe, and I bet many of you are, then you’ve had the pleasure of reading Kevin Ikenberry’s contributions to that universe. He’s a fantastic writer. He’s also a fun guy to chat with at conventions.

Interview: Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry

What is your quest?

To seek the…wait a minute. I’ve seen this movie! The whole writing thing came around fairly late in life for me. I’d been told I was a good writer in high school and college, but I never really did anything serious (trying to get published) until 2009. I’ve always been drawn to science fiction – as a young Army officer two different books found their way into my hands: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. They were two huge influences on me and I eagerly passed them on to cadets when I had the opportunity to teach ROTC about ten years ago. When I started writing, I wanted to write stories about human beings finding their place in the universe and fighting for the right to survive and explore. I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to do that with both The Protocol War series and especially the Peacemaker books in the Four Horsemen Universe. Working with Chris Kennedy, Mark Wandrey, Kacey Ezell, and Marisa Wolf has been an amazing experience and I’m honored to be a core author for the series.

What is your favorite color?

The thing that changed my writing career, in a very literal sense, was learning the key between story structure and character development. There are dozens of story structures out there, some following classic approaches like The Hero’s Journey and others following screenwriting theory (Save The Cat, My Story Can Beat Up Your Story). Those structures are great, but without very clearly defined characters and their goals, a structure can only get you so far. The difference in understanding that relationship and applying some screenwriting theory was that the very first book I ever wrote (now published as Runs In The Family) took me a year and a half to write and it was a mess. The second book I wrote (my debut novel Sleeper Protocol) took me seven weeks. Since then, I’ve been able to keep my first draft timeline to around three months from start to finish. It’s a tremendous process and something I teach often at writing conferences.

Granted, I do a lot of pre-writing (plotting, scheming, etc.) but when it’s time to sit down and write a book, I have a solid idea of where everything is going and that saves time and mental gymnastics in the middle of a manuscript when, as a writer, I think everything sucks. That light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train and when I get the draft out of my head I can do the next part – fix it. That’s much easier with a detailed plan.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

The biggest challenge I faced as a starting writer was staying positive. Rejections are part and parcel of this business, and there were several times that I wrote stories that were good stories in the eyes of my initial readers, contest judges, and my critique partners only to be rejected. The frustration wasn’t that I’d been rejected, there was frustration in understanding that just because one editor/magazine/market didn’t like the story didn’t mean it wouldn’t sell elsewhere. The first time that happened, I walked around in disbelief for a few hours. Now, a rejection doesn’t bother me. I package the story up, file it away in my virtual footlocker, and move on to the next project. One day, that story will find a home.

From a creative failure standpoint, I very stupidly tried to self-publish Runs In The Family in 2013 when neither the manuscript, nor myself, was ready. I had oodles of problems with creating the correct file types and I didn’t do the due diligence to really make that book what it should have been. It lasted online maybe a week before I took it down, which proved to be the best thing for it. It was picked up by a small press called Strigidae Publishing and when it released in 2016, it went gangbusters for eight months until the small press closed unexpectedly. Fortunately, Chris Kennedy’s Theogony Publishing Imprint picked up the book and re-released it in 2018 where it has continued to do well and even is now available on the Baen Book’s website. What I learned was that this publishing thing takes a team. I have a team of readers now. I have a website team. I have a marketing team. I have a creative team. I have a team that goes out for beers or whiskey. Don’t get me wrong, these are the same folks in many cases. I learned that we creators have to stick together. That’s another huge benefit of working in the Four Horsemen Universe. I have a band of brothers and sisters there that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

Writing in someone else’s universe is pretty challenging. I had the chance to write some licensed short fiction in the G.I.JOE: A Real American Hero universe on Kindle Worlds before it shuttered this year, and that was the first time I stepped into someone else’s playground. I found it challenging and a lot of fun. Little did I know that it prepared me to take the Four Horsemen Universe “bible” and write a short story for the anthology A Fistful of Credits that led to the Peacemaker novels. Granted, I don’t always get the details right and Mark/Chris edit and chastise me endlessly, but I’ve enjoyed getting to play in the 4HU and feel like I’ve made a solid impact on the overall storyline with Jessica’s story. I recently wrote a modern-day thriller with my friend Nick Thacker in his universe, too which was a fantastic learning experience.

Aside from my books, I’m most proud of three short stories in three different anthologies because they were three unique experiences. In Extreme Planets, I wrote a story called “Maelstrom” in two days over my lunch hour because I had an old idea (guy jumping into a tornado in one of those “flying squirrel” suits) merge with the concept of exploring an exoplanet. For the anthology Dragon Writers, I took the theme to an extreme and did a re-telling of Puff The Magic Dragon where Puff was an exospheric EB-77 Dragon bomber with a callsign of Puff Zero Alpha. I didn’t think “Salvation, On Painted Wings” had a chance until the editor called. Finally, for the recent anthology Avatar Dreams, I was sitting with my friend and mentor Kevin J. Anderson when he looked at me and said he needed a story in two weeks. Could I do it? I gave him “That Others May Live” in a week and he loved it. All my crazy ideas eventually come to fruition and some push the boundaries – and I know now that I can do them quickly if I need to – that’s a huge confidence boost.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy. Extra Crunchy if you please.
  • Favorite Sports Team? College: Mississippi State (Rob’s Note: Moe Cowbell!!!!) / Professional: I still pull for the Cubs and the Braves – my mom would be proud.
  • Cake or Pie? Pie
  • Lime or Lemon? Limon? Wasn’t that a thing in the 80s?
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Guacamole
  • Wet or Dry? Wet
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Jeremy Kay
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey – I’m from Tennessee, you know.
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man
  • Steak Temperature? Medium Rare
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? CHiPs, Dukes of Hazzard, Emergency
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall – I miss fall in East Tennessee particularly.
  • Favorite Pet?  My dog when I was growing up. We named him Shandy. He was an American Spitz that never met a dog he didn’t know he could whoop. I miss that feisty little bastard.
  • Best Game Ever? Cards Against Humanity. I’ve never made it through a game without my stomach hurting from laughing. I’m fairly certain there’s a handbasket with my name on it.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee, with a touch of creamer. No sugar.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Science Fiction

What question(s) would you like to ask me? 

What technique (process or practice) have you learned that has influence your own writing the most, and why?

Rob’s Answer: Hmmm. One that you mentioned above is important, and that’s the creation of a team. The analogy I use is a race car driver. At the end of the race, the winner gets photos, prizes, and all that sort of thing. However, he doesn’t get there without good mechanics, pit crew, and all the people involved in a race. My team is good, and getting better all the time.

Another important thing is keeping track of what’s working and what’s not. I often say, “There’s one true way of writing and it’s what gets words on the page.” If you are not productive at some point, change something. Anything. Your music. Your chair. Where you write at. For me, that will increase my productivity and then I have to change it up. Writers will always have slow periods, I think. Just keep plugging away.

One specific technique that I’ve added to my process is to read it out loud from a printed copy. Toni Weisskopf said in a panel once that editing from printed copies is much more effective than on the screen and she had studies to prove it, as well of course as experience at Baen. I also find that if I read something out loud the clumsy writing jumps at me because it will not roll off the tongue. It will feel clunky. Yes, that’s tedious. It took me four 12-plus hour days to do this with Brief Is My Flame, yet it was dramatically better because of it.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

My website is www.kevinikenberry.com. We’re headed for a major site overhaul soon, maybe in time for SphinxCon, but there’s information there on how to sign up for my reader’s group – The Reaction Squad – and a bunch of other stuff. There will be goodies (a free short story namely) when the new site goes live.

I’m on Facebook with an author page and my Twitter handle is @TheWriterIke. That’s about it for social media right now.

And where can we find you?

  • MileHiCon 50 (October, 2018)
  • SphinxCon (November, 2018)
  • Superstars Writing Seminar (February, 2019)
  • PensaCon (February, 2019)
  • FantaSci (March, 2019)
  • Phoenix Fan Fusion (May, 2019)
  • LibertyCon 31 (May, 2019)
  • DragonCon (August, 2019)

Do you have a creator biography?

Kevin Ikenberry is a life-long space geek and retired Army officer.  A former manager of the world-renowned U.S. Space Camp program and a space operations officer, Kevin has a broad background in space and space science education.  His 2016 debut science fiction novel Sleeper Protocol was a Finalist for the Colorado Book Award and was heralded as “an emotionally powerful debut” by Publisher’s Weekly. Kevin is the author of the military science novels Runs In The Family, Vendetta Protocol, Peacemaker, Honor The Threat, and Stand Or Fall. He is an Active Member of SFWA, International Thriller Writers, and an alumnus of the Superstars Writing Seminar.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

You should have asked what’s next for me. Well, at DragonCon we announced that I’m writing a Tales of the Four Horsemen Universe book with my good friend and amazing author Quincy J. Allen. The novel will follow an Oogar Peacemaker named Hr’ent (from the pages of STAND OR FALL) and should be out in mid-late 2019. It’s going to be a hell of a ride!


Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Philip Wohlrab

Greetings all

Tonight it’s time for the Docfather, Philip Wohlrab himself. He’s a writer and a combat medic. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him at LibertyCon and several other conventions. If you’re at a con and see a guy in a heavily-adorned Imperial Andermani Navy uniform, it might just be him.

Interview: Philip Wohlrab
Philiip Wohlrab
Philiip Wohlrab

What is your quest?

Ultimately, I want to tell a good story, whether it is set in the future, the past, a past that never happened, or complete fantasy. I want to entertain people, pull them out of the land of the mundane, even if for a little bit. Right now, I have a couple of projects that I am working on, first is my novel set in an entirely new universe known as the Squidverse. Think WWII meets Star Wars, with a helping of the Mind Flayers from D&D. I am also writing a short alt history of the Battle of Jutland, where the US and Germany are allies, and lastly another short set in Black Tide Rising, though whether it gets published after certain people read it is going to be interesting.

What is your favorite color?

Cyberpunk Electric Blue? Hmmm, I do draw a bit from nature when I am creating new creatures. The Akkorro, aliens in the 4HU, are literally drawn from Cuttlefish. In fact, I like squids, and octopi quite a bit so you will see them featured in my stories in some form or another. I also try to get the little details right, what were the sounds, what were the smells. As a combat vet I can tell you that certain smells will never be forgotten, and I try to bring that out in my writing.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Time management is my biggest issue. I should be writing more, but I find myself getting distracted by things. I also tend to idea hop, so I have to make that work for me when I am working on multiple projects. This is a bit of a learning curve.

 What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

Emotion, I think I do that well. The Beach was an emotional short to write, for me, and I know it has hit readers pretty hard based on some of the feedback I have been given. I like to give people the emotions the characters are feeling, as it allows the readers to connect with the characters. You may have never experienced combat, but you have had some experience that has terrified you, or gotten the adrenaline flowing. So, if I can tap into that, and give the reader some personal idea of what the character is feeling, I am going to try and work that in.

 Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Doozers from Fraggle Rock. I mean these guys spend all their time building stuff that the Fraggles just eat anyways. That has to take some fortitude not to poison the Fraggles.
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Creamy for the WIN!
  • Favorite Sports Team? Atlanta Falcons, I am used to disappointment.
  • Cake or Pie? Why not both?
  • Lime or Lemon? Definitely Both.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Ranch
  • Wet or Dry? Wet
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Gunship, seriously if you like 1980s Cyberpunk go give these guys a listen.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey
  • Favorite Superhero? Darth Vader. What? He has comic books!
  • Steak Temperature? Damn near still mooing.
  • Best Game Ever? Hmmm I am currently very much enjoying Battletech.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee, drank black as hell, or perhaps Irish. Never adulterated with cream or sugar.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi.

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

Rob how do you find time to do all the stuff you do?

Rob’s Answer: Uh, I do a bunch of stuff? I don’t feel like it, especially right now when I’ve been fighting a bit of a dry spell with writing.

I do try to do at least a little bit each day, though. One of my favorite sections from the Prince Roger series is the bit where Roger talks about eating soup with a knife. It’s not always easy, and it requires determination, but you have to keep doing a bit here and there.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

I have a couple of things up on Amazon, and a few more on the way. I have a short I independently published entitled The Medic. My short The Beach is available in The Good, the Bad, and The Merc. I have another short that will be published in the Homo Stellaris anthology, that I cowrote with Kacey Ezell, about the first pregnancy in space, and I have a short coming out in the next 4HU anthology involving a German merc company, and the Akkorro.

  • https://www.amazon.com/Philip-Wohlrab/e/B01HTBZ57A

And where can we find you?

I attend Libertycon and Dragoncon each year and can be found at other Cons in the North Carolina or Virginia area, schedule permitting.

Do you have a creator biography?

From my Amazon page: Philip Wohlrab has been a medic with the Army for over 12 years, and he has served his time in the sandbox. He currently trains the next generation of Combat Medics and runs a schoolhouse medical section. When he isn’t doing Army things he can be found at various Sci-Fi Cons, and writing.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

You should have asked how my service has affected my writing. I have served both in the United States Coast Guard, and the Virginia Army National Guard. This has given me a unique look at very different service cultures, and I use that to ensure that when I am writing characters that they are unique to their service branches. Army speak doesn’t always translate well to Naval speak, things of that nature.

Lastly a small snippet from my upcoming Squidverse novel. Thanks for doing this Rob!

Outer Luzon System

Space itself seemed to blur as ship after ship of the Taiyo battlegroup emerged into the realm of physics that Einstein and Newton would recognize. Atago, a heavy cruiser, formed up the center of the battlegroup alongside the Taiyo, while two Nagara Class light cruisers took up station as the inside defensive ring. Six destroyers formed the outer ring of warships that would protect the heavy cruiser, and light carrier.

Admiral Lady Hitomi Izumi scanned her repeaters arrayed around her command dais, she was looking for any flaws in the deployment of her vessels. Admiral Izumi was known to be exacting in her expectations of junior commanders. Finding no faults, she sat back in her command chair and crossed her legs.

“Commander Sasaki are there any indications of enemy ships nearby?” inquired Admiral Izumi. “Also, what was it that they were calling these things now?”

“They are calling them squids My Lady,” said a moon-faced heavy-set officer sitting at the sensor station. “Also, our scopes are not showing anything out here My Lady, however the sensor drones we left back in system is still showing a sizable Squid fleet around Marigold. Most of the ships though are either transports or supply vessels.”

“Interesting, I wonder where their warships have gotten off to? If they had been present in force we would never have been able to sneak in our own transports, but you would think they would have reacted by now to our presence in the system.”

“As you say My Lady, but we have no indication as to where they are, or when they left. Perhaps these Squids are harder pressed for ships than we previously thought? Could it be that they have used their entire fleet in the attacks across the entirety of the Fan and left nothing in reserve?”

“I think that most unlikely,” chimed in another officer. This worthy was Commander Asuna Hasegawa, Izumi’s chief intelligence officer. “I suspect that we have yet to see any reserve formation for these squids as you call them Commander Sasaki, it is more likely that we are seeing just the tip of their frontline units.”

“Then where are their warships Commander Hasegawa, and why aren’t they here?” growled back Sasaki.

“That is a good question Commander Sasaki, and one I wish I had an answer for.”

Oort Cloud

Luzon System

Fleet Controller 672 was proud of the fact that she had predicted that the human battlegroup wasn’t going to jump completely out of the system. It was rare that a Squantalavi female would be elevated to a position such as hers, but she had consistently demonstrated that she was one of the most agile thinkers in her cohort of officers. Even in a society dominated by males, 672 had both excelled, and been recognized as one of the best officers of her generation. That didn’t mean that she didn’t experience her fair share of hiccups in her career though. She had not been given a position in of the first assault fleets, but instead had come in as a second-tier commander, as the males of her cohort jealously guarded the prime assignments. Still Fleet Intelligence 11 had seen her potential, and rather than relegating her to one of the Skazi battlecruisers, he had given her command of a Saltze battleship.


Thanks to Philip for taking the time to answer my questions and the fun snippet.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell