Category Archives: Fiction

Posts about Rob’s writing.

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
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rhodri2112
Blog: www.robhowell.org/blog
Shijuren Wiki: http://www.shijuren.org/World+ of+Shijuren+Home
MeWe: https://mewe.com/i/rob.howell1
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/robho well.org/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Rhodri2112

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

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

Interview: Eric S. Brown (Rerun)

Greetings all

This week I’m interviewing Eric S. Brown who is, among other things, one of the many writers like myself writing in the Four Horsemen Universe. He’s also written a bunch of horror, military science fiction, and kaiju stuff.

And when I say a bunch, I mean it. Take a look at his Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Eric S. Brown/e/B004G6XP7E/. You’ll find twelve pages of books there.

Eric, what is your quest?

I am a professional horror and SF writer.  I’m also a collector of all things comics and SF.  David Drake is my hero.  I learned how to write by reading his work when I was younger.  One could blame my whole career on Dave.

What is your favorite color?

I like the color green.  I also like to scare people with words.  I’ve been writing horror for about 17 years now.  I write the type of stories I want to see as a fan.  That’s how my book Bigfoot War came about.  I had been writing zombie stuff for a long time and even did a Z novel for Simon and Schuster (War of the Worlds Plus Blood Guts and Zombies).  I was burnt out on zombies and really wanted to do something different.  Bigfoot War is that.  It makes Sasquatch truly frightening beasts and unleashes hordes of them upon the world.  Bigfoot War (Bigfoot Wars on IMDB) was adapted into a feature film by Origin Releasing with C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) and Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club).  While the paycheck was nice, I really didn’t care for the movie and it didn’t have a lot to do with my then series of Bigfoot War books.

Eric S. Brown
Eric S. Brown

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I like to think that the books I write are FUN above all else.  From Bigfoot War to Kaiju Apocalypse to Casper Alamo (set in Chris Kennedy’s Four Horsemen Universe) my books are about guns and monsters with loads of action and more than a little gore.  I have a Mech/Psionics/Vampires book coming out later this year entitled Psi-Mechs Inc.  I am biased but I think it’s the best thing I have ever written.  It’s about mech pilots and psychics who hunt monsters.

Lightning Round (answer any or all, be as verbose and whimsical as you wish)

Casper Alamo cover
Casper Alamo cover
  • Favorite Muppet? The Shrimp guy.
  • Favorite Sports Team?  I don’t do sports so I am going with The Micronauts on this one.
  • Cake or Pie?  Cake
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime
  • Favorite Chip Dip?    Don’t have one.
  • Wet or Dry? Wet.  Always wet.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of?   Sorry but to me music consists of Rush, more Rush, and a little more Rush. (ed. note: I knew I liked him for a reason)
  • Whisky or Whiskey?  Don’t drink.
  • Favorite Superhero? Wonder Woman for DC and Daredevil for Marvel.
  • Steak Temperature? Well Done. (ed. note: Sigh)
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
  • Favorite Pet?  (provide pictures if you want) I love cats.  The favorite cat of my life was Howard, named after Lovecraft.  I had him for seven years but he passed from health issues.
  • Best Game Ever? I don’t really game so I will go with 2nd edition D&D from back in the day.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee!!
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi all the way.

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

How did you get into interviewing people?

My answer: I had been interviewed by other people, and I wanted some more content on my blog. Also, it turns out that perhaps the most time-consuming aspect of writing my weekly email is finding someone to spotlight. This way, I don’t have to worry about it.

Do you love the rebooted BSG as every right thinking SF person should?

My answer: Oddly no, mostly because I haven’t actually seen it. Much like Eric, I loved the original and I found it hard to give it a chance. Also, I don’t watch many TV shows. Usually, my personal preference is something to do with sports.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

The Squad cover
The Squad cover

And Where can we find you?

I try to attend Liberty con every year.  Aside from that, I am a very stay at home sort of writer.

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

My newest release is The Squad.  It’s a Bigfoot horror book set in the south.  Other books I have had released this year as Casper Alamo, Day of the Sasquatch, Bigfoot, and a dark fantasy, Lovecraftian Roman novel entitled Beyond Night.


Thanks to Eric 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: Only in Dying, Life

Week 4 of 2018

Greetings all

I have successfully made it back from ChattaCon. You can find my ChattaCon AAR here. The TL:DR version is that I really enjoy working with a number of writers and had lots of panels, but I don’t think I got enough value out of the cost of the trip. We’ll have to see about next year.

It’s good to get back. I don’t have any huge trips planned until Gulf Wars, though I am going to a few things. I’ll be at Clothier’s Seminar in a couple of weeks, then to Planet Comicon in KC in February.

Hopefully during that time we’ll see a change in the house situation. We’ll see. It cannot go on forever.

Still, I’m anticipating getting back into the rhythm of producing content and being a house-husband. I rather enjoy cooking, and I’ve hand fun playing around with new recipes.

One drawback of traveling is that it’s hard to eat well. I did my best at the Bird House, but overall I gained back about 5 pounds. I’m basically back where I started the year. Still, things could have been worse.

I’m adding two numbers below, just because I want to keep track of them. One is the number of articles on the Shijuren wiki, and the other is the number on the Four Horsemen wiki. I’m mostly doing this out of curiosity, but I know that Chris and Mark are anxious to see those numbers increase on the Four Horsemen wiki.

And speaking of that, after I send out this email, I’ll add some more entries. By the way, the Four Horsemen wiki is at: http://mercenaryguild.org/wiki/tiki-index.php.

Current Playlist Song: Saltarello Wascherschloss by Corvus Corax. Corvus Corax is one of those bands that plays medieval music with medieval instruments, but with an almost metal energy.

Quote of the Week

2018 has been rough for me, and I’m sad to see Ursula K. Le Guin passed. The Wizard of Earthsea was the book I latched onto after Lord of the Rings. I vividly remember finding it in my 6th grade library. I know it was 6th grade because I remember the library and it wasn’t the one I had in 5th nor the one I had in 7th.

Anyway, today’s quote comes from her, and I hope she’s enjoying its fruits.

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

News and Works in Progress

  • No short stories this week.
  • Brief Is My Flame (32437) There are actually some snippets flying around that will get added next week.

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

I mentioned last week that I’ll be in an anthology bringing back the Pussy Katnip characters. Here’s the first of four novels Brett Brooks has written so far in this universe: https://www.amazon.com/Red-Darkest-Color-Pussy-Katnip-ebook/dp/B01HJB3O1Y/

Today’s Weight: 389.0

Updated Word Count: 10704

Shijuren Wiki: 736 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 59 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
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

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

ChattaCon AAR

Greetings all

I made it back from ChattaCon a couple of hours ago. I worked to find a way to please three cats who demanded attention with only two hands. Then I took a nap with three cats on top of me. I’m finally able to get to this post under the watchful eye of the WW1 Flying Kitty.

Well, under the napping eye of the WW1 Flying Kitty, but she’ll be watchful the moment I move from the keyboard.

Anyway, I had a very good time at ChattaCon, if exhausting. I ended up on 8 panels, as I covered for Chris Kennedy on a couple. I like a busy schedule, and I enjoy the work, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t tired on Sunday.

My first panel was on Friday night and it was a throwback to my academic years. It was arranged by Dr. Valerie Hampton of the University of Florida, who wanted to talk about NeoMedievalism, both in an academic and literary context.

After that I went to Opening Ceremonies and then the LibertyCon Room Party. Had a great time. Did not go to bed early. Shockingly, I did not go to bed sober, either. Fun networking, though.

Saturday was the long day, as usual. It started with a panel on combining genres at 10am. It was actually a little different than most of the similar panels I’ve been on because the others had mixed things with horror. Also, there was a lot of discussion of how this works in screenplays, which was fascinating to me.

Then at 1pm I took Chris’s spot on the How Much Science Should a Science Fiction Writer Know. Ironically, the actual scientist couldn’t make it, and to a great extent, we just faked it, which means relying on questions from the audience. This is especially true since Chris was the intended moderator, which I did not know, so I had no questions planned. My answer to this is: “A writer should know enough to avoid knocking their readers out of the story because of obvious inaccuracies or using science for deus ex machina endings.”

At 2pm was my favorite panel. We discussed the Vikings in literature, flim, and art. Sam Flegal was the sponsor, and he is a fantastic creator of Norse-themed art. In fact, I picked up his illustrated Havamal this weekend.

At 4pm we did the Theogony Books expo. Chris is publishing a ton of books in 2018. There’ll be 21 more in the Four Horsemen Universe, meaning if I only average a book a month in the wiki, I’ll be nine books farther behind in a year. Oh, well. Speaking of which, there was a good response to the wiki, and I’m excited about where it’s going.

The next panel was called More Than Swords, where again I was taking Chris’s place, and again I didn’t know I was the moderator. Still, this was a great panel for me, because I would like to think I’m reasonably knowledgeable on medieval military topics, even when we’re talking military fantasy.

Finally, at 8pm, I did my last panel on Saturday. In it, we discussed historical fantasy, and some of the ways we can draw from history and put it into our books.

After that panel, I got dinner. I had tried to get dinner between the panels at 6 and 8, but the hotel restaurant was simply too slow. I wasn’t the only one. In fact, while the service at the hotel was amazingly good, actually, the actual logistics were awful. Lukewarm showers, slow times out with food, that sort of thing. Why are the expensive hotels so consistently bad at this sort of thing? Very irritating. Don’t ever stay at the Chattanoogan unless going there for a convention.

Anyway, then was my one chance to game. That didn’t go well, not simply because I lost. I was just too tired to focus, and there were too many distractions. Ah, well. Next time.

All I needed to do on Sunday morning was get checked out an eat breakfast. It was a bit of a worry, at first, because people had glommed on to the carts and the valets didn’t know where they were. However, they took my number, helped me with my stuff, and I even had a little time to relax before my last panel.

That panel discussed storytelling. One of the fascinating subjects was the topic of opening lines and why they worked. It isn’t easy, but somehow the writer needs to connect to the reader quickly. Fun, with a lot of going back and forth.

Overall, the schedule went really well, if busy. However, the con seemed lightly attended. The con organizers did a pretty good job, though a Chattanooga official (we think) enforced a $50 fee for the vendors. This is not something that any of the vendors had seen before, and the Dealer’s Room coordinator was just as surprised. It looks like it’s being investigated, though, so maybe it was just a mistake.

I had a great time networking, and was able to get some fun gifts, so the trip was worth the time. However, I’m going to have to find a way to reduce costs if I’m going to go back to ChattaCon. LibertyCon is a much more useful con, so I’ll consistently return to the area, but we’ll have to see what else is going on around that time next year.

 

Brief Is My Flame Snippet

2018 is starting off hellishly, in terms of bad things happening. Even worse than last year.

I’ve been writing a bunch this week of characters that are based on people I know. Most of that is to help my friend Mar, who had a brain aneurysm on New Year’s Day.

This, this is not for that. It’s for someone else. Another fyrd brother who has days to live.

North Road, Svellheim

Somehow, a large drop of rain slid through the birch leaves, evaded Geirr’s hood, and landed on the tip of his nose. He woke with a start.

He stiffly rose and with only one slip to his knees in the morass that had once been dirt, he reached a birch tree and relieved himself. His cold hands fumbled with the string of his pants, but eventually he was able to get everything back together. He started back to his bedding when…

What that something rustling?

He stood motionless, ears seeking to hear something besides the next drop striking its target.

He was not reassured when he did not hear anything. He went to his sword, noticing that Thyri was already stringing her bow. He pointed at his ear without saying anything. She nodded.

“Jussi and Sveinn?” he whispered.

She shrugged.

They looked at Ansgar, who had awakened and was watching them silently, but not moving or trying to escape.

Geirr stared out into the rainy blackness. “I don’t like this.”

“Nor do I.”

“Cut him free,” he gestured at Ansgar.

Her eyebrows rose.

“This isn’t right.” He looked at Ansgar. “I’ll cut you free, but you must do as I say.”

“Aye, I’ll be doin’ that. I’s feelin’ something, too. Like one a’ them mountain wolves we’s havin’ in the Rueckenberge or worse.”

Suddenly, the darkness was split with a battle cry.

“That’s Sveinn!” cried Thyri.

“But which way?”

Then, just as suddenly, a bright light erupted down the hill.

“Ansgar, stay here!” Geirr sprang down the hill, sword in hand and shield at the ready.

Thyri followed, cursing the rain, again, but stringing her bow nonetheless.

After clearing the trees around the campsite, Geirr could see Jussi holding up a stone that was infused with some magic. The stone glittered, clearly some sort of quartz, and the light came out in rainbow beams. He held his sword in the other hand, but he was not being attacked at that precise moment.

Sveinn had charged into the two great creatures, thereby giving Jussi the time to pull out the lightstone.

Are those bears? Giant wolves? Geirr stop wondering what those creatures were to race towards the fight.

Sveinn chopped at one of the beasts with his favored sword, one that was almost as tall as he. Geirr could see water fly off both the blade and Sveinn’s beard as he twisted all of his sturdy form into the immensely powerful strike. The drops shimmered in Jussi’s light, glinting like diamonds.

The beast screamed in pain when the blow landed.

But it didn’t fall! How could anything not be slain by that? Geirr stopped wondering as he reached the nearest beast. It turned from Sveinn, swinging the back of its great paw.

The blow impacted on his shield and it shattered. Pieces of oak flew past Geirr’s head. He staggered at the power, but stabbed instinctively at the wolf-bear’s belly. His blade sank deep, and Geirr yanked it out with a twist.

But the wound simply enraged the beast. It smashed its clenched paw straight down at Geirr, who managed to escape most of the blow. It still hit his shoulder, and knocked him down.

The creature roared and stepped forward. An arrow sliced into the light to hit it in the chest. Another followed a breath later. The impact of Thyri’s arrows caused the creature to step back and give Geirr time to rise again.

Sveinn, meanwhile, had been knocked aside as well, but the tough huscarl bounced up with a lunge that went full into the beast’s chest. The wolf-bear shouted his anger and flung itself around. Sveinn had tried to hold onto his sword, but the creature’s twist sent him flying. Geirr heard a thud in the darkness as Sveinn landed.

Geirr stepped in with a quick slash at the creature’s knee. He did not follow through on the blow, as he had done earlier, but he did nick the wolf-bear and bounded out of the return swing. He stepped forward and nicked the other leg.

It seemed like the beast barely felt the wounds, but once again Geirr was able to step backward and avoid the creature’s swipe.

Three arrows in quick succession flew over his shoulder to impact in the wolf-bear that had tossed Sveinn away. Two sank next to Sveinn’s huge sword. One went deep into the creature’s roaring mouth. The creature stumbled off as it tried to catch its breath with an arrow in its throat.

Geirr jumped in again, just as he had done before, but this time instead of aiming a quick swipe at the creature’s legs, he swung at the arm descending upon him.

The impact knocked Geirr to the ground. He heard the sundering of his family’s water-patterned sword and saw the tip shine in Jussi’s light as it flew away.

The blow had hurt the creature though. Its arm dangled, barely attached at the elbow. It tried to pound Geirr with it and looked confused as it did not react properly.

Geirr pulled out his short knife, though he had no idea what he would do with it against that thing.

It stepped forward to swing its other paw. Geirr braced for the impact. An arrow whistled past his head to join the earlier pair.

The creature hesitated, but only for a second, and again Geirr braced as the paw descended upon him.

But the paw suddenly curved up as the beast bent backwards. Sveinn had staggered back and he was calmly twisting his own knife deep into the back of the creature’s knee.

He was covered in blood. A nasty knock on his head slid down his hair and his cheek, giving color once again to the beard that had long since started towards gray. The creature’s blood gushed over his arm as he twisted the knife.

The creature turned towards Sveinn, ripping the blade out of his hand and raking his claws along his hauberk. The iron ripped, and blood seeped through the mail. Sveinn fell back.

But Geirr finally saw what to do with his short blade. He jumped on the creature’s back and jammed it into its neck.

It rose in a roar, throwing Geirr off to the side.

He looked up with blurry eyes as three more arrows streaked in, but it was Geirr’s knife that did the trick, and the wolf-bear, clutching its throat, toppled over, landing on Sveinn’s legs.

Jussi rushed to Geirr.

“I’m fine.” He coughed. “Or at least I will be.”

“No you’re not,” spat Jussi.

“I’m fine enough,” repeated Geirr. “Just help me up.”

Dubiously, Jussi helped Geirr stagger to his feet.

“Now go look at Sveinn.”

“He’s not my lord.”

“No, he’s not. I am, and I tell you to go look at him,” snarled the Jarl of Skjaerdalen.

Startled, Jussi rushed off.

Geirr started towards Sveinn, but would have fallen if Thyri had not come up and caught him.

“Careful, Geirr. You’re not fine.”

Geirr stretched. “I think maybe a rib isn’t right. And my knee is wrenched.”

“You’ll have Woden’s own headache tomorrow.”

He touched his head where a lump was forming and grimaced. “Help me to Sveinn.”

Jussi had set the stone next to the huscarl and was fussing over him.

Sveinn watched with his normal relaxed expression as Geirr tottered up to them.

“How is he?”

Jussi snapped, “Let me work, boy.” He glanced at Thyri. “See if the two of you can push that creature off Sveinn’s ankle.”

It took Thyri gathering a largish stone and a fallen oak branch, plus garnering Ansgar’s help, to allow them to lever the creature off Sveinn.

His foot was twisted, the ankle obviously broken.

Sveinn glanced down. “Not seen it look like that before.”

Geirr barked a laugh at Sveinn’s dusty dry comment. “When’s the last time you let a wolf-bear thing fall on you.”

“Now that you’re sayin’, I don’t recall.”

“We need to get him, and you for that matter, back into some shelter,” said Jussi. “Thyri, you and Ansgar, carry him back to our campsite.” The older huscarl glared at Geirr. “And you, boy, you carry the lightstone. Try not to fall.”

Geirr nodded and followed quickly as he could. The others trudged, carefully, up to the campsite. Sveinn said nothing, but the pain of each step forced gasps out of his throat.

When they set Sveinn down, Jussi reached into a pouch and handed Thyri a small stone. She raised her eyebrows when she saw it. “We could have used a firestarter earlier.”

“We didn’t need a fire then,” snapped Jussi. “But we do now, so get it lit.”

She rapped the stone sharply on another rock, and then slid into the tinder and kindling that had earlier resisted all her previous attempts to light. Soon a fire blazed, hotter than normal, with steam rising off the wood.

By that point, Jussi leaned back, coughing. Thyri caught him before he fell into the fire.

“Sveinn?” asked Geirr.

He ignored him, and with fumbling hands, splinted Sveinn’s ankle.

“Sveinn?” repeated the jarl.

Jussi crawled to his bedroll. “He’ll need water. I’ll need food… when I wake.” Almost immediately, he fell asleep.

Geirr looked at Sveinn. “How do you feel?”

“Not my best, lord.” Sveinn said drowsily.

The jarl held up a waterskin, and Sveinn drank. Then, pushing it away, the huscarl nodded off.

“I’ll be back in a moment, lord.”

“Where are you going, Thyri?”

“I want to make sure the other one is actually dead.”

Geirr considered Ansgar. Then looked up at her. What was it? I’ve never seen the like.”

“Neither have I.” Thyri hesitated.

“But?”

“But I’ve heard of such creatures. They never come down to the North Road, though. They’re seen in the deep mountain valleys. Many ridges to the north and east. Not here.”

“Well, they are now. By all means, make sure it’s dead. We can’t have it attack other travelers.”

“Yes.” She slipped away.

Geirr tried to stay alert, but he too soon nodded off.

Thyri woke him with a soft hand to his shoulder. “Some guard you are, lord.”

“The worst,” agreed Geirr.

Ansgar chuckled. “That was certainly my chance.”

The jarl snorted. “You’ve had others.”

“Yes, lord. But I do what Eleonore says.”

“Or you’ll die.”

“I’d rather face whatever that was than her, iffin’ I hadn’t done as she said.”

Geirr shook his head as Thyri laid Sveinn’s sword next to him, the pommel close to his hand.

“So it was dead.”

“Yes. Though how it ever lived so long I’ll not know. It was about a mile down the road.”

“Did it attack anyone else?”

“No.” She paused. “I didn’t see anyone else.”

Geirr’s eyes widened. “No caravans? No travelers at all?”

Thyri shook her head.

“Over a mile or so of the North Road? Right now?”

“No, Jarl. Not a soul.”

“Something is terribly wrong.”

She nodded. “I’ll get more firewood.”

Rob’s Update: Toys for Tots

Week of 12-18 November

Greetings all

It’s been a good week. Lots of work on Eleonore’s portion of Brief Is My Flame, which is always fun for me. She’s one of my favorite characters. The only real problem with her is not having too many words about her. There’s no real way to write a full novel just about her in this sequence, but I easily could.

One of the threads I’ve added that was not part of I Am a Wondrous Thing is Geirr Stronghair in Svellheim. He and Eleonore will have some interesting times together.

On a different note, I may have found a replacement for Brewbaker’s. If you recall, Brewbaker’s in the Kansas City area was a bar that proved especially comfortable and productive. There’s a barbecue place in Council Bluffs that may prove just as productive a spot.

And if it doesn’t turn out quite as well, I’ll somehow survive eating the ribs and pulled pork. And the brisket. Oh, the sausage balls are tasty too. It’s not quite B&C Creations in Wichita level of barbecue, but I’ll make do.

Tomorrow, I will head to Calontir’s Toys for Tots Tournament. It’s a great event because of all the toys we gather. Always over a thousand. It’s definitely a cool thing to have Marines come into a medieval-themed court and accept the toys formally. For those readers not coming, which is most of you, I ask that consider finding a Marine and giving him a new, unopened, and unwrapped toy. It’s a good cause in my opinion.

Well, I should get back to writing another battle scene. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.

Quote of the Week

One of the interesting things about writing is how much you have to honestly evaluate what you’re doing, and that’s hard. Imposter syndrome makes it hard to like what you’ve written sometimes, but at the same time each sentence is one of your babies. Don’t want to cut what is good, but nothing is good if you leave in the extra stuff.

Rush, of course, helps me when I’m fighting through some of this, so we get this week’s quote. I hear this song and then I remember to distance myself from myself when I look at what I’ve written. I should probably just put this song on repeat when I’m editing.

All puffed up with vanity
We see what we want to see
To the beautiful and the wise
The mirror always lies
– Rush, “War Paint”

News and Works in Progress

  • Brief Is My Flame, about 25k now
  • A short story about the meeting of Edward and Deor
  • A seeeekrit project that I’ll open up in December.

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

Today, The Good, the Bad, and the Merc, the third collection of short stories in the Four Horsemen Universe was released into the wild. You can find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Bad-Merc-Horsemen-Revelations-ebook/dp/B077H6H36M/

There’s a lot coming up in the Four Horsemen Universe and these three collections have a ton of background information and backstories. And, of course, my excellent story “Where Enemies Sit” in For a Few Credits More 😉

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
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

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