Category Archives: Interviews

Rob’s series of creator interviews, usually published each Wednesday.

Interview: Benjamin Tyler Smith

For the first quarter of 2020, my Wednesday interviews will be with authors who are part of When Valor Must Hold, the upcoming anthology of fantasy stories published by Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Today’s answers come from Benjamin Tyler Smith. He’s an up-and-coming author who you guys are going to really like, if you don’t already.

His story in When Valor Must Hold is “Hanging by a Thread.” This story, set in his Necrolopolis universe, combines the weary cop trying to keep the criminals of his city to a dull roar with practical necromancy.

I will say his interview answers have much more life than many characters in his stories. Of course, they’re undead, so…

Interview: Benjamin Tyler Smith

Benjamin Tyler Smith
Benjamin Tyler Smith

Why are you here?

  • What are your influences?

Fantasy books by some of the greats (Raymond E. Feist, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, to name a few), anime in a ton of genres (Mecha, Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Magical Girl), and role playing games of various sorts (Most notably Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV and VI, Baldur’s Gate, and Betrayal at Krondor).

  • Who are some favorite other creators?

Feist, Eddings, and Jordan as mentioned above. Also Kate Elliott for her Crown of Stars series, Elizabeth Haydon for her Symphony of Ages series, and Dan Abnett for his Gaunt’s Ghost series. Over in Japan, I love Reki Kawahara (Sword Art Online), Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), Nagaru Tanigawa (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), and Kenichi Sonoda (Gunsmith Cats), to name a few.

More recently, my favorite creators include Kacey Ezell (“Minds of Men” is awesome, as are any of her stories of the Depik race in the Four Horsemen Universe), Christopher Woods for his Fallen World novels (Now I know I’m biased, but I burned through his first book in record time, then listened to it again), Mark Wandrey for his Four Horsemen stories, especially the ones about Jim Cartwright.

  • What made you a creator in the first place?

God, when He created me. I’ve always told stories, made things up, and eventually started putting those imaginings down on paper, first as King Arthur fanfiction, then as Star Wars fanfiction, and finally as my own stuff as the years have gone by. Even if I made no money writing, I would still do it. It wouldn’t be my career so I wouldn’t be able to do it as much, but I’d still do it in some form or another. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Why did you choose to create what you create?

Things just come to me. Often when I’m listening to music or watching anime. I can’t listen to anything without getting some kind of scene or character or plot idea, and when I’m watching a good movie or show, certain moments just inspire me, either to write something similar or to take a particular emotion I feel and try to recreate it.

  • Feel free to add things you would someday like to create.

I’ve got way too many ideas, likely more than God’s given me years on this Earth. That said, I do have some plans. For this year, my focus is on building out the Fallen World universe with at least one sequel to Blue Crucible, as well as a short story or two. I also have a Jackie Warren book planned out for the Four Horsemen Universe. That’ll be a sequel on the “Return to Sender” story in the Tales from the Lyons Den anthology from late 2018. I also want to write the first book set in the Necrolopolis universe, which will feature a lot of the characters from the short story “Hanging by a Thread” that’ll be in the upcoming sword-and-sorcery anthology When Valor Must Hold. And then there are other things like a Magical Girl meets Apocalypse Now story, a zombie high school story, and other weird things like that. Like I said, too many ideas!

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

  • Where do you work? Home? Coffee Shop?

It depends on the day. Once a month I head over to a local restaurant or the nearest Chick-Fil-A with just a notebook and maybe a book on the writing craft, and I get to it. Drafting, brainstorming, studying. Mostly, though, I’m in the basement at home, with my writing laptop and snacks to keep me from venturing upstairs too often. That way lies distractions, cats needing affection, and games that desire to be played. (It’s totally them, not me, right?)

  • Do you listen to music? If so, give some examples.

I mostly listen to video game and anime music. When I’m hip-deep in the writing, it’s all instrumentals. When I’m brainstorming, outlining, or editing, vocals can be mixed in. Otherwise, the lyrics can end up distracting me when I’m actually drafting.

  • What other things exist in your productive environment?

In the basement, I have a little table where I’ve got my writing laptop, a few craft books for reference, some snacks, and a pair of cross-shaped cufflinks given to me by Larry Dixon back during World Fantasy Con of 2016 over in Columbus, Ohio.

  • What things have you tried that haven’t worked?

Two things. The first is spending too much time in the outlining and brainstorming phase. It’s not so bad with short fiction, as there are only so many factors to take into account for a 5,000 – 10,000 word piece. But, during the writing of Blue Crucible (My first contribution to Christopher Woods’ Fallen World universe) I went from the initial idea sometime in June of last year to finally sitting down to draft it in October and November. Granted, I had a couple other short stories that needed to be finished, but a lot of time was wasted spinning my wheels. So, going forward, I’m going to strive to not spend as much time in that phase of the writing.

And the second is an area I will make work, because I have to. That’s running the blog and maintaining a social media presence. It’s something I’ve tried to start a few times, and it’s always run aground as I’ve focused more and more on writing. That part’s a good thing, but I still need to be out there. Not only to promote, but also to maintain connections to fellow writers and to readers.

What are your superpowers?

  • What kinds of things do you like in your creations?

I like my characters. The plots can sometimes be hard for me to come up with, but I usually don’t have a problem with the core group of characters. Whether it’s Jackie Warren the arms dealer and her team of body guards in the Four Horesemen Universe, or it’s Lieutenant Nathan Ward and his squad of fellow mounted cops in the Fallen World Universe, or it’s Necromancer Adelvell and his band of undead misfits in my Necrolopolis universe, there’s someone for every reader to relate to, to root for, to laugh with, and to cry with.

  • What are specific techniques you do well?

I’ve been told that I do believable dialogue, with the characters having unique voices that don’t require too many tags to keep up with. I’ve also been told that my action sequences read like a movie or anime scene. Easy to visualize, easy to follow. I’m a harsh critic of my own writing, so I don’t know that I agree with that! But, I’ve heard it enough to give it credence.

  • What are some favorite successes you’ve achieved, especially things you had to struggle to overcome?

Completing this first novel all the way to the point of submission. I’ve drafted two other novels, both years ago. I never went back and edited them because they would need to be completely rewritten. I just didn’t know enough. With Blue Crucible, I feel like I’ve finally come around to understanding story structure enough to pull off a full-length work. Is it going to be perfect? No, and nothing I write ever will be. Nothing anyone writes ever will be, save for the Bible (And the writers had a little bit of help from on high for that). But, it was written to the best of my ability at the time, and I know the next book will be even better.

Another success, again involving Blue Crucible, has been to finally start writing with a lot more emotion. The protagonist, Lieutenant Nathan Ward, goes through hell during this book. It begins right on the day the bombs drop in Chris Woods’ Fallen World universe, and he witnesses as his hometown disappears off the map, along with a good bit of the country. He’s distraught, he’s upset, he’s barely holding it together. There are times where he breaks down and weeps. That’s hard for me to write, because it’s not comfortable for me to experience or see. But, with the encouragement of a couple good writer friends I pushed through and showed a lot more raw emotion than I ever have. And I think that’s where my writing’s been the weakest all these years, so I’m excited to see how readers view some of those emotional scenes.

 What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

  • What are some of the challenges you have faced that frustrated you?

My own resistance to writing is a personal challenge, and I know I’m not unique in that. Writing, as much fun as it is, is still a brain-burning task. It’s not difficult in the sense that we’re solving complex math equations (Well, maybe the hard sci-fi writers are) or performing life saving surgery or commanding thousands of employees or soldiers, but we’re still utilizing a lot more of the brain than we do in a lot of everyday tasks, even everyday work tasks. And the brain doesn’t always want to do that, so when it comes time to sit down and do the gritty work of writing, distractions abound! Suddenly the most amazing thing in the world is cleaning the toilets or washing the car or cooking dinner, and the writing doesn’t get done.

The other low point came when I went to my first writer’s conference and found out just how deeply political the traditional publishing industry has become (Or always has been, and maybe I just never noticed). I left there having made a few acquaintances and having met a lot of wonderful people, but overall I was very discouraged. It seemed like the industry was stacked against certain demographics and certain political and religious persuasions, and it didn’t matter how good a story you could write if you fell into those categories. My dreams of traditional publishing weren’t dashed exactly, but they were tarnished quite a bit.

And then I went to LibertyCon in 2017, and my whole perspective changed. Baen, Chris Kennedy Publishing, Copperdog Publishing, and other big to small presses out there just wanted a good story. We could have our differing views as writers and professionals and still be colleagues and even friends. What mattered was the skill and the professionalism.

  • Do you have any creative failures which taught you something? What were those lessons?

Lots of rejections, which I know is normal. I’ve had so many short stories get rejected from contests, from magazines, from token publications that I could reroof the house with the manuscripts and the rejection slips.

That said, the only thing that helped me more than the first time I received an editor’s feedback on an accepted piece (Venessa Giunta, if you’re reading this, thank you so much!) was the first time I received a personal rejection message. When an editor or assistant editor takes time out of their busy schedule to tell you why your manuscript didn’t make the final cut, you know you’re on the right track. Because they don’t do that unless they see something in your writing, something they want to see more of. The rejection still stings, but take heart! You’re in the top 5% to 10% at that point.

  • How do you overcome normal slow points like writer’s block?

In the past, before I wanted to make this a career I would try waiting for the muse to strike. That never seemed to work, but it made for a good excuse to get distracted with other things. Good things like work and car repairs and chores, and bad things like marathon sessions of video games and other entertainment.

Now I just do the clichéd thing that always works: sit down in a room with limited distractions, and it’s either write or stare at the wall. Staring at the wall gets old after about five minutes, so I inevitably put my fingers to the keyboard and type. After about an hour, I’m typing nonstop, and before I know it, six hours have gone by and it’s time for dinner.

  • Which mistake would you try to keep other creators from making?

Don’t wait. I spent years wanting to write, and dabbling in it, but I wasn’t really, truly serious about it until 2013 or so, when I started studying the craft. I’ve been writing regularly since about 2008 (with starts and stops before that, through high school and college), but I didn’t look to improve my abilities and technique until several years into it. So, yeah, wherever you’re at, realize you can do better and strive to be better. Don’t let other people talk you out of it, and don’t talk yourself out of it. If it’s something you want to do – if it’s something you’re driven to do – then just sit down and do it. And know that there are people out there eager to read what you produce, and even more eager to see you improve with each work.

  • If you could go back and tell yourself anything about writing, what would it be?

The above statement, in all its form. I should’ve focused on writing as a career from the beginning. I always pushed it aside as a “Well, maybe by the time I’m 25. Maybe by the time I’m 30. Maybe by the time…” Nope, little Ben, sit down and get to it. This is what God’s put you on this Earth to do, and you need to do it before He smites you for your indolence.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet?Do Rigel and Pilot from Farscape count as muppets?
  • 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?
  • Favorite Superhero? All Might from the anime My Hero Academia, followed by Deku, the protagonist from that series. Greatest superhero saga I’ve ever seen, hands down. Highly recommended.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Dukes of Hazzard for the 70’s. Magnum P.I. and the A-Team for the 80’s.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Stanky Bean, closely followed by Dorkwood and Bank Butt.https://www.geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot-51817-1211-PM-625×908.jpeg
  • Favorite Sports Team? Haven’t watched much sports since high school, so I’ll have to say, “Whichever team my friends aren’t rooting for in the Superbowl.” It’s fun being the contrarian.
  • Best Game Ever? Whichever Superbowl it was that the Patriots came from behind and completely dominated. It was like a switch was thrown at half-time, and then they just owned the field. Or maybe they owned it the whole time and decided it was time to show that.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? Salvation of the soul is the greatest gift God has given me. After that, it’s the love of my wife. And after that, the cover art for Blue Crucible. I never thought my first book would have such epic artwork. Chris Kennedy has my gratitude.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? If we’re talking western animation, then J.T. Marsh from ExoSquad. If we’re talking eastern animation, then Naofumi Iwatani from Rising of the Shield Hero.
  • Your Wrestler Name? Sweet Tea Man
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? Something akin to the Atomic Elbow Drop, like the “Deep Steep” or the “Dentist’s Drill.”
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? To unseat the publishing giants and restore the writing world to one that’s based on merit and entertainment value.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? By southernizing everyone with sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, and gumbo.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? The NES, followed by Rototech and Bubblegum Crisis.
  • Favorite Historical Period? Toss-up between Medieval Europe and Revolutionary America
  • Most Interesting Person In History? Joan of Arc. Illiterate peasant girl who rallied a failing army, liberated a city, and died a martyr’s death without ever once relinquishing her faith. I’m looking forward to meeting her on the other side.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium and above.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? The hot bacon cheese spread we make for Christmas Eve every year.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/hot-bacon-cheese-spread/
  • Favorite Cereal? Honey Bunches of Oats, all the way. After that, Waffle Crisp.
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Whatever it is, I’m washing it down with sweet iced tea.
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? Sweet iced tea.
  • Do You Have Pets? I serve in the Court of the Calico Countess alongside her castellan, Earl Grey.
  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Vin Diesel, ‘cuz why not?
  • What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? Least desired and most desired cause of death.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

  • Website/Blog: BenjaminTylerSmith.com
  • Twitter: @BenTylerSmith
  • Facebook: Benjamin Tyler Smith
  • Blue Crucible will be out in early April! Look for it on Chris Kennedy Publishing’s site!
  • I’m working on the sequel to Blue Crucible and the first Jackie Warren novel in the Four Horsemen Universe. So, expect lots of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and military sci-fi action for 2020!

And where can we find you?

I will be at FantaSci and LibertyCon this year. Hope we can meet up there!

Do you have a creator biography?

By day Ben earns his bread as a necro-cartographer, and by night he writes about undead, aliens, and everything in-between. His first novel is Blue Crucible, published by Chris Kennedy Publishing and set in Christopher Woods’ post-apocalyptic Fallen World universe. Other works include short stories set in CKP’s Four Horsemen military sci-fi universe, the Sha’Daa dark fantasy/horror universe by Copperdog Publishing, and pieces that wound up as finalists for Baen contests both in 2018 and 2019. He is working on the sequel to Blue Crucible, as well as a Four Horsemen novel, both of which will be finished by the end of 2020.

Married to a saint of a woman, ruled by a benevolent calico countess, he can be found at BenjaminTylerSmith.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@BenTylerSmith).


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: Cedar Sanderson

For the first quarter of 2020, my Wednesday interviews will be with authors who are part of When Valor Must Hold, the upcoming anthology of fantasy stories published by Chris Kennedy Publishing.

Today’s interview is with Cedar Sanderson. Cedar is one of the first people who read my stuff. She and her husband read A Lake Most Deep and told me how much they liked the story. And how much they didn’t like the cover. Oh, the art was fine, but man, I had a lot to learn about title treatments and such-like things. She was very patient with me and has helped me a ton. That’s one reason I was so pleased to ask her if she wanted to be a part of When Valor Must Hold.

Another reason is that I’ve enjoyed reading her stuff. So, I was not surprised that I loved her story Goddess’s Tears. It’s an origin story of her Blood of Frost universe, where the hero pays a higher price than one expects to fight the evils around her.

Interview: Cedar Sanderson

Cedar Sanderson
Cedar Sanderson

Why are you here?

I started writing back when I was a teenager. I had actually forgotten about that until I found a partial manuscript – and house plans for the story! – recently. It’s pretty horrible. I think I was channeling Jo from Little Women. I know I started writing for two reasons: one, I ran out of reading material. Two, I’d always had worlds in my head and I was slowly convinced that other people would enjoy reading about them, too.

I started to read at a very tender age, so I don’t remember the first book I read. I can’t really choose a favorite author, either, because it changes so frequently, based on my moods. But I can say that I imprinted early on Heinlein, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dorothy Sayers, and Louis L’Amour. Also, I happen to be named for a character in a novel, so I guess you could say that reading is in the blood. I write because I love to read.

I find myself drawn to, and writing, a lot of fantasy, which I find weird. I loved Tolkein and CS Lewis. Still do, for that matter. But I also find most modern High Fantasy almost intolerable with the tropes and the clichés and the stale pastiches, oh my. Urban Fantasy – Butcher, Correia, Briggs – can be very very good, but I had actually started to write it on my own before I was even introduced to them. I still find it weird, because all my life I wanted to be a scientist. So I should be writing science fiction. I do, and even my fantasy tends to have strong science elements in it. Still, fantasy is what calls the muse most strongly.

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

I work at home these days. For a year, I had a writing office where I went and there were no children, no distractions, just quiet and minimal writing supplies. I didn’t get a lot done there. I felt guilty not being at home taking care of the family. On the other hand, I tried putting my office out in the main part of the house in the theory that my family (three teens, a husband, and a dog) would not be constantly interrupting me if they had open access to me. That was a disaster. I stopped writing for months. It wasn’t until I started taking refuge in my bedroom with the door closed that I was able to focus and write again.

I use music to create mood. When I was writing Goddess’s Tears, I spent more time than I ought putting together the perfect playlist for it. If you’re curious, you can find that here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3V5Zg2dwDACe-V99XtclfNBqC4Fhkapf the title for the playlist is my working title for the story. Sometimes I can’t use music – recently when I have been bored at work I’ve been writing longhand in a notebook (shh… actually, no one cares. I’m still training in a new role and they know I’m unoccupied for a time). This seems to be working. The one creative nut I am trying to crack is dictation. I have an hour plus commute, and it seems I should use that time creatively but I get very self-conscious trying to speak the story aloud and compose on the fly. I’ll keep trying.

What are your superpowers?

I like to explore what it is to be human, and how far you can stretch that definition before it snaps. I really enjoy developing characters, and forging them in fires to bring out the true metal of their souls. Hence the working title of Goddess’s Tears, I was writing a story where the dross was driven out of a woman’s soul in the fires of hell itself. I’m told by reviewers and fans I do character driven stories very well. I’ve wondered at times if this means I don’t do action well, but I have also been told that in a couple of my books my pacing is ‘breathless’ which is, ok? I hope?

I rarely rewrite. I did with Goddess because Rob thought the story had some dross, and it was a great experience to go hammer and tongs with him on it. I think what we wrought is better than my first draft, and I’m delighted he spent the time on it with me. It was a learning experience. Rob’s Note: The story was always good, but I wanted more. And I got it. 

 What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

Oof. This is a difficult question to answer. I’m not going to get too deep with it.

The biggest challenge for me is that I have a career I enjoy very much, on top of the writing, and being an active artist. I’m busy – often too busy – and it’s frustrating to have ideas but no time to bring them to life. When I was still in college (the second time, almost 20 years after the first attempt) I was able to juggle classes, and write. But now that I’m a full time chemist, I come home drained. That, and teenagers are almost as hard as toddlers. I thought they’d be more independent, but nope!

I have several manuscripts in various states of completion. I’m struggling to finish any of them. The problem with some is that it’s been too long since I worked on it last, and I’d have to re-read it before I could start fresh. With 70,000 words on one (another Underhill book) that’s a daunting task. And I blocked on it for a reason, so I have to unpick where I went wrong and correct that. I’m a pantser. If I try to outline, I lose the story. So my recommendation is to plow ahead on a project and finish it. Don’t set it aside and come back months later scratching your head and wondering where you were going with that. Or abandon it entirely and call it practice. I’m too stubborn to do that last.

 Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Beaker
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Dead South
  • Favorite Superhero? Captain America
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? I grew up without television. I’m not sure what was on in the 70s.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Chartreuse
  • Favorite Sports Team? I don’t watch sports?
  • Best Game Ever? Oh, I really like Fluxx, with all the variations. There’s a Chemistry version!
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A friend and fan sent me several fountain pens. So wonderful for drawing!
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Jessica Rabbit
  • Your Wrestler Name? La Bunuela!
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? Boiling oil pour
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? How to go back to graduate school.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Bake it cookies and lull it before… but I say too much.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? Die Hard
  • Favorite Historical Period? 1940s (WWII era)
  • Most Interesting Person In History? Dmitri Mendeleev
  • Steak Temperature? Blue
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Bacon Horseradish
  • Favorite Cereal? Steel-cut Oats
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Chicken and Dumplings
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? Soda? Diet Dr. Pepper. Stimulant? Mead, preferably cherry mead.
  • Do You Have Pets? We have a dog, Tricksy, and two cats who are living with our daughter but were my office cats, Addie and Evie.
  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Scarlett Johansson
  • What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? Ask about favorite food or thing to cook!

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

So other than Butter Tarts, what are your favorite foods?

Rob’s Answer: Steak (medium rare, blackened, with garlic butter), Butter Chicken, fresh bread with butter and honey, biscuits and gravy (having already buttered the biscuits), and, uhhhh, butter, I guess?

When you write, do you share the story with anyone? I often use alpha readers when I get stuck on something.

Rob’s Answer: I think you have to at some point. It’s almost impossible for me to really judge what I’m writing. I mean, I know I like it, but I don’t know if anyone else will. I will say one of the best compliments I’ve ever had is when James Young said something like, “I know it’ll be good. It’s you.” That’s an awesome thing to hear, but I don’t believe it until someone else has given me honest input.

When you get discouraged, how do you cheer yourself up?

Rob’s Answer: Hmmm. This is a tough one, because I don’t always have a good answer here. I feel better anytime I complete something, even if it’s just the dishes. Procrasticleaning is a thing, y’all. It’s the days I go to bed having not accomplished anything that bug me, so I guess my answer is to finish a thing. Oddly, I can say that here, but I don’t necessarily think about it when I need to.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

  • My website is www.cedarwrites.com
  • My amazon page is: https://www.amazon.com/Cedar-Sanderson/e/B006WFPHO6
  • My latest novel is Possum Creek Massacre, a paranormal police procedural set in the Appalachians. The stories are drawn from family and true crime and my own forensic studies. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SQNLMPP
  • I’m working with my writing group on a weekly prompt challenge. You give a prompt, and are randomly assigned one in return. It’s a ton of fun, and a great way to get writing if you are having trouble gaining momentum. I started doing the group, and the challenge, as a way to give back to the community. Paying it forward for all those who have encouraged me or poked and prodded me along the way. If anyone wants to play along, check it out here: https://moreoddsthanends.home.blog/

And where can we find you?

I’m not planning any event appearances in 2020. I’ll be attending MarCon as a guest, incognito with family. I’ll be taking my kids to GemCity ComicCon, and probably the same for CincyComiCon as well. Happy to meet up if you happen to be there!

Do you have a creator biography?

Cedar Sanderson is an author, artist, and a scientist. Her varied career lends extra flavor to her works of art, and her insatiable reading appetite once led her to run out of reading material and start writing her own. She hasn’t stopped yet. Perennially inquisitive, she wants to know more about everything and will ask strange questions if you stand still long enough to let her. Works in print include her popular urban fantasy (with very little urban) Pixie for Hire series, her space opera Tanager’s Fledglings, and her young Adult series Children of Myth, as well as a couple dozen shorter works that would make this bio too long to name them. Her cover art and design grace the covers of other authors as well as her own, and her cute dragon character appears in his own coloring book, Inktail & Friends.

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

You should have asked me what inspired me to write Goddess’s Tears?

Reading Jirel of Joiry. I hadn’t read it until about a year ago, and I promptly fell in love with it. The character really connected with me – I don’t want to spoil it, but the character falls in love with someone you really don’t expect and in a way you don’t see coming. But it wasn’t that. It was the chin up and face forward into the darkness. Do your duty if it sees you walk through hell. I lived that. I wanted to capture a little of that sheer chutzpah in a story of my own. I hope I succeeded in even a very small way.


Thanks to Cedar 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: William Joseph Roberts

For the first quarter of 2020, my Wednesday interviews will be with authors who are part of When Valor Must Hold, the upcoming anthology of fantasy stories published by Chris Kennedy Publishing.

The first interview is with one of the first people I thought of when I got permission to create an anthology. The moment you meet this guy, you can envision him with a giant greatsword standing next to Conan or some other great hero of legend. And then afterwords, he’ll be the one drinking mead until the gods get tired.

I interviewed William Joseph Roberts not too long ago. You can find that interview here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1845. However, this is a new set of questions freshened up for 2020, and he was generous enough to fill out the new version as well.

His story in the anthology is entitled “Dust in the Mouth” and it’s as if Lovecraft wrote a Conan story. Or Howard wrote a Cthulhu story. No surprise, given his influences.

Interview: William Joseph Roberts

William Joseph Roberts
William Joseph Roberts

Why are you here?

  • What are your influences? Without questions, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Jordan, Douglas Adams to name a few.
  • Who are some favorite other creators? That depends on the type of creation you’re talking about. I mean, you’ve got Irish Mike making these massive swords and stuff to classic cover artists and such. That’s a wide spectrum to start naming names.
  • What made you a creator in the first place? The love of invoking an emotional or physical response in someone. There is nothing like seeing something that you puked out of your brainpan cause a response in someone else.
  • Why did you choose to create what you create? Just the way that the muse strikes me and what the evil brain squirrels tell me to do.
  • Feel free to add things you would someday like to create. Hehe…  um… that’s a freaking big list. Um.  How about a world so iconic that it is more or less a household name and lasts into the next century in similar fashion to the works of Howard and Lovecraft.

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

  • Where do you work? Home? Coffee Shop? All of the above
  • Do you listen to music? If so, give some examples. Absolutely! Basically from any genre. It just depends on what the mind squirrels demand.  Here’s a good example.  In the last week alone with the different stories that I have been working on, I have swung from Megadeth to Postmodern Jukebox to Moonshine Bandits and back to Nahko and Medicine for the people. I’m all over the place when it comes to music.
  • What other things exist in your productive environment? Side projects, just little things around the house that I can be creative with to give the squirrels a break and do something different.
  • What things have you tried that haven’t worked? Critique groups. I spun my wheels for years in critique groups that went nowhere. One part of the problem is that they focused on literary fiction, not pulp fiction.

What are your superpowers?

  • What kinds of things do you like in your creations? I like reality and the average joe over super powers and seemingly immortal characters.
  • What are specific techniques you do well? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve been told that I pull on raw emotion at times and paint pictures well.
  • What are some favorite successes you’ve achieved, especially things you had to struggle to overcome? I published my first novel, fLUX Runners on my own after a lot of hard work and a whole hell of a lot of fighting with those demons in the back of my head. Then I turned around and finished my second novel in 2 months.  :-/  Go figure.

fLUX Runners CoverWhat will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

  • What are some of the challenges you have faced that frustrated you? Distractions, self-doubt, lack of knowledge. Top of the list would probably be the lack of knowledge being shared in part of the writing community.  If the knowledge that LibertyCon existed had been spoken about, I could have learned about it years ago. The group I was with knew about it, they just didn’t like to talk about “those” authors.
  • Do you have any creative failures which taught you something? What were those lessons? Yes, my old podcast. We had a blast and we helped to spread the word to a lot of people about different artists and their works, but it was a failure in that I lost my focus. Instead of being a platform to promote myself and my work, I focused on making a better podcast.  Now the upside to all of this hard work was the knowledge gained on networking, promotion, and collaboration.
  • How do you overcome normal slow points like writer’s block? Jump to another story or project. The squirrels get bored if they are stuck on the same thing for too long.
  • Which mistake would you try to keep other creators from making? From spinning their wheels doing something that will never pay off. (Critique groups!) While they may be great for some people, they did nothing for me.
  • If you could go back and tell yourself anything about writing, what would it be? TO WRITE! See, way back at the start of my podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing author Ben Bova. Now the one thing that he kept saying over and over again was, that if you want to be a writer, then write. Don’t make excuses, just sit down and write. Choose a set time that is your writing time and that’s when you write, without question. Everyone else is to leave you alone during this period unless it is an absolute emergency.  Well at the time, with the distractions of the podcast and three small babies, it didn’t sink in.  It finally did after a while. I now get up at 0400 every morning if not earlier and write till at least 0600 before getting ready for work. Add in my hour of lunch and any other time that I can squeeze in, I’m finally doing it.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Tiny Tim
  • Favorite Superhero? Lobo
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? BJ McKay and his best friend Bear
  • Favorite Weird Color? Der… intestinal pink?  … hell I don’t know
  • Favorite Sports Team? What if you don’t watch sports?
  • Best Game Ever? Starflight
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A framed picture of my Grandkids
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Hell if I know. The kids just said I’d be the Mask
  • Your Wrestler Name? Bubba Joe Bob
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? Spine Splitter
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? The fall of the mosquito empire! Those bloodsuckers will pay for generations of attacks upon our people!
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Everyone loves brownies.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? Mullets, music and muscle cars!
  • Favorite Historical Period? 1600’s and the colonization of the Americas
  • Most Interesting Person In History? Shakespeare
  • Steak Temperature? Mooing
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Guac
  • Favorite Cereal? Cocoa pebbles
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Pot of crawdads with a side of soup beans, cornbread, fried okra and fried green tomatoes.
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? Coffee
  • Do You Have Pets? Yes, two pups.. do kids count?
  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Der… that guy that played Ron Weasley just cause he’s a redhead?
  • What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? The most embarrassing moment you’re willing to share.

fLUX Runners CoverTell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

Upcoming events and conventions you plan to attend. Chattacon (Jan), Anachracon (Feb), FantiSci (March), Conglomeration (April), Metrotham (May), LibertyCon (June), Next Chapter Con (Sept)

Do you have a creator biography?

In a previous lifetime, William Joseph Roberts was once an F-15 mechanic and Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He has traveled the world and experienced many things in his few years.

During his tenure in this lifetime, he has been called a Jack of all trades, a Renaissance man and insane squirrel wrangler by his peers. Since his enlistment he has perused careers as an industrial and architectural designer, design engineer, and now, eclectic writer.

William Joseph Roberts currently resides in the quaint southern town of Chickamauga, Georgia with his loving wife, three freaky smart nerd children, and small pack of fur babies.

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

Most folks at some point usually ask WTF is wrong with me.  I generally just smile, then maybe give them a face lick. 😊


Thanks to William 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 S. Bolger

Greetings all

Trouble in the Wind is now available on Amazon. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082K73QPD.

I’m concluding this week of featuring interviews from authors in the anthology with Philip S. Bolger. This is a dude that knows his history and, of course, that’s a trait I like in anyone. One of these days he and I are going to end up with beverages talking late into the night about our particular historical eras of interest.

For now, though, we’ll just have to be satisfied with this interview.

Interview: Philip S. Bolger
Philip S. Bolger
Philip S. Bolger

What is your quest?

I seek to inject my brand of intellect, cynicism, and action into what I write—I like the kind of kinetic, snappy writing of Neal Stephenson, the savvy wit of Jim Butcher, the noir stylings of Don Winslow—I try to reflect a little bit of each in what I write. In my work for Trouble in the Wind, I actually did not, as my other inspirations are historical! I have a degree in history, and wanted to use fiction as a way to explore some of my favorite alternatives. I’ve got a long list of authors I admire—Kacey Ezell, John Ringo, S. M. Stirling, David Weber, Seth A. Bailey, Stephen England, Steven Hildreth, my father (Daniel P. Bolger)… I could go for a bit. In addition to writing, I’ve found a lot of inspiration and influence from games—video games, board games, tabletop RPGs, anything that allows me to get into the headspace of someone ranging from an Imperial Japanese Navy Captain to a member of a radical eco-terrorist cell that’s the only hope against a tyrannical electric company. I find it fascinating to try to think through things that way.

What is your favorite color?

My favorite color is that shade of imperial scarlet that only really showed up in the finest moments of the British Empire. I enjoy being able to add depth to the worlds I create and the characters that inhabit them. Whenever possible, I try to inject elements of folks I actually know. Fighting Spirit was easy, as the tank crew I wrote, and the Japanese Naval Infantry NCO, were all based on people I’ve known in real life. I think writing not just WHAT you know, but WHO you know is one of the great ways to make it as a writer.

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

My biggest problem? ADD. No, not diagnosed, it’s just tough to force myself to sit down and get through a story. I think I probably start five or six for every one I finish. As I grow as an author, I’m getting better and better about that—my biggest weapon against it is being able to weave in new influences into an existing work, rather than trying to restart from scratch.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’ve been told that I do world-building well—by my D&D group, readers, and in less-than-flattering terms on several high school write-ups about daydreaming. I try to write weapons well, and make each of my characters very distinct, too. I’m proud that I’ve written (and published!) a novel, and that I’ve had three different short stories published this year.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? The Swedish Chef!
  • Your Wrestler Name? El Juegoguerrero—“The Game Warrior” just doesn’t sound as good, so I’d have to train in lucha libre. I figure if it worked for Jack Black, it can work for me.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? War Plan Orange—a complicated elbow drop off the turnbuckle
  • Favorite Weird Color? CADPAT
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Overwhelming amounts of Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (Rob’s Note: Miss Manners agrees. Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles are just not in fashion anymore.)
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? The Brain.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A brand new Kindle Fire from my partner, Vikky, for publishing my first novel.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? A way to live in the greater D.C. area without having to sell my soul to make rent.
  • Favorite Sports Team? DAAAAAAAAAAAAA BEARSSS!
  • Cake or Pie? Neither—I’ll head for the chips and salsa.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime by a mile (said Emil)
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Guacamole. No! Salsa. No! Queso. No, wait, Ceviche! Uhh… get back to me on this one.
  • Favorite Cereal? Not really a cereal guy, but I’ve got fond childhood memories of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Megahit—video game-infused synthwave.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whisky for sipping, Whiskey for slamming.
  • Favorite Superhero? Does Taskmaster count? If I’ve got to pick a hero, I’ll go with Iron Man.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium Rare. Rare if it’s somewhere or someone that tends to overcook.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? The F-15E Strike Eagle. Or maybe Predator, or Duran Duran, or Hulk Hogan… It was a busy time.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
  • Favorite Pet? Tie between my dogs—Robert the Bruce and Francois Guizot.
  • Best Game Ever? Delta Green.
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Both!
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? X.

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

What inspired you to write your story for Trouble in the Wind? Are you intimidated about being in the same line-up as several alt history legends? (I certainly am, for what it’s worth!)

Rob’s Answer: Oh, I don’t know if I have enough electrons to answer this questions. My first goal was to continue the alternate history setting I’d created in Far Better to Dare and In Dark’ning Storms from Those in Peril and To Slip the Surly Bonds. However, I never could think of a short story with a twist that fit. I thought of all sorts of story ideas for a alternate World War I novel/series, which I might someday do, but short stories and chapters are different things.

And with that, the obvious was for me to look at my specialty. I’m ABD in Anglo-Saxon military history. I focused on early 10th century Mercian production and population to see if the numbers specified in their version of the Burghal Hidage were plausible or if they were pie in the sky figures. As a secondary question, I asked if those portions of Mercia that didn’t have enough population showed evidence of movement from more populous areas to supply the needed people.

By the way, I made a slight nod to this in my story when the apprentice got told to copy that part about Aethelflaed. That’s a direct reference to the Mercian Register portion of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which details her work building up those burhs until her death in 918.

Anyway, any study of Anglo-Saxon military history has to include a study of their heroic poetry. There’s too much history in Beowulf, the Finnsburh Fragment, the Battle of Brunanburh, and, of course, the Battle of Maldon to ignore.

Furthermore, the Battle of Maldon is a battle we often sing about in the SCA, thanks to the songwriting of Rosalind Jehanne. She graciously allowed me to use the first line of her song as the title of my story, because it fit so well. 

So that’s when I looked for the twist. Short stories should have some sort of twist at the end. Once I found it, all I had to do was execute it.

As for whether or not I’m intimidated by the others in the anthology, I wasn’t, mostly because I never really paid attention to that. My job was to create a story, so that’s where I looked.

Now, of course, I realize I’m in the same book as David Weber, S.M. Stirling, and Kevin J. Anderson, three of my favorites. I never really had a chance to be intimidated, but I have been screaming a few barbaric yawps at this awesomeness since I actually paid attention.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

I’m not an official guest at any cons in 2020 (at least, not yet), but I attend Dragon*Con every year, and plan on LibertyCon and GenCon next year, so write my page if you want to meet up, I’d be happy to sign autographs and harangue you about whatever ideas I’ve had lately.

Do you have a creator biography?

Philip S. Bolger is an army veteran who left active duty service to work as a cog in the Military-Industrial Complex while pursing his passion for writing.  “Fighting Spirit” is his third published short story, and second examining the Oahu Pact timeline.  His debut novel, the Urban Fantasy adventure “The Devil’s Gunman,” was released in January of 2019.  In his free time, he enjoys history, wargames, and pen and paper RPGs.  He lives in the heart of Northern Virginia with his partner, Victoria, and their two dogs: Robert the Bruce and Francois Guizot.  Philip can be reached at philipsbolgerauthor@gmail.com.

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

This is a pretty comprehensive interview! But… I’ll go with “Who is your favorite historical figure?” Mine is Francois Guizot (no, not my dog, I like him a lot, but this is who he’s named after!), a French Prime Minister during the July Monarchy, who, after being overthrown, had a second career as a history professor. That seems like a pretty good way to live!


Thanks to Philip 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

And here’s Kevin Ikenberry, who’s not only part of Trouble in the Wind, but he’s also Peacemaker Six in the Four Horsemen Universe. He’s a fantastic writer who was very helpful to me as I was writing The Feeding of Sorrows.

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: Peter Grant

Stop me if you’re heard this before, but Trouble in the Wind, the latest of the Phases of Mars alternate military history anthologies comes out on Friday. I’m continuing my interviews with Peter Grant, who is in many ways what I strive to be. He’s done very well as a writer and I like his stuff quite a bit. And, as you’ll see, he’s had an interesting life to get him to that point.

Interview: Peter Grant
Peter Grant
Peter Grant

What is your quest?

My “quest” is fairly simple.  I’m trying to make a living!  Fifteen years ago, I was severely injured while working as a prison chaplain in a high-security penitentiary.  After two surgeries, I was medically retired, and informed I could never work a “normal” job again, due to physical limitations and disabilities.  I had to find another way to provide for myself and my family.  Since I’d written before (one book, and several dozen articles in various fields), and since I could still sit at a desk and write even if I couldn’t be more active, it seemed natural to try to learn to write fiction for a wider market.  Today I have sixteen books published, plus stories in several anthologies.

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

A very big challenge was to learn to write for the commercial market.  You have to write what readers want, not what seems good to you.  No matter how satisfied you are with your own work, if readers aren’t gripped by it, they won’t spend their hard-earned entertainment dollars on it.  I had a lot to learn in that area.  I daresay I wrote and re-wrote over twenty manuscripts, and well over two million words, before I produced one that I felt was worth publishing;  and today, when I look back at my first two or three books, I can see several flaws that I changed in subsequent books.  In fact, I’m preparing a second edition of my first three books, incorporating improvements in style, grammar and punctuation (although not changing the story at all).

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’m not sure it can be described as a “technique”, but I try very hard to be adaptable, to write across different genres and fields, and to be entertaining in them all.  That takes a lot of research and hard work, and it’s a real challenge:  but so far, I think I’ve achieved some success.  I’m currently published in the genres of military science fiction, fantasy, Westerns, and memoir.  I have a historical novel in mind, set in the Viking period, although that’s just the germ of a plot at the moment – it may not go anywhere.  At any rate, I value versatility in others, and I try to be versatile in my approach to writing.  It keeps me fresh, too.  If I get stuck on one book project, I can pick up another in a completely different genre and work on it for a few days, then return to the original project refreshed.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? – I have no idea.  I didn’t grow up with most US TV shows.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? – That I survived them!  I was involved in one of the hotter conflict zones of the Cold War period, and it was only with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 that I began to think I might survive it.
  • Your Wrestler Name? – Given my physical limitations after a disabling injury, that’s a non-starter for me.
  • Signature Wrestling Move? – Sit down and eat popcorn while watching the wrestlers.
  • Favorite Weird Color? – The subtle green shades of the fynbos ecosystem of the southern Cape Province in South Africa.  They’re unique in my experience, as is the scent.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fynbos )
  • How Will You Conquer the World? – There’s an old African proverb:  “How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful.”  I guess you could apply the same lesson to a larger meal!
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? – I’ll go with Captain Tagon from “Schlock Mercenary”.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? – A Labrador puppy, when I was a young boy.  Every boy needs to grow up with a puppy.  You learn a lot.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? – I don’t. A plot is improved by being shared. There’s always someone out there more evil, twisted and inventive than I am, and I like to learn from them.
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? – Why not numbers?  Are you discriminating against figures? 🙂 Rob’s Note: I’m just getting my revenge for having to grow up as the child of two mathematicians.
  • Favorite Sports Team? – None.  I watch a game for its own sake, not as some sort of tribal conflict.
  • Cake or Pie? – Yes, please!
  • Lime or Lemon? – Lime, because it’s tart and bites back.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? – Smoked Gouda Pimento.
  • Favorite Musical Performer? – Hard to choose out of many favorites, but I’ll pick Mike Oldfield.  He’s a composer as well as a performer, and has a heck of a track record.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? – Depends on my mood.  I don’t generally drink spirits, but if I do, I tend to prefer bourbon to Scotch. Rob’s Note: I’ve been going that way myself. I’ll bring my current favorite, New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon, to LibertyCon
  • Favorite Superhero? – None.  I loathe them all equally.  Bunch of pretentious gits.
  • Steak Temperature? – It used to be medium rare, but since losing my gall bladder, my body doesn’t tolerate that very well. Sadly, I’ve had to order medium well done since then.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? – WKRP in Cincinnati. It was one of the few US TV shows I was able to watch in South Africa.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? – Spring, when everything becomes new again.
  • Favorite Pet? – Dogs and cats.  We currently have two cats, but would like to get a dog sometime – probably a rescue, and preferably something with Labrador or Golden Retriever ancestry.
  • Best Game Ever? – I’m not into most games. (I presume you mean card or board games, or something like that?) Rob’s Note: I do
  • Coffee or Tea? – Both, but tending more towards tea.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? – Both, if they’re well written.

What should I have asked but did not?

You should have asked how much of my own experiences do I include in my storylines. Quite a lot.  Obviously, when it comes to the genres within which I write, I have no personal experience in them (neither does anyone else, really):  but I’ve seen and done a lot in my life, particularly in conflict zones, that can serve as a model or pattern.  I don’t think combat will be all that different in another milieu:  the weapons and tactics may change, but the reality of “kill or be killed” will be the same.  I try to take experiences from my past and insert them into completely new situations and scenarios, drawing on my memories to make them more realistic.  So far, it seems to have worked for me.

You should have asked if any of my characters are based on me, however loosely? Not particularly.  I may put them into situations similar to my own experience (e.g. military service), but I let them develop along their own lines.  Some of their attitudes are mine, too, but others are not.  I don’t consciously try to make them fit my mold.

You should have also asked if I plot the entire storyline before starting on a new book or does it take on a life of its own and take me on a journey during the process of writing? I used to plot out a book before starting to write it, but after publishing my first eight or ten books, I began to find this restrictive.  My characters kept wanting to go off at a tangent and do their own thing.  I therefore started to “pants” rather than “plot”:  begin writing, and let the book go where it wanted to go.  I’ll usually have a general idea of what I want and where I want to end up, but how the book and the characters get there is up to them.  I’m frequently surprised by what emerges.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?


Thanks to Peter 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: Bill Webb

Greetings all

It’s release week. Friday, Trouble in the Wind blows right into the Amazon store of your choice. Here’s another author from that anthology, Bill Webb.

Interview: Bill Webb
Bill Webb
Bill Webb

What is your quest?

Let’s start with influences. In Science Fiction it all starts, like it does for so many others, with Robert A. Heinlein. By the mid 1960s he had created more classics than most people do in a lifetime, and to this day I’m stunned nobody has ever made a movie out of Tunnel in the Sky. Heinlein knew how to tell a story in the most direct way possible, although as time passed that, too, ebbed. The last book I truly loved was Time Enough For Love. But that about the time, the mid 70s, when I discovered Roger Zelazny, so to me there no dropoff in the quality of what I read, particularly with the Amber series and my all-time favorite, A Night in the Lonesome October, although one could argue those were all fantasies. But hey, even RAH wrote a fantasy novel, Glory Road. (I’ve heard from Rufo!)

But there were also many, many more in addition to those two giants, including Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Jack Williamson, David Weber, David Drake and especially John Ringo.

Fantasy influences are very clear in my mind. The godfather of them all is Robert E. Howard, of course. I write sword and sorcery and he invented the genre. Also high on the list are Michael Moorcock, Kar6 Edward Wagner and especially Fritz Leiber. As much as I love Tolkien, I’ve read LOTR at least 35 times, I consciously try NOT to emulate his writing style. Ursula K. Leguin advised against trying to out-Tolkien Tolkien, because it can’t be done.

What is your favorite color?

Blue. All shades of blue.

I am the last person to explain why my writing style works, or how it evolved, because I have no idea. But I’ve always remembered some advice given by Zelazny, that he never mentions more than two attributes of a person. One thing I rarely do is to write a description of a room, ship, character or locale. Many authors do so, and do it well, but I don’t.

What works for me, and that I might pass on to others, is to use an accurate term to describe something and then pick out one or two details that make it unique. For example, and making something up just for this interview…”The throne room was smaller than he’d imagined it would be, and oval. A simple chair of heavy and highly polished wood served as the king’s throne. Afternoon light poured through a leaded glass window.”

That style evolved over nearly 50 years of writing. Majoring in creative writing taught me how to construct sentences and how to think of scenes, but it had little relation to building a genre story. Literary fiction generally doesn’t lend itself well to a genre setting, so there was quite a bit to unlearn.

The only exception to the two-descriptors rule is when something complex needs an extensive blueprint for the reader to understand. The composition of a Roman legion, for instance, or a suit of powered armor, might require a more complete description. But even then I make it as short as possible. And it’s not because I write short books, either. The last three books I’ve had published are 133k, 137k and 300k words. But they read fast because I don’t get bogged down in details, and I am consistently told how readers can visualize everything in their minds. That’s because I let them fill in the big picture on their own.

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

I was held back for many years trying to remember all the rules I’d been taught about writing. Instead of just sitting down and telling a story, I thought and thought about the next sentence trying to keep all of my lessons in mind. Show don’t tell, don’t use adverbs, don’t overuse ‘that’, don’t do, don’t do, don’t do…the truth is, what writers need to do is to write. That’s the only way you can learn.

Now, I write a story or novel as I think it should be written, clean it up with a rewrite and/or edit, then send it to the editor.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

When I write in 3rd person it’s always 3rd person limited. That helps cut down on telling instead of showing, and it also allows for shorter scenes told through multiple points of view. It’s a way to speed up the action and keep things interesting. When you’re inside the mind of the antagonist, for example, 3rd person limited let’s you show the reader how he or she views things, and a really good villain is someone the reader can identify with, at least to some degree.

If I’m writing first person there has to be a good reason. My original series Hit World, for example, is first person in a noir style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett. The protagonist has the world-weary, jaded voice of an old-school private eye who’s seen it all, except he’s an assassin. Understanding him would be much harder in 3rd person limited. So if you’re going to write 1st person, make sure you have a reason for doing it, and that the character has a unique voice.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggie.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? My kids.
  • Your Wrestler Name? The Sluggish Lion.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? The plop.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Coral.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? From a beach chair.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Snoopy.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A chess table when I was 13.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? To live on a beach in the Caribbean.
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? Z.
  • Favorite Sports Team? University of Memphis Tigers.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Cheese.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Status Quo.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Beer.
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium well.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Soap.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer, all year round.
  • Favorite Pet? All of them.
  • Best Game Ever? Diplomacy.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Both.

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

What’s the best answer you’ve gotten to a question?

Rob’s Answer: Oh, man, I don’t know that I can answer that correctly. There’ve been a bunch of great answers. So, I’m going to be a mealy-mouthed answerer and pick my favorite answer from your interview.

Yeah, I’m lazy.

But part of the reason is that many of the answers have blurred together as part of the melange that has become my own writing philosophy. I don’t entirely know at this point what I started with and what the answers that all these interviews have taught me. What I can say is that doing these interviews have taught and improved my own writing. I started it as a fun exercise that would help get us all a little publicity. What happened is that it gave me great insights into other people’s processes, many of which I’ve incorporated as I try to get better.

But your best answer? Your answer about limiting yourself to two descriptive words most of the time is a good one. It’s a rule I follow as well. I am too easily seduced by the great descriptive skills of Raymond Chandler, so I consciously try to avoid his long and brilliant style because I know I’m not as brilliant.

Still, my favorite answer of yours is from the Lightning Round. Yeah, I can see “The Plop” dominating WWE for years to come!!!!

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

  • I’m tempted to say ‘at a bar’, except that wouldn’t be true. So maybe my website is a better bet: http://thelastbrigade.com/

Do you have a creator biography?

Yes.

Oh, you want it here?

Born, raised and warped in West Tennessee, Bill Webb wrote his first stories in grade school, scaring his parents, teachers and friends. And that was before he found comic books and science ficition.  The release in 2016 of his Last Brigade series changed his career path by actually giving him a career path. The Time Wars and Sharp Steel and High Adventure soon followed.

By age 25 he’d read all of the classics…Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Harold Lamb, Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny. Indulging himself in a double concentration at the University of Memphis of Creative Writing and History, college felt more like a long party than school.

With multiple awards and nominations to his credit, and active membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America, he reached into a long-sealed bag of literary tricks for the nascent idea for the new Hit World series. No telling what else dwells at the bottom of that bag.

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

You should have asked me what one story/novel of mine should someone read to understand me as a writer? In my case, it would be the Darrell Award winning novella A Night at the Quay.

Rob’s Note: This is a great question, and I might very well add it to my interview. I’m not sure how I’d answer that myself. Each has been a good view into the state of my soul at the time. Of them all, probably A Lake Most Deep is the most soul-baring because at the time I was in a bad place. Writing it kept me going and let me become something stronger.


Thanks to Bill 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: Chris Kennedy

Chris Kennedy has given many indie writers such as myself a bunch of opportunities. The world of SF is far better for having him be a part of it.

Interview: Chris Kennedy

This week’s interview is with Chris Kennedy, who has shown many of us how to be an independent writer. He’s written several series of his own, founded a publishing company that supports other independent authors, and, along with Mark Wandrey, started the Four Horsemen Universe of which I’ve contributed.

He’s taught me quite a bit already, and I suggest you listen to him and watch what he does.

What is your quest?

I want to sell a million books. Failing that, I want to help my authors sell ten million books.

What is your favorite color?

Science fiction…with a side of fantasy.

Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy

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

Not coming from a writing background, I had to learn to do it right. I read blogs for 15 minutes a day for four years to help develop my craft and my ability to sell more books. I’m still not totally where I want to be, but I’m a much better writer than when I started, and I’m a lot closer to the goal.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I like writing gritty combat and a good motivational speech once in a while.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal.
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Definitely crunchy. I don’t know why they make that other stuff.
  • Favorite Sports Team? UNC Tarheels basketball (despite their showing in the NCAAs last year), NY Yankees baseball, and Atlanta Falcons football.
  • Cake or Pie? Pie…but why can’t I have both?
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon…because you can put it in Corona and make it taste better.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Helluva Good Sour Cream and Onion
  • Wet or Dry? Sopping wet. (Rob’s Note: He’s a Navy guy)
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Two Steps from Hell. Outstanding for combat writing music.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Bud Light. (Rob’s Note: Sigh)
  • Favorite Superhero? Gal Gadot Wonder Woman. Because Gal Gadot.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Best Game Ever? In # of hours played? Everquest.
  • Coffee or Tea? Diet Pepsi
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Scifi, with a side of fantasy.

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

How many MAC rounds can a trooper survive?

Rob’s Answer: If we’re talking a magnetically accelerated piece of tungsten, then zero if the trooper isn’t in a CASPer. If we’re talking the fully-loaded magazine of MAC rounds we’re going to have at our LibertyCon party, I would say most can survive five or so, depending upon rate of fire and body mass. However, this survival is likely to be more painful and the target might prefer the quick death of tungsten.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

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

You should have asked, “Do you have any free book promotions coming up soon?”

Why yes, yes I do.

Both “Janissaries” and “Cartwright’s Cavaliers” will be free this weekend. Want to introduce someone to my writing or the 4HU? This is your chance to do it—get them to pick up a free copy this weekend!

You can find them here:


Thanks 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.

Also, 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.

Interview: Justin Watson

Greetings all

Justin is another author in Trouble in the Wind, the third of the Phases of Mars series of alternate military history.

Interview: Justin Watson
Justin Watson
Justin Watson

What is your quest?

The answer to that is maybe a little heavy to lead off, but here goes.  When I first started writing some years ago I would’ve said that my quest was to write stories that made readers feel the way writers like Heinlein, Dickson, Weis & Hickman and Claremont made me feel when I first read them, and do so consistently enough that my readers would pay me enough to make it my full time job someday.

That’s still part of what puts me in front of the computer, of course.  More than that, though, I find myself drawn, unsurprisingly, to soldiers’ stories.  I served as an US Army Field Artillery officer for ten years, including time in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What I saw there was a bunch of great people stuck in a crappy, ambiguous situation, still trying to serve with honor and be true to their principles.  If there’s a uniting theme to my fiction so far, it’s that—good people doing the best they can when their options are all excruciating.

What is your favorite color?

Green, Black and Red remain tied.

I like the vibrancy of green both in the environment and in art.  One of my favorite memories from the Army is the days I stepped off the plane in Germany or Colorado upon returning from the sandbox and seeing all the life around me, even in urban areas.

I enjoy the simplicity, and okay, sometimes the morbidity of black.  From Raistlin Majere to Darth Vader to Johnny Cash, the best characters wear black.  Yes, I know Johnny Cash was real, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also a character.

And I like the boldness, heat and the implied violence of Red.  Plus, it is the color of the United States Field Artillery, King of Battle.

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

The very first time I remember writing fiction was when I was nine years old—it was an absolutely flagrant knock off of the first chapter of Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  The next thing I worked on through middle school and high school was a pastiche of WEB Griffin’s The Brotherhood of War.  Then at West Point I pecked out a lengthier, more sophisticated but still awful imitation of a DragonLance novel. In between those big projects I peppered attempts at Heinleinesque science fiction short stories, complete with my own The Past Through Tomorrow chart.

It was all terrible, and at one point I looked back on all that junk I wrote as time wasted.  Like many writers, though, I’ve come to realize that every hackneyed, boringly derivative word I put onto the screen was absolutely vital.  Without writing all that garbage I never would’ve developed the skills to write the good stuff, to borrow and steal from my influences in a fun and creative manner rather than writing the crappy rip-off.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’d say there are three things I’ve learned that really helped me turn the corner from, “man, I wish I could be a published author someday,” to, “oh, holy crap, I have deadlines to meet.”

Michael Stackpole, of Battletech and Rogue Squadron fame, used to have a podcast called Dragon Pages.  It was a good podcast overall, but especially helpful to me was a series of episodes he did on outlining.  Sadly, the podcast is no longer available online, but the basic idea was you take a base figure of 100,000 words, divide it by 40 into 2,500 word chapters (one long scene or two-three short ones) and that helps you put a novel into bite-size chunks.  That technique helped me finish my first (as of yet unsold) novel manuscript.  That novel was not ready for the big time, BUT in the writing and finishing of it I gained both a lot of skill and a lot confidence in my ability to simply keep my ass in the chair and produce words.

A couple years back I took David Farland’s Enchanting Prose course when he was holding a seminar in Dallas.  His teaching on how to properly craft and seed appeals to all five senses throughout action and description in prose was pivotal to me.  It raised both the quality of my writing and helped serve as a way to get past writers’ block.  Now when I am stuck, I’m usually able to work my way through the blockage by asking, “what is this character actually seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling right this instant?”

But the most important thing I learned was actually from my wife, who read most of those million words of dreck I mentioned earlier.  Michele was unfailingly encouraging, but even more importantly, as I took my writing more seriously, she was my most honest and unflinching critic.  Michele would never, ever knowingly let me write one of my characters doing something out of left field, “because I need it to happen that way,” without remarking on it.  She wouldn’t let me get away with being too indulgent, or cheap, or purple in my prose.

And I responded to her loving, kind, unyielding criticism with the poutiest of boo boo lips… at first.  Then I learned to listen to her, and to make the writing better rather than getting hurt.  And by the time I was actually putting my writing in front of editors, I was practiced at receiving, evaluating and incorporating criticism like an adult.

I say that the ability to take criticism is the most important, because that’s how we get better.  For most people it’s damned difficult to hear what’s wrong with your writing, especially since almost everyone starts out a terrible writer.  It feels amazing to hear someone tell you what a brilliant, insightful and evocative writer you are, but if you can’t take criticism professionally and get better, you’re probably in for a hell of a time just getting in the door as a writer.

Lightning Round

  • Best Thing From the 80s? The Empire Strikes Back. Or Back to the Future, or Jefferson Starship, no Whitesnake, or maybe Eddie Murphy Raw…The 80s were just awesome.
  • Your Wrestler Name? Short Fuse, which is also the name my daughter gave my character in the My Little Pony RPG she DMs for me, her mom, and her siblings.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? The Mozambique. Engaging in hand to hand combat indicates you may have incorrectly assessed a threat.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Neon blue or green like Tron. I love that retro-futurist look.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? With a unique blend of the Iron Fist and the Power of Friendship.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Donald Duck.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? My wife converted my Dad’s VHS tapes of Discovery Channel Wings (the documentary series, not the sitcom) into digital files so I could watch them again.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? “Anarchy—That I run!”
  • Favorite Sports Team? Go Army.  Beat Navy.
  • Cake or Pie? Pecan Pie. I’m only tenuously a Southerner, but the correct answer is always Pecan Pie.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime in a Modello or Dos Equis.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Sour cream with a good hot salsa, muy delicioso.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Norbert Leo Butts or Sherrie Rene Scott. Listen to the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Original Broadway Recording or The Last Five Years, but if you get the Last Five Years, I only recommend the happy half of it.  And make sure it’s the Broadway recording, not the Anna Kendrick version.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Well the bottles of Balvenie and Oban I love so much say Whisky, but this here is America, and it’s spelled Whiskey in the Land of the Free, by God.
  • Favorite Superhero? What Chris Claremont did with Logan in his run on Uncanny X-Men, and in the graphic novel he wrote with Frank Miller was phenomenal.  The Barry Windsor Smith Weapon X series was also legit and Wolverine’s solo comic was entertaining to me well into its 100th issue.  It’s a damn shame the character became a victim of his own success both in the comics and movies.  Even though he’s my favorite, and Hugh Jackman is amazing, the franchise really did shortchange all the other fascinating X-Men in favor of their lead.  It’s a mistake the MCU was wise to avoid with the Avengers and other heroes in their universe.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium or Medium Rare.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Mork & Mindy. Good Lord, do I miss Robin Williams.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? The five minutes of fall we get here in Houston between, “Oh, my God, how can my underwear hold that much sweat Summer,” and, “Forty degrees doesn’t sound cold until you pair it with 302% humidity Winter.”
  • Favorite Pet? Chokydar J. Pullibear von Pullingham, of the West Von Pullinghams.  Michele’s and my first dog, a Hungarian pulli we got in 2006 (before Mark Zukerberg had ever heard of the breed).  Choky was a loon, and not fond of strangers, but she was a loving, adorable ball of energy to us and just look at that furry mug:
  • Best Game Ever? D&D and its offshoot cousins, Pathfinder and Starfinder.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee, black if it’s quality, loaded down with five pounds of cream if it’s not.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Love them both, and it’s close, but Science Fiction comes first with me.
Chokydar J. Pullibear von Pullingham, of the West Von Pullinghams
Chokydar J. Pullibear von Pullingham, of the West Von Pullinghams

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

Marvel or DC?

Rob’s Answer: I’m not a big comic book guy so my answer has to come from the movies. Generally, I would say Marvel. I think the heroes are stronger and have more depth. I have problems with Superman as a character because he’s too much a Mary Sue.

My favorite of all of it are the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, by the way. If you can keep a secret, I’ll also admit I haven’t seen all the recent Marvel movies. I will eventually, but I don’t go to movies at the theater often and then I forget about them until I end up binging things like this.

Star Wars Legends EU or Sequel Movie Canon?

Rob’s Answer: I am not an expert enough on either to really know the differences. I loved Star Wars, saw it 20 times or so the first week it was released. The Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite movies. Return of the Jedi has some issues, but overall it completed the arc.

However, I’m always frustrated by the wasted potential of the other movies. I really enjoyed Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, but that universe sort of lost its way somewhere in there, as I drifted away.

So, ummm, how about a Star Wars universe that I manage and arrange to my own personal benefit 🙂

Daredevil or Agents of Shield?

Rob’s Answer: Haven’t seen either, so I’m going to have to go Kevin Smith talking about Ben Affleck taking the role of Daredevil in his first Evening with Kevin Smith. The phrase “shark from Jaws” is never the same for me since I saw that.

If you picked the second choice on any of the above, who hurt you?

Rob’s Answer: Honestly I’m too much of a little of this, little of that guy to really take sides in these sorts of things. I’m a quirky guy and I tend to have things I’d change about everything, which means in this sort of context I’ll appreciate some of the ways things are done on each side.

This has increased, by the way, ever since I became a writer. It is almost routine for me to break down story structure and character creation in just about anything I watch anymore. I’m not perfect at such things, but I am always trying to figure out what I like and didn’t like so I can incorporate or exclude from my writing.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? (

And where can we find you?

  • I am at LibertyCon in Chattanooga every year, I may start including some more cons, but for the moment that’s my home con.

Do you have a creator biography?

Justin grew up an Army brat, living in Germany, Alabama, Texas, Korea, Colorado and Alaska, and fed on a steady diet of X-Men, Star Trek, Robert Heinlein, DragonLance, and Babylon 5. While attending West Point, he met his future wife, Michele, on an airplane, and soon began writing in earnest with her encouragement. In 2005 he graduated from West Point and served as a field artillery officer, completing combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and earning the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge.

Medically retired from the Army in 2015, Justin settled in Houston with Michele, their four children and an excessively friendly Old English Sheepdog.

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

Well, not so much a question, and not to make it an Oscar speech, but I have to mention how fortunate I was that my parents, Ray and Dee Watson, instilled a deep love of books in me from as early as I can remember.  Dad, in particular, read every single Heinlein juvenile to me growing up.  I also have to thank Tom Kratman, who has been a pivotal mentor as both an Army officer and as a writer.  And naturally and foremost, I have to thank Michele and our kids for putting up with many and varied vagaries of living with a writer.


Thanks to Justin 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: Monalisa Foster

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Trouble in the Wind gets released on 13 December, a week from tomorrow. I’ll be running a number of extra interviews this week from authors who joined James Young and I in the anthology. This one is Monalisa Foster, who is as interesting as her name suggests, in part because she emigrated to the US from Romania in 1978.

Interview: Monalisa Foster
Monalisa Foster
Monalisa Foster

What is your quest?

My goal is to write science fiction with heart. That means I concentrate on human drives rather than hyperdrives. No matter the genre (and I’ve written not just alt history, but hard SF, mil SF, and space opera), my goal is put the reader inside the story so they can experience the emotions of the characters I’ve created and the wonder and delight of the world I built for them. It’s a kind of magic and I particularly enjoy practicing this part of my craft.

Since I learned English by translating Heinlein’s juveniles (not as a job, but as a way to teach myself when I was nine), I was heavily influenced by his ideas. It took me about two years to attain fluency and I remember reading about a novel a day every summer. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that my body was merely life-support for my eyes and my brain because it was pretty much all I did every summer. I devoured everything the library had, both in the juvenile and adult sections. I wish I’d have kept a list of everything I’d read, because it would be a wonderful resource for answering questions like this. Most of it was science fiction. Very little of it was fantasy, although I did read some.

Over the decades, my reading tastes have changed substantially. I discovered Bujold and fell in love with her Vorkosigan Saga. In fact, I used to read the entire series from beginning to end every year. And I love stories heavy on romance, but not necessarily the Romance genre itself. One of the reasons I wrote Ravages of Honor was because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read.

I remember the first time I put something up for someone else to read. I posted it on a critique site and then rushed to the bathroom to throw up. It was horrible. The writing, to be clear.

So, it became apparent, very quickly, that reading all my life had not prepared me to write well. And I’d done it professionally before, but that was non-fiction and technical/scientific writing, both of which are altogether different beasts.

Think of it this way. You’ve been watching your parents drive for sixteen years. That doesn’t mean you can just get into a car and drive, unless you’re a very unique individual. I was not that individual.

The first thing I had to accept was that I had a lot to learn, both about the craft and the business of writing. And being me, I threw myself at learning both my craft and the business before I unleashed my writing on the world. And I wouldn’t have had the freedom to do what I’m doing now if it hadn’t been for my husband’s support.

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

One of the most frustrating things about the craft is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I thought that I could study what others had written (see above) and emulate it. But the truth is that what worked 10 or 30 or 50 years ago, doesn’t mean it’ll sell today. You’d need a time machine to go back and sell that stuff. Or you’d have to already have a made name.

I think in some ways, we’ve all experienced this. You buy a book because it’s on the best-seller list or because your friend loved it, and you either can’t finish it or you force yourself to, and you go, “Wait? This is a best-seller?” No thank you.

So, you have to figure out some things. Is it taste? Is it the target audience? Is it marketing? It is something you have no clue about? This is the most frustrating aspect of the business for me, in addition to marketing, because there are no right or wrong answers. There are just the answers that work or don’t, for you. What may work for one author will not work for you. What works for one audience won’t work for another. You have to figure out who you are writing for and why. And then you have to figure out how to reach those people. And sometimes that is far more work than what’s involved in your craft, your creative process, and the actual stuff you end up writing.

Fortunately, I’m a vicarious learner. This is a very good thing because it means I learn from other peoples’ mistakes, not just my own. And the number one thing I’ve learned, is that if it doesn’t pull me in and hold me, it’s not worth studying. It can be the best-selling novel of all time. It can have sold millions. If it’s not my cup of tea, it will teach me nothing. On the other hand, if it draws me in and holds me, I will pull it apart and figure out why and then I will incorporate that into my own writing. Doing that can be its own challenge, and the execution takes time, but it’s worth it.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My go-to techniques, the two absolute things I will fight every editor on (Wyatt’s Torch, as in I will burn it down rather than give in), are depth and viewpoint. Now, that means different things to writers, so let me explain what it means to me. I write inside-out, rather than outside-in, about 90% of the time. It can’t be 100% because there are some scenes where you can’t do that, but 90% of the time I absolutely can and will.

Imagine you are a camera. There are five characters in a room. When you are floating outside all of those characters, moving anywhere you want, you are writing outside-in. Some people do this very well. But when it’s not done well, the writing is dry and thin because the camera can’t put the reader inside the character’s head.

Now imagine that the “camera” is inside a character, right behind his eyes. You can only see what he sees, hear what he hears, feel what he feels. Your viewpoint is limited. It is filtered through one person at a time. When it’s well done, you’re inside the character’s head and you stay there throughout one scene. The reader only knows what that character knows, when he knows it. That is inside-out writing. I work very hard at putting the reader inside one character at a time so they can experience the world through that one character.

The depth part has to do with the richness and thickness of the details. It has to do with evoking emotions without having to tell the reader that the character is sad or happy or angry.

I know I have successfully done my job when readers tell me that I touched their heart with something.

For example, when I wrote Cooper, a reader sent me a PM thanking me for the story. I had made him cry because the story was about him and his step-dad. When I wrote another story (which I’m not going to name because, spoiler incoming), I got a similar PM (gotta love FB, right?) which sounded rather angry at first. It was along the lines of “How dare you make me care for this character and then kill him/her?” And nothing topped getting a PM from one of my publishers going “That’s a helluva story” when I thought for sure he’d find it too un-military and too touchy-feely.

I’m not former military. I have no credentials to speak of. So I do my research and I work on making my characters real to the reader. I work on the emotional draws and the emotional beats. I do it knowing that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. But if it is your cup of tea, I make an awesome cup of what you do like.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? No clue. Didn’t grow up here. Sorry. (Rob’s Note: We have got to get you some of the Muppet Show DVDs)
  • Best Thing From the 80s? The music and the movies.
  • Your Wrestler Name? She-who-uses-metal.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? Package check.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Slaughter-red; iron-enriched of course.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Queen Tyr’ahnee of Mars
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? American citizenship.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? The end of communism. Forever. Okay, not so secret, but there it is.
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? This is a cultural reference I don’t get. I say that a lot. Ask my friends.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Any and all of the BASEketball teams.
  • Cake or Pie? Dobos Torte.
  • Lime or Lemon? Oranges, because I will not be limited by your lack of vision.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Whipped cream.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Mark Seibert. I’m not kidding. Oh, and he’s mine. Hands off.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whatever my friends will force upon me as long as I get to sip it.
  • Favorite Superhero? Count von Krolock (Tanz der Vampire).
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Before my time.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer. In Texas. Or Arizona.
  • Favorite Pet? German Shepherds, Pibbles, Great Danes. Standard Poodles.
  • Best Game Ever? I opt to exercise my Fifth Amendment rights on the grounds that my answer might incriminate me.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee as long as I can’t taste the coffee part. Jasmine tea.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Seeing as my favorite level of tech is “science indistinguishable from magic” I’m going to deny the false dichotomy of your question.

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

How many languages do you speak? Is one of them German?

Rob’s Answer: I would say I can’t actually *speak* any language but English fluently. Mostly that’s because I don’t get much opportunity to practice. I took a goodly amount of German, Latin, and Old English. Old English is the one I use the most, but it’s less about talking and more about reading.

My best spoken language is probably Old English. I have performed stuff in Old English, like chunks of Beowulf and the Wanderer. Nevertheless, I don’t do that enough to prevent having a wretched accent. It’s better than my horrible French accent, which I butcher whenever I have need.

I have a moderate level of reading ability in those three languages as well as French. The ability to read them is more what I need than the ability to speak as I’m reading through historical sources. I’m also discovering that I can muddle my way through some Spanish because of the Latin and French providing cognates and the grammar being Latin that got lazier and lazier over the years.

In general, if I can separate the words spoken to me, I can generally grasp the structure of the sentence, but my practical vocabulary is minimal because I routinely have references handy.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

  • My favorite con is LibertyCon.
  • I also go to DragonCon. These are the two I strive to be at every year.
  • Locally, I attend FenCon.
  • I did LTUE and SpikeCon in 2019, but probably won’t be doing so regularly.

Do you have a creator biography?

Monalisa won life’s lottery when she escaped communism and became an unhyphenated American citizen. Her works tend to explore themes of freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility. Despite her degree in physics, she’s worked in several fields including engineering and medicine, but she enjoys being a trophy wife and kept woman the most. She and her husband are living their happily ever after in Texas.

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

You should have asked me why milk chocolate is better than dark chocolate? That way I could answer because it contains a higher amount of fat and fat is flavor. Also, bacon makes everything better when milk chocolate is not available. (Rob’s Note: So right!)


Thanks to Monalisa 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