Interview: Rich Weyand

Greetings all

Today’s interview is with Rich Weyand, a smart guy I’ve enjoyed meeting at LibertyCons past. He just finished his Empire double-trilogy and he’s justifiably proud of them.

Interview: Rich Weyand

What is your quest?

Rich Weyand
Rich Weyand

I want to write books people can’t put down, that read easily, with characters that engage them, that they can open up on a rainy Saturday morning, read in one sitting, and then feel uplifted and happy and go out to dinner. Books that make you think but don’t give you a headache, that surprise you with their twists but aren’t contrived, that make you wish you lived in that world and were friends with that character. Books that reaffirm old-fashioned notions of love, honor, duty, and loyalty, and how they play out in one’s life.

What is your favorite color?

Emotion is the big one. Not gut-wrenching stuff, but where you can laugh and cry and love along with the characters in the book. Where you can see things through their eyes and experience what they’re experiencing. This can be hard to do as a third-person omniscient writer. I’m not inside their heads in the narrative. So I need to include scenes where characters open up to their familiars, and try to express where they’re at in their head. It can be as simple as a tear running down someone’s cheek, or as complex as five pages of dialogue. The big thing with emotion is to make your characters human.

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

It took me a while before I could pace a book properly. I don’t do filler, and my books move through the plot pretty fast. And I’m a pantser — I never know where the book is going or how it’s going to get there. That makes it hard to know where you are in the story and how much of it there is to tell. So my initial novels are all over the place with regard to length. Anywhere from 45,000 to 95,000 words. (I don’t write those 150,000-word things. That’s two books to me.) The six Empire books all came out at 80,000 words, give or take a couple thousand. That’s a skill you learn with practice.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I think the biggest is to build a plot on the fly. As I say, I’m a pantser, and so I don’t plot things out in advance. I could never come up with a plot as twisty as the Empire books in advance. At one point in Empire: Commander, I just thought, “What if these two secondary characters ran into each other at this point, and one recognized the other?” That led to a whole series of ramifications I could never have set out in advance, and affected the overall story in a major way. How do you plan that in advance? Others may ask, How do you have that happen without planning it out in advance? Don’t know. I just write the part of the story I see right in front of me and follow it wherever it goes.

Lightning Round

  • Cake or Pie? Pie
  • Lime or Lemon? Key Lime Pie
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Onion
  • Favorite Cereal? Honey Bunches of Oats with raisins on it
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? B. B. Blunder
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Early SNL.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? Front-wheel-drive sedans. Driving live-axle rear-wheel-drive cars in snow is not fun.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall. It’s pretty, and not too hot or cold.
  • Favorite Pet?  Spooker. A cat that was THE cat, the quintessential cat.
  • Best Game Ever? Risk played on two boards. Like alternate universes, with transfer points.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee. More specifically, four-shot latte.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? MIL SF

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

Why do you write?

Rob’s Answer: Sort of like the French Foreign Legion, it’s write or die. That’s a bit melodramatic, but at the time I started writing I was coming off a failed marriage, couldn’t find a job because I was too educated, and literally spent day after day doing nothing productive. It’s a good thing to not work one day a week. It’s an awful thing to not do anything productive for weeks on end.

Finishing A Lake Most Deep was huge for me. It’s raw and I made a bunch of errors, but I had finished a novel. I had accomplished something. 

I’m proud of what I’ve written, and I really like what I’m writing at the moment. If I never publish anything more, I’ll still have six novels and a number of short stories to my credit. I even have fans not related to me. Five years ago, I didn’t always get out of bed.

I’m not the hardest worker out there, certainly not compared to my parents. However, I *have* to work consistently, I have to contribute, or bad things happen. At the most basic level, I keep writing because if I don’t, I’ll go far too gently into the dark night.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

I attend LibertyCon every year. Otherwise I’m not much of a crowds person.

Do you have a creator biography?

Rich Weyand is a computer consultant and digital forensic analyst. He was born in Illinois and lived there almost 60 years before he and his wife engineered an escape to the hills of southern Indiana in 2011. His undergraduate and graduate education is in Physics, and he’s never really recovered. He is currently heading up the launch of a computer software start-up.

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

You should have asked me how fast I write. And how I write so fast so consistently.  

I write about 15,000 words a week when I am in writing mode. That’s 2500 words a day, usually six days a week. I don’t take a specific day off every week, I just end up getting stuck doing something else about one day a week. Some people think that’s fast, but when I can see the story in front of me, I want to get it down. If I have to stop before I hit a stare-out-the-window point, I’ll write the first paragraph of the next scene before I stop so I have a live thread to pick up on.

You should have also asked me what’s my process.

I don’t do multiple drafts and I don’t do rewrites. I do a first draft, and my alpha readers read it as I go, in installments of about 8000 words at a time. Then I check through it for some known writing issues — ‘all of’ should generally be ‘all’, about a third of ‘that’s can be deleted, most ‘very’s in the narrative (though not in dialog) should be deleted, etc. Then I read the book, and fix any awkward sentences. Then it goes to beta readers. I fix anything the alpha readers and beta readers point out as a problem understanding or typoes, or whatever. Then I publish it. No editor other than me.


Thanks to Rich 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

Mag Review: Fantastic Universe (July, 1957)

Greetings all

I have to say, I’m really enjoying the new schedule so far. Doing the magazine reviews on Thursday or so meant I was reading the mags in the middle of the week, which is my most productive writing time. Now, they’re a weekend reading treat and writing the review is a nice Monday warmup for my writing.

Anyway, this week I’m reading the Fantastic Universe from July, 1957.  This is another cover I wouldn’t mind seeing made into a poster. In general, I love the art in these mags, even though I know it’s usually not transcendent or legendary. It is, however, vibrant. I’m still the guy who was at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg ignoring a da Vinci because there was a table showing a seascape mosaic of lapis, malachite, and other semi-precious stones. Incredibly beautiful.

 

Fantastic Universe (July/57)
Fantastic Universe (July/57)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89841

 

Anyway, enough about my weird tastes in visual media, let’s get right to August Derleth’s Seal of the Damned. After all, Cthulhu isn’t going to wake himself up.

Derleth was a prolific writer in general. I didn’t realize until I looked at his Wikipedia entry just how much he’d written. I suspect I’ll have to track down some of his other things now. Anyway, he was a friend and correspondent of HP Lovecraft and continued the Cthulhu stories, despite some criticism from other correspondents of Lovecraft. If you’re a fan, you already know all that, but have you seen the picture of HP Lovecraft when he was about 9?

HP Lovecraft (circa 1900)
HP Lovecraft (circa 1900)

If you’re a fan, then you’ve also probably seen Seal of the Damned under the title Seal of R’lyeh. The story centers around Marius Phillips, who has always felt the call of the sea, despite his parents, who never let him go east of Ohio.

Then his eccentric uncle Sylvan died, leaving all he had to Marius. This included property in Innsmouth, Massachusetts on the coast of the sea. He finds that his uncle had “interesting” tastes in art and literature. He also finds that his family has been long connected to the Marshes, whose remaining member is the oddly attractive Ada.

He offers her a job as a housekeeper, which she accepts with a bit too much enthusiasm. He discovers her searching the house for something. Rather than confronting her, he too searches for the something, which turns out to be his uncle’s papers, journals, and notes, including “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” It also includes interesting details about an aquatic race. Humans, but ones who can live underwater and build cities like R’lyeh.

The call of the sea that Marius has felt all his life is all the more greater now that he’s at his uncle’s house. His uncle’s notes talk about investigating the sea all around the house, and when he discovers the secret passage his uncle took to reach the ocean he has no choice to explore.

He gets diving equipment and starts exploring, but he’s pulled by that desire to go to the sea far past its oxygen endurance. Just when he’s about to die, Ada swims up without any gear, rips off his helmet, and he discovers that they are descended from the aquatic race.

Now the pull shifts. He now wants to find the hidden city R’lyeh, as does Ada. According to his uncle’s notes, it’s near Ponape, and the two travel there. In the end, they find the lost city and are not seen above the ocean ever again.

I liked this story quite a bit, but it could have been improved. The high-quality building of tension in the early portion of the story sort of faded away into exposition at the end. Once he is saved from drowning, which was 20 pages leading up to that crisis, there are 3-4 pages of them spending weeks in Ponape and eventually disappearing. The story would have been stronger if it ended right after the crisis, leaving him wondering about what to do next, and not so casually glossing over the entire adventure to find the city.

Next is a really good story by Alan E. Nourse called The Native Soil. Side note, I can easily tell what others think about a story simply by looking at it’s ISFDB entry. Good stories are often reprinted, as was the case for both The Seal of the Damned and The Native Soil.

The Native Soil uses one of those iconic SF pulp tropes. Iconic planet promises something of great value. Humans try to get that something, but for some reason, they’re not as successful as they ought to be. Troubleshooter is brought in, eventually identifies the problem and comes up with an elegant solution.

I love this trope, so I liked this story. We discover the surface of Venus is essentially mud, often many feet deep. There’s a type of that mud, however, that has an antibiotic especially useful for new medicines because it’s not creating resistant strains of diseases.

However, the pharmaceutical company trying to get that particular mud is finding it extremely difficult. There’s no way to do it all without the help of the Venusians, but they seem incredibly stupid. No matter how well things are described to them, they keep making mistakes that destroy equipment and halt production. They’re nice, happy, and try to be helpful, but they just aren’t smart enough.

That’s when the troubleshooter is brought in. At first, he keeps getting caught in the cycle of trying something and having it fail because the Venusians just can’t do their part. However, he also keeps remembering the intelligence test applied to the alien species soon after first contact. This test says they’re plenty intelligent enough, despite appearances.

He realizes they’re intelligent enough to sabotage their harvesting process. The special mud is, essentially, their food source. They eat antibiotics. His elegant solution is to trade penicillin, which isn’t as valuable as a medicine but still easily produced on Earth, for this mud, which the Venusians would harvest themselves to exchange.

I like elegant solutions of that sort.

The next story is The Machine by Robert Sheckley. This is a typical Sheckley story in that it has a good twist at the end, one somehow driven by the foibles of man.

The protagonist, Otto, a valued machinist for years, the kind of stolid employee that at the time would be expected to stay at a company all his life, comes in one day and quits. Not only does he quit, he tells the bosses exactly what he thinks of them, spits on the floor and leaves.

With that bridge burning nicely, he returns home. He is ready to build the “wishing machine” designed by his partner. It’s a machine that will essentially convert any mass, including air, into whatever is asked for. A philosopher’s stone that provides anything, not just gold. The partner told him the day previously that his design was complete, so Otto quits his machinist job to build the machine.

However, the partner wasn’t actually ready for that step. There’s still something wrong, a basic flaw in the design. However, the partner assures Otto he’ll have it ready in a few more months.

Otto’s heard that before, though, and he’s grown impatient. He feels the partner isn’t ever going to say the design is right and, even worse, would want to show other scientists what he’s created. So Otto kills him and makes the machine off the completed blueprints.

After many months of work, selling all he had for food, parts, and tools, then selling the unneeded tools, he manages to make the machine. At the end, he’s exhausted and hungry, but it’s done.

His first request is humble, a loaf of bread. Butter would be nice, but the bread would be just fine. However, the machine puts out pieces of metal, including gold. It’s a nuisance, but with gold he can go get bread… until the machine stops him.

The basic flaw is that it’s what the machine wishes for that matter, not the operator. And the machine wishes to be his sole owner, and last we see, he’s reaching for Otto. As I said, good story. Otto gets what he deserves, and we’re left with some curiosity of the fate of humanity.

Immediately after is a microstory. I have no better idea what to call it that that. It fits in about 2-3 inches at the bottom of the page and is uncredited. It asks one question. If you’re a robot and you must not harm a human, what would you do if you knew you were about to be replaced? Asimov’s first robot story is published in 1939, so this question wasn’t new, but it’s starkly phrased. What would you do?

The next story is A Candle for Katie by Lila Borison. As far as I can tell, this is the only thing she ever published, which is too bad. I found a reference to her in an article by Sam Moskowitz. In it he talks about the first science fiction class ever taught, which started in March of 1954. Moskowitz kept track of his students, and says of her, “Lila Borison, a receptionist who had been reading science fiction for five years and had written for her college newspaper. She was more interested in straight fantasy.” (Sam Moskowitz. “The First College-Level Course in Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 23, no. 3 (1996): 411-22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240549, 417).

A Candle for Katie tells of a harried mom who’s hosting the first birthday party for her daughter Katie. Among the gifts she receives is a candle, notched 21 times, with the instruction to light it each year on her birthday, stopping it at each notch.

A strange gift, perhaps, but I for one would find such a tradition a fun one. So, in the midst of the chaos created by a party that included more kids than expected, it comes time for the cake. The mom adds the candle, but Katie has had enough and it’s time for a nap. The mom takes care of that, then deals with a boy who had gotten a hold of a knife and cut himself, and other disasters.

With a sigh, she goes in to check on Katie and she finds a girl of about 5 or 6, but no sign of Katie. Then, the girl looks up and the mom recognizes her eyes. She had left the candle burning, and it was nearly to the fifth notch.

Cool and creepy, especially since Borison left it hanging right there. We are left to wonder about all the things of what happens next, especially since we never know who sends the candle. Excellent work. I do wish she’d kept writing.

I do also wish the next authors hadn’t kept writing. I’ll admit I glossed over the essay here, which is written by Alexander Mebane, Isabel L. Davis, and Ted Bloecher, the Civilian Saucer Intelligence. For 17 issues, they submitted a list of the various potential UFO sightings they could track down. I suspect I might have enjoyed these essays in 1957 as collections of quirky tidbits, but looking back over 60 years, these mostly bore me. Perfectly appropriate content for the magazine, but these essays didn’t age well.

John Healy, much like Lila Borison, only published the story in this issue. It’s called the Book of Goots, and while it’s not as strong as A Candle for Katie, it is a good story. It’s about a small-time hoodlum who comes across a book that purports to teach someone how to use magic. Not the simple prestidigitation of a showman, mind you, but real magic. Goots doesn’t figure he has much to lose, so he reads it.

About the only thing I know about Healy is in the small blurb ahead of that story, which says he was mind reader and mentalist. Obviously, this is a case of write what you know.

Anyway, Goots is your typical hood, but he’s making enough on the magic gig to essentially be straight. The cops don’t believe it, of course, and Detective O’Flahirty sends Abigail in undercover to find out just what racket Goots is working on.

He suggests she pose as his sister, whose husband has died, to get into one of Goots’s seances. He does this in part, because he’s in love with Abigail, and this makes her slightly closer to him.

But this backfires because Goots really can do magic, and the brother-in-law appears, naked of course, grumpy because he’s in the middle of quality time with an Egyptian girl named Cleo. He tells everyone there that Abigail isn’t his wife and to let me get back to what’s more important to him right now.

In the ensuing kerfluffle, Abigail and Goots eventually discover they’re in love with each other. In the end, they fly off on a flying carpet improvised from a hospital sheet. O’Flahirty, for his part, gets admitted into the asylum as he apparently thinks he’s a cop chasing after said flying carpet.

It’s a cute, whimsical story made all the more fun by Healy’s use of language. It’s filled with the sort of slang we imagine from a 40s-50s hood. It’s too bad this is the only Swami Goots story, because they had a lot of potential.

Backward Turn Backward by Dorothy H. Edgerly is next. She, too, didn’t write much, just two stories that I can find. These star Jeb Enders, a warlock living in Appalachia. His village is essentially all witches and warlocks, living on the mountains for centuries. Enders is a regular troublemaker, one who has been told by their council never to interfere with humans again, never to use his magic on the mountain again.

Now, the future has come in the form of a factory looking to build a plant in the valley beneath them. This would force the entire collection of witches and warlocks living on the mountains around it to move.

This proposal would greatly harm the mountain folk, but Enders can’t simply use magic to drive progress away. He begins by looking at the valley and starts asking why it is why it is. He starts going back in time and finds that it was a lake fed by a large waterfall. Now it’s a creek, with soggy land around it every spring, fed by a small waterfall. He hunts through time to discover that it used to be fed by a spring that got blocked by a boulder, turning the large waterfall into the small one and leaving the lake to go away.

With help to do the magic he isn’t allowed to do, he cleans the dirt around the boulder and then lifts it away from the spring. It begins to run as it did before, and soon the lake with return, meaning the factory has to be elsewhere.

It’s a good story and Jeb’s a fun character. It’s got a bit of Avatar in it, though, with stock factory boss bad guys. It’s definitely got that trope of nature being awesome and civilization being awful. However, while Avatar uses amazing visual effects to distract you from a wretched story, Edgerly writes a good story with a solid puzzle and challenge to overcome faced by characters you want to succeed.

We know the next author, though not by the name of Lee Correy. This was the pen name for G. Harry Stine and his Landing for Midge is the next story. A ship coming to earth has been hit by a microasteroid which has knocked out its landing radar. Not only will they have to have a manual landing, one of the passenger is Midge, a pregnant woman.

Stine was a rocket scientist and this clearly shows. He throws in appropriate technical jargon here and there, but more importantly, the main question to the this story is how free-fall would affect pregnancy and birth?

What a fascinating question to ask three months before Sputnik launched.

Anyway, at first, the landing control people at White Sands try to divert the ship to an orbit, there to await the transport of a new radar, allowing the computers to land the ship properly. Again, this is written before Sputnik launched, yet the bulk of the science in this story still feels right.

The manage to make it to land just before Midge, who is in labor, gives birth. They roll up to the landing spot where emergency personnel are waiting. They rush up to the ship.

First on, of course because of Midge, is the vet.

Cats, you see, are the only other terrestrial creature to take to free fall at all. In fact, many seem to love it. Ship crews definitely love having them along, and let Midge come along because she insisted.

She didn’t need any help, by the way. The vet finds her with three cute, healthy kittens, all born during the landing.

Yeah, I loved this story.

Voyage Beyond the Night by John Victor Peterson follows, and it is another of the short, sharp excellent stories in this issue. It starts with Ken Chapman cracking a tomb in the Great Pyramid.

Currently, Chapman’s reputation is ruined because he was supposedly the researcher for a best-selling historical novel on pharoahs that doesn’t get most of the facts correct. The book is written by Eric Stromberg, who is a reclusive genius much like Elon Musk.

When he opens the tomb he finds the second of Khufu’s soul ships. And something else. He rushes back to Stromberg hastily, asking if he’ll write a sequel. Stromberg says he will.

At that point Chapman leaves. He realized then he could never show Stromberg the item he’d found in the sealed tomb. It was a Stromberg Electronics Temporal Traveler, and Stromberg was headed to his death.

We get another pen name next: C. Bird. It’s actually Harlan Ellison and the story is Song of Death. Again, a short, sharp story, this one the cover story.

There is a planet where mermaids live. People would pay a pretty penny if someone could bring a mermaid from the planet back to Earth, but though many had tried, all of them had died. Like the Sirens of the Odyssey, the mermaids can sing a song that lures all to death.

However, this adventurer believes he can see. He’s tried many get-rich-quick schemes before, but he’s sure that this time, this time he’ll get al the money he’ll ever need.

Oddly, he’s right. He manages to land without dying, though the landing wasn’t pleasant. He manages to coax a mermaid close, stun her, fill a hold with water, and bring her back.

He’s tone-deaf and their song doesn’t affect him. Such a Harlan Ellison ending.

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach is next with The Fuzzies. Eshbach, as you may know, was a fairly important person in the early days of SF. He published his first story in 1929. In the 1930s, he was the editor of a couple of magazines, and then in he founded Fantasy PressThe list of authors and books published by it is impressive.  However, it went under in 1956, so about a year before this story at a time when he needed money.

Again, another good story. This one involves miners on Ganymede. There are crystals on Ganymede that the Fuzzies desperately want. The Fuzzies are telepathic little balls of fur who can work with humans. However, they can only work with likeable humans. No criminals, none who are violent, nothing like that. They leave humans who stop being likeable by committing suicide.

Which makes the hero, Herb, all the angrier. He and two others had filed conflicting claims on rights to some crystal fields. One had dropped out, saying he was satisfied. Herb and Swain, however, had ended up in a duel. The thing was, Herb realized in the middle of the duel that his gun had been emptied.

Now he was on the chase for Swain to give him what he had coming.

He finds Swain in his portable shelter with the help of his Fuzzy. Swain has no gun, Herb doesn’t feel right shooting him without a gun, so he tells Swain to fight. Swain tries, but immediately passes out. He had a broken leg and would like die without Herb’s help.

Which, of course, Herb does. He brings back Swain to Center City. Along the way, he discovers that Swain hadn’t been the one to remove the ammunition, but rather it had been the other guy in hopes of getting all of his disputed claim.

But Herb brings Swain to the hospital, then files his claim, one of the richest. He actually files a joint claim with both he and Swain. That’s when he finds out Swain had also filed a rich claim. Also joint. Also in both of their names.

The Fuzzies only stay with likeable men.

Finally we get to the last story, one I’ve been looking forward to. It’s Fiddler on Titan by Manly Wade Wellman. Wellman is of particular interest to me since he and his brother, Paul Wellman, were Wichita boys and good writers. Fellow Wichita State alums. Here’s an interesting blog post on Wellman by David Drake: http://david-drake.com/2010/manly-wade-wellman/. The two became friends in 1970.

In any case, the story was worth my anticipation. Fiddler on Titan is about the first expedition to Titan, Saturn’s “biggest and only habitable satellite” (120). Expedition A includes 14 men and women. They arrive to find out that one of them, Ham, has brought his family fiddle with him in contravention of the rules and ignoring the effects that its weight might have on the trip.

But they made it and find a plain with vegetation and a big lake. The set up as pioneers in sort of a Little House on the Prairie fashion awaiting Expedition B in something like 18 years. Fiddles and music were important to those pioneers, and even more so to these on Titan.

For Titan held alien life, intelligent life, in the form of amorphous blobs who could take just about any shape they wanted and create any tool they needed. Ham played his fiddle and realized that if he played songs that made him think of dancing, they’d dance, or leaving, they’d leave, or working, they’d work. The Titanians and these first humans became allies.

But space is not without dangers, especially human dangers, and a pirate band comes to call. They landed, watched Expedition A, and come to take over. They know that Ham playing the fiddle gets the Titanians to work, but they don’t quite know how. They tell Ham to play, which he does, but instead of a song he’d played before, he plays a war song. The Titanians connect to song and thought and shoot the pirates.

Man, how many good stories are in this issue. The only downer was the UFO essay, and that’s easily skipped over. This is a 9.5 and would have been a 10 with a good essay and one of my favorites.

It even has a fantastic ad on the back cover. It says “Take this Lunar Quiz and win a round-trip reservation to the Moon. Free!” It’s a fantastic ad for the Science Fiction book club.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?57435

Thanks for readings. Next week I’ll review the Astounding from December, 1945.


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: The Greater Share of Honour

Week 43 of 2019

Greetings all

Been a good week here. I’ve a complete draft of a short story, which I’ll edit this weekend. I also scribbled down a bunch of notes about None Call Me Mother. It’s almost like plotting, but let’s not ruin my reputation.

The big news here is animal-related. This was the week for Fearghus, our rescue kitten from the summer. He is no longer able to be a dad. Hopefully, it will calm him down some. We love how playful he is, but sometimes he gets aggressive with the other kitties. We’ll see.

Wynnifred, our other younger cat, was also not feeling well. The vet we go to, Marketplace Animal Hospital, fit her in at the same time I brought in Fearghus. We figured it out, am giving her medicine, and we already see progress.

Then, Fearghus had a reaction to his new flea collar. It made him itch so much he rubbed several sections on his neck raw. Marketplace again moved things around and saw him last night. We think that’s under control too, but we’re keeping an eye on him this weekend, which is why we’re not going to be able to go to Autumn in Grimfells this weekend.

I just want to add that I’m really pleased with Marketplace, if you hadn’t realized. Glad that a close friend of mine referred me.

But that’s not the only animal adventure here. We have had raccoons invade our attic. We debated trying to trap them ourselves, but frankly, none of us wanted to crawl around the attic here, which is pretty rough and not terribly easy to climb up to. Especially for three people who don’t do heights. So, we got a company to come out. They’ve already gotten two raccoons. Who knows how many more came inside when the weather cooled. We’ll find out.

Anyway, that’s the adventure of the day. Now I’m off to throw a few thousand words at None Call Me Mother.

Current Playlist Song

Not a song this week. I’m listening to 105.3 the Fan from Dallas. They’re covering the Cowboys trade yesterday and a number of other Cowboys-related things. They interview Jerry Jones regularly, and he’s always interesting.

Quote of the Week

It’s the 25th of October. That’s St. Crispin’s Day. And that means it’s the 604th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

So here’s the entire monologue from Henry V.

WESTMORLAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
– William Shakespeare, Henry V

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (58,007)
  • HMWH (7,480)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (8,088)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Chaz Kemp. This was the first interview I hosted here. You can find it at: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=976.

Today’s Weight: 392.4

Updated Word Count: 170,244

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

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

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
Short Stories

 

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Interview – Chaz Kemp

Greetings all

I’m starting a new semi-regular thing. As you probably know, I do a Spotlight on some artist, author, or vendor each week in my updates. This will be an expanded version of that, where I’ll interview some great independent and up-and-coming creators. I’ll ask hard-hitting questions like “What is their favorite Muppet?”

In truth, while I’ll be phrasing this in a light-hearted way, it is my hope that these interviews will have provide a little insight in their creative process. Remember, there’s one true creative process, and it’s the one that helps you create, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t learn what works for others.

I’m lucky to start off with Chaz Kemp. I met Chaz as part of Pandora Celtica when they came to house for a house with Sooj Tucker. It was an amazing show, and all of them gave me a bunch of CDs. I’ve listened to those over and over, and some are on the playlist that helps me write.

However, Chaz is not only a drummer and a singer, but also an excellent artist often focusing on Steampunk themes, such as this one:

You can find his work at:

The Interview

What is your quest?

To continue creating a multi-cultural steampunk/fantasy world called Ashelon by using my own Art Nouveau styled illustrations.  We’re also including novellas and short stories written by my wife, Carolyn Kay and other authors to help flesh out that world.

I want my dream and passion for Ashelon to be something amazing that fans can really groove on.

What is your favorite color?

I love creating my art digitally by using a vector-based program called CorelDraw.  It’s like Adobe Illustrator but I find it more versatile.  Through years of honing my technique, I can make my pieces feel more natural and the colors more vibrant while still embracing the illustrative quality I love so much. 

I also enjoy the way that I can make changes to my art on the fly by switching out colors, body positioning and even the backgrounds without having to take hours or even days repainting things just to try something new.

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

As a freelance artist, one of my biggest hurdles involved gaining respect.  I went out of my way to treat my clients with respect and kindness, but they didn’t always feel the need to reciprocate early in my career.

It took time to learn that I had the power to say ‘no’ when faced with the prospect of working with someone who wasn’t going to treat me well.  I could also say ‘no’ when a potential client didn’t want to adequately compensate me for the work I was to do for them.  As I won more awards and gained more of a reputation for doing good work, I ran into fewer problems.

Another challenge came with the frustration of trying to get in with big name companies like many of the New Age companies or table top RPG leaders. They just wouldn’t write back to me.

After talking with a few industry ‘insiders’ I discovered that most of those art directors don’t actually care about the artist or their art, all they really care about is whether they think the artist can make them money.  As an example, photo-realism is the hot style right now, so that’s all they’re interested in and those are the only artists they’re willing to hire. If I were a photo-realistic artist, all I’d ever be to them is a thing that made them money. So truthfully, getting rejected by them was actually them doing me a favor.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I feel that while I am inspired by the Art Nouveau movement and by Alphonse Mucha in particular, I don’t directly copy him.  I take the style and make it my own.  I love that many people can see his inspiration in my work.

I’m also quite proud of the fact that several of my main characters are multi-cultural because there isn’t enough of that in the Steampunk genre.  In reality, the 1800s happened everywhere, not just in Victorian England. So why have art centered around one culture when I can explore the ideas of Steampunk in every culture? When you do that, the ideas are endless and ongoing. Not only that, but we get to have multiple cultures represented in a way that you don’t normally see them and that’s just too cool.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet?  Pepe the King Prawn – he’s quite hilarious.
  • Crunchy or Creamy?  Crunchy when it comes to peanut butter… Creamy when it comes to soup.
  • Favorite Sports Team?  Denver Nuggets all the way.
  • Cake or Pie?  Pie for sure… there are more varieties of pie and most of them are DELICIOUS!!
  • Lime or Lemon?  Lemon
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Bean dip FTW
  • Wet or Dry?  Wet when it comes to drinks like Moscow Mules – Dry when it comes to computers and socks.
  • Favorite Musical Performer we’ve Never Heard Of? Mark King of Level 42 – he’s a good song writer and singer, but an AMAZING bass player.
  • Whisky or Whiskey?  Whiskaaaaaaaay!!
  • Steak Temperature?   Medium Well (ed. note: Sigh, it could be worse I suppose)
  • Favorite 1970s TV show?  Wonder Woman
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?  Summer – perfect beach weather.
  • Favorite Pet?  Our cats Sif and Naira.
  • Coffee or Tea?  Coffee hands down!
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Fantasy every time.  The closest I get to Sci-Fi is either cyber punk (Which is cool) or Steampunk (Which is awesome)

What question would you like to ask me?

The fact that you have SO much information about your world of Shijuren is amazing.  I’d love to develop that level of detail for my world of Ashelon!  How long did it take you to create your world and what inspired you to do it?  

My Answer: It’s not really something I do all at once. I just use whatever inspiration comes to mind. If I run across something interesting, I toss that in.

One of my most useful tools is Wikipedia’s random article button. I will literally sit in front of a football game or something like that and just click it. Every time I see something interesting, I cut and paste into a Notes document. Then, when I am looking for something, a town, a new character, inspiration for an event, whatever, I glance at that. The randomness helps keep me from doing the things I always fall back upon.

I have also had help from people like Adam Hale, who does all the maps for me. I gave him license to add geographic details and names, based on certain parameters, and that helps shape strategic and tactical choices by my characters.

I love worldbuilding. I do a little bit here, a little bit there, and then suddenly there’s a thing.

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, “What game are you currently grooving on?”  I would respond with Cards Against Humanity!!  We just had dinner at a friend’s house this past weekend where we played CaH and I laughed so hard, my face hurt the whole rest of the weekend.  So much fun!!

******

Speaking of fun, I enjoyed this quite a bit. I will start doing these on as many Tuesdays as I have one ready.

Thanks very much to Chaz for being the guinea pig and helping shape these questions. I know I’ll be seeing Chaz at ConQuest on Memorial Day. I suspect you’ll find us sharing a beverage at some point there.

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.

Mag Review: Analog (July, 1962)

Greetings all. This week I’m reviewing the Analog of July 1962. The cover story in this is John Brunner’s Listen! The Stars! and I love the cover art designed for it. It includes a good essay by John W. Campbell and a work by James H. Schmitz.  Side note, I’ve already reviewed the issue immediately after this one. You can find that review here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579. This will be especially relevant since Mack Reynolds had a two-part story, with part one in this one and the second over there.

Analog (July, 1962)
Analog (July, 1962)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56754

The first article in this episode is What’s Wrong With Science by John W. Campbell. This is a distressing article, as it details things that are currently wrong in the scientific process, which means those problems are at least nearly sixty years in the making. Basically, he says that scientists are hamstrung by the process, which forces them to come up with answers that often fit the existing models that most scientists accept. Given that new research often radically changes or even replaces existing models, this means that such new research isn’t even allowed to be tried, because if it succeeds, it means that all the previous investment was wrong. Now, it’s as if instead of religious reactionaries wanting to execute Galileo, established scientists would execute him.

Sadly, I fear that this problem is even worse now, given examples I have seen.

The cover story Listen! The Stars! by John Brunner was fantastic. We discover a gadget that lets us listen to electromagnetic energy from other stars. In general these noises are not intelligible but there’s enough of a hint of something more, like hearing alien languages, that people keep listening. They’re hoping that they can understand that half-heard word they’re so tantalizingly close to comprehending.

This causes a number of societal issues, because that hope acts much like a drug. Addicts and acolytes, thieves and thespians. Worse, however, are the unexplained disappearances that seemed to be caused by “stardropping,” or eavesdropping on stars.

Dan Cross is a member of the UN Special Agency tasked to discover threats to peace. Basically, they’re trying to prevent the US and Russia from tossing their nukes at each other. The stardropping craze has finally come to their attention and he’s delving through the possibilities.

However, he and his agency are too late. Others have actually comprehended the science within what they find stardropping, science based essentially Einstein’s spooky action at a distance idea. This leads to both teleportation and telekinesis.

In the end, those who have discovered the potential from stardropping have generally unified together across the world. When the crisis happens, they reveal themselves with the intent to start the very war that Cross is tasked to protect. However, with their use of teleportation and telekinesis, they are easily able to distribute the atoms and particles of all the nuclear warheads and biological/chemical agents into the vastnesses of interstellar space.

The hint is that this will free humanity from its parochial differences and chase the stars, which are now within reach from their teleportative abilities.

It’s idealistic message fiction, promising a utopia that seems impossible for humanity. However, it’s also a fantastic story, filled with action and suspense. It’s also got enough hard science that it seems plausible.

Next is their announcement of things to come in the next issue. I won’t relate it here, but instead give you that link to my review again: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579.

Then comes a single page on a scientific discussion of laser development by GE. As is often the case reading these magazines, it’s fascinating to read these sort of discussions. They provide a snapshot, in this case, of the development of lasers 57 years ago. I suspect anyone actually in the field, would find it very interesting.

Next is Junior Achievement by William Lee. I can’t find  much about him. It is entirely possible that’s a pseudonym. One of his stories, A Message for Charity, was well-received. It has been republished a number of time and was turned into a Twilight Zone episode. However, very little else was published under this name.

Which is too bad. I rather enjoyed Junior Achievement, especially since at one time I was heavily involved in the organization. However, I didn’t have five geniuses to work with. In this case, they all come up with some new invention and the local science teacher, who is smart but not a genius, cannot quite keep up with them.

The only problem with this story is that it was more a narrative than a story. There wasn’t much of a buildup. No real crisis/climax. Instead, it went off at a rollicking pace of the kids involved making things happen and always succeeding. It was set in a town that had needed to be moved after some unexplained nuclear accident, so there’s some hint of genetic mutation, but not much, and that aspect only seems to be in the story to explain why the teacher is so poor. He has to pay two mortgages, one for the old house that’s in the fallout zone, and one for the new house. It’s an enjoyable story, but leaves you wanting more, like an ephemeral treat.

Now we get to James H. Schmitz, who I’ve grown to like much more because of the stories of his I’ve read doing these reviews. The story here is The Other Likeness, which is part of his series The Hub.

I was not disappointed. It starts with a scientist getting an alert. Then we discover he’s not just a scientist, but a member of a secret plot against humanity’s Federation involving 1200 people. These people are, in fact, aliens who were experts in genetics. They genetically raised these 1200 to be indistinguishable from humans. That would allow them to come into the Federation and create a bio-weapon that would devastate it, allowing their alien species to take over.

The scientist escapes with his three closest allies. At least, they think they escape. However, the Federation has set an elaborate trap for these 1200. They know them all because those 1200 have only 3 brain wave patterns, and are thus identified. Once captured, the 1200 are subjected to detailed scrutiny, most while they’re unconscious.

At this point, I was disappointed in the story. The initial start, with its evasion and capture, was really good, but immediately after that comes a disembodied voice explaining the plot. A series of exposition that would do Hercule Poirot proud, but in the context of a short story, takes too long.

But every once in a while, exposition can be the story, and this is the case here. Schmitz set us up to create espionage feel fighting the evil government bad guy, but the exposition reveals the truth at the very end.

The alien species was too successful. The beings it genetically created to be humans, were, in fact, human. None of the 1200 are actually going through with the bioweapon plan, instead doing something else that actually benefits humanity. The final line, which is spoken by the supposed government bad guy is fantastic: “You’ve regarded yourselves as human beings, and believed that your place among us. And we can only agree.”

It’s interesting how a really good writer can make something that shouldn’t work actually do so.

Next is an article that Dr. Robb Hampson should read, because I’ve no doubt he’d find it interesting. It’s Brain Waves and Though Patterns by Eric Holmes, MD. Holmes wrote a number of SF/F works, including the novel The Maze of Peril, but also contributed a number of essays on brain science.

This is one of his essays about understanding the brain. There’s a lot in here that I don’t know enough to appreciate. It does talk about some of the imagined possibilities, which are not dissimilar to ideas talked about today. It’s fascinating in it’s own right that 57 years ago people were talking about implanted electrodes to increase communication between brains, tracking health status, and so on. Basically, he’s talking about implants here which even then promised “unexpected marvels and possible horrors.”

I actually skipped the next story Border, Breed Nor Birth by Mack Reynolds. I tried to read it, but I have already read Part II of this story. Worse, I really didn’t like the way the story ends. Again, you can find that in the review here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1579. It’s hard to connect with characters when you already know your not going to like the story, especially the ending. It was like watching a horror movie, knowing the kids are all going to do stupid stuff that makes it more likely the slasher’s going to get them. I don’t like watching them, either.

Anyway, I’m going to move on to the Analytical Library. I find this fascinating as it’s an attempt to objectively quantify what the readers want. It’s essentially much like a modern Amazon/Goodreads rating system. There’s also a bonus attached of an extra cent per word to the winning author, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

What I learned in this version of the Analytical Library is that I really need to read the March, 1962 issue. Poul Anderson’s Epilogue beat Randall Garrett’s His Master’s Voice. I really like His Master’s Voice, so it’ll be fun to see the first version, but it’ll also be fun to read a story the readers thought was better.

And when I review that issue, I’ll talk about a number of interesting side notes involving Garrett and Anderson.

Anyway, next is The Rescuer by Arthur Porges. Porges was a prolific writer and a mathematician. i suspect my dad, who was a prolific reader and a mathematician, loved his stuff. I know I really liked this one. It’s very short, but also very powerful.

The story starts with a description of the greatest machine ever made, requiring multiple city blocks of space, fusion power, and computer power which might seem laughable now, but which was incredible then.

Then two scientists destroy it.

The story then turns to the preliminary hearing discussing the events that led to the destruction. In this, one of the scientists who destroyed the machine explained himself.

The machine was a time machine and one of the technicians involved in it commandeered the machine for his own purposes. However, he left a note, and the scientists, upon reading that note, decided that it was best to destroy the machine safely than allow the technician to succeed.

And this is where it gets thought-provoking. We’ve all wondered about changing the currents of time, but what if it changed so much more?

The technician is going back in time with a modern weapon and ammunition to prevent Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and execution. If Jesus had to die to save humans from their sins and that doesn’t happen, what next? Basically, it asks the question of all of us: Would you save Jesus of Nazareth? What would that do to all of history and to our souls? What a fascinating philosophical question and, as mentioned in the story, the kind of question we all have to answer for ourselves.

The last section, as usual in Analogs, is P. Schuyler Miller’s review section entitled The Reference Library. In this issue, he begins with a scathing discussion of the double-standard applied by publishing companies with respect to writers of SF and “literary” writers who happen to write an SF novel.

He nails something I talk about quite often at conventions. If you’re going to write in another genre you have to have read enough of the genre to understand the existing tropes and methods. In this case, the books in question didn’t get the hard science right, not even close to right. You also have to respect the genre, even if you’re writing a parody of it. Perhaps especially a parody, because if you despise it, your story comes out mean-spirited instead of humorous.

Anyway, Schuyler moves on to some more fun reviews. Imagine getting paid to review H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Andre Norton, and a bunch of others. I’d take that job in a heartbeat.

I have to say, this was a darn good issue. It rises in my mind because I didn’t actually read through the Reynolds story, of course, but there’s quite a bit here I’m pleased to have read.

Next week, I’ll read the Fantastic Universe from July, 1957. It has works by August Derleth, Manly Wade Wellman, and Robert Sheckley. Wellman is a familiar name to me not simply because of his speculative fiction, by the way, which I’ll explain next week.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?89841

Thanks for reading. I’m off to finish a short story for James L. Young.


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: The Answer

Week 42 of 2019

Greetings all

It’s cool to me that this year, week 42 starts on 14 October. I knew the answer to life, the universe, and everything had something to do with the Battle of Hastings.

It’s been a good week. I made progress on a short story for the next Phases of Mars story. I had hoped to come up with a third to follow Far Better to Dare and In Dark’ning Storms but I never found a hook. I found a battle, but not a hook. I may follow up with some longer form stuff, because I enjoy where that world went, but short stories require a hook and this would have just been a fight with no interesting end.

I now have a time, place, and a hook. Better yet, it’s in my wheelhouse. It has to do with Anglo-Saxon England, but nothing to do with Hastings. There’s your hint.

I also did a bunch of clearing of deadwood in None Call Me Mother. It’s starting to flow a bit, when I’m not working on short stories.

I talked about my work, or lack thereof, in my update on Sunday. If you haven’t read it, it’s here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1757. Basically it covers my plan to better manage my writing and travel schedule so I don’t get burned out.

But that is in the past. I have ideas and a keyboard. Time to write.

Current Playlist Song

Something for Nothing by Rush from All the World’s a Stage. I remember getting this tape and playing it as loud as I could over and over in my orange 1962 VW bug. Ah, good times.

Quote of the Week

And since it has some of my favorite lyrics, here’s the chorus from Something for Nothing. Especially appropriate for me to remember given my recent funk.

“Oh you don’t get something for nothing
You don’t get freedom for free
You won’t get wise
With the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dreams might be”

– Something for Nothing, Rush

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (58,007)
  • HMWH (3361)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (8,088)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Alex Rath, another writer in the Four Horseman Universe. You can find his interview at: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1768.

Today’s Weight: 388.4

Updated Word Count: 167,049

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

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

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
Shijuren
Four Horsemen Universe
Short Stories

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

Interview: Alex Rath

The interviews are back! This week I’m interviewing Alex Rath, another of the many talented authors writing the Four Horsemen Universe. It’s a throwback to last year’s Four Horsetober.

Quick side note, since it’s been a while. I’ll post an interview of a creator each Wednesday. If you’re a creator, whether author, musician, artist, or crafter, and you’d like to be interviewed, send me an email at rob@robhowell.org and I’ll send you the questions.

Now, on to Alex…

Interview: Alex Rath
Alex Rath
Alex Rath

What is your quest? At the moment, my focus has been on the Four Horsemen Universe (though that’s expanding). Pretty much all of my characters will take in parts of my own personality, the big one of that being versatile, and creative. As a person who has spent 25 years in technology, starting in the days when we had very limited tools, and had to be very creative in how to accomplish our goals with only a language and no libraries or pre-made routines to work with, I always had to invent the wheel. My characters tend to do the same, and it’s a lot of fun to take things that exist in a universe, and think of a new way to apply it.

What is your favorite color? I like a combination of intense action, sprinkle in some humor, often in the form of a pop-culture reference, and then throw in some emotion from out of left field to catch the reader off guard. So far, each of my stories have had at least one scene that evokes some kind of emotional response. Even though I’m writing military science fiction, I want the readers to feel the humanity of my characters, and hopefully find at least one they can relate to and say “Yep, I know that feeling.”

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush? I’m fairly new to the writing game… but I’d say my biggest frustration has just been getting stuck or coming up short. I have a tendency to ‘get to the point’ which doesn’t really make a good read. I’m not accomplished at all at outlining or plotting a book and tend to ‘pants’ my way through it. That’s something I’m still trying to figure out how to work on, because both of my works so far have “ended” short of where I wanted them to be in length. Now, I don’t try to get more length just to get it… I just feel like it needs to be a certain length to contain an interesting story that gets the reader involved in the characters, which is one of my big goals.

 What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade? Based on feedback from readers, I’d say I’m pretty good at conveying emotion, and getting the reader to FEEL that emotion. I had quite a few reviews and private comments on my first book, written with Chris Kennedy, that indicated I’d nailed the point home when it comes to dealing with the loss of comrades in a military setting. One particular person was brought to tears, and it’s a person I know well, and understand why. That was, for me, the highest praise I could possibly get, especially given that it’s not something I have personally experienced, other than losing friends who served.

 Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal
  • Best Thing From the 80s? Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
  • Your Wrestler Name? Spartan  (duh, lol)
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? Blade Chop
  • Favorite Weird Color? Chartreuse
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Take over the internet
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Yosemite Sam
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? Secret Labs Titan Series office chair
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? Making people learn to research facts
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? R
  • Favorite Sports Team? Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps  (Drum corps is a sport, fight me) Rob’s Note: Nah, it totally is, and I’m one of the biggest sports fans around.
  • Cake or Pie? Cake
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime
  • Favorite Chip Dip?   French Onion
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of?  Here Come the Mummies
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Neither… I quit drinking
  • Favorite Superhero? Deadpool
  • Steak Temperature? Mid-Rare
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? W.A.T.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Favorite Pet?  Lacy, my bearded dragon!
  • Best Game Ever? Dungeons & Dragons
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Yes

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

Rob’s Answer: Mostly pantsing, though I have a general idea where characters are going to end up like dying heroically, falling in love, or whatever seems appropriate. I find, though, that the characters know the path to those ends better than I do.

Also, I often will have a scene come to mind in the shower, lying in bed, driving, or other such time where my mind can roam a bit. In a sense, I plot one scene at a time, and wait for the pantser in me to generate that scene.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

Do you have a creator biography?

Alex Rath is a Military Science Fiction and Fantasy author, currently residing in Columbia, South Carolina, with his wife and daughter.

He has been creative in one form or another since childhood. He got his start in fantasy with Dungeons and Dragons in 1979, and kept going from there. Some of the ideas that he writes come from his extensive experience in Role Playing Games, starting with D&D, and onward through other games like Star Fleet Battles, Battletech/Mechwarrior, Shadowrun, Masquerade, and too many more to name.

From there, he took his creativity online to more online games than can be remembered by writing character backgrounds, stories, and game related fiction. Now, he puts his creativity to the book format, and is excited to become a professional author.

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

You should have asked how I got started in writing. It actually started with a Facebook conversation with Chris Kennedy, where I pitched the idea of a short story about the Computer Operations Center of the Golden Horde, since my professional expertise is in computers, programming, information security, etc..  He suggested it could be a full book and offered to co-write it with me. That happened, and here we are!


Thanks to Alex 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

Quick Thoughts on Pro Football

The NFL has proven itself time and time again that it’s blind to the wishes of the fans. It’s really frustrating how badly Goodell has mis-managed this league. In an ideal world I would replace him with Amy Trask, who has the experience, toughness, and common sense to vastly bring the league back in touch with its fans.

Side note: Follow Amy on Twitter, even if you’re not a football fan. She’s chock full of awesome.

Last night’s game between the Packers and the Lions was simply another example of the NFL’s short-sighted lack of care. There *is* a step they can make that would dramatically improve the quality of officiating, and that’s the creation of a sky judge.

It is no shame for NFL referees to admit that the speed of the modern NFL is too much for human beings to officiate. Unfortunately, it seems clear that NFL officials take it personally when a call is overturned. I get that feeling, but getting it right is more important than their ego.

I would also create full-time officials. Generally speaking, NFL referees are part-time employees. That’s ridiculous to me. The NFL said there’s no improvement from full-time officials, but as far as I know, they only tried it on a limited basis for *one* year. Not exactly a good sample size.

One point that I think might be valid is that frame-by-frame looks at plays might not be valid for many plays. They’re absolutely valid for things like whether a player gets his feet down on a catch and objective calls like that. I can see why on pass interference and such it might be less relevant. Contact 1/32nd of a second before the ball arrives isn’t worth a penalty, for example. However, you could easily stipulate that on such plays the slow motion goes at a particular speed, a balance between the challenge of officiating live at full speed and the ability to slow things down. Once that’s agreed on, the networks would be able to match it, providing us all with a standard level.

In any case, something has to be done when play after play are misjudged by officials. I understand why the two hands to the face penalties were called last night at real speed. A sky judge, with the ability to see a replay quickly, could have just as easily seen why they weren’t penalties. Taken maybe 5 seconds.

This idea of a sky judge is much closer to college football, and it is part of the XFL.

Ah, the XFL. Their draft started today, and I’m getting really excited about it. I think more than anyone else recently they’ve looked at what fans want. The rule changes look promising, including their method of handling officiating. Another promising thing is the way they’re looking at making special teams important again while still finding ways to keep players reasonably safe.

I like the XFL ideas so much, I’m actually getting two season tickets for the St. Louis Battlehawks. Ticket prices are very reasonable, actually, which is another factor of course.

Whether the XFL succeeds where the WFL, USFL, AAF, previous XFL, and all the other attempts failed remains to be seen, however, I’m pleased at the thought going into the league. I’m really hoping it’ll survive, in part, because I love football and want a successful spring league.

Mag Review: Worlds of If (October, 1971)

Greetings all

It’s been a while since I did a magazine review, so I’ll explain what I’m doing. I have a goodly amount of Analogs, Amazings, Astoundings, and a bunch of other SF/F magazines from the 30s to the 70s. I’m going to read one a week and give you my review. I’ll be looking at everything, including the ads, because there’s lots of fun things to see in these. Also, I’ll be linking everything I can, usually from the fantastic Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

This week I’ll be reviewing the “Worlds of If” from October, 1971. This was an exciting issue to read for me because it included both a Stainless Steel Rat story and a Retief story. Not surprisingly, the theme for this issue is “insouciant.”

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58836

Worlds of If (Oct 71) Cover
Worlds of If (Oct 71) Cover

This isn’t my favorite cover art of all time, but it is such a great example of the powerful, evocative art that is on so many covers. It’s kinetic, which now that I think about it is probably the best way to describe the goal of these magazines.

The ads on the interior covers of these magazines are often delightful. This issue’s is no exception. It leads with the questions: “Can Freddie Fong Fine save the world? If so, should he?” OK, you got me to look. It’s an ad for Richard Lupoff’s  Sacred Locomotive Files, which includes not only the titular locomotive, but also, among many things, a hyponuclear submarine (which sounds cool), Mavis Montreal the groupie, and “other denizens and features of the world of 1985.” I certainly wish Lupoff had accurately predicted 1985, because my junior year in high school was nowhere near that interesting.

The first section is Hue and Cry, the letters to the editor. The best letter was by a geology student taking issue with A. Bertram Chandler’s use of the word “extrusion” with relation to granite. Indeed, she “leaped up in horror!” upon seeing that usage. She concludes with a truly dire curse: “May the next koala bear Mr. Chandler meets eye him with reproachment.”

The first story is The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison. The Stainless Steel Rat is a fantastic character so I was really looking forward to this story, especially since I hadn’t actually read this one before. In the story someone is going back in time to change the upstream to kill off the entire Special Corps. Slippery Jim is just the man to get sent back in time to return time to its proper course.

The Rat gets sent back to 1984 with the help of Professor Coypu’s Helix. Things happen in a rush, of course, and he is sent back in time with all the equipment that they can throw at him. Gotta love the toys the Rat’s toys.

He arrives in 1984 and quickly gets himself a criminal associate. They rob a bank, but the associate leaves the Rat in the lurch. The Rat steals a police car in order to escape. Eventually he ends up in the hands of the mastermind, and only by the aid of the special potion hidden in one of his teeth that turns him into a superman is he able to escape. He turns the tables and defeats the evil mastermind and thereby saves the world.

I expect the Rat to have a useful gadget for every occasion, even though more often than not it is first mentioned right when he needs that precise thing. For some reason though, this particular tool bothered me. Supermen, even temporary ones, don’t work as well for me as the gadgets.

That kicked me out of the story for a moment, and the joy of Stainless Steel Rat stories is that you put your seat belt on and get taken for a roller-coaster ride. This is probably my least favorite Rat story, which means I liked it but didn’t love it.

Side note. When I roam through the ISFDB or other pages as I do these reviews, I come across various interesting things here and there. I now know that “acciaio” is stainless steel in Italian. In Dutch? Well that’s “roestvrij staal.” I’m sure one of those will provide the answer for Final Jeopardy one of these days.

I’m a fan of the Stainless Steel Rat, but I’m a fanatic about Jame Retief, who stars in the next story. The All-Together Planet by Keith Laumer is a Retief story I’ve never read, which is a surprise, since I thought I had all the Retief books and collections.

Another uncovered tidbit: Laumer always pictured Retief as having black hair and looking something like Cary Grant. Hence, he didn’t like the covers from the 1980s Baen reprints where Retief is blond. In fact, those covers of him were based on Corbin Bernsen. Now I have this vision of Jame Retief playing third base for the Cleveland Indians in Major League.

Anyway, this is all that one wants from a Retief story. The Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne has sent him and Magnan to a planet with an odd species, the Lumbagans, that evolves as separate body parts which gather together beginning with a group of ten. These parts can be anything, legs, arms, eyes, spleens, whatever, but the initial critical mass is ten parts. That’s a Singleton. Two of them get together and you have a Dubb. Two Dubbs can join together to become a Trip, and then two Trips can amalgamate and become the pinnacle of evolution, a Quad.

As usual, the Groaci are trying to gain control of the planet. Retief navigates with his usual wit and skill through the normal Groaci diplomatic corps, but finds one of their leaders, Ussh, to be unusually elusive.

Eventually Retief tracks Ussh down to discover he’s one of the largest Groaci he’s ever met before. Ussh is also more ambitious than most Groaci, which is saying something. He actually wants to rule the galaxy and his plan includes breeding Lumbagans to make a modular army of sorts.

As usual, Retief gathers allies among the locals, Gloot and Ignarp. At the end, in prison, he comes up with a desperate plan, one that leaves his allies in horror. Retief has figured out that Ussh is not a Groaci at all, but a super Lumbagan who is an amalgamation of two Quads who merely arranged his appearance to look like a Groaci. He tells Gloot and Ignarp that the only way to defeat Ussh is for them to combine as well, giving them equal powers to the mighty Ussh. They name themselves Lucael, which Retief agrees is “better than Michifer.”

Lucael and Retief head off to face Ussh and the Lumbagan emperor. In the end, it turns out that the emperor is essentially mindless and is completely controlled by Ussh. However, this taxes even the power of a super-Lumbagan, especially when faced with one who is just as powerful. In true Retief fashion, he manipulates the scene to expose the fraud, allowing Lucael to split Ussh back to his constituent Lumbagans.

At that poing Lucael assumes the throne and makes several proclamations, including telling all foreigners to stop meddling in Lumbagan affairs or “be shipped home in a box,” much to the horror of both the Groaci and CDT (except, of course, Retief). Then he declares all laws illegal, “including this one.” At the end, Lucael promises their emperor will return, should the need arise.

Then Lucael disappears to Ignarp and Gloot can separate back into themselves. But fear not for them, they take positions in the newly-created government-in-exile, “the only place for a government to be.”

No mere review can properly convey the sly subtleties that Laumer slides in. You may not be able to read this particular story, but I suggest you find a Retief story somewhere and remember the absurdity of bureaucracies.

The next story is To Kill a Venusian by Irwin Ross. This is the third and last story Ross ever published in a SF magazine. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not a pleasant one. Ross plagiarized To Kill a Venusian from Anthony Boucher’s story Nine-Finger Jack published in 1952 and no magazine ever published anything else by Ross.

The story basically involves a serial killer, who discovers his latest wife is actually a Venusian, who can’t be killed with any method known to humans. Ultimately, he discovers that human flesh is a deadly poison to them, and he escapes by killing the Venusian wife by cutting off his finger and putting it into their food. Gruesome and fun. Nice job by Boucher in 1952.

By the way, here’s an article by Robert Silverberg that discusses plagiarism in SF, including Ross’s. It’s at: http://www.asimovs.com/assets/1/6/Reflections_RobertHeinlein_OctNov14.pdf.

Anyway, next we move to One Moment in the Sand by Barry Weissman. In this we have a variety of people scrabbling about in a post-Apocalyptic world. These people are fantastically changed, though, including one who is a red dragon.

They find a cave and start exploring. The find a cave with a lot of oldtime equipment, including a large pillar. They start playing with it all. One presses a button causing lights to flash and sirens to wail. They keep pressing things and ultimately the large pillar ignites, burning them all and launching, for it’s an ICBM. It comes down on a farm halfway across the world.

All in all, not my favorite. It was less a story than a vehicle to say that nuclear weapons are bad. For message fiction to work, it has to be a good story, and this wasn’t.

Next we turn to After the End and Before the Beginning by William Rotsler. I will say that this magazine had some interesting authors, as Rotsler was also a writer, director, and actor in about two dozen porno movies as well as an illustrator in SF fanzines along with his SF writing.

This story is also message fiction in its own way, but far better written. It’s also set in a post-Apocalyptic world, one where the Earth has essentially been covered in buildings but the civilization has foundered. Dagger, the main character, is the leader of one of the many roving gangs.

Along the way, he finds a girl he wants to take so he chases her. Initially, he kidnaps her but eventually convinces her to come with him because one of his gang has books and knows how to read. He tells her of pirates and Robin Hood. In the end, he promises her he will read books to her. He’s not sure how he’ll do that, but he knows he will. The message is that reading will change your life in ways you never anticipate.

A solid story, with action and character growth. It’s not one that would win awards, but it’s worth reading.

Lester del Rey provides his list of reviews next in his Reading Room. He starts this with a discussion on the importance to SF readers and writers to read a wide variety of things, not just SF but fantasy, mystery, history, and everything else one can. The most interesting review in here was a collection called simply The Pulps edited by Tony Goodstone. This includes a bunch of pulp covers as well as fifty pulp stories, including a couple SF titles, some Lovecraft, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and a supernatural story from Tennessee Williams. This looks fun and I’ll probably get a copy one of these days.

The science article in this magazine is an essay by L. Sprague de Camp called Death Comes to the Megafauna. It’s a study of the possible reasons why megafauna disappeared. I would guess that in the half-century since he wrote this there have been many discoveries to answer and inform his questions, but I’m not knowledgeable enough in this field to be able to pick through this properly. These science essays provide a lens to see the process and growth of a discipline, and I suspect people in this field would really find fun connections. Not so for me, I’m afraid, though I did learn some places to look when I write a story about megafauna.

The last story in this issue is Abyss of Tartarus by Robert F. Young. This is one of his Spacewhale series, which are leviathans who can see in time and space and can be fitted as an FTL spaceship for humans.

The story centers around Starfinder, a man with blood on his hands, including the spacewhales, who he hunted to make ships for men. He had achieved some absolution by saving one whale from death, but now has new blood on his hands.

The spacewhales dive into the Sea of Time, which the Starfinder discovers is a passage as well to Tartarus. The Erinyes board the vessel to damn him for his guilt. The fight not only goes between him and the Furies, but also with the spacewhale, who resents the human’s attempts to master him. In the end, they become friends and allies.

This is one of those frustrating stories that I could really love, but the arc felt rushed. The conflict resolved itself too quickly, especially after the excellent setup including the Erinyes. If he’d have had time, I bet Young could have had Starfinder face each of the Furies in turn, dealing with each of their specialties, and at the same expanding on the transition from uneasy allies to friends, which felt forced and hurried.

This is not an uncommon problem in SF magazines, and of course many of these are expanded from shorts to novels and novelettes. I’m going to look for more from Young to see if he expanded on the story, because the idea of the spacewhales is really cool.

Lastly, we come to the SF Calendar, which is a list of upcoming SF conventions. If I ever create a time machine, I’m definitely going back to some early conventions.

Overall, this was a very good issue, but not a great one. The Retief story brought it close, but the other stories didn’t quite carry enough of the load to put it in the absolute top tier. Say, an 8 or even an 8.5.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56754

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the Analog from July, 1962. The cover story is from John Brunner, and includes James H. Schmitz and Mack Reynolds. See you then.


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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: Restart

Greetings all

It’s been ages since I did an update. This won’t even be a regular one, with the quote of the week and all that, but rather a get-things-going-again update.

Somewhere along the line in August I got knocked completely off-kilter. Whether it was fighting the black dog made me fatigued or fatigue making me fight the black dog, I don’t know for sure. I suspect it was a bit of both, feeding back on each other. A feeding of sorrows, I suppose.

It’s clear to me that I have to manage my headspace to keep my production consistent. Some of that is being realistic about my day-to-day goals. I aim for 1000 words a day, which is not usually a problem for me. When I have a plot in my head, I can reasonably expect 2-4000 words per day for weeks on end. I did that in the spring and felt great.

What happened between the spring and now? Well, my summer schedule was crazy. Between Lilies, LibertyCon, Pennsic, and other events, I was on the road more days than not from early June to Memorial Day. Despite that hectic schedule, I didn’t allow myself a respite from writing. I had several deadlines during the summer for my own stuff that I didn’t get to.

I met nearly all of the deadlines for other publishers, but none of my own. As I got behind, I got down on myself. I kept pushing through with a few words here and there, but it’s been an uphill climb in the last two months.

The good news is that I’m back on the upswing. I’ve been consistently writing for two weeks now and building back on the other things involved in being an independent writer, such as this update. I’ve also been examining my processes and am making some changes.

First, next year I’ll be cutting down a bit on long-distance events except during the summer. I’m not cutting them out completely. I’m still going to FantaSci and ChattaCon in the spring and in most years, I’ll also do Gulf Wars. There are also events within a few hours that are easy. However, I’ll be generally avoiding the bigger three-week long trips that are efficient, but exhausting. During the summer, I’ll do those trips and write when I can, but not setting myself deadlines that get into my head when I don’t meet them. Deadlines for other publishers are fine, as I said I generally met those, but I’m changing those to land in the fall, winter, and spring.

Second, I’m getting back on a regular schedule of blog updates. Mondays I’ll be doing a magazine review, Wednesdays will be interviews, and Fridays I’ll send out my update. I noticed last fall that structure helped me keep consistent, and consistency is hard for me.

Third, I realized of late that social media in general kicks me down, so I’m drastically cutting back from Facebook. I’m still there, and will probably check my notices every couple of days, but not really scroll down the feed. I still have Facebook Messenger, because that’s such a convenient tool. Feel free to connect with me there. I’ve got a MeWe profile, but I don’t really check it that often. Same for Instagram. I’ll post in all those places, especially when I have my three weekly normal blog posts, but otherwise I’ll just be in and out.

I am more active on Twitter, oddly enough, mostly because there’s some fantastic sportswriting there and I’ve always kept that feed pared down to specific things I wanted to see. I do, however, like to say whimsical things to the internet, so I hope you follow me there. Also, I’m going to start putting those comments on my blog, as I can do posts there just as easily on my phone as I can with Facebook without wading through the mess there.

I appreciate all you being patient these past couple of months. Tune in tomorrow as I review the “Worlds of If” from October, 1971, which includes Stainless Steel Rat story and a Retief story.