Rob’s Update: The Week After

Week 50 of 2019

Greetings all

Not my most productive week, but it was to be expected. Saturday, of course, was Kris Kinder. Sunday was Kris Kinder recovery. The week after this event is always a down week as I sort of plan for those days to be off.

However, I got a bit of a head cold earlier in the week, and that slowed me. The worst was yesterday, as I basically did nothing.

Nevertheless, I got quite a bit done on the other days. I’ve been going through None Call Me Mother, cleaning it up as I get ready to write the final chapters. I’m at page 219 of the clean-up, which is about half of what I think the final total will be.

Part of the reason I do it right now is that I sort of lose track of the story in this range. I tend to work in threads and this allows me to weave the threads into place.

Plus it lets me judge the overall story. I’m liking what I’m reading.

I also worked on a couple of other projects. One of these mailing list subscribers will see on Christmas. I’m sending them all a present. The second I’ll announce at the beginning of the year.

For now, it’s time to get back to work.

What I’m Listening To

The 1974 Murder on the Orient Express with that awesome cast. Love this movie.

Quote of the Week

December 21st has a number of anniversaries. I’m going to use one to honor another.

Gen. Patton died today in 1945. Today’s quote is from him in honor of…

In 1861, Lincoln signed the bill including the original version of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Actually, at the time, it applied only to the US Navy, but they added the Army in July of 1862. It took some time after that, however, to include the Air Force.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
– Gen. George S. Patton

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (89,410)
  • CB (8,418)
  • SK (7,084)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Been focusing on other things this week.

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is still on Trouble in the Wind, which still holds the Amazon orange tag as the number 1 new release in Science Fiction Anthologies. Thanks to all of our readers.

Today’s Weight: 390.2

Updated Word Count: 224,096

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
The Phases of Mars
Short Stories

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

Rob’s Update: Trouble in the Wind

Week 49 of 2019

Greetings all

Trouble in the Wind is live! Sixteen stories of ground warfare that might have been. My story is “Here Must We Hold” about the Battle of Maldon.

You can find an excerpt of my story here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1899.

Trouble in the Wind
Trouble in the Wind

I’m quite pleased with the story. I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to contribute. I’m absolutely stoked I get to be in a book with David Weber, Kevin J. Anderson, and S.M. Stirling, among others.

I made some progress on None Call Me Mother. Much of it wasn’t in words written, but rather cleaning up. I’m at that stage where I need to go back through it all to firm up the earlier chapters, fill in some connections, and make sure I’m ready for the final chapters.

What I mostly did was write another short story. I’ll tell you all about it when it’s about to go out the door. I also made progress on another project. All in all, a good week, even if it doesn’t show up in the raw numbers.

I also spent a goodly amount of time cleaning house. This is Kris Kinder Weekend, which means I have a big sales event then host everyone after the event.

It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year, but I’ll be exhausted on Sunday. It’s a fair trade.

What I’m Listening To

La Villa Strangiato by Rush. Such a great song.

Quote of the Week

This week’s quote is the inspiration for my story’s title. Thanks to Rosalind Jehanne for granting me permission to use it.

Here must we hold     So hearken to my counsel
Felled is our lord     Slain by foemen on the field
Now we must honor     The oaths we made in mead-hall
Now we must shoulder     The burden of his shield
– Rosalind Jehanne

It’s one of my favorite songs. You can find the complete lyrics to her song here: http://www.calonsong.org/CalontirSongs/battleofmaldon.htm

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (86,645)
  • CB (8,418)
  • SK (6,874)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on all of the great authors who participated in Trouble in the Wind. Again, you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082K73QPD. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Today’s Weight: 396.4

Updated Word Count: 216,398

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
The Phases of Mars
Other Short Stories

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

Excerpt: Here Must We Hold

Here’s an excerpt from my story Here Must We Hold in Trouble in the Wind: I hope you all enjoy it.

****

Wulfstan, son of Ceola, waited for the tide to ebb so blood could flow.

Across Panta Channel, on Northey Island, Danes lined the shore waving axes, swords, and spears, yelling curses mostly carried away by the freshening breeze from the shore. At low tide, a causeway connected Northey Island with the mainland just southeast of the town of Maldon. Northern raiders preferred such islands because they needed only a small guard to protect their ships.

“They say there are nearly a hundred ships,” hissed Godric, Odda’s son.

“So?”

“That’s at least three thousand warriors!”

“And there’s three thousand fyrd with us, not including our brother thegns and all the house-carls of Essex.”

Godric looked in amazement. “They’re but farmers. Hardly a byrnie amongst them and all they bear are cheap spearheads on ash-wood poles.”

“Then those of us who have taken rings from Byrhtnoth must fight all the better.” Wulfstan strode forward to the edge of the causeway, leaving Godric behind.

Byrhtnoth, son of Byhrthelm, Ealdorman of Essex, already waited at the edge. Two hands and more greater than six feet, with hair white as a swan, he looked down at his newest thegn. “Do you think you can hold against them all at the water’s edge, boy?”

Wulfstan considered the causeway, then shook his head. “No, lord. I’ll need two others.”

The ealdorman laughed. “Very well. Aelfhere and Maccus, you stand with the boy.”

“As long as he does all the work,” said Aelfhere. “I’m too old for this.”

“As am I,” said Maccus with a matching grin.

One of the Danes, shorter, broader, but with lithe, quick steps moved forward and sent a blast from a horn across the channel. With all eyes upon him, he yelled, “You! The tall one with the white hair. Are you the Byrhtnoth we’ve heard of?”

The ealdorman stepped to the channel’s edge. “I am. And who are you?”

“Olaf, son of Tryggvi, jarl of these men.” He gestured at the host behind him. “As you can see, they thirst for the fight.” He smiled. “However, if you send us rings of gold and hauberks of steel then we’ll see no need for the spear-rush. Indeed, a day as beautiful as this is one for sailing. If you give us these gifts, we’ll grant a truce and then enjoy the wind and spray of the sea.”

“Of you I’ve heard, and I’ve no doubt of your word. Here is my answer.” Byrhtnoth grasped his shield and lifted his spear. “Spears of ash we shall give you, and swords of steel as well, yet only their edges and their points. Tell your folk that here stands a good earl with loyal thegns and the fyrd about him. To our king, Aethelred, we have sworn oaths, and this land we shall defend no matter that we may fall.”

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

 

Rob’s Update: With Unbounded Determination

Week 48 of 2019

Greetings all

Yesterday got away from me, but it’s been a good week. We’re mostly decorated for Christmas, I made progress on None Call Me Mother, and I made progress on another short story.

Plus, I’ve been running a bunch of interviews as we lead up to the release of the third Phases of Mars military alternate history anthologies, Trouble in the Wind. My story in it is Here Must We Hold, and it’s the first time I’ve really written in my area of research. That was fun.

I also made progress on the secret project. I’ll let you know all the details early in 2020, but for now, you’re just going to have to be patient.

What I haven’t done is my next Magazine Review. I may do it next week, but this is a really busy time and those take a while.

I’m going to add to None Call Me Mother tonight as I clean house here and there and watch NCAA playoff games. It’s going to be a great night.

What I’m Listening To

LSU v. Georgia. LSU is really, really good, in case you didn’t know.

Quote of the Week

You already know that today is a day that will live in infamy. The whole speech is powerful, though, not just the opening lines. Here’s another quote from Franklin Roosevelt about 7 December, 78 years ago.

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounded determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (83,723)
  • SK (2,283)
  • CB (8,418)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Chris Kennedy, the publisher of Trouble in the Wind. Here’s a rerun of his interview: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1215.

More importantly, here’s the book he released yesterday: A Gulf in Time at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0829FLV92

Today’s Weight: 397.8

Updated Word Count: 210,632

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: 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

Opinions and fiction of person misplaced in time.

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