Category Archives: Interview

Interview: A.E. Lowan

Greetings all

Welcome to the first interview of 2019. It’s going to be a great year, and we’re getting started with A.E. Lowan. Lowan is a pen name for three talented writers, Jessica Smith, Jennifer Vinck, and Kristin Vinck. I met them at Planet Comicon a couple of years ago. Our tables were next to each other in the Author Alley and we had a chance to hang out some.

But wait, we’re starting out 2019 with more, but what’s better than more? They’ve included a couple of excerpts from their Book of Binding fantasy series.

Faerie Rising Cover
Faerie Rising Cover

What is your quest?

JS: To capture a vivid world and the full spectrum of emotion that swirls within it, but also not to limit myself to a single type of story. All flavors of speculative fiction make it across my plate, and so do the possibilities that accompany those genres—but it is fun to take certain conventions of plotting and turn them on their head.

KV: My quest is to invoke emotion in the reader, to communicate the emotional lives of our characters in such a way as to make them feel real, because to me they are. These characters are some of my best friends and we are sharing them with the world. It can be scary stuff. Or liberating. It all depends on how you choose to view it.

JV: As a speculative fiction author, my quest is to tell an entertaining story that doesn’t necessarily reflect the world as it is, but as it could be. I am an idealist at heart, and my stories tend to focus on the effect that a dedicated group can have on the world. Whether my stories are set in unique fantasy worlds, urban fantasy environments with magical elements in the real world, or on a space ship, my characters crave change. They sense something wrong in their worlds and are the kinds of people who can’t let that go unaddressed. They are driven to affect change. I hope that readers will catch a fever to affect change in their own world from the passions of my characters.

There have been so many speculative fiction authors who have come before me with this same goal. I couldn’t hope to list them all, but some of the most influential on me have been Anne McCaffrey, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois Lowry, Robert A. Heinlein, John Scalzi, Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood, Lois McMaster Bujold, Michael Crichton, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

What is your favorite color?

JS: Setting wise … in high fantasy, referencing less-common cultures that inspiration might be drawn from. Everyone has seen a mock-up of the general British or French monarchy done time and time again, but what of medieval Germany? Ancient Egypt? Renaissance Spain? The Philippines, or even Sengoku-era Japan? There are so many ways to seed diversity within your world.

As for techniques, beginning in medias res helps get the ball rolling without relying on exposition.

KV: I am a trained poet and academic, though I ran away from that circus years ago. That being said, they both inform my prose. I seek to make even the most fantastical elements plausible (I love that word), drawn from history and science and the natural world, and I always strive to make the words themselves flow like music. I am not afraid of long sentences.

JV: I am a fan of flawed characters and the idea that redemption is attainable for anyone willing to strive for it. Our characters tend to come from traumatic backgrounds, both with traumas that have been inflicted on them, and traumas they have inflicted on others. I firmly believe that conflict is the root of story, and these types of internal conflicts—dealing with the repercussions of past action, seeking atonement—lead to stories of greater personal depth than just dealing with the crisis du jour.

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

JS: At this point in my life, carving out enough hours in my day to write (with being a student, running the family farm, and having a day job), and having those hours respected. Growling like a dragon so far hasn’t helped.

KV: I am a writer who suffers from significant mental illness, and it often gets in the way of me being the most creative and productive I can be. I find this incredibly frustrating. But, on the other hand, my mental illness also gives me a window onto these amazing worlds I have the privilege of writing about, so there is a lot of give and take.

JV: One of the challenges we have faced is changing the pace of our writing between book one and book two of The Books of Binding. We wrote Faerie Rising over the course of about seven years (though we have been developing the world of The Books of Binding for almost twenty). But we didn’t want there to be seven years between Faerie Rising and Ties of Blood and Bone. Learning how to produce a story that is just as good as the first at a fraction of the time took us some time to figure out and Ties of Blood and Bone was delayed for five months. But I think that we learned a lot about how we write and how to streamline the process from this failure.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

JS: In Team Lowan, I tend to be the developmental powerhouse. I’m rather good at coming up with entire worlds on the fly, and with them, massive, personalized casts to populate it.

KV: Music, coffee, and snacks. I am constantly listening to music to help focus my emotional life into words, and coffee is the fuel that keeps me running. I like to say that someday I’ll dedicate this series to Hershey’s and Frito Lay.

JV: I think that the element that I am most proud of in our work is the depth of our characters. They are engaging, and readers have told us that it is the characters that keep them up late turning pages until the end of each book. We write with an ensemble cast. We don’t have one or two main characters, we have a family who all have their own part of the story to tell. One of the things we always ask readers is, “Who was your favorite character?” We are very proud that we have gotten back every member of the cast as an answer.

Lightning Round

Favorite Muppet?

  • JS: Miss Piggy for her sass.
  • KV: Orlando Bloom
  • JV: I love Elmo’s enthusiasm and generosity of spirit.

Crunchy or Creamy?

  • JS: Creamy as in JIF peanut butter
  • KV: Creamy
  • JV: Definitely creamy

Favorite Sports Team?

  • JS: Bulgaria’s National Quidditch Team.
  • KV: Torn between the Seattle Seahawks and the Pembroke Titans, the pee wee hockey team my friend’s kid plays on.
  • JV: The Kansas City Chiefs. I have stubbornly never given up hope that we’ll make it through the playoffs again one day.

Cake or Pie?

  • JS: I’m partial to cake, honestly. Especially Dutch chocolate.
  • KV: Always pie. The cake is a lie.
  • JV: Both, as long as they’re chocolate.

Lime or Lemon?

  • JS: Lime. Lemon is a bit too overpowering for me, especially on fish.
  • KV: Lime. In a Coke. Delish.
  • JV: Lime.

Favorite Chip Dip?

  • JS: I’m partial to potato chips, and I don’t really dip those.
  • KV: The spinach and artichoke dip from Sam’s Club with tiny tortilla chips.
  • JV: French Onion on wavy potato chips.

Wet or Dry?

  • JS: Do I get to swim?
  • KV: Wet.
  • JV: Wet—I love both swimming and playing in the rain.

Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? 

  • JS: Erutan, and Rachel Rose Mitchell.
  • KV: Who’s to say what someone has never heard of, but I like Carbon Leaf. They write great songs (“The War was in Color” “What About Everything?”) and don’t get a lot of hits on the YouTubes.
  • JV: Sam Tsui (though more and more people have heard of him).

Whisky or Whiskey?

  • JS: Homemade icing? Whisk away!
  • KV: Whiskey. I’m Irish, second generation immigrant.
  • JV: Whiskey. In my family you get in trouble for writing it any other way.

Favorite Superhero?

  • JS: Probably Kitty Pryde. She has so many interesting arcs and an unusual ability to fuel them.
  • KV: Superman. I love his optimism and faith in humanity.
  • JV: I only get one?? Superman, though I’m normally more of a Marvel girl, if I only get one it has to be the man in the red cape.

Steak Temperature?

  • JS: Medium-rare. I don’t want a sufficiently skilled vet to be able to revive my meal, but I don’t want it to be carbonized, either.
  • KV: Mooing.
  • JV: Medium Rare

Favorite 1970s TV show?

  • JS: Little House on the Prairie, or Bewitched. It’s honestly a tie
  • KV: Buck Rogers
  • JV: M.A.S.H.

Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?

  • JS: I’m going to go with fall, because spring in Texas is usually about a week.
  • KV: Fall. The heat of summer has broken but the slush has not yet arrived. Plus, my birthday!
  • JV: Spring – I love when the world starts to turn green again.

Favorite Pet?  (provide pictures if you want)

  • Sugar
    Sugar

    JS: But the furry ones are family. How can I choose a favorite? I can provide a picture of the senior office minion, though! I bottle raised Sugar and she has been my creative companion since she was an itty-bitty kitten (though she’s still itty-bitty, 6 pounds at 11 years old).

  • KV: I don’t have a single favorite pet, I have several. I won’t inundate you with office minion pictures, though Jennifer might. 😀
  • Perseus
    Perseus

    JV: Oh, this is hard, like choosing a favorite child. How about most photogenic? Our most handsome pet is Perseus, our office supervisor. Here he is napping on the job.

Best Game Ever?

  • JS: Now that’s a tough choice. I’m going to have to go with the Pokemon franchise because of its infinite replayability and the way you can customize everything.
  • KV: Calvin Ball (from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes)
  • JV: Best board game would be Trivial Pursuit (though I can’t get anyone to play with me anymore.) Best video game is World of Warcraft (yeah, I’m one of those geeks.)

Coffee or Tea?

  • JS: Tea. Green (citrus or mint), or cinnamon.
  • KV: Coffee, without reservation. Drinking coffee right now.
  • JV: Neither, please. I am a water lover

Sci-Fi or Fantasy? 

  • JS: Both! I particularly love fantasy with a science backing behind its lore and in-world tech. It grounds the setting so well and makes it feel incredibly well thought out.
  • KV: Both. Both. Yes, both is good.
  • JV: Please don’t make me choose! If I had a gun to my head I would say fantasy… but I love them both as well as a blend of the two.

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

How do you write such great books so quickly?? We are in awe of your productivity.

Rob’s Answer: Talk about funny timing. I was not at all productive in the fall, though when they originally sent this response back to me I was doing pretty good.

Either way, my answer is the same. Write some each day. My goal is to write a minimum of 1500 words a day, 5 days a week. That’s essentially three full novels and some short stories in a year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to reach that goal in 2019.

What’s next for The World of Shijuren?

Rob’s Answer: Lots! I will finish the epic fantasy series The Kreisens this spring with None Call Me Mother. Then, around Thanksgiving, I plan to release another Edward mystery novel. My intention is to aim for one of those every year, with another novel set in the world in the spring.

  • I’m also planning to open the world up to other writers to start an anthology and maybe some shared world novels. It’s a big world, even if I manage to finish all of the 25 or so novels I currently have laid out in my head, I will have only scratched the surface. I love the world, and there’s so much yet to tell.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

We would love to connect online. We love to talk with readers and other writers. You can find us here

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

You should have asked what’s next for A. E. Lowan? We are currently working on the third book in The Books of Binding – Beneath a Stone Sky. It will be out in 2019. This one picks up about a month after Ties of Blood and Bone. We are also working on audiobook versions of Faerie Rising and Ties of Blood and Bone for 2019.

And add your creator biography.

A.E. Lowan is the pseudonym of three authors who collectively create the dark urban fantasy series, The Books of Binding.

Kristin Vinck

Raised as a Navy brat, Kristin Vinck began writing as a child on the West Coast, learning her love of words at her mother’s knee. Kristin won her first writing award for urban fantasy in Seattle at eight-years-old for a story about a city on a boat pulled by dinosaurs. In her teens, Kristin moved from learning at home from her satirist mother to formal writing education at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. Kristin studied medieval studies and creative writing at Truman State University and now writes from the beauty of the Missouri Ozarks.

Jennifer Vinck

Raised among musicians in Kansas City, Missouri, Jennifer Vinck came to writing from another direction—poetry and song. Poetry was her primary creative endeavor throughout childhood and when Jennifer was twelve-years-old she was asked to write the lyrics for a song used for All Species Day (a precursor of Earth Day) in Kansas City. She auditioned for the creative writing department at the Kansas City Middle School of the Arts and there discovered a new passion—speculative fiction. Jennifer met Kristin on the first day of school at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. They began developing epic and urban fantasy worlds and have been collaborating in fiction and in life ever since. Jennifer studied linguistics and classical languages and literatures at Truman State University and spent many years as a bookseller before moving to the Missouri Ozarks to concentrate on writing.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith found her passion for fantastical storytelling where so many young writers do – through the masterpieces of fantasy’s renowned matriarchs. As the pile of worlds inhabited by dragon-riders, wizards, and fair folk caused her bookshelves to plea for mercy, the constellation of worlds inside her waiting for their story to be told grew. With enough ideas to fill the state of Texas where she was raised, Jessica first took pencil to paper before she hit double digits. Jessica’s love of the complexities of the universe and the intricacies of the human mind led her into study in the sciences. Her passion for writing took her to the internet in search of others who kept whole worlds in their minds. Jessica has been active on many online writing communities over the years, but it was on a fantasy-specific site, Mythic Scribes, where Jessica met Kristin and Jennifer in 2013. Her worlds and theirs collided as a whirlwind of collaboration began. The Books of Binding is the first project that partnership has unleashed on the world.

Faerie Rising Cover
Faerie Rising Cover

Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding

Winter Mulcahy is the last wizard in the city of Seahaven, WA and all that stands between the fractious preternatural population and total chaos. Holding the city together by the skin of her teeth, the blood of her friends, and an addiction to stimulants that is slowly killing her, the young wizard is approached by a pair of sidhe lords who claim that her city is harboring a fugitive who has kidnapped a sidhe prince, and that they are on a mission to rescue the boy.

Winter must investigate this fugitive to get to the truth of the kidnapping, discover the cause of the surges of wild magic tearing open rifts between realms across her city, and navigate the deadly waters of preternatural politics before Seahaven both figuratively and literally rips itself apart.

Excerpt from Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding

The world shifted sideways. Winter braced herself against the wall with her one good hand, the chalk grinding against the concrete as she fought the initial wave of disorientation. Something was horribly wrong. Within the rift, power was building up, as if someone had just crimped a running hose.

And she was holding the nozzle.

Nine glyphs in the warding, each unique, complex, and time consuming. Each must be drawn with precision, or the whole seal would fail. Winter had never drawn glyphs so fast in her life, her hand frantically scraping the chalk against the wall in her desperate race against… against what? It felt like a tidal wave, rushing implacably toward her. Somehow, something was affecting the balance of power.

She spoke each glyph as she drew it, magic resonating in her voice with each syllable. Six glyphs to go. Its name spoken, the glyph would take on a glow, casting the hole in sharp relief, bringing out each line of exhaustion on Winter’s face.

Highlighting the growing cracks in the cement around the rift.

After the seal went up, the cement became irrelevant. It could be ground to dust, and the seal would hold. Before then, however… the seal needed a matrix, something solid to hold the lines she drew with the enspelled chalk. Before then, the seal was all too fragile.

When the surge hit, it would blow the rift wide open. There would be precious little left of Winter and probably the surrounding square acre or so.

Five glyphs.

She wasn’t going to make it. Winter’s shoulders were burning, her hand beginning to cramp and shake, her hurt wrist felt like it was on fire. The glow of the warding began to fade as her magic was drained by pain and panic and exhaustion. She needed more power. She did not have time to ground and pull power from the earth… leaving only one choice. “Karen!”

There is power to control in a name. She spoke the name with resonant Command, and suddenly the cougar was there, terrified eyes wide on the wizard beside her. Ruthlessly, she pushed aside the older woman’s flimsy natural protections and pulled what power there was into herself. It was wild, and tasted of dark places, pain-filled joy, and kittens warm in the den. This was not a wizard’s gift she used, but came of her mixed blood. The spell flared back to life, and Winter redoubled her efforts.

Four glyphs.

The hole began collapsing inward, little chunks of cement falling into the flame-wreathed darkness.

Three glyphs.

The chunks were getting larger, the cracks creeping closer to her fragile chalk lines.

Two glyphs.

The surge was now audible, a tsunami rushing toward them.

One glyph.

The ground beneath her knees was quivering with the building pressure.

The warding blazed just as the tidal wave of magic rammed it from the other side, the whole ravine shuddering from the impact, then the lettering settled into the cement, leaving the two women alone in the quiet night.

Ties of Blood and Bone Cover
Ties of Blood and Bone Cover

Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding

Winter Mulcahy’s life is getting better since her brush with death in October. She has a new family and they are helping her to grieve and rebuild her shattered life. She is learning to balance family, medicine, and holding the chaos of living among the preternaturals of Seahaven at bay. She meets a wizard, Alerich Ashimar, with the soul of a poet and the heart of a demon who is desperate to escape the life and choices that have been forced onto him. This man may hold the secret to the tragedies that have plagued House Mulcahy, but time is running out—for them both.

Alerich’s family is bound to a demon in a powerful geas set by his grandmother. Kill every Mulcahy by the upcoming winter solstice and her dead husband will be returned to her. Fail, and Alerich’s father, Magnus, will be forfeited to the demon. Magnus sends Alerich to collect Winter, the last of the Mulcahys, and bring her to the demon’s gate before the rapidly approaching deadline passes.

Alerich is horribly conflicted. He has been trying to mend his estranged relationship with his father, and he doesn’t want his father to die. But nor does he want to kill this beautiful, kind woman upon whom so many depend. When Alerich does not bring the girl at the appointed time, his father, feeling that Alerich has abandoned and betrayed him, strikes a terrible deal with the demon—something the demon has always wanted in exchange for the power to kill this last Mulcahy and his traitorous son.

Excerpt from Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding

“Thank you for coming, Alerich. I apologize for my outburst. I am under a fair bit of stress right now.”

Alerich’s brows knit together in confusion. Magnus Ashimar, apologizing for something? What was going on here? “No. It’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, but it was better to be gracious than to insist his father apologize to his friends. That would be too much. “Are you at liberty to tell me what’s bothering you?” It might not be an excuse for his poor behavior, but it would be nice to know the reason. It certainly had not been the first time Magnus had shown his temper at the table.

Magnus let out a breath. “I think I finally am.” He turned from the window to face Alerich and looked for a moment to be gathering his words. “I have been under a geas for the past twenty years, but I am nearly free. I summoned you and your sister here because I need your help.”

Alerich’s breath stilled. A geas? It was one of the most powerful of magical compulsions, second only to the soul compulsions practiced by demon lords like Arariel. His father was bound to perform a task, or forbidden from an action, under pain of terrible consequence. It was a rare wizard who could perform such magic, and though Alerich knew one who could do it, he did not want to think she would.

Not to her own son.

“What do you need me to do?” Alerich kept his tone neutral, careful. He had been forced to assist his father time and again and still carried the nightmares. Magnus was a sorcerer of blood and pain, servant to the Demon Lord Arariel. Where he went, painful, bloody death followed.

Magnus looked back toward the barn. “You know that your grandfather Adrien left your grandmother for a younger woman. Your grandmother remembers their marriage a bit differently than I do. She remembers the love of her life. I remember a miserable, disengaged man who hated being an Ashimar and felt trapped in every aspect of his existence. The minute—the second—an opportunity to leave presented itself, he ran away and left me holding the sorcerous bag.” Magnus sighed. “Left me with Arariel.” He turned back to Alerich. “They killed him for his trouble.”

Alerich’s eyes widened slightly. “Who killed him?”

“The Mulcahys.”

Alerich shook his head. “The Mulcahys? I thought their line was extinct. Isn’t that what House Daly is saying in their petition to be elevated to Great House—that the Mulcahy line is extinct and would drop the Council to ninety-eight houses?”

“They aren’t quite extinct, yet, but they have not sat in their seat on the Council in years. They were pariahs who muddied their Bloodline by breeding with anything that crossed their path, including mortals and therian.” Magnus looked disgusted. “There is a rumor of one wizard girl in a cadet branch of their line being allowed to give up her magic and take therian form for the purposes of breeding with a therian bear.”

Alerich thought it sounded rather romantic, actually, but that was an opinion he would not be sharing with his father. “But why did they kill Grandfather?”

Magnus gave a small shrug, emotions chasing each other in the depths of his eyes. “I never really knew, though I suspect your grandmother does. He fell in love with a much younger woman—Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Mulcahy at the time, himself. He left your grandmother within hours.”

Alerich’s brows rose. The Mulcahy was head of House Mulcahy, just as his father was the Ashimar, and someday he would be—if he survived Celia, of course.

Magnus’s jaw tightened. “The girl, Gwendolyn Mulcahy, became pregnant but died within a few days of our hearing the news. My father was murdered soon after. They tried to cover it up, of course, but I think they decided he, a sorcerer, was responsible for her death. They seemed to believe if he was capable of trafficking with demons he was capable of killing the girl he adored.” Rage flashed in his eyes. “Cowards.”

Alerich frowned in thought. Grandmother knew? “Grandmother did this to you?”

Magnus met Alerich’s gaze and nodded once.

“Why?”

Magnus looked up at the ceiling and then back down. “She bid me… ‘bid me’ sounds so damn tame, doesn’t it? She forced me to wipe the family out. Every. Single. One. I have until winter solstice—three more days—to finish my task. If I fail, Arariel gets my soul.”

‘They aren’t quite extinct, yet…’ Alerich closed his eyes for a moment and suppressed a heavy sigh. They had driven this Great House to the brink of extinction to avenge an Ashimar death—how very Ashimar of them. There were days when he really wondered why he was wasting his time trying to reconcile with his father at all. Not that his grandmother wasn’t just as culpable. Alerich knew what the look in his father’s eyes was, now. It was fear. How could Grandmother offer her own son to the demon for this madness? Wait… That thought brought him up short. “How was she able to negotiate with Arariel? She’s not a sorcerer.”

“I don’t know. All I know is she thinks that if I succeed, Arariel can bring my father back from the dead.”

“It can’t do that… can it?”

Magnus’s mouth twisted in annoyance. “Alerich, if you spent half the time you spend reading Shakespeare on your magical studies, you would know the answer to that question is, ‘Of course not.’ It’s playing on your grandmother’s hopes and fears, though she refuses to listen to me on the matter.” He shook his head. “And if you paid attention to me more often, you would know that Arariel is unique, even among its own kind. It’s ancient beyond the telling and I’m sure keeping secrets from us. It’s not a normal demon lord, if such a thing exists.”

Alerich forced himself to not look back toward the dining room. He had his own reasons to hate and fear Arariel, and to think too hard about it could draw it out. He looked at his father, instead. The man who had raged at him, beaten him, and belittled him all his life. A sorcerer. A murderer.

How could he let the demon eat him?

Magnus looked out to the barn again. “I need your help, Alerich. There is one last Mulcahy and I need your help to kill her. Just one more and this is finally over. I am out from beneath your grandmother’s control.”

Alerich’s shoulders sagged and he nodded. He did not want to be part of this—any of this—but he could not let his father die. If this was truly the last, then maybe… maybe nothing. Arariel would still be there, demanding sacrifices. Demanding deaths. But maybe this one death would bring his father a species of peace. “What do you need from me?”


Thanks to A.E. Lowan 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: A.M. Freeman

Greetings all

This week’s interview is A.M. Freeman, a really sharp cookie who likes to dress up like a cow every once in a while. Don’t let that fool you, she’s udderly brilliant.

Interview: A.M. Freeman

What is your quest?

To share the stories that build up in my head and preserve my sanity. (or whats left of it)

What is your favorite color?

My color is green. Green is the color of growth. I like to take a spark and work and mold it until it is a fire that others can be warmed by and enjoy. I’ve found my way to do that is to list the ideas from the spark, do research to get more ideas, then organize them. I think over the setting, the people, the conflicts, what motivations goals there are. I group them into rough scenes, like making a skeleton. I keep molding, filling out and adding flesh to the scenes, until the story and actions are clear. Then I form it, adding the skin, hair, eyes, the details so that everyone else can see and understand. Then I beat it over and over and over again, until the shape and textures are just right. At last my Golem is complete! And I set it out on the masses! Muhahaha!!!

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

Sloooooow. I like to say I can’t read or write, I’m just good at telling stories. In truth, I couldn’t read until I was 10. That hasn’t stopped me much, just provided some hilarious spelling mix-ups. I’m not too slow at writing, just reading. There was also the time I lost ALL the editing on a novel I was trying to write. I’m talking months spent going over the entire 100 pages. Then, the very day I finish the edits, the file goes corrupt. This was before I started constantly saving my projects in multiple places. So the last saved version of the story I had was before I started editing. So I lost all that work, plus about ten pages off the end. That was cripplingly painful. But after taking a break I got back to it and pushed on.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

It bursts forth characters. They like to pop into myself. I feel like I can translate emotions pretty well, giving others a chance to feel them. The most emotional story I’ve written is probably my most well known (relatively speaking since I’ve only got short stories out so far) I’m not even sure how much credit I can take for that story. It was a very strange and inspired story that came to me late one night when I was 15. But my technique was strong enough to convey it, so I’ll take that. It was my first publication, at the age of 18. Came out in a little (and by little I mean epic) anthology called Forbidden Thoughts. Look it up!

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggy! That sass tho….
  • Favorite Sports Team? Pink Panthers! I was the star goalie back in my glory days.
  • Cake or Pie? Piecaken It’s a pie baked into a cake.
  • Lime or Lemon? Limon
  • Favorite Chip Dip? The tasty kind, just nothing too spicy.
  • Wet or Dry? Depends on the weather
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Ellie Lawrence!!! We grew up in the same neighborhood. She was on season 9 of the voice. Has a real cool voice and style, and has an EP out somewhere called “If you Knew Me”
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Underaged!
  • Favorite Superhero? Wonder Woman
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? …. I don’t know any.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Anything that isn’t winter! I’m  Florida born, and my skinny body can’t handle the cold.
  • Favorite Pet? My mustang! She’s a pretty buckskin. Got her at 10 months old, from the wild and untouched by humans, and trained her myself. She’s about 5 now. We like to ride around the pasture bareback.
  • Best Game Ever? Ugh! You just made me lose it!
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee, even through it makes me crazy sometimes.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Both, at the same time, rolled into a big ball of awesome, with cool technology and fantastic people/creatures.

What question(s) would you like to ask me? Have you ever seen a chicken run around without it’s head? (I have, it’s pretty funny, almost cartoonish)

Rob’s Answer: Nope. For a guy who’s mostly a Kansas boy, I haven’t spent much time on farms. My headless chickens have all involved BBQ sauce, sesame oil, or and/or rosemary.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

  • LibertyCon Spring of 2019. I’ll be legal to drink then! So things should get interesting. (Rob’s Note: The Four Horsemen Universe party at LC is going to get lit! And her too!)

 

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

You should have asked how Muse is today. My imaginary cat gets very cranky when people don’t give him attention. (Rob’s Note: Cats don’t have to be imaginary to get cranky without attention. My office cat has been biting me as I type this entry. Like now! Ouch!)


Thanks to A.M. 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: R.J. Ladon

I’m way behind in doing interviews. Blame it on #FourHorsetober and the dozens I did during the month.

But it’s time to get back on the horse. This week, R.J. Ladon is joining me. She, too, is part of the 4HU, but I couldn’t squeeze her interview in during the month. My apologies to her for the delay.

Interview: RJ Ladon

What is your quest?

To cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring! When I was young (8-9ish) Gary Gygax purchased our family Arabian horse ranch. He gave my siblings and I, “Dungeons and Dragons” books and modules. He even played a short game with us noobs so we could understand what D&D was all about. I learned from him that some of the most interesting and entertaining stories, creatures, and environments come from your mind. Years later, I learned who that Gygax fellow was, and how important he was to my journey, er quest.

What is your favorite color?

Yellow, no blue. You know the adage “write what you know”? Well, I had to sacrifice many children to my Nerf Guns to make the “foam dart scene” come to life. I try to learn the “how” of the things I write about. The hands-on experiences of the SCA and Rendezvous groups have been excellent. Write what you know–if you don’t know–go learn, go experience. (Rob’s Note: I really appreciate how my SCA experience helps me add touches to my writing, especially with medieval materials and food).

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

Would that paint brush be male or female? Where do I start. My biggest challenge was, and to some extent still is–finding time. The only way for me to get over this copout was to schedule time into my busy day. In effect treat writing like a job–you have to do this or you won’t get paid.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’ve been told my scenes are easy to read and understand. Like watching a movie inside my brain. Not sure that is a success or not but it makes me happy.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet?   Sweetums
  • Crunchy or Creamy? sure
  • Favorite Sports Team? I don’t have time for sports.
  • Cake or Pie? Cake
  • Lime or Lemon?  Why not both
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Hot salsa
  • Wet or Dry?  TMI
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Ofhttps://www.tartanic.net/ Drums, Bagpipes and Belly Dancers – what else do you need?
  • Whisky or Whiskey?  Not without Tango and Foxtrot
  • Favorite Superhero? The Tick
  • Steak Temperature? How about some chicken?
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Fantasy Island – no M*A*S*H
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Yes please. All seasons have their merits.
  • Favorite Pet?  Too many to choose from–someone would get jealous.
  • Best Game Ever? Blood of Heroes!!!! (Rob’s Note: Somewhere, my friend Pavel is smiling at this response. Then he’s punching an angel and saying, “The level of violence in this heaven is too low).
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Wait…is there a difference?

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

I understand you are a wealth of knowledge of the Myth and Culture of Renaissance and Medieval time periods. Where did you learn this information? School? Books? Other? Please explain.

Rob’s Answer: Yes to all of it. I loved Bullfinch’s Mythology as a kid and prowled through every Arthur thing I could find. At around 10 I read Tolkien, then stumbled on Susan Cooper’s The Tide Is Rising series. Somewhere along the way I realized that reading Beowulf and epic poetry out loud was magical and amazing.

So when I had the choice of what to study in grad school, I chose Anglo-Saxon England. Not only was wallowing in Beowulf, the Wanderer, Anglo-Saxon riddles, and all the rest fun, but there’s good solid historical evidence hidden in them. That meant reading more and more myth and legend to find small nuggets of cultural gold. I still do that.

And yes, that helps me build worlds, both because it gives me extra tools and because it’s so much fun. Shijuren is a deep, rich world that I’ve barely started to show to all my readers.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

  • Liberty Con 2019– May 31st to June 2nd at the Read House in Chattanooga Tennessee.

Do you have a creator biography?

My name is RJ Ladon. I’m a Design Engineer by trade. I’m also an author. I have contributed one Military Science Fiction story to the best-selling Science Fiction Anthology ‘Tales from the Lyons Den: Stories from the Four Horsemen Universe’, and two horror stories to ‘Sha’Daa Toys’. Currently, I’m writing ‘Bloodstone’ a Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel. ‘Bloodstone’ will be the first in a series, and released in early 2019.

I’m a native of Wisconsin, where I still live today, with my husband, daughter, two adult sons, and a menagerie of animals. I also maintain a vast garden, and a fruit and nut orchard.


Thanks to RJ 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: J.R. Handley

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

Interview: J.R. Handley

What is your quest?

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

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

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

And where can we find you?

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Tim C. Taylor

Greetings all

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

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

What is your quest?

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite color?

Bilious orc green.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

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

Interview: Benjamin Smith

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

Interview: Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith

What is your quest?

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

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

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

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

And where can we find you?

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Mark Wandrey

Greetings all

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

Interview Questions
Mark Wandrey
Mark Wandrey

What is your quest?

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Jon Osborne

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

Interview: Jon Osborne
Jon Osborne
Jon Osborne

What is your quest?

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

DragonCon 2018 is the last con for a bit.

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Charity Ayres

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

Interview: Charity Ayres
Charity Ayres
Charity Ayres

What is your quest?

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paintbrush?

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

So, I think the winner is the Red IPA.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

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

And where can we find you?

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Kevin Ikenberry

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

Interview: Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry

What is your quest?

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

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

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

And where can we find you?

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell