Tag Archives: David Farland

Interview: Justin Watson

Greetings all

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

Interview: Justin Watson
Justin Watson
Justin Watson

What is your quest?

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

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

What is your favorite color?

Green, Black and Red remain tied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

Marvel or DC?

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

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

Star Wars Legends EU or Sequel Movie Canon?

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

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

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

Daredevil or Agents of Shield?

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? (

And where can we find you?

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: 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