Tag Archives: Kevin Ikenberry

Interview: Quincy J. Allen

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

This week’s interview comes from Quincy J. Allen, a fantastic author who’s already made a name for himself though I think he’s still a rising star.  His story is a Fistful of Silver, set in his Guardians of Pelinon universe, and it’s something as if Raymond Chandler wrote Sparhawk instead of David Eddings. Needless to say, I loved it.

Interview: QJ Allen
QJ Allen
QJ Allen

Why are you here?

  • What are your influences?
    Jullian May, Robert Heinlein, Roger Zelazny, Keith Laumer, Jack Chalker, Kenneth C. Flint, Poul Anderson, Steven Brust
  • Who are some favorite other creators?
    Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), Frank Herbert (Dune), Olaf Stapledon (Last and First Men), Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek), Jon Favreau (EVERYTHING)
  • What made you a creator in the first place?
    Seriously, though, I wrote my first fiction story in the 3rd or 4th grade. I’ve always written. Writing got me through primary, secondary, Bachelors, and Masters education. It was always there in every professional job I ever had. And when I got RIFed in 2009, it made more sense to just try and be a professional writer.
  • Why did you choose to create what you create?
    As a boy, I read the Jupiter Jones mysteries and loved them. A few years later, my older brother handed me his copy of “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame,” and I was hooked. There was no going back, and I devoured science fiction and sci-fi crossed with others from there on out. I read fantasy, but my staple was science fiction. When I discovered Julian May’s “The Many Colored Land” series, which is pure cross genre between sci-fi and fantasy, I truly fell in love. So, I’ve written what I love as much as possible.
  • What would someday like to create.
    The entire Blood War Chronicles series of six books is a setup so that I can write Skeeter’s story as a 30-year-old airship privateer captain gunslinger sorceress engineer. So, that will be a thing. I also plan on writing a three-book series set in that same universe that connects the three great fires of the 19th century via a Jesuit witch/demon hunter. I’ll be writing a powered armor series as well as a new fantasy series involving druids. But I have to get my current commitments behind me, and that’s no mean feat.
Blood War Cover
Blood War Cover

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

  • Where do you work? Home? Coffee Shop?
    I take my laptop everywhere when I travel with my wife. She travels for her job, so I sometimes get to tag along for free trips. She has mad hotel and airline points. My actual workspace, however, is in our two story shop in the back yard. It triples as her sewing room, my actual work shop for carpentry, repairs, leather working, and whatnot, as well as a three-monitor workstation where I used to also run a small book design and author collateral marketing business. I spend most of my waking time out in a shop so I can open the doors in the summer and use the kerosene heater in the winter.
  • Do you listen to music? If so, give some examples.
    I’ve never been able to work without music. It drove my old man crazy when I was a kid, but that part wasn’t negotiable. The first thing I do when I get into the shop is fire up Pandora. As to my music tastes, they’re more expansive than anyone I’ve ever met, and they can be quite eclectic. On any give day, you can hear Pentatonix, Joe Bonamassa, The Hu (Mongolian death metal), Steely Dan, Steam Powered Giraffe, Bach, Mozart, Five Finger Death Punch, electronica, daft punk, techno, Celtic—pretty much everything except modern country twang and most rap. Those two are a hard no, Bob.
  • What other things exist in your productive environment?
    Cigars and my tobacco pipe. I work better with them. Oh, and COFFEE. Always coffee in the morning. And whenever I can manage it, fresh air and the sound of birds. Our house is surrounded by trees here in North Carolina. I come from Colorado, where there aren’t many trees until you get to the mountains. Here, it’s pretty much a friggin bird sanctuary, and I love it. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Carolinas.
  • What things have you tried that haven’t worked?
    Romance writing, for one. I don’t have a knack for literary fiction either. That stuff bores the shit out of me. I’ve written variations on just about all of the genres, however. Science fiction, mystery, noir, fantasy, steampunk, horror, speculative… most of my stories mix at least two of those.
Enforcer Cover
Enforcer Cover

What are your superpowers?

  • What kinds of things do you like in your creations?
    I’ve been told (and I agree) that I do three things fairly well. Fight scenes, dialogue, and descriptions. I’ve also been honing my skills with world building, and I think I’ve finally gotten pretty good at that. If I had to pick one, though, it would probably be hand-to-hand fight scenes. I used to train in martial arts pretty heavily, even with a marine and a Green Beret. I can see a fight in my head, and that seems to translate pretty well to the written word. That’s the rumor, at least.
  • What are specific techniques you do well?
    I’ve done it on three separate instances, and in all of them, the process was smooth and the output worth the effort. I’ve gotten pretty good at outlining as a result of those projects, although my outlines become a mix of bullet points and dialogue. I’ve also gotten pretty good at popping up prose with a more active voice. There are hiccups from time to time, but I’ve mostly broken myself of the passive voice devil.
  • What are some favorite successes you’ve achieved, especially things you had to struggle to overcome?
    One certainly was passive voice. Also, as a result of working with Marc Edelheit, I’ve gotten much better at flowing from one scene into the next. Looking back, I think there were pieces of a story that I skipped over. The result wasn’t jarring, per se, but what I’m doing now is much smoother as one reads through my prose. Also, I think I’ve gotten at least competent as capturing a single, targeted emotion that I want the reader to experience by the end of a story. Most of the time, especially in my short fiction, I strive to make the reader “feel” something very specific. Be it honor or sacrifice or duty or whatever, I’ve learned to write entire stories so that most of the prose leads to that experience.
Reclaiming Honor Cover
Reclaiming Honor Cover

What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

  • What are some of the challenges you have faced that frustrated you?
    The first is sticking with a writing career when sales are lackluster or even worse. A perfect example is the Blood War Chronicles. They’re good books, with good reviews, but they haven’t created the revenue stream I’d hoped for. In fact, I’ve been at this game for ten—make that eleven—years now, and I can’t say that I earn a living with my writing. I think that’s the hardest part for most writers: sticking with this game even when you’re not selling. I often joke with a writer friend of mine, Aaron Ritchey, about how we’re “living the dream.” But that dream is the joke. We keep writing, we keep not selling the way we would like, and yet we keep writing. I think the other is that I’m really proud of at least a few short stories (Family Heirloom, Salting Dogwood, Jimmy Krinklepot and the White Rebels of Hayberry, and a few others, that I think are exceptional short stories, but they’ve never really been acknowledged for what I “think” they are. Granted, I have a bias, but I believe those stories are truly noteworthy.
  • Do you have any creative failures which taught you something? What were those lessons?
    From a monetary perspective, I think you could call everything I ever wrote in the first nine years of my career (except one story I wrote for Larry Correia’s MHI franchise) as failures. None of them came close to providing an ROI on the time I’ve invested in them. However, that’s hasn’t slowed me down. And that’s the lesson, one I think most writers could learn from. If you keep going and keep getting better, eventually you’re bound to gain momentum. My work in recent years with Marc Edelheit, Kevin Ikenberry, and CKP are a testament to that. Last year and this year are seeing actual returns on my investment of time. The trick is to keep going and always hone your craft.
  • How do you overcome normal slow points like writer’s block?
    I take Eric Flint’s advice. There is no writer’s block. You keep writing, because it’s your job. Either you are a writer and you write, or you’re a hobbyist who doesn’t want to earn a living at this mad career choice.
  • Which mistake would you try to keep other creators from making?
    I’ve said this at cons and in panels dozens of times: “Don’t let the nay-sayers win.” I grew up hearing the phrase, “What? You want to be a starving artist the rest of your life.” As a young man, I listened to this “advice.” If I had started in earnest at 20 what I ended up starting at 43, I’d already be earning a living at this game. It just takes time and determination, so long as you keep getting better. So, to any writer who hears/reads this, when someone questions your desire to become a writer, just tell them to fuck off. Keep going, make sure your bills are paid, keep your bills low, and DON’T QUIT.
  • If you could go back and tell yourself anything about writing, what would it be?
    See above. That’s the best advice anyone in this crazy game could receive. Writers have enough doubt and imposter syndrome without getting it from outside sources. Find ways to kick the nay-sayers to the curb.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal, of course. Oh, and Sam the Eagle.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Ian Moore and Joe Bonamassa.
  • Favorite Superhero? Both the Punisher and Deadpool in a perfect tie.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Monty Python
  • Favorite Weird Color? Teal
  • Favorite Sports Team? Sidney Swans
  • Best Game Ever? Halo, OF COURSE. That and Mass Effect.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? I fucking HATE snow and delight when it dies.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? My 2016 Moto Guzzi Audace. Vicki got that for me for my birthday last year. Nothing else compares.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Did they make Roy Batty into a cartoon? If so, him. If not, I guess I’d have to say the dog Marc Antony in the old Warner Brother’s cartoon “Feed the Kitty.” Ask Vicki, she’ll tell you.
  • Your Wrestler Name? Wrath
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? The Smash. A single fist to the crown of someone’s skull. REALLY hard.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? Convincing Vicki that we need an AR-10 and a Marlin .357 lever action rifle in the house.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? By eliminating deceit everywhere.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? 11:59:50 pm on 12/31/1989 — the nightmare was over.
  • Favorite Historical Period? The Renaissance and dawn of looking to the stars as stars, not “the Heavens.”
  • Most Interesting Person In History? The alien that gave humans blue eyes.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium rare… or I’ll cut you.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Really good 7-layer dip.
  • Favorite Cereal? As a kid, Honeycomb. Now, Honey Bunches of Oats topped with sliced peaches rather than milk.
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Pad Thai made by Vicki’s son, and it was REALLY good. We’re all cooks around here.
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? Arnold Palmer, Costco flavored seltzer, Tennesee Mules, Margaritas, and COFFEE, lots of COFFEE.
  • Pachy
    Pachy

    Do You Have Pets? He was Vicki’s dog before I moved in, but he’s my dog too, and he’s the best hound I’ve ever known.

  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Rutger Hauer when he was younger and not dead?
  • What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? Favorite food(s), nemesis, favorite vice, Commandments broken or Deadly Sins enjoyed.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

  • https://www.amazon.com/Quincy-J-Allen/e/B009C9C5SA
  • http://www.quincyallen.com/
  • Reclaiming Honor” with Marc Edelheit and “Enforcer” with Kevin Ikenberry.
  • Upcoming Projects: “Forging Destiny” – Book 2 of The Way of Legend with Marc Edelheit, “Scourge” – Book 2 of Hr’ent’s tale with Kevin Ikenberry, “Blood World” – Book 4 of The Blood War Chronicles, a Vorwhol novel for Kevin Steverson in his Salvage universe, and a novelization of the short story “Cradle and All” in Jamie Ibson’s universe.

And where can we find you?

  • ConCarolina
  • SAGA conference
  • LibertyCon
  • DragonCon

Do you have a creator biography?

National Bestselling Author Quincy J. Allen is a cross-genre author with a growing number of published novels under his belt. His media tie-in novel Colt the Outlander: Shadow of Ruin was a Scribe Award finalist in 2019, and his noir novel Chemical Burn was a Colorado Gold Award finalist in 2010.

Blood Oath, book 3 of his Blood War Chronicles series, debuted in February of 2019, and he is working on the fourth book in that six-book fantasy steampunk series, entitled Blood World, due out in 2020.

He co-authored the fantasy novel Reclaiming Honor with Marc Alan Edelheit in their Way of Legend series, released in October of 2019, and he is currently working on book 2 of that series. In November of 2019, he and Kevin Ikenberry published the novel Enforcer, which is set in the Four Horsemen Universe and is part of Ikenberry’s Peacemaker series. He is currently working on a novel for Kevin Steverson’s Salvage Title universe based upon the short story “Vorwhol Dishonor.”

His short story publications are numerous, including a pro sale appearing in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter: Files from Baen, published in October of 2017 entitled “Sons of the Father,” as well as several pro-sale novelettes appearing in Chris Kennedy Publishing’s mil-sci-fi anthologies in and out of the Four Horsemen Universe. He also has two short story collections in his Out Through the Attic series, and he continues to add to his short-story credits with each passing year.

He works out of his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and hopes to one day be a New York Times bestselling author.

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

You should have asked if I only work alone or do I have a support  mechanism? What keeps me going?

Then I’d answer that Vicki is my anchor and more supportive of my writing career than anyone else in my entire life.


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: 2019 in Review

Greetings all

2019 was my best year ever. Thanks to all the readers who supported my writing throughout the year. It couldn’t have happened without you.

Things I published in 2019:

I’m incredibly pleased at the success of these stories. Four of those, including all 3 Phases of Mars anthologies and The Feeding of Sorrows, earned at least one orange tag.

An orange tag on Amazon signifies it’s a bestseller. Now I can add “Amazon Bestselling Author” to my bio. That’s pretty darn awesome.

I’m also pleased that I still love all six of these tales. I am never pleased with the quality of writing in any of my past stories, because with each new one I get better. However, the tales are all good. I know this because I still cry at the end of each one.

If I don’t get emotional reading my stuff, I can’t expect you to do so either. I still get emotional on all of them.

The biggest negative of 2019 is that I didn’t get None Call Me Mother published. I had even hoped to make progress on Edward 4, but that was always only a faint hope.

Despite that, I’m not displeased with my writing output. I’m up to 93k on None Call Me Mother, so it’s getting close. I chose to write The Feeding of Sorrows instead and it was a great decision.

I also chose to follow Bill Fawcett’s advice. He said to me at LibertyCon in 2018 that I should write more short stories. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t pay attention to him. I may yet be an idiot, but not about this.

My goal is two or three novels a year and four or more short stories. I came really close if I count the words I actually wrote in 2019. I wrote about 75k of The Feeding of Sorrows and about 20k towards its sequel. I wrote about 80k in None Call Me Mother in 2019. I also worked on a couple of special projects I’ll announce when I post my look ahead to 2020. All told, I submitted six short stories (one yet to come), and wrote about 175k of long fiction. 230k or so of fiction is not shabby.

I did this despite not taking care of myself. Following Pennsic, I spent 5-6 weeks in a funk. This was driven initially by fatigue, because I traveled a ton this past summer. Then my brain weasels got involved, chastising me for not being productive, and that spiraled down.

Fortunately, I recovered in time to complete all of the items I had promised to various editors. Had I paid attention to myself, though, I believe I would have finished None Call Me Mother. Ah, well.

I have adjustments planned for 2020. One challenge of being self-employed is that I have to play mental games with myself to keep me from doing stupid stuff, like losing those 5-6 weeks.

I went to a number of fantastic events in 2019. This was my first year as a vendor on my own at Gulf Wars. Drix and I also expanded our booth at Pennsic, and this is exciting. LibertyCon was wonderful and emotional. FantaSci went great, not great for a first time con, but great. So great I’m choosing it over Gulf Wars and Planet Comicon in 2020.

I did all these things while also getting the opportunity to serve as Their Majesty Calontir’s herald in the first half of the year. I love doing that job. Thanks to Donnghal and Catalina for giving me that opportunity. And yes, you totally got me.

My sweetie and I did a bunch of work to the house. We replaced around 1000 sq. ft. of carpet with bamboo. I love this stuff. Nice on my feet and pretty. We also started a new additional closet in the master suite, which had a ton of useless inefficient space.

The closest thing to a true negative are my tracked items, I spun my wheels a bit. I gained a little weight, though I’ve made it through most of the holidays without gaining much extra. My tracked word count, which includes only those things I actually released to the editor or on my blog, would have exceeded my goal had I managed to get None Call Me Mother to my editor, but of course will fall short in its actual number.

My wiki suffered a hacking attack in the spring. I have recovered most of the lost things, but I plan on redoing most entries. I learned a ton working on the 4HU wiki for nearly a year that I intend on incorporating. I’ll talk about that in my 2020 post.

These are my end results. I’ll work on improving them all in 2020.

Today’s Weight: 395.2

Updated Word Count: 146,912

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

I have so many people to thank. I’m going to take a crack at it, but will undoubtedly forget some people. But here’s what I can think of right now with a cat demanding petsies.

Mom, sweetie, and proto-incipient step-daughter come first. Living with a writer ain’t easy.

Chris Kennedy gave me a bunch of opportunities. I can’t thank him enough. James L. Young let me write in all 3 Phases of Mars, and those are good stories. Jamie Ibson let me break his soul in We Dare. Mark Wandrey kept encouraging me, especially his help in the 4HU. Kevin Ikenberry helped a ton with the Peacemaker aspects of my 4HU stuff. Frankly, let’s just thank all of the crew that Chris has gathered about him. They’re all making me better.

Kellie Hultgren did a great job editing my personal stuff and teaching me how to become a better writer. The staff at Brewbakers put up with me, and I rewarded them with tuckering it in “Silent Knight.”

Drix helped me grow my SCA sales presence. Tons of people encouraged me. One even allowed me to stay at her family’s lake house for a week of writing and solitude. I need to schedule this sort of thing once or twice a year.

Despite not getting None Call Me Mother out and spinning my wheels a bit, 2019 was definitely my best year so far. And it’s not close.

I’m growing leaps and bounds as a writer. My most recent project has helped me turn things I knew instinctively into things I understand. This is already showing up in None Call Me Mother and in “Silent Knight,” not to mention my earlier growth in 2019.

2019 was my best year.

2020 will be better. Lot’s better. We’re building something here and I will tell you all about what’s coming in a few days.

For now, though. Thanks to all of you. I really appreciate it.

Happy New Year!

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works
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Interview: Kevin Ikenberry

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

Interview: Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry
Kevin Ikenberry

What is your quest?

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

Lightning Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

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

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

And where can we find you?

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

Do you have a creator biography?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: 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

Rob’s Update: Home Sweet Home

Week 12 of 2018

Greetings all

I’m back and mostly recovered from Gulf Wars. From a professional point of view, it was a productive time. I got lots written. I’ve finally broken the 50k barrier in Brief Is My Flame while tossing some towards None Call Me Mother.

I also sold enough to pay the gas and site fee. With this success, I made some new plans to expand my merchanting by getting my own booth at Gulf. I’m excited as it’s another step forward for me.

However, I did not have as much fun as I have had at such events before. These two things are not unrelated.

Basically, I came home from fairly long days and simply didn’t have as much energy as I wished to participate in the fun. Mostly, this was because I was so tired of talking to people that I needed to retreat.

Next year I’ll have my own spot, which will hopefully make things go a little smoother since I won’t be juggling two different camps. I won’t be on the corner in Calontir, but frankly, when I got home after working I wasn’t able to do the job of welcoming people to Calontir properly anyway. I’ll miss that spot, which I’ve occupied for the past fifteen years or so, but it’s time to move on.

I’d been contemplating expanding my wares to include stuff on consignment, other books, CDs, stuff we’ll make when we get a shop, and things that Giulia wants to make. By July I hope to have enough to sell to reasonably fill the front of my pavilion.

Over the past few years, Master Andrixos, the greatest trim monger I know and the owner of Calontir Trim, has greatly helped me. He’s taught me much of what’s involved in being a merchant and he’s done me any number of favors. I can’t thank him enough for his help.

But it’s time for me to have my own home at most events.

Current Playlist Song

Humorously, as I talk about taking the next leap into the wine-dark sea, the current song is Styx’s “Come Sail Away.”

Quote of the Week

Today’s quote is how my life seems as my professional life adapts alongside the personal one. I see a great future, but I have to muddle my way through the present.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

– Bilbo Baggins, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

News and Works in Progress

  • TAV (1,144)
  • AFS (2,681)
  • Brief Is My Flame (50,597)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Nothing new but check the blog on Tuesday as I’ll be adding a recurring feature.

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s spotlight is on Kevin Ikenberry, who just released a new novel in the Four Horsemen Universe. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Honor-Threat-Revelations-Cycle-Book-ebook/dp/B07BFWWL9W/

Today’s Weight: 387.8

Updated Word Count: 19,046

Shijuren Wiki: 741 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 195 entries

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

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

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

Rob’s Update: Near Tannhauser Gate

Weeks of 1-14 October

Greetings all. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and there’s some good news to report. Though I don’t have news on a house, we’ve managed to carve out enough space for me to have a cubicle I can work in from home. I haven’t had such a thing in months.

I’ve been working on a series of small things, including some short stories in Shijuren. Also, I’ve made major progress on the website upgrade. I expect that to go live soon.

That hasn’t left much time for Brief Is My Flame, but there have been bits and pieces here and there. Scenes, mostly, or snippets of conversation. I don’t actually know how many words, because they’re in a variety of places right now, but when I get back I’ll piece them together.

Get back? Where is Rob going?

Well, let me tell you. My mom wanted to see relatives in North Carolina, so we scheduled a trip in conjunction with cons and events. We leave tomorrow and wind our way to Huntsville, AL where I’ll be at Constellation.

Then, we see a variety of relatives as we make our way across eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. On Wednesday of next week, I’ll drop my mom off with relatives and end up in Boonville, where I’ll be selling books at War of the Wings. This will be a good chance for me to get my name out to a part of the SCA I’ve not spent much time at.

Following that, we spend more time with relatives concluded by attending HonorCon in Raleigh.

Whew. I’m gonna be tired in early November, I tell you what. But I’m really excited.

Quote of the Week

I don’t know when I’ll get to see it, but I’m really excited about Blade Runner 2049. So, there seems only one quote that’s appropriate.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner

News and Works in Progress

  • Short stories
  • Brief Is My Flame

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Nothing new to add, but more will be coming during the trip.

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

My story in For a Few Credits More involves a Peacemaker, but Peacemakers in the Four Horsemen Universe have their noses in all sorts of places. Kevin Ikenberry, who assisted me to make sure we were consistent, put out a full length Peacemaker novel. Here’s his author page on Amazon for the rest of his stuff: https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-Ikenberry/e/B00ASFBXT4/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1.

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

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

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