Tag Archives: Michael Stackpole

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: James L. Young

I found James L. Young because he writes an alternate history of World War II, specifically focusing on naval combat. It’s stuch a great universe, I keep pestering him to find me a spot to write in it. He ignored me, though, deciding instead to focus on finish his dissertation. What the heck was he thinking? Anyway, he’s a sharp cookie who’s a great writer.

Interview: James L. Young
James L. Young Portrait
James L. Young Portrait

What is your quest?

So what got me started on this journey was to tell the best stories possible.  I’ve always been a fan of mashups, and I’d say my style is a mix of Jack McKinney (pseudonym for the authors who did the Robotech novels), Richard Austin (pseudonym for the Guardians-series), Don Pendleton, and Tom Clancy, with a touch of Michael Stackpole.  I like to have gritty stories where the good guys have a touch of black hat and the villains are sympathetic.

Aries Red Sky Cover
Aries Red Sky Cover

What is your favorite color?

“I see a red door and I want to paint it…” Wait, sorry, that reference might be kind of dated (although there is a good recent cover out there).  Black, black is my favorite color.  As for small things I like in my creation, I usually try to put a small “gut punch” of an event that will resonate with the reader.

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

Creative failures—Well, my first full novel got deleted by my sister and the only hard copy lost by one of my best friends.  However, in retrospect, that was for the best, as it finally got me to (mostly) let go of trying to write the next Red Storm Rising. (Rob’s Note: I wouldn’t mind a good next Red Storm Rising. I love that book.)

Other things I’ve learned (of which some may have differing opinions):  Print advertisement is largely dead for indies.  You can get vastly more bang for your $500 than running a ½ page ad in a magazine, even if it’s genre / platform specific.

Acts of War Cover
Acts of War Cover

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I would say a willingness to research is one personal power.  This probably seems like a “Duh” coming from someone with a history doctorate, but I am regularly stunned by the number of authors who just won’t go through the trouble of even doing a basic Wiki scan.  Not that Wikipedia is an absolute resource, but the citations are often solid and peer-reviewed.

(Rob’s Note: This is one of the most important comments I’ve seen so far in these interviews. Research is important and Wikipedia has worked pretty hard to make their content pretty reliable. It’s a great starting point.)

The second power is that, within reason, I’ll roll the dice on just about any weird request or marketing idea.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet?   My high school nickname was Animal, so…
  • Crunchy or Creamy?  Crunchy
  • Favorite Sports Team?  As annoyed as they make me on a regular basis, the Chiefs.
  • Cake or Pie?  Pie
  • Lime or Lemon?  Either
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Parmesan Cheese Dip
  • Wet or Dry?  The appropriate setting for the activity being discussed.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Vic Tyler, “Dawson’s Christian” (google and listen to the Miranda’s Ghost version)
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Yes when I’m in the mood to drink it.
  • Favorite Superhero?  Wolverine or Punisher depending on the day
  • Steak Temperature? Hot with a little pink.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?  Fall
  • Favorite Pet? Three cats, two dogs, and this question is full of trap. (Rob’s Note: I like traps)
  • Best Game Ever?  Steel Panthers or Harpoon
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee probably, but yes.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Sci-fi, but I’m a D&D fiend
On Seas so Crimson Cover
On Seas so Crimson Cover

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

Battleship versus battleship, who is the queen of them all and why?

Rob’s Answer: What a heck of a question.

Pre-dreadnought: I’m going to say the HMS Majestic and her sister ships. She was so influential in ship design.

World War I: This is probably the easiest answer for me. There’s a reason you specified a category called pre-dreadnought. The HMS Dreadnought has to be the queen because she changed everything.

Treaty battleships (i.e., those constructed under the Washington Treaty restrictions): I’m going to say it’s the USS North Carolina. I’m not influenced too much by the fact that the North Carolina is the best battleship museum I’ve seen. I loved getting to roam in her 16-inch turrets. I’m not a fan of the British designs during the period. The pocket battleship idea was too limited. The extra armor of the South Dakota-class ended up making them less valuable.

Overall: Basically, this comes down to the Iowas or the Yamatos. I think it’s clearly the Iowas. The European designs were not innovative or versatile. The Bismarck was a step above most British designs, but I don’t think she would have done well against the Iowa. She and her sisters were designed to defeat the Yamatos, yet they were also good AA platforms. They were also among the fastest.

It’s not entirely fair to tack on their later refits, but the refitted missile-carrying versions were clearly the most powerful BBs of all time. Some people think the idea of the battleship is outdated, but I actually would suggest that with drones and a proper tactical and strategic plan, BBNs might be more valuable (especially since they’d cost less) than CVNs. Modern versions of the Iowas could be insanely capable. However, that’s a long treatise in its own right.

A Pyre of Stars Cover
A Pyre of Stars Cover

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

  • Air Capital Comic Con—Wichita, November 10-11 2018
  • Planet Comic Con—Kansas City, March 2019 (Rob’s Note: I’ll be there, too)
  • Cincinnati Comic Expo—Cincinnati, OH September 2019
Though Our Hulls Burn Cover
Though Our Hulls Burn Cover

Do you have a creator biography?

James Young is a Missouri native who left small town life to attend a small, well-known Federal institution in upstate New York. After obtaining a degree in military history from West Point, Dr. Young spent six years repaying his education via military service in various locations (both foreign and domestic). Along the way he collected a loving, patient, and beautiful spouse (Anita C. Young)…and various animals that only fit those descriptions when it suited them.

Upon leaving the Army, James returned to the Midwest to obtain his Ph.D. in U.S. History from Kansas State. When not tormenting his characters, Dr. Young spends his spare time reading Anita’s first drafts, finishing that pesky dissertation, and trying to figure out how book eating shelter animals keep ending up in his office. Outside of Amazon, he can be found at conventions throughout the Midwest selling books and merchandise as James Young, Slinger of Tales.

In addition to his positive fiction reviews, Dr. Young is also the winner of the United States Naval Institute’s 2016 Cyberwarfare Essay Contest and runner up in the 2011 Adams Center Cold War Essay Contest. He has also had multiple articles published in Proceedings and the Journal of Military History since 2010.

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

You should have asked what is your latest release so I could talk about Aries Red Sky, the latest novel in my Vergassy Universe.

You should also have asked what my favorite book I’ve released is. I’d answer Acts of War, the first novel in my alternate history universe.  (Shhh, don’t tell the other kids.)


Thanks to James 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