Tag Archives: Robert A. Heinlein

Interview: Bill Webb

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 is with Bill Webb, whose story “Island of Bones” is good old-fashioned pulp fantasy. Heroes, ancient evils, horrifying monsters. All the good stuff.

Interview: Bill Webb

Why are you here?

  • What are your influences? I’m heavily influenced by history, even in my fiction. At the end of the day stories are about characters, and most of my characters are humans. Since human nature is unchanging, and it is, the fun part becomes using those personality types in a new setting.For example, at its heart my series The Last Brigade is about the power of the individual to affect great events. This theme carries through in other stories like The Sting of Fate and The Moles of Vienna.
  • Who are some favorite other creators? That’s a very long list. Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, Karl Edward Wagner, all writers in the Four Horsemen Universe, John Babb, Fritz Leiber, Michael Connelly, Randy Wayne White…the list is nearly endless.
  • What made you a creator in the first place? It was probably the desire to emulate what I liked. I still have a ‘comic book’ that I started one day during High School Spanish class. I had colored pencils and everything, and drew it on ruled paper. My earliest known fiction story grew as a direct result of reading Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’ tales.But the actual compulsion to create came from somewhere out in the ether. I’m probably the worst person to guess what that means, because I have no idea why I first felt the need to share stories. Maybe I’m an insecure showoff who needs the validation of others to feel good about myself, or maybe I just like the idea of creating something new. If either one of those is true, I’m not the one to tell you which it is, because I don’t know.
  • Why did you choose to create what you create? I’ve always thought the things I create chose me, but I guess there are lots of my creations jumping around and waving for my attention like children. And by writing a particular story, I’m choosing which one to pay attention to…okay then.It’s all very random. As a diehard pantser I always only start with a vague idea, and it’s always whatever seems appropriate at the moment. Oddly enough I do plan out which books I’m going to write when, so in that regard planning is important to me. But the actual creative process is about as haphazard as it gets.My rewrites almost always add substantial words to my first draft, so the choice of what to include and what not to lasts far beyond the point it does for most writers. In my experience, most writers pare down their first draft instead of expanding it.
  • What would you like to create someday? An alternate WW2 history series is one thing I want to create, which is actually coming later this year. I also would love to create an alternate Civil War series, Punic War series…and a space novel that I would really like to fit into the Four Horsemen Universe, but so far haven’t been able to make that work.

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

  • Where do you work? Home? Coffee Shop? Home. I can work elsewhere, but I’m usually not as good at producing things. My office is a disaster, there’s paper everywhere, books, the usual detritus of a writer, and my desk has coffee stains everywhere. One limiting factor for me is that laptop keywords are too small for my hands, so I keep hitting the wrong keys.
  • Do you listen to music? Yes, 99% of the time it’s hard rock, and 95% of that time it’s my favorite band, Status Quo, or bands that grew out of Status Quo’s example, such as Piledriver or Predatür.
  • What other things exist in your productive environment? A TV. When not listening to music, the TV is on. I get some of my best dialogue from Jerry Springer. (Truth)
  • What things have you tried that haven’t worked? Outlining. If it works for other writers, God bless ‘em, but it sure doesn’t work for me.

What are your superpowers?

  • What kinds of things do you like in your creations? Everything I write has some element of the power of the individual to affect events far beyond the scope of what one person can generally be thought to influence. I also love to play around with the role that Fate plays in great historical events. The Sting of Fate, for example, posits the difference that one wasp could have played on the history of the world, had it used its stinger at a critical moment.
  • What are specific techniques you do well? Some would argue, there are none. But I think I do a good job of putting my readers into the moment. I am often told by readers they can picture what I’m describing perfectly, despite the fact that I live by Roger Zelazny’s dictum of never using more than two descriptors. I’ve also become pretty adept at tell a scene, battles in particular, from various POVs.
  • What are some favorite successes you’ve achieved, especially things you had to struggle to overcome? The way I was taught to write was my biggest obstacle, the one that took decades to purge. Being more or less a Creative Writing major in college, I learned how to write literary fiction. My teachers wanted me to emulate Faulkner, or James Joyce, and the word ‘genre’ might earn you an ‘F.’ I did learn to write beautiful sentences, but they went nowhere because the prose was the point, not the story. Out of sheer frustration I quit writing fiction in 1996 and didn’t try it again until 2014. By then I had gotten out of the habit of ignoring story and was able to write prose that people actually enjoyed.

What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

  • What are some of the challenges you have faced that frustrated you? Trying to get an agent. The whole process is backward and ridiculous. Fortunately, I figured out that the whole concept of an agent is no longer important to me, or any writer that’s paying attention.
  • Do you have any creative failures which taught you something? What were those lessons? Boy do I. Whole filing cabinets full of them. I have one novel in which I combined hard SF with sword and sorcery. The concept isn’t impossible to pull off, some have done so, but it’s hard. I took this novel to a small press, this was in the 1980s, and they agreed to publish it, even naming an amount for an advance. But editor wanted me to expand a 70k word book to 120k. Keep in mind, this was before computers, so everything was written on a typewriter.I did it. It took two years, but I did it. However, I had not insisted on a contract, and when I finished the editor told me they weren’t publishing fiction anymore. He couldn’t pick up an phone and call me, even though we lived in the same city, he let me work for two years first.Needless to say, the bloated book read like a bloated book. I have since reused parts of it, but there are literally thousands of edited pages of that book still in my possession.
  • How do you overcome normal slow points like writer’s block?I have two methods. First, I don’t believe in writer’s block, I think that’s an excuse. It is for me, anyway. So if I get stuck at point, I either write another sentence no matter how bad it might be, and keep writing until the story starts flowing again, or I jump to a different scene and write that.If neither one of those works, I go to something different. It’s not unusual for me to work on 3 or 4 different projects in the same day.
  • Which mistake would you try to keep other creators from making? Wasting time trying to get an agent so you can publish traditionally. The whole thing has become a farce. There are agents who actually charge for you to pitch to them at a conference. That’s indefensible.
  • If you could go back and tell yourself anything about writing, what would it be? Listen to your own instincts. Attend writing classes, conferences, conventions and seminars, but write the way you like to read.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggy.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Status Quo.
  • Favorite Superhero? Ben Grimm.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? The first season of MASH. Marcia Strassman was hot.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Teal.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Memphis Tigers.
  • Best Game Ever? Chess.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? It’s X-rated.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Johnny Quest.
  • Your Wrestler Name? Wham-wham William.
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? Pulling a Colt 1911.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? To buy Jamaica.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? In my dreams.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? My kids.
  • Favorite Historical Period? World War Two.
  • Most Interesting Person In History? Winston Churchill.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium well.
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  French onion.
  • Favorite Cereal? Raisin Bran.
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Bacon cheeseburger with fries and chocolate shake.
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? Unleaded: Diet Pepsi. Leaded: mojito.
  • Do You Have Pets? Yes, seven dogs.
  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? If we was younger, Donald Sutherland. I once got a free meal by pretending to be his brother.
  • What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? What book have you re-read the most?

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

What’s the best answer you’ve gotten to one of these interview questions?

Rob’s Answer: Probably Quincy Allen’s “Don’t let the naysayers win.” This isn’t an easy job, especially since it tests one’s confidence daily and we all deal with imposter syndrome. That’s the serious answer, but I’ll admit there’s been some fantastic Lightning Round answers. Those are often my favorites in a given interview.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

  • www.thelastbrigade.com
  • https://www.facebook.com/keepyouupallnightbooks
  • Currently on sale for .99, the Darrell-Award winning Sharp Steel. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0785PKZDF/
    And also in audiobook, read by the great Simon Vance.
  • Standing In Righteious Rage, The Last Brigade Book 5, is scheduled for release in early May. High Mountain Hunters, a planned book in the 4HU, should be delivered by mid-May. Also, I have agreed to a World War Two alternate history trilogy with Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, titled A World Afire. It’s a great year for me to be stoked!

And where can we find you?

  • I’m a Special Guest at Tupelocon, the first weekend in March
  • Midsouthcon March 20-22
  • Libertycon in June
  • I’m also doing a signing at Fort Knox in July.

Do you have a creator biography?

Born and raised by a family of nomadic badgers in West Tennessee, Bill Webb wrote his first stories in grade school, terrifying all who knew him, and that was before he found comic books and science fiction.  (He is still angry at having a copy of X-Men #53 ripped out of his hands during 11th grade Spanish class.)

The release in 2016 of his Last Brigade series changed his career path by actually giving him a career path. The Time Wars and Sharp Steel and High Adventure series’ soon followed.

By age 25 he’d read all of the classics…Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Robert Heinlein, Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny. Later influences include Larry Niven, Jerry Pournell and Larry Corriea. Indulging himself in a double concentration at the University of Memphis of Creative Writing and History, college felt more like a long party than school.

After multiple careers in various industries, he much prefers writing books and stories to any sort of actual work. His idea of punching a clock these days is a coffee maker that finishes brewing its magic five minutes before he gets up in the morning.

Snippet from Bill’s new fantasy story, titled Beyond the Dead River.

The crocodile wanted to submerge, but she pulled back on the reins and kept the tired reptile swimming. The thrusts of its powerful tail had slowed, as had its paddling feet, but her stance astride its back allowed direct use of the spurs on her bootheels to keep it moving forward. At last it reached the river’s far shore and hauled the entire enormity of its bulk onto the mud flat. Rolling out the tethering chain, she looped it around the bole of a giant tree and scanned both ways for potential predators.

The dense jungle didn’t intimidate her. Vines with thorns and thick, oval leaves hung from trees taller than a castle’s keep, while a nearby stream emptied into the muddy river. Despite her knowledge of the rain forest, the dense undergrowth and deepening twilight left her dreading the need to travel in darkness deeper than the perpetual shadows of the rain forest. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed a light breeze for the scent of any nearby predators, and one eye twitched at a musky smell she knew belonged to a python. She would have to be very careful.

She had the lean, muscular physique of a warrior. Her limbs didn’t have the soft curves of a city born woman, but instead had muscles that appeared roughly cut from stone. Yet no one could mistake her for being a man. She had chosen her raiment specifically for travel through in the jungle. She had tucked loose trousers of well-worked animal leather into calf-high boots of snake-skin, with a leather shirt stretched tight across her chest. Two longs knives hung from a simple belt around her waist. Thick, curly black hair fell past her shoulders, held in place by a rawhide thong. A stained, short-brimmed hat protected her head from the countless overhead threats that inhabited the country through which she had to pass to achieve her mission.


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

 

Interview: Cedar Sanderson

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.

Today’s interview is with Cedar Sanderson. Cedar is one of the first people who read my stuff. She and her husband read A Lake Most Deep and told me how much they liked the story. And how much they didn’t like the cover. Oh, the art was fine, but man, I had a lot to learn about title treatments and such-like things. She was very patient with me and has helped me a ton. That’s one reason I was so pleased to ask her if she wanted to be a part of When Valor Must Hold.

Another reason is that I’ve enjoyed reading her stuff. So, I was not surprised that I loved her story Goddess’s Tears. It’s an origin story of her Blood of Frost universe, where the hero pays a higher price than one expects to fight the evils around her.

Interview: Cedar Sanderson

Cedar Sanderson
Cedar Sanderson

Why are you here?

I started writing back when I was a teenager. I had actually forgotten about that until I found a partial manuscript – and house plans for the story! – recently. It’s pretty horrible. I think I was channeling Jo from Little Women. I know I started writing for two reasons: one, I ran out of reading material. Two, I’d always had worlds in my head and I was slowly convinced that other people would enjoy reading about them, too.

I started to read at a very tender age, so I don’t remember the first book I read. I can’t really choose a favorite author, either, because it changes so frequently, based on my moods. But I can say that I imprinted early on Heinlein, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dorothy Sayers, and Louis L’Amour. Also, I happen to be named for a character in a novel, so I guess you could say that reading is in the blood. I write because I love to read.

I find myself drawn to, and writing, a lot of fantasy, which I find weird. I loved Tolkein and CS Lewis. Still do, for that matter. But I also find most modern High Fantasy almost intolerable with the tropes and the clichés and the stale pastiches, oh my. Urban Fantasy – Butcher, Correia, Briggs – can be very very good, but I had actually started to write it on my own before I was even introduced to them. I still find it weird, because all my life I wanted to be a scientist. So I should be writing science fiction. I do, and even my fantasy tends to have strong science elements in it. Still, fantasy is what calls the muse most strongly.

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

I work at home these days. For a year, I had a writing office where I went and there were no children, no distractions, just quiet and minimal writing supplies. I didn’t get a lot done there. I felt guilty not being at home taking care of the family. On the other hand, I tried putting my office out in the main part of the house in the theory that my family (three teens, a husband, and a dog) would not be constantly interrupting me if they had open access to me. That was a disaster. I stopped writing for months. It wasn’t until I started taking refuge in my bedroom with the door closed that I was able to focus and write again.

I use music to create mood. When I was writing Goddess’s Tears, I spent more time than I ought putting together the perfect playlist for it. If you’re curious, you can find that here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3V5Zg2dwDACe-V99XtclfNBqC4Fhkapf the title for the playlist is my working title for the story. Sometimes I can’t use music – recently when I have been bored at work I’ve been writing longhand in a notebook (shh… actually, no one cares. I’m still training in a new role and they know I’m unoccupied for a time). This seems to be working. The one creative nut I am trying to crack is dictation. I have an hour plus commute, and it seems I should use that time creatively but I get very self-conscious trying to speak the story aloud and compose on the fly. I’ll keep trying.

What are your superpowers?

I like to explore what it is to be human, and how far you can stretch that definition before it snaps. I really enjoy developing characters, and forging them in fires to bring out the true metal of their souls. Hence the working title of Goddess’s Tears, I was writing a story where the dross was driven out of a woman’s soul in the fires of hell itself. I’m told by reviewers and fans I do character driven stories very well. I’ve wondered at times if this means I don’t do action well, but I have also been told that in a couple of my books my pacing is ‘breathless’ which is, ok? I hope?

I rarely rewrite. I did with Goddess because Rob thought the story had some dross, and it was a great experience to go hammer and tongs with him on it. I think what we wrought is better than my first draft, and I’m delighted he spent the time on it with me. It was a learning experience. Rob’s Note: The story was always good, but I wanted more. And I got it. 

 What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

Oof. This is a difficult question to answer. I’m not going to get too deep with it.

The biggest challenge for me is that I have a career I enjoy very much, on top of the writing, and being an active artist. I’m busy – often too busy – and it’s frustrating to have ideas but no time to bring them to life. When I was still in college (the second time, almost 20 years after the first attempt) I was able to juggle classes, and write. But now that I’m a full time chemist, I come home drained. That, and teenagers are almost as hard as toddlers. I thought they’d be more independent, but nope!

I have several manuscripts in various states of completion. I’m struggling to finish any of them. The problem with some is that it’s been too long since I worked on it last, and I’d have to re-read it before I could start fresh. With 70,000 words on one (another Underhill book) that’s a daunting task. And I blocked on it for a reason, so I have to unpick where I went wrong and correct that. I’m a pantser. If I try to outline, I lose the story. So my recommendation is to plow ahead on a project and finish it. Don’t set it aside and come back months later scratching your head and wondering where you were going with that. Or abandon it entirely and call it practice. I’m too stubborn to do that last.

 Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Beaker
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Dead South
  • Favorite Superhero? Captain America
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? I grew up without television. I’m not sure what was on in the 70s.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Chartreuse
  • Favorite Sports Team? I don’t watch sports?
  • Best Game Ever? Oh, I really like Fluxx, with all the variations. There’s a Chemistry version!
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A friend and fan sent me several fountain pens. So wonderful for drawing!
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Jessica Rabbit
  • Your Wrestler Name? La Bunuela!
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? Boiling oil pour
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? How to go back to graduate school.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Bake it cookies and lull it before… but I say too much.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? Die Hard
  • Favorite Historical Period? 1940s (WWII era)
  • Most Interesting Person In History? Dmitri Mendeleev
  • Steak Temperature? Blue
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Bacon Horseradish
  • Favorite Cereal? Steel-cut Oats
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Chicken and Dumplings
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? Soda? Diet Dr. Pepper. Stimulant? Mead, preferably cherry mead.
  • Do You Have Pets? We have a dog, Tricksy, and two cats who are living with our daughter but were my office cats, Addie and Evie.
  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Scarlett Johansson
  • What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? Ask about favorite food or thing to cook!

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

So other than Butter Tarts, what are your favorite foods?

Rob’s Answer: Steak (medium rare, blackened, with garlic butter), Butter Chicken, fresh bread with butter and honey, biscuits and gravy (having already buttered the biscuits), and, uhhhh, butter, I guess?

When you write, do you share the story with anyone? I often use alpha readers when I get stuck on something.

Rob’s Answer: I think you have to at some point. It’s almost impossible for me to really judge what I’m writing. I mean, I know I like it, but I don’t know if anyone else will. I will say one of the best compliments I’ve ever had is when James Young said something like, “I know it’ll be good. It’s you.” That’s an awesome thing to hear, but I don’t believe it until someone else has given me honest input.

When you get discouraged, how do you cheer yourself up?

Rob’s Answer: Hmmm. This is a tough one, because I don’t always have a good answer here. I feel better anytime I complete something, even if it’s just the dishes. Procrasticleaning is a thing, y’all. It’s the days I go to bed having not accomplished anything that bug me, so I guess my answer is to finish a thing. Oddly, I can say that here, but I don’t necessarily think about it when I need to.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

  • My website is www.cedarwrites.com
  • My amazon page is: https://www.amazon.com/Cedar-Sanderson/e/B006WFPHO6
  • My latest novel is Possum Creek Massacre, a paranormal police procedural set in the Appalachians. The stories are drawn from family and true crime and my own forensic studies. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07SQNLMPP
  • I’m working with my writing group on a weekly prompt challenge. You give a prompt, and are randomly assigned one in return. It’s a ton of fun, and a great way to get writing if you are having trouble gaining momentum. I started doing the group, and the challenge, as a way to give back to the community. Paying it forward for all those who have encouraged me or poked and prodded me along the way. If anyone wants to play along, check it out here: https://moreoddsthanends.home.blog/

And where can we find you?

I’m not planning any event appearances in 2020. I’ll be attending MarCon as a guest, incognito with family. I’ll be taking my kids to GemCity ComicCon, and probably the same for CincyComiCon as well. Happy to meet up if you happen to be there!

Do you have a creator biography?

Cedar Sanderson is an author, artist, and a scientist. Her varied career lends extra flavor to her works of art, and her insatiable reading appetite once led her to run out of reading material and start writing her own. She hasn’t stopped yet. Perennially inquisitive, she wants to know more about everything and will ask strange questions if you stand still long enough to let her. Works in print include her popular urban fantasy (with very little urban) Pixie for Hire series, her space opera Tanager’s Fledglings, and her young Adult series Children of Myth, as well as a couple dozen shorter works that would make this bio too long to name them. Her cover art and design grace the covers of other authors as well as her own, and her cute dragon character appears in his own coloring book, Inktail & Friends.

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

You should have asked me what inspired me to write Goddess’s Tears?

Reading Jirel of Joiry. I hadn’t read it until about a year ago, and I promptly fell in love with it. The character really connected with me – I don’t want to spoil it, but the character falls in love with someone you really don’t expect and in a way you don’t see coming. But it wasn’t that. It was the chin up and face forward into the darkness. Do your duty if it sees you walk through hell. I lived that. I wanted to capture a little of that sheer chutzpah in a story of my own. I hope I succeeded in even a very small way.


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Bill Webb

Greetings all

It’s release week. Friday, Trouble in the Wind blows right into the Amazon store of your choice. Here’s another author from that anthology, Bill Webb.

Interview: Bill Webb
Bill Webb
Bill Webb

What is your quest?

Let’s start with influences. In Science Fiction it all starts, like it does for so many others, with Robert A. Heinlein. By the mid 1960s he had created more classics than most people do in a lifetime, and to this day I’m stunned nobody has ever made a movie out of Tunnel in the Sky. Heinlein knew how to tell a story in the most direct way possible, although as time passed that, too, ebbed. The last book I truly loved was Time Enough For Love. But that about the time, the mid 70s, when I discovered Roger Zelazny, so to me there no dropoff in the quality of what I read, particularly with the Amber series and my all-time favorite, A Night in the Lonesome October, although one could argue those were all fantasies. But hey, even RAH wrote a fantasy novel, Glory Road. (I’ve heard from Rufo!)

But there were also many, many more in addition to those two giants, including Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Jack Williamson, David Weber, David Drake and especially John Ringo.

Fantasy influences are very clear in my mind. The godfather of them all is Robert E. Howard, of course. I write sword and sorcery and he invented the genre. Also high on the list are Michael Moorcock, Kar6 Edward Wagner and especially Fritz Leiber. As much as I love Tolkien, I’ve read LOTR at least 35 times, I consciously try NOT to emulate his writing style. Ursula K. Leguin advised against trying to out-Tolkien Tolkien, because it can’t be done.

What is your favorite color?

Blue. All shades of blue.

I am the last person to explain why my writing style works, or how it evolved, because I have no idea. But I’ve always remembered some advice given by Zelazny, that he never mentions more than two attributes of a person. One thing I rarely do is to write a description of a room, ship, character or locale. Many authors do so, and do it well, but I don’t.

What works for me, and that I might pass on to others, is to use an accurate term to describe something and then pick out one or two details that make it unique. For example, and making something up just for this interview…”The throne room was smaller than he’d imagined it would be, and oval. A simple chair of heavy and highly polished wood served as the king’s throne. Afternoon light poured through a leaded glass window.”

That style evolved over nearly 50 years of writing. Majoring in creative writing taught me how to construct sentences and how to think of scenes, but it had little relation to building a genre story. Literary fiction generally doesn’t lend itself well to a genre setting, so there was quite a bit to unlearn.

The only exception to the two-descriptors rule is when something complex needs an extensive blueprint for the reader to understand. The composition of a Roman legion, for instance, or a suit of powered armor, might require a more complete description. But even then I make it as short as possible. And it’s not because I write short books, either. The last three books I’ve had published are 133k, 137k and 300k words. But they read fast because I don’t get bogged down in details, and I am consistently told how readers can visualize everything in their minds. That’s because I let them fill in the big picture on their own.

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

I was held back for many years trying to remember all the rules I’d been taught about writing. Instead of just sitting down and telling a story, I thought and thought about the next sentence trying to keep all of my lessons in mind. Show don’t tell, don’t use adverbs, don’t overuse ‘that’, don’t do, don’t do, don’t do…the truth is, what writers need to do is to write. That’s the only way you can learn.

Now, I write a story or novel as I think it should be written, clean it up with a rewrite and/or edit, then send it to the editor.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

When I write in 3rd person it’s always 3rd person limited. That helps cut down on telling instead of showing, and it also allows for shorter scenes told through multiple points of view. It’s a way to speed up the action and keep things interesting. When you’re inside the mind of the antagonist, for example, 3rd person limited let’s you show the reader how he or she views things, and a really good villain is someone the reader can identify with, at least to some degree.

If I’m writing first person there has to be a good reason. My original series Hit World, for example, is first person in a noir style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett. The protagonist has the world-weary, jaded voice of an old-school private eye who’s seen it all, except he’s an assassin. Understanding him would be much harder in 3rd person limited. So if you’re going to write 1st person, make sure you have a reason for doing it, and that the character has a unique voice.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Miss Piggie.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? My kids.
  • Your Wrestler Name? The Sluggish Lion.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? The plop.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Coral.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? From a beach chair.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Snoopy.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? A chess table when I was 13.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? To live on a beach in the Caribbean.
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? Z.
  • Favorite Sports Team? University of Memphis Tigers.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Cheese.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Status Quo.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Beer.
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium well.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Soap.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer, all year round.
  • Favorite Pet? All of them.
  • Best Game Ever? Diplomacy.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Both.

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

What’s the best answer you’ve gotten to a question?

Rob’s Answer: Oh, man, I don’t know that I can answer that correctly. There’ve been a bunch of great answers. So, I’m going to be a mealy-mouthed answerer and pick my favorite answer from your interview.

Yeah, I’m lazy.

But part of the reason is that many of the answers have blurred together as part of the melange that has become my own writing philosophy. I don’t entirely know at this point what I started with and what the answers that all these interviews have taught me. What I can say is that doing these interviews have taught and improved my own writing. I started it as a fun exercise that would help get us all a little publicity. What happened is that it gave me great insights into other people’s processes, many of which I’ve incorporated as I try to get better.

But your best answer? Your answer about limiting yourself to two descriptive words most of the time is a good one. It’s a rule I follow as well. I am too easily seduced by the great descriptive skills of Raymond Chandler, so I consciously try to avoid his long and brilliant style because I know I’m not as brilliant.

Still, my favorite answer of yours is from the Lightning Round. Yeah, I can see “The Plop” dominating WWE for years to come!!!!

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

  • I’m tempted to say ‘at a bar’, except that wouldn’t be true. So maybe my website is a better bet: http://thelastbrigade.com/

Do you have a creator biography?

Yes.

Oh, you want it here?

Born, raised and warped in West Tennessee, Bill Webb wrote his first stories in grade school, scaring his parents, teachers and friends. And that was before he found comic books and science ficition.  The release in 2016 of his Last Brigade series changed his career path by actually giving him a career path. The Time Wars and Sharp Steel and High Adventure soon followed.

By age 25 he’d read all of the classics…Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Harold Lamb, Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny. Indulging himself in a double concentration at the University of Memphis of Creative Writing and History, college felt more like a long party than school.

With multiple awards and nominations to his credit, and active membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America, he reached into a long-sealed bag of literary tricks for the nascent idea for the new Hit World series. No telling what else dwells at the bottom of that bag.

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

You should have asked me what one story/novel of mine should someone read to understand me as a writer? In my case, it would be the Darrell Award winning novella A Night at the Quay.

Rob’s Note: This is a great question, and I might very well add it to my interview. I’m not sure how I’d answer that myself. Each has been a good view into the state of my soul at the time. Of them all, probably A Lake Most Deep is the most soul-baring because at the time I was in a bad place. Writing it kept me going and let me become something stronger.


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

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

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

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

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

 

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: Monalisa Foster

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Trouble in the Wind gets released on 13 December, a week from tomorrow. I’ll be running a number of extra interviews this week from authors who joined James Young and I in the anthology. This one is Monalisa Foster, who is as interesting as her name suggests, in part because she emigrated to the US from Romania in 1978.

Interview: Monalisa Foster
Monalisa Foster
Monalisa Foster

What is your quest?

My goal is to write science fiction with heart. That means I concentrate on human drives rather than hyperdrives. No matter the genre (and I’ve written not just alt history, but hard SF, mil SF, and space opera), my goal is put the reader inside the story so they can experience the emotions of the characters I’ve created and the wonder and delight of the world I built for them. It’s a kind of magic and I particularly enjoy practicing this part of my craft.

Since I learned English by translating Heinlein’s juveniles (not as a job, but as a way to teach myself when I was nine), I was heavily influenced by his ideas. It took me about two years to attain fluency and I remember reading about a novel a day every summer. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that my body was merely life-support for my eyes and my brain because it was pretty much all I did every summer. I devoured everything the library had, both in the juvenile and adult sections. I wish I’d have kept a list of everything I’d read, because it would be a wonderful resource for answering questions like this. Most of it was science fiction. Very little of it was fantasy, although I did read some.

Over the decades, my reading tastes have changed substantially. I discovered Bujold and fell in love with her Vorkosigan Saga. In fact, I used to read the entire series from beginning to end every year. And I love stories heavy on romance, but not necessarily the Romance genre itself. One of the reasons I wrote Ravages of Honor was because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read.

I remember the first time I put something up for someone else to read. I posted it on a critique site and then rushed to the bathroom to throw up. It was horrible. The writing, to be clear.

So, it became apparent, very quickly, that reading all my life had not prepared me to write well. And I’d done it professionally before, but that was non-fiction and technical/scientific writing, both of which are altogether different beasts.

Think of it this way. You’ve been watching your parents drive for sixteen years. That doesn’t mean you can just get into a car and drive, unless you’re a very unique individual. I was not that individual.

The first thing I had to accept was that I had a lot to learn, both about the craft and the business of writing. And being me, I threw myself at learning both my craft and the business before I unleashed my writing on the world. And I wouldn’t have had the freedom to do what I’m doing now if it hadn’t been for my husband’s support.

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

One of the most frustrating things about the craft is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I thought that I could study what others had written (see above) and emulate it. But the truth is that what worked 10 or 30 or 50 years ago, doesn’t mean it’ll sell today. You’d need a time machine to go back and sell that stuff. Or you’d have to already have a made name.

I think in some ways, we’ve all experienced this. You buy a book because it’s on the best-seller list or because your friend loved it, and you either can’t finish it or you force yourself to, and you go, “Wait? This is a best-seller?” No thank you.

So, you have to figure out some things. Is it taste? Is it the target audience? Is it marketing? It is something you have no clue about? This is the most frustrating aspect of the business for me, in addition to marketing, because there are no right or wrong answers. There are just the answers that work or don’t, for you. What may work for one author will not work for you. What works for one audience won’t work for another. You have to figure out who you are writing for and why. And then you have to figure out how to reach those people. And sometimes that is far more work than what’s involved in your craft, your creative process, and the actual stuff you end up writing.

Fortunately, I’m a vicarious learner. This is a very good thing because it means I learn from other peoples’ mistakes, not just my own. And the number one thing I’ve learned, is that if it doesn’t pull me in and hold me, it’s not worth studying. It can be the best-selling novel of all time. It can have sold millions. If it’s not my cup of tea, it will teach me nothing. On the other hand, if it draws me in and holds me, I will pull it apart and figure out why and then I will incorporate that into my own writing. Doing that can be its own challenge, and the execution takes time, but it’s worth it.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My go-to techniques, the two absolute things I will fight every editor on (Wyatt’s Torch, as in I will burn it down rather than give in), are depth and viewpoint. Now, that means different things to writers, so let me explain what it means to me. I write inside-out, rather than outside-in, about 90% of the time. It can’t be 100% because there are some scenes where you can’t do that, but 90% of the time I absolutely can and will.

Imagine you are a camera. There are five characters in a room. When you are floating outside all of those characters, moving anywhere you want, you are writing outside-in. Some people do this very well. But when it’s not done well, the writing is dry and thin because the camera can’t put the reader inside the character’s head.

Now imagine that the “camera” is inside a character, right behind his eyes. You can only see what he sees, hear what he hears, feel what he feels. Your viewpoint is limited. It is filtered through one person at a time. When it’s well done, you’re inside the character’s head and you stay there throughout one scene. The reader only knows what that character knows, when he knows it. That is inside-out writing. I work very hard at putting the reader inside one character at a time so they can experience the world through that one character.

The depth part has to do with the richness and thickness of the details. It has to do with evoking emotions without having to tell the reader that the character is sad or happy or angry.

I know I have successfully done my job when readers tell me that I touched their heart with something.

For example, when I wrote Cooper, a reader sent me a PM thanking me for the story. I had made him cry because the story was about him and his step-dad. When I wrote another story (which I’m not going to name because, spoiler incoming), I got a similar PM (gotta love FB, right?) which sounded rather angry at first. It was along the lines of “How dare you make me care for this character and then kill him/her?” And nothing topped getting a PM from one of my publishers going “That’s a helluva story” when I thought for sure he’d find it too un-military and too touchy-feely.

I’m not former military. I have no credentials to speak of. So I do my research and I work on making my characters real to the reader. I work on the emotional draws and the emotional beats. I do it knowing that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. But if it is your cup of tea, I make an awesome cup of what you do like.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? No clue. Didn’t grow up here. Sorry. (Rob’s Note: We have got to get you some of the Muppet Show DVDs)
  • Best Thing From the 80s? The music and the movies.
  • Your Wrestler Name? She-who-uses-metal.
  • And Signature Wrestling Move? Package check.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Slaughter-red; iron-enriched of course.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Queen Tyr’ahnee of Mars
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? American citizenship.
  • What Do You Secretly Plot? The end of communism. Forever. Okay, not so secret, but there it is.
  • Brought to you by the letter ___? This is a cultural reference I don’t get. I say that a lot. Ask my friends.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Any and all of the BASEketball teams.
  • Cake or Pie? Dobos Torte.
  • Lime or Lemon? Oranges, because I will not be limited by your lack of vision.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Whipped cream.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Mark Seibert. I’m not kidding. Oh, and he’s mine. Hands off.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whatever my friends will force upon me as long as I get to sip it.
  • Favorite Superhero? Count von Krolock (Tanz der Vampire).
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Before my time.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Summer. In Texas. Or Arizona.
  • Favorite Pet? German Shepherds, Pibbles, Great Danes. Standard Poodles.
  • Best Game Ever? I opt to exercise my Fifth Amendment rights on the grounds that my answer might incriminate me.
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee as long as I can’t taste the coffee part. Jasmine tea.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Seeing as my favorite level of tech is “science indistinguishable from magic” I’m going to deny the false dichotomy of your question.

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

How many languages do you speak? Is one of them German?

Rob’s Answer: I would say I can’t actually *speak* any language but English fluently. Mostly that’s because I don’t get much opportunity to practice. I took a goodly amount of German, Latin, and Old English. Old English is the one I use the most, but it’s less about talking and more about reading.

My best spoken language is probably Old English. I have performed stuff in Old English, like chunks of Beowulf and the Wanderer. Nevertheless, I don’t do that enough to prevent having a wretched accent. It’s better than my horrible French accent, which I butcher whenever I have need.

I have a moderate level of reading ability in those three languages as well as French. The ability to read them is more what I need than the ability to speak as I’m reading through historical sources. I’m also discovering that I can muddle my way through some Spanish because of the Latin and French providing cognates and the grammar being Latin that got lazier and lazier over the years.

In general, if I can separate the words spoken to me, I can generally grasp the structure of the sentence, but my practical vocabulary is minimal because I routinely have references handy.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

  • My favorite con is LibertyCon.
  • I also go to DragonCon. These are the two I strive to be at every year.
  • Locally, I attend FenCon.
  • I did LTUE and SpikeCon in 2019, but probably won’t be doing so regularly.

Do you have a creator biography?

Monalisa won life’s lottery when she escaped communism and became an unhyphenated American citizen. Her works tend to explore themes of freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility. Despite her degree in physics, she’s worked in several fields including engineering and medicine, but she enjoys being a trophy wife and kept woman the most. She and her husband are living their happily ever after in Texas.

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

You should have asked me why milk chocolate is better than dark chocolate? That way I could answer because it contains a higher amount of fat and fat is flavor. Also, bacon makes everything better when milk chocolate is not available. (Rob’s Note: So right!)


Thanks to Monalisa 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

Mag Review: Astounding (March, 1951)

Greetings all

It’s the first Mag Review of 2019. I hope you enjoy these. I certainly have fun doing them.

By the way, I’m going to start something new. While I love these magazines, I don’t want to keep them all forever. So I will start giving them away at certain panels at various conventions. I’ll ask a trivia question and the winner gets it. I’ll also give out hints in my weekly update the week before those events. Stay tuned for ChattaCon.

Anyway, I’m reviewing Astounding Science Fiction, Vol. XLVII, No. 1 (March, 1951) today.

Astounding (March, 1951) Cover
Astounding (March, 1951) Cover

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?57572

Whatever else this issue contains, I love this cover. Rockets, stars, emotion. I love it.

It also has a fantastic ad on the inside of the cover:

  • Live in the days of the Galactic Empire…
  • Live on the ships of the first Interstellar Expedition…
  • Live – in a million could-be years, on a thousand may-be worlds.
  • The hope and attainments – the strivings and ultimate defeats – of all the future years of endless time.
  • We’ve a Time Machine for sale – a simple little machine of paper and ink that, coupled with your own mind, can soar down the years of Eternity.
  • It’s a small thing – and the doorway to Infinity and Eternity .

Ok, you got me. Sign me up now!

The issue starts with John W. Campbell’s editorial Elementary, My Dear Watson. This discusses how man is beginning to use a variety of elements that had been difficult to use up to that point, including rare earth elements. It was cool, but I’d it’d be especially interesting to someone who actually deals with such things to get a perspective from 67 years ago.

Next is the first story of the issue, Space Fear by James H. Schmitz. This was a puzzling story to me. It had so many elements that I like, but it seemed disjointed and I never really got into the flow. It’s about an agent of the Confederacy of Vega who pilots an intelligent ship fixing problems in the galaxy. That’s a fantastic start, right?

Well, the problem is that the story sends her on a number of missions all at once. The first thing is a mission to try and trap an alien race that sends ships in that are so far advanced they come into their space, look around, and then leave without hindrance.

Trapping them would have been a great story. Instead, that’s sort of the prologue. While she makes progress, more progress than anyone had before, they send her on another mission. With it’s own set of exposition. Then another.

It’s so jumbled I’ll freely admit I couldn’t really read the story well. I kept getting jarred out of it and skimming a bit until something caught my eye. I tried four times to thoroughly read it, and it’s clearly beyond me. I’ve liked Schmitz before, but this story kept dancing around at the edge of my attention, always seeming to push me away at some point.

A full space opera novelette wasted. That is, in these magazines, a true tragedy. Cut it into separate fast-paced stories and you got a tiddly little book along the lines of the Retief adventures or the novel M*A*S*H.

Next we move on to Philosophical Corps by E. B. Cole. This was Cole’s first release, and he didn’t write much more besides it. It’s too bad, because I think he had a goodly amount of talent.

A side note. This story starts off poorly in the magazine. There’s a longish excerpt from  a future book that’s pure exposition. It has two problems. One it’s longer than perhaps works for a short story. Two, and far more important, the excerpt was printed in the magazine in a smaller font. Like difficult to read smaller font.

But if you get past that you get another story that has so much potential. The Philosophical Corps are the people who go to planets where the inhabitants are low tech and have had criminals and slavers set themselves up as gods to steal their wealth and gain slaves. Not only do they have to rescue the indigenous population from the criminals, they have to do so on a way to keep the planet growing as it has without too much corrupting of its way of life.

Man, this could be an awesome series of stories. Tap-dancing through the challenge of understanding a myriad of alien civilizations while facing high-tech organized crime? If you ever see me write a book entitled E.B. Cole, PCI you’ll know it’s about a hard-boiled detective going from planet to planet fighting interstellar crime bosses trying to be gods.

Of course, you might say Stargate already did that. You’d be right. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it, too.

I will also say that had Cole written more of these, he would have written stronger stories. This one is good, but somewhat direct. He released a later version of this story along with two other adventures in that universe in 1962, and I expect those are all stronger.

Still, this is a B/B+ story with tons of untapped potential in the universe.

Next we come to a skillfully written story, …Of the People… by Morton Klass. Klass was an anthropologist, and not surprisingly this story deals with the study of a people. Like E.B. Cole, he didn’t write much and again, it’s a shame.

This story starts out in a strange way, taking us to a place I didn’t care for initially. Basically, it’s about the President of Earth in 1975 talking about how he earned that title starting in 1955. He’s actually an alien who, with his advanced technological and cultural was able to unify the Earth.

He was actually sent here by his race because the Galactic Federation did not know what to do with this planet. We had achieved atomic power, but had not settled down. So they put us in quarantine for a while so that they could take a look at us later before possibly exterminating us.

The species that the President comes from could not let that happen without trying to help, so they sent him. Understand that this is tripping all of my buttons, and not in a good way. I may be an idiot, but I’d rather fail trying stupid stuff than having someone swoop in and protect me from making the attempt. Let me touch the hot stove and find out it freaking hurts, if you please.

But Klass is tricky and I ended up really liking this story. You see, the President has discovered that the entire council that helps him rule the earth consists of aliens sent by worlds who have just as much empathy as his. They’re all here to help.

However, the quarantine is about to end. The Federation is likely to send them all away. Not only will they rip away this world government, but they will expose that it’s composed entirely of aliens. Yes, the flying saucers did come to control us.

The President knows he can’t allow this to happen, so he confronts the council. No matter where they came from before, he and the councilors are now from Earth. Now they have to defend it from the Federation.

That’s where the story ends, so we don’t know if they succeeded or not, which is fine. A full answer would take a novel, in my mind, and I think this is stronger by Klass letting the reader think he’s going one way and then pushing into what is clearly an oncoming train full of adventure and politics.

His technique is amazing. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a story I disliked so much at the start come right around and use my distaste like that. Here, let’s challenge your independence, then let’s make it something we can root for. Brilliant.

Next we get to Casting Office by Henderson Starke (really Kris Neville). This story has an interesting premise. Basically it’s discussing the plight of actors seeking a job, along with stagehands, directors, and the like. It becomes clear that the author is God, who has made a universe of strange physical laws and outlandish events. He wants a place to exercise his whimsy and also to retreat to so he can become happy, but he also has this idea that the story will eventually be that of overcoming great trials.

Unfortunately, ratings plummet essentially. Critics lambaste his work. Eventually the directors bring in a script doctor over the author’s vehement objections. They turn his tale of heroism over the millennia into a horror movie that panders to those viewers who want violence.

Fascinating premise indeed, but not well executed. It needed more detail and less top-down discussion, I think. For example, the story talks about the critics blasting it, but never has a paragraph that talks about specific issues. It leaves the story too vague and we’re not invested in it.

There’s a solid scene where the author is in a role as a wealthy man enjoying good food, driving on beautiful days, the company of lovely women, and fine drink. Then he’s ripped from it by the director in order to face the music from the critics. That was great. It’s the only such scene, really. Oh, there are hints here and there of odd props like millions of extra bugs for England in 1869, but there’s just not enough of this quirkiness.

After that comes Experimentum Crucis by Andrew MacDuff (E.B. Fyfe). This is a solid story with a fun twist at the end. In it we have a human visiting an alien planet that is at something like our technological level of the 1970s.

The human is there negotiating a variety of mineral and resource rights on the moons of the system. The leader of the aliens is not stupid, though, and he is wary of the negotiations. His suspicions are increased when the human finds out about a particular moon with high radiation readings and has his car salesmen tendency come to the forefront.

Basically, the alien sets it up that if the human lands on the moon, he’ll come out ahead by owning the sponsorship rights. And, if the aliens’ belief that it’s a moon made of negative matter, “there will be a beautiful flare-up to prove my claim” (p. 97).

Gotta love the bad guy getting his comeuppance.

Following is the normal In Times to Come description of what’s in the next issue. Included is one of H. Beam Piper’s Paratime stories, so I’ll look forward to unearthing that issue eventually.

Then we get High Threshold by Alan Nourse. I’ve reviewed Nourse before and I will look forward to seeing him again. He writes good stories, though not yet a great story.

This one starts out very well. While experimenting with temperatures around a thousandth of a Kelvin, researchers discover an entrance to a completely alien place. The five people that have been sent into the entrance have all died of fear. The only hint they have is a tennis ball, which went into the entrance and came out completely reversed. The fuzzy part was on the inside and the rubber on the out. The same thing happened to a pencil, which returned as a sliver of wood sheathed by graphite.

The answer they come up with is to find someone so completely able to reject earlier data and accept new data, so adaptable, that they can survive long enough for their mind to adapt.

They find someone and send her in there. She goes in and realizes what’s going on, but realizes that she cannot explain the differences to the researchers because they simply have no way to understand. Her solution is to find a newborn baby and raise it in both worlds so that it can relate both universes instinctively.

This is all good stuff. The end isn’t as strong, though. She also realizes that she is going to have to trick the researchers into letting her try the baby idea. She also knows that she can now see how to get into that universe at any time. She plays as if she’s insane, and then escapes through the dimensions.

I sort of felt unsatisfied, almost as if I’d ordered chicken fried steak and there was no actual steak inside the breading. The breading, gravy, and mashed potatoes all tasted good, but it was missing the substance. Maybe the story should have been longer. Maybe a completely different twist that I’m not thinking of. I don’t know. Still, it should be noted I was sucked in reading this story and it is only at the end that I realized I wasn’t satisfied.

Next, in a half-page blank area, Campbell talks about what he looks for in the letters that he’ll respond to in the Brass Tacks section. He’s looking for things that are broad and general and will have some connection to the majority who read Astounding.

One wonders how many times he was nagged for not putting up a convention announcement for Wecanhandle50peopletotalacon or letters announcing someone has a cool pet rock for sale.

The next story is Protected Species by E.B. Fyfe writing under his own name this time. This is an oft-published story, meaning a bunch of readers liked it. I’m one of them.

It’s about surveyors and xenoarchaeologists on a nearby planet studying ruins of a long-dead alien civilization. The ruins show advanced technology, but also damage from explosions and war instead of earthquakes and natural disasters. There is no evidence that the people who made those ruins exist anymore, except perhaps a species that might have devolved from intelligence in the wake of wars.

The species provides some of the workers with a bit sport. They’re fast and hard to catch, and there’s not much else to do on the planet and their morale is generally fairly low. Then an inspector comes to look at their progress. He sees these hunts and he is bothered by them, especially with the likelihood that they are intelligent, even if devolved.

So he arranges to have them named a protected species, preventing future hunts. After so doing, he takes one last pass around the ruins, going specifically to a place where he had run into one of the natives, which had prompted his work to name them protected.

There, another native awaits him. Instead of running, or throwing rocks, or anything likes that, he greets the inspector by name. Apparently they have been watching this world for some time. His job is to watch for the revival of the original species on this world, and he is quite pleased to see the inspector name the species on this world protected. For, after all, that is what they actually did for humans after destroying this world humans inhabited. He’s very happy to see us finally returning to the stars. Perhaps, soon, we won’t be a protected species ourselves.

Fun twist, and an excellent job of twisting our humanocentric point of view against us. That’s two stories by Fyfe in this issue, and both are good to very good with good twists. I’ll keep an eye out for him.

Next is an article Notes on Nuclear Radiation by Edwin N. Kaufman. He didn’t write much for any SF magazine. He appears to have been an aeronautical researcher for Douglas and Lockheed, but I can find little more about him.

Anyway, like Campbell’s editorial to open this issue, I found this article moderately interesting, but obviously outdated. Again, i think this might be fascinating to someone in that field and interested in its history.

Jack Williamson is next with The Man from Outside. Williamson is one of the great fathers of SF of course, and I him a lot. I would expect a sizable fraction of you readers know he’s the guy who coined “Terraforming” but I had not realized until reading up on him today.

Anyway, this story is about an alien unit dedicated to watch Earth and ensure that its society is not corrupted by other aliens. The commander of the unit is hard, harsh man. A fresh idealistic lieutenant comes to him and asks to involve himself in the world below. The commander refuses. The lieutenant persists, finally convincing the commander something must be done, but the commander stalls and delays. Then, before the mission is done, he brings the lieutenant back.

The lieutenant is anguished. He wants to help some dissidents kill Stalin, who he realizes only exists because of outside contamination and who is an abomination. The commander stops him, and the dissidents are destroyed because they make a mistake designing a fusion bomb.

In the ensuing exchange, we discover that the outside influence that allowed Stalin to exist is the commander in his youth, as an idealistic lieutenant. He met Lenin, was impressed, and let slip some advanced knowledge about revolutions and the like, allowing for the Soviet Union and now Stalin.

He has stayed on this post during the decades since. He has refused promotion above his current grade and re-assignment to a better station. He knows what he’s done and his atonement is to remain here and prevent a re-occurrence. Now, because of the idealistic lieutenant’s actions, the balance is endangered. The lieutenant must now take up the commander’s mantle and “watch against the sort of men we used to be” (p. 143)

Where should duty and idealism meet? What’s the balance. It’s a tough question because unintended consequences are always lying in wait. Great story.

Next is P. Schuyler Miller’s book reviews of the month. Among this set are books by Heinlein, Merril, Lieber, and more. Imagine getting paid to read those guys.

Last is Brass Tacks, the letters to the editor. There’s a lot of discussion about previous letters in this issue. Sort of like a monthly opportunity to reply on Twitter. The only difference is that the responses here are well-written with thought behind their premise.

The one topic I think remains relevant is the discussion of what language should an author use in SF/F. It’s a tough one sometimes, and I try to strike a balance. Language in another world would be completely different with different foundations. We would all have to be linguists to understand them.

Obviously, this is what Tolkien did. Yet he knew he could not write a tale in Elvish. He was also aware that the common speech was not English. He put enough of the other language in to give the flavor of Sindarin or Quenya or whatever. I think that is what we must do to give the taste of an alien or fantasy world.

But there’s a balance, and I’m not sure I’ve achieved it. I will occasionally perform Old English poetry, usually the Wanderer or Beowulf. Mostly, I do this in modern English, but I regularly insert a few lines here and there of Old English to let the sound resonate.

It’s a tough thing to accurately re-create a medieval performer. On the one hand, they had to connect with the audience so they could make money or have a place to sleep and eat. On the other, a true performance should be in the original language, but little else sends an audience away than reciting poetry in a language they don’t understand. Might be better to recite Vogon poetry. Flipping languages back and forth is my best compromise.

I don’t know if I have the answers, but it’s something I dwell on probably too often. If the language takes me out of the moment, then I know it’ll take some readers out, too. My problem is that I also know I use words that flow with me, but not with others. It’s a challenge, and no doubting.

Anyway, overall this was a grade B issue. All the stories were quality, even if I didn’t like the execution or some other quibble. There weren’t instant classics to me, but still I’ll reread a few of these someday.

Next week I’ll review the Analog from February, 1963. This one looks promising with a Gordon Dickson and H. Beam Piper.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56747


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: A.E. Lowan

Greetings all

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

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

Faerie Rising Cover
Faerie Rising Cover

What is your quest?

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite color?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

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

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

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

Lightning Round

Favorite Muppet?

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

Crunchy or Creamy?

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

Favorite Sports Team?

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

Cake or Pie?

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

Lime or Lemon?

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

Favorite Chip Dip?

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

Wet or Dry?

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

Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? 

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

Whisky or Whiskey?

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

Favorite Superhero?

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

Steak Temperature?

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

Favorite 1970s TV show?

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

Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?

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

Favorite Pet?  (provide pictures if you want)

  • Sugar
    Sugar

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

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

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

Best Game Ever?

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

Coffee or Tea?

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

Sci-Fi or Fantasy? 

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for The World of Shijuren?

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

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

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

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

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

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

And add your creator biography.

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

Kristin Vinck

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

Jennifer Vinck

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

Jessica Smith

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

Faerie Rising Cover
Faerie Rising Cover

Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding

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

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

Excerpt from Faerie Rising: The First Book of Binding

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

And she was holding the nozzle.

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

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

Highlighting the growing cracks in the cement around the rift.

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

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

Five glyphs.

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

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

Four glyphs.

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

Three glyphs.

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

Two glyphs.

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

One glyph.

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

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

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

Ties of Blood and Bone: The Second Book of Binding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not to her own son.

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

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

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

“The Mulcahys.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnus met Alerich’s gaze and nodded once.

“Why?”

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

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

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

“It can’t do that… can it?”

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

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

How could he let the demon eat him?

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

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


Thanks to A.E. Lowan for taking the time to answer my questions.

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

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

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Rob Howell