Interview: Melinda Moore, Author of A Sunset Finish

MooreASunsetFinish_200Please welcome Melinda Moore to the blog. I quite enjoyed her novella, A Sunset Finish, and asked her for an interview. Today, we chat about Katharine Hepburn, the Pueblo Revolt, The Hobbit movies, Star Wars, faeries, and bassist Edgar Meyer. Please sit back and enjoy!

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I wish I could read The House with the Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs for the first time again. It’s a great childhood introduction to spooky books. I still go back to his stories now and then, but I can’t recapture that goose bumpy feel I had the first time.

BellairsHouseWithClockInWallsWhat biographies of the creators of your favorite genres do you want to read? Are there lesser known creators that still need a biography?

I’m actually not a fan of biographies. When I was in my twenties and very idealistic, I found biographies to diminish the subject. I had a favorite author whose ideals in his books were right along with mine, and then I read about his real life and found he didn’t follow those ideals at all. His was the first to be disappointing but not the last.

The highlight of my biography reads was Me, which is the autobiography of Katharine Hepburn. I found it to be exactly as I imagined her real life being. She was a leader in feminism in all her characters, and her real life was the same way.

Probably the low was not one I read myself. I had recommended Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to a friend of mine. She read Lewis Carroll’s biography and said, “Did you know he liked to paint and photograph nude little girls?” I have never recommended his stories to my children.

I still find myself wondering enough about an author to consider checking out what the Internet has to say about them. Of course with blogs you can watch living autobiographies. One of my favorite authors started to blog a few years ago, and while reading it didn’t ruin her books for me, I don’t follow it because her day to day life does not interest me.

But a writer who I do wish had a biography or autobiography out, and who I find to be very approachable (I emailed her how much I enjoyed a book she wrote and she replied in under an hour) is Jane Yolen. The breadth of her work is amazing.

YolenDragon'sBloodGiven the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs?

Well depending on the type, I think a dragon qualifies as the answer to both 🙂 I love to write about dragons and would want to encounter the friendly type, or hot erotic shapeshifting type, but not the type that would burn me to a crisp on sight.

What book(s) should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

It seems like the Dresden Files Series by Jim Butcher would make a good CCG because there are so many different factions. It would also be great as an MMO. It has a huge fan base, and I think players could make it a very dynamic game. It looks like it’s already an RPG, but I haven’t had the pleasure of playing it yet.

What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

For A Sunset Finish I used Dancing Gods by Erna Fergusson and several historical books about the Pueblo Revolt. Although other stories I’ve written aren’t so directly tied to an area in the real world, I still research a lot about the folklore of whatever mythical creature I’m using. I use fairies frequently and have found The Erotic World of Faery by Maureen Duffy to be very helpful—it’s not as racy as it sounds 🙂

ZahnHeirToTheEmpireWho are some of your favorite book villains?

Admiral Thrawn from Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy for Star Wars is by far my favorite villain. I think that series is officially the Heir to the Empire series, but because Thrawn is so awesome, people just call it the Thrawn Trilogy. In fact, he is so cool all other villains have escaped my head at the moment.

What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?

I really like the Pride and Prejudice production with Colin Firth. The new movies for the Narnia series have been great and added new depth to the books. I think the second Hobbit movie was terrible. I loved The Lord of the Rings movies, and the first Hobbit movie was good, but I don’t know what happened with the second part.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I really enjoy interviews like this, but it’s hard for me to go out and seek them along with seeking reviews. I also just spent what I considered a large sum for advertising and really didn’t get much in the way of sales from it. I’ve found the balance between promoting current publications and working on new stories to be difficult. In the long run, I think concentrating on improving my writing and getting new stuff out there will be what pays off.

MeyerViolinConcertoCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

Actually, my awkward fan girl moment occurred in my musician life, but I wasn’t gushing. I played the bass from middle school until my early thirties. Bass is just not that glamorous. But when I was in high school, a man who was both a hot bass player and cute was burning up the music scene. He was giving a master class in Colorado, I live in NM, and I auditioned and received a spot to play for him along with a few other girls from here (strangely Albuquerque had mostly female bass players when I was going through high school even though it’s a male dominated instrument). So we drove up there, the whole time talking about how cute Edgar Meyer was and not focused on our music at all. By, the time I played for him, he was pretty much a god in my mind. I managed to get through my song; he gave me comments. His last comment was, “It would really be great if you played it by memory.” He whisked the music off my stand and stood there waiting for me to play it by memory. There was just no way. I was now humiliated in front of the bass god and all his worshipers!

A little addendum to the story: he just performed with Taylor Swift on one of the country music awards this year. I was flipping through channels, saw him and jumped up yelling that I knew him. My kids thought I was crazy 🙂

MorgensternNightCircusCover art can be so important for a book, making or breaking sales. What cover art has caught your eye, that you found stood above other books?

I really like both covers that I’ve seen for The Night Circus. I’d love to have artwork like that for a series I hope to publish one day.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

My short story “The Virgin and the Dragon” has just been released in the Spring 2014 volume of The Colored Lens. My novella A Sunset Finish will have been out a year this summer, and I’ll probably do a special giveaway at my blog enchantedspark.com.

Places to Stalk Melinda Moore

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Jupiter Gardens Press

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Interview: Mari Adkins, Author of Midnight

AdkinsMidnightHello everyone, please welcome Mari Adkins. She’s launching her book, Midnight, today! And she had time to swing by here and chat about the usefulness of Google maps, Buck Rogers, bloodlines, and Harlan County. You can check more about her book at Apex Publications.

1. What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

People are probably sick to death of me going on and on about Cornwall, brown betty teapots, and Penelope. But if I could go anywhere, I’d like to spend time inside Rosamunde Pilcher‘s The Shell Seekers. It would make me insanely happy to visit Penelope at Podmore’s Thatch and have lunch and afternoon tea. I would think around the middle of April would be perfect. The flowers and trees in her gardens would be sprouting and blooming. The vegetable garden would have been turned and seasonally planted. Everything would be homey, especially with the singing birds and laundry on the clothesline. And of course, inside, her father’s painting would still be hanging on the wall.

2. Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Reality in my fiction is just as important as the paranormal along with everything else. My Harlan County is, of course, based on a real place.

It’s a three hour road trip from Loyall, Kentucky, to Lexington. Likewise, it takes forty-five minutes to get from Loyall to Middlesborough, which is more or less halfway to Knoxville, Tennessee. So yes, getting places takes time. With Sami’s stories, she usually went to sleep, unless she was driving; then, I’d make note of the length of the drive, insert a discussion (if any), and have the characters listen to music and/or check out the scenery and/or think Really Deep Thoughts.

I don’t know about my characters, but personally, I require a pit stop at the Happy Mart in Pineville on the way to Lexington, followed by another at Renfro Valley Shell; reverse that for the trip from Lexington. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sometimes had to add a stop, each way, in Corbin.

There’s plenty of cussing in Midnight. I tried to tame a lot of them, but Sami is fond of her many f-bombs. I’ve tried to use a bit more creativity in the teenagers I’m writing now. Teens are going to swear; it’s as much part of finding their identities as the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. Sometimes saying, “charlie foxtrot”, “cuss panties”, or “my hind foot” don’t and can’t convey how someone truly feels in a given moment.

My characters end up in showers, baths, and looking in the mirror a lot. It’s not uncommon or strange for them to end up doing these things together. Females tend to get their periods right on schedule without any comment. But if it comes as a “bad time”, the reader hears about it, plenty.

SizemoreAinsworthAegriSomnia3. More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any cross over pieces (TV to book, book to PC, etc.) that you have enjoyed?

I reserve comment on how I feel publishing should be handling such changes. I can say I can’t see them as trends; I definitely see them as change. Having said that, I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead and Justified. While I haven’t read the TWD graphic novels, I have read the short “Fire in the Hole” that the pilot for Justified was based on.

4. What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

As I’ve mentioned, Harlan County, Kentucky, is a real place. So, in a way, a lot of my worldbuilding is already done for me. However, I’ve made use of digital and print histories, genealogies, maps, and photographs. Mostly my own photographs–with the exception of the story set in 1959, obviously. I spent 1995 to 2013 talking with Art Halcomb Sr about Harlan County. We got to the point where he’d sometimes call me with questions. The running joke in our family is that I know more about the county than some of the people who live there.

Google Maps with street view has been useful. Not much of the county is available on street view, unfortunately, but there’s just enough that if I need to know real quick what something looks like, I can click through–which is often simpler than combing through a gigabyte of pictures.

I’m also one of those writers who creates or downloads floorplans of the buildings my characters spend the most time in. If I don’t, I’m sure to write a character going through a wall instead of taking a flight of stairs, looking out a window that doesn’t exist (onto a view that doesn’t exist), or taking an elevator into oblivion.

I’ve also made use of a 1995 county telephone book so I have authentic local names. For example, I might pull a last name from one part of the county and a first name from another and use that to start building a character.

AdkinsHarlanCountyHorrors5. In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

I’m one of those writers who doesn’t write physical bad guys. Sometimes readers have difficulty comprehending the lack of a physical antagonist. Readers are conditioned to believe a boogeyman or other kind of physical threat is necessary. But neither is. Just like in real life, characters don’t have to wage physical battles to grow as individuals. My leads battle their inner selves. Sure, there’s outward conflict. But inward battles can be even more damaging and traumatic than what we might face from someone else.

6. As a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

Anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury gave me this. When we studied space in second grade (way back in 1976), I fully expected to be living on the moon by 2010. I thought that would be so awesome. Space stations, lunar colonies, daytrips to Mars, and so forth. I thought this would be common. I got my laser battles from visual media–Star Wars and Buck Rodgers. I’ve always envisioned a future world made of science filled with magic, which in my opinion, aren’t mutually exclusive; they comprise a whole.

ScullyEnterAtYourOwnRisk7. Writing in the fantasy genre, how do you take the standard tropes and turn them sideways? Or even upside down?

I wanted to write a “human having a vampire problem” story. How would it be if vampirism wasn’t at all like we’ve learned from books, movies, and even common folklore? How would it be if this vampirism was genetic, passed through bloodlines?

I kept asking What if? What if? What if?

My characters are human first. The vampire certainly lies at their core, but the vampire isn’t what or who they are. They aren’t monsters. They’re people. They have jobs, go to school, have parties, visit family and friends, have babies, fall in love–and have real, human problems.

One of the characters is quite fond of telling anyone who’ll listen, “You’re a vampire. Being a vampire is pain.” And that, to me, encompasses the entire human condition.
Humans have limits. Humans can be pushed only so far before they break–figuratively and literally. Vampire genetics makes that a bit trickier. They still become ill, grow old, get hurt, be killed–anything that can happen to a “regular human” can happen to them. The vampire genetics can make all that better or worse, depending on the overall health and mindset of the person at his core.

8. How did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?

My first reaction to having something published was, “Are you serious?” I jumped up and down a bit then had a glass of wine. I love a party, but I’m not much of a party person, despite the jokes I make about holding raves. The feeling returned when I received the anthology and got to hold it in my hands. I’d sometimes go to the shelf and look at it and see if it was really there. Or I’d read the table of contents–just in case!

9. Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Midnight, my debut novel, launches May 27th. I have a signing June 7th at the Lexington Farmers Market at The Morris Book Shop booth.

AdkinsMidnightSynopsis of Midnight:

Samantha Clark has always known she was different. Growing up feeling unwanted and unloved, she escaped a bad childhood by going to college. There she quickly fell into an unhealthy relationship in an attempt to form a connection with another person, to be needed and loved in a way she had always craved. When the abuse becomes life-threatening, Sami is on the run again, turning to a college-friend for help. What she finds is not only a place to crash while she tries to make a plan for the future, but acceptance, friendship, and a new hope of ‘family’.

Set in rural Kentucky in 1985, Midnight is the inward journey of Sami’s self-loathing, self-reflection, and eventual self-acceptance. Through the love of her friends and the mysterious Michael, Sami not only heals from the scars given earlier in life, she finds her personal strength.

Places to Stalk Mari Adkins

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Interview: Garrett Calcaterra, Ahimsa Kerp, & Craig Comer

CalcaterraKerpComerRoadsToBaldairnMotte2Everyone, please welcome the authors of The Roads to Baldairn Motte, Garrett, Ahimsa, and Craig. Today we chat about influential books and movies in the realm of fiction, tattoos versus cosplay, fictional beasties, and the challenges of self-promotion. Enjoy!

1) Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Craig: Absolutely. Today, you still see elements of fantasy fiction adorned on fashion items and throughout pop culture. Walking Dead and Game of Thrones shirts, mugs, and stickers are everywhere, and more so, you hear lines from these worlds quoted on news shows and by sports commentators.

Ahi: In some ways, probably more so than ever. I think Star Wars broke through the glass nerd ceiling and now fantasy is more popular than ever. However, it’s often a bit empty. Sci-fi can push for social betterment, but fantasy often seems to wallow in meaningless entertainment. They’re not mutually exclusive, and I’d love to see more ambitious fantasy.

Garrett: I think all genres tend to wallow in meaningless entertainment, even sci-fi and literary fiction. And you know, that’s fine sometimes. I see nothing wrong with literature functioning as escapism—life can get rough, and what better way to put aside your problems for a few hours than in a fun book?

But I’d argue that there is still ambitious fantasy out there. It may not shape history anymore, but it works in subtle ways. I think Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is so popular because it’s rooted in complex, believable characters. It functions in the same way good literary fiction does: we, as readers, learn something about the human condition from these characters.

Fantasy can also be a medium for exploring alternative philosophies and social viewpoints. I’m currently reading The Mists of Avalon for the first time, for example (I know, not exactly new, and yes, shame on me for not reading it a long time ago!), and it does an amazing job of making the reader question our patriarchal culture, not to mention our modern disconnect with nature and the magic in the world around us. That’s perhaps the biggest impact fantasy has, reminding us about magic. I just finished Bruce McAllister’s Dream Baby and it’s this amazing, sort of paranormal fantasy set during the Vietnam War, based on the premise that being in heightened combat situations awakens a dormant, magical ability in certain humans. That’s what good fantasy is all about. It makes us question our reality. Is there something more to modern human existence than working like a dog just so you can buy the newest iPhone or 60” flatscreen TV?

CalcaterraDreamwielder2) What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

Craig: I’m not sure any of the worlds I love so much are great for visiting. They are scary and dangerous places! But maybe Philip Pullmans London from, His Dark Materials. It’d be a trip to walk around and see everyone’s daemon running around!

Ahi: My answer is boring because I just want to go to Middle-earth. Hang out with the Dunedain, visit Rivendell, cruise up to the Misty Mountains… yup, that’s the dream.

Garrett: Yeah, my first choice would be Middle-earth too. The Shire probably has some pretty good holiday fixings going on. Hmm…where else? My girlfriend and I adore animals—to the point we like our pets more than most humans—so once we get married it would be pretty fun to take her to Narnia and visit the talking animals in the court of Cair Paravel.

3) Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Craig: I think the level of reality has to match the tone and themes of the work. Something like A Game of Thrones needs to be gritty and real because the reader is so closely imbedded in the character’s perspective, and those details describe the world Martin is creating. Something like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is more whimsical. Too many details there would weigh down the prose. But for each, the important thing is consistency.

Ahi: I love books where people swear and poop. But it has to be for a reason. Usually those mundane realities are cut because they don’t advance the story, and we don’t really need to know how many times per minute your protagonist blinks.

Garrett: Yup, I’ve got little to add beyond that. If I’m writing a dark, gritty tale, I use those realistic elements the same way I use setting description to create a believable backdrop and establish the tone.

ComerAbandonedTowers4) Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs?

Craig: I would love to have a Heinzelmännchen come stay at my house and do all the care taking! I would avoid any type of giant arachnid. Small little guys hanging on webs are fine; huge Shelob sized ones, not so much.

Ahi: I have quite an affinity for Yetis. And I would really like the platycore from Munchkin as a pet. Who would I avoid? Most fantastical creatures probably! But China Mieville‘s slake moths especially creep me out.

Garrett: I would love to encounter a dragon from Pern and have an Impression. How awesome would it be to fly on the back of a dragon and communicate telepathically? As for creatures to avoid, I’d have to say the Great Old Ones. I feel like I’m a pretty easygoing guy and could get along with most nefarious creatures, but the inhuman evilness of Cthulhu is too much, and the thought of losing my mind terrifies me.

KerpOriginsCollidingCausalities5) More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any plans to take your works in the multimedia realm?

Ahi: I have no prediction as to how it’s going to evolve, but I am excited to see how it all goes down. I am definitely excited to continue to learn different kinds of storytelling as they continue to grow.

Craig: We’re already seeing interactive ebooks and tie-in novels for PC games. I think that will continue, and at some point a synergy (or at least an attempt at one) with social media—perhaps a choose-your-own-adventure with thousands of readers creating the story together?

CalcaterraKerpGoodBrewHardToFindGarrett: It’s an exciting and unpredictable time. For the biggest authors in the publishing world, yeah, you’re gonna continue to see their fictional worlds turned into multimedia franchises like we’re seeing with LOTR, A Game of Thrones, The Chronicles of Narnia, and American Gods. For those of us authors who aren’t best-sellers, technology will function to enhance the way we interact with readers. The new e-book edition of The Roads to Baldairn Motte has an enhanced character index with hyperlinks, for example, which is helpful for a sprawling mosaic novel. Earlier this year, Ahimsa and I were able to re-release A Good Brew is Hard to Find, a choose-your-own-adventure style humorous fantasy. Its first incarnation was on a website with clunky html a decade ago, and now it’s a slick, easy to read e-book. I too am excited to get to write in these different mediums, and am always open to new opportunities. Ultimately though, novels are my favorite and I hope novels are able to retain their market share in our attention deficit world where books have to compete for attention against other media.

ComerDragonmountAnthology6) What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

Ahi: It depends on the project, but I quite enjoy the role of researcher. I read 5-10 books per novel, and my booksmarks folders on Chrome have 30-40 links each. We live in the best time ever for research, as the wealth of human history and progress is all available on the same machine you type your story on.

Craig: There’s a book, What Would Your Character Do?, that I find useful for fleshing out character ideas. It puts them in different scenarios and asks a litany of reaction and motivation type questions. World building, for me, is the best part of the creative process, and I use everything from old childhood tales to military encyclopedias. The internet has made it easier than ever to find information, and not just with who, what, and where.  There are dialect translators, guides for creating armor, guides on botany and Victorian costume—everything is out there.

Garrett: I don’t read many non-fiction books and feel pretty inadequate in my knowledge of history compared to Ahi and Craig, but I do take my research seriously. I mostly rely on reference materials when writing fantasy. I did a ton of research to make sure I had my nautical terminology correct when writing The Roads to Baldairn Motte, for example, and that came in handy for Dreamwielder too. Beyond that, the non-fiction I read tends to be newspaper and magazine articles on technology and climate change. In fact, I posted an annotated bibliography on climate change and science fiction on my blog, if anyone wants to check it out. (link: http://garrettcalcaterra.blogspot.com/2013/06/an-annotated-bibliography-for-science.html )

ComerBardsAndSages7) With the modern popularity of ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Ahi: I mean, genre is just a marketing tool. I’d like to see it removed entirely to be honest. Genre is rather a limiting, didactic way of looking at something much broader and nearly infinite in scope. As to ebooks, they haven’t lured me out of my comfort zone, as I read from a wide range already.

Craig: I agree with Ahimsa. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because you still need readers to find your book, and that can’t be on author name recognition or friend recommendation alone. Online lists have become a prevalent source for finding new books or songs or whatever, but even those are necessarily broken down by some sort of meta-label, whether it be genre or some other categorization.

Garrett: Yeah, I agree. In theory, better online categorization, meta tags, cloud servers and whatnot makes it easier for readers to find a broader range of books, but in reality it’s just become part of our norm, and readers still gravitate toward their individual interests. Back when I was in junior high and grade school, if I wanted a new fantasy novel (and I did, pretty much every week) I either went to the public library or the one bookstore in town that had a big section of fantasy novels. Now people only have to tap an icon on their Kindle or Nook to accomplish the same thing, but they still have their specific interests. Though the mediums have changed, we’re approaching our author branding and marketing toward a target audience with the same general philosophy that authors were using back in the 80s. Having said that, I could be totally wrong, and maybe that’s why my book sales aren’t tearing up the charts!

CalcaterraPiratesAndSwashbucklers 8) From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay?

Ahi: Ha! Good question. I’m afraid I would feel like a total wanker if I dressed up as my own character when there are thousands of great characters already out there.

Craig: None myself, but the heroine of my next novel, The Fey Matter, is modeled in part after my fiancé. So in some sense, she’s cosplaying all the time.

Garrett: I’m not really into cosplay, but I wouldn’t protest if my girlfriend wanted to dress up like Lyrie from Baldairn Motte, and I’d be happy to be Terryll Pace, her pirate lover. “Arr! Come to me, you lusty wench!”

Oh, and Ahimsa and I both have literature-inspired tattoos. I have a Frank Frazetta cover from a Bradbury book tattooed on my shoulder and Ahi has tattoos of all kinds of cool shit: Cthulhu, Odin, an airship from China Mieville’s The Scar, I think. Tattoos are sort of like cosplay, but way tougher and cooler.

9) Is there a book to movie/TV adaptation that you found excellent? Is there a PC game to book adaptation that worked for you?

Ahi: I still think Trainspotting is the gold standard of adaptation. How anyone could turn that book into a movie is beyond me, but it was sheer genius. I haven’t read any PC game adaptations but working in licensed worlds takes skills all their own (maybe a bit like our own shared world actually) and my hat’s off to those who tell those stories.

Craig: Wonder Boys is one of my favorite movies, so that pops to mind. And the BBC’s Sherlock is very well done.

Garrett: I think Fight Club is one of the few movies that is better than the book, and I’m a big fan of the book and Palahniuk. I suppose I could say the same for American Psycho, in that the movie captures the essence of the book and makes it a tighter, more cohesive story. As far as fantasy goes, I think the first Narnia movie was very well done. Can’t say that I’ve read any books adapted from games or other media. My nerdiness is pretty well confined to original SF/F/H, and then real life scientific research (I have a BS degree in chemistry and bio, if you can believe it).

ComerBardicTalesSageAdvice10) In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

Craig: Throughout the whole writing process, I love the anticipation that someone out there will get as excited as I am about a character or plot point or setting. The rest of self-promotion is awkward and a bit embarrassing—kind of like swimming in a public pool amidst a cloud of warm water, while trying to get everyone else from swimming away from you.

Ahi: The only good part of self-promotion, for me, is the chance to meet like-minded people.  I really appreciate that aspect, but the rest of the horn-tooting is not something I’m at all fond of.

Garrett: Ditto for me. I don’t think any proper writers like self-promoting their work. If we did, we’d probably be salesmen rather than authors. But like Ahimsa said, being involved within the SF/F/H community is an entirely different matter. Doing this interview, for instance, is quite fun. I’ve also written articles and interviews for Black Gate, SF Signal and my own blog, The Machine Stops, and that’s awesome because I genuinely like to interview people and write non-fiction. So for me, the best sort of self-promotion comes in the form of being visible and active within the community in that capacity. That’s where you’ll see the best, most honest side of me. On Twitter or FB posts where I’m plugging my books, not so much.

 ComerPulpEmpire11) Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Garrett: Well, the big event for us, of course, is the release of the new edition of our mosaic novel The Roads to Baldairn Motte. The book is out in e-book format from Reputation Books as of the new year (January 1, 2014), and if it does well enough we’ll maybe see a print edition later in the year. In the meantime, the three of us are all cranking away on our own individual novels. I’m working on a high-action sequel to Dreamwielder, and then also my more serious near-future cli-fi novel. Craig is doing revisions on The Fey Matter, and Ahi is working on his Indo-fantasy. We try to attend conventions and conferences when we can, but I don’t think anything is on the books now apart from our virtual book tour online. So thank for having us and helping kick things off!

Craig: I wanted to thank a Ben Thornton for letting us use his artwork for our new cover! It’s awesome and got all three of us charged up to put together this revised edition of the book. Thanks also to you, Susan, for having us over for this chat at Dab of Darkness!

Ahi: Nothing else of mine to share, but I’d like to thank all who read this for their interest and time. Keep reading—everything. You’re awesome!

Thank you gentlemen for sharing so much and joining us here at Dab of Darkness!

Places to Stalk Garrett, Craig, and Ahimsa

Garrett Calcaterra Website

Craig Comer Website

Goodreads – Garrett

Goodreads – Ahimsa

Goodreads – Craig

Twitter – Ahimsa

Twitter – Garrett

Facebook – Craig

Facebook – Garrett

The Roads to Baldairn Motte

Interview: Eric Zawadzki & Matthew Schick

ZawadzkiSchickPithdaiGatePlease welcome the authors of The Pithdai Gate, Eric Zawadzki and Matthew Schick. These two gentlemen (am I using the term loosely?) agreed to be interviewed together, and they do provide quite an entertaining read. I expect you’ll enjoy them as much as myself.

As a young reader, unspoiled by the realities of this world, what stories and authors drove you to delusions of grandeur, expecting to be swept up into a magical tale or a laser battle?

Eric: There’s no way I could name them all. My childhood was a sort of warm bath of Chosen One fantasy – fiction and film alike. Like many kids my age I grew up watching (and obsessed with) Star Wars. The Neverending Story was an extremely awesome movie in which the hero is sent on an epic quest. As far as fiction goes, Lloyd Alexander was a huge early influence – an ordinary boy who grows up into a king. Tolkien certainly played a role, too – less the hobbits (I didn’t really appreciate them until I was older) than Strider, who was another secret king. Chronicles of Narnia had ordinary kids finding themselves flung into a fantasy world where they soon became legendary heroes. The sort of Arthurian literature kids get exposed to at an early age is in there somewhere too.

How did you and Eric meet? (Feel free to embellish embarrassing details.) And how did you two develop the writing duo the world knows you as today?

Matthew: We had a few classes together our freshman year in high school, and teachers like to sit students alphabetically.  Eric was always the last chair in the room, and more often than not, I was the chair directly in front of him.  You get to talking that way, when you’re sitting near a familiar face a lot.  It turned out we were both interested in creating worlds.  He had an idea but needed some more motivation, I had no projects but a big motivation.  That shifted a lot as we’ve grown up.

For the longest time, we were like a see-saw.  On one 10-day family vacation, I busted out 100 pages of a story, while Eric hardly wrote; for most of freshman year of college, Eric polished a complete manuscript, while I ignored Word as best as I could (for the record, both of those stories have been rewritten so often they’re unrecognizable today).  One of us working hard tended — it still tends — to motivate the other to work hard, but I’m still a knock-it-all-out-in-a-weekend kind of person.

ZawadzkiSchickLessonOfFireWhy Poland? And did that backpacking experience end up twisted and repackaged somehow in your writings?

Eric: As you might guess from my surname, I’m Polish on my father’s side. Moreover, I’m only a few generations away from the old country. My grandmother grew up bilingual, and my great grandmother spoke very little English. As a kid I was fairly proud of that heritage and I endured many a “dumb Pollock” joke as a result. When I decided to do some backpacking in Europe after college it was close to the top of my list of destinations and ended up being the first foreign soil my feet ever touched.

I was woefully unprepared for this journey. I had no phrase book, no hotel reservation, and no local currency. My guidebook (which covered all of Europe) gave me ten words of Polish and a 1-page map of the city center. Had this been France or Germany, it would have been no problem, since English speakers (and foolish American tourists) are common there, but this was Poland about a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, so almost no one over the age of 25 spoke more than a few words of English.

It was terrifying. It was incredible. It was like something straight out of The Hero’s Journey. I was only there for a week, and I have about a hundred stories about complete strangers who helped me or, in one case, took me in for the night. It sounds cheesy, but I learned a lot about the world and my place in it from the experience. The fact that everything still turned out okay in spite of the initial culture shock and some missteps made me more willing to try new things even when I wasn’t sure of the outcome. It also strengthened my faith in humanity, and I think that, more than anything, comes out in my writing.

ZawadzkiSchickKingmakerAs a journalist, how does that real life experience affect your fiction writing? Does it feed into character development or ambiance of the book?

Matthew: God, put a journalism major with an English major and tell them to write something … I hand him a 70K-word draft and get back a 140K-word epic, and it’s been all I can do to not shred it.  I’ve had to learn that yes, adjectives are important.  Yes, we need this seemingly irrelevant anecdote — though I try to make it relevant.  Adverbs have been fantastically tricky, but sometimes they’re the easiest way to present a concept. Recently, as I work on the sequel to Kingmaker, it’s been fun to let go and add in stuff that may be useless for the next draft.

Oh, but you mean experiences!  As I think about it, the biggest impact might be in how people talk about their news.  Politicians often don’t sound truthful; cops often sound guarded.  A really passionate advocate sounds a little crazy.  Reporters and editors sometimes give a bit more background on their sources’ personalities in private, so you can see the difference between the public and private faces.  When it comes to making characters, the news is full of them.

As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

Eric: Ultimately, everything a writer does becomes grist for the idea mill. If I could pick one that has helped me most, though, I’d have to say tabletop roleplaying games – particularly GMing games. When you run a game well, you’re basically organizing a collaborative storytelling exercise with a small audience. It comes with immediate feedback, as well. If the players aren’t enjoying themselves, boy will you know it! You also learn that you can’t please everyone, which I think is an important lesson for a writer. We all want so badly to be liked, but every book won’t click with every reader just as some styles of game play just aren’t compatible. Being able to listen to your players during and between sessions and find out what’s working and what isn’t – and then to give them more of what they want and less of what they don’t (rather than getting angry at the players for not thinking all your ideas are awesome) – is the mark of a good GM. As writers, Gamemastering teaches storytelling techniques. It teaches the importance of knowing your audience. It is also a fairly inexpensive hobby that involves getting together with friends on a regular basis.

Writing in the fantasy genre, how do you take the standard tropes and turn them sideways? Or even upside down?

Matthew: I’m looking for something that’s not been done.  Kingmaker was something I’d never seen before: Kids lose their magic as they grow older. It usually happens the other way. I’ve not had an idea that good before.  Eric really ran with that, and in The Pithdai Gate, we got to take if further.

I don’t go out of my way, to be honest.  If I need a swashbuckler, I’m using one.  I’m just putting him in my world, where he’s part of a minority race, he’s a little ADHD, he can turn into a fish, and … well, I’m not going to give it all away.  I do like to have simple characters with one or two traits, but Eric will flesh out the lowliest peasant … which can lead to some awesome twists.

Four Moons Press is a collaboration between you and Matthew Schick and is used to publish your fantasy books, all of which have 4 moons. Why 4? And how do you work that in to your various books, some of which are not connected?

Eric: I find that every generation of writers builds on or reacts against the work of previous generations (and quite often both). Almost all the fantasy we read growing up only had one moon just like Earth’s – quite often with the same lunar calendar. A few had an extra moon or two, but aside from a different color or lunar calendar, it looked like…the moon. Don’t ask me why that little bit of slightly lazy world-building drove us crazy, but we decided our world was going to buck that trend. Three, four, and eight were magic numbers early in our collaboration, and so we settled on three visible moons and one “dark moon” that is only visible as a circle of darkness that passes in front of the stars and other moons. We also decided they’d have really weird orbits – one travels across the sky from west to east, one orbits north-south, and the other two go from east to west.

I cannot begin to tell you how many hours of productivity we have lost over the last couple decades to trying to figure out how these bizarre orbits look from the ground, but it’s probably far more than it needed to be. We used to take great pains to mention each moon and used elaborate lunar calendars to make sure we weren’t describing the moons wrong. We really don’t do that anymore. The moons are important in some books because of their mythological or magical significance. They’re Mar gods in Lesson of the Fire. The yellow moon facilitates communication between the Wen in The Pithdai Gate. They’re mentioned here and there throughout our books as part of the scenery whenever you might expect another fantasy novel to mention the presence of the moon. I’d like to think it lends our world a slightly more alien quality. This isn’t Earth. It’s Someplace Else Entirely. It also gives us a chance to describe moons without using the phrases “pale orb” and “silver crescent.” Yay variety!

Have you ever cosplayed any of the characters of your books?

Matthew: Nope. I haven’t found one I’d like to yet.

It is the holiday season, where we are inundated with holiday marketing and music and food until January 2nd. What is your favorite fictional holiday (from books, movies, or tv)?

Eric: I don’t really have a favorite from a book, but the made-up holiday I like think is the niftiest is Marchoween. It started when a friend of mine decided she really wanted to have a costume party but it was March and she wasn’t quite the kind of person to throw a costume party just because. She settled on calling it Marchoween because it fell on the 31st of March. Instead of dressing up as imaginary people, we wore costumes intended to lampoon each other. I stole the sweater she wears all the time, and she borrowed the laptop I carry with me everywhere. Several others did similar swaps, and we went in-character as other people at the party. It was a lot of fun to see the different interpretations, and it gave us a chance to laugh at ourselves. I thought this was particularly fitting for a costume party held on April Fools Day Eve. Maybe I’ll work the concept into a book, but it hasn’t happened yet.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

Matthew: I prefer a neat, empty space with easy access to coffee and Reeses Pieces.  The fewer things there are to distract me, the better, and that often means no music.  I have a computer with almost no programs on it, and I like to find a place with no Internet, and hash out my rough drafts that way.  I keep a list of things I might need to research later.

ZawadzkiGodMachineChronicleI see that you have a connection to Onyx Path Publishing, an RPG press. What magic and mayhem have you concocted with the folks of Onyx Path?

Eric: I’ve been doing rather a lot of work for Onyx Path in the last year or so. I wrote the introduction for The God-Machine Chronicle and a short story for its accompanying anthology. I’ve also done a bit of work for the 20th anniversary edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – mostly world-building bits, which I can pretty much conjure at will after 20+ years writing fantasy. Most of the work I’m doing now is for the newest Onyx Path game Demon: The Descent, which concerns the cloak-and-dagger lives of biomechanical fallen angels on the run from the God-Machine that created them for its own inscrutable purposes. I hope to be able to do some more work for Mage: The Awakening in the next year, which is still probably my favorite game as a player.

ZawadzkiGodMachineAnthologyWhat upcoming or future projects would you like to share with the readers today?

Eric: The big news right now is the 12/20 release of The Pithdai Gate. This book involves characters and a part of the world we’re really excited about. Kingmaker is a bit of a bittersweet coming of age story. Lesson of the Fire features a hero who has fallen from grace and is on a collision course with tragedy. For The Pithdai Gate we decided we wanted to do something light and fun. We took as inspiration old Robin Hood stories, The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, The A-Team, comic books, and all sorts of other stories about clever, larger-than-life heroes working together to thwart the plans of villains.

Looking into the future, we’ve never had a shortage of ideas for new books. Matt’s currently finishing up the first draft of the sequel to Kingmaker (the first book of our YA-ish series), so I’ll be doing the second draft of that soon. We hope to have that ready to publish in late 2014. After that, maybe a sequel to The Pithdai Gate. I’ve also been slowly working on the first draft of a rather elaborate multi-book project I jokingly call How I Destroyed Civilization. That’s years away from being ready for Matt to revise because there are letters in the first book that are being written by characters during events in the last book, so we can’t write those letters until we know what happens in the last book.

Places to Stalk Eric and Matthew

Four Moons Press

Eric on Goodreads

Matthew on Goodreads

Smashwords

Eric on Goodreads

Gentlemen, thank you so much for venturing into my little corner of the blogosphere. I really like that idea of Marchoween. Maybe I can make it a local holiday! Goodluck in all your endeavors!