Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Category: Guestpost (page 1 of 4)

Stephen Blackmoore: “Terror And The Debut Author”

Today, a guest post from the mighty Stephen Motherfucking Blackmoore, debut author extraordinaire. He’s got this book out now, CITY OF THE LOST. I read this book and blurbed it, saying, “Bruja, demons, bloodsuckers, the living dead and bucketloads of bloody magic – you’ll find all of those in CITY OF THE LOST, but the real magic is how Blackmoore deftly breathes secret supernatural life into the City of Angels. This is an auspicious debut that’s at turns violent, hilarious, and tragic. Can’t wait make a return trip to Blackmoore’s voodoo version of L.A.” — I genuinely truly loved this book. What’s doubly fucked up is how Blackmoore only ups the ante with the coming sequel, DEAD THINGS, a book so good I want to read it twice. And I don’t read many books twice. So, here is the author resplendent in his glory — give him your ear, and if you trust me to steer you straight, give him your money, too.

As of the time of this posting my first novel, CITY OF THE LOST, a noir urban fantasy, will have been out for two days.

I’m writing this on Monday, the day before it officially comes out and I have no idea what the sales will look like, if people will pan it, or even if they’ll buy it. It’s gotten some good press. Kirkus liked it. Romantic Times, surprisingly, reviewed it, and unsurprisingly, hated it. It was on the January recommended reading list for L.A. Magazine. Got some good stuff over on Rex Robot and My Bookish Ways and I hear The Qwillery enjoyed it.

One guy on Goodreads couldn’t get past all the swearing, but a lot of other people seemed to dig it. There are, as yet, no Amazon reviews.

Tomorrow night, Friday, January 6th, I will be having my book launch at Mysterious Galaxy, my first book signing ever, in Redondo Beach, California and on Saturday afternoon, January 7th, at 2:00 I’m signing at their store in San Diego. If all goes as planned I’ll be doing the same in San Francisco sometime in February at Borderlands Books.

I have never been in the public eye as much as I am right now. It may not be much, and it might not even be a blip on the radar, but it’s a hell of a lot more than I’ve been in the past and though I keep expecting to be terrified, keep thinking I should be terrified, I’m not.

Have you ever gone skydiving? I recommend it. Provided everything goes right, and even if it goes wrong, I suppose, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring things a person can experience.

I went on a tandem jump years ago. Which means I was strapped to a guy who was going to do most of the work of not leaving a crater or a wide, red smear when we hit the ground. That or static line is really the only way you’re going to go out your first time without a lot of prep and training. And even then there will be someone holding onto you most of the way down.

The entire time I kept expecting to freak out. Driving out there, sitting through the “Don’t Panic, You’re Probably Not Going To Die,” training video and pep talk, signing the waivers, getting into the plane. Every step of the way I kept thinking, “I’m going to lose my shit any second now.” But I didn’t.

At 12,000 feet up in the air, they opened the door.

From that high up, from that wide a field of view, the world doesn’t look right. All sense of space is, oddly, gone. You’re too high up to get vertigo. You don’t have those visual frames of reference that tell you just how far up you really are. 12,000 feet is just a number.

I thought, “This is the coolest shit ever.”

And I jumped.

Free fall is a trip. You don’t really need to breathe so much as just leave your mouth open. The air will shove itself into your lungs whether you like it or not. You’re in the throes of gravity. It is surprisingly loud.

This experience with the book is a lot like that jump. Only without being strapped to someone who’s going to keep me from cratering when I hit the ground. This time it’s all me.

At no point during that jump was I afraid and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

It was about jumping out of an airplane. It was never about reaching the ground safely.

I hear a lot of things from a lot of people about what I should do and what I have to do to make this book “successful.” I’m sure they’re all right. Some of those are things I’ll do. Some of them aren’t.

But it’s not about being successful. It’s not about reaching the ground safely.

It’s all about jumping.

“Mom, I’m Next To Stephen King!” Your Book On Shelves, By Lauren Roy

Ta-da. Mixing it up today with a guest post from Lauren Roy, AKA “Falconesse.” She’d like to say some things to you about getting your book on actual, non-digital bookshelves. Note that Lauren’s talking about any book, be it self-published or otherwise. She is, of course, a bookseller — she’s writing you from the trenches, you see. Feel free to ask her any questions you see fit to ask!

You’ve published a book in dead tree form. Congratulations! Now you’re thinking, “Hey, I’d like to be on the shelves at Joe’s Books.” (We assume, for the sake of this exercise, you’ve passed the test in this post.)

So, how do you make friends with your local independent bookstore and get some of that sweet, sweet shelf-space?

Be part of the store’s community. Shop there. Attend events. Be a friend to that store because you genuinely care about it, not just so they’ll carry your book. Booksellers know the difference.

Offer returnability. Most bookstores buy books on a returnable basis, and at a 40% discount (or greater, if they’re ordering direct from the publisher). If you can’t offer this, buyers will likely balk — if your book doesn’t sell, they’re stuck with it on their shelves and will have to cough up the cash for it. It’s not a good arrangement for the store. You might instead have to work with the bookstore on consignment.

Talk to the right person… In my bookstore days, lots of would-be authors came in and pushed their book on whatever register monkey they could corner first. Usually said monkeys were high schoolers who weren’t making ordering decisions.

Ask to talk to the book buyer… at the right time. If the store is a holiday madhouse and the staff is running on caffeine and fear, now’s not the time to pitch to the buyer.

Yes, I said pitch. You’ve got about thirty seconds to make them want to read your book. Be professional. Be polite. Learn from this.

Have a sample copy available. Publishers create buzz through the help of Advanced Reader Copies. These are released 3-6 months(ish) before the book hits stores. They look like this:

Stuff of Legends

You’ll need to give a copy of your book to the buyer to read. If you don’t want to part with a dead-tree copy, be willing to email them a .pdf, or stick the book on a thumb drive.

Give them time to read it. Your average bookseller’s ARC pile looks like this:

ARC pile 1

Okay, I lied. More like this:

ARC pile 2

Only taller.

Don’t expect them to drop everything to read your book. It’s fair to follow-up (nicely!) if you haven’t heard back in three or four weeks.

Don’t say the A-word. Not asshole or asshat. Amazon. I’m sorry to say this, but if you’ve self-pubbed through CreateSpace, chances are your local indie will pass on carrying your book. It’s like suggesting the mom-and-pop cafe down the street buy their coffee from Starbucks.

Promote the store on your website. Speaking of the A-word, don’t just link to Amazon. If you want your local indie to support your book, send readers their way. Link to them and to Indiebound.

Stand out in a good way. Booksellers get approached by writers all the time. They will quite possibly be ready with a “no” before you even get started. If you’re wondering why, give Chuck’s article another read. Now imagine people who haven’t read that coming in, looming and tittering, or swaggering in with the hard-sell, badgering buyers to represent something that’ll sit on the shelves gathering dust.

I can’t promise you success. It is an uphill climb. But if you keep these things in mind, you might just increase your chances at getting on the shelves.

Additional tips for the commercially published:

Do offer to drop in and sign. If your books are already on store shelves, and you’d like to do a stock-signing for your friendly local bookstore, that’s awesome! Booksellers will love you for it, and if they know you’re John-Hancocking those bad cats, will probably find a way to display them as autographed copies.

However, don’t assume the whole staff knows who you are. While I could probably have named several local authors in my bookstore days, that doesn’t mean I recognized them on sight. Especially since most writers don’t visit their local Glamour Shots every time they visit the mall. Once, a woman came in at closing time, grabbed a stack of books, then brought them up to the register where — without a word to me — she snagged a pen and started writing in them. When I asked if I could help her out (silently screaming What the fuck, lady?), she put on her haughtiest tone and said, “I’m the author.”

If you have a publicist, loop them inespecially if you’ve arranged a signing with the bookstore on your own. There might not be very much that they need to do, but it’s good to keep your team informed. Also, (and this is where I put on my day job hat), if something goes wonky, you’ve got more people looking out for you. Events get listed in publicity reports. Sales reps look at those, or get an email from the publicist saying, “Hey, your store is hosting Joe T. Author in two weeks.” The reps get in touch with booksellers to make sure their orders are in and arriving on time, and can help troubleshoot any stock/credit/shipping issues that crop up. You’ve got a support team at your publisher. Let them help!

Let the stores know what you need. Need a glass of water, a cup of coffee, a certain-colored pen to sign with? Do you want a designated staff member standing by to take pictures for fans, or to write their names on a post-it so you don’t accidentally write Kristen when they spell it Kristin? Do you need someone to play bad cop if a fan’s monopolizing your time? Whatever makes a signing go smoothly for you, tell your contact at the store and they’ll make it happen.

Thank the staff. They’re probably already gushing over you, but let ’em know if they did a good job, too. It’s always nice to hear.

Booksellers and authors make great partners. Hopefully these guildelines will help you turn your friendly local bookstore into your friendly loyal bookstore.

Lauren Roy spends her days surrounded by books and her nights scratching out one of her own. She has just done the math and realized she’s been in the book industry for more than half her life — back in her day, they sold books barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. Her rambles about bookselling, writing, geekery, and her inability to nurture houseplants can be found at  She is represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Agency.

J.C. Hutchins: The Terribleminds Interview

This week the temporal streams have crossed. Bodies have perhaps been swapped, as if in a comedy starring Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron, or starring Lindsay Lohan and an incontinent horse. At the fore of this week, Mister J.C. “Hutch Snugglepants McGee” Hutchins interviewed me at his podcast (come and bathe in the soothing dulcet sounds of my weird voice), and in the same fell swoop turned in his answers for an interview here at Jolly Ol’ Terribleminds. If you don’t know Hutch, well, shame on you — podcaster, novelist, and above all else, consummate storyteller. I read a script of his and it knocked me on my ass. Here, then, is his interview. You can find his website here at and you should, of course, follow his ass on the Twittertubes (@jchutchins). Remember: Momma gets a what-what.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

Back in the 1990s, I used to freelance for Wizard, a now-defunct print magazine that covered the comic book industry. I had the great fortune to interview some of my favorite comic writers — undisputed greats such as Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis.

My favorite, and most memorable, interview was with writer Alan Moore. We talked about his new endeavor at the time, America’s Best Comics … and about his incredible legacy as a creator: Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, Watchmen. I probably gushed a bit about my favorite Superman comic story, which he wrote: “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”

And then I asked him about his life as a practicing magician.

Now when I say “magician,” I don’t mean card tricks, smoke bombs and top hat rabbits. That’s being an illusionist. What I was discussing with Moore was the real deal, the ancient shit — magic magic, the kind you conjure with sorcery and summonings. Moore was an earnest believer, and because I’m a wildly open-minded dude when it comes to this sort of thing because of some peculiar life experiences of my own, I didn’t bat an eye at his belief.

My favorite part of the interview was when he recalled a conversation he once had with the an ancient and powerful entity — I think it was the god Mercury. Moore was fully aware of how mad it all sounded, but again, could only share his belief and the authenticity of his personal experience.

It was at this point when I asked him: “How do you know you were talking to the god Mercury?”

“Well, when it looks like a god, and it barks like a god, it’s probably a god,” he replied.

It was an awesome conversation. I still have the tape somewhere. I remember him having a great voice. Deep and raspy, like he gargled gravel.

So yes. Magic. Spells, communing with gods, awesome. What magic would you possess if you could?

All of the ultra-cool abilities of a Jedi master, but without the midi-chlorians.

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

There’s plenty to love about being a writer. I reckon my favorite part of it is that a goodly chunk of my heart gets to stay young for, like, forever. I get to play make believe every day. It’s nuts: People pay me to pretend for a living. That’s a cool, blessed job to have.

It can get lonesome — it’s just you and your puny words, desperately trying to do justice to the vision in your head. And it can get scary — as a freelance creator, I sometimes don’t know where the next paycheck’s coming from. It’s intimidating too, as the kind of work I do can be experimental … which means I’m learning on-the-fly, under the gun. And it can be heartbreaking. There’s a lot of rejection in this business.

The dreamer side of me — the part that concocts stories and writes them — is an ever-optimist. It’s gotta be. I can’t create when my heart is stony. I need my heart. I need to fall in love with whatever I’m writing about.

The entrepreneur side of me — the one that worries about hunting, and bills and day rates — it learned long ago the value of managed expectations. I ship, I rewrite if needed, I birddog the check. This side of me insists I’ll never be more than what I presently am: a grease-grimed mechanic who’s here to fucking work.

This actually delights my inner optimist, because being a grease-grimed wordherder is all I’ve ever wanted to be.

Let’s talk about transmedia — you’re both fan and practitioner. Care to define what it is in your own words?

Sure. “Transmedia” is an emerging, and usually technology-fueled, way to tell stories. Transmedia narratives are designed to unfold in multiple storytelling media, often simultaneously.

Think of a physical newspaper. You read a front page story and experience its nonfiction narrative in many ways: Through the high concept headline, the body text, the photos and cutlines, a colorful infographic or two. Even the “Continued on Page A3” jump prompt states there’s more to consume if you expend the effort to find it … as does the boldfaced call to action to visit the newspaper’s website for “breaking news updates” on this story, including audio recordings and more in-depth reporting.

Each medium here tells its part of the story in ways that best plays to its strengths. Complex expositions are best-left to text … but text can never capture a moment as exquisitely as a photograph. But photographs can’t deliver the arresting immediacy of video or audio. And none of these media can rival experiencing the story first-hand, in the field.

That kind of packaged newspaper story is an ultra-simplistic example of what I consider transmedia: A cohesive narrative deliberately designed to be experienced through multiple media and multiple channels.

Now imagine building fictional narratives with this paradigm in mind: multiple media delivered through multiple channels — including live events that support the fictional conceit (in which your audience become participants) — all serving a common story. When you bake this compelling opportunity into the DNA of the stories you’re telling, things get very interesting and cool very quickly.

I’ve got a whole chunk of my brain presently dedicated to developing ways to apply this ecumenical approach to expanding not just the storytelling methods within a narrative … but the kinds of transmedia narratives one can create within a larger storyworld.

I believe that a fictional universe need not cater to a single genre or demographic. I’m working on developing transmedia intellectual properties that can accommodate all genres and demographics — from hard SF for teenagers to rom-coms for Baby Boomers. It’s very ambitious, but absolutely possible.

What’s the power of transmedia? And what are its perils?

To be clear: There will always be stories best-told through a single medium. Folks need not worry about their novels or movies going away. But I believe transmedia narratives will crack open storytelling in new ways that we’ll be exploring and experiencing for decades.

We’re already at a point where storytellers can economically craft narratives in which their characters can receive and send emails and phone messages from real people (aka consumers), post video blog “confessionals” or handheld location shots, and leave behind “evidence” in real life locations that can be documented and shared online by audience members. What I just mentioned is kindergarten, low-cost stuff … but is widely considered revolutionary by average consumers who are accustomed to passively consuming broadcast-style entertainment.

The true and disruptive potential of transmedia storytelling is that nearly everything around us — your phone, a billboard, a mailed letter, a t-shirt, a tweet — can be used to contribute to a cohesive narrative. Your narrative. That’ll blow your mind if you let it. And you should let it, because storytellers need to be thinking about this stuff.

The perils are as numerous as its promises. When you start adding additional media or channels to tell your story, you start adding time, effort and risk to the project. You also add expense, which can sharply decrease your number of achievable cross-media / cross-channel storytelling opportunities. I reckon this is why the most famous transmedia stories — such as the brilliant Alternate Reality Game Why So Serious? — are funded by mainstream entertainment entities as promotional vehicles for films, video games and TV shows. These stories have many moving parts. You gotta cough up cash for those parts, and for mechanics like me to make them go.

I also fear that transmedia storytelling will be forever linked to these event-like promotions, and won’t be find wider creator and audience acceptance. We’re getting there. There’ve been several downright genius indie transmedia experiences … and mainstream entertainment and video game studios are savvily exploring transmedia’s potential. But I reckon that until we’re on the cover of Newsweek, we’ll still be underground Morlocks in the eyes of mainstream consumers.

Don’t get me wrong, I kinda like being a Morlock. But I also want these stories to break out in wildly successful ways.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Cheerful. Cocksucker.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

I’m not much of a boozer, but I consume astounding quantities of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. Oh Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, I’d do anything for you.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

I won’t be recommending anything you or your brilliant peeps haven’t already consumed, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit a story to study the thing, and marvel at its execution. When I think about great taletelling, my mind zips immediately to:

Books: Scalzi’s Old Man’s War … King’s The Stand, Pet Sematary and Bag of Bones … Deaver’s The Coffin Dancer … Vinge’s A Deepness In the Sky … Melzer’s The First Daughter. All masterpieces, on their own terms.

Comics: Thompson’s Blankets … much of Morrison’s run on JLA … Waid’s run on The Flash … Johns’ early-to-mid Flash stuff … Gaiman’s Sandman … Ennis’ Preacher … Woods’ DMZ … and nearly everything Ellis writes.

Movies: Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Robocop, Aliens, Star Wars. Everything I learned about writing airtight plots, high-stakes conflicts and memorable characters came from studying these flicks.

Games: I loved the nontraditional, but very moving, storytelling in Ico and Portal, and how game company Valve brilliantly incorporated a more traditional narrative into Portal 2.

I’ve enjoyed the Mass Effect series’ branching narrative and superbly realized storyworld. L.A. Noire’s nuanced gameplay, and how that affects the unfolding story, is awfully cool.

Whenever I want inspiration for a great piss-and-vinegar, kill-em-all-deader-than-dead revenge story, I play some God of War III. I get to be a god slayer. How badass is that?

I’ve watched you recently get into video games (Uncharted, God of War, Portal 2). What’s the trick to good storytelling in games?

Earlier this year, I bought a PlayStation 3 to replace an unreliable shitheap Samsung Blu-Ray player. On a lark, I fired up the complimentary game that came with the console — Killzone 3 — and within minutes, was literally getting weepy. I was absolutely humbled by the spectacle, and the quality of writing, music, sound effects and visuals.

I sucked at the game — it had been 10 years since I’d gamed — but I immediately saw video games as the legitimate storytelling frontier it in fact is. I made a decision right there, within 10 minutes of firing up that PS3, to do whatever I needed to do so’s I could write video games someday.

That means gaming my ass off, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.

Games are a unique breed of storytelling. But they’re still stories, so many of the “must-haves” in other media must be represented in games: interesting characters and conflicts, larger machinations that are revealed over the course of the narrative, a theme and emotional anchor driving the story, foreshadowing and payoff … that stuff.

The popular theory seems to be that video game players are there to play, not watch a movie. Savvy developers are catering to this. Games like Gears of War 3 have nailed a successful formula — brief cutscenes, with exposition delivered through gameplay dialogue. (As opposed to all exposition being delivered via cutscenes.) I read somewhere that the longest cutscene in Gears of War 3 was 40-odd seconds. The rest of the narrative was smartly delivered as the player explored the world.

Personally, I love cutscenes. I don’t mind relinquishing control of the experience so long as my recent hard-fought victory (against a level boss, for instance) is rewarded with an appropriately cool plot twist or an emotionally resonant character arc.

To me, that’s what games are: fun problem-solving experiences. The best game narratives understand that effort / reward dynamic, and effectively amp up your investment of effort as the game progresses … and rewards that effort with an equally amped-up story and stakes. I like my video game narratives to be jaw-dropping epics — but it’s the emotional growth of the character (and needing to know what happens next) that keeps me coming back.

That’s just like any other well-told story.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

My horrified screams of mercy — and then my howls of suffering as the undead shred open my stomach and feast on my intestines (and I’ll still be conscious through the whole thing, watching them feast, silently marveling, “How did all of that fit inside my body, oh my god, sausage, it looks like long ropes of sausage”) — will undoubtedly inspire others to learn how to properly load a firearm.

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

Angelina Jolie.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

I’m collaborating with marketing agency Campfire on a few groundbreaking marketing campaigns. One is for a TV miniseries based on a bestselling horror novel; the other is for a multi-console video game. These are a lot of fun because I get to help expand the storyworlds of those universes and use my writing and research skills in many different ways. One of those campaigns will go live later this year.

I’m also the lead writer on a new tabletop miniatures game currently in development. That’s a ton of fun because I get to do some serious worldbuilding. I’ve also got an ownership stake in that game, so I’m personally invested in its success — which always helps bring focus and one’s best work to a project. That’ll be out next year.

I’m also on the prowl for video game writing opportunities. I’ll continue to pursue that in earnest in 2012.

As for my personal work, I’ll release two novels, a short story anthology and probably a novella into several ebook marketplaces by year’s end. There’s also a mile-long list of stories and screenplays to write. It’s never a dull moment around here. Inside my noggin, I mean.

Got any writing or storytelling advice for folks?

Humans are capable of making all kinds of cool stuff, but we can’t make more time. Tick-tock, we can’t get it back. Past tense, man. Gone baby, gone — forever.

How much of that gone-baby-gone time have you spent talking about writing, and not actually writing? How many hours, days, weeks, months, years — sweet Jesus, decades — have you spent telling others about all the stories you’ll someday write? That novel. That comic book. That screenplay. Memoir. Whatever.

You’ll never get that time back. Ever. That’s time you could have spent living your dreams by writing your stories. Your lip-flapping is actively sabotaging your chances of achieving your dreams. Shame on you. You’ve talked enough.

That’s my advice. You’re either a writer or you aren’t. Writers write. So write.

Joelle Charbonneau: The Terribleminds Interview

Joelle Charbonneau is one of the nicest and hardest working authors I know. She kicks ten kinds of ass. We share an agent — the uber-super-ultra-agent, Stacia Decker — but the sad thing is, without that connection I might not have read Joelle’s delightful debut, SKATING AROUND THE LAW. Which would be an epic mistake on my part because it was a blast — and, for a bit of meaningless trivia, the first e-book I ever read (tied with Hilary Davidson’s also-excellent THE DAMAGE DONE, both of which I read at the same time). Anyway — you can find Joelle’s website here, and follow her on Twitter @jcharbonneau.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

Why do you tell stories?  Because I always wanted to be a superhero and couldn’t fly.  Okay – maybe that is taking it a little too far, but I have always wanted to do and be more than can be crammed into one lifetime.  Telling stories is a great way to walk in a really cool pair of shoes for a while.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Cut the boring stuff.

Of course, to do that you have to be willing to admit that some of what you have written is boring.  Everyone has their longwinded, boring, pacing stopping moments.  A writer has to take a step back and be willing to say that something they’ve written is crap.  That’s the only way you can make a story shine.

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

The whole superhero thing is the great part about being a writer.  There are endless possibilities and as a writer I am able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and create sex-driven grandfathers and camels who wear hats without ever leaving the confines of my living room.  Of course, that being said there are things that totally suck.  The whole mentality of ‘if you build it they will come’ is total crap.  Just because you write something doesn’t mean anyone will ever read it.  It doesn’t matter how great your writing is, just because it is sitting on the shelf in a bookstore doesn’t guarantee that a person will plunk down cold hard cash for the opportunity to visit your imagination.  Promotion is part of the writing business.  It takes away from the time you would rather spend writing and the worst part is that a writer never really knows what PR actually leads to sales.  You just have to keep throwing things against a wall and hoping something will stick.  And even then….  Yeah – it sucks.

You did it, you triggered the alarm by mentioning the word “superhero.” That means it’s time for that tried-and-true question: if you were a superhero, what would your powers be?

My first instinct is to say that I would fly, but that is a totally lame super power unless it comes package with super strength or something equally useful.  I mean, flying is great for a personal hobby, but what good are you to someone who falls off of a building or to a plane that loses an engine.  If you try to catch the person or help the plane you end up dead.  Dead is bad.  So, I’m scratching flying off the list.  Since the wave of the future is computers, I plan on being Data-girl – someone whose mind can meld with and manipulate computers without a single touch of a key.  I’m taking over the Matrix baby!

Follow-up: if you had the chance to write the stories of one superhero, which superhero would that be?

Firestar – I grew up an X-Men fan.  Firestar was always willing to torch some guy’s ass for justice, but no one ever bothered to really deep dive into her character.  Maybe they just thought it was enough that she was a redhead and hot, but I think she got the short end of the stick.

Skating Around The Law and Skating Over The Line are your two mysteries featuring Rebecca Robbins, rink-owner and amateur detective. Can you talk about constructing those books. In particular: how do you engineer a great mystery for an audience?

I think a great mystery needs to have fast pacing, a fun puzzle and most of all it needs to play fair with the reader.  If the main detective (amateur or otherwise) knows something about the case then the reader needs to know it, too.  Which in my mind means that the reader has to have the puzzle pieces in front of them to solve the crime – especially if you are writing in first person.  Pointing the finger at a bad guy the reader has barely met or never had any real information on is cheating.  As a reader, there is nothing I hate more than investing my time in a book where the ending feels forced or comes out of left field.  Surprise is good, but the reader needs to be able to go back through the book and find the sprinkling of clues that in hindsight points them in the right direction.  If those clues aren’t there, the mystery often falls flat.

The Rebecca Robbins mysteries are both mystery and character driven.  I want readers to be equally invested in both.  Each book has a stand alone mystery that should engage and entertain the reader, which means you don’t have to start at the beginning of the series.  A reader can jump right into any book without feeling like they are playing catch up.  However, it is my hope that I’ve constructed the storylines to allow the characters to grow from book to book and that the readers will come back for those characters as much as they come back for the mysteries.

A lot of your characters are quirky and endearing. You write them well and so it forces me to ask, what’s the secret in writing great characters?

Wow.  Thanks.  Now I feel the need to say something profound and earthshaking about characters.  One moment while I get a paper bag to stop my hyperventilation.

Ok – the bag worked so here goes.  I think the best characters are at the core people we can identify with.  If you start out with the intention to write a wacky, eccentric character, you come out with a caricature instead.  Characters aren’t one dimensional.  They need to be well-rounded.  You have to start at the bottom, find the pieces of the character that everyone can identify with and build from there.  In my case, I didn’t start out writing Skating Around The Law saying “I want Rebecca to have a lothario grandfather with a penchant for impersonating Elvis.”  My intent was to create a touchstone for Rebecca in her old home town that she fought so hard to get out of.  I wanted her to have a caring presence in her life who supported her and at the same time wanted her to think twice before selling her deceased mother’s roller rink.  At the core, he is the grandfather we all can identify with.  He loves his granddaughter, but he also is selfish enough to try and keep her close by.  It just turns out that he juggles multiple girlfriends and loves mimicking The King.

We need to talk about the camel. Elwood the camel is such a great character. Yet because he’s a camel, he’s built in very simple, straightforward strokes. Where’d you get the idea for Elwood?

Good question and I even have an answer to it!  When I’m not writing or chasing around after my toddler I’m a voice teacher.  A few days after I started noodling the idea for Skating Around The Law, I had a lesson with a student who owns horses.  While we were chatting, she let me know she wouldn’t be able to make her next lesson because her horse had to go to the U of I.  Being the sarcastic sort I said, “Wow, smart horse.”  She laughed and explained that she was taking her horse to the large animal veterinary clinic at the university.  She then went onto say that the last time she went to the clinic there was a guy there with a camel.  Stranger still, the guy wasn’t the camel’s owner.  Turns out the camel didn’t like the farmer he lived with and caused problems whenever the farmer brought him to the clinic.  In fact, the last time the farmer brought him, the camel broke out of his carrier and went running down I57 in an eventually aborted jail break.  The image of the camel racing down the road flanked by cornstalks and soybean plants stayed with me long after the lesson and I couldn’t quite figure out why anyone in the middle of Illinois would own a camel.  A few days later I wrote the opening to Skating Around The Law and at the end of chapter three there was a camel wearing a fedora – my explanation as to why a camel would be living in rural Illinois.

Both those books are “cozies.” You ever want to write something totally opposite to that? Grim and gory and noir-soaked and blood-caked?

I would like to point out that my agent has labeled my books “Itchies”  – not quite cozy…kind of like a wool sweater that keeps you warm but makes you twitch a bit while wearing it.  I’m not sure if that is flattering, but it sounds about right since my sense of humor is a little edgier than the typical cozy.

And YES!  I have written and will hopefully continue to write stuff that is grimmer, gorier and more disturbing that what appears in Indian Falls.  I have no idea if those books will ever sell, but I think it is important for me to explore the darker ideas to keep my writing sharp and my imagination fresh.  Anyone will tell you that writing comedy is tough.  When you push too hard to get a laugh everything falls apart.  It’s important to take a step away every now and then and remind yourself that you don’t need to be funny.  You just need to write the characters and let them tell the story.  Writing something different always helps me take that step back.  Conversely, writing the lighter stuff makes me look forward to spending time in the shadows.

As for the stuff I’ve written that explores those shadows, well, I hope they will make an appearance on bookshelves.  In this business, it is tough to say what will sell and what won’t.  As writers we just have to keep telling stories and hope that at some point someone will get a chance to read them.

Favorite word?


And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Craptastic –Does that count?

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Sauvignon Blanc.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  It always reminds me of peeling an onion.  Layer by layer you learn that everyone on the train has a secret.  How cool is that?

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

Just line the zombies up like an alley full of bowling pins and I’ll mow them down.  Me and my pretty blue bowling ball can do some damage.  (I can also sauté up a mean Zombie soufflé, but that’s for after the war is won.)

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

I knew those crimes would catch up to me.  Okay, if I’m going out I’m going out with a bang.  I’m thinking Crawfish etouffee over dirty rice and as much freshly baked cornbread as I can eat.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

I’m about ready to start the second book in the Paige Marshall mystery series.  The heroine is a classical singer turned amateur sleuth.  One of my other professions is stage performing, so I’m looking forward to once again merging those two facets of my life.  As far as the future?  The hell if I know.  I’ll just keep sitting my butt in the chair and getting words on the page.  Hopefully, people will continue to read them.  If not, you might find me racing around town in tights and a cape.  You just never know.

Greg Stolze: The Terribleminds Interview

Mister Stolze and I share a freelance-flavored past, in that both of us did substantial work for White Wolf Game Studios, and periodically add more to that resume. He’s since done a great deal of his own game design work and, in terms of both games and fiction, was kickstarting his own stories before Kickstarter even existed. You can find Greg at his website here, and Twitter at @GregStolze.

Why do you tell stories?

It beats honest work. In all seriousness, I think this world is a better, brighter place with me as a novelist than as a brain surgeon. Writing stories and designing games are the only tasks at which an objective observer would say I excel, unless you put in noncommercial tasks like “being a loving husband” or “getting lost even when driving to a location I’ve visited dozens of times.”

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Hm, I’m trying to think of something that isn’t just a ripoff of Anne Lamott. I actually cut ‘n’ pasted her article at this link so I could send it off any time anyone asked me for writing advice. Summary version: Don’t be a writer if the process is just an implement of success for you, instead of the reason you do it. If you don’t write the way an alcoholic drinks — compulsively and at the expensive of many other good things in life — you probably won’t go far or like where you stop.

Or I could just rip off Justin Achilli’s advice of avoiding the word “will” like it’s radioactive cyanide. It was part of his grand, glorious crusade against passive voice. Passive voice is when you phrase something as “X happened” or “X was done” instead of the more active “Y did X.” Passive voice sounds all weaselly, like you’re trying to obscure responsibility. “Mistakes were made.” “There were discrepancies in the vote count.” “The body was found in the lake.” Sounds like abashed bureaucrats mumbling into their shoes. Compare with “I made a mistake,” “The vote machines couldn’t make the tallies come out even” or “So there I was, minding my own business and trying to get a picture of a snowy egret when suddenly I find this fucking BODY in the lake!” Mm, engaging!

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

Getting to make stuff up all the time is pretty great. I have a brain like a butterfly, flitting hither and yon and never settling for long. Also, my brain spreads beauty and joy to all who behold it, which is why I’m saving up to have my skull replaced with a clear, strong polymer, probably Lexan(tm). Also, nobody knows where my brain goes in the rain.

What sucks about it? Hm, the publishing industry was a tough nut to crack when I was starting out and is currently undergoing cataclysmic upheavals that could well leave the landscape littered with the shattered corpses of once-proud dead-tree juggernauts. In the shadows of the bodies, nothing moves but tiny, furtive, hair-clad figures composing fan-fiction.

You’re a Kickstarter ninja, always kicking and starting fiction or game projects. What do you like about the Kickstarter model? And didn’t you kind of do this way back when with your “Ransom” model?

What I like about Kickstarter is that it enables my laziness. I don’t have to track who paid me or how much and, if things go pear-shaped, I don’t have to do refunds. They take credit cards so I don’t have to, and provide a nice platform where I can upload my videos and posts without swearing at HTML for hours. They take their percentage, as do the credit card companies, but what’cha gonna do?

The Ransom Model was, in some ways, crowd-funding before it was called that. For me, a TRUE Ransom (as opposed to them bitch-ass frontin’ ersatz pseudo-Ransoms, many of which I have run) works on the notion that “If I get $X, the already-completed work becomes free for everyone.” The D…iS! fundraiser isn’t a Ransom as much as a pre-order. The nice thing about ransoming, especially for short stories is (1) once it’s free, I can point people to links and say, “Look, go there and get free reads. If you enjoyed ‘Enzymes’ or ‘Two Things She Does With Her Body,’ you’ll probably like this next story I’ve written” instead of having to explain what’s brilliant about the story without being able to tell the whole thing. You know how people try to get you to work for free, saying “Oh, you’ll get so much valuable exposure!” — a line that most sober college students can see is bullshit when a guy at Spring Break waves his camera at them, but which inexplicably works some times on artists and writers. Now I can get all the valuable free exposure I want, on my terms, and get paid for it. Also, I keep my clothes on.

Advice for authors or game designers looking to “kickstart” a project that way? Lots of Kickstarter projects out there: any way to stand out?

Kickstarter emphatically DOES NOT CREATE DEMAND. That’s your job. It can turn trust and goodwill into money, but you have to give people a reason to want it. Having a good promotion video and intriguing sell-text will get you partway there, but you also have to hustle your ass off getting the word out any way you can. It’s not like an ATM. Expecting it to do the work for you is like putting a hammer on top of a board and wondering when your scrollwork-engraved cabinet will be done.

What are your thoughts about the publishing industry as it stands — agents, editors, publishers? Is that a road you hope to travel? Or are you all up in the DIY model?

I have a horrible, horrible psychological block regarding agents. I mean, I’ve sent in my share of query letters — to be brutally honest, probably a little less than my share, but I’ve struck out every time. I take it too hard, and when the rejection arrives, I ask myself “Why did I piss away all that time and hope and effort researching the agent, finding out what she likes, crafting the approach letter, editing the approach letter, then spend 2-3 months biting my nails before the brush-off? I could’ve written, edited, promoted and self-published a $500 short story in less time, with less heartache AND been happier with myself.”

It’s a phobia. I used to feel that writing an agent query letter was like eating a piece of my own death. Now I feel it’s more like eating death, vomiting it up, eating the vomit, shitting it out, and then somehow eating my own shit-death-puke. Which is not the agents’ fault. I’m sure many of them are lovely, lovely people. But life is short. Approaching publishers directly is just as bad. I met a local publisher personally, gave him my card, shook his hand, spoke politely with him after his talk to my writer’s group and, afterwards, shyly sent an email about maybe, possibly submitting a novel if he wanted to see it. That novel is “Mask of the Other.” I’m quite confident that I’ll have it available for sale before he ever gets back to me.

Add in the current publishing climate, and there are days when getting an agent looks like hiring an interior decorator when your house is burning down. That said, I’d love to have someone else do all the editing, layout, promotion, marketing, shipping and distribution for me. Still. Here we are. It would have been nice to have had the option, I guess.

What are the differences between writing game material and fiction? You prefer one over the other?

It’s the difference between making a guitar and playing one. When I write game material, I’m trying to be some kind of invisible helper elf, enabling others to create their stories and do what they want. When I write fiction, I’m telling the story exactly the way I want it to go (mostly). Both have their charms. I loved writing stories even before I started gaming, but gaming loved me BACK before fiction really did.

You are a storyteller with children. Having only a four-month-old, I know that’s not easy-peasy-diaper-squeezy, so: how the fuck do you do it?!

Set manageable goals. Understand that writing is going to take a hit. Personally, I found a place near my house where I could park my toddlers for something ridiculous like $4 an hour each at the Eola Community Center. Now the rules were that I had to stay in the Center and they’d come and get me for diaper changes, and they wouldn’t hold a kid for more than two hours at a stretch, but if you plan ahead, you can get 1100 words written in an hour. Now, of course, they’re in school all day. So just work towards that, Chuck.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

I’m kind of partial to “Ah.” Also “fuck-pole,” which I think is underutilized.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

In the summer, I like a G&T like this: Fill a tall glass with ice, crush a quarter lime in it, fill that with tonic (the kind with quinine) almost to the top, then a double-shot of Tanqueray on top. Stir and drink. But when I ran out of gin and didn’t want to run to the store, I replaced the gin with one shot of Grand Marnier and one shot of Jose Cuervo tequila. I called it the “Grand Killya,” but don’t let that stop you from trying one.

Or you can go with two scoops of ice cream, a tiny drizzle of chocolate sauce, a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream and a shot of Frangelico hazlenut liquor in a blender. Smoothy-fy it and drink on the back porch while trying to get a grip. I call that one “Home-Made Prozac.”

In the winter though, I’ve been trending towards aquavit — it’s like liquid rye bread that makes you sleepy.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

For writers, I recommend Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler… even though it’s distinctly aimed at you, the reader. No, literally: The book is written in the second person, and details your adventures as you try to get your hands on an unmangled copy of ‘Italo Calvino’s new novel If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler…’ It hilariously explodes the book trade, publishing, literary analysis, the entire reading experience and especially, especially writing. There’s a wonderful scene where two writers find out they’re at the same resort. One’s a highbrow literary lion who agonizes and thrashes over every line, every word, every phrase. The other’s a bestselling thriller-monger who “produces books the way a vine produces pumpkins.” There’s a beautiful woman reading by the pool, and each of them is agonized by the thought that she’s reading the OTHER writer’s book. That, in my experience, is the literary life compressed into a single image.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

I’ll be honest with you Chuck, most of my training has emphasized hand-to-hand combat with humans, paying particular attention to ligature strangles. Sure, I did some Okinawan kobudo back in the day, but I suspect I’d be best used keeping the survivors from turning on one another. You know, some sort of “Are you going to give Katy her Skittles back or do I have to put you in the sleeper hold again?” kind of arrangement.

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

Two beer-boiled elk sausage bratwursts with horseradish mustard, one with carmelized onions and sauerkraut, one plain, each served on fresh-baked, lightly-toasted split french rolls. A bottle of Jhoom beer and a G&T as described above. Home-Made Prozac for dessert. Yeah, if I’m going to get a dose of Edison’s medicine, I’m not bothering with a balanced meal and I’ll want to be as smashed as possible.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

Let’s see. SWITCHFLIPPED is out now, that’s right here, and I’ve been shilling that all the livelong day. The fundraiser for Dinosaurs… in Spaaace! is ticking down and I’m hoping like hell that makes it. It’s making me anxious, so I’ll probably go for shorter, smaller and cheaper stuff for a while — perhaps drumming up the cash for a SWITCHFLIPPED print run.

After I clear those decks, I’ve got Mask of the Other, which I’d call a “military horror novel” — a squad of US soldiers stumbles across the wreckage of Saddam’s occult weapons program in 1991 and gets entangled with the Cthulhu Mythos demimonde. Within that frame, it also deals heavily with modern-day ghost towns. Parts are set in Varosha — pictured in these links:

Varosha’s a neighborhood in Cyprus that was abandoned during the Turkish invasion in 1974, and during the occupation, the Turks just fenced it off and said, “No one goes in or we shoot them.” Other parts are set on the island of Hashima:×371.jpg

…which was basically a town built on top of a coal mine on an island the size of a few football fields. It was very suddenly evacuated and abandoned… in 1974.

That’s all true or, at least, internet-true. I asked myself, “what would make people abandon cities on islands in 1974?” and came up with some HPL-style answers. That’s the novel.

Way off on the back burner, I’m thinking of open-developing a new set of RPG mechanics and ransoming out polished versions of them in a sort of “fantasy science” setting — nice short chunks, maybe 10,000 words like the REIGN ransoms. That might work better than big stuff like D…iS! That project’s called HORIZON, so keep an eye peeled.

Elizabeth Bear: The Terribleminds Interview

Let’s be upfront, here. Elizabeth Bear’s bibliography is such a long read you don’t know if it will ever end — it goes on for days, like an eternally unfurling scroll. But there is, of course, a reason for that — she’s hella-talented and even better, multi-faceted when it comes to genre. “E-Bear” — which is the nickname I call her when she’s nowhere near me because the last time I called her that she hit me in the face with a hot pan — kindly offered to strap herself into the whirring psychotropic machine that is the terribleminds interview process. Thank her for coming by. Check out her website — — and follower her on Twitter (@matociquala).

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

It was on a Tuesday afternoon that Rudolfo finally exploded. But it wasn’t Tuesday itself that made him explode, or that somebody had used up the last of the creamer and he had to drink his coffee burnt and black, or having been up all night with a colicky baby. No, it was his eczema, which had started flaring up again and was driving him mad, inch by itching inch. He fought the urge to explode for a good long time, using calming breaths and meditation techniques, but eventually it all became too much for him.

He sat down on the office floor and put his fingers in his ears. His colleagues stepped back. One of them nearly called a manager, but first had to run down to Accounting with some paperwork, and by then it was all over.

Four minutes and six seconds later, the top of Rudolfo’s head blew off. There was a column of smoke and a good deal of noise, but no fire.

Human Resources showed up about half an hour later to collect the corpse for recycling.

It’s always the little things.

Why do you tell stories?

Compulsion. To justify my existence. To maybe let somebody else know they’re not as alone in the universe as they seem.

You’re a veteran penmonkey, as anybody who’s seen a list of your credits knows. Pick a favorite tale out of your venerable cabinet of stories and tell us why you wrote it.

Hah! Veteran penmonkey in output, maybe, but not in years. My first novel was published in 2005, after all. I’m still a wet-behind-the-ears novice, in a lot of ways.

But… okay. I think my best story so far is “Sonny Liston Takes The Fall,” which is part of my Promethean Age continuity, where very subtle and treacherous magic infests the real world and goes largely unnoticed. It’s about sacrifice and savagery and bloodsports, and the Corn King, and martyrdom, and how as a society we demonize people who fall on the wrong side of the race line, the class line, the political line. Sonny Liston was a boxer, the heavyweight champion of the world–and sort of the Mike Tyson of his day. But he wasn’t a boogeyman and he wasn’t a hero; he was a human being, made up of the usual assemblage of heroic and monstrous traits that comprise us all. And he helped change the world.

Now you’ve got to talk about one of my favorites — “Shoggoths In Bloom.” Where did that come from? It’s hard to bring anything inventive to Lovecraft, I think, and you not only threw me for a loop but also managed to bring in issues of prejudice and slavery. Why did you write it?

(“Shoggoths in Bloom“)

My friend and fellow writer Amanda Downum is *also* a jewelrymaker. Several years ago in Wisconsin, she presented me with a lampwork bracelet named “Shoggoths in Bloom.” And I was like, “I could write a story with that title.”

I grew up on Lovecraft. And there are things about his work that I still love — its existential bleakness, its sense of horror arising from the fact that the universe actually doesn’t give a good goddamned about us, humanity. I think he tackles that with a tremendous honesty.

But I think it’s impossible to engage with his work without engaging with its problematic aspects, which include racial determinism and prejudice and some class issues that are just as revolting.

So “Shoggoths” is my response to some of the unquestioned stuff in Lovecraft that I suspect he might have eventually interrogated a little more thoroughly himself, if he’d lived long enough to gain some perspective on his own unthinking prejudices. I may be giving him too much benefit of the doubt there, but I think of–for example–the contrast between the conventional sexism in early James White and what he was writing at the end of his life, and I want to at least remain open to the possibility that Lovecraft could have benefited from the mallet of perspective, eventually.

You write across many genres. Any advice for genre writers?

Stick to one, if you can. 😉

At least to start with: it’s easier to build a career that way. I think I’ve confused a lot of people, and if I’d kept writing near-future cyberpunk adventures indefinitely, my sales numbers would probably be a hell of a lot better now.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t have the critical recognition I’ve garnered, so…

What would you say is wrong with modern genre fiction?

Absolutely fucking nothing. I think the field is richer and more inventive than it’s ever been; we have a diverse cohort of skilled and subtle writers coming up; and SFF has entered the mainstream in a big way. I keep telling people that this is the Rainbow Age of science fiction, and by god there is some *brilliant* work being done, building on the shoulders of the golden age and the silver age and the new wave and the cyberpunks and the urban fantasists. The spiritual children of Roger Zelazny and Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany and Joanna Russ and Fritz Leiber are kicking *ass* all over the place, quite frankly.

I think, critically speaking, we have a bunch of issues, though. We waste an awful lot of time pissing circles around subgenres and attempting to assert the moral superiority of one sort of SFF over another, and that’s a very human but utterly ridiculous activity.

I do think that one thing we’re missing is some recognition for the necessity of gateway science fiction. We lavish a lot of critical attention on books that are extremely dense and challenging — as impenetrable to somebody coming in to the genre as a new reader as improv jazz would be to an easy listening radio fan. This is not to say that the genre doesn’t *need* books like BRASIL or THE QUANTUM THIEF or THE COLOR OF DISTANCE or BLINDSIGHT, because of course we do. That’s the absolute cutting edge of the genre, the idea-and-eyeball-kicks coming fast and hard and unrelenting.

But we *also* need books that can train a reader in the skills necessary to follow THE QUANTUM THIEF. That’s one thing I’m enjoying about, for example, Robert Charles Wilson’s recent work. My favorite book of his is still BIOS, which is slim and savage and unrelentingly SFnal… but I think JULIAN COMSTOCK can appeal to and educate a wider readership, bring them into the fold as it were. And it’s still a damned fine novel.

I think Nalo Hopkinson is another excellent example of a crossover artist. Her work can be read as literary fiction, but the genre edge is there, and it’s handled in a way that opens doors for readers. I think THE SALT ROADS is one of the best SFF novels of the young century, and it has wide crossover appeal.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

“Tell the truth.” But tell it slant, as Emily Dickinson advised. Nobody likes to be preached to.

You’ve dispensed some writing advice. Now I have to ask: got any publishing advice for new writers?

Right desk. Right day. Right story. Write better.

Also: the only thing about publishing that you can control is the quality of your output. So make it good. *g*

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

It’s the best job in the world. I get paid to tell people entertaining lies. Unfortunately, I don’t get paid very much, and the checks show up irregularly.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Favorite word: “sesquipedalian.” Runner up: “floccinaucinihilipilificatrix.” Favorite oath of displeasure is probably “mother pusbucket.” Which isn’t technically a curse word, but it feels very satisfying to say. [ed. — my favorite word is *also* “sesquipedalian.” — cdw]

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Good Scotch, preferably an Islay. Caol Ile is nice. Lagavulin. Mmm, Scotch.

My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan variant with Amara subbed in for vermouth, and orange bitters. It’s called a “Manhattanhenge,” and as far as I know was invented at peche, a wonderful quirky bar in Austin.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

This year, the book I am selling to everybody is Caitlin R. Kiernan’s THE DROWNING GIRL: A MEMOIR, which I read an ARC of and which will be out early next year. It’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, and also a masterpiece.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

Canning and pickling. Also, I can handle a rifle and a bow.

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

Sushi omakase with a really good chef. There’s something very awesome about sitting back, drinking sake, and watching somebody create art with food all on his or her own inspiration.

Of course, that would probably go over the $15 limit on last meals for convicts…

Sushi. SUSHI. Sushi! What do you like? I’m only a yellow belt in the Ways of Sushi, so I have to solicit recommendations where I can get ’em.

In the hands of a really good chef, I have yet to find anything sushi-related that I will not eat and enjoy. I particularly like, however, sweet scallops, salmon skin hand roll, unagi (doesn’t everyone?), tobiko (which is flying fish roe), and yellowtail. These days, I’m trying to limit myself to species that aren’t overfished, however. Oh, morality, how you collide with baser appetites…

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

I am currently avoiding working on book 2 of an epic fantasy trilogy set in an alternate central Asia (if most Western fantasy is set in not-Europe, this is not-Eurasia). That’s my big project right now.

Book one, called RANGE OF GHOSTS, will be out from Tor in March.

I’m also involved in an ongoing nifty online storytelling collective called SHADOW UNIT ( with such people as Emma Bull and Holly Black. It is pretty cool, and I encourage anybody who likes modern-day science fiction horror to check it out.