Archive for the ‘Futuristic’ Category

Lindsey and Lindsey Headshot OFFICIAL!!!

Would you call yourself a born writer? 

LP: I’d definitely call myself a born writer, but that doesn’t mean I’m great at it. I just know that I yearn for it and it makes me happy, so I know I’m meant to do it some way, shape, or form.

LF: I’d call myself a born imaginer, not a born writer. I kept diaries and journals growing up, but I was never very good about writing consistently. But, I’ve always had extremely vivid and outlandish dreams, and I’ve always been an avid reader of fantastical fiction. It wasn’t until about four years ago that I started writing my imaginings down. After that, I couldn’t stop. It just feels right.

What was your inspiration for After The Ending?

LF: I’m not really sure. LP and I were driving home from a book conference–this was while we still worked at Copperfield’s Books together–and we started talking about a story idea. I’d been thinking about writing something entirely epistolary that chronicled an adult woman’s post-apocalyptic experience. During the two-hour drive we toyed with the premise, tossing ideas back and forth, and by the time we arrived at LP’s house, we had characters, a rough backstory, and a very general outline.

LP: An interesting fact about this project is that we actually started this as a blog. It was still about two friends who survived the apocalypse, but their story was solely conveyed through emails. As we wrote, we realized the characters and their stories were too one-dimensional. We wanted to give ourselves the space to explore our characters, to show the audience who they were outside of their quirky and oftentimes melodramatic emails. We wanted more, and it turned into the nearly 500 page book with first person narrative and a few straggling emails.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

LF: Hmmm…for The Ending series, we really tried to focus on the idea that the apocalypse doesn’t have to be entirely about death and sadness. That’s not to say that those things aren’t present in After The Ending–I think Dani and Zoe have emotional and mental breakdowns nearly every other chapter–but we really wanted to highlight the undeniable power of hope, love, and friendship. For Dani and Zoe, a life without those things would have been only a half-life.

LP: In After The Ending we explored humanity in general. What would happen if the world ended? How would regular people react? Who would survive? Realistically, I can’t see Zoe and Dani picking up shotguns and blowing Crazies to smithereens without a second thought or without some sort of transformation along the way. They are young (mid-twenties), and there’s an emotional process behind learning how to survive. That’s one theme we focused on. After the Ending cover art

How long did it take you to complete the novel? 

LF: From conception to publication, I think it took about a year and a half, which is pretty good considering the massive indie publishing learning curve. Book two, Into The Fire, will have a shorter turn-around time, about a year. Speed definitely comes with confidence and know-how, but we’d never rush the process for the sake of publishing faster. Writing the rough manuscript really only takes us a few months. It’s the revising and editing that eats up most of the time, and those things can’t be rushed if we want to put out a good quality story.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

LP: Disciplined? When I have time to write, yes. Aside from writing, I work part time and also write for the local historical society. That being said, I rarely have days I can just sit and dedicate to my chapters or other writing projects. However, in a perfect world where I have the entire day to be inspired and conjure up the next hurdle poor Zoe has to overcome, I would: wake up, read a little from whatever book I can’t put down to get my gears turning, sit down to write for a few hours, breaking for some exercise, food and ice tea, move outside to work in the sunshine and to be serenaded by the sound of the waterfall in my backyard before it’s time to meander back inside to make dinner and spend time with my man. Until I have the space and opportunity to work that way, I write down all my ideas and observations in notebooks to access later on when I’m in the mood or have the time to sit down and write.

LF: I’ve been lucky enough to work on writing full-time (thanks to my wonderful husband!), so I would say my typical writing day–which is pretty much everyday–looks like this: I wake up and make tea, check email, book sales, and reviews, read or watch a show for about an hour while I wait for my brain to catch up with the fact that it’s awake, and then I start writing. I usually write a chapter from start to finish (generally between 3,000 and 5,000 words), then get off my butt and work in the garden or go for a walk or a bike ride while I listen to an audio book, make dinner, still listening to the audio book, then have a glass of wine while I do something relaxing. Sprinkle a generous amount of hanging out with my crazy cats, and your looking at my typical day.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

LP: Remembering I have my own writing style and to stay true to it. I think keeping a unique voice gets tricky when two writers are working so closely together, especially after hours of editing each other’s chapters. It’s only going to get more difficult as all of our characters become more integrated and LF’s characters are in my chapters and mine are in hers. Sometimes the lines get blurred and I really want to be conscious and prevent that.

LF: Learning which feedback to incorporate into revisions and which to throw out. One thing I really battle with in my writing is remembering what the “Average Joe/Jane” knows and what might be unfamiliar to them. For example, when setting a scene, I have to remind myself that just because I can see it in my head doesn’t mean readers can see it. During revisions I have to read, visualizing only what the written words tell me, and then add a hefty amount of description to flesh out the setting and characters.

What do you love most about being an author?

LP: I definitely think that developing characters and writing a storyline that so many people love and appreciate as much as we do is truly the most gratifying feeling. It validates all that we’ve worked so hard for, and it’s truly an indescribable feeling.

LF: When I hear from a reader or read a review that mentions an emotional connection to the world and characters we’ve created, it puts an uncontainable smile on my face. Knowing that my words have made someone laugh, cry, or stay up late to find out what happens, is one of the greatest feeling in the whole world.

Where can we find you on the web?

We can be found on facebook (www.facebook.com/AfterTheEnding), Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/book/show/16075905-after-the-ending), and twitter (@TheEndingSeries).


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Hello everyone! I’m Thomas Winship, author of Væmpires: Revolution and Væmpires: White Christmas. Both books are part of a new ongoing vampire series that explores the question: what if vampires evolved?

I’m very excited to be a guest blogger at The Dark Phantom Review! This is my first official blog tour and I’m simply amazed by the support I’ve received from the community of bloggers, reader, and fans—so, thank you very, very much for joining me today.

This is the fourth (and final) week of that tour. Looking back, I realize that I’ve written guest posts about reading, writing, varied opinions about reading & writing, and even random musings … but I have yet to write a post about væmpires. Since it might be prudent to rectify that situation before it goes any further, I’m going to explain more about the world of væmpires than the information collectively offered by book descriptions, promos, and/or reviews.

So, here goes …

The Background:

Væmpires (pronounced “vempires”) takes place several thousand years in the future. Sometime in the late twenty-ninth or early thirtieth centuries, humans triggered WWIII. The resultant nuclear winter lasted for hundreds of years and wiped out the vast majority of the population. Water levels rose. The face of the world changed.

When the world recovered from the Great Devastation (as it’s called), the Atlantic Ocean was gone, creating one immense continent surrounded by water. Antarctica and Australia were uninhabited. The few island groups that existed were in constant danger of being swallowed by the remaining oceans, so efforts to inhabit them were quickly abandoned. The peoples of earth spread throughout the continent and grew roots. The calendar was reset at 1 AD (After Devastation).

The new world recovered at an exponential rate. Scientific and medical advancements eradicated most sickness and disease. In less than a thousand years, the human population soared to an estimated thirty or forty billion people.

But the geography wasn’t the only thing that had changed. Vampires, beautiful beings with an inescapable need for human blood, crawled out of the radioactive miasma to settle in dark places. For years, they hid by day and hunted by night, feeding at the fringes of civilization.

Their discovery, delayed yet inevitable, sparked the H-V (Human-Vampire) Wars. For hundreds of years, neither side gained a decided advantage—vampires were physically superior, but were greatly outnumbered and had difficulty reproducing.

In 1000 AD, the creation of synth-blood (synthetic human blood) changed the world once again. Vampires were no longer slaves to their hunger and humans no longer needed to fear their genetically-superior brethren. Vampires emerged from the shadows and the underworld, cautiously at first, but with increasing enthusiasm as humans welcomed them with open arms.

Understanding that their time as the dominant species was ending, human leaders suggested a series of agreements designed to broker a lasting peace between the two races. Earth was rechristened Tarados (Earth Two) and carved into seven provinces—North & South America, North & South Atlantica, North & South Africa, and Aurasia. Four provinces were placed under vampire rule, a bold concession that nevertheless ushered in a true golden age of peace and prosperity.

The first væmpires appeared around 1500 AD. The creatures—warm-blooded with a hunger for cold vampire blood—were quickly dismissed as anomalies; poor, unfortunate victims of some horrible new mutagen or, perhaps, lingering atomic contamination. As the situation not only persisted, but grew, world leaders stubbornly refused to acknowledge that any problem existed.

Eventually, the truth became clear: væmpires were former vampires. And each væmpire was a bigger, stronger, faster version of its former self. There was no rhyme or reason as to who morphed—male or female, old or young, from one end of the world to another—no vampire was safe.

No one could determine why the mutations occurred or how to avoid them. New synth-blood variants failed to quell væmpire hunger. The væmpire population grew to a point where they demanded rights and representation on a par with humans and vampires. Instead, their leaders were summarily ignored, discredited, or otherwise rendered impotent. Væmpire gangs formed, menacing neighborhoods in major cities.

The gangs became increasingly violent as diplomatic endeavors proved ineffective. With all three races at odds, the largest gangs evolved into terrorist cells intent on fulfilling a new agenda: the eradication of humanity; the enslavement of vampires; and the ascension of væmpires as the new world leaders.

This is where Væmpires: Revolution begins.


Væmpires: Revolution

It is the morning of Princess Cassandra’s sixteenth birthday. Everyone’s attention is focused on the heir to the vampire throne. World leaders, the rich and famous, and VIPs from every corner of the globe have gathered in the nation’s capital to celebrate the momentous event.

Cassandra’s boyfriend, Daniel, is late for the party. He’s still outside the city when all hell breaks loose. What he believes is an act of terrorism proves to be a full-fledged revolution. Væmpires have launched coordinated attacks across the globe.

The vampire and human leaders are killed. Cassandra is missing. Daniel is the acting king. Desperate to find the princess, Daniel and his friends fight their way across the besieged city. With the hopes of the free world resting on the shoulders of four vampire teenagers, væmpires unleash their secret weapons: a new breed of væmpire that is far deadlier than any ever seen before.

What can four teens do against an enemy that can shape-shift, fly, and walk through walls?

Væmpires: White Christmas is set six months prior to the events described above, but was designed to be read after Væmpires: Revolution.

Væmpires: White Christmas

It’s almost Christmas. With the global holiday days away, the people of the world should be turning their attention toward celebrating peace and goodwill, but tension between humans, vampires, and væmpires is at an all-time high. Desperate for solutions, King Brant schedules a secret summit deep in North America’s Northern Forest. Along with Queen Anne, Princess Cassandra, Daniel’s family, and the human president and First Lady, the vampire leader seeks to reaffirm the ties between humans and vampires, while brainstorming ways to respond to the growing hostility among væmpires.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Cassie’s relationship is at an all-time low. The princess is still reeling from her breakup with Vielyn, and Daniel doesn’t know what he should or shouldn’t do to help. Little does he know that the summit will be flooded with surprises—guests, allegations, accusations, proposals, and even Christmas Eve revelations—but not all of the surprises will be pleasant.

So, there you have it—the Væmpires saga in a nutshell. It’s an urban fantasy/dystopian series, combining fantasy, sci-fi, horror, action, and romance in bite-sized chunks for your enjoyment!

I hope you enjoyed my guest blog. I’d love to hear what you think of it. Comment here, stop by my website, or even drop an email. I’d also love to hear from you if you check out Vaempires. Below are some links where you can find me:







Books on Amazon.com

Books on Smashwords

Books on iTunes

As a final note: I’d like to thank all of you (one more time) for stopping in and offer a very special “thank you” to Mayra for allowing me to be a guest blogger at The Dark Phantom Review today.

Take care,

Thomas Winship


To win an ebook or print copy of this book, simply leave a comment! (Print copy US shipping only.) Thanks!

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Bill Swears calls himself a service brat. He was born in Great Falls, Montana. He’s lived in England, Iran, Germany, and nine states. Bill flew military helicopters for twenty-two years, seven in the Army and fifteen in the Coast Guard. He sold his first short story while he was a Coast Guard rescue helicopter pilot, and immediately began writing a book. He finished that manuscript ten years later, after retiring from active duty.

On November 15, 2003, Bill broke his back while ditching a homebuilt experimental airplane 100 NM out to sea from Maui, Hawaii. He retired from the USCG in 2004, after spinal fusion surgery and rehabilitation. He says that there is an upside to that, because he shows up on Google searches: http://starbulletin.com/2003/11/18/news/index4.html. Although he does show up on Google searches, Dark Phantom suggests that there are better ways to do that and Bill agrees. 

Bill met his wife Teri in high school in 1978. They married in 1982, but didn’t get around to having children for seventeen more years. They have two kids, thirteen year old Alexa and eight year old Michael, and will celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary in July. Bill claims that they lost track of time.

The Swears family lives in a beat-up old log home on a ridge line in Peter’s Creek, Alaska with a brace of rare breed Eurasier dogs and a pair of cats. Bill earned his MA in English and graduated on Groundhog Day 2010, the year he turned fifty. He works as a technical writer and editor for a little known federal bureau. He has a spanking new webresidence and blog at www.BillSwears.com, and blogs at http://wswears.livejournal.com/.

About the book, Zook Country:

Metamorphic plague has swept the globe over the last five years. Victims become rabid non-sentient zooks, immensely strong and so fast that a normal person can’t see them move. A third of humanity has died, but people are fighting back, balanced on the razor’s edge between survival and apocalypse. Jake Chestnut and Gary Landon, both ex-army, are partners in Seraglio, an independent Kent, Washington based zook hunting firm. Both lost their families to plague and are part of the less than one percent of humanity with the innate ability, ESP, reflexes, and willingness to shoot where the zook will be next that are necessary to combat feral zooks. Zook-hunters are charged with hunting down and killing plague victims. These battle scarred men and women have been on the front line with no reprieve for five years, and the survivors have developed an esprit de corps similar to that of a WWI Aerosquadron.

Killing zooks for a living is tough, but the alternative is worse; eight months after infection, zooks metamorphose into non-corporeal ghasten, who live in collectives, herd zooks, kill with energy discharges, and create rifts in the fabric of reality that have swallowed cities. While working a contract to clear a first of its kind community/safe enclave for the elite, somebody tries to kill Jake, Gary, and their crew. With Gary badly injured, Jake must untangle a web of conspiracy to complete Seraglio’s contract and seek vengeance. What he discovers may lead to civil war.




From Coast Guard rescue helicopter pilot to apocalyptic science-fiction adventure writer. How did that come about?

I was reading science fiction in grade school. A lot of it. I read through all of the science fiction in the city library nearest my house when I was eleven, and in every school library from the time I left fourth grade until I graduated from high school. I couldn’t be forced to study my school-work, but that science fiction stuff my mother so disapproved of? I never really stopped. Before I joined the military I wrote a couple of science fiction short stories – really bad stories, but with a core of humor that my friends (and other people I was able to intimidate into reading my stuff) noticed. So I guess the question is more, “How did a budding young writer end up flying Coast Guard helicopters?” Now that was a long road. I knew I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to be a pilot, and I knew I wanted to be the world’s first independent cargo dirigible captain. But I really wasn’t ready to write in my early twenties, and I banged my head against that, until one day Teri pointed at one of the then popular commercials that said “The Army; the only service that will take you straight from high school to flight school.”

She still claims that she was joking, but nine months later, with an impressive battery of tests behind me, I was swearing into the Army for rotary-wing flight school. I thought initially that I’d like to follow in Dad’s footsteps,  join the Air Force and become a jet pilot, but after I’d flown helicopters for a few years I realized that I was just having too much fun to give up the rotary-wing lifestyle. Flying seems like a young man’s career, and I stayed with that for my first career, moving to the Coast Guard when I realized that saving lives fit me better than taking them (training to take them. I’ve never been in combat). So, it seems like I’m breaking into a whole new gig, writing fiction, but really, I’m taking time to do something I’ve always loved. And now, I have a bunch of sea stories that I can weave into my writing!

What was your inspiration for Zook Country and how did you come up with the concept of ‘Zook’.

Believe it or not, I started writing about Jake and Gary while I was talking about using voice in dialogue at rec.arts.sf.composition. I threw out a snippet that was very close to the opening you can read today. I liked the characters and started to write, not knowing where they’d go. I got about two chapters in before I began to feel the shape of the novel to come. That’s when I wrote a rough story-arc that I followed for the rest of the draft.

As I originally wrote it, the story was mostly contemporary dark fantasy, with zooks being part of an attack on the human race by evil dragons. A good dragon had found his way to earth as well, and became a major character in my earlier draft. I was picked up by an agent almost immediately, but he convinced me to take out the fey/magical aspects and give it a more down to earth explanation. I miss Thomas the dragon even today, but the novel that came out was much tighter and easily visualized. The agent? He left the publishing industry entirely, though we’re still friends.

I remember when I first started to develop the zooks that I was thinking about vampires, and that I wanted to write a guy version of urban fantasy. At the time I was thinking that I wanted a new monster because I didn’t want to be stuck in somebody else’s pigeonhole, but that I also wanted to borrow from known monster archetypes so that readers wouldn’t be completely alienated. It seemed like burning up in contact with silver and being able to heal almost instantly would be recognizable as monster traits. Becoming non-sentient and apelike came from my prejudices about what happens to rabies victims in the later stages of the disease. After that, I just let the story flow and Ghasten came along as if that’s what is supposed to happen to hyperspeed feral apes.

I came up with the name zook as an integral part of the world I was imagining (and beginning to dream about). At first I didn’t know where the name came from – I finally posted a longer section with RASFC and asked my friends there to comment about zooks, especially the name, which worried me a little. Ric Locke (Temporary Duty: available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble) said that it was clearly a mashup of Zombie and Gook, and that made complete sense to me. Soldiers find ways to dehumanize their enemies so that they can get on with the business of killing them. I don’t really think of zooks as being zombies, but the parallels are obvious, so maybe my hind-brain was already making the connection.

I understand you first self-published the novel before it was picked up by Twilight Times Books. I love success stories like that. Can you share with my readers how that happened?

I’m proud of my writing, but promotionally, I’m a real neophyte. After five full years in one publisher’s recommended pile (I checked in with her every few months and was always reassured that it was in her pile, and that she’d eventually get around to looking at it), while gaining and losing two agents from a rather famous F&SF centric literary agency, I gave up on waiting for the industry to get around to looking at me. I spent some months prepping the book for self-publication, setting up ISBNs, buying cover art, getting a copy/line edit from somebody I trusted, and running the whole book through several members of my writers group. Then I put it up on Amazon Kindle and nothing much happened. Apparently Amazon is releasing so many e-books that their market is glutted with new titles (or, just maybe, I’ve been lost in a sea of voices shouting “Buy me! Buy me!” and if I can get the right attention, some few people will want to face a new monster in their darker nights). While I thought about whether to expand my markets to other e-book providers or join Kindle Select, I sent promotional messages to each of my Facebook friends, and everybody I ever traded e-mail with, asking for reviews. Stephanie Osborne suggested that I friend Lida Quillen and offer the book to Twilight Times Books.

Sending individual messages to each of your Facebook friends is terribly labor intensive, but it netted me a few promises of reviews, and the name of a promising publisher. Here was this small but growing press with authors that I recognized, and here I was, starting to get a really good notion of just how time intensive and pricey it was to promote myself, so the idea really had a shiny glow. I queried Lida, she read the book and liked it, and then suddenly I was barreling down a road I thought was closed to me.

The road has been bumpy, but I went from 2007 to 2012 with the book in a big publishing house but no action at all, then was picked up and published in 11 days. I couldn’t decide whether ecstasy or head-desk was the correct response. I settled on muted excitement with a sense that the other boot would soon drop.

I understand Zook Country wasn’t the original title

I originally wrote the book under the title Seraglio, because Jake and Gary named their company that, and because it has an uncomfortable resonance with something the bad-guys have done. Nobody at all liked that title, so I was casting around for a better one when my German publisher told me that he’d publish the book only if I renamed it Zookland. I like Zookland quite a lot, but thought that here in the US it came too close to the names Zombieland and Zoolander. In fact, for the longest time, if I Googled Zookland I got the Ben Stiller movie.

Anyway, Zook Country as a term is reminiscent (to me!) of Injun Country, which I hoped would have meaning to some part of the US crowd. 

The novel was also published in Germany. Is it still available there and was it published there in German?

Yes it is, yes it was. Zookland was translated to German by my friend Dirk Van Den Boom, and is available in hardback or trade paperback at http://www.atlantis-verlag.de/, or in trade paper or kindle from Amazon.com here in the U.S. – for anybody who speaks German. Really, anybody who speaks German should buy both books and compare them. Yeah, that’s the ticket. 😉

Tell us a bit about your writing process. Are you a morning bird or a night owl? How long does it usually take you to finish a book?

I’m a morning bird by ingrained habit, but a night owl by inclination. Before joining the military, Teri and I thought nothing about watching the sunrise before going to bed. Now, I’m awake between 4:30 and 5:00 am whether I like it or not, and whether I’ve been asleep for three hours or seven. I’m probably most productive in the mornings, and on my days off from work, which is why it was so useful to be able to take this interview at such an early hour here in Alaska.

I’m not an outliner exactly.  I usually start with a group of characters and a situation, then write a few chapters and decide who and what I like.  Then I write what I call a chapterboard, which is sort of like an outline.  I write a brief description of what I think will happen in each of twelve chapters.  That description is sometimes a sentence, and sometimes two or three paragraphs about what I have in mind.  The length of the description and the length of the chapters have absolutely no relationship, as far as I can tell.  In one chapterboard from another book, “Tanos and Carolyn get married” was the description of three long chapters that involved an assassination plot and a vastly overcomplex royal wedding.  The twelve chapters I write my chapterboard around have never come out in fact.  Zook Country had a twelve chapter board, and came out to 33 chapters and an epilogue. Sometimes my characters disapprove of a planned action and go off to raise their own Cain.  I do, generally, get to nudge them back toward my preferred ending.

I don’t know that I have a “usually” when it comes to finishing books. My first book took almost a year to write.  Zook Country took less than three months in its original form.  Now I have a high demand day job, so things are taking longer.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

Chapter 17, when Jake smells apples and tastes mocha. Anything more would be a spoiler, IMO.

Seriously though, having “favorite” scenes in a book that shivers between dark and light is difficult.  I like the moment toward the end when Donna ends up out of bullets with her men dead or dying around her, defending herself with nothing but a stiff silver wire and mad martial arts skills. Donna is way cool and a far better character than I ever deserved to dream up – and like some of the best characters, she wasn’t intended to be there.  She created her own space in my head and broke out onto the page without the least regard for my feelings.

At the other extreme, there is a scene when Jake and Gary take down a two year old zook that hurts every time I read it, and that cost me a lot of sleep when I first wrote it.  In a way, I guess you could call that a favorite.

What did you find most challenging while working on Zook Country?

During the first draft? Getting to sleep at night. Zook Country came off my fingers almost as quickly as I could type. I woke up ready to write and had itchy keyboarding fingers all day. Of course I had to do other things, like eat, and chase people down in the street to get them to read snippets, so that wasn’t mindlessly easy. But then, I found a couple good first readers, and they kept hounding me for more chapters, so I could focus more on getting the next thing written.

I thought that writing the book would be the hardest part. When I got a call a few weeks later from an agent, I thought my authoring world was made. But when that agent friend asked me to reimagine the book without fey elements? That moment comes in a close second on the challenge scale. I felt so challenged that I wanted to fly to New York and have a loud chest to chest discussion with this fellow I’d never met. Then he arranged for his boss to visit me in Anchorage during BoucherCon 2007, to tell me that I had no idea what I was doing with dragons. I didn’t really believe the agency’s advice until I’d finished and smoothed the sans magic version, and even then I was pretty mad. I was really “challenged” when the agent I’d started with up and left the industry just as I was turning in Zook Opus mark deux. More challenged yet when the boss that hadn’t liked my dragon also turned out not to like my monsters, metamorphic plague, or anything except the characters, which he thought should be in an infantry based space opera out in the Zagravian sector. We dinked around for another two years before realizing that without the first interested agent, the boss was never going to be satisfied with an Earth based adventure.

What’s on the horizon for Bill Swears?

I’ve promised to write Rogue Country, a sequel to Zook Country next. It’s set in the Oregon wine country near the River of the Rogue. I’ve got two other novels in progress. One is a straight up space opera that I’m calling Mutiny on Hellespont, and the other is high fantasy, or maybe swords and sorcery, and an immediate sequel to my first (so far unpublished) book, Split Affinity. The sequel, which is currently at 80K words, will be called Growing Affinity, and is part two of three. I can’t let myself finish it until I’ve fulfilled my promise to Dirk Van Den Boom, who wants to exhaust himself translating the next zook story.

And, my day job. Ouch.  Somebody find me a very wealthy zook enthusiast to pay my bills while I punch out the next book, please!

Author’s facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wswears

Link to excerpt: http://twilighttimesbooks.com/ZookCountry_ch1.html

Link to purchase page: http://twilighttimesbooks.com/ZookCountry_ch1.html. Buy it at the excerpt in any e-format, or link from there to Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007J6DPPA), or Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/zook-country-bill-swears/1108892461).

Originally published in Blogcritics Magazine.

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A report on the rapid buildup of CO2 in our atmosphere over the past 50 years sparked the idea for my new thriller novel Red Hot Sky. After I read the report, I began wondering what would happen if the rapid CO2 increase continues unchecked. In the past, high and low levels of CO2 in our atmosphere have been associated with radical changes in earth’s climate. The CO2 level was very low during the last ice age. And the levels have always risen dramatically during warming periods between ice ages. Could our present CO2 buildup reach another tipping point, and another radical shift in world climate? But instead of an ice age, can it kick earth into a much hotter and more dire kind of climate?

I used that possibility for the setting in Red Hot Sky. But how will people behave when faced with an approaching disaster that could end of human survival? In this scenario, a powerful computer model foretells the looming disaster. The situation brings out the best In some of the characters, the very worst in others.

The characters were developed out of the challenges they faced. Ben Mason and Claudine Manet are co-developers of the secret computer model. They are the ones who are willing to sacrifice everything to save the planet. They are also in love, and sometimes their passions sizzle, and other times their feelings and misunderstandings drive them apart and put their relationship on thin ice.

A disgraced Russian general waits for a chance to regain his power. He learns of the climate threat through a hacker and seizes on this as this opportunity to not only take over Russia, but to ultimately rule the world. Ben Mason, who had started with the CIA in their forensics lab before leaving to take over the development of the national lab computer model, returns to the CIA and is sent on a hazardous mission to block the general’s scheme. His cover is blown and he’s on the run in hostile territory.

Claudine is put in charge of a massive NASA program to hold off the looming disaster. But just when her project is ready to launch, it is stopped dead by bureaucracy. The climate change catastrophe steadily approaches.

I chose a worldwide stage to emphasize the threat to the whole planet, and to speed up the pace of the story. The action moves from Washington to JPL in Pasadena, to Geneva, to Tehran, to Prague, and finally to Moscow. The aim in writing Red Hot Sky was to provide a fast-paced, knuckle biting, and thoroughly enjoyable experience for the reader. I must confess, I also had in mind the hope that in the process, the reader might become more aware of the risks unchecked global warming poses for the future health of our planet.

Gordon Gumpertz brings fiction readers another exciting action/adventure experience in his new novel RED HOT SKY. This is the author’s second book, following his highly acclaimed novel TSUNAMI.

In addition to writing novels, Gordon has won gold and silver awards in national and regional short story competitions. He is a member of the Authors Guild, the Palm Springs Writers Guild, a UCLA graduate, and an instrument-rated private pilot. He keeps his website current by blogging on natural disasters and natural phenomena.

Gordon and his wife Jenny live not far from the San Andreas fault, where the Pacific Plate thrusts into the North American Plate, building increasingly high levels of faultline stress which, the seismologists say, may soon produce the Big One.

Visit his website at www.tsunaminaturaldisaster.com.

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About Red Hot Sky

CO2 buildup in earth’s atmosphere reaches a tipping point. Global weather destabilizes, turns chaotic. Ice storms, dust storms, floods, blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes pummel the earth nonstop. A secret computer model reveals that the frantic weather will peak out, and transform world climate into an alien environment devastating to human survival.

Scientists Ben Mason, Claudine Manet, and Bertrand Short are developers of the computer model. Ben and Claudine are lovers as well as lab partners. While they work frantically to head off the approaching catastrophe, a disgraced Russian general hacks into their model and sees earth’s bleak future as his opportunity for ultimate world power.

Ben, who had left the CIA to develop the computer model at the national lab, is reactivated by the Agency and sent on a perilous mission to block the rogue general’s plot. Claudine, not realizing that Ben is on a secret mission, misunderstands his absence, putting their relationship on thin ice.

Claudine is placed in charge of a massive NASA project that, if completed on time, could stop the approaching doomsday climate change. But her project is stalled by bureaucracy. Ben is on the run in hostile territory. The climate change calamity steadily approaches.

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Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two children, Drake and Celeste.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Christine! Have you always been a fan of science fiction?

Oh yes! The first story I ever wrote, at the age of seven or eight, involved Cabbage Patch Dollars going to Mars. I liked aliens, the future, magic, witches, and anything strange or unusual. As a teenager, I had a crush on Wesley Crusher. My favorite books were A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicles of Narnia.

When did you decide you wanted to become a novelist?

This was never something I decided, it’s just a part of me, something I have to do. I could no more not write than not breathe, and novels are my natural style. I like to spend time with stories, getting to know them, and so while I have written and read a few short stories here and then, I vastly prefer novels.

Tell us about your novel, The Immortality Virus.

The Immortality Virus is a far-future science fiction novel that asks: “What if the entire human race stopped aging?” It takes place in 2450, four centuries after The Change (when humans stopped aging), and tells the story of a blacklisted P.I. named Grace who is hired to find the man who caused The Change – if he’s still alive. There’s action, mystery, and a sprinkling of romance to help brighten the darkness of an otherwise dystopian novel.

What was your inspiration for it?

The Immortality Virus didn’t come to me in a burst of inspiration. I started out with the idea that I wanted to write a science fiction novel (I had just finished a paranormal novel and wanted to try something a little different), and then started doing a random search on Wikipedia. The search led me to the article on DNA, which helped me recall something I’d read about a genetic source for aging, which led me to more articles, and after about a week of reading and researching, it all came together in my mind: Someone released a virus that altered the human genome in such a way that we no longer aged.

After that, things came together fairly quickly. I got into characters (which is where I usually start, to be honest), world building, and I wrote an exploratory draft. Grace came to life as I started writing, as if she had always been inside of me and we were just waiting to be introduced.

How did you create the dystopian world in your story?

It all started with a what if: What if the entire human race stopped aging? I didn’t set out to write a dystopian novel, although I clearly realize that is what I did, but rather to consider the actual consequences of something that we (the human race) has always wanted. How long have we searched for the Fountain of Youth, both literally and figuratively? The current popularity of vampire novels is, I think, largely about the draw of immortality. And maybe it would be exciting, to be one among many, watching history move, but what if it were all of us? Would history even move very quickly, without the natural momentum of birth, growth, and death?

After that, I went back and outlined a social and political history, focusing on the Unitd States, from the time of The Change (in about 2050) to the time of the novel (2450). Much of this did not end up in the book, but having the information clear in my mind helped me to realize the world of the story.

What makes your protagonist special?

Grace is a strong woman – touch, determined, and smart – but inside, she’s vulnerable. She often sees the world through a cynnic’s eyes, and yet she stops to help those in need, grumbling the entire time. She truly cares, but is afraid there’s really no such thing as love, especially when forever is truly put to the test.

What is your greatest challenge when writing science fiction?

My greatest challenge changes as I grow as a writer. When I wrote The Immortality Virus, my greatest challenge was action sequences. I spent many hours with my husband, coreographing them with him, and acting them out, to aid in the believability. (My husband being well-versed in marshall arts.) The experience helped me a lot, though, and I now feel much more confident writing those same scenes.

What is your writing and editing process like?

So far, it has been different for each book I have written. I’m not sure if I learn something each time, or if I just have to mix it up to keep things interesting.

Lately, I’ve decided that the trick to writing is to listen to that voice inside my head telling me something isn’t right and not just bash my way through a story that isn’t working. Writer’s block means something is wrong, and if I stop to fix it, I have much better success.

Editing is difficult for me, especially because I have to blow up my screen to a hugely large font so I can catch those obnoxious errors the word processor missed. I take it slowly, one chapter at a time, going through twice for content, once for style, and once for grammar and spelling. With all but the first content run, I put all the chapter numbers in a hat and pick them out one at a time, to help me keep things interesting.

How long did it take you, from idea to final draft, to complete the novel?

I first dreamed up the idea in the summer of 2006, at which point I wrote a novella-length story that I always knew needed to be a novel. I spent most of the next year working on other projects, including the promotion of my debut novel, Touch of Fate, then I picked it back up in the summer of 2007. I wrote a full draft that summer, then once again, worked on other things until August of 2008, when I finally wrote the last draft. This was something of a summer project because I was involved with a summer critique group for a while. All together, if I carve out the times I set it aside to work on other things, I probably spent 9-12 months on it, but as you can see, the math isn’t all that simple. 🙂

What advice would you give to aspiring SF authors?

Writers write! (For more details, visit my blog. I have weekly tips for writers there.)

Thanks, Christine!

Thank you for having me!

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An adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University, Dan Skelton is the author of three published works, Out of Innocence, The Human Element, and Boojum. His fourth novel, Renascence, which he just finished writing recently, blends elements of futurism and religion. Skelton was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. 

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I'm a native Arkansawyer (yes, yes, Arkansan, too) born in Conway. Educated at St. Joseph School and then at Arkansas State Teachers College; after that I earned an MA+30 in English at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and, ultimately, earned a doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi, Oxford. I have taught in high schools in Fort Smith, Springdale, and Morrilton with a brief stint with fourth graders at St. Joseph. From 1967 until 2002 I taught at Southern State College, which became Southern Arkansas University, where I worked my way through the ranks to full professor and Chair of the Department of Theater/Mass Communication.

I have one child, a daughter, who makes me endlessly happy and two beautiful, brilliant, and talented grandchildren, a girl and a boy.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Probably at the age of four or five, when I first learned to read, but definitely by the time I got into the Freddy, the Talking Pig, series.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Voracious. I read everything and had no serious fixation on any one genre.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

My latest effort is still in manuscript. I finished the first draft last night (6-21-08) at around midnight. It is called Renascence and concerns a teenage girl named Skye and her best friend, Bombsie. Both are mall rats and drug heads. They live in a futuristic society in which belief in God is considered a mental illness worthy of a "mind wipe" and the "elderly" are "transitioned" in their mid sixties. Through the efforts of Skye's grandmother, Grandee Purr, the girl's life is transformed.

The other books I have written tend toward the gritty and dark in content and language. I began to think that any positive message was being lost because readers, perhaps, could not see the forest for all the ugly trees, so I decided to write a book that was strong, pure, and straightforward. That I have done.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I never create an outline. By the time I write, I have given a considerable amount of time to the story–beginning to end. If I know where and how it will end, I can get there. I trust my creative impulse to lead me. Some elements are transformed and rearranged in the writing because, in that mysterious process, forces do supersede the rational mind, always for the better in my estimation.

Did your book require a lot of research?

No, a minimal amount, unless you count a lifetime of experience and observation research.

What was your goal when writing this book?

I wanted readers to appreciate the fact that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit constantly seek to participate in our lives, that all of us caught in a mundane quotidian have the opportunity to cooperate with the supernatural and bring forth good out of apparently wasted and barren lives. Maybe just to present God's love, God's presence, God's availability, to establish that we humans are the body of Christ: arms, legs, eyes, etc., and that if good is going to be done for those in need, it will come through people cooperating with the spirit of God.

Who is your target audience?

Mostly teenage girls and women from as young as the middle grades, possibly, all the way up to include college students. Actually, I believe more mature women will like it also because the point of view shifts about between the girls and the older women. I'm hoping there will be no age barriers.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

Who can really say? I hope they will learn that in the words of an old hymn, "there is no other way than to trust and obey," or that, as Whitman would have it, "The keelson of creation is love."

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

Certainly I synthesize things out of my experiences and so I suppose that puts me in the Hemingway camp as opposed to someone like Arthur C. Clarke.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

Some of my best thinking comes when I am taking walks or doing some task that allows me to function with my mind "out of gear," so to speak. As I automatically walk or drive or work at a chore, my thoughts can range about freely. When they do, they provide me an image, a line, a concept, or they connect up notions I have idly considered before. Next thing you know, hunks and slabs of story line come poking through to the surface.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

So far, she has been generous. I am the one who resists, if I am in a funk over some real or imagined stress or failure in the material world. When that happens, I can block out communication for quite a while. She is patient with me, waiting until she finds a chink in my armor of obstinacy, whereupon she rushes in with some enticing nugget of possibility.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

Eight months to twelve or fourteen months.

Describe your working environment.

Word processor–My! How that invention has freed me–and silence.

What type of scenes give you the most trouble to write?

Scenes of passion. It is so easy to overwrite. Francis Irby Gwaltney, Arkansas novelist and one of my early mentors, cautioned me about always trying to "rip your reader's guts out." I understood his point but realize that I am often still guilty of that error.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I do edit as I go along; however, there remains a great deal to do in that department even after the first draft has been completed.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I've had some negative comments from "strangers," though nothing that was too scathing. Truthfully, it hurts, but I try to keep a level head; I pray about it, and, ultimately, try to learn from it. If that sounds "saintly," it really isn't. There's agony enough in the process, believe me.

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Hmmm! Nothing really, although I have been given moments of pause upon considering the possibility of giving scandal or leading some infirm mind and will astray.

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

Love, duty, hope, responsibility. I think the culture we live in has neglected those, cultivating instead Lust, a sense of separation, despair, and irresponsibility.

Are you a disciplined writer?

I think so. At this point, I have three published novels and four yet to be published manuscripts so, if I'm not disciplined, I am productive.

How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?

I don't plan my writing sessions in advance other than anticipating a weekend or a holiday period as a great opportunity. I function as a soccer grandpa; I help clean the house and work on the lawn, mind the kids as needed and run the usual assortment of errands. My writing, of necessity, comes after those needs are seen to, which means some late night work and snatched times on weekends.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Night owl, unless I have to teach the next day.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?

Yes. My agent is Mindy Phillips Lawrence of MPL Creative Resources; she is also my publicist.

My experience in searching for an agent parallels that of searching for a publisher–in a word, frustrating.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

Yes. I constantly punctuate by inserting three periods of ellipses, which vexes Mindy somewhat. Other than that, I'm sure I am a model of writing purity and saintliness.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

My opinion is use them if you must. Some people need instant feedback, but, of course, what they want is instant praise. If that bolsters one, fine. If the comments grow snide or biting, check out of that place immediately.

As a young fellow, I rushed with writing hot in hand to teacher, parents, librarians, etc, asking "What do you think?" Mostly they were kind and helpful but, at some point, I came to realize that there was no ultimate arbitration, merely opinions and I lost the need to have myself validated. Now, I do what I do; if you like it, fine; if you don't, well, this is what I do.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Yes, but almost always because I have allowed a case of Poor Little Old Me to overcome my industry. "Oh, I'm not good. I'll never amount to anything. No one's ever going to publish me." Etc,etc. What normally unleashes me is reading or going back to work again.
Sometimes, it is possible that a writer simply needs a small vacation in order for the internal computer to reset.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Keeping the dialogue believable, interesting and yet moving the scene along.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Vexation! Frustration! Hair Tearing! Try to tell yourself it's not personal and keep on plugging away.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I don't know this for a fact but I'm betting if you sell yourself well, your books will move off the shelves quicker.

Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Oh, so many . . . Norman and Norris Mailer, Donna Tartt, Robert McCammon, Preston & Childs, Koontz, Anne Easter Smith, the fellow who wrote SARUM (Edward Rutherfurd), Thomas Wolfe, Tom Wolfe, Faulkner, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price, etc.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Find your own voice; stop trying to be Wolfe or Faulkner or anyone else.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes. About all you have to do is Google Dr. Dan Skelton.

Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Having just finished Renascence, except for edits, I am in a free wheeling state for the moment. I have a strong interest in the horror/supernatural and have been toying with dealing with Chupacabra or some other crypto-zoological creature.

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

Well, it's certainly not money. Probably having someone who is a total stranger find a way to tell me that what I wrote deeply affected them.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

Only that I remain hard at work and hope that those of you who recognize my name from this source will give me a look-see the next time opportunity arises.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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Lee Denning is the pen name of not one author but two–Denning Powell and his daughter Lee, who apparently make an awesome science fiction writing team. In this interview Powell talks about how they went about writing the first novel in the series, Monkey Trap, as well as other aspects of writing and publishing. The sequel to Monkey Trap, Hiding Hand, is scheduled to be released by Twilight Times Books this August.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?

After 30 years of science and engineering and starting/running a consulting business, I decided to go back to my inner child. I Decided I needed a retirement job I could go to naked, so I picked writing. Not being totally wacky, I still do engineering work part-time to pay the bills. My daughter Leanne, poor dear, got sucked into the creative process and we write together, but she works full-time in the psych/marketing area.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Read everything from comic books to the Bible (well, a little). The earliest was Edgar Rice Burroughs, his Tarzan and Mars books, and Heinlein/Clark/Asimov was the next phase, I think.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

I conceived Monkey Trap in 1971 while I was in the Air Force, in a boring staff job at Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon, and actually wrote about 100 pages longhand. Then I got an opportunity to go upcountry with an Army Special Forces unit and life got interesting and I later got busy building a career after the Air Force so I put the thing down for 30 years. In 2001 I dug those 100 pages out of the attic and read them. The writing was crap, and I threw it all out, but the ideas were good: humanity is on the cusp of an evolutionary development that could bring great good or great evil, and a test has to be run to decide whether to let the development progress or pull the plug (i.e., are the human monkeys smart enough to avoid their internal traps?).

How did you and your daughter go about writing the book? Did you take each a subsequent chapter?

Our approach wasn’t particularly organized or specified to begin with, but has evolved as we progress…

For Monkey Trap, I’d already structured the story, gotten organized, and was up to about chapter 8 on the actual writing when I happened to mention to Lee what I was doing. She was in college at the time and got very excited about it. She asked to see what I’d done, and started feeding me ideas, and then really got sucked in and started contributing some writing, and by the end of the story, she’d told about a quarter of the story (I think her grades suffered a bit in her senior year, but I didn’t say anything).

What about for your sequel, Hiding Hand?

For Hiding Hand (publication date August 2008), we started that book jointly from scratch, and were much better organized. The sequence was… an email concept/brainstorming effort that we called Table A, followed by an email plotting/character development effort that we called Table B, followed by an email story outline/structure that we called Table C. (Our collaboration is mostly email because she’s on the west coast of the US and I’m on the east coast.) Table C was what we actually wrote from — it laid out for each chapter what we needed to accomplish, and described the scenes that had to take place (typically averaging 5 scenes per chapter). Lee wrote a lot of the female character scenes, and I wrote a lot of the male character scenes, although there wasn’t any hard dividing line. I mostly did the bad guy mullah Muhammad Zurvan, because — hahahaha — I just really like working with the bad guys; and I mostly did the boy hero Joshua… probably so I could redeem my own misspent youth. Lee mostly did the female good child Eva, because she’s a lot closer to the female inner child than I can ever hope to be; and she also did the old Crone Hessa because of the psychological and metaphysical conflictedness of the poor dear. But, we traded scenes back and forth and marked them up, so we both had an almost inseparable involvement in developing each of the characters — I don’t think either of us can claim any one character as solely our own. This sort of collaboration probably explains why the characters in Monkey Trap rang true through the story, and hopefully readers will feel the same about the characters in Hiding Hand.
For Splintered Light (now in progress) we followed the same basic Table A/B/C organization, but the Hiding Hand experience taught us that there’s no point in getting too directive or overly organized about Table C — once you start the actual writing the story starts to tell itself and you’d best go with the flow. At the scene level (to get back to one of your earlier questions about structured versus stream-of-consciousness) the writing becomes almost all stream-of-consciousness. The structure we’d set up to guide it (i.e., Table C) sometimes works pretty well (maybe 40% of the time), and sometimes not at all (maybe 30%) and sometimes sort of works (the other 30%). We’re realistic about this — when the muse beast has the bit in its teeth, you gotta give it free rein. But we never abandon the structure, because it’s a good context for the story — it reminds us exactly what to accomplish in each chapter and scene. So if what we wrote doesn’t accomplish what we intended — and if we think what we intended is still valid — then we try to reconcile the left-brain and the right-brain differences across the corpus callosum of two people who are quite different in many ways. Somehow that always works, because Lee and I are also quite similar in many ways besides genetic, and because — as they say — love conquers all. To tell the truth, I really don’t know quite what to make of the process… but it’s a lot of fun…

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I can do stream-of-consciousness for maybe five pages, after that it’s hopelessly inefficient — way too much total rework afterwards. Our novels are longish (180,000 words), and with two authors you have to be very structured, otherwise you run off into the weeds pretty quickly. So we structure, and draw diagrams (yeah, anal-retentive, but hell, I’m an engineer), and outline, and re-structure, and consider specifically the point of each chapter and each scene therein and how they feed into the story. It’s painful.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

About three years for Monkey Trap. In terms of time commitment over those three years? Between Leanne and myself we spent 242 hours structuring, 1305 hours writing, and 2466 hours editing/reworking. Yes… exactly… we now know what not to do. The second novel went more smoothly, and the third is going pretty smoothly too. It’s a learning curve…

Describe your working environment.

Small office, all resources at finger-tip reach. Few distractions except the cat demanding an occasional rub.

Are you a disciplined writer?

Totally disciplined as to good intent and sitting down to write. Once seated, though, I tend to fritter time away trying to actually start writing — I do a bunch of meaningless little chores to avoid plunging in. It’s like the water’s too cold and I have to dunk my tootsies multiple times. Anybody with a mental vaccine for that I’d love a shot of it…

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Never had the displeasure, or at least not long enough that I found it problematic. Lucky, I guess.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle with the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Deepening characters by their actions or words (or sometimes lack thereof) rather than using exposition. That requires a fair amount of subtlety and usually multiple re-works.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

I dropped the manuscript for Monkey Trap (unagented) on the major sci-fi publishing houses. The general response was thanks, we put it in our slush pile, you may hear from us in a couple of years. So I pulled it back. My advice is to do what I did next — look over all the small houses, see if their niche matches your story, and send it to those (complying with what their submission process is, of course). If there’s no interest, consider the self-publishing route.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

Wish I had a magic bullet for this one. The best approach is to write something really good and then try to get some word-of-mouth buzz going (along with the internet equivalent thereof).

What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?

Lately… Greg Iles for his varied innovative plots, Lee Childs for his protagonist development, Orson Scott Card for his original ideas.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Same as in life — just be persistent, keep plugging, try to get better.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yep, it’s www.monkeytrap.us. It has the first chapter of Monkey Trap, a couple of PowerPoint synopses of the story, and a full-length screenplay (the story was designed from the ground up to be a movie). The first chapter of Hiding Hand also is on the website. No blog as yet, Lee and I currently are trying to figure out the most effective/efficient method.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Monkey Trap is the first of a trilogy about evolution of a new human species. Book 2 — Hiding Hand — is scheduled for publication in August 2008. Book 3 — Splintered Light — is in draft.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

There’s an incredible amount of good writing out there these days in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, much more than 20 or 30 years ago. So it’s a tougher market to break into… but on the other hand, the creative process has always been its own reward and one that’s worth pursuing.

When you read SF novels today, what are the plots/themes which seem to come up again and again?

Less emphasis on outer space and more on inner space — how the protagonist deals with the challenge, fails, grows, overcomes. Also, I think there’s much more of a (blurry) crossover between sci-fi and fantasy… you see it in mystical/spiritual themes that are either explicit to many stories or serve as their underpinnings.

What is the greatest challenge when writing science fiction?

Deepening characters is by far the toughest nut for me to crack. On the science side, it’s sometimes difficult to judge how much hard science detail to put into a story to get to that suspension-of-disbelief point where you’ve got the readers sucked in — too much tech set up and you lose certain readers, not enough and other readers will get irritated by the lack of plausibility. Lee and I go back and forth on that issue a fair amount.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?

I was telling stories before I could write. My Dad was a great story-teller, and he encouraged me to make up stories. The adults indulged and applauded and spoiled me. I wrote my first poem in second grade (I was about 7) and it was published in our very small village’s weekly newspaper. I started a newspaper in the 5th grade, a little weekly that ran 2-3 pages. Started writing stories about then, too.

Yes, I have another job. I teach in the Theatre Division of The Boston Conservatory, a very fine Theatre/Music/Dance private college in Boston. I teach History of the Theatre, Cultural History, occasionally Acting.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Yes. I especially loved animal stories, and action stories. I read a lot of comic books, too. I read all the kids’ stuff — loved Robin Hood (I wanted to be Robin, not Marion), Mark Twain, Stevenson, the Nancy Drew Dectective books. I liked poetry books and I read the dictionary. (It was a children’s version.)

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

JEMMA7729 is a rather dark action-adventure, futurist story, set in North America in the early 23rd century. The government is rotten and repressive —it’s a government that tells Big Lies and holds the country together with fear and intimidation. Once Jemma discovers that what she’s been taught is not the truth, she sets out to discover the truth for herself and becomes a rebel, a saboteur, and the government tries to stop her.

I got the idea one day thinking the “what If…” mantra. What if there were a government so repressive it just lumped all crimes and misdemeanors into one huge category: Inappropriate Behavior. That was the original title of the book. I’m sure that the discomfort and anger that I’ve felt (and many many other Americans have felt) over the past eight years of bullying and repression by my own government has a lot to do with why I wrote it.

The theme may be one reason that I got frame able rejections from American publishers and it wound up being taken by a Canadian publisher.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I can’t work with outlines. I had a hard time starting the novel. I just couldn’t get past a few pages until … it sounds hokey, but there was the morning when I sat down to write … and Jemma walked into the room. The novel had to be written in the first person. That’s not my favorite voice, but nothing else worked. The whole book comes off Jemma’s ideas and personality.

Of course I manipulated the character, but she’s a strong personality, and not a particularly comfortable one to carry around in your head for years.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

For-Evaaa! Or so it seemed. I wrote it first as a short story in 2000. Then a novel in two parts, and finally I turned the first part into JEMMA7729. From the time the publisher took the novel to its publication was about 2-1/2 years.

Describe your working environment.

I live in an 1860 farmhouse at the edge of a small Massachusetts town, with a huge yard and a protected wetland just beyond my back yard. Very pleasant place, even though the age of my house means windows don’t fit well anymore; it’s hot in summer and cold in winter and the floors are uneven. There are two stories. My study is a huge room on the second floor, with a window beside my desk that looks out to a street and a wonderful maple tree I planted in 1976 which is now taller than the house.

My study is very messy and full of bookshelves, files, two desks — the computer desk and one that came off a 19th century sailing ship. There’s a sound system, too. Sometimes like music when I write — music of all kinds. Mozart is good, so are Dixie Chicks. Depends on what I’m writing.

I use a Mac. I am generally accompanied by one or more of my three cats. If they aren’t sprawled some place in the room, they come to interrupt me periodically. The big catboys (Max and Mouse) like to sit behind me when I write. I have a big leather chair, so there’s room for them, one at a time. The little cat, Jenny, likes to sit under my feet.

Are you a disciplined writer?

Yes. I like to write in the morning. I’m an early riser — usually waking at 5:30 or 6:00, and after the cats are fed, I’m at the computer. I write something every day.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Yes and it’s a rotten state of affairs. I think only once has it be really disabling, and that was early on, because I wasn’t able to sell any of my stories. I’ve been a nonfiction writer, and , generally, everything I wrote, I sold. These were articles and a book about endangered species and marine mammals, short plays, some theatre stuff.

Then I did begin to sell the fiction, and that helped to get me back on track. The trick I use when my Muse is failing is to open the dictionary at random, stick my finger on the page and write something using or about the word I’ve pointed at.

One of the times I did that, I had pointed to “name.” I wrote a weird horror story called “Names,” which I’ve just sold to Inkspotter Publishing for “Backless, Strapless and Slit to the Throat: A Femme Fatale Anthology.” It’s due out sometime soon.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Starting. I need the first sentence. That is sometimes tough to get. I just keep writing first sentences. I don’t let myself give up. I have rarely changed those first sentences. I certainly didn’t with JEMMA7729.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

When JEMMA was first shopped around, I had an agent. I don’t have one now. We had all those glowing rejections. Then nothing happened, my agent couldn’t think of where to send it any more. Once I was on my own, I started sending it to small presses, and finally sent it to EDGE. It took them about six months to get back to me, but they bought it.

Just don’t give up. If you believe in your work, keep trying. Often, the problem is that what publishers are looking for is a narrow band. You have to fit into that band. You have to find the compatible fit.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

I don’t know yet.

What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?

I would love to write like Connie Willis. Her fabulous time-travel novel “The Doomsday Book” is one of my very favorites. I’ve read it many times with pleasure. And I like George R . R. Martin, and Suzy Charnas.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

That one is simple: write from your heart.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yep. http://www.phoebewray.net. It’s under construction, but readable.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

JEMMA7729 is my first published book. I’ve got four setting on my desktop. A magic realism series, Tales of the Winter People, and a thriller.

The Winter People series is partly based on my adventure of being a working environmentalist for eleven years, I worked several times with Native American people, and became fascinated with the old tales of how the tribes integrated new technologies into their societies without losing their culture.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

think people who can write ought to. We’ve become so wifi and anime and other techno things that sometimes we can feel overwhelmed. But I’m about to teach Drieser’s “Sister Carrie,” published in 1900, and it captures the fin de siecle in America as nothing else. Words ARE.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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By Gerard Readett
Writers Exchange E-Publishing
ISBN: 1876962771
Copyright 2001
International Thriller/Futuristic
Author’s Website

If you like international thrillers about terrorism, you may consider getting a copy of Readett’s novel, Roadworks.

The setting: Brussels, Belgium
The year: 2022

What if all transportation in the city—rail, road, underground—abruptly comes to a standstill? What if a bomb is placed in each hotel where a head of state is staying, as well as in buildings nearby? What if a terrorist group demands the greatest humanitarian aid package the world has ever seen?

This is the scenario in Roadworks. Thus comes the protagonist, Hugh Ryan, a Transport Authority controller who has recently lost his wife and who tries to come up with a plan to outwit the African terrorist leader. The web of intrigue is pushed deeper by a man named Wellens, a crime lord who originally was helping the Africans but whose devious plans have taken another cunning path.

Why is vital information leaking out of the Transport Authority? Who are the spies? As tension and chaos escalate and time runs out, Hugh must unravel the mystery in order to bring order to the city and save innocent lives.

The book is tightly packed and moves at a quick pace, with the author relying mostly in clear-cut dialogue and short action narrative to propel the feeling of suspense. The scenario is realistic and Readett does a fairly good job in describing what Brussels would be like in the future. The novel is plot driven rather than character driven with the main story taking place in less than twenty four hours, adding to the tension as the reader can’t help wonder what’s going to happen next.
The only aspect of this book I didn’t like was the tiny print; even with glasses it was a strain on my eyes. Also, I feel the quality of the writing deserved a better cover. All in all, this is a well-written, entertaining novel that most readers of the genre will enjoy.

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Cosmic justice has many faces, and this time it has the face of plants…

For egotistical, arrogant Bertram Luce, life couldn't get any better. He's a famous author. He's rich. He lives in a gorgeous mansion and drives luxurious, expensive cars. Oh yes, and he's also gotten away with murdering his kind, plant-loving wife. That is, until the world of vegetation decides to avenge her death and make him pay; and pay he will, in the most bizarre, unusual way possible…

In the beginning, Luce believes the strange incidents to be coincidences, but it's not too much later when he realizes the 'accidents' he's been suffering have a lot more to do with premediated acts than with mere chance. But is he going insane? For how can a tree branch or an orquid mean him any harm? Is there such a thing as a unified, vegetative consciousness? Or is this simply his own guilty conscience playing tricks on his psyche?

Vegetation is an unusual, enjoyable read, one filled with bizarre and sometimes downright hilarious scenes. The writing is crisp and vivid and the pace flows well. In spite of the attacks of plantlife on the protagonist being a bit repetitive at times, the author keeps a strong sense of suspense and, to be fair, it takes ingenuity to create so many segments where Luce is attacked by the various plants and flowers. Since the protagonist is such an unsympathetic character, the reader will perversely enjoy all that befalls him until the very satisfying, surprising ending.

LaFlamme continues to prove his talent and skill as a horror writer. His first novel, The Pink Room, which I also had the chance of reviewing, makes for compelling reading as well.


Order Vegetation from Amazon or from your local bookstore.

–Mayra Calvani

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