Interview with author David Silverman

David “Mr. Atheist Pants” Silverman’s new book is provocatively called FIGHTING GOD: AN ATHEIST MANIFESTO FOR A RELIGIOUS WORLD

He is the President of American Atheists, and under his leadership, the organization has become quite prominent, with its “You Know It’s a Scam” billboards, the well-attended Reason Rally, and his interview with Bill O’Reilly that produced the “WTF” meme with his face.atheists-david-silverman

David and I have been friends for years, and we’ve been discussing this book and how it changed and progressed over those years, so it’s great to finally see it come to fruition.

It will be released next week, but he provided me with an advance copy, which I enjoyed tremendously.  We sat down in front of an attentive audience at a convention last weekend where I interviewed him.


DAVID SILVERMAN: This book has three years in the making. The book was written because after I did the Reason Rally in 2012, a small publisher came to me and said he wanted me to write a book. I said yes, and it was called ‘I, Atheist’ and it was 50% atheism and 50% autobiographical. Right at the very last moment, my agreement with him fell through. It was a completed book, but the publisher and I parted ways amicably.

So I had a book and no publisher. I sent an email to Barack Obama’s agent. And she knew who I was, and signed me right away. Then she sent out the initial treatment to her top line of people and one was a guy from MacMillan, who was a fan of mine! And he signed me right away.

So now I’ve got this great contract with a major publisher. And he says, “Oh, three things. We’re changing the cover, we’re changing the title, and we’re taking out every part about you.”

So now I’ve not half a book and six months to fill it.

And so — is Keith DeCandido here? (audience says no)

So, what I did was structure the “Atheist Art of War” after his book THE KLINGON ART OF WAR. I added a lot of data. I added a lot of research. So what used to be my opinion is now backed up with independent quantifiable data from multiple sources.

What I’ve got now is a manifesto that puts forth the idea that firebrand atheism is more effective on a macro level, more effective on a micro level, and, more importantly, it’s the nicer thing to do.fighting god

Recognizing that religion is a poison — recognizing that religion is a scam — and not saying something is a selfish act. It’s an act you’re doing to preserve yourself and not to help your fellow human. If your friend is being scammed, you would have a moral responsibility to at least mention it.

So in FIGHTING GOD, I put forward this proposal that “Live and let live” may not be the ethical choice at all.

VENTRELLA: You talk about not respecting other beliefs.  What do you mean by that?

SILVERMAN: There’s a difference between respecting a belief and respecting someone’s right to believe. If you’re talking about Constitutional rights, we as Americans all have the exact same rights. If you want to believe in a Man in the Sky, you have the right to do that.

I do not respect that.

You don’t need my respect. And I don’t need your respect to believe what I believe. What is wrong is when you go to somebody who says they believe in something you don’t respect and you lie. And you say, “Oh, I respect it.” You’re respecting a scam not worthy of respect. You are lying when you do that.

I submit that is morally wrong. That is a selfish act. That is something you are doing to make yourself feel better at the expense of somebody else.

VENTRELLA: But are we under an obligation to say something as opposed to just remaining silent?

SILVERMAN:  That’s up to you. In FIGHTING GOD, I don’t say that we should attack. We definitely should not say we respect things we don’t respect.

VENTRELLA: At the same time, you are proud to be “Mr. Atheist Pants”, and somewhat of a dick.

SILVERMAN: I am not a dick! (laughs)event_199950482

VENTRELLA: But you write that sometimes someone needs to be. You discuss the Overton Window — which is the first time I had ever heard that expression — Can you explain that to us?

SILVERMAN: The Overton Window is a business term that talks about the amount of stuff that is politically correct to say. In the 2002 election, when Mitt Romney was running for the first time, he was a Mormon and on the fringe. And then, a couple of elections later, he’s the mainstream candidate. That’s the Overton Window shifting, with Mormonism coming into the norm.

What I have been doing, and what firebrand atheism does, is shifting the window in the same way.

If you look back at when I first came into the Presidency of American Atheists, the first thing I did was put up a billboard at the New York tunnel that called religion a myth. This billboard was on the national news in nine different countries because no one had ever called religion a myth with such grandeur.

After I called it a myth, I called it a scam, I called it nonsense, I called it this, I called it that — and I moved the Overton Window and now, if I put that same billboard up, nobody would care. Calling religion a myth is now inside that window.

That’s what firebrand atheism does. Just like Mitt Romney put Mormonism into the mainstream, we’re trying to bring atheism into the mainstream and it’s succeeding. And I can quantify that with multiple data from independent sources!

VENTRELLA:  Tell us about some examples where you’ve been surprised where it’s been accepted when it wasn’t before…

SILVERMAN: When I first started in American Atheists, back in ’97, we had a convention in New Jersey. Holiday Billboard BattleWe had to look to find a hotel that would allow us to come. That hotel, that we found, would not put us up on the marquee outside. On the one inside, we were listed as “AA” (audience laughter) and if somebody called the hotel and asked if the American Atheists were there, the hotel staff would say no. That was twenty years ago.

This past year, we had our national convention in Memphis. The city of Memphis flew us out and took us on a grand tour of the city. They bought us food. Bought us booze. Showed us all the hotels. The one we stayed at was a Hilton. When we went in, they had “Welcome American Atheists” plastered on the wall.

So this is serious movement.

People get so frustrated when they look at today. They see the inequality that atheists obviously have. There are ten times as many atheists in this country as there are Jews, but we have no representation in Congress.

This is a still a lot better than it was just twenty years ago. We’re making tremendous progress. We’re not there yet but we will be there in our lifetime.

VENTRELLA: So when we see studies showing that younger people believe now, it’s major change. Most of our fights are with the old crowd. And I’m thinking of the Hobby Lobby case, which was such a step backwards. You’ve been fighting those battles. Let’s talk about the Ten Commandment monuments and what you’ve done in those regards.

SILVERMAN:  The Ten Commandment monuments are just a statement of religious privilege. It’s not about their right to do anything, it’s about them having superiority over everybody else. They put a Ten Commandments monument on the public lawn, and that’s illegal — you can’t. When we say “Take it off,” they say it’s an attack on their religious rights. When we go into a public place, there is only one choice: There must be equality.

Equality can be done in many ways: You can take the Ten Commandments off, and we have equality, or you can let other people put theirs in and we have equality.atheistmonumentcr

VENTRELLA: And that’s a winnable argument that has won in the Supreme Court.

SILVERMAN: What happened was there a place in Florida where they had a Ten Commandments monument on public land, alone. We went in there and sued, and we won, and we put up an atheist monument on public land. The outcry was that this was “an attack on Christianity.” They said we were attacking them and that they weren’t attacking us when they put theirs in!

VENTRELLA: One of the book’s themes is that every single battle you have fought has been in defense. You’ve never fought to keep someone else from practicing their religion.

SILVERMAN: Everything we do is defensive. Everything is about equality. Nothing is about privileging atheism over religion. Nothing is about pushing religion away from the churches or persons. Everything is about defending the separation of church and state, which is a synonym for “religious equality.” The more separate church and state is the more free we are.

VENTRELLA: There’s a section of your book about the “War on Christmas.” 

SILVERMAN: It’s starting! ‘Tis the season!

VENTRELLA: Happy War on Christmas, Everybody! (audience laughs) This is mostly an invention by Fox News, if I’m not mistaken. It never existed before they started bringing it up…

SILVERMAN: It’s all an invention by Fox News.

VENTRELLA: But it gets you lots of interviews and publicity…

SILVERMAN: And every year, I knowingly feed it. Yes, every year I attack Christians everywhere, reaching into their homes and weeding out their Christmas trees, grabbing their presents, and I do all of this by putting up a billboard or two. (audience laughs) And I say “Happy holidays!” Oh, how evil I am.

We’re putting up billboards this year. We have them going up in two major cities that I can’t announce yet. They’re going to be fun billboards that will speak to people.cityroom-billboard2-blog480

VENTRELLA: One of the things you criticize other atheists for is their refusal to call themselves that. They want to call themselves humanists or agnostics… Why do you think it’s important for atheists to come out of the closet?

SILVERMAN: We’ve got polls and we know that the entire political process is based on polls. And if you look at the religious markup of the polls, you see that atheists are about 3% of the population and Christians are about 70%. So they look at those polls, and they say, “Oh, look, it’s 70% Christian, 3% atheists. Those atheists don’t matter.”

What they don’t realize is that really, this country is closer to 30% atheist. It’s just that 90% of the atheists in this country don’t call themselves atheists. They call themselves agnostics, secular humanists, none, they call themselves Christians, Muslims, Jews. They call themselves anything but atheists.

Now, if you look at Christians — you look at Methodists, and Baptists, and Presbyterians and all the different denominations, they all call themselves Christian. So they unite, despite real differences, and we divide despite no differences at all. We just don’t like the words.

So the major push of my effort is not to convert believers. Why would we? If we looked at that that 70 to 30 chart and really crunched the numbers, we’d end up with about 55% Christian. Think about how that changes everything. We don’t have to convert anybody — we just have to do is get people to tell the truth about what they are.

If you don’t have an active belief in a god, you’re an atheist. If you don’t have an active belief in a god and you don’t like the word “atheist,” you’re an atheist.  This is simply a fact, it’s a matter of definition, it’s not a matter of self-identification.

The important point is that how you identify affects your neighbor. When 90% of the atheists in this country call themselves something totally different, like “secular” or something that nobody knows what it is, the politicians lose interest in us. We, as a force, diminish. We lose rights because people aren’t using the right word.36

VENTRELLA: We’ve used the metaphor of coming out of the closet to compare this with the gay rights movement to show how quickly that changed. When people started coming out and everyone said “Oh my neighbor is gay? I have no problem with that person.” Do you think that is the atheist goal, to say “Look, we’re just like you except we don’t believe”?

SILVERMAN: That’s it. We will win once we make this change. We don’t have to convert anybody or change anybody’s mind about God. All we have to do is take atheists who are already atheists and make them know that they’re atheists. They can call themselves atheists and be loud and proud about it, and when we can get a poll that shows that we’re at least  a quarter of the population, we will be able to single-handedly influence the way the political situation works.

VENTRELLA: Do you see that as the main theme or goal of this book?


VENTRELLA: So why’d you call it FIGHTING GOD?

SILVERMAN: I didn’t! (audience laughs) The publisher did. But I am fighting the concept of God by telling people that they don’t have to pretend they believe any more. This is the big fight. Our lowest hanging fruit is just to get atheists to call themselves atheists.

VENTRELLA: And that’s different from the other atheist books we’ve seen from Dawkins or even Penn Jillette. You’re trying to start a movement.

SILVERMAN: The movement exists. It was started by my predecessor, Madalyn Murray O’Hair. American Atheists was founded in 1963 by her. She led the fight to take prayer out of schools. That’s the organization I run now and I’m very proud to stand on her shoulders.

VENTRELLA: You and her are the only names anyone knows from the organization. Why do you think that is?

SILVERMAN: I think Madalyn and I had a lot in common! I take a lot from her and I dismiss a lot from her as well, because she’s a person from a different time. I think the reason we are both well known is because we are both firebrands. Maybe the interim Presidents weren’t as firebrandy as I am or she was.

I think what we have here is a specific situation where a firebrand atheist movement can beat the Republican party. I think we can fix this country. And I’m not shooting pie in the sky — I write about this in the book — this war is winnable. Everything we see from the religious right is weak. I think the base is seeing it. I think when we talk to Republicans, they see it — not the leaders, the followers.

VENTRELLA: You went to a conservative convention and got a surprising response.

SILVERMAN: Tremendous response! I went to CPAC, this huge, conservative Jesus thing for Jesus. It’s all about Jesus Jesus Jesus except it’s not. I went to CPAC to try and just drive a little wedge between Christianity and conservatism and what I found was a bunch of people on top who were all Jesus People For Jesus and a whole bunch of atheists underneath.

Not tens, not twenties — hundreds and hundreds. At CPAC! Ayn Randians, libertarians, fiscal conservatives — they are tired of the religious crap.

We got five pages of membership sign-ups — at CPAC! I went there with two one-gallon bags full of buttons that said “Conservative Atheist” and we gave them away free on the condition that you wear it. And we gave away every single button! They were all young. Everyone under thirty at CPAC was wearing a “Conservative Atheist” button. What does that do to the candidates when they see conservative atheists walking around CPAC? I’ll tell you what — Tony Perkins of the American Family Association got up on stage and acknowledged that atheists were there and part of the conservative movement. That’s an amazing thing, but I want to make it clear — I’m not all giddy that Tony Perkins likes us. (audience laughs)  I am however thrilled beyond measure that he felt the need to say that. He needed to say that because of the presence of so many atheists out and proud.

Look at us single-handedly affecting how the Republican party works. Only because we went in there and used the word “atheist” — the word that everybody understands. The word that shifts the Overton Window.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any optimism about the upcoming election?49

SILVERMAN: Yeah! (big smile) One of the things we’re doing at American Atheists right now is that we’re running the atheist voter campaign. It’s a grass-roots campaign that organizes people to go and see the candidate while wearing “atheist voter” t-shirts, and ask the candidates specific questions about atheists. The questions can be very broad. “I’m an atheist and I want to know if, in your cabinet, you’d have an atheist?” Things like that, just to bring out the bigotry, just to get them to address us. We’ve gotten statements now on atheism from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorino, Mike Huckabee, and I think Santorum as well.  We’re going to be publishing them soon. This is going to be something we’re going to be able to show the atheists of this country what they’re saying about us but at the same time, it’s going to show the candidates that we exist and we have to be addressed.

It’s no coincidence in my mind that Trump is the number one person in the Republican party. And everybody knows his religion is bullshit. He says, “Yeah, I read the Bible. I can’t remember anything about it.” (audience laughs) Everybody knows his religion is bullshit. He’s the only non-religious candidate on the Republican ticket and he’s number one by double digits. Why? Republican atheists. There are so many Republican atheists who are sick and tired of the religious right.

I don’t think we’re going to see a religious right candidate. I think what we’re seeing now is the beginning of the end of the religious right’s hold on Republicanism. We’re going into CPAC again this year and we’re going to push that wedge open.

I don’t know if you all know this, but there was a time when Republicanism was not the same as Christianity. Back in the olden days of Barry Goldwater, who was a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state — those days can come back. And we’re pushing that very hard with Republicans.478ed32622ba56a18a307d64989a1d74

VENTRELLA: On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has refused to say much about religion  …

SILVERMAN: I know! He calls himself a “non-religious Jew.” Sounds like a synonym for “atheist” to me! (audience laughs) I don’t know if you all watched the last Democratic debate, but the only person there who didn’t invoke God or prayer was Bernie Sanders. The other two snuck it in, and it was really artificial. “They have their right — I mean, their God-given right…” Bernie Sanders was the only person who didn’t do that. I think he’s an atheist. I hope he’s an atheist. And I hope he wins. If he comes out as an atheist, I will definitely vote for him, but I’m probably going to vote for him anyway. American Atheists is a 501C3 organization, we do not endorse candidates!

We see the progress. We’ve got a person on a major ticket who is an atheist. He has not professed a belief in God. When he talks about his faith, he talks about how “we’re all in this together.” This is an atheist talking and he’s a major candidate now. He’s going to be like Romney in 2002.

VENTRELLA: He’s going to move the Overton Window.


VENTRELLA: The new Prime Minister of Canada has something like four atheists in his cabinet.

SILVERMAN: And what would it be if the Prime Minister of Canada had a secular humanist, an agnostic, a “bright” and a “none” in his cabinet? Same four people. Think about the difference in the impact. Think of what that could do at the local level. This is what we could do simply by using the right words.

VENTRELLA: Let me ask one last question. Tell us about the “What the Fuck” face.

SILVERMAN: I’m a meme, too! That’s the more famous part of me. I did a “Mr. Deity” episode a while ago. I love Brian, if you haven’t looked it up, look up Mr. Diety. We were filming this little webisode in his house. And his daughter comes out and she’s maybe sixteen years old. Dave_Silverman.svgAnd he says “Honey, this is David Silverman! He’s the President of American Atheists!” And she says, “Oh, that’s nice.” And then he says, “He’s also the ‘What the Fuck’ face guy.” She says “No WAY! Let me take a picture! Do the face!” (audience laughs)

Basically what happens is that I go to O’Reilly. I’ve been on a couple times now, but this was the first time we actually had a chance to talk before the show. And he is, by the way, intelligent. He’s knowledgeable. He knows what he’s saying, knows what he’s doing. We had a really good conversation. And then the cameras go on.

If you watch the video, you’ll see — I was manoeuvering him into a corner. “You’re a skeptical person and you don’t really believe this shit.” And he went defensive, and he said, “I’ll tell you why God exists. The tide goes in, the tide goes out, there’s never a miscommunication, you can’t explain that.” And I made this face.  What? 

A lot of people think it was about the question. It was about the question after we had this whole intelligent conversation beforehand. So I have this look on my face of a complete disconnect. What the hell am I listening to?

And the young people at Reddit seized on it, and they created this meme. And now this face, which is public domain — I don’t get any money from it — is on pajamas, on stickers at the dollar store. I love it!

It’s good marketing, right? Because if people look it up, they will watch that video of Bill O’Reilly saying something really damned stupid.

VENTRELLA: Stephen Colbert called you “Mr. Atheist Pants” after that incident.

SILVERMAN: That’s now my Twitter handle.


Reblogged on my political blog VentrellaQuest

My 2015 Philcon Schedule

I’m looking forward to the Philcon science fiction convention the weekend of November 20th. It’s Philadelphia’s oldest literary convention. It’s in New Jersey.  (Look, it was cheaper, okay?)philcon_logo

The Guest of Honor is author Wen Spencer, and other guests include Danielle Ackley-McPhail,Keith R.A. DeCandidoGregory FrostGail Z. Martin, Jon McGoranMike McPhail, Bernie Mojzes, Christine NorrisPeter PrellwitzLawrence M. Schoen, Alex Shvartsman, Hildy SilvermanAlyce Wilson, and many more people that I have yet to interview on this blog!

You can see why I always enjoy Philcon — I get to see so many of my friends again.

I’m also looking forward to interviewing American Atheist President David Silverman concerning his new book.

Here’s where you can find me:

The Eye of Argon (Friday 11 pm): The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? With Gail Martin, Peter Prellwitz, and Robert Zygala

The Dreaded Infodump (Saturday noon): SF requires special techniques of exposition. How do you get across backgrounds and ideas without boring your readers? With D.L. Carter, Vikki Ciaffone, Gregory Frost, Jon McGoran, and Jim Stratton

Writing Morally Ambiguous Characters (Saturday 1:00 pm): How do we make them sympathetic to the reader? Do they need to be sympathetic to engage your audience? How far can you push the limit before you create a psychopath? Or shouldn’t we create psychopaths?  With Ken Altabef, Siobhan Carroll, Russ Colchamiro, Bernie Mojzes, and Meredith Schwartz

Writing in Shared Universes (Saturday 4:00 pm): How do you handle building story arcs and developing characters when you’re not solely in charge of a world? What changes when you’re working with others at a professional level? With Keith R.A. DeCandido, Catt Kingsgrave, Dina Leacock, Mike McPhail, and T. Patrick Snyder

“Fighting God” Launch Party (Saturday 5:00 pm): The release party for American Atheist President David Silverman’s book “Fighting God”!  David will be interviewed by Michael A. Ventrella and will discuss the place of atheism in America. Are atheists at a war with religion? What can be done to protect the rights of those who do not believe? Come and join in the celebration of the new book. With David Silverman

Reconciling Faith and Fantasy Writing (Sunday 10:00 am): What difficulties do you encounter writing a world whose system of belief does not match your own? How do you avoid unintentionally investing your stories with a message you don’t mean to? Is it possible to fully enjoy works that contain elements your scripture deems as anathema?  With D.H. Aire, Phil Giunta, Gail Z. Martin, Christie Meierz, and Steve Wilson

The Uses of Time Travel (Sunday 1:00 pm): Why do you want to travel into the past or future? Knowledge? Loot? Talking yourself out of bad decisions? Setting up the best prank ever? If given the opportunity would you, or wouldn’t you? With John Ashmead, Michael L. Brachman, JJ Brannon, Lawrence Kramer, and Lawrence M. Schoen 

The 3rd Pocono Writers Conference

I’m pleased to announce that the 3rd Pocono Writers Conference is now accepting reservations.

I’m thrilled that this has been successful, and I’ve invited some great guests for this one.

The Conference is on January 10, 2016, held at the Hughes Library in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and is free — but space is limited. And this year, we’re trying something new: individual critiques!


Here’s the schedule:

9:00: Introductions

9:15: VERONICA PARK: “All Hook and No Plot”: How to tell if you’ve got a good story, or just a great idea and a so-so story

10:30: JON McGORAN: “Economy and Exposition”: Turn boring info dumps into highly anticipated answers to compelling mysteries by integrating it into your narrative so it adds nuance, depth and tension to your story, instead of interrupting it.

11:45: Lunch

1:00: MEGAN ERICKSON: “Start at the Right Place”: How to grab readers from page one with the right scene and how to pace from there.

2:15: KEITH DECANDIDO: “The Business of Writing”: The parts of your writing career that don’t involve actually writing.

3:30: MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Panel Discussion and Question and Answer session with all panelists


Each of the participants are holding smaller sessions (10 maximum) during the presentations where you can have your work critiqued.

These sessions are $20 each. You can sign up for as many as you want but you must pre-register because space is limited. Instructions on how to email your writing sample will be sent to you prior to the Conference.

9:15: Megan Erickson
10:30: Keith DeCandido
1:00: Veronica Park
2:15: Jon McGoran

How to Reserve a Spot:

This conference is free but you must reserve a spot because space is limited. Please do not reserve a spot if you are not certain whether you can attend because you may be blocking someone else from attending if all the spots are filled. Go here to make your reservation.

Participant bios:

Keith R.A. DeCandido is mostly known as a best-selling, award-winning author, with dozens of media tie-in novels (most recently the Star Trek coffee-table book The Klingon Art of War, the Heroes Reborn novella Save the Cheerleader, Destroy the World, the Sleepy Hollow novel Children of the Revolution, the Stargate SG-1 novel Kali’s Wrath, and the Tales of Asgard trilogy featuring Marvel’s Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three) and original fiction (the “Precinct” series of fantasy police procedurals) to his credit. He’s also an editor of more than 25 years’ standing, working for Byron Preiss, Library Journal magazine, Simon & Schuster, Dark Quest Books, the Society of American Baseball Research, and many more, as well as private clients via his KRADitorial service. In 2009, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, which means he never need to achieve anything ever again. His cheerfully retro web site is

Megan Erickson is a multi-published romance author with Avon, Berkley and Entangled. A former journalist, she switched to fiction when she decided she liked writing her own endings better. She lives in south central Pennsylvania with her own romance hero, their two kids and two cats. For more, visit

Jon McGoran is the author of six novels including the biotech thrillers Drift and Deadout, as well as their forthcoming sequel, Dust Up (April 2016), all from Tor/Forge Books, as well as the novella “After Effects,” from Amazon StoryFront. Writing as D. H. Dublin, he is also author of the forensic thrillers Body Trace, Blood Poison and Freezer Burn, from Penguin Books. His short fiction and nonfiction can be found in a variety of anthologies, and his short story Bad Debt received an honorable mention in Best American Mystery Stories, 2014. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Crime Writers, and a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, a group of published authors dedicated to writers helping writers. His website is

Veronica Park is an agent, author, journalist and marketing consultant with more than seven years of experience writing and editing for publication. She graduated with a BA in print journalism with an emphasis in linguistics and business marketing from Brigham Young University and went on to expand her writing skills as a broadcast journalist and independent film producer, before running away with her husband to work on cruise ships in the Caribbean as a port lecturer and luxury goods marketing specialist. In publishing, she has finally found an arena that requires her entire assortment of professional skills, while allowing her to read and write every single day.  Her web page is

Michael A. Ventrella is a Stroudsburg writer and editor with three novels and three anthologies under his belt, with more coming. At his web page (, he interviews writers and editors and gives advice for the starting writer. This is his third year organizing these conferences.

My Capclave 2015 schedule

Capclave is a fine little literary SF convention held near Washington DC, which this year will be on the October 9th weekend. small_dodo_transparentCome and join us and meet some of your (and my) favorite authors, including but not limited to Gordon Van Gelder, Alistair Reynolds, James Morrow, Alex Shvartsman, Lawrence Schoen, Catherine Asaro, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Allen Wold, Walter Hunt, and many more (including me!)

Here are some pictures I took from from the convention in 2013 and 2014.

Here’s my current schedule (subject to change):

Friday 10:00 pm: Improv Story-Telling (Ends at: 10:55 pm) Salon A
Panelists: Charles E. Gannon, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Hildy Silverman, Michael A. Ventrella
The audience names three things for the writer to include in an improv story and a cliffhanger to turn it over to the next author (who in turn gets three more things named to include.)
Friday 11:00 pm: Why Do Good People Do Bad Things? (Ends at: 11:55 pm) Bethesda
Panelists: Alan Loewen, C.S. MacCath, James Morrow, Michael A. Ventrella
What are the motivations for having otherwise-heroic people do villainous things in fiction? How can an author strike a balance between making an evildoer’s actions believable and somewhat sympathetic without turning them into an antihero?
Saturday 2:00 pm: The Epic Blockbuster (Ends at: 2:55 pm) Bethesda
Panelists: Sarah Avery, Alma Katsu, Dina Leacock, Michael A. Ventrella
In the 1950s and 60s, 200 page novels were common (and told a complete story). Today my bookshelf is groaning under Weeks (800 pages) and Sanderson (1000), and these doorstoppers are only part of a series. What changed? Do readers prefer long books and longer series? Are authors using these longer page counts to tell a deeper story with multiple points of view and better characterization? Or is much of this padding and a lack of editing? What books are worth the extra page count?
Saturday 6:00 pm: Building Your Audience (Ends at: 6:55 pm) Bethesda
Panelists: Kate Baker, Scott Edelman, Will McIntosh, Michael A. Ventrella
Now that you finished your book and found a publisher, how do you get people to read it? What promotional devices work and what turns potential readers off? And, after you’ve published three or four books, what can you do to expand your readership and get readers of your newest book to look at your older ones?
Saturday 11:00 pm: The Eye of Argon (Ends at: 11:55 pm) Bethesda
Panelists: Charles E. Gannon, Michael A. Ventrella
A dramatic reading, with audience participation, of one of the most notorious fantasy works ever.
Sunday 2:00 pm: Climate Change in SF (Ends at: 2:55 pm) Frederick
Panelists: James Morrow, Gordon Van Gelder, Michael A. Ventrella
What is the best approach to discussing climate change in SF? What does the modern attitude towards whether this is really science say about SF writing that features human action changing the natural environment?

How to Cheat When Writing Your Novel

Dear New Novelists:

Don’t worry if things aren’t going as well as you want with your first novel. I am a published author and I hereby give you permission to cheat.

Trust me, we all do it. Some of you just haven’t realized you can yet. You don’t think you can do these things because they feel like cheating … because when you started reading books, you never thought writers stooped so low. But believe me when I tell you: we all cheat.

Follow these tips and you, too, can cheat when writing your novel and no one will be the wiser.

Don’t write the story in order. Many starting novelists think they need to begin on page one and go in a straight line until they hit “the end.” Screw that. If you have a really exciting scene that you just can’t wait to get to, write it now while you’re all enthusiastic about it. Your desire for that scene will show in the writing and the scene will be much stronger because of it.

Or maybe you’re not quite sure how exactly you want to end it. Why not write the ending first? Then you have something to aim for, and can make sure your characters are always heading in the right direction.

If you get to a difficult part, feel free to type “and then some stuff happens” in big letters to remind yourself to get back to it later. Fight scenes are always hard for me because I know how important they are and that adds pressure, so I often write “fight scene goes here” and then come back to it later when I can take the time to choreograph the whole thing out.

Don’t feel constrained by time. Just because people read the book in order doesn’t mean you have to write it in order.

Write a crappy first draft. Seriously, I see this all the time: Writers who have the first fifty pages or so written and then they edit those pages and rewrite them and keep working on them until the fifty pages are perfect, but nothing else ever gets done on the book. They feel like they have to do this because the first draft is so crappy.

That’s okay. First drafts are supposed to be crappy — you’re just getting all the ideas down at this point. Don’t worry too much about your word choices, just get that story out. No one has to see it. Believe it or not, the majority of time you spend writing should actually be in the rewriting and editing part.

And then comes the hard part: killing your darlings. You have to be willing to cut huge sections of your work if they slow the story down or are unnecessary. My first draft of BLOODSUCKERS was around 96,000 words and the final published version ended up at 75,000 — but the pacing improved tremendously between those two versions.

Add foreshadowing afterwards. You know those cool twists and turns you love in books, where a big climactic scene ties back into something someone had said or done earlier in the books? Foreshadowing is fun and can make a great story even better, but you don’t have to plan it out. Write your story first and then figure out how to plant the foreshadowing in the earlier chapters. If you’re writing a mystery (and, as I’ve pointed out before, almost every story has some mystery within it), then you can also go back in time and plant the clues later. It’s okay. No one will fault you for this because no one will ever know.

Add character development later. Similarly, while you should have a good idea of your characters long before you start writing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going back later and expanding on that by providing hints and clues about the character’s background. One thing starting writers tend to do too much of is create a huge backstory for a character and then think that all that has to be in the book, preferably all in a big chunk right when the character is introduced. This may help avoid that.

The bottom line to all this advice is this: Stop feeling constrained by the manuscript. Break the rules that exist in your head. The only thing that matters is the final version people read.

You can cheat all you want to get to that point.

Interview with editor Michael Pederson

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Michael Pederson today! Mike is a good friend from my old hometown of Richmond. He’s the publisher/editor/graphic designer responsible for the magazine Nth 1 In addition to Nth Degree, in 2006 Mike came up with the crazy idea of hosting a science-fiction convention in Richmond. After its tenth year, RavenCon moved to Williamsburg and Mike is still the con chair. In the last few years Mike has interviewed a wide range of writers, gamers, artists, and actors.

Let’s first talk about editing. How did the idea for Nth Degree begin?

MICHAEL PEDERSON: I had been publishing a local entertainment magazine (Scene) in the late ’90s and had to stop after four issues because I couldn’t keep the volunteer staff on track and it was too much to do by myself. This was also a period where I had GAFIAted a bit and was only attending one con a year (MarsCon in Williamsburg, VA). I really wanted to do something that would combine all of my passions—graphic design, writing, editing, and fandom. I worked out the basic framework in my head on a late-night drive from Northern Virginia to Richmond and then emailed all of my friends to get their input. After about two weeks, I had condensed everything into what became Nth Degree.

That’s been kind of a running theme in my life. I’m the Kermit. I’m always the guy that gets all his friends together and pushes them into creating something big and exciting. Yaaaaaayyyy!!!!!

VENTRELLA: What kinds of stories are you interested in?

PEDERSON: I always like to say that I look for character-driven stories but that sounds like such a generic editor response. I don’t really know. People have told me that Nth Degree stories have their own flavor and that reading the zine reminds them of the type of stories that got them interested in science fiction in the first place. It’s just one of those things that I recognize when I see it. My personal tastes run to science fiction over fantasy but the market being what it is these days I tend to see a fair amount of fantasy. And that’s ok.

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about being an editor?  In other words, what is your pet peeve concerning submissions?

PEDERSON: Well, I could tell all the usual horror stories about improper formatting but I’ll skip that. Twist endings bug me. For some reason, writers who are just starting out tend to love to throw that twist ending at you. And 99.9 percent of the time it just doesn’t work. And people who submit non-genre stories. That bugs me. It’s not too hard to research the publication you’re about to submit to. Someone actually sent me a story about a game of golf they had played. I have no idea what they were thinking.

VENTRELLA: How did you become interested in science fiction and fantasy?Cover#25

PEDERSON: You make it sound like it was a choice. I don’t think I ever chose it; science fiction and fantasy were just always a part of my life. I started reading at a very early age and one of the first things I remember reading was a book of Greek mythology. I think that really shaped my interests. And then when I was in kindergarten and first grade I read through everything that my school had from some author whose name I had forgotten until much later.  I do remember one of the stories was called “Have Space Suit Will Travel”. I, of course, eventually realized that I had been reading Heinlein’s juveniles. At age eight I was reading Bulfinch’s Mythology. I also discovered comics around then. I still have the first comic I ever read, Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man Issue #4,  “The Vulture is a Bird of Prey!”. After that it was Lewis and Tolkien and Kipling and Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke… all the classics. And I was hooked.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the first RavenCon and how it came to be.

PEDERSON: I’ve told this story so many times that I’ll go ahead and give you the seldom-told long version. Freshman year of high school (I did say it was the long version) was the year that I discovered there was such a thing as a science fiction convention. We had a very short-lived science fiction club at school and one week two girls came back to report that they had gone to a convention. The concept fascinated me. I had to go! This was 1982 though and there weren’t as many cons as there are now and there were very few ways to even get a schedule for the local cons. I also discovered that year, hidden in the back of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, a convention calendar! One page, every issue that listed upcoming conventions. The calendar was compiled by Erwin “Filthy Pierre” Strauss. I was further intrigued by the idea that people had different badge names that they used at conventions (for a while I went by the deceptively non-descript name of Harold Zwick but that’s another story).

So, five years later I make it to my first convention. The late, great SciCon. I instantly fell in love with the whole culture of fandom. During the late ’80s and early ’90s I was primarily attending SciCon, EveCon, and DisClave. When I started my comic book in 1993 (Raven), I expanded the number of conventions I was attending and started guesting and/or vending. I ended up doing A LOT of conventions during the ’90s. And I would travel all over Virginia and North Carolina and DC and Maryland and sometimes further, and it occurred to me that Richmond was geographically central to everywhere I was going. So why didn’t Richmond have a convention? In 1994, I started exploring the possibilities of hosting a con in Richmond but I didn’t get very far.

Cover #10Fast forward to October 2004. I had been attending between 12-16 conventions a year with Nth Degree and had met a lot of con runners and knew pretty much everyone on the local circuit. I was sitting around at a convention with Tee Morris and Tony Ruggiero and my old Richmond convention idea floated back to the top of my head. We were sitting in the hotel bar and I turned to the two of them and said, “You know, I bet we could do this.” I expected them to tell me I was crazy but instead they both agreed with me. So, three people that had never even worked at a convention (we were all writers) ended up putting on the first RavenCon in 2006.

As people that had done a lot of panels at other conventions we had a pretty good idea of what worked well and what needed tweaking and even had some original ideas of our own. I threw $500 into the pot and booked a hotel. Tee booked our guests (Terry Brooks for the first year!). And Tony put together the program. We recruited some friends and built a staff of 10 people. It was really a “Come on baby, hold together!” kind of event. There were a million things that could have gone wrong but it turned out amazing.

And to bring the whole story full-circle: I got to meet Filthy Pierre many times over the years. We did an interview with him in an early Nth Degree and had him as a guest of honor at one of the early RavenCons. He’s now a regular at RavenCon and I’m very proud to have him as a friend.

VENTRELLA: What are your ultimate plans for RavenCon?

PEDERSON: I want to keep building it. RavenCon’s primary focus will always be on the literary aspect. We like to include as much of the other fun stuff as well (gaming, filk, anime, cosplay, etc.) but at our heart we’re all about the fiction. We’ve always tried to add a little more every year. I think the only thing left on my wish list now though is a video gaming room. That should be coming in the next year or two.

VENTRELLA: I’ve attended most of them, and can’t help but notice how bigger and better they get each year.  Do you want it to keep expanding or do you think there is a limit you want to reach?

PEDERSON: We’ve always focused on small growth. We had 420 people our first year and are currently bringing in 1200 people. I feel like 2000 people would be an ideal number but our hotel is large enough that we could easily do 3000 if we wanted to.

VENTRELLA: Will moving it to Williamsburg next year change the feel of the convention?

PEDERSON: I don’t think it will change it. It will definitely focus it more though. Now that we’re sharing a hotel with MarsCon we’re paying very close attention to what makes a RavenCon a RavenCon. We have certain things that we do very well and we’re working extra hard to make sure that those things are our prime focus now.

VENTRELLA: Literary Conventions seem to have a problem attracting younger fans these days.  Is this a bad thing?  What can be done to get more younger readers to attend?

PEDERSON: I think RavenCon’s average age has actually been getting younger and younger every year. We owe comic cons a huge debt for that. Also, we partner with a local high school every year where we go in to the school and speak with the kids. We send them some of our programming guests and the students tell us what they enjoy about science fiction. Young people still read science fiction and they definitely want to be involved, it’s just a matter of letting them know that we’re here.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been able to meet and interview many famous writers.  Who was your favorite?

PEDERSON: Writers and artists and gamers and actors. Yeah, I love doing the Guest of Honor interview. Always the highlight of any convention I attend. And I’m very grateful that so many conventions have asked me to do that.Issue #1

Favorites… I’ve interviewed Jim Butcher twice and he’s a lot of fun. He’s got great stories and is very easy to work with. Sherrilyn Kenyon was amazing—she has an energy that is just infectious, you can’t talk to her without laughing. Elizabeth Bear—someone’s whose work I’m so impressed by—was another one that I remember fondly. I think some of the ones that I worried about the most were some of my most memorable though. People like Orson Scott Card and Larry Correia, where I go in feeling like I’m walking on eggshells, but then there’s always some point where you just connect with your guest and you’re laughing and swapping stories from that point on. It’s all very gratifying.

VENTRELLA: Who would you like to see as a guest that you have been unable to get?

PEDERSON: I have a personal wish list. It’s mostly people that don’t do conventions or are overseas and out of my budget, or both: China Mieville, Stephen Baxter, Neil Stephenson, Dan Simmons.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

PEDERSON: Everyone on my wish list. Jack McDevitt, John Scalzi, Robert Sawyer, William Gibson, S.M. Stirling, Jim Butcher, Harry Turtledove, George R.R. Martin. And, of course, the classics. Dune is still my all-time favorite.

VENTRELLA: You’ve done some writing; do you plan on doing more? 

PEDERSON: I have a couple of novels on the drawing board but haven’t been able to find the time to put them to paper yet. Between working a full-time job, running a convention, and publishing a fanzine there just aren’t enough hours in the day. One of these days though.

I’m currently working on a Kickstarter project that will fund a “best of” print issue of Nth Degree. It’s been online for the last 10 years and people keep asking me if I’m ever going to do a print issue again. So that’s keeping me busy. Oh, and I’m redesigning both the Nth Degree and RavenCon websites. I should really just stop sleeping.

VENTRELLA: Science Fiction doesn’t seem to be selling as much as fantasy these days, including urban fantasy and all the varieties. Why do you think that is?

PEDERSON: That’s a fairly recent development. SF always used to do better. I suspect that’s it’s just the way the market cycles. We’ll see science fiction on top again. Or maybe horror will start outselling everything. There are plenty of good science fiction writers out there right now though. Just look at the current lineups at Tor and Baen—it’s an impressive list. Maybe the Honor Harrington movie will be the push in the right direction that pushes SF over the top of fantasy again. In a way though it’s a little unfair to make the SF versus fantasy comparison; so many authors work in both genres and even blend the genres that it’s hard to favor one over the other.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

PEDERSON: Groucho Marx, Jim Henson, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams. There are others I’d like to meet but I wouldn’t want to detract from my time with my idols.

Interview with author Gail Z. Martin

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Gail Z. Martin again today! Gail is a good friend and a great writer who has helped me with advice from time to time. Some of her books are available through my publisher, DDP, and we often do DDP book release parties at conventions. Whenever we’re at a convention together, we always end up on at least one panel together, and she’s often been one of my favorite performers in our “Eye of Argon” panels.  I interviewed her about six years ago but so much has happened since then.

Gail, let’s begin by talking about your new steampunk novel, written with your husband, Larry N. Martin. Tell us about the plot!

GAIL Z. MARTIN: There’s lot of action, intrigue, industrial sabotage, cool inventions, mad scientists, awesome steampowered gadgets and airships!

So here’s the official blurb: New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as ‘hell with the lid off.’

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique ‘Nicki’ LeClercq . Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick and Nicki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake’s courage, every bit of Rick’s cunning, every scintilla of Nicki’s bravura and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.

VENTRELLA: How did your collaboration work? In other words, did you split writing plots and characters and then edit it all together later or did someone do a first draft that the other revised and so on?

MARTIN: We worked out the setting, plot and characters together. Then we passed the drafts back and forth to tighten up, make sure of continuity, and continually brainstorm. We’ve got a pretty good system going!

VENTRELLA: Why do you think steampunk is popular now?  What is it that makes it appealing?

MARTIN: The Victorian era is now beyond living memory. For many people, it’s the era of their grandparents or great-grandparents. So it’s familiar (or at least the TV/movie interpretation is familiar if not the reality), but distant enough in time for us to be able to play with it without offending the people who lived through it. I&B final coverIn Europe, it’s also the 100th anniversary of World War I, which was really the end of the old world of the empires that the Victorians worked so hard to build. And it’s an outgrowth of the fascination with shows like Downton Abbey, which show the clothing and societal change (although without the cool airships and gadgets)!

VENTRELLA: Why did you pick Pittsburgh as the location for the story?

MARTIN: Pittsburgh is the logical place to put an American steampunk story because at the end of the 1800s, Pittsburgh was the epicenter of American steam-powered manufacturing. Pittsburgh in the 1890s was a huge deal, the country’s second-largest financial center, and the home to Robber Barons like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Mellon family. An astonishing number of important inventions came out of the Pittsburgh of that era, and its skies were constantly dark with the clouds of soot from the coke furnaces that drove the mills.

In our book, we tampered with history somewhat to incude the cataclysmic circumstances that creates  New Pittsburgh, so things are similar but different in some crucial ways. That helps to set up the steampunk, and also to create some long-standing opponents.

VENTRELLA: Will this be an ongoing series and if so, do you see an ending to the story?

MARTIN: Each book is self-contained, but we plan more novels and novellas/short stories set in the world of New Pittsburgh. We’ve done spin-off stories featuring the government agents from the Department of Supernatural Investigation that you meet in the novel, and we call those the Storm and Fury Adventures. One of those stories is in Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens anthology (Airship Down). Another one is in the upcoming Weird Wild West anthology (Ruin Creek), and we just released Resurrection Day as a short story on Kindle/Kobo/Nook. There will be a new novella on Wattpad (Grave Voices), and stories in the upcoming Unbound corset-themed anthology, the Alien Artifacts anthology (currently on Kickstarter from Zombies Need Brains, LLC), and even a super-villain steampunk story in The Side of Good/The Side of Evil from eSpecBooks.

VENTRELLA: What are your favorite steampunk stories?

MARTIN: Jules Verne, shows like Wild Wild West, and of course the Books and Braun series by Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine. Steamboy, The Rocketeer, even the new Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey, Jr. have steampunk elements.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about Deadly Curiosities. Where did the idea for this originate?deadly

MARTIN: I went to a conference in Charleston and fell in love with the city. It had so much character, so much of a past, and was so haunted—I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t already set an urban fantasy series there. So I immediately began brainstorming with Larry and my teenagers to come up with the bones for a series that would feel intrinsically like Charleston.

VENTRELLA: Will there be more Deadly Curiosities books?

MARTIN: VENDETTA, the second Deadly Curiosities novel, comes out December 29, and we’ve got more planned. There are also a growing number of Deadly Curiosities Adventures on Kindle/Kobo/Nook with more being added each month. And there’s a free novella, The Final Death, available on Wattpad.

VENTRELLA: You began by writing high fantasy, with two separate series. When the Ascendant Kingdoms series is complete, do you see yourself writing others?

MARTIN: Oh yes. I’m already planning for a new epic fantasy series—and we’re planning a space series! I’m also bringing out short stories on Kindle/Kobo/Nook from both of my epic series. The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures short stories will add up to the equivalent of three serialized novels that are prequels to THE SUMMONER, and give the back story of one of the Chronicles of the Necromancer’s most popular characters. I’ve also just done a short story (No Reprieve) set in the Ascendant Kingdoms world that takes place in a six-year gap of time we skip over at the beginning of ICE FORGED, when Blaine McFadden is sent to an arctic prison colony. It is due to come out on Orbit Short Fiction in October. I’m planning a series of novellas filling in that six-year gap as convict/colonist.

VENTRELLA: Which of your series has been your best sellers?

MARTIN: I’ve been fortunate to say they have all done well, but I think there’s a lot of fondness for the Chronicles of the Necromancer series from readers. They keep asking for more books about those characters, and I do have 6 more planned that will get written at some point.

VENTRELLA: Is there one that you prefer?

MARTIN: It’s like asking which of your children is your favorite! They’re all special in their own way.thesummoner

VENTRELLA: It is easy to fall into cliches when writing fantasy. How do you avoid being too predictable? What is it about your fantasy novels that make them stand out?

MARTIN: I try to either pick an angle on a story I haven’t seen before, or a twist in the circumstances or setting that makes it new. Or I try to come at something key to the story—like magic–from a different angle. So in the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, it all started with the idea of a necromancer as a good guy. And in the Ascendant Kingdoms series, it was about a post-apocalyptic medieval world where magic was a casualty of war. They say that only two stories actually exist: 1) a person goes on a journey or 2) a stranger comes to town. (And someone pointed out those are the same story from different perspectives.) So I look for how to make it fresh and different. And while fantasy has its tropes and archetypes, there is plenty of room to play with them, switch things up, do the unexpected.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about promotion. You have a background in this, and have done many workshops and panels about it.  What is the best piece of advice you would give an author wanting to promote their book?

MARTIN: Build relationships. Promotion is nice, and it’s essential, but the sales and publishing opportunities will come through the relationships you build with readers and other professionals. And oh yeah—social media is not a fad. You need to be out there consistently.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about your advice books.

MARTIN: “Advice” books sounds like help for the lovelorn!  Actually, they are books on social media and promotion. 30 DAYS TO SOCIAL MEDIA hit several bestseller lists and got a lot of ink in publications like The Washington Post and Worth magazine. There are also two more 30 Days books on PR and on Productivity. I tried to make everything really simple and quick for people who didn’t have a lot of time but wanted results fast.

There are also three books on book promotion. The first one, LAUNCHING YOUR BOOK WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND, is about preparing for a book launch and what do to leading up to the launch and during and after the debut. The other two books are on online promotion and social media for authors. I tried to take what had worked for me, break it down and make it easy for other people to put it to use, minus the stuff I tried that didn’t work!

VENTRELLA: How did you first become interested in writing?

MARTIN: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories, even when I was a little kid. When I was five years old, I got my grandmother to write down a story I made up about a vampire. The-Dread-frontWhen I was a teenager, I started to write fan fiction about my favorite TV shows and movies, and my friends liked the stories enough they bugged me to write more. That’s how I discovered that I could entertain people with my writing.

VENTRELLA: How much of writing is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?

MARTIN: I think some people have a real gift for storytelling, especially if they have grown up in a family or community that values and demonstrates creating and telling stories. That’s especially true when people grow up hearing books read aloud dramatically or hearing family members tell tall tales as a form of entertainment and expression. Everyone benefits from learning technique. The point of technique isn’t to suppress your voice; it’s to help you use your voice in the best possible way. To that end, I think that someone who is sufficiently motivated can hone their abilities to write well. Will that make them a bestseller? Who knows?

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process?  Do you outline heavily or just jump right in, for instance?

MARTIN: I outline more than I used to, because doing three books a year plus short stories plus anthologies, there’s no time to go down blind alleys and start over. I can write faster with an outline, and I’m less likely to hit a dead end if I know what comes next. I can still sometimes get stuck for a bit figuring out how to actually write a chapter from that few sentences of outline, but it does help.

VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first?  What gets your story idea going?

MARTIN: It depends. It’s been different with each book. For the Chronicles of the Necromancer, I really had the characters of Tris and Jonmarc first and built the world and plot out from there. With Ascendant Kingdoms, I had the idea of a post-apocalyptic medieval world with broken magic, and built backwards from that. With Deadly Curiosities and Iron & Blood, it was the city setting that shaped everything else.

VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.”  What does this mean to you?

MARTIN: Don’t try to be someone else. What works for someone else probably won’t work for you if it doesn’t come naturally. Martin_WarOfShadows-TP1It doesn’t mean that you can only write characters who are just like you or that you’re limited to experiences you’ve actually had, but even as you create characters who are very different or situations that are very different, there’s probably a thread of commonality with people you do know or things you have experienced that tether it to real life.

VENTRELLA: What do you do to avoid “info dumps”?

MARTIN: Try to make them as short and painless as possible. Even if you’re doing them in conversation or it’s explaining something to the new kid, keep it short. If at all possible, show something unfamiliar being done in a way that the reader can intuit for him/herself from context clues what is going on.

VENTRELLA: When going through second and third drafts, what do you look for? What is your main goal?

MARTIN: At that point, we’re looking for places where the pace slows down, for contradictions and continuity errors, for plot holes and places that need to be fine-tuned.

VENTRELLA: Science Fiction doesn’t seem to be selling as much as fantasy these days, including urban fantasy and all the varieties. Why do you think that is?

MARTIN: I think it’s due to a couple of things. First, we are living out the science-fiction fantasies (and nightmares) of previous generations. The Internet, cell phones, satellites, drones, WiFi, computer systems in cars, space probes to Mars and the rest of the solar system—it’s the stuff SF writers were speculating about and it’s real life now. So I think people are a harder to ‘wow’ than they used to be.

Also, where previous generations could be blown away by the idea of spaceflights and computers, the next generation of ‘wow’ is a lot harder to explain—singularities, chaos theory, quantum mechanics, string theory, etc. These things are profound and really mind-blowing, but they aren’t necessarily as visual as a rocket ship or a ray gun, and they require a reader to take the time to learn something and maybe even math a little.

Finally, I think that SF continues to feel less welcoming to women, people of color and people of different sexual orientation. Hard SF about the ‘future’ tends to show fewer women and less diversity than the real US Military nowadays! Certainly we’ve made strides with the women/people of color/LGBTQ people who are writing SF and going into STEM careers and actually becoming astronauts and physicists, etc., but I think the status quo still seems entrenched in hard SF (recent kerfluffles notwithstanding)—more so than in fantasy. Reign-of-FINALThe ‘future’ envisioned by a lot of hard SF looks an awful lot like the current status quo, only with cool background sets and robots.

Urban fantasy is a lot easier for people who may be relatively new to the genre to get into because it has one foot in the real world and so requires less explanation and less suspension of disbelief. And I think we’ve seen a lot more diversity of characters in urban fantasy and a growing effort to tell more diverse stories in epic fantasy beyond the standard Western European setting. People like to be able to see themselves in stories.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

MARTIN: I think it’s entirely possible to put out a very good book and reach a large audience with a well-produced and well-written self-published book. And I think most authors in the future will have hybrid careers writing for a mix of large traditional publishers, small presses and their own self-published work. But succeeding at self-publishing requires more time, effort and money than going the traditionally published route, and people need to realize what they’re getting into. You can’t do it half-way and make it work.

 VENTRELLA: In this market, with the publishing industry changing daily, how important is the small press?

MARTIN: I think small presses are doing really exciting things. They are picking up the slack where large publishers are cutting back on new books and anthologies, and doing very well at it. They are experimenting with new models like Kickstarter funding. I’ve always thought it was ridiculous that large publishers have a business model based on gambling on finding a few bestsellers instead of on the steady productivity of a solid, groomed and nurtured midlist. The current publishing model is more like horseracing than business. I think that small presses will figure out a way to make viable margins on books that sell well but aren’t million-copy bestsellers. And I think that will be a game-changer.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

MARTIN: One of my professors in college blew up at me when I said I wanted to write books. He said that he had never been able to get published, with all his experience and credentials, and so how the hell did I think I would get published! (To make it worse, he was the college chaplain!)  And now he’s long-ago passed away and I’m published. So there.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?

MARTIN: David Drake told me to stick with it and gave me the low-down on how the business actually worked.iceforgedcover2

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?

MARTIN: Everything takes longer than you think it will. Stick with it. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it never will.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?  Who are your favorite authors?

MARTIN: I just finished the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, and I’m finishing up the Nightside series by Simon R. Green. And I always post the books I’m reading on Goodreads!

VENTRELLA: What projects are you working on now?  What can we expect next from you?

MARTIN: We’re finishing up edits to VENDETTA, which is the second Deadly Curiosities novel that comes out in late December, 2015. And the edits to SHADOWED PATH, the Jonmarc Vahanian anthology coming in June, 2016. The fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, SHADOW AND FLAME, comes out in March, 2016. In November 2015, the WEIRD WILD WEST anthology will launch at Philcon, with our steampunk story in it, “Ruin Creek.” THE SIDE OF GOOD/THE SIDE OF EVIL superhero/supervillain anthology with our story in it is also supposed to come out at the end of this year.  And we will owe a story to ALEIN ARTIFACTS, another new anthology, plus there are a few more anthologies in the works.  And we bring out a new short story every month on Kindle/Kobo/Nook in one of three different series (tied into the books). Plus a new Blaine McFadden short story, No Reprieve, coming out on Orbit Short Fiction in October, and a set of novellas set in the world of the Ascendant Kingdoms coming soon. Busy, busy!



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