Interview with Catherine Stine

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing Catherine Stine, writer of suspense and speculation. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Her newly released crossover sci-fi thriller is RUBY’S FIRE.

Catherine, tell us about this new series. What makes your series different?

CATHERINE STINE: It takes place on a future earth (2099), and the world has suffered from extreme weather and border wars, but it is not an oppressively dystopian atmosphere. There are signs of renewal. I’m more interested in what takes place during a perilously delicate recovery, and what kinds of events and people affect it.

VENTRELLA: My fantasy novels are also considered “young adult” books, primarily because of the age of the protagonist. What else makes a story YA?

STINE: The hallmarks of YA are yes, the age of the protagonist (14 to 18), but the pacing must be fast and the plot high stakes. There is always a romance, yet the romance is not graphic. Themes are geared to teen concerns. RUBY’S FIRE addresses drug use, core identity issues, runaways, love triangles, extreme peer competition and genetic mutation. How’s that for suspense?!

VENTRELLA: When you’re approaching a story, how do you begin — characters, plot or themes? What’s your writing style? Do you outline or just jump in?

STINE: I begin with a compelling situation and characters. Then I construct the plot. I always outline, and I do thematic freewrites. The more I think through the novel and outline beforehand, the stronger and more focused the novel becomes. Rubys-FireI advise my students to outline, even a few lines per chapter. I encourage them to think of it as a fluid entity they can tweak as they go. This seems to help.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

STINE: I read adult and YA speculative fiction. That includes horror, sci-fi and techno thrillers. Occasionally I’ll read a literary mystery to study how to craft tension.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about how you got RUBY’S FIRE published.

STINE: I published Ruby’s Fire with my own imprint, Konjur Road Press. That said, I’ve also published with Random House, American Girl and Scholastic. I’m a hybrid author, meaning I’ve done it both ways, and would like to continue publishing both ways. Why not? I do have an agent. He’s okay with that.

VENTRELLA: What do you think we will see in the future of publishing?

STINE: I think more and more authors will publish both ways. Even well published authors are choosing to self-publish certain projects. For instance, one trend is to write a “short” or a novella with one of the characters in a novel, between longer projects, and self-publish the shorts. It satisfies readers while they wait for your longer opus.

VENTRELLA: Even authors with major publishers need to know how to market. What are the smartest things one can do to promote a book?

STINE: For RUBY’S FIRE, I’m doing a big blog tour. Last time I organized it all myself. This go-around I hired a book tour host. FireSeed One CoverBut from my first experience, I “met” so many great book reviewers that this time I was able to contact them again, and they were thrilled to read the next book, and also to blurb. People are very generous online and they love getting the word out about books they like. The funny thing is that I have a friend who is published with one of the Big 6, and her publicist is approaching the very same bloggers I have a relationship with. The whole process has become democratized. It’s also good to do giveaways on Goodreads, and to host other authors.

VENTRELLA: You’ve received quite a few good reviews and awards for your work. How did those come about? Do you have to search them out or do they contact you?

STINE: Write the best book you can, and good reviews will follow. I did apply to certain indie award sites; there are good ones, and questionable ones. Do your homework. More and more, these organizations and awards will be helpful to readers to discern the best of the indies.

Thanks for interviewing me on your blog, Michael!

Interview with Hugo and Nebula Award Winning Author David Gerrold

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am honored to be interviewing Nebula and Hugo award winning author David Gerrold. David-GerroldDavid Gerrold is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes. TV credits include episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, Land Of The Lost, Logan’s Run, and many others. Novels include WHEN HARLIE WAS ONE, THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF, the “War Against the Chtorr” septology, The “Star Wolf” trilogy, The “Dingilliad” young adult trilogy, and more. The autobiographical tale of his son’s adoption, THE MARTIAN CHILD won the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette of the Year and was the basis for the 2007 movie starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Joan Cusack. His web page is here.

David, you’re probably best known for your first sale, the Star Trek “The Trouble with Tribbles” classic episode (which you’re probably tired of talking about). It’s kind of a Cinderella story for writers, in that your sale would never happen these days. Or would it?

DAVID GERROLD: I think it would be a lot harder for a new writer to break into a prime-time show the way I did. Back then, most shows were written by freelancers. Today, most shows are written by staff writers, and there are less episodes in a season, so there just aren’t as many opportunities. And it’s a lot harder for an unknown writer to get his outline in front of a producer, let alone have it pass the “Is this good enough to take a chance?” test.

Back then, it was a lot easier for a writer to establish a reputation. Guys like Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch and Charles Beaumont and George Clayton Johnson were well-known as go-to guys for a good script. Today, because shows are mostly staff-written, it’s a lot harder for a TV writer to establish a reputation outside of his specific show, until he becomes a producer.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written for one my favorite shows (Babylon 5), as well as scripts for Logan’s Run, Twilight Zone, and other TV series. star trekHow much control do you have over these scripts? In other words, do they get edited greatly by Hollywood types or are the end results usually what you wanted?

GERROLD: It depends on the producer. Joe Straczynski (Babylon 5) is one of the very best. He knows what a good script looks like and he respects writers who bring their passion to the story. He trusts writers. He doesn’t rewrite scripts unnecessarily.

Other producers (unnamed) can’t drink their coffee without first peeing in it to improve the flavor. Every writer has horror stories.

VENTRELLA: Your novel THE MARTIAN CHILD has to be one of your biggest successes, and that must be very satisfying to you given the biographical aspects of the story. Do you think the personal nature of the story hindered you in any way?

GERROLD: Actually, I think the personal nature of the story was enormously liberating. I didn’t have to make stuff up. It was already there. And because the focus of the story was about the relationship between myself and my son, I had an enormous wealth of material to draw upon. The story was about how much I love my son. Whether he’s a Martian or anything else, he’s my Martian. That’s the point.

I think the success of the story has to be that every parent who read the story or saw the movie recognized the experience of falling in love with their own child. I think it’s the best love story I’ve ever lived.

VENTRELLA: Were you happy with the resulting film–both as a film and given the changes that were made to the main character?

GERROLD: Where the movie stayed true to the love story, I enjoyed it enormously. I felt that there were things added to the movie that were unnecessary—-like all that business with sun block and weight belts.martian child I wanted one sequence from the book included, which I felt would have illustrated the core of the entire relationship-—that’s the “pickled mongoose” sequence, where Dennis learns how to tell jokes. I think it would have been a better movie with that included.

VENTRELLA: Money considerations aside, do you prefer books to scripts?

GERROLD: Scripts make more money, but disappear faster. Books are harder work. They’re a much more personal creation. I view books as a special kind of love affair with one reader at a time.

VENTRELLA: Through Land of The Lost and the Star Trek animated series, you worked with a number of great science fiction writers. Do you see that sort of thing in television today?

GERROLD: There was a moment when a producer (unnamed) who should have known better, said, “Don’t hire science fiction writers. They think they know more about my show than I do.” And based on the evidence, most SF writers do know more about science fiction than most TV producers.

On the other hand, there are brilliantly written shows like Dr. Who that demonstrate that an intelligent writer-producer can push the envelope over and over again.

VENTRELLA: You were originally involved in the first season of Next Generation but left as the lawyers took over … Has TV (and the movies) turned away from the people who know science fiction best to instead rely upon standard television scriptwriters too much? If so, are there exceptions?

GERROLD: See above. The exception is Dr. Who.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on all the various Star Trek incarnations? Which is your favorite? (Not counting the episode where you had a cameo…)

GERROLD: A lot of good people have worked on a lot of different incarnations of Star Trek. But my favorite is still the original series, the episodes produced by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon—when Star Trek was about exploring a very big, very unknown universe. Book1-AMatterForMen-DavidGerroldIt was about challenging our heroes with the question, “How does this universe work? What is our place in it? What does it mean to be a human being?” Those stories were humane, subversive, disturbing, thoughtful, and ultimately caused a whole generation to think outside the boundaries of what we had previously believed to be possible. To me, that’s what Star Trek should be—a humanistic challenge, not just a franchise for selling toys and tickets.

VENTRELLA: Did you ever have a project you really wanted to do that fell through? Do you have any new ones you’re trying to get done?

GERROLD: The Star Wolf TV series. I think that would have been a wonderful show to work on.

And yes, I have some new projects I’m working on.

VENTRELLA: Most authors agree that they write for themselves, not others. Do you agree with that assessment? Is that a good idea for a starting writer?

GERROLD: I write for myself. I let others pay for the privilege of reading over my shoulder.

VENTRELLA: I remember reading your novel THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF when it first came out, and I still recall much of its plot–probably because I love a good time travel story. More importantly, the fun of the book was not the adventure, but the possibilities and consequences of time travel and world changing. Why did you decide to go in that direction instead of a straight-ahead adventure?

GERROLD: Because that’s where the story wanted to go.

VENTRELLA: Did you ever consider doing a sequel? Someone else gets the belt?

GERROLD: A sequel would be anti-climactic. There’s nothing else to say. (Well…that’s not quite true, but I’m not going to give it away here.)

VENTRELLA: Some established authors these days have begun placing their out-of-print catalogue in e-book format and selling it on the web, avoiding a publisher completely.the-man-who-folded-himself-7 Have you considered such a thing? Why or why not?

GERROLD: It costs money to print a book and distribute it. It doesn’t cost anything to make it available as an ebook, and the income goes directly to the writer. Having your back-list available to the audience is good business. I’ve got several stories available on Amazon.

VENTRELLA: I’ve been given advice, as a small time writer, to avoid politics on Facebook and my blog. I’ve ignored that advice. I note that you also post your political views from time to time, as well as visiting a political bulletin board. Do you think this has hurt your sales in any fashion, or do you not care?

GERROLD: Larry Kramer said it, “Silence equals death.” Martin Neimoller said it, “First they came for the communists,and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I think that it’s important to speak up. Not speaking up is surrender. And the status quo is always the enemy. But if you’re going to speak up, do your research first. I believe that the evidence is the strongest argument.

But there’s an even larger context that I would advise. Be pro-, not anti-.  If you’re going to speak up, then speak up for people, speak out against injustice, speak up for making a difference, speak out against hate-mongering. If you identify a class of people and vilify them, you’re making enemies. But if you identify a category of people who have a just cause and speak out for them, you’re showing your compassion for others.

I think that if we remain silent, our silence is interpreted as agreement. Nope. I’d rather be unpopular for speaking out than accepted for the lie of silence.

VENTRELLA: Speaking of politics, one of the biggest issues for me is the anti-science position many take these days–arguing against climate change and evolution for political or religious reasons instead of scientific ones.13806 As someone who relies on science for your fiction, what’s your opinion on this? What should we do?

GERROLD: The answer to hate speech is more speech, honest speech, accurate speech, thoughtful speech, humane speech, rational speech, compassionate speech, forgiving speech, loving speech.

The answer to stupid speech is evidence, rationality, accuracy. And occasionally, a healthy bit of ridicule.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read for pleasure?

GERROLD: Terry Pratchett, John Varley, Spider Robinson, George R.R. Martin, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Laura Joh Rowland, Frederik Pohl, and about a thousand others who are stored on my Kindle and who I have not yet gotten to.

VENTRELLA: Fantasy has grown tremendously in popularity over the past twenty or thirty years and now outsells science fiction. Why do you think this is? What is it about fantasy that appeals to readers that they can’t get from science fiction?

GERROLD: Science fiction is harder to write. There’s so much new science happening every day that it’s impossible to keep up.

Fantasy doesn’t have the same restrictions, but writing a great fantasy might be even harder than writing good science fiction. I think George R.R. Martin proves that.

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

GERROLD: Quit.

If you’re going to be discouraged, be discouraged now and save yourself all that time and frustration.

But if being told to quit just pisses you off, then maybe you have the determination to keep going no matter how frustrated you get.9780812576085

VENTRELLA: Given your career, you’ve met a number of other talented and/or famous people. Who did you most enjoy meeting?

GERROLD: Robert A. Heinlein, of course. Theodore Sturgeon. Arthur C. Clarke. Spider Robinson. Anne McCaffrey, Frederik Pohl, Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison, but especially Harlan Ellison who has been a lifelong friend.

Outside of the writing community, the entire cast of the original Star Trek series, especially William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, De Kelley, and Nichelle Nichols.

Beyond that, Robin Williams, Virginia Madsen, Candice Bergen, Pat Tallman, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, Chase Masterson…I could go on for hours.

Oh yes, and one particular former Mouseketeer I had a kind of crush on once.

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

GERROLD: Suetonius, Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut, and Gore Vidal.

Interview with author Christine Norris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m glad to be interviewing friend and author Christine Norris, who has several works for children and adults, including the “Library of Athena” series and the “Zandria” duology. When she’s not out saving the world one story at a time, she is disguised as a mild mannered librarian, mother, and wife. She cares for her family of one husband-creature, a son-animal, and two felines who are steadfast in their duties as Guardian of the Bathtub and Official Lap Warmer, respectively. She has also done several English Adaptations of novels translated from other languages, and reached a new level of insanity by attending Southern Connecticut State University Graduate School to get her Master’s in Information and Library Science. She currently resides somewhere in southern New Jersey where she writes interesting opening bios for interviews. Her web page is here!

Christine, how did your first novel get published?

CHRISTINE NORRIS: I sold my soul to the devil, uh, I mean I was such a newbie. I had a book of agents and publishers, and knowing pretty much nothing about them, sent queries. And bombed horribly – got back my own letter from one, with the word ‘No’ scrawled across the top. Another came on a crookedly-copied half-sheet of paper. Ugh!

But it was the early 2000’s, and there wasn’t a lot of stuff on the internet about publishing, and most agents still took paper copies. Eventually I found a writer’s forum, Absolute Write, and I started to find out about other publishers. I found LBF, a teeny tiny publisher, in Pittsburgh at that time. They took my first book, TALISMAN OF ZANDRIA, and the sequel. Both are out of print now, but I’m doing new editions for Zumaya.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing background?

NORRIS: I really don’t have a formal background, nothing like a degree in Creative Writing or anything. I just started writing in 2001, and kept on going. I have six books now, with a seventh out with an agent (crossing fingers for an offer!) and working on number eight. Yes, it took me ten years and six novels to finally land an agent. Just goes to show it’s never too late. I really love her too, she’s just wonderful and supportive.

Someday I guess I’ll stop writing, but I don’t see any reason to at the moment. I’m like a literary Forrest Gump.

VENTRELLA: How did you find your current publisher?

NORRIS: That is an interesting story. Okay, maybe only interesting to me. The publisher that put out the first two books in the “Library of Athena” series decided to go back to strictly Romance books — which these decidedly are not. I had the third book finished, and they dropped the series. After I finished freaking out, I calmly put out an email to my friends at Broad Universe, begging, I mean, asking if any of the publishers in the organization would be interested. Elizabeth Burton at Zumaya said she would look, as long as it wasn’t a Harry Potter or Twilight clone, and she liked it enough to take it for the Thresholds imprint.

VENTRELLA: What do you think are the advantages of a smaller publisher?

NORRIS: I think there are advantages to publishers of all sizes – everyone has their pros and cons. You can be a big fish in a little pond or a small fish in a big pond. Smaller publishers are more personal, a little more homey, if you will. They also, many times, have less money to spend on promotion, which is okay if you know how to do a little guerilla marketing. They will also sometimes take a chance on a book that a bigger publisher might not feel is commercial enough. I always say that if you do your homework and are comfortable with what any publisher can give you, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to publish. It’s all about what you can live with.

I was at a writer’s conference recently, and there were a lot of big agents and editors from Big Six houses attending. We hear a lot about how people ‘in the biz’ feel about smaller publishers and how they look down on us. It is just not true. They were all very professional, and more than once I heard: “Someone selected your work from a slush pile. You are just as published as anyone.” It was nice to hear, and it was nice to get that kind of respect for my work.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about THE SWORD OF DANU.

NORRIS: It’s the fourth book in the “Library of Athena” series. Oh, you want to know more? All right then.

Megan Montgomery, the main character, has begun to teach herself magic. After the last adventure, when she almost gave up protecting the Library of Athena altogether, she decided that she needed to arm herself against the Order of Ares, a.k.a. The Bad Guys. But her magic doesn’t always go the way it should. She has also decided that she will do whatever it takes to never, ever, never open one of the Special Collection books again. They are enchanted and suck you inside, and then things try to eat you while you solve the clues and fight the monsters to find the magical artifact hidden inside the book and get out.

Unfortunately, something has gone terribly wrong, and one of the books has escaped its pages and is now this imaginary Ireland is taking over the manor where Megan lives. So she and her friends are kind of forced into finding the artifact, in this case the Sword of Danu, so they can fix it all. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to give too much away. Except that, of course things try to eat them. Things are always trying to eat them. There’s the Morrigan, and Goibhniu the Celtic smith-god and all kinds of teen angst.

VENTRELLA: And, of course, you have a series based around a library. Tell us how that series came to be.

NORRIS: It was so long ago — late 2004 — that I really can’t remember when or how I came up for the idea for the series. It kind of evolved from what might have been a chapter book idea to a novel, to a series. My son was only 2 at the time, so I had never heard of the Magic Tree House series, which my books get compared to often, along with Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Percy Jackson. There are a lot of similar elements in them.

I do remember stating at one point, “I think I could write a hundred of these.” Uh, no way. Five is the limit. One more left to go. It was just serendipity that, years later, I became a librarian. At that time I was working a really horrible part-time job and being a stay-at-home mom. Life is just funny that way, I guess.

VENTRELLA: What was the biggest mistake you made when first starting out as a writer?

NORRIS: Just one, really? I’m sure I made all kinds of mistakes. Not knowing how to write a good query letter. Not really doing my homework when it came to submitting. Being too self-conscious with my writing — it all came out stiff and self-absorbed. I think once I realized that I actually knew what I was doing, that I had made it past most of the newbie mistakes of the technical parts of writing, like not filtering my main character’s every action through me, the narrator, that I was able to loosen up and just write better, let my unique voice out (which is mostly sarcasm thinly veiled as humor, but still …). I also think that every writer needs to make those kinds of mistakes, so that they know when they’ve got it right.

VENTRELLA: What’s your advice for authors who wish to self-publish?

NORRIS: Don’t do it unless you are willing and able to commit the time, energy, and money that it takes to do it properly. Being a self-publisher means you aren’t just the writer, but you are the publisher, and unless you understand exactly what that means, I don’t suggest you attempt it. You need to hire editors, cover artists, do marketing, and pay for it all. It’s a big job. It can be done, but those who have been successful will tell you it was hard work.

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

NORRIS: Be yourself. I never wrote to trends, or tried to write fan-fiction (though I recommend it to teachers who are trying to teach younger writers the mechanics of story and writing itself), but I had this idea of what ‘good’ writing was, and I was trying to reach some ideal. That old axiom ‘write what you know’ doesn’t really apply to most fantasy writers — unless one of you out that happens to have a dragon in their backyard or owns a big secret library full of magic books — but write what you like. Make yourself happy with a story and you’ll make readers happy too.

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Interview with Hugo Winning Author Allen Steele

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing two-time Hugo award winning author Allen Steele today! Allen has won numerous awards and nominations for his science fiction stories, novels, and novellas. His novels include ORBITAL DECAY, LUNAR DESCENT, THE JERICHO ITERATION, OCEANSPACE, and the “Coyote” series. His web page is here.

Allen is the Guest of Honor at the 2010 Albacon SF convention (which is next weekend as of this posting). I’ll be there too (but only as a regular ordinary guest)!

Allen,You’re one of the few authors who has been published on another planet. How did that come about?

ALLEN STEELE: A couple of years ago, NASA’s Phoenix lander made it to Mars, and aboard it is a DVD containing a library of science fiction stories and artwork about Mars that was compiled by the Planetary Society. Among them is ‘Live From The Mars Hotel”, my first published story, which was published in Asimov’s Science Fiction in 1988. The DVD is intended to be a repository for future Mars colonists, and also a tribute to SF writers and artists who’ve portrayed Mars since the 1700’s. It’s a huge honor to have my work represented in this way. In fact, I wrote a story about this that appeared in Asimov’s earlier this year: “The Emperor of Mars”, in the June 2010 issue.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been with small publishers and large. Which do you honestly prefer?

STEELE: Both have their benefits. Large publishers like Ace or HarperCollins pay better and have greater distribution; small publishers like Subterranean and Old Earth give me the advantage of more creative control and also the ability to publish individual novellas and short fiction collections, something which large publishers tend to avoid these days. So I split the difference by having my novels put out by large publishers and my short fiction by small publishers. Any preferences I may have are predicated by what I’m publishing, really.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing? Should a starting author consider such a thing?

STEELE: Only if they don’t mind not making any money from your work or not having it seen by very many people. Yes, I know there are exceptions, and that online publishing is offering yet another option, but the success stories are few and far between. Nearly every time I go to a SF convention, I see people hawking self-published novels from tables they’ve rented in the dealer’s room, and at best they sell only a handful. Bookstores won’t carry them, and reviewers simply won’t touch `em. There’s literally thousands of self-published novels and stories online, and I’d be amazed if any of them were downloaded more than a few dozen times. And once a book or story has seen print in any form, professional editors are not inclined to reprint them (again, yes, I know there’s exceptions. I can only name one or two, though). So it’s a dead end, and one that a new author should avoid.

VENTRELLA: Hard science fiction seems to be taking a back seat to high fantasy, steampunk, urban fantasy, and other genres. Why do you think that is?

STEELE: This last decade, yes, SF has been less visible. Personally, I think the principal reason is that the other genres you mention are almost entirely escapist in nature, and tend to look backward instead of forward, while SF is usually a forward-looking genre, with the best work grappling with the effects of the present while confronting plausible futures. We’re living in scary and uncertain times, so it’s little wonder that many readers are searching for that sort of literature that avoids reality, whether it be ersatz-Tolkien fantasy worlds, sexy vampires, or pseudo-Victorian settings that bear little or no resemblance to history as it actually happened.

But when you look at the history of the SF genre as a whole, you see that SF is something that periodically waxes and wanes in popularity. When my first novel was published in 1989, it was during one of those waning periods. Shortly after that was the SF boom of 90’s when a lot of new writers like myself who write this sort of thing entered the genre, but this followed by the gradual decline of the last decade. Eventually SF will make another comeback. Until then, writers like myself will continue to satisfy that solid, hard-core SF audience that has never gone away, while several hundred fantasy, horror, and steampunk writers struggle to distinguish themselves from the pack.

VENTRELLA: I can think of many SF novels that aren’t that old that didn’t predict cell phones or email, for instance, which makes them a bit quaint. How does one avoid those things?

STEELE: The purpose of science fiction isn’t the prediction of the future. When that happens, it’s by accident (and incidentally, there is an older SF novel that depicts a cell phone: TUNNEL IN THE SKY by Robert A. Heinlein, published in 1955). So claiming that a given SF novel is “quaint” because it didn’t predict the future that it depicted means you’re holding it to a double-standard that’s impossible for a writer to keep. When a SF writer comes up with a futuristic scenario, he or she is simply devising a world that doesn’t presently exist and may never; because he or she is extrapolating from our current condition, they should try to create a certain verisimilitude by keeping a close eye on what may be possible. But his or her job isn’t to predict the future, but rather to tell a good, believable story.

VENTRELLA: In a similar vein, LABYRINTH OF NIGHT made use of the “Face on Mars” – is this something you regret or try to avoid now?

STEELE: When I wrote “Red Planet Blues”, the 1989 novella which I later expanded to become LABYRINTH OF NIGHT, the “Face on Mars” was an astronomical oddity that relatively few people knew about. Aside from that single grainy image photographed by the Viking orbiter in 1976, it was a curiosity and nothing more. Our lack of knowledge about it gave me the liberty to use the Face as a springboard for a first-contact story. By the time the novel was published in 1992, though, the Face had become the subject of tabloid journalism and pseudo-science books, and not long after that the Cydonia region of Mars was revisited by subsequent NASA probes, during which the Face disappeared. I don’t regret the novel I wrote — it’s a good adventure story that sold many copies in both the U.S. and in Europe — but it’s now obsolete and I don’t mind that it’s gone out of print.

VENTRELLA: What is it about alternate history novels that appeals to writers and readers?

STEELE: The appeal of alternative history is obvious: depicting what might have happened if certain events had happened in a different way. It’s like futuristic SF, only in reverse. And just as it’s unwise to read a futuristic SF novel as a means of predicting the future, I think that it’s similarly unwise to read an alt-history story as a means of understanding the past. It’s just another form of storytelling, really.

VENTRELLA: What did you do to prepare for your alternate history novels?

STEELE: When I’ve researched the alt-history stories I’ve written, I’ve started by reading every reliable account I can find that depict the particular historical events upon which I’ve basing that particular story or novel. If possible, I visit actual locations; museums are another major resource. I take loads of notes, and during this period I’m fine-tuning the story and characters as well. It’s hard work, but I think it pays off in the sort of verisimilitude that you need to achieve if the reader is going to buy into the variation on history that I’m depicting.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake made by authors who write SF?

STEELE: The common mistake by novice SF writers is two-fold: not doing enough research, and then letting the research they have done get in the way of their story. Science fiction is hard to write, mainly because of the homework involved — which is a principal reason, I think, why so many new writers have taken to fantasy or horror instead; they’re easier to do — and there’s a great temptation to take shortcuts, but it’s just those sorts of shortcuts that undermine the story you’re creating. The other side of the coin is to do boatloads of research, then front-load everything you’ve learned into the story you’re writing; this can bog things down and cause the reader to lose interest. So you have to walk a line here: do your homework, but don’t bore the class by telling them every little thing that you learned.

VENTRELLA: Is writing a skill that can be learned or are the best writers born, not made?

STEELE: I think fiction writing is something that can be learned, yes … but it takes a long time to develop the skills necessary to tell a good story, and it’s a task that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Not every kid who joins a Little League team is going to grow up to be a pitcher for the Red Sox; not every guy who plays guitar in a garage band is cut out to tour with the Rolling Stones. Somehow, though, there’s a belief that if you know how to spell correctly and can compose a coherent paragraph, you’ve got the chops to publish a novel. Writing is hard work; it’s not something you learn overnight. And, yeah, it helps if you have a certain innate talent for this sort of thing. I once tried to learn how to play guitar, but gave up after two months of weekly classes after my instructor and I came to the realization that I have no musical talent whatsoever. So if you don’t really think you’re a writer … well, you should be honest with yourself and admit that you probably aren’t.

VENTRELLA: What’s the most interesting light bulb moment you’ve had, where you suddenly have an idea that makes the entire story?

STEELE: I had one of those moments just a couple of weeks ago. You’ll forgive me, though, if I don’t describe it in detail; I haven’t written the story yet. It involves an interesting little item I found at my next-door neighbor’s tag sale. Within five minutes of picking it up, I had an entire short story in my head. It’ll be fun … once I get around to writing it.

VENTRELLA: Amazon is reporting that e-books are now outselling traditional publications. What effect will this have on the publishing industry? For beginning authors is this a good thing or a bad thing?

STEELE: No one is really sure how ebooks are going to shape the publishing industry. There’s a lot of projections that they may eventually replace hardcovers or mass-market paperbacks. On the other hand, most readers I know tell me that they still prefer print novels. But I think ebooks are not only here to stay, but also have the potential to completely reshape how — and even what — people read. The take-off point will occur when the price of a good, reliable ebook device drops to about $50. If and when that occurs, you’ll see them all over the place.

Beginning novelists will probably have an easier time adapting to whatever changes there may be, simply because they’ll be able to take advantage of them from the get-go. It’s guys like me, who’ve had long careers writing exclusively for the print medium, who are going to have a tougher time adapting to the new environment. But we’re trying, we’re trying…

VENTRELLA: You’ll be the guest of honor at Albacon this year. What is it about attending conventions appeals to you?

STEELE: I don’t attend as many SF conventions as I used to, mainly because I’d rather spend my time writing. But when I do go to conventions — like MadCon in Madison, Wisconsin, last week, or Albacon in Albany, New York, next week — I generally have a lot of fun in a lot of different ways. I like meeting readers I haven’t met before, or seeing again those whom I’ve already met, or catching up with old friends and colleagues. I’m also a book collector, so you’ll usually find me prowling the dealer’s room in search of items to fill out my collection. And it sometimes gives me a chance to see a town I haven’t visited before, as I did in Madison.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on now? Come on, give us a peek!

STEELE: I won’t tell you what I’m currently writing except that to say that it’s a young-adult SF novel, my first of this kind. The next novel to be published is HEX, which is set in the Coyote universe and is my take on the Dyson sphere concept; it’ll be out next June from Ace. As for what I’m going to do after that … I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go along.

Interview with author Marie Lamba

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Young Adult author Marie Lamba today. Marie is the author of the humorous young adult novel WHAT I MEANT…, which Publisher’s Weekly has dubbed “an impressive debut.” She has two more novels which will be coming out soon. In addition to her fiction writing, Marie has written and published more than 100 articles, including features in national magazines such as Garden Design, Your Home, and Sports International. Her most recent piece, “Plotting a Novel Group,” appears in the February 2008 issue of Writer’s Digest. Her web page is www.marielamba.com.

MARIE LAMBA: Hi Michael. Thank you for having me on your blog.

VENTRELLA: Marie, what is it that makes a novel a Young Adult novel?

LAMBA: To me, a young adult novel is categorized primarily by the age of the main character. Since readers read about characters older than themselves, if you have a 13-year-old protagonist, you’ve just written a middle reader (not a YA), and will have mostly elementary school aged readers. Also, content figures in. Sometimes the content is not right for the YA market. But these days, almost anything goes for YA readers. The edgier the better, though you may just be banned by schools…which usually reaps great press and even better sales, interestingly enough.

VENTRELLA: You keep a pretty active blog. Do you think this is necessary to help promote your work?

LAMBA: My site helps me promote my work every single day. I’ve heard people say that if you don’t update your blog at least 3 times a week, then don’t bother having one. I heartily disagree. Sometimes it’s not about getting a huge number of subscribers, but about having a presence, and being able to be found in various ways.

While my blog may seem really active, I sometimes post as rarely as once a month. I just don’t think there’s a point in posting unless I really have something to say. Yet the site is dynamic and gets a fair number of hits everyday because I’ve got a lot going on there. In addition to offering updates about my work, essays on writing, and book reviews, I’ve made it function as my website, www.marielamba.com. So folks are going there to find out about my appearances, to read my bio, to read excerpts from my books, etc. And with links to my Twitter feed, there is always something new to see.

By combining my website with my blog, people stumble onto it while doing the weirdest searches. Like when looking for the menu of Nat’s Pizza. And then they see that my novel has a scene set there. Then they click on my link to buy my Doylestown-based novel. All because of a blog post that tagged Nat’s Pizza in it, if that makes sense?

VENTRELLA: Should unpublished authors have a blog?

LAMBA: Absolutely. It’s a great way to start establishing yourself and your voice. Everything from the color scheme you use to the tone of your bio can help create a feel for who you are. Have a page on your blog with short excerpts of your work, but don’t give away too much material there. Just enough for a taste.

If you really want to be savvy, then you could use your site for things such as book reviews and editor and publisher interviews, which would make your name familiar to the “powers that be.”

VENTRELLA: What can an author do to make their blog stand out among the many out there?

LAMBA: I think it goes back to your voice. Who you are should come through in the tone of your writing, and what you choose to highlight. Then, of course, you need to connect with your audience. That’s where bringing your site to the attention of an organization can help. For example, after I wrote a post about plotting, I saw on a children’s writing message board that I belong to that there was some recent discussion about plotting. I immediately commented there, providing my link to my post.

VENTRELLA: You also make extensive use of Twitter. How can you make your tweets stand out when there are so many people on Twitter? And do you think this is an efficient use of your time?

LAMBA: You know, Twitter is so quick that it isn’t the time suck that sites like Facebook seem to be. At least not for me. Here’s the trick though: when you post there, make it under 40 characters so that you can easily be retweeted to others. Also, try to always provide a link, whether it is to a relevant blog post or a Facebook invite to an event. Links are always too long, so go to www.bitly.com, paste the link there, and you’ll get a shorter link that you can use. And don’t always make your tweets about you. Highlight the accomplishments of others. It’s fun to do, plus I think it’s just good karma.

As for making your tweets stand out, I definitely avoid the whole “I’m getting a cup of coffee now” variety of posts. Again, I only go on there when I have something to say or I really want to respond to someone. I think then people will pay more attention to you. You aren’t the annoying talker everyone wishes would go away. And I try not to follow just anyone or anything. My list is made up of people I know, and of publishers, editors, librarians, media, authors. In short (in the spirit of Twitter), folks who might actually care to hear what I have to say.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? (Do you outline heavily, create character backgrounds first, come up with the basic concept and run with it, etc.?)

LAMBA: Good question. It’s evolving. For my past few novels, I knew my final scene. I had my opening dialogue. And then I was off! Kind of like knowing I’m driving to California, and therefore start heading west, but without a map. I do get to the end eventually. The fun thing about this method is the unexpected twists and turns. The not-so-fun thing is cleaning up the mess that I’ve created, trying to make it more direct and cohesive. It can take a long time.

With my current novel, I’m trying to be more organized. I’ve plotted it out, and now I’m in the outlining stage. Then I’ll start writing. I’m hoping that this will help me write faster. My last novel DRAWN (which is now out on submission), took over a year and a half to write. I want to be much more productive than that.

VENTRELLA: What are you doing in your fiction that no one else is doing? What makes your book different and exciting?

LAMBA: I think, again, it comes down to voice. I’m the only person with my point of view and my humor, and that flavors the plot and the characters. With WHAT I MEANT… (Random House YA), the book’s cast of bi-racial characters mirrors my own family’s blend of Italian-American and Asian-Indian personalities. Because WHAT I MEANT… has a mixed race protagonist, yet it is a mainstream story not focused on race, it became a standout in the field.

VENTRELLA: Have you received any surprising results from your writing?

LAMBA: It is always touching to have readers contact me saying that they identified with the characters and that WHAT I MEANT… is their favorite book. One girl even said that she never cries at anything, yet she found herself bawling at the end of my novel because it touched her. That was humbling.

On a funny note, an ex-boyfriend from high school assumed that one of the guy characters in the novel was named after him. He wasn’t.

VENTRELLA: You do a lot of personal appearances to promote your books. What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing these? How do you organize them?

LAMBA: The main advantage is making a personal connection with a reader. If someone meets you and enjoys talking with you, they’ll also remember you and feel a connection to your writing. This is really how books are sold: one reader at a time. I love meeting people, and appearances take me away from my isolated little writing spot and out into the real world. All good. The disadvantage? I can’t think of a single one. I’m careful to pick and choose where and when I go so it doesn’t take away from my writing time.

Events happen many ways. Sometimes booksellers or conferences or teachers contact me. Sometimes I get in touch with them if I have a specific event idea. And I have done presentations to hundreds and hundreds of scouts. I also have to mention that I’m a proud member of the Philly Liars Club, a collection of 13 authors who basically lie for a living. Together we stage a slew of oddball events, and have a blast.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss the publishing business a bit. With self-publishing and e-books becoming more prominent, how do you think this will change the demand and market for new writers?

LAMBA: I really think that self-publishing and e-books represent a revolution in publishing, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1460’s when old Guttenberg came onto the scene with his printing press, displacing those hard-working monks and their illuminated manuscripts. Documents at that time show that people didn’t realize the magnitude or ramifications of what was going on. Quite simply, the change was so huge that they couldn’t envision the implications.

And so it goes with us. We speculate, but we can barely foresee what all these huge changes mean. I say look to the music industry, to prevalent iPods and the dearly departed record stores. And be cautious. Will books on paper no longer exist? Will bookstores and libraries disappear? Will publishers become obsolete? The only thing I know for sure is that no matter what form content will take, someone will have to write it.

Cling to that, writers and future writers. We are not replaceable.

VENTRELLA: Do you think the stigma of being self-published will continue? Do you think it’s deserved?

LAMBA: Some self-published books are brilliant. Others are painful and shouldn’t see the light of day. Books that are horribly written and barely edited definitely ruin the reputation of others out there, sadly.

I do think that as distribution of self-published novels improves, and more established authors step into this arena, that this stigma will fade. I mean, what does an author like Stephen King really need a publisher for? Couldn’t someone of that stature just put books out into the stratosphere by himself by self-publishing? J.A. Konrath has started to do it with some success, though he still also goes the traditional route.

VENTRELLA: Who are your favorite authors? Why?

LAMBA: Anne Tyler for her beautiful imagery and quirky characters. T.H. White for his epic storytelling, sense of grandeur, and sense of humor. Audrey Niffeneger for her amazing plotting abilities. Sarah Dessen for her touching and real YA voice.

VENTRELLA: What’s the biggest mistake you see aspiring writers make?

LAMBA: Not taking the time to polish their work, and really learn their craft. Writers need to work so hard to improve everything they do. Established authors are always struggling to polish, to edit. They value pointed criticism, and vigorously revise. When I see someone with talent refusing to do this type of work to polish their manuscript, or not absorbing decent criticism, I know that they are limiting themselves, and that’s a shame.

VENTRELLA: What advice can you offer that you wish someone had offered you?

LAMBA: Writing is not only an art, it’s a business. And sometimes in this business really nasty crap will happen to you. In fact, expect it. Your novel, no matter how important it is to you, is just a commodity in the business world. Be as businesslike as you can, while protecting the sensitive artist within. And write another book. And another. And another.

VENTRELLA: And what’s next? What can we look forward to seeing from you?

LAMBA: My YA paranormal DRAWN (excerpt on my blog/website) is under consideration right now. It’s about a teen artist who moves to England in search of a normal life. But then she starts channeling one very hot ghost through her drawings. Not normal at all.

And right now I’m working on a novel for adults: When an Italian grandmother shares old fashioned recipes for sauces and for a happy life, her three granddaughters test the ingredients in fresh ways, cooking up a surprising blend of spice, passion, trouble and true love.

That pretty much sums it up! Thanks, again, for having me here.

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Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Rachel Caine

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing NY Times bestselling author Rachel Caine. Rachel has the Morganville Vampires series, Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series, as well as writing paranormal romantic action/adventure and many other genres. Rachel will be the Guest of Honor at Ravencon next weekend (April 9 – 11, 2010) where I am a mere minor guest! Her web page is here.

Rachel, what is it that makes a novel a “young adult” novel?

RACHEL CAINE: The way I look at it, it’s purely a matter of the age of the central characters. My four main characters are ages 17, 18 and 19 now, and as with all characters, their ages and life experience shape the events of the book. So it’s not that I deliberately target the audience … it’s that I think in order to be faithful to the characters and the story, it should naturally appeal to a young adult audience. (Although I have plenty of adult readers of this series as well.)

VENTRELLA: It seems like you have a new book out every month! How do you manage to be so prolific?

CAINE: Ha, I don’t think it’s *every* month. But definitely 3 or 4 a year, that’s true. Most of that’s driven by the YA series (Morganville Vampires) because the schedule for that is we’re publishing one every six months vs. a year for the adult novels (Weather Warden and Outcast Season). But when you add it all together, three series going at the same time does tend to add up fast.

I think I’m lucky that I really enjoy writing to tight deadlines (generally) — it’s been a really great balance against my sometimes stressful day job.

VENTRELLA: There is an ironic balance that has to be met when writing about the supernatural, in that it has to be rooted in reality to be believable. How have you made decisions about integrating the real with fantasy?

CAINE: I’m going to shamelessly quote Jim Butcher, who once said that in order to have urban fantasy that feels realistic you need to have about as much “real” as you do “fantasy.” I believe that’s true … If you look at the success of the movie “Hellboy”, I think that first film achieved a wonderful balance in that area. Sure, you’ve got a big red devil guy running around fighting monsters, but there’s so much real world complication that it makes it all that much funnier and more outrageous. I thought that in the second film, good as it was, they forgot that balance, and slid it to about 75% fantasy, 25% real world … and I think it wasn’t as strong as the first.

So I try to balance my fantastic elements with the fact that everybody, even supernaturally gifted people, have to worry about bills and dry cleaning and child care. :)

VENTRELLA: What is it about vampires that attracts such attention these days? Do you think this is just a trend? (I hope not, since my third novel will be a vampire book …)

CAINE: Well, I’ve actually been in the vampire field when it was cool before (in the early 90s) and when it wasn’t (in the late 90s), and now it’s cool again, which is kind of great. Vampires never really go out of style — we’ve been afraid of them for thousands of years, and writing about them in fiction for more than 100 years. The fascinating thing is that in the beginning, vampires were soulless monsters … reflecting that hidden terror that those you know and love can suddenly become monsters. And then they took on personalities and became more sympathetic, and eventually (by the mid-70s) became actual misunderstood romantic anti-heroes. By the mid-1980s, vampires had become heroic, appearing as police officers, detectives, doctors, all kinds of professions that had always been seen as admirable. Now, it seems that they’re back to the dark, romantic Heathcliff-type heroes (at least in the romance circles), but then there’s graphic novels like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT that harken back to the terrifying soulless monster vampires prototypes. So there’s lots of room to do anything you’d like in vampires, which I think is fantastic fun.

VENTRELLA: For those unfamiliar with your work, can you give a quick description of your main series?

CAINE: The Morganville Vampires series (Young Adult) follows the adventures of Claire Danvers and her fellow housemates Eve, Shane and Michael in the town of Morganville … just your average Texas college town, except that it’s controlled by vampires, and the city taxes get collected by Bloodmobiles. Once you’re in on the secret, you’ll never make it out of town alive. Not all the vampires are bad, but they’re all unpredictable, and Claire and her friends often find themselves caught in the middle of the ultimate haves-and-have-not struggle.

The Weather Warden series (Urban fantasy) features Joanne Baldwin, a sexy, sassy woman with a secret … she can control the weather, and she’s part of a secret organization that battles the forces of nature on a regular basis. Mother Nature really doesn’t like us, and only Joanne and the Wardens stand between us and total extinction … when they’re not battling among themselves. Oh, and there are Djinn (genies) who sometimes serve the Wardens, and quite often turn on them with fatal results. Trust Joanne to engage in the most dangerous kind of romance … with one of the most powerful Djinn in existence.

The Outcast Season series (Urban fantasy) is a spin off of the Warden universe, and concerns Cassiel, a former Djinn who’s been cut off from her supernatural kin and now must survive in a human world she doesn’t understand or like, with the aid of Wardens she’s never respected. But in her struggle to survive, she finds herself drawn more and more to the humans she cares for, in particular Warden Luis Rocha — which makes things more difficult when she realizes that she may have a destiny after all: to destroy the human race.

VENTRELLA: How have you planned out the Morganville series?

CAINE: I had a six-book story arc planned, and I’m making the second set of six more standalone stories. There is a certain continuity to the storyline, but I’m trying to avoid too many cliffhangers. :)

VENTRELLA: What do you do to create believable characters who learn and grow from their adventures?

CAINE: I don’t know that it’s a conscious process for me … the characters really seem to do that on their own. I have found that less is more in character development … the more tics and traits you give a character, the less natural they seem over time. I find that starting small gives characters plenty of room to grow.

VENTRELLA: How did you break into the publishing business?

CAINE: Not in any way that anyone else should look on as typical! I never intended to … a friend bought me a ticket to a writer’s conference and dropped me at the door. He wanted me to learn about being a writer because I’d been writing on my own (and hiding it) for more than 15 years at that point. So I thought I’d talk to an editor or two, and that would be that.

Only the first editor I talked to hired me to do my first novel. So that worked a little better than I expected, actually. That was in 1990, and I’ve been publishing ever since … with the occasional career hiccup.

VENTRELLA: Some of your earlier works were written under other names. Why did you do that, and would you advise others to do so?

CAINE: And that would be the “occasional career hiccup” referred to above. :) I wrote as Roxanne Longstreet (my maiden name) when first starting out, but my books didn’t really burn up the shelves in any significant way. When my first publisher told me they wouldn’t be able to buy more from me, I changed my name to my married name (Roxanne Conrad) and tried again, with similar results. Rachel Caine is proof that the third time is the charm, I think!

I did use the name “Julie Fortune” for a media tie-in novel for Stargate, mainly because at that time the “Rachel Caine” identity was still new and fragile, and I didn’t want to risk bad sales on something so far outside of my new areas of expertise. But Julie actually has done pretty well on her own.

VENTRELLA: Of which book are you most proud? What would you like to be remembered for?

CAINE: I don’t think I’d like to be remembered for one book … more for a body of work. I can’t really say that I prefer one book over another; from my perspective they each have different characters, but mostly in the sense of where I was emotionally at the time I did the work. I’m not the best judge of that sort of thing. I’m just happy that it seems to touch people and entertain them.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on e-books? Do you think they’re the wave of the future or a step down from traditional publishing?

CAINE: I don’t think it’s a step down at all, but there are a number of people who simply don’t like to read on the screen, so I think traditional publishing will always have a place. For people who read for the experience of the story, versus collecting books, I think ebooks are perfect — portable, simple, and disposable. For collectors, nothing will replace the experience of a book.

I do think there is a real and growing problem related to ebooks … there’s a basic misunderstanding of copyright as it relates to electronic files. Buying an ebook doesn’t give someone the right to copy it wholesale and sell it on to others … and there’s a constant issue with this happening. Most of those people don’t understand that what they’re doing is setting themselves up as a digital publisher, which is robbing both the author and the publisher. Unless we can collectively get that settled, it’s going to bleed the industry dry over time.

VENTRELLA: You’ve wisely advised authors before not to self-publish. Why is that important?

CAINE: I don’t say never self-publish, but it’s not a good way to launch a career as a writer. If the person wants simply to have a book, and has no expectations of continuing to advance in it as a career, then self-publishing might be okay. But there are a lot of drawbacks to self-publishing … you’re responsible for marketing, getting your books into physical stores, and competing with authors who don’t have to do any of that for themselves. Don’t kid yourself: it takes time away from your writing, and trying to break into bookstores in any kind of volume is difficult, if not almost impossible.

Self-publishing also has a reputation — sometimes undeserved, but often accurate — of not being good quality. Often the covers aren’t very good, and unless you’re extremely good at self-editing, or employ a professional editor who knows their stuff, the product is often easy to detect as amateurish rather than professional. So you have a huge burden to overcome.

The last thing I’ll say is this: very few people have ever made decent money from self-publishing, and those that have, generally jumped to traditional publishers as quickly as possible. Don’t get fooled by companies that promise you they’ll publish your book, but then require you to pay for editorial, marketing, and other services. They make money off of you. Your chances of making money from them is pretty small.

VENTRELLA: Finally, what is it about conventions that you like?

CAINE: I love hanging out with my people. :) I’ve always been drawn to conventions — where I can have endlessly fun conversations about things that I’m passionate about, whether it’s geeky obsession over a TV show or deep conversation about life, the universe, and everything (thanks, Douglas Adams!). I’ve met many of my best friends through conventions, and had some of my finest times ever.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you! Looking forward to seeing you at RavenCon!

The Axes of Evil

One barbarian prophecy says the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another tribe has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third tribe, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians sit wants them all gone.

In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.

Along the way, he has to avoid assassins, werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes. Nobody said being a hero would be easy.

I am so pleased to announce that my second novel THE AXES OF EVIL is now available.

I’m quite proud of it and think it’s a great improvement over the first. Partially this is due to experience (the more you write the better you should get), a good editor (as discussed in a previous blog entry) and paying attention to good advice from professional writers.

Fantasy author Gregory Frost likens it to Christopher Stasheff’s work. I read THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF about 30 years ago and remember only that it was a fun adventure about a reluctant hero, and I am pleased with the comparison! (I hope I don’t go to re-read it and find plot parallels, because then I’ll be quite upset.)

“Humor, danger and a twisted tangle of unlikely prophecies make for a page-turning adventure,” said Gail Z. Martin, author of THE CHRONICLES OF THE NECROMANCER series. Award winning author Jonathan Maberry (THE DRAGON FACTORY) said it’s “a taut nail-biter of a thriller. Edgy, funny and dark.”

Readers of THE AXES OF EVIL should have an exciting ride, with non-stop action, humor, and unexpected plot twists. (And no, you don’t have to have read ARCH ENEMIES to enjoy this one.)

Unlike many fantasy heroes, Terin is not “the chosen one” or someone with super powers or special skills. Instead, he constantly finds himself thrown into terrible situations and finds solutions by being brave, honest, and resourceful. I always found myself identifying with average people performing extraordinary feats — to me, those are the real heroes.

The purpose of this blog is not only to allow me to interview professionals and learn from them, but also to promote my own work. (Any similar writer who says otherwise is probably not being very honest with himself or herself.) If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy THE AXES OF EVIL. As an aspiring writer, I very much appreciate (and need) your support. I hope you will give it a try and post your comments to Amazon and other booksellers. I am always anxious to receive constructive feedback, positive or negative — I can always improve, after all, so your comments are valuable.

You can order the paperback here.

You can download the ebook here.

You can download the kindle version here.

And you can join my Facebook fan group here.

Thanks for the indulgence. Next week, back to interviews!

Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Tad Williams

I first became aware of Tad Williams upon reading the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series in the early 90s and was engrossed with the characters and the great twist at the end. He’s gone on to write further acclaimed New York Times bestselling novels, comic books, and young adult novels, and I’m pleased and honored to be interviewing him today! His webpage is www.Tadwilliams.com.tadwilliams

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Tad, you have a varied background with which I can identify. There’s nothing wrong with having worked in radio and been in a band, moving from one job to another and finding out what you want to do with life (I did much the same, although fortunately I never had to work in a shoe store). Was writing always in the background for you, just waiting for the will? When did you say to yourself “This is what I want to do in life”?

TAD WILLIAMS: Creative work was always in the background, but writing was only one of the things I pursued. It just happened to be the one that turned into a possible career. If I’d sold a screenplay or got a gig cartooning I might have gone that way instead.

VENTRELLA: Many aspiring writers say to me that they just can’t seem to find the time to write given that they have jobs to do and real life getting in the way. How did you do it?

WILLIAMS: If you can’t find time to write, you’re not a writer. That’s not to be glib, but some people would rather talk about the reasons they can’t do something than just do it. (My son and his homework spring to mind.) You either do it or you don’t. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer.

VENTRELLA: Was TAILCHASER’S SONG the first novel you wrote? How did you grab the attention of editors?

tailchaserTadWillilams
WILLIAMS: Yes, TAILCHASER was my first book. I was a bit naive and didn’t have an agent, but I was fortunate that the book itself caught my editors’ attention. If I had to do it again, I’d be more aware that I was very lucky. I’d probably try to get an agent first.

VENTRELLA: Has the publishing industry changed as dramatically as everyone says since that time?

WILLIAMS: It’s always been a small-margins business, but the advent of electronic media and the internet have really confused things. Nobody knows what publishing’s even going to look like in ten years, but I think it’s likely it will be less vertical — that is, one company buying books, editing books, designing books, printing books, binding books, warehousing books — and more of a collaboration between smaller businesses. Also, electronic media are only going to become a bigger part of the industry.

VENTRELLA: What do you know now about the industry that you wish you had known when you first started out?

WILLIAMS: I wish I had understood the career arc better, and the complexity of the process of publishing a book. I might have paid more attention to deadlines and to thinking long-term about what I wanted to write.

VENTRELLA: Why are the third parts of your books so huge that they have to be released in two volumes? Can’t you stop? (OK, that’s a joke question.)

WILLIAMS: I have an illness, and it’s not nice to make fun of it. Jeez.
shadowrise-by-tad-williams
VENTRELLA: You currently are working on the SHADOWMARCH series. Do you outline the series completely in advance or prepare something more basic?

WILLIAMS: I like the balance between knowing too much and knowing too little, so I certainly outline, but I leave lots of room for things to change, grow, whatever, as I write the story. That way the story stays fresh, but the fact that there’s structure means it doesn’t meander too badly.

VENTRELLA: Please tell us about SHADOWMARCH!

WILLIAMS: The end is finally in sight for this project, which has moved through three or four media and a couple of decades. It started with a possible tv series or film, then became an internet serial, and I’ve given the story its greatest realization as a series of books, of which I am now writing the ending. It’s a return to epic fantasy, but it also has its own particular twists that separates it from my other books. I’m pleased with what it’s turned into, and think it’s much better and deeper now than it would have been in another medium.

VENTRELLA: Do you see yourself working in other genres in the future?

WILLIAMS: Within reason — I probably won’t be writing any westerns, for instance. But my next set of books will be closer to modern fantasy with a touch of extreme romance (mid-level angel and high-level demon fall painfully in love), so, yeah, I’ll be skipping around like I usually do.

VENTRELLA: How is writing Young Adult series different? tadwilliamsdragon

WILLIAMS: Certainly the main difference for me is keeping the complexity down and the action fast-paced. I don’t believe in writing down to an audience, so we haven’t written anything deliberately “young”. The main characters are young, and — as with almost all good YA fiction — they are forced to solve problems the adults should solve but don’t. Other than that, though, it’s a book — all books should be written like something the writer himself or herself would enjoy reading.

VENTRELLA: Since you are using characters created by someone else when writing for comic books, do you feel constrained in any way?

WILLIAMS: I felt very constrained, but most of that was problems in communication with that particular situation. I thought I’d have more leeway than I did, and I thought I’d have more time to try to turn the thing around than I did. That said, when I can afford to do it again I probably will…

VENTRELLA: What are you most proud of? What would you like to be remembered for?

WILLIAMS: I think I’ve always brought something bigger than the genre to my genre fiction — I think of myself as a gateway drug for genre readers, leading them down the slippery slope to real literature. (This doesn’t mean that I don’t think lots of fantasy and science fiction are literature, only that because they’re genres they contain primarily books written for a genre market, ie, tending toward the formulaic.) Of all my books, I think so far the OTHERLAND novels are my signature — the best example of the width of my range.
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VENTRELLA: Off topic a bit: What kind of music did you play in your band?

WILLIAMS: The original band was very influenced by folks like Beatles, The Who, the Bonzo Dog Band, David Bowie, Brian Eno, and maybe even the Tubes. (We would have been influenced by They Might Be Giants, but we predated them.)

VENTRELLA: What do you listen to today?

WILLIAMS: I still listen to all that sort of stuff, but also lots of modern stuff, Beck, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, and pretty much anything Damon Albarn does, just to name a few. Robyn Hitchcock. Fountains of Wayne. Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Also some hiphop, some folk, jazz occasionally, lots of classical — you name it, really.

VENTRELLA: You have very good taste in music (because it’s very similar to mine). Add in XTC, Elvis Costello and Sparks and we’d be just fine.

WILLIAMS: I like all those bands very much, Michael. I was caught between “who influenced your band” and “who do you listen to now”, and they all sort of fit into both — well, XTC not so much the former, because we were already writing music when they came out. But Elvis may be my all time favorite artist other than my top three — Beatles, Who, Bowie. (Yes, I love the Stones and the Kinks and Hendrix and a ton of other first-generation guys, but I’d probably have to put Elvis C into the top four.)

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