The Write Stuff Interview!

I will be a guest speaker at the Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, Pennsylvania the weekend of March 12.  (EDIT:  Because of the virus, this has been postponed to next year.)

The three lectures I will be giving are:

How the Law Really Works

The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors

What Editors Look For

To help promote the conference, they interviewed me and I’ll share it with you here!

Question: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from rejections?

Michael: Never take it personally. You can’t please everyone, and a story that one editor hates may be loved by another. As an editor myself, I have had to reject stories that were great simply because I didn’t have enough room for all the great stories I received OR perhaps I already had another great story with the same theme. So understand that rejection is part of the business and it may have nothing whatsoever to do with how good the story is. You have to expect it. Otherwise, you’re like a prize fighter getting into the ring and going “Hey, I didn’t know someone would be hitting me back!” (However, if you get lots of rejections from everyone, maybe the story needs more work or maybe you should start a new one. Don’t expect every single story to sell.)

Q: Share the strangest source of inspiration for your writing that you can remember. 

M: I heard someone say that Congress was full of bloodsuckers, and I thought “Now, wouldn’t that be interesting?” The idea that vampires can look you in the eye and convince you to do anything was appealing because what politician wouldn’t die for that power? I began a story about a vampire running for Congress, realized it needed to be bigger, rewrote it a few times, added a few assassinations and conspiracy theories and lots of action, and it eventually became my novel “Bloodsuckers: A Vampire Runs for President.” Bottom line: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Just pay attention and always say “What if…?”

Q: Who is your favorite main character you’ve ever created and why? 

M: I created a black female lead character for a story taking place in the 1890s. I wanted to have a fine adventure yet also deal with the issues of discrimination, but in a fun way (if that makes sense). Not being either black or a female, I had to be careful that I wasn’t being either stereotypical or patronizing, so I had black female friends read it and they loved it, which pleased me greatly. So because it was that challenge and I met it, she’s my favorite! Plus she’s a fun, strong character who is in way over her head but never gives up. I like those kinds of “reluctant hero” characters.

Q: What advice can you give beginning authors in establishing their brand and media presence?

M: Sell yourself, not your books. Make yourself into an interesting person with interesting things to say so that people go “I like the way that person writes, and I’ll bet their books are interesting as well.” Don’t start a Facebook page for your book, start it for yourself. And don’t make every post about buying your book. Also, promote other writers and they will reciprocate. We’re not in competition! (Oh, and when you do write, write well! If your posts are full of misspellings and grammatical errors, no one will want to read your book. Seriously, I’ve seen this…)

Q: What projects are coming up next for you?

M: As I write this in December 2019, my alternate history Beatles anthology “Across the Universe” is about to be released, and I’m anxious to see how that goes over. A second nonfiction book about the music of the Monkees comes out early in 2020, and some of my older novels with a small publisher are in the process of being reissued with new covers and a few changes (including a brand new short story in one of the anthologies), so that’s keeping me busy, especially since we’re trying to have the audio books released at the same time. I’m currently recording my own audio book of my nonfiction humor book “How to Argue the Constitution with a Conservative.” And, of course, I keep my blogs updated as often as possible. In my spare time, I am a lawyer.

 

Bloodsuckers reissued!

My novel BLOODSUCKERS:  A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT, originally published by Double Dragon, has been reissued by Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press with a new cover and some new changes to bring it into the present. (A chapter where the candidate is interviewed on the Colbert Report was updated so that he’s now on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and a few other minor references to journalists who are no longer on the air were replaced with current journalists.) And a few word choices were changed here and there but you’d never notice unless you had memorized the original book.

So check it out!  You can order the paperback here or the kindle version here!

Bloodsuckers takes modern politics and adds vampires to the mix (yes, we already know all the jokes you’re making!) to make it actually new and exciting. Washed-up reporter Steve Edwards can’t believe what he sees when a Presidential candidate is gunned down by a man who then disappears before his eyes, apparently transformed to a bat. But that’s just the beginning as Steve finds he’s been framed for the crime and what he’s seen is just the very tip of a blood-drinking iceberg. Ventrella’s quick, bright dialogue punctuates the adventure with dry humor even as he ratchets the tension up towards an ending that might just surprise even the jaded reader. Highly recommended!” – Ryk E. Spoor, author of Grand Central Arena and Phoenix Rising

Bloodsuckers draws back the curtain of politics and confirms the fear we’ve all suspected about our leaders for decades. A cutting expose of the—what, this is fiction? Naw … Well then. Funny, quick, too smart for its own good. Had me viewing politicians with new suspicion.” – Mur Lafferty, Campbell-Award-winning author of Ghost Train to New Orleans and The Shambling Guide to New York City

“Sharp as a stake through the heart, Bloodsuckers works both as an entertaining thriller and as satire of our current out-for-blood political landscape. I loved the characters, the political insight and the final revelation!” – Dennis Tafoya, author of The Poor Boy’s Game and The Wolves of Fairmont Park

Bloodsuckers is a delicious blend of mainstream thriller, oddball horror, and biting social commentary. Sink your teeth into this one!” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Code Zero and V-Wars

“What could be more horrifying than vampires with a taste for blood? Vampires with a taste for politics, as well. Mike Ventrella gives us both, plus action, adventure, laughs and chills, in Bloodsuckers, a political satire with bite.” – Jon McGoran, author of Drift and Deadout

“Politics, intrigue and vampires—a match made in Washington, DC. A bloody good political thriller that sucks you in from the start and gets its teeth into your imagination.” – Gail Z. Martin, author of Reign of Ash and Deadly Curiosities

“The book is a lot of fun. It manages to be many things at once. It’s both thrilling and humorous. Both politically charged and poignant without being preachy.” – Lucas Mangum, author of Flesh and Fire

 

 

Interview with author Beth W. Patterson

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Beth W. Patterson, whose stories I have purchased for a number of anthologies I’ve edited. 

Beth W. Patterson was a full-time musician for over two decades before diving into the world of writing, a process she describes as “fleeing the circus to join the zoo”. She is the author of the books MONGRELS AND MISFITS, THE WILD HARMONIC, and a contributor to over thirty anthologies.

Patterson has performed in nineteen countries across five continents. Her playing appears on over a hundred and eighty albums, soundtracks, videos, commercials, and voice-overs (including seven solo albums of her own). More than a hundred of her compositions and co-writes have been released. She studied ethnomusicology at University College, Cork in Ireland and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy from Loyola University New Orleans.

Beth has occasionally worn other hats as a body paint model, film extra, minor role actor, recording studio partner, record label owner, producer, and visual artist. She is a lover of exquisitely stupid movies and a shameless fangirl of the band Rush. She lives in New Orleans with her husband Josh Paxton, jazz pianist extraordinaire. You can find her at www.bethpattersonmusic.com

You’re a trained musician who makes a living performing and selling your CDs. How did you decide to start writing?

BETH W. PATTERSON: I’ve had the urge to write ever since I was little. My parents read to me quite a bit in my first few years and then I taught myself to read when I was still in nursery school, so writing some one-page stories (before I even fully had the grasp of which way some of the letters faced) was the next step. At age six or so, I wrote what I guess now would be considered fanfiction of THE LITTLE PRINCE, except with a healthy dose of subterfuge that I found to be much more satisfying. I wrote my first “book” in the sixth grade. It was a five-subject notebook in which I handwrote cover to cover. Like any aspiring author, I imitated whatever authors I was reading at the time, which were Judy Blume, Walter Farley, and Stephen King. The end result was basically a mashup of ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, THE BLACK STALLION, and PET SEMATARY. I recently revisited the concept as a tongue in cheek piss-take of myself, and the end result was “Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy,” which was included in RELEASE THE VIRGINS.

It wasn’t until I was almost forty that I felt the urge to revisit writing more seriously. I’d won a few awards for writing in high school and hadn’t done anything since, but suddenly felt the burning desire to have a book the way some people suddenly need to have a baby or change careers. I had befriended Robert Asprin a few years before he passed away, and inherited from him friendships with his contemporaries Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett. They were among the first people who gave me their invaluable mentorship.

VENTRELLA: How has your music training influenced your stories?

PATTERSON: It’s the discipline that affects me the most. Because living gig-to-gig is still my day job, what I currently do is actually like working four jobs: contacting venues for gigs, promoting the gigs, learning music for other people when I’m hired to be a sideman or session musician, and then playing the gigs. If I were a full-time writer, I’d have to commit myself to that same level of focus in a different way: researching, staying in front of my computer and not letting myself get distracted, and probably having roughly four projects going at any given time.

On a creative level, it’s given me me a wider range of perspectives than most vocations would have. The closet ethnomusicologist in me has a curiosity about customs and traditions of the places I visit, which always makes for a wealth of writing prompts. Taking it upon myself to learn the languages of whatever foreign countries I play also opens up my mind to how other people think. Performing with other people is another way in which I’ve expanded my perspective—across race, orientation, and especially age. Whether I have a musical bond with someone twenty years my junior or thirty years my senior, learning music of his or her era gives me a deeper understanding of that zeitgeist. And I’ve witnessed so many unbelievable incidents on my gigs that I don’t suppose I’ll run out of things to write about on that level.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the video you did to promote “Release the Virgins.”

PATTERSON: Like many of my endeavors, it started out as a joke. I process a lot of things through song, and got the idea from a comment I made on one of your Facebook posts (“To the tune of Beast of Burden: I’ll never read ‘Release the Virgins!’”). You wisely suggested that if I put a more positive spin on that sentiment, it would be a great marketing tool, so I got to work on writing a promotional song based on the ARC and made tiny references to every story.

For the video I enlisted the help of my good friend Lewis D’Aubin, with whom I’ve worked for years. He’s been doing music comedy with The Consortium of Genius for as long as I’ve known him and is a major sci-fi/fantasy aficionado. So he was truly was the perfect person to work with for both the audio and visual. Part of his studio is a blue screen wall for the video skits his band frequently makes, so filming was as easy as it needed to be. Lewis was already a fan of some of the authors, so making the video was truly a labor of love for us both.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about the recent ACROSS THE UNIVERSE anthology, which I co-edited. It features stories about the Beatles in various alternative universes. Tell us about your story.

PATTERSON: My story “Cayenne,” named for a pre-Beatles Quarrymen song, reimagines the Fab Four as Cajuns. I wanted it to parallel Yellow Submarine, so instead of them saving fictional Pepperland, the band Les Écrevisses (“The Crawfish”) have to save Avery Island, which is home to the Tabasco pepper plantation. (The peppers are being farmed in other places now, but they’re still grown there too.) The film’s 1968 premier was a glorious coincidence of so many things going on in Louisiana that year. There was the founding of CODOFIL (the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, and the state’s first effort to preserve the Cajun French language). The New Orleans Saints played their first game. Some local musicians I know played on the TV show Happening ’68. Louisiana’s poet laureate Zachary Richard began writing. And it was the birth year of Tiffany, the dog of artist George Rodrigue, who went on to create his iconic Blue Dog paintings inspired by her.

The Yellow Submarine counterparts practically wrote themselves. I think I’d been to the Tabasco factory at least five times before the age of fifteen, either from school field trips, Girl Scout trips, or my parents showing friends around. So using that as Pepperland was a no-brainer. The Blue Meanies became the Blue Dog. I’d spent many a hot, buggy day in assorted fishing boats, so a yellow pirogue (the quintessential Cajun boat) seemed plausible to me, even if I had to take liberties and make it big enough to hold up to five people. And since cayenne pepper is an essential ingredient in Cajun cuisine, I found the title of the Quarrymen song to be as close to a divine sign as I’ll ever get.

The biggest challenge for me was writing a story that could be appreciated by people who might not know anything of Louisiana culture, and making it easy to digest while still remaining authentic. I had to remove a lot of French idioms in the dialogue because even though I had assumed that the human brain would fill in the gaps by context, it was just slowing things down for my beta readers. I also added a layer of humor that hoped my fellow Louisianians would enjoy that would otherwise go unnoticed. For example, like the Sven and Olie jokes of Minnesota, I grew up hearing Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes, so assigning those surnames to John and Paul was one such inside reference.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide on the concept for your story?

PATTERSON: I had toyed with several concepts, but had a feeling that depicting the Beatles as Cajuns would be a spin that few others could do. My home state often drives me crazy, but I was born in the heart of Cajun country (Lafayette, Louisiana) and I’m very proud of the culture in which I was raised. When I was in high school, I would sometimes skip classes with a friend and instead of smoking weed or drag racing like normal teenagers, we’d drive out to some of the more rural places where old Cajun musicians, storytellers, and luthiers lived. We’d record them with our little hand-held cassette recorders as they told jokes and stories or played tunes. I moved to New Orleans in 1991 to go to college, but I found a strange subcommunity with everyone else there who hailed from Acadiana. My background became something I carried in the forefront of my experiences ever since. Even now when I catch up with childhood friends, our conversations are often interspersed with southwest Louisiana idioms that make no sense anywhere else (or have drastically different meanings in the rest of the Francophone world). So my story idea came pretty naturally.

VENTRELLA: Are you a big Beatles fan?  How did that affect your writing?

PATTERSON: I’m not the raging Beatles aficionado that some of my family and friends are, but they were certainly an essential part of my musical background. Because I was born in 1973, there was never a time that their music didn’t exist for me. So when I was young I sort of took them for granted, including how uncannily protean they were. But never having had the chance to see them live also added an extra layer of magical mystery for me. Once I stared to play bass with my friends at age fourteen or so, we began to appreciate their depth and wide range of influences. The lyrical crypticness was a source of fascination for us all (this predated the internet, so most of the interpretations were hearsay), and that was perhaps when I first realized that you didn’t have to write something that made sense at face value for people to appreciate it.

Playing in far-off places helped me to understand on an even deeper level what an impact The Beatles made globally. When I toured in Japan, I would sometimes find myself in charge of leading a jam session (which is typically a waking anxiety dream for me), and even though I’d tried to teach myself as much Japanese as I could, I wasn’t always able to communicate, “Guys? I’m not a cover musician. I might not be able to play something everyone knows.” But my tour manager had assured me that everyone knew The Beatles, and he was absolutely right. Some of these folks spoke very little English, but everyone could join in on “Let it Be.” I experienced something similar in Ecuador a couple of months ago. I’d befriended a musician named Juan Jurado Peñafiel playing Andean folk instruments like the quena, zampoña, and antara. (The latter of the two fall into a family of instruments we gringos would call “pan flutes”.) I used to play bass with an Andean folk band called Ancestro, so we had a fantastic time revisiting those songs I knew. But he was eager to launch into some Beatles songs with me, and he was over the moon about getting to play them. At one point he pulled his jacket open to show me how hard his heart was beating, and I could see it pulsing under his t-shirt.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any favorite fiction books about music?

PATTERSON: The first fantasy book about music that I absolutely ate up was GOSSAMER AXE by Gael Baudino. I was still in my teens and playing bass in a heavy metal band, but had just discovered Irish music, so I felt like it had been written for me! I also read a lot of Anne McCaffery’s Harper Hall and Crystal Singer novels. Charles DeLint was another favorite for his blending of urban fantasy and Celtic musicians. Later in life my brother turned me on to Spider Robinson, so I’m thrilled to share an anthology with a musical writer of his caliber. (Spider, if you’re reading this, let’s jam sometime.) I’m currently reading THE BLUES AIN’T NOTHING by my friend Tina L. Jens, which about the Chicago blues scene and its ghosts, and it’s rich and fast-paced.

Novels that aren’t speculative include ESPEDAIR STREET by Iain Banks about a Scottish rock band from a notoriously rough town. THE ACCORDION CRIMES by Annie Proulx is another novel that really stuck with me. It’s not what I’d call warm and fuzzy, but it’s rich in music lore, folklore, and culture.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever read a story that features music but they get it all wrong and you just want to throw the book across the room?

PATTERSON: Anything that glamorizes musical life makes me want to stomp on a duckling. (Note to animal rights activists: this is metaphorical.) Characters who become stars overnight, people who have never had to haul their own equipment…ugh!

VENTRELLA:  Tell us how you got your first book published.  

PATTERSON: My first book, technically, was a collection of six albums’ worth of lyrics and some previously unpublished poetry. It was entitled MONGRELS AND MISFITS, and to fatten it up I wrote my very first short story in my adult life, entitled “Tracking.” I had no editor, just a handful of beta readers, and I don’t know what I would have done without those fine folks. Even still, there a lot of clams that make me cringe, but as the kids may or may not still say, “I did a thing.” The book never went to print, and thus was more or less a flop because who buys electronic songbooks? But the eBook comes in really handy when someone requests an original song that I haven’t played in years and I can’t remember the lyrics.

I eventually rewrote and expanded “Tracking” to become THE WILD HARMONIC.  I’d figured that all musicians had to be shape-shifters in some way in order to survive (or just stay gainfully employed). If you ask most people, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” most of them can give you an immediate answer, so I decided to expand on the shapeshifting myths in this way. Like Philip Pullman’s daemons, I figure there was no reason why the shifter world couldn’t be just as diverse.

Bill and Jody introduced me to a friend of theirs, Kevin Dockery, who writes military fiction and is your go-to guy if you need to know anything at all about weapons or the military over the course of history (or ferrets). He was partnering with someone from the now-defunct Cleveland Writers Press. Through no fault of his own, the publishing company went under. But in the process Kevin and I became great friends and I retained the rights to my book.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever considered writing nonfiction books?  Maybe about music?

PATTERSON: I started to write an instructional book about the bouzouki, but hit a wall when I realized that I’m really not that great of a teacher. There are plenty of instructional books out there, but I had started sort of an anti-tutorial on how to find your own personal sound. My few students know that my ways of imparting knowledge aren’t for everyone, and my philosophy is “I don’t want you to play like me. I want you to play like you.”  If I ever get somewhere in this crazy music world, maybe I’ll publish my memoirs someday, although my adventures are still far from over.

VENTRELLA: How did you get started when writing short stories?  How did you find editors? 

PATTERSON: A Facebook friend, Larry Atchley Jr. (who didn’t actually know me in real life at the time) had liked so many of my snarky, nihilistic comments on social media that he added me to a group of writers. (We met in person not long after that and hit it off immediately.) From there I met a number of other writers with open call anthologies (you being one of them), and then I started cranking out the stories.

VENTRELLA: What advice do you have for starting writers who want to find the right magazine or anthology for their stories?

PATTERSON: Try as many genres as you can. It’s a great way to find your voice and see what works for you (or not). I’ve published high fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, steampunk, space opera, horror, poetry, and erotica. The last of these made me cringe…I love telling a good sick joke, but if you take the humor out of it, it’s like “Noooo! Don’t make me write this!” But that’s really the best way a person can learn what genre works for him or her and what doesn’t.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever surprised yourself when writing?

PATTERSON: The first time I killed a character was very profound for me. I’d created a very despicable character that was basically a composite of several real-life stalkers/obsessive people I’d had to deal with. My main character killed him in a showdown and I felt really weird for about twenty-four hours afterward. I felt like I’d really killed someone. (Epilogue: any number of these nut jobs will still occasionally show up at one of my gigs, and that also messes with my head. It’s like, “Wait, aren’t you supposed to be dead? Oh, yeah…”)

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?

PATTERSON: I think lots of people have great potential for storytelling and writing, but like any talent, they have to cultivate it. The musical prodigies I read about (and kind of want to smack) still have to learn structure, group social skills, and other tricks of trade. I would imagine it’s not far removed from writing. It probably helps to have an innate sense of curiosity and imagination, but there are tons of books and courses available to the aspiring writer to help get things rolling that way as well.

VENTRELLA: How important is a professional editor?

PATTERSON: I can’t stress the importance enough. For one thing, the objectivity of another person well-seasoned in any endeavor is invaluable. My husband and I have begun to set up a little studio in the music room of our home. But for professional project, I record with Lewis because I need a second pair of ears, especially when I’m either making mistakes or becoming such a perfectionist that I’m sapping a solo of its character. Likewise, a professional editor can really be a book’s saving grace. I have a tendency to leave giant holes in my plots because my mind fills the details in. Sometimes I also run the risk of creating dramatic scenes that aren’t realistically feasible. A good editor will catch things like this, as well as grammatical flaws like split infinitives and the overuse of the same words.

Even if you think it’s beyond your means, sometimes the barter system works. I’m playing a private party next month in exchange for some beta reading and copyediting services. I’ve also done some housesitting for friends in the industry who gave me invaluable advice that really saved my first novel.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best advice you would give to a starting writer that they probably haven’t already heard?

PATTERSON: You’re never going to remember an idea in the morning. Get out of bed and write it down before you fall asleep. This has always been the case for songwriting, and it’s also true for story ideas. And save everything, even if you think it’s terrible. You’ll never know when you might need to cannibalize an old concept.

VENTRELLA: What are your pet peeves when you read?  What plot clichés or other problems really bug you? 

PATTERSON: Superfluous tangents that don’t serve the plot confuse me. Some people write in the same way that others love to hear themselves talk. I’ve had to break a lot of these habits myself, and a lot of my early work makes me want to throw up, so I like it even less from other people.

VENTRELLA: Do you think readers want to read about “believable” characters or do they really want characters that are “larger than life” in some way?

PATTERSON: I think everyone needs a little bit of both, in the same way that we need a superhero mythos as much as we need the girl next door who can always lend you an egg or make a voodoo doll for you.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve heard people give?

PATTERSON: “Writing about New Orleans is too cliché.” It’s like, I’ve lived in New Orleans off and on for over twenty-five years, cupcake. I try to keep as much variety as I can in my settings, but I’m not going to shrug off something that’s a part of my life just because it happens to be popular.

VENTRELLA: What writing projects are you working on now?

PATTERSON: I started a sequel to THE WILD HARMONIC that I really need to resume. For a while I was trying to get it going under some third-party circumstances that made me feel absolutely sick about continuing, but that’s ceased to be a problem, so I have no excuses now.

I also decided to take the NaNoWriMo challenge, which is a great exercise in both discipline and focus—neither of which is my forte. The extra level of discipline that’s highly advantageous is having to wait until a certain date to begin. It forced me to turn certain concepts over in my mind and realize that different approaches to some of them would make for a stronger story. The end result is the framework of a novel I would describe as dystopian circuspunk. It’s going to be alternately dark and wacky if it survives the rewrites.

Lastly, I’m drafting an outline for a more overtly absurd story in hopes of getting into an ongoing humor anthology. Someone gave me a little inside scoop that it leans more toward sci-fi than fantasy, so the working title is “Robots for Ronnie.” The competition is fierce, but if nothing else, I’ll probably crack myself up!

VENTRELLA: I caught that.

 

Discussing the Constitution

My interview with Rob Kall, editor of Op Ed News, will be published on his blog soon, but here it is early. We talk about the Constitution and some of the most important issues discussed in my book HOW TO ARGUE THE CONSTITUTION WITH A CONSERVATIVE.

 

Across the Universe now available!

My latest anthology (co-edited with Randee Dawn) is now available!

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Sorcerers, superheroes, and zombies.

Out of work, out of luck, out of practice.

Gods, clods, or four simple lads.

Here are the Beatles as you’ve never known them before: singing for their supper, singing for their souls, and singing to save the world.

Look at this amazing Table of Contents:

Introduction by Nancy Holder
“Rubber Soul” by Spider Robinson
“A New Beginning” by Jody Lynn Nye
“The Perfect Bridge” by Charles Barouch
“The Hey! Team” by Gordon Linzner
“Paul is Dead” by Lawrence Watt-Evans
“Come Together” by Allen Steele
“The Truth Within” by Sally Wiener Grotta
“Foursomes” by Ken Schneyer
“The Fabtastic Four” by David Gerrold
“All You Need” by Cat Rambo
“Used to Be” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
“Game Seven” by Bev Vincent
“When I’m #64” by Patrick Barb
“Deal with the Devil” by Carol Gyzander
“Meet the Beatles” by Pat Cadigan
“The Walrus Returns” by Gail Z. Martin
“My Sweet Lord of Light” by Barbara Clough
“Liverpool Band Battle 1982” by Eric Avedissian
“Undead in the Material World” by Alan Goldsher
“The Heretic” by R. Jean Mathieu
“Cayenne” by Beth Patterson
“Through a Glass Onion” by Christian Smith
“A Hard Day’s Night at the Opera” by Gregory Frost
“Apocalypse Rock” by Matthew Amati
“Doing Lennon” by Gregory Benford

It’s available in hard cover or paperback!

We’ve already received some great reviews!:

“This collection is a Magical Mystery Tour through alternate universes where the familiar narrative of the Beatles is turned on its head. Or ear. Or ass. It’s fun, irreverent, sexy, and twisted–just like the Fab Four themselves.” — Vicki Peterson, The Bangles

“I must have read a thousand Beatles books. But not one of them mentioned that the Beatles were attacked by aliens at the Hollywood Bowl. Or talked about their encounter with the Mersey Monster. Or discussed how they became zombies. I had to learn all of this from the thoroughly entertaining anthology Across the Universe. Each of its 25 stories of speculative fiction re-imagine The Beatles in alternative universes, allowing us to laugh at and with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Highly recommended!” — Scott Freiman, creator of Deconstructing the Beatles

Across the Universe is way too much fun! It’s the Beatles in the Twilight Zone of infinite possibilities! Highly recommended!” — Jonathan MaberryNew York Times bestselling author of V-Wars and Rage

Across the Universe is a fantastic, freewheeling, and imaginative romp of a collection. The authors transported me not only across the universe, but to what might have been in many and various alternate universes, all populated by the Beatles and their peculiar possible transmutations. Totally engrossing.” — Paul Marshall, Strawberry Alarm Clock

 “The Fab Four are reimagined as wizards, robots, hockey players, zombies, the Marx Brothers, and more in this anthology from Ventrella (Big Stick) and Dawn (Home for the Holidays). An introduction by “Wicked” series coauthor Nancy Holder sets the stage. Standouts include the clever time-travel, short-short “The Perfect Bridge” by Charles Barouch; “Meet the Beatles” by Pat Cadigan, a delightful exercise in nostalgia; and two stories based on the “Paul is dead” hoax: “Paul Is Dead” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, in which an alternate universe Paul replaces the original, and “When I’m #64” by Patrick Barb, in which Paul constantly dies and comes back to life. The absolute standout is “Through a Glass Onion” by Christian H. Smith, a poignant, inspirational tale about a failed musician named John Lennon from another universe who is given a vision of the success he had in ours. VERDICT: This anthology will be mostly of interest to Beatles fans, but even non-fans will find stories here that will move and surprise them.” — Library Journal

“Ranging from trippy fantasy to hard science fiction and zombie apocalypse mash-up, the stories in this anthology send the members of the Beatles on wild adventures through alternate timelines and universes. In Allen M. Steele’s “Come Together,” artificial intelligences named for each of the Fab Four identify so strongly with their namesakes that they jeopardize their space probe’s mission when they begin to fall out with one another, mimicking the breakup of the band. An idealistic George Harrison tries to teach transcendental meditation to Richard Nixon with disastrous geopolitical results in Sally Wiener Grotta’s “The Truth Within.” Gregory Frost’s “A Hard Day’s Night at the Opera” plugs the band members into the plot of a Marx brothers movie to hilarious effect. It’s clear that each of the 25 contributors are true fans, filling their tales with references to Beatles history and, in the case of David M. Gerrold’s “The Fabtastic Four,” so many song lyrics that readers will be tempted to sing along. Beatles aficionados and fantasy fans will enjoy this affectionate, speculative homage.” — Publishers Weekly

My turn to be interviewed

The Philadelphia Liars Club Oddcast has me as the guest this week, discussing the Constitution, the Monkees, the Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, Virgins, writing and editing!  Have a listen!

Interview with Hugo-Award Winning Author Spider Robinson

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing Spider Robinson, whose books I have enjoyed for many years. And why shouldn’t I? They are often about music, humor and puns – and anyone who knows me understands why that appeals. (If you’re not familiar with his work, check out his Wikipedia page and be rightly impressed.)

Spider with wife Jeanne

Spider has a story in my upcoming anthology “Across the Universe” – a collection of alternative Beatles stories which also features David Gerrold, Gregory Benford, Jody Lynn Nye, Alan Goldsher, Cat Rambo, Keith DeCandido, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and Gail Z. Martin (among others).

So instead of the usual questions Spider gets about writing and his work, I thought we’d have a nice discussion about the Beatles instead, since he is clearly as big of a fan as I am.

Spider, what is your earliest memory of the Beatles and how did that influence you?

SPIDER ROBINSON: I was a high school junior in a Catholic seminary, studying to become a brother and then a priest: engaged to the Virgin Mary. They used to tell us we would be “God’s Gestapo,” and none of us even flinched. To shield us from mundane secular temptations we were permitted to either watch TV news or listen to either of the two records permitted, a Johnny Mathis and a Perry Como, for a maximum of fifteen minutes, right after mandatory sports. (The two Ray Charles albums I’d brought were instantly confiscated.) One day the news was entirely devoted to four weird-looking dudes. I gathered vaguely that they made music, and heard about fifteen seconds of it, but most of the coverage was about the immense crowds of screaming girls that swarmed them. At the end of that fifteen minute news story, I said to myself, in almost these words, Something is going on out there. Everything is about to change, somehow. And I’m in here. A few months later I was a civilian again, and could already play “Love Me Do”.

During those few months, I was visited three times by my family, parents and sister Mary, who had driven hundreds of miles to take me out to dinner and buy me new clothes. My sister made sure we spent as much time as possible driving somewhere, so she could spin the dial on the car radio for me. I have never satisfactorily thanked her for that.

The new book I’ve co-edited which features a story from Spider

It absolutely didn’t matter what station came in best: nobody on the air was playing anything but the Beatles, who owned the whole Top Ten while several others of theirs waited their turn. I tried to memorize every note, and even succeeded….but had most of them in the wrong order or song. “She loves that I want to hold your long tall taste of honey don’t…” I wish now I had recorded what I thought the songs were, for study.

VENTRELLA: Culturally, do you think they are given enough, not enough, or too much credit for both their influence?

ROBINSON: All of the above. I believe anyone sensible who was born in any other age, past or future, would envy me and my cohort. We were given heroes so amazing, the very first time the entire planet heard a song at the same time, it was called “All You Need Is Love.” By which it did not mean just sex. How can you possibly overestimate how cool that is? No matter what happened next, whether we fell short of our dreams or exceeded them, we had stated clearly, my whole species, that the thing we ALL wanted most of all was to forgive one another, and stop making life even harder. You think there’ve been a lot of eras in history when that concept was even conceivable, let alone expressible?

VENTRELLA: What is your favorite of their albums and why?

ROBINSON: I checked my iTunes, and my instinctive guess was eerily accurate: since 1984, when I bought my first Fat Mac, I have played every Beatles album roughly the same number of times. I won’t bore you with the calculations needed to say so with confidence. Even MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, conceived and realized as the group was in shock and mourning for their Father, produced some of their most enduring work.

VENTRELLA: What do you think caused them to break up?

ROBINSON: Fookin’ money. And Daddy’s premature death.

VENTRELLA: How about the solo years – who do you think had the best solo career musically (as opposed to financial success)?

ROBINSON: Paul. He’s lasted. He will run out of air before he runs out of irresistible hooks. Who has too many of those?

VENTRELLA: What are your favorites of the solo albums?

ROBINSON: THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH, ALL THINGS MUST PASS, TUG OF WAR, DOUBLE FANTASY, FL0WERS IN THE DIRT, IMAGINE, OCEAN’S KINGDOM, KISSES ON THE BOTTOM, WALLS AND BRIDGES, RINGO

VENTRELLA: I recall seeing you at a convention once where you did a concert and played (among other things) “Here Today” – Paul’s song about John. It obviously meant something to you. What are your memories about John’s last night? How did that affect you?

ROBINSON: I spent most of that night and following morning either hugging Jeanne or on the phone with people we love, sharing our horror and insupportable grief and profound sadness. In every conversation we spoke of how appalling it was that we meant so much to each other, yet had allowed so much time to pass that it taken something like this to get us talking again. So even in death Johnny taught us, we decided. He always had a knack for instructing us even as he broke our heart.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever seen any of them in concert? What was it like?

ROBINSON: On the evening of August 15, 1965, I was present at the Stadium of Shea when Brenda Holloway, King Curtis, the stunning Sounds Incorporated, the Young Rascals, Cannibal & The Headhunters, and the band James Taylor always called The Four Singing Beatles, all successfully conspired to entertain us. Marvin Gaye was introduced but did not sing, and Mick and Keef were there but never left the dugout. The girl I was going steady with at the time, Kathy Allen, had entered a Cousin Bruce Morrow contest on WABC-AM radio and won four tickets. I hope she’s well and happy today.

Meeting the First Lady

The first thing I want to say is, because we had lousy seats, I could hear the music just great.

We were just a smidge to the right of home plate….so high up we could have gained more altitude only with jetpacks. Fortunately we were smart enough to have brought excellent binoculars. But most important: we were so high, in so many ways, that we were several rows above the thick cloud of nicotine and THC smoke that sat over the entire stadium….containing the screams beneath it. All we could hear was the Beatles, well mixed, on the house PA system, which though by no means concert standard, was much better than the average transistor radio of those days. We heard every note, with better fidelity than most of our parents’ home stereos (if we were lucky enough to have stereo) could have provided.

It’s been edited out of every documentary or memoir I’ve ever seen, but one of my favorite moments was when one enterprising young New Yorker somehow scaled the centerfield wall at the right field side, ran broken-field through a thousand moonlighting cops full of donuts, and reached second-base untouched. He leaped as high as he could, managed to briefly tug the back of Ringo’s jacket. Without losing the beat, let alone his seat, Ring glanced over his shoulder, tossed the kid a quick salute with a drumstick, and the lad waved back with a huge grin. A thousand flashbulbs went off. Then, just in time, he evaded five closing cops, ran broken-field all the way back to the centerfield wall, and started over. One cop who’d had coffee instead of beer managed to grab his ankle. The boy kicked the cop square in the face, and went over the wall to a standing ovation. Ah, youth! In the London of P.G. Wodehouse, it was once common for young men to knock policemen’s hats off, but New York is a tougher town. I’ve often wished I knew his name.

I have one other story about the Beatles at Shea, but I do not want to tell it here, now. Ask me sometime when I’m drunk.

VENTRELLA: Ringo often gets overlooked both as a drummer and as a solo act. What is your opinion of his drumming?

ROBINSON: I’ve listened to dozens of hours of Beatles outtakes: takes that were halted because somebody fucked up. Happens to all groups. Hit a clam, forgot a lyric, dropped their guitar pick, couldn’t suppress a cough, Geoff Emerick hit a wrong button in the booth, a million reasons. By now I’m pretty confident I’ve heard every one there is, at least once. I have never once heard a mistake that was Ringo’s fault. He never blew a take. That’s eerie. Man, Buddy Rich made mistakes sometimes, OK? In the whole Beatles catalog I’m aware of just one time when Ringo failed to keep metronomically perfect time: halfway through “You Won’t See Me,” he slows down just a shaved vaginal hair (the finest kind there is). I don’t know if he ever invented anything, but he did play at least four different licks I’d never heard before in popular music, and sadly have never heard since because they’re just so iconically associated with him. (“Ticket To Ride,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Come Together,” “Yer Blues”)

VENTRELLA: I think Ringo had some great solo albums when he was working with Mark Hudson, but less so when he’s on his own. Your opinion?

ROBINSON: Agree. Except for RINGO. And you know what? As he ages, Ringo’s range has increased. He has several more notes on the top end now, which Paul cannot claim. And he’s learned a lot about how to use it. He’s just sui generis. He should’ve been dead decades ago, medically speaking. When they first came up, he was asked his ambition. He said, “To end up….sort of unforgettable.” He achieved it long ago.

VENTRELLA: What’s your favorite songs of theirs to play as a musician?

ROBINSON: “Michelle,” or “I Should Have Known Better,” or, if there are two other voices around, “Because.” “Till There Was You” is another favorite, but that’s Meredith Willson’s — same guy who wrote The Unsinkable Molly Brown” as well as “The Music Man”… and might’ve died poor if a Beatle had not liked one of his songs. Musicals don’t make the big bucks — or didn’t until A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a favorite Beatles book?

ROBINSON: I dug ‘em all. But Geoff Emerick’s memoir, I found especially informative about them as men.

VENTRELLA: Is there anything else you’d like to say about them that I haven’t specifically asked about?

ROBINSON: I’d just like to say this (and you must bear in mind I’m Irish myself, out of County Meath): thank God for the Potato Famine! If you ever hear some mad Mick has invented or stolen a time machine, and intends to go back and prevent the indisputably tragic deaths of a million Irish—stop him!

Or else, like all the sad people in the world as the movie YESTERDAY opens, we’d all have to have somehow made it through the horrors and tragedies of the Sixties with nothing to sustain us but Dave Clark Fivemania. I don’t like our chances.

And as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach wisely said,
“We are the people.
We are this season’s people.
We are all the people there are, this season.
If we blow it….it’s blown.”

Tool-building has its uses….but I think the only asset we have that’s as good as grandmothers is music.

VENTRELLA: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is now available for pre-order. The release date is December 3rd, and there will be a release party with a reading at the Brooklyn Commons Cafe.

But let’s leave with a word from Spider about why the Beatles are important…

 

 

My Philcon 2019 Schedule

I’m looking forward to the Philcon science fiction convention the weekend of November 10th. It’s Philadelphia’s oldest literary convention. It’s in New Jersey.  (Look, it was cheaper, okay?)philcon_logo

I’ve been a guest at Philcon for years, and it’s always great to go back there and see so many of my friends. Guest of Honor this year is Tim Pratt. This year’s event will be on the weekend of November 8-10. Pictures from previous Philcons are below!

Here’s my schedule:

EYE OF ARGON INTERACTIVE (Friday 11 pm): Since everyone is usually laughing too hard to get through reading what has been dubbed the worst piece of published SF of all time, we’re starting mid-way through the story this year. Audience participation is encouraged.  [Panelists: Mark Singer (mod), Keith R.A. DeCandido, B. Lana Guggenheim, Michael A. Ventrella, James L. Cambias]

READINGS: LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN, MICHAEL VENTRELLA, ELEKTRA HAMMOND (Saturday noon): Guest writers read from their latest works. [Panelists: Lawrence M. Schoen (mod), Michael A. Ventrella, Elektra Hammond]

AUTOGRAPHS: LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN, MICHAEL VENTRELLA, JAY SMITH (Saturday 1 pm):  Writers are available to discuss their works and sign books! [Panelists: Lawrence M. Schoen (mod), Michael A. Ventrella, Jay Smith]

WHAT TO DO WHEN BAD PEOPLE WRITE GOOD BOOKS (Saturday 2 pm): How do we get past — or should we get past — judging the output of a problematic creator. [Panelists: Jeff Warner (mod), Samuel Delany, Michael A. Ventrella, Ellen Asher, Marilyn ‘Mattie’ Brahen, Vikki Ciaffone]

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Saturday 5 pm): Contributors to “Across the Universe!”, an anthology of tales imagining The Beatles in SF&F scenarios, read selections from their short stories. [Panelists: Ian Randal Strock, Randee Dawn, Gordon Linzner, Michael A. Ventrella, Keith DeCandido, Gregory Frost, Eric Avedissian, Sally Weiner Grotta, Carol Gyzander, Charles Barouch]

WHAT KIND OF EDITOR DO I NEED? (Saturday 7 pm): Yes, there’s more than one kind! There are developmental editors, line editors, copy editors, proofreaders… We’ll explain the difference between them, how to tell which you want, and where to find reliable ones. [Panelists: Russ Colchamiro (mod), Elektra Hammond, Michael A. Ventrella, April Grey, Anna Kashina]

GAME OF THRONES (Saturday 11 pm): It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that everybody lost when it comes to the HBO adaptation. How should the show have ended? How might the ending of the novels differ? [Panelists: Charlie Robertson (mod), Michael A. Ventrella, Muriel Hykes, Paul Levinson]

PLAYING MR. POTATO HEAD WITH THE PAST (Sunday 10 am): Will changing things inevitably makes a mess? Why are time-travel fix-its one of the longest lived and most popular tropes? [Panelists: Roberta Rogow (mod), Lawrence Kramer, Michael A.
Ventrella, Richard Stout, Elektra Hammond]

GENRES AND ALTARS (Sunday 2 pm): Religion in fantasy worlds tend towards polytheism, while SF seems to favor monotheism or atheism. Why? And what are the exceptions? [Panelists: Jeff Warner (mod), Tom Purdom, Michael A. Ventrella, Ann
Zeddies, Barna William Donovan]

My Turn to be interviewed (again!)

Here’s my interview from earlier tonight with Gynesis Radio with Vincent Ford, discussing the Constitution and my latest book “How to Argue the Constitution with a Conservative.” The video is choppy, but the audio is great!

My turn to be interviewed

The Fun Ideas Podcast has me as guest today, talking about the Monkees, Sherlock Holmes, and the Constitution (among other things). Check it out!

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