My Lunacon 2013 Schedule

I’m about to head out for the 2013 Lunacon convention, which I have attended for many years (most of them as a programming guest). logo_lunacon Here are the panels I am currently scheduled to be on:

Dig in. Hold on. (Saturday 12:00 PM): Great stories raise the stakes, often creating drama by pitting the hero against overwhelming odds. What is it about the hopeless battle that so strongly appeals to readers of SF/F? What are some or our favorite struggles in the genre? With Myke Cole, Neal Levin, Gail Z. Martin, and Ian Randal Strock.

Less Shitty Second Drafts. (Saturday 1:00 PM): Giving yourself permission to let your first draft suck as long as you get it out rests on the assumption that you can make it better later. But how? Beyond “kill your darlings” and critique groups, how do authors figure out what’s not working in their manuscript and what might be likely to fix it? With Russ Colchamiro, Laura Anne Gilman, C.E. Lawrence, and Lawrence M. Schoen.

When the Magic Comes Back. (Sat 2:00 PM): From Queen City Jazz to Bordertown to Tinker to The City, Not Long After, magic coming back to our mundane world is one of the few ways we see fantasy set in the future. Why is it so often associated with apocalyspe? Do authors just not want to have to write about science and technology trying to come to grips with magic and vice versa, or is something more fundamental going on? With Myke Cole, Laura Anne Gilman, Carole Ann Moleti, and Kate Nepveu.

Michael A. Ventrella Reading. (Saturday 5:00 PM): I will be reading from some of my work and talking to people about my stories.

Who Got This Belief System in my Fiction? (Saturday 6:00 PM): From the Bible to the Singularity, how to base fiction on religious and/or political convictions without alienating those who don’t agree, or those who believe it’s non-fiction. What authors and titles have handled this well? What are the pros and pitfalls of using your own beliefs, others’, or an invented belief system? With Lawrence Kramer, Jane T. Sibley and David Walton.

Larping vs. SCA. (Saturday 7:00 PM) A fight to the death! Just kidding. Seriously, differences and similarities between medieval-themed live action role playing and the Society for Creative Anachronisms. Are either or both for you? With Zorikh Lequidre, Devon Oratz, and James Prego.

The Eye of Argon. (Saturday 11:00 PM) Our panelists read the worst fantasy story ever written, mistakes and all, and if they laugh or read it incorrectly, they are forced to act out the story. Just try not to fall over laughing! With Keith R.A. DeCandido and Hildy Silverman.

Write What You Don’t Know. (Sunday 12:00 PM) Fantasy authors rarely get irate email from dragons saying they got it wrong. How to write characters from places and times that you don’t know but members of your audience do, and why it’s important to get outside your comfort zone. With Ken Altabef, Paul Calhoun, D.L. Carter, and Laura Anne Gilman.

Interview with Actress and Author Claudia Christian

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA:  I am tremendously pleased to be interviewing Claudia Christian today.  As you probably already know, Ms. Christian is an actress best known for playing Ivanova on one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Babylon 5! claudia_christian_24147 She’s done much more than that, of course, and her more detailed bio and filmography can be found here.  Today, however, we’re here to discuss her new book!

 Ms. Christian, I’ve just finished your new book BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL. This does not read like a typical Hollywood tell-all, but instead as a very personal diary of sorts.  Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to do?

CLAUDIA CHRISTIAN:  I wanted to spread the word about The Sinclair Method and save lives, so far I have accomplished both!

VENTRELLA:  You’re very forthcoming about your alcohol addiction and quite candid about other parts of your life.  Did you ever say “Nah, I’m not going to talk about that”?

CHRISTIAN:  No, I did not. I don’t believe that you can expect people to buy into something unless you are 100% honest.  besides, there is so much shame attached to addiction that I wanted other addicts to see the worst that I have been through so they could not only relate but also forgive themselves.

 VENTRELLA:  The title seems both a tribute to Babylon 5 but also the BABYLON HOLLYWOOD books that I used to read years ago.  How did you choose the title?

CHRISTIAN:  Morgan and I threw around titles for awhile then submitted them to the publisher, this one won.

 VENTRELLA:  The last few chapters of the book are almost a guide for those in a similar situation.  Have you heard from readers who were inspired by your tale to change their lives?

CHRISTIAN:  I have indeed! I have dozens of people on TSM and have helped support them, guide them and am thrilled to say that they have a nearly 100% success rate!

VENTRELLA:  The book reads like a rollercoaster – disappointment followed by great times followed by tragedy … Was there ever an attempt to sugarcoat something?BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL 

CHRISTIAN:  I’m not one to sugar coat things though I did lighten a few experiences to save face for other people. No need to be cruel in a book. I tried to be honest, period.

VENTRELLA:  Was writing the book painful or cathartic?


VENTRELLA: How did the writing cooperation work with Morgan Buchanan?

CHRISTIAN:  Fantastic … thank God for Skype!

VENTRELLA:  Are you happy with the reception the book has received  (Reviews, sales, comments, etc.)?

CHRISTIAN:  I am indeed though I wish more mainstream media would pick up on TSM.

VENTRELLA:  I first became aware of your work through Babylon 5, one of the best science fiction shows on TV.  Ivanova was everything we wanted in a strong leader, and many of us were tremendously disappointed when she didn’t appear in the final season (where she should have been captain!)  Anyway, sorry, let me get on with this;  I could gush about how well written, acted, and directed that series was for this entire interview.

At one point in the book, you make the comment that writer/producer J.  Michael Straczynski (who you call “Joe!”)  felt that if an actor was giving him trouble, he could always write a way to get rid of him – and in fact, that happened a few times.  Is that what happened to Marcus Cole (who played Jason Carter)?  ( I hope not, because that death was a great scene and deserved to be there!)

CHRISTIAN:  I cannot comment on things that JMS did simply because I am not in his mind…W22 114

VENTRELLA:  More importantly, do you think that happened to you?  You did not date him as he apparently wanted … I know the 5th season was not close to that incident, but do you think that he might have fought more for your return otherwise?

CHRISTIAN:  I had another job and we could not work out the schedule. It’s in the book very clearly stated how it went down.

VENTRELLA:  There were a few follow-up B5 films and sequels after the 5th season.  Have you ever been asked to be in any of them?

CHRISTIAN:  No … I only did the two TNT Babylon 5 films after the series ended and those were both fun.

VENTRELLA:  What is your one favorite scene or episode from B5?  (I have a prediction but I want to see what you think…)

CHRISTIAN: Death incarnate!

VENTRELLA:  Thought so.  (Here’s a link for those of you who are unaware).

You’ve done voice-overs in commercials, Disney’s “Atlantis” and video games such as Skyrim.  How does this kind of work compare to being in front of a camera?

CHRISTIAN: You don’t have to look good when you record!

VENTRELLA: Why do you think “Atlantis” wasn’t a bigger hit for Disney?

CHRISTIAN: Too dark and old school for these little kids nowadays … they like pink and frosting… 🙂helga

VENTRELLA:  And what is it about the name “Sinclair”?  There was Captain Sinclair in “Babylon 5”, and then your character in “Atlantis” was named Helga Sinclair, and then you were finally able to break your addiction with The Sinclair Method.  Coincidence?

CHRISTIAN: Who knows?! Conspiracy theorists arise!

VENTRELLA:  In BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL You spoke of some terrible experiences with crazed fans at conventions and the like.  (I do a lot of conventions and sadly, there are indeed people like that who attend, although the vast majority are wonderful people.)  Do the good experiences outweigh the bad enough to make attending the conventions worthwhile?

CHRISTIAN: Of course the good outweigh the bad …I love the fans.

VENTRELLA:  You also wrote a small book called MY LIFE WITH GEEKS AND FREAKS which does not seem to be available any more.  What was that about?

CHRISTIAN:  My experiences at conventions. It was a love letter to the fans, really.

VENTRELLA: Will that become available again?


VENTRELLA:  Did your publisher purposely use “Star Trek” font for the book cover as a kind of inside joke?

CHRISTIAN:  Probably…

VENTRELLA:  When I read about the avant garde film “Tale of Two Sisters” I thought it might be so-bad-it’s-good worth renting, but after reading the reviews on IMDB, all of which pan it completely, I’ve changed my mind.  That must have been a very interesting experience.  Do you feel that was the worst film you’ve been in or is there something else out there you dislike more?

CHRISTIAN:  Thinking a film is bad is subjective; some people like that film … I have no idea what the worst film I have ever done is but I’m sure no two people would agree on that.

VENTRELLA:  I had never heard of the British TV show “Starhyke” until reading your book and now I want to see it!  It’s apparently never been released on DVD in America although I was able to find some clips on YouTube.  That looks like it was a lot of fun.  Why wasn’t there a second season?

CHRISTIAN:  Lack of funds.

VENTRELLA:  Then there’s “Taboo.”  Tell me about that!  How did that come about?

CHRISTIAN: I love making music…..taboo

VENTRELLA: Do you plan on  doing any more music?

CHRISTIAN:  Not really, too busy with other projects and I am not a very good singer; I just did it for the fun of it.

VENTRELLA:  You mention your huge personal library.  What do you like to read?  Who are your favorite authors?

CHRISTIAN: I love historical fiction and biographies. I love CJ Sansom, Peter Ackroyd, Bernard Cornwall, Neil Gamain, Edward Rutherfurd, etc. etc.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever read any of the Babylon 5 books?  Do you ever go “Ivanova would never do that!”?

CHRISTIAN:  No I have not, I’m not a sci fi fan.

VENTRELLA: What other projects are you working on?  When will we see (or hear) you next?

CHRISTIAN:  Tor is releasing “Wolf’s Empire” in 2014 ,another book by Christian-Buchanan

I am also still working on promoting TSM and will be doing so for the rest of my life, it’s my raison d’etre.

Interview with Author Myke Cole

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author Myke Cole, who constantly upstages me whenever we’re on a panel together at a convention. Headshots of Myke ColeAs a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. Thank goodness for fantasy.

Myke, let’s start with the big news about your latest book FORTRESS FRONTIER. Give us a hint of what it’s about.

MYKE COLE: FORTRESS FRONTIER is the second book in my SHADOW OPS military fantasy series. It tells the story of a military bureaucrat suddenly forced to take command of a combat outpost against hopeless odds. The book explores the question we all ask ourselves: how would I stand up in a crisis? What would I do if I were truly tested?

Oscar Britton, the main character in CONTROL POINT (SHADOW OPS #1) is a character in FORTRESS FRONTIER, but not the protagonist. I always intended to use a ensemble cast in this series, and FORTRESS FRONTIER is the first step in that direction.

VENTRELLA: How are you promoting it?

COLE: The same way I promoted CONTROL POINT: I’m carpet bombing the Internet with guest blog posts, interviews, giveaway contests and excerpts. I just put out a book trailer. I’m getting out to cons as much as I can. I just got back from Confusion, and I’ll be hitting Boskone and Lunacon in the next two months.

But the biggest thing I’m doing? Not being a dick. I don’t bear-bait or take polarizing stances in public. I don’t tear other people down. I respond to my fans when they email or @ me. I have adhesive backed bookplates that I can sign and send to people if they want an autographed copy of my work, but don’t want to pay the high price of shipping a book back and forth. I generally try to be accessible, available and kind to people, whether they’re industry pros, personal friends or fans I’ve never met before. That’s rarer than you’d think, and it goes a long way.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the Shadow Ops series.

COLE: Peter V. Brett described it best when he called it “Blackhawk Down meets the X-Men.” It’s as honest a look I can provide into how the US military would deal with the existence of magic. It deals with some tough issues like the conflict between liberty and security in a free society, but it’s also crammed full of giant explosions and helicopter gunships squaring off against rocs. Win-win, if you ask me.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a set series in mind? In other words, do you have a plan for a specific number of books in the series?

COLE: I’m under contract for 6 books right now. BREACH ZONE will complete the arc of this particular story, but the other 3 will also be SHADOW OPS books. ShadowOps_FortressFrontier_US_Final1Books 4 and 5 will be prequels, taking place in the early days of the Great Reawakening before CONTROL POINT. Book 6 will follow an ancillary character from FORTRESS FRONTIER on his own adventure.

After that, I’ll take a look at the state of publishing and book selling, see how fans are reacting to my work, and decide where to go next.

VENTRELLA: I have to admit that “military fantasy” is a genre with which I am unfamiliar. Was that a hard sell to agents and editors?

COLE: I only ever tried to sell it to one agent – Joshua Bilmes. He has been a dear friend for over a decade now, and from our first conversation, I knew he was the only person in the world I wanted to represent me. He rejected 3 novels from me over 7 years before finally agreeing to represent CONTROL POINT, and a lot of people suggested I try other agents. But I never did. It was going to be Joshua, or it was never going to be.

Editors were a different story. They did balk at a blending of two genres that appeal to disparate audiences. When CONTROL POINT went out to market, it garnered rejection after rejection, many with comments like, “the story seems unsure of its voice.” I had almost given up hope when Anne Sowards made the offer.

VENTRELLA: How did you obtain Joshua Bilmes?

COLE: How did I “obtain” him? That makes it sound like I have him trussed up in my desk drawer. I knew of Joshua by doing research on who was representing authors I admired. I then deliberately sought him out at a SFWA party at Philcon in 2003. Fortunately, we hit it off amazingly, stayed up talking until 3 AM, and have been close friends ever since. As I said earlier, Joshua rejected 3 novels over 7 years from me. All that time we were visiting one another (I lived in DC at the time), exchanging phone calls and emails. The friendship was always separate from our business relationship.

But, ultimately, how did I “obtain” him? I wrote a good book and sent it to him. That’s the only way anyone ever gets an agent. There is no end run.

VENTRELLA: It appears that you started off, like me, writing mostly nonfiction. Do you feel that the skills learned in writing nonfiction are comparable to writing fiction?

COLE: In the bones, sure. Good nonfiction requires solid prose styling and feel for rhythm, the beats of your sentences. You have to be interesting and construct a narrative in essays just as much as in fiction.

The real difference for me is in Law-Enforcement/Military/Intelligence writing (reports, orders, plans, analysis, etc) that is a totally different animal.

VENTRELLA: What was your first published piece of fiction and how did you get that published?

COLE: Let’s talk about the first piece of fiction I had professionally published. That would be “Blood and Horses,” a military SF short that took 3rd in the Writers of the Future contest and was published in Vol. XIX. wotf191I did it the old fashioned way, I entered a story every quarter, without fail, for 5 years.

Now, it was a great experience and there’s no doubt that it launched my career. I learned a ton out in LA, developed some critical contacts, and got the shot in the arm I needed to keep going. Unfortunately, I later learned that the contest is not firewalled from the Church of Scientology, and there are personal and financial ties there. I certainly won’t judge the beliefs of the church (or of any faith), but there’s enough reporting of physical/financial abuse tied to them that I am now very uncomfortable with having participated. There’s nothing I can do about it now, other than caution new writers who are considering getting involved.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about writing. Are you someone who outlines heavily or are you a “pantser”?

COLE: I am an uber outliner. I frequently have outlines as long as 50-100 pages before I write a lick of prose. I also submit my outlines for feedback before beginning prose. This way, I don’t wind up with a problem later in the manuscript that forces me to throw out 30,000 words at the 11th hour. Oh, wait. That happens all the time anyway. *sigh*

VENTRELLA: Do you start with an idea, a setting, or a character?

COLE: In the case of the SHADOW OPS series, I started with an idea: “How would the US military handle magic?”

VENTRELLA: What sort of research do you do when building a character (or a setting or plotline, for that matter)?

I use the Internet almost exclusively. It’s rare I can’t find intimate details on almost any topic (I had to research heavy crane operations for BREACH ZONE). When I hit walls on Wikipedia, I turn to friends and sometimes acquaintances and fans I know through social media.

When all else fails, I make it up. These are fantasy novels.

VENTRELLA: What techniques do you use to make your hero someone with whom the reader can relate?

COLE: The irony here is that the technique I used arguably failed. I made Oscar Britton, the protagonist of CONTROL POINT as human as possible. He’s wavering, indecisive, terrified of the decisions that face him. I feel confident that is an accurate portrayal of how a person of his background (bad family, no sense of rootedness) would handle the situation he finds himself in, but it’s also the most consistent criticism of the novel. In the end, I don’t think readers want real characters. They want dramatic, inspiring characters that feel real. There’s a big difference there.

VENTRELLA: What do you do to establish a believable fantasy world? In other words, how can you introduce the fantasy elements into the story and make them real without relying on info dumps?

COLE: I cheated. I use epigraphs at the top of each chapter that allow me to engage in as much exposition as I want without getting accused of info dumping. I mask it all in the form of quotes, newsclips, etc, but the truth is that it’s all just stuff I needed the reader to know and couldn’t think of any other way to get it to them.

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

COLE: First off, 2nd and 3rd drafts are hors d’oeuvres. CONTROL POINT went through 14 drafts. ShadowOpsCoverFORTRESS FRONTIER had 9. BREACH ZONE is currently on its 7th. And what is my main goal? To make the book awesome.

VENTRELLA: All writers basically write what they would like to read. So what do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

COLE: Totally disagree. Plenty of writers try to strike out and do something new, and others write what they think will sell. I certainly won’t pass judgment on either decision, but that’s not what I do.

My favorite authors? There isn’t room to list them all, but here’s a few: Peter V. Brett, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, George R. R. Martin, Richard K. Morgan, Naomi Novik, China Mieville, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Campbell, Mark Lawrence. Believe me, I could go on.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give an aspiring author that you wish someone had given you?

Stop writing short stories. There’s like 3 people in the entire world who read short stories for pleasure. Everyone else is an aspiring writer looking for the magic key. You want to be a novelist so write novels. If you write a dynamite novel, nobody is going to care that you didn’t have a story published in F&SF or Realms of Fantasy. They’re going to buy and publish your novel because it’s awesome. Stop wasting time and learn your craft.

VENTRELLA: With the publishing industry in constant change, do you think the small press has become more acceptable, prominent, and/or desirable for beginning writers?


VENTRELLA: Do you ever advise self-publishing?

Yes. I think that self-publishing is a perfectly viable way to go about bringing your work to market. The trick is making sure that you actually have work that’s good enough to bring to market and you’re just an unrecognized genius, vice doing an end-run around the bald fact that your work just isn’t there yet.

I absolutely cannot judge my own work. I need an expert to give it the nod. Self-publishing also requires a lot of project management skills. You have to be your own art director, and you have to supervise the copy-editor and the proof reader. You have to get ISBNs, you have to convert and format your text. You have to get it uploaded and figure out a good price point.

That’s a shit ton of work. I’d far rather give a professional a percentage of my profits and let them deal with all that crap.

VENTRELLA: What other projects are you working on?

COLE: After that big speech I just made about short stories and self-publishing, I’ve just completed a novelette set in the SHADOW OPS universe. It’s a piece of backstory for BREACH ZONE told from the goblin point of view. I briefly considered sending it out to short story markets, but was turned off by the market policies (no simultaneous submissions). So, now I’m toying with the idea of self-publishing it, or using my literary agency’s eBook program (for which they charge the standard fee of 15%).


My Philcon 2012 Schedule

This weekend is the Philcon Science Fiction Convention, which is held every year in New Jersey. (Don’t ask).

The main guest this year is author Catherynne Valente. Artist Guest of Honor is Phil Foglio. I’ve been a fan of Phil’s for years (and I have an original piece of art I bought from him at an Arisia convention way back in 1986!) I keep trying to interview him for this blog, so maybe I can corner him at the convention for a few words.

Here is an incomplete list of guest panelists, which includes many people who have been interviewed on this blog: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Michael F. Flynn, Gregory Frost, Gail Z. Martin, Mike McPhail, Christine Norris, KT Pinto, Peter Prellwitz, Tony Ruggiero, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Hildy Silverman.

I’m a guest author too, of course. I’ll be there to participate in a few panels… so if you’re attending, be sure to say hi. You’ll probably find me hanging out at my publisher’s booth in the Dealer’s Room when things are slow. Look for the “Double Dragon” sign!

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Saturday 3:00 PM: The Reinvention of the Vampire (with fellow panelists KT Pinto, Brent Monahan, and Tony Ruggiero) What can be done in the post-Twilight era? Do we look forward to a time when vampires no longer sparkle? What new approaches can be taken with a monster that has haunted our imagination since the beginning of history?

Sunday 10:00 AM: God 2.0 (with fellow panelists Judith Moffett, Gary Frank, Ty Drago, and Wayne Zimmerman) If we were to design a Divinity deliberately rather than merely let it evolve naturally, what characteristics would we include and why?

Sun 11:00 AM: Reading (with just me!) That’s right, I’ll be reading from THE AXES OF EVIL and, depending on time and audience desires, my upcoming BLOODSUCKERS.

It’s a fairly short schedule for me … usually they keep me much busier, but I’ve been told Philcon has cut back on the number of guests and panels, so I suppose I can’t complain. I’ll have lot of fun talking about books and writing with everyone.

I’ll also be jealously watching my wife, who was assigned to be on two panels with Phil Foglio!

UPDATE: Pictures from the convention are here!

My Balticon 2012 Schedule

I’ll be a guest at the science fiction convention Balticon next weekend (May 25-28, 2012) in Baltimore. I’ll be talking about writing and editing and, of course, making a fool of myself at the “Eye of Argon” panel. The Guest of Honor is Jodi Lynn Nye, who (as you might know) wrote a great blurb for my TALES OF FORTANNIS book!

The nice people at Balticon scheduled me for a plethora of panels!

Friday 9:00 pm: Meet the Pros: Mix and mingle with the Guests of Honor and Balticon 46 Program Participants.

Friday 10:00 pm: The Role of Anthologies: As both a source of fiction and a means of promotion, what do anthologies have to offer? Fan and author panelists discuss. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Joshua Bilmes, C. J. Henderson, Bernie Mojzes, Pete Prellwitz, Jean Marie Ward, and Trisha J. Wooldridge

Friday 11:00 p.m.: Readings: Authors read from their works. With James Maxey and Jeff Young

Saturday 10:00 am: Editor’s Roundtable: Editors discuss the way they work with authors and how that differs when working on a single author project, a collaborative project, or an anthology project. With Carl Cipra, Joshua Bilmes, Barbara Friend Ish, Bill Fawcett, Joshua Palmatier, Ian Randal Strock, and Steven H. Wilson

Saturday Noon: Magical Systems in Fantasy Literature — A Round Table Discussion: Panelists look at what are some of the things we expect to see in magical systems and give examples of works that are missing those factors, but work just fine for the reader anyway. With Gail Z. Martin, Hildy Silverman, Trisha J. Wooldridge, Myke Cole, Jody Lynn Nye (Guest of Honor), David Wood, Barbara Friend Ish, Elektra Hammond, Bill Fawcett, and Jean Marie Ward

Sunday 10:00 am: Editors Looking For Submissions: Meet editors who are actively looking for writing and/or artwork for their publications. Get tips on what they like and dislike. Find out what kind of work they need right now. With Vonnie Winslow Crist, Bernie Mojzes, Brian Koscienski, Kate Kaynak, and Michael D. Pederson

Sunday 11:00 am: Liberty and Other Inalienable Rights: Will Basic Rights Change in the Future? In what ways? With Danny Birt, D. H. Aire, and Steven H. Wilson

Sunday 8:00 pm: Young Adult Fiction: Is YA Science Fiction Failing to Educate While It Entertains? Should it be aspiring to do so? With Peter Prellwitz, Jagi Lamplighter, Maria V. Snyder, and Janine K. Spendlove

Sunday Midnight: Eye of Argon — The Play “One of the genre’s most beloved pieces of appalling prose” read by some of the best narrators, presented in all its theatrical glory and critiqued by those who can’t keep a straight face. The history of this tome is discussed, and experts weigh in on why this book is so horrible. Sadly, due to hotel fire laws, we cannot burn anything. Not for people who have weak stomachs or suicidal tendencies. With Susan de Guardiola, Walter H. Hunt, Grig Larson, and Hildy Silverman

Monday Noon: The Role of Alcoholic Beverages in Fantasy: How are intoxicants treated in fantasy? Beers, hard liquor, absinthe, etc – where do the culture of obliteration and that of escapism intersect? What about that cliche about writers and drinking? Does it apply to writers of speculative fiction in the same way, and how does it effect the works they produce? With Jagi Lamplighter, Ruth Lampi, Maria V. Snyder, and Janine K. Spendlove

Interview with Author KT Pinto

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing KT Pinto. KT has been writing since she was twelve, finally getting her first book published in 2007. She writes alternate history (The Books of Insanity series) with vampyres and alternate reality (The Sto’s House Presents series) with mutants. She is a modern mythologist and a self-proclaimed ‘fluffy goth’ who would sooner wear pink with sparkles than black velvet. She will be a guest at Balticon in a few weeks (where I also will be a guest). KT will be promoting her latest novel and participating in a book release party.

KT, let’s talk first about your latest big news. You received a grant! Tell us about the End of the Rainbow project.

KT PINTO: I received a DCA Premier Grant from the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island (COAHSI), with public funding from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs to re-write the myths from an alternate lifestyle perspective. I am going to be rewriting myths from Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, and Gaelic cultures. You could read an excerpt of the book here.

I will also be doing a reading of this book at Bent Pages, NYC’s only remaining LGBT bookstore (391 Van Duzer Street, Staten Island, New York) on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 7:00 PM.

VENTRELLA: And there’s a raffle, too?

PINTO: Yes! The proceeds from this raffle will go towards completing my End of the Rainbow grant project and the winner will be announced at the end of the Staten Island LGBT Festival on June 2nd! There will be 10 different prize “baskets” (the prizes will not actually be presented in baskets), each with a different theme. All of the basket items were donated (it’s great that people are so generous!), and the baskets range in value from $70 – $220. Details on the baskets can be found here!

VENTRELLA: MUTANTS ON THE ROCKS is about to be released and is the latest in your “Sto’s House” series. Where did you come up with the idea?

PINTO: I had been having a really hard time with my vampyre series, and I realized that being in that dark place all the time wasn’t good for my creativity, so I decided to start writing some more light-hearted stories. I took the idea from an RPG I created called Sto’s House, which is about a bunch of 20-somethings who are mutated by the toxic waste in the Staten Island Dump. They don’t want to save the world, just find the world’s best microbrew.

The characters are based on my friend Christopher Mancuso (aka Sto) and the people we used to hang out with at his house when we were in our 20s. I hadn’t planned on it becoming novel-length, but one day I noticed that I had written 10 short stories, and had enough material for a really good (if I do say so myself) novel.

VENTRELLA: How has the series been received so far?

PINTO: People seem to be having a good time with it. I wasn’t sure how it would be received on Staten Island especially, but people seem to really enjoy the humor and there are enough different characters that readers can relate to one or more of them.

VENTRELLA: You’re having a release party at Balticon. Tell us about that!

PINTO: I personally am not having the party. Dark Quest Books, who publishes my Sto’s House Presents… series, is having a party highlighting their new releases for the spring. I think four authors are being highlighted there including myself and MUTANTS ON THE ROCKS, which is the second book in the Sto’s House Presents… series.

VENTRELLA: Like me, you’re a regular on the east coast convention circuit. What are the advantages of attending these?

PINTO: Conventions give you a chance to interact with fans as well as getting together with fellow authors and networking with publishers and agents. For me, it’s also good to be on the circuit because I get a chance to see what’s going on in other genres and other disciplines (like costuming and gaming). I actually am starting to cut back on some local conventions and travel to further locations, like Pittsburgh, Pa. and Roanoke Va. because I want to connect with more fans and professionals.

VENTRELLA: These days, it takes much more to be a successful author than merely writing a good book. What other efforts have you made to publicize yourself and do you think they have been worth your time?

PINTO: I have gotten very involved with my local arts organization, COAHSI, which is a good resource not only for grants, but to meet other local artists, find out about community events, help promote you and your work and even to learn about more mundane information like jobs, insurance and other resources.

I’ve been on Live Journal for a really long time, and don’t plan on leaving it any time soon. Not only am I able to write full journal entries, but I can also link it to my facebook and twitter accounts. Facebook used to be a good resource, but it’s gotten so big (I’m up to 1000 friends) and has made so many changes, networking has become difficult.

Inanna from By Light Unseen Media – who published MARCO, the third book in my vampyre series – suggested that Goodreads may be a better site for promotions, so I’m feeling my way through that site as well.

I also have an account with Constant Contact, which helps me send out a newsletter to a mailing list that I developed by going to conventions.

VENTRELLA: What was your first professionally published work?

PINTO: My first work was “E-mails 10”, which was a short story published in Nth Degree Magazine (which is now Nthzine on-line).

VENTRELLA: You have a LARP background (as do I). How has that led to you writing fiction?

PINTO: Although I have been writing since I was 12, LARPing was what helped me create my world and characters of The Books of Insanity series. I used to own a gaming company that ran LARPs around the Hudson Valley, NY and at conventions.

During that time I created some original LARPS (ex: Sto’s House) and some murder mystery nights, the main game that we ran was vampyre LARP. So I was not only able to create evil, blood-sucking fiends, but I was able to become them as NPCs

I had created a character that was supposed to only be a one-shot ‘big bad’ that the players were supposed to kill in a one-night (possibly two-night) story line. More than a year later, she still existed, because instead of people trying to kill her, they wanted to join forces and build storylines around her.

That character’s name was Celeste, and she became the main character in my Books of Insanity series.

VENTRELLA: What are the differences between writing for a LARP and writing fiction?

PINTO: When writing a storyline for a LARP, you have to be prepared that all of your plans are going to be destroyed within the first five minutes of the game. You have to plan for different levels of gamers and prepare to lead them through a storyline if necessary. Other times your PCs make their story their own and all you have to do is keep track of the rules (in my case, the staff kept track of the rules; I was more a storyline/character person).

With fiction, it’s all on you to keep the audience’s attention and creating all the drama and action. On the upside, you don’t have to worry about almost 500 characters trying to do their own thing…

VENTRELLA: Boy, do I know that feeling. Do you prefer short stories or longer works?

PINTO: I used to dislike writing short stories, but the more I do (and the more I get published!) the more I like them. I think I have developed a rhythm to creating a short in a concise manner, unlike when I write a novel.

When it comes to my reading, my preference has always been novels. I tend to feel gypped when I read a really good short story and it ends. It always feels like it ended too soon and leaves me wanting more.

VENTRELLA: You’ve mostly dealt with mid-sized press (like me!). What are the advantages of dealing with a smaller press?

PINTO: Mid-sized presses are good because they’re more open to different ideas and you are able to communicate with the senior staff on a regular basis. You also don’t need an agent in most cases to work with a mid-sized press.

Working with mid-sized presses also gives you a chance to work with and recommend other professionals in different disciples, like editors, artists, typesetters… for example, the cover for MUTANTS ON THE ROCKS was created by Victor Toro, an artist that I recommended to Neal, the publisher of Dark Quest Books.

The downside to a smaller press is they don’t get the respect that they deserve from bookstores, reviewers, some conventions…

VENTRELLA: Do you advise new authors to consider self-publishing?

PINTO: I think self-publishing is good if you have the same knowledge as a publisher would, in order to protect yourself legally and financially.

I think self-publishing is good for someone doing a photography or art book, because it’s a way of highlighting your art form. But for me, I think mid-sized presses are a good way to interact with other writers and learn about more writing opportunities that are both with other publishers and with your own company.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about your writing style. Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in?

PINTO: It depends on my project. My Books of Insanity series happens over 2000 years, so not only do I have to plan out each book story as I write them, but also had to plan out the arch of the series (I have 13 books planned, but once you hit the world wars, that number can become bigger).

The Sto’s House Presents… series, on the other hand, is completely off the cuff.

VENTRELLA: What predictions can you make about the future of publishing, given current trends towards e-books and self-publishing?

PINTO: I think publishing is always going to stay around; it’s just going to change form. For example, we no longer write on stone or papyrus. I also think with the popularity of ‘nerds’ with all their crazy book reading, along with the eventual (hopefully) return of a good economy, the publishing world will flourish. Just not as much in the brick and mortar form.

I also think that with the healing of the economy will also come a rise in vampires again. Lately zombies and steampunk (and sometimes both) have taken over readers’ interests, but eventually it will shift back again. And then my vampyres will rise and take over the world… and my mutants will crack open a beer and enjoy the show.

My Ravencon 2012 Schedule

I’m looking forward to attending Ravencon on the weekend of April 13th. As a son of Richmond, I love going back and visiting friends and seeing the city — or at least as much as I can, since I’m mostly in a hotel all weekend.

Here’s what they have planned for me:

Building Suspense (Friday 4:00 pm) Panelists discuss how to structure a mystery and keep the reader’s interest without frustrating them or giving too much away. With Austin S. Camacho, A.J. Hartley, Gail Z. Martin, and Kate Paulk

Ghost Hunters verses Mythbusters (Friday 6:00 pm): Are we still as gullible as our ancestors? Do we really still believe in ghosts and goblins, or is it all just camp fire stories? With Diana Bastine, Ben Davis, Pamela K. Kinney, and Christopher Weuve

Opening Ceremonies (Friday 7:00 pm): The guests are introduced and there is much merrymaking.

Science Fiction Motifs in Fantasy (Friday 9:00 pm): What happens when fantasy uses science fiction motifs? Is it now science fiction, or at least not “real” fantasy? Panelists discuss F/SF mash-ups and their potential to destroy civilization as we know it. With Diana Bastine, Barbara Friend Ish, Monica Marier, Ahlen Moin, and Janine K. Spendlove

Pervy Elf Fanciers (Friday 10:00 pm): Panelists discuss the romantic appeal of humanoid but non-human creatures such as elves, vampires, fairies, and so on, as well as the ramifications of human-nonhuman interbreeding. With Anita Allen, Rachael Hixon, Monica Marier, KT Pinto, and Erin “Zenobia” Woods

What Harry Potter Did Right (Saturday 9:00 am): What did J.K. Rowling do right, and what can an aspiring author learn from that? With Paula S. Jordan, Gail Z. Martin, and Warren Rochelle.

Self Promotion and Social Anxiety Disorder (Saturday 1:00 pm): … At Least Your Mom Still Loves You (Maybe). Talking about your work isn’t as hard as you think. How to promote your work without driving yourself crazy. With Austin S. Camacho, S. Reesa Herberth, Ahlen Moin, Michelle Moore, and Leona Wisoker

Disturbing Ramifications of Harry Potter (Saturday 10:00 pm): What does trust mean in a world with polyjuice potions, love potions, and the Imperius curse? And what really happened to Dolores Umbridge? With Mike Kabongo, Gail Z. Martin, Tedd Roberts, Patrick A. Vanner, and Robert E Waters.

Interview with author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Please welcome Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail! Danielle has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over seventeen years. Her works include the urban fantasies YESTERDAY’S DREAMS and TOMORROW’S MEMORIES, the upcoming TODAY’S PROMISE, and THE HALFLING’S COURT, and the writers guide THE LITERARY HANDYMAN. She edits the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies and DRAGON’S LURE, and has contributed to numerous other anthologies.

To read excerpts from the Eternal Cycle series, and other works by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, visit the excerpts page on her website.

Danielle, tell me about your new “Eternal Cycle” series.

DANIELLE ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Well, I can’t really call the Eternal Cycle series new … or not all of it, anyway. YESTERDAY’S DREAMS was originally published by Vivisphere Publishing back in 2001, then again by Mundania Press in 2006, and TOMORROW’S MEMORIES was also published by Mundania in 2009. TODAY’S PROMISE completes the series and has never before been in print. All three books will be released by Dark Quest Books between now and Summer 2012. In fact, the DQ edition of YESTERDAY’S DREAMS is already available.

When I started this series I had no idea I was writing a novel, let alone a trilogy. I had an idea and then that idea spiraled out of control. I’ve always been interested in Irish mythology but most of the Irish-themed fiction I had picked up over the years never really did anything with the mythology. When I finally realized Yesterday’s Dreams was going to be a novel I saw a chance to indulge my interest in the Irish and mythology in general.

Set in New York, the books follow Kara O’Keefe, a young first-generation Irish American. What Kara doesn’t know is that she is also descended from the Sidhe, the elves of Ireland. When her father begins his second battle with cancer Kara must make a choice. She pawns her heirloom violin to save the family house. She ends up at Yesterday’s Dreams, a pawnshop in the Village run by Maggie McCormick, a full-blooded Sidhe. Kara’s selfless act brings her to the attention of forces both good and evil. One wanting to teach her and keep her save, the other wants to claim her power for his own, by any means necessary.

Olcas is an ancient demigod long ago defeated by the Sidhe when he and his and his brothers, along with their mother Carman terrorized Ireland. Though their bodies were destroyed their spirits lingered. Throughout each book one of them returns by possessing another until they join forces first to take revenge on the Sidhe, then ultimately dominate the world.

This is a classic tale of good versus evil, along with a healthy dose of self-discovery, written in a lyrical style. I like to think I capture the magic and wonder of the old myths, while introducing some truly unique concepts.

VENTRELLA: What makes your series different?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: You know, I’m not egotistical enough to thing I really bring anything different in content. If you look hard enough you can find similar things somewhere else. What I — and all other authors — bring to the table is perspective. No matter how many times a story has been told the perspective is unique. I also bring passion and vision. I take the same elements that everyone is familiar with and see what unexpected angle I can put on those elements. From time to time I hit on a concept that my readers really seem to appreciate, such as the Great Wall that appears in both TOMORROW’S MEMORIES and TODAY’S PROMISE, where the life forces of the Sidhe take visible representation in the form of a spiraling knotwork pattern that changes and grows with each thing they experience, or in THE HALFLING’S COURT where my biker faeries have wings, but they are only partially physical. They function in the same way as a magic sink, starting as a fin that unfurls from the fae’s body then expands as they draw in more magic. The more magic they gather, the more tendrils come off those fins until they look like angel-style wings made of mage energy. For the most part, though, I just look at things differently. As different as I can manage and then I let my imagination out to play.

VENTRELLA: When you’re approaching a story, how do you begin? Characters, plot, themes?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I have a saying: The plot is what happens when you’re getting to know the characters. It is very important to me to have well-developed characters people connect with and care about, or love to loath, depending on their role. Not saying the story isn’t important, but it is filtered through the characters’ perception. Without the characters there is no story. It is my job to ensure the characters are not interchangeable, but distinct and recognizable personalities in and of themselves.

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

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: You know, I’m told I’m a pantser. Until I was I had never heard the phrase, but basically it means I jump in and discover the story as I go along. I’ve tried writing outlines, but most of my writing starts with an idea. Sometimes one line. Often I don’t know where it’s going until I get there. Most of the time I write a scene until that sparks another idea and I jump to that scene until I have a framework that give me an idea of the shape the project is going to take. Think of it as the supports for a deck. You pour the footing, you build the framework, and then you close everything in.

With YESTERDAY’S DREAMS it started with two things: an idea for a short story about a pawnshop that only accepts goods that are connected to the owner’s soul and a bad guy named Olcas, which is Irish for evil. I named the character that without realizing that there was an actual figure in Irish myth named that. Once I made the discovery that determined that my novel became a trilogy because Olcas had two brothers. So you see, I never approach a project trying to figure out what all the pieces are because my imagination works better when I give it free rein. I’m not saying there aren’t time I know where I want to end up, but I enjoy the discovery of figuring out the in between as I go. I used to think this meant it took longer for me to finish a project, but recently I finished TODAY’S PROMISE, the last book in the Eternal Cycle Series, and it only took three months, without an outline. The process was all-consuming, not to mention exhausting, but the satisfaction in the end is something I’ll never forget. I don’t regret not working from an outline, it’s just the way my brain works. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it does work and I love the organic feel of the end result. I find that I do need to keep a close eye on details so that if something changes I make the proper adjustments in the bits I’ve already written. By writing the key points as I figure out what they are and then linking everything I end up with a tightly woven story.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a favorite of your babies?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I have favorite aspects more than anything. Every book or project has something that stands out. In THE HALFLING’S COURT, my biker faerie novel, it was the weaving of social identity with the fantasy elements and drawing parallels. I was able to draw heavily on mythology, which I really like, but also on dialect and recognizable subcultural elements. Finding the way to meld the recognizable with the fantastic really gets me going. I love turning things on their ear.

In the Eternal Cycle series I again weave mythology with the everyday, but there I actually took an existing myth and expanded on it which was challenging and also really cool. See, Irish mythology is a bit fragmented because it was an oral tradition and the ethnic identity of the Irish people was for so long repressed that a lot of detail has been lost. Taking the bits and pieces and weaving them into something rich and powerful is a real thrill. So much of the myths and legends dovetail nicely, but there was also the challenge of addressing popular belief, particularly with something as popular as elves. We draw on them so heavily in our literature that the lines between legends and creative license have blurred. Take for example the belief that elves or faeries can’t touch cold iron. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist anywhere in world mythology, but I found nothing to support it in Irish mythology. In fact, Goibhniu, one of their major gods, is a blacksmith. Sorry, but blacksmiths work with iron and steel. Also, redcaps … they carry and iron pike. So, I had to find a way to recognize the popular belief while at the same time explaining why I’ve discounted it. One thing I did find, though, is that in the folklore, which is often separate from the actual mythology, it was common to hang iron implements to ward off evil … scissors over cradles and horseshoes over doors, that kind of thing, so I suspect that is the basis for the belief about elves and iron, but that only presumes that elves are evil, which to me isn’t necessarily so. I love playing with details like this.

And … on another front, I actually have a nonfiction book that will always be special to me. It is THE LITERARY HANDYMAN, an informal writer’s guide. This isn’t meant for someone on our level, with either learning or experience already under their belt, but for the beginner who could really use some solid advice about the craft and business of being a writer. That one is special to me because it is so much different from the fiction I write. The core of the book started out as various articles I posted at different sites on the internet, so there is some overlap, but each article is meant to be taken individually so I didn’t worry about that too much. Besides, some points bear reinforcing.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I do have a few core authors that I follow … Anne McCaffrey, Patricia Briggs, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mercedes Lackey, Jim Butcher … you know, the ones most people know about. But I also have some personal treasures that have yet to be discovered by the world at large, and I’ve had the pleasure to work with them. They are L. Jagi Lamplighter, Bernie Mojzes, Elaine Corvidae, and James Daniel Ross. There are others, but this would be a really long answer if I tried to include everyone.

Of course, romance is my guilty, junk-food reading.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss publishing. You’re with Dark Quest Books. How did that come to be?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I was courted. There’s no other way to put it. The publisher, Neal Levin, saw what I was doing on my own and actively sought out a relationship, first on the technical end, and then as an author. He wanted to build his list quickly and effectively and knew I had the promotional experience, as well as contacts in the industry. When I had issues with several titles going out of print Neal was in a position to offer me a home for them, a situation that has benefited us and the authors involved quite nicely.

VENTRELLA: What are the advantages of going with a small press?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I have worked for virtually every level of publisher in the industry, from Random House to reprint publishers, specialized markets such as medical or music publishing, even magazines. I have seen pretty much everything there is in publishing. That insight has taught me that no publisher is perfect and many of them have the same flaws when dealing with their authors, no matter the size of the House: response time, royalty payments, and scheduling issues. The majority of authors struggle with all of those things. The larger publishers are both harder to get into and less forgiving of the learning curve. I find by starting out in small press I have had an opportunity to learn the business more fully, make contacts and establish myself. Print distribution is harder for a small press, but with the market drifting more toward ebooks anyway that is less of drawback.

The other concern is marketing. Whether you are with a small house or a big one, in most cases the promotional responsibility falls to the author anyway because the marketing budget is disproportionately divided with the large houses and generally nonexistent with the small ones.

So, when you look at it that way large houses have only two things going for them, visibility and distribution. The drawback: higher expectations and very little flexibility when it comes to identifying a “successful” book.

I know one author who signed a three book deal with a major publisher. The first book came out and performed respectably, but not to the publisher’s expectations. The elected not to release the other two books in the series, but likewise would not release the rights either as they were keeping the first book in print. Unless you do really well at the offset there are only a small proportion of authors out there (relative to the number that are actually published) that have staying power with a large publisher, whereas small press by using print-on-demand technology, can afford to maintain a large backlist and allow titles to grow in visibility over a prolonged period of time. Unless a publisher goes out of business or the relationship is dissolved by one or the other party, books stay in print indefinitely.

Personally, I also find small press affords me a lot of creative control, more personal interaction with my publishers, and deeper understanding of the process because I am involved at virtually every stage. In many cases I have taken books from concept to completion before even approaching a publisher to sign it. This experience has allowed me to work on projects a major publisher probably never would have considered, some of them which have been quite profitable, as well as award-winning. With a larger publisher you are luck if they even ask what you would like to see on the cover. Once you give them the manuscript you take what you get, a lot of the time, and it isn’t always representative of your book’s content.

This doesn’t mean I would never consider or pursue a contract with a large publisher, it just means that I will always maintain a relationship with small press as well.

VENTRELLA: You’re Marketing Director for Dark Quest. Were you involved in its inception?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Well, not really. See, Dark Quest started out as a game company over ten years ago. That arm of the company still exists, but separate from the fiction division of Dark Quest Books. Neal Levin had tested the waters with SKEIN OF SHADOWS, a novella collection based on a gaming universe. That book had already been produced and Dark Quest was looking to take things further into full-fledged book publishing. They were familiar with my work both writing and promoting through the Garden State Horror Writers, a writers group we both were members of. He first approached me to come on staff as Promotions Director. At the same time he approached my husband, Mike McPhail, to pick up the role playing game he’s had under development. That game is the Alliance Archive Martial Role Playing Game, which is scheduled to release later this year.

While we were negotiating our participation another publisher of ours made the decision to opt out of the business. Unfortunately, that company published our best-selling anthologies: The Bad-Ass Faeries series and the Defending the Future series. Dark Quest Books stepped in to contract the Defending the Future books, collections of military science fiction short stories by some of the biggest names in the industry. In fact, SO IT BEGINS was the first book Dark Quest released, after SKEIN OF SHADOWS, which was a venture of the gaming arm of the business.

Between Mike and I, we’ve been taking an active role ever since, not just as authors, but editors, promoters, designers, and artists. Just recently the Defending the Future series has become the core of a new imprint, DTF Publications, which offers military science fiction novels and anthologies by well-known and beginning authors. Mike McPhail is the administrator of that imprint.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss marketing. These days, even authors with major publishers need to know how to market themselves. What are some of the smartest things an author can do to promote their own work?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Create an internet presence. You can do this via a professional looking website, social media, blogs, being featured on book sites, making sure your work is in the database sites with accurate information and covers wherever the book is listed. You should also solicit author interviews, guest blogs, and book reviews, as well as join productive professional organizations or groups, such as Broad Universe or SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Not only do such groups offer support and networking opportunities, but they are a great way to learn of events. Other than possible membership fees, all of these are free promotions.

With your website include more than just who you are and what you’ve published. Have excerpts, a schedule of author events, free stories, a link to a blog you update regularly, that kind of thing. Some authors even have contests. Make the site something that warrants repeat visits. On mine I include my costuming and crafting efforts as well as a point of interest. Mike, my husband and fellow author and editor, includes the development phases for his creative works.

The other thing I recommend is conventions. Both attending them and distributing flyers or bookmarks at them. If you can attend you meet your target audience first hand and benefit from the celebrity phenomenon, an one would presume the potential readers can actually see your book and perhaps even buy it. If you can’t attend most conventions will accept promotional goods for free, or a slight fee if you want the materials put in the registration packs. If you write speculative fiction or one of the other established genres like romance or horror, this is a surefire way to reach those you want to reach, whereas a general book fair might not be as effective.

VENTRELLA: What are some of your marketing pet peeves?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: My biggest issue I have with promoting (beyond the fact that it is a massive time-sink) is that once you make the contact requesting a review or interview you have no control over 1) if anything comes of it, and 2) if the person responsible for posting the review or interview presents it either professionally or accurately. I have not encountered this, but a friend solicited a review from a site and sent a physical copy of the book. When the review posted it was clear the reviewer only read the back cover copy, which had certain incorrect information on it that made it obvious the reviewer hadn’t actually read the book.

One thing I did encounter myself was one person I gave a book to for review who rather than writing a review of their own lifted two of the Amazon reviews for the book and posted it on their site, as if they had wrote them.

VENTRELLA: You’re also an anthology editor. Do you find that to be a difficult job to take on?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Again, like promotions, this is a time-consuming job. There are many elements in being a project editor that are not the fun bits. Paperwork, organizing details, acting as a go-between with the publisher and the authors. Working with difficult personalities. I love taking a book from concept to completion, but some of the stages in between are pure torture.

VENTRELLA: I also edit my own anthologies and it’s not easy, especially when you have to say no to friends who submit stories. Has this been a problem for you?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: I’ve had to deal with a lot of things across the ten anthology projects that have actually published, and a number that are still in the works. There have been problems with unpleasantness when it came to rejections, but my biggest problems have been with temperamental authors having issue with the editing process or the publisher’s terms, and not dealing with either in a constructive manner.

Sadly, this has lead me to be more circumspect in who I invite to a project because editing an anthology has enough inherent headaches involved without voluntarily inviting gratuitous headaches on board.

VENTRELLA: Anthologies just do not sell like they once did, given Smashwords and other places on the internet to get stories. What have you done to get attention and increase sales?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: We’ve built something of a reputation, for one. Of the projects I am directly involved in five have been finalists for various awards, three have won. There are plenty of excellent reviews, and, of course, we have made a point to be very visible at conventions through launch parties, panel discussions, adds, and a presence in the dealer’s room. For our two major series, Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future we have dedicated websites with extra content and lots of information about the series. Another thing we do is try and solicit submissions from big name authors who happen to be friends, people likely to do it for the love, not those who want big money. I also tend to give more consideration to authors who write well and I know put effort into promoting every project they are a part of. The two series I mentioned are by far our best sellers, with sales in the thousands, but all of them do respectably, particularly in ebook.

VENTRELLA: Do you accept unsolicited stories? If so, what are you looking for now?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: My projects are a bit different from the usual collection. I require every author to present me with a proposal for approval because my biggest gripe is having to reject a perfectly good story just because it is too close to something I already have, so yes, I will consider proposals from authors that have not been approached for the collection, but the stories will have been discussed beforehand in those instances. I do not generally consider stories that were not specifically written for the collections because we do theme anthologies, so unless the author has talked to us in advance and made a case for their story, it is best to wait until there is a call for submissions and then pitch your idea.

I have two projects in the works currently, but the deadline has passed for both of them and any future projects will be invitation only as I have learned that there is much less hassle that way. But you know, I have had to make the decision recently to step back from anthologies for a while. Between the stress and the time involved I haven’t been accomplishing anything toward advancing my personal writing career. I don’t see departing anthology work altogether—there are a large group of people who likely wouldn’t let me—it’s definitely taking a back burner for a while. Mostly I discovered I have six partially completed novels on my computer…and having learned if I focus on them I can complete them relatively quickly, there is something very wrong with them being stuck in limbo.

VENTRELLA: The “Bad Ass Faeries” series is probably your most popular. How did that come to be?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: This series was borne out of the artwork of Ruth Lampi. Really and truly. At Albacon one year I met this then-aspiring young artist and she showed me some sketches on notebook paper. Her skill was such that when I had a project I wanted illustrated I contacted her. Years later we were holding a shared promotional event that was, unfortunately, barren of attendees. While sitting there with the store’s staff chatting to entertain ourselves we were talking about how we met and suddenly an anthology was conceived. Because most people have come to think of faeries as the pastel princesses portrayed in children’s shows and related media, we decided it was time to be true to the spirit of the faerie legend of old where they were mischievous, malevolent or warriors. They were tough and wicked and sometimes downright ugly. Thus, Bad-Ass Faeries. The series has taken on a life of its own.

VENTRELLA: You’re a regular at east coast conventions (where we have shared a few panels from time to time). What are the reasons you attend?

ACKLEY-McPHAIL: Being a writer is for the most part a solitary endeavor. We pour ourselves out on to the page and we desperately want to know that the readership enjoys what we have written. Reviews are usually few and far between, not to mention at times mixed. By going to conventions I have the unique opportunity to interact with my fans, learn what they liked and what they didn’t, and conversely, share with them the development and thought that went into the books I’ve written or been a part of. Conventions more than any other promotional event allow the author to make a personal connection with the fans in a comfortable, relaxed, and informal setting. The other reasons I put so much time and effort into conventions are networking, as a means to distribute my books (which is a challenge for small-press authors), and being social with fellow authors and fans, which is a great way to generate ideas and keep touch with what is going on in the industry.

My Lunacon 2012 Schedule

I will be participating as a guest at the 2012 Lunacon science fiction convention on the weekend of March 16th. There are some great guests this year, including many who have been interviewed on this blog: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Neil Clarke, Myke Cole, Keith DeCandido, Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, Esther Friesner, C. J. Henderson, Marvin Kaye, Michele Lang, Gail Martin, Mike McPhail, Joshua Palmatier, Tamora Pierce, KT Pinto, John Ringo, Lawrence M. Schoen, Ian Randal Strock, and Howard Tayler (among many others)…

Below is my schedule. It’s not as crowded as last years’, but I should still have a great time. I’ll even be doing a reading from my upcoming novel BLOODSUCKERS. And then there’s “Blindfolded Sculpting” where a group of guest artists (including my wife!) will compete to make clay sculptures in a few minutes from ideas from the audience — while blindfolded. (I’m the MC for that one!)

And of course, the old favorite “The Eye of Argon” which has this description: “The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word of laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to rake a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story?”

Fantasy Without Gods (Friday 7:00 pm)

LARPing 101 (Saturday noon)

Michael A. Ventrella Reading (Saturday 1:30 pm)

Blindfolded Sculpting (Saturday 3:00 pm)

Marketing and Promotion for Authors and Artists (Saturday 7:00 pm)

The Eye of Argon (Sunday 10:00 am)

My Arisia 2012 Schedule

One of my favorite conventions is Arisia in Boston, which this year will be on the weekend of January 13th. I’ve attended almost every one since the first (which was when I still lived in Boston back in the 80s). The Guest of Honor this year is Phil Foglio who does the Hugo-award winning comic Girl Genius. If you’re not reading this, you’re missing out on a great story with great art. Anyway, I met Phil at the first Arisia and bought one of his original works that still hangs on my wall today! I’m so glad he has been so successful.

Anyway, this year Arisia is keeping me busy as usual! Here’s my schedule.

The Eye of Argon (Friday midnight): The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? With Susan de Guardiola, Daniel Kimmel, and Hildy Silverman. (This is one of my favorite panels, ever since we started acting this out about a year ago. I’m in charge of this panel and I think I have assembled a great group for it. See pictures from previous ones on my Facebook page!)

Harry Potter in the Future (Saturday 10:00 AM): We experienced Harry Potter as a series of books where we eagerly anticipated the release of each one, and then saw them come to life in series of vivid movies. Will future fans encounter them the same way? How will seeing the movies first affect future fans when they encounter the books? Or will the movies come to replace the books as the “Harry Potter experience”? Did the eight films do the seven books justice? With James Hinsey, Cecilia Tan, Frances K. Selkirk, and Cynthia A Shettle-Meleedy.

Character Building (Saturday 11:30 AM): Making memorable characters that resonate with the reader and fit perfectly for the story is an art. How do you find the core of a character — their traits, habits, and attitudes–and show them effectively to your audience? Our panelists discuss various methods of getting to know your character in the course of your writing. With Toni L.P. Kelner, Catt Kingsgrave-Ernstein, Carolyn Van Eseltine, Resa Nelson. (I’m moderating this panel, so I’m already working on questions for the panel to discuss.)

Science in Politics (Saturday 2:30 PM): How are science and scientific advances used in the political arena? How do large-scale, long-term projects like the mission to the Moon get approved? Are technological achievements hampered by the political process? Do science and politics always have to be at odds with one another? With Stephen R Balzac, John Costello, A. Joseph Ross, and Ian Randal Strock.

Why You Should/Should Not Self-Publish (Sunday 11:30 AM): The good news is that anyone can self-publish. The bad news is, well, just that. There’s a lot of stigma associated with self-publishing, even more so than small-press publishing. Why? What can authors who wish to self-publish do to avoid this? When should you consider being your own publisher versus letting someone else publish your work? With Susan Soares, Gordon Linzner, Don Sakers, and Ian Randal Strock. (Another one that I am moderating!)

Point of View (Sunday 1:00 PM): The use of different points of view can reveal or obscure elements of your story from the audience. Do certain points of view only work with certain types of stories? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each form? With Elaine Isaak, Victoria Janssen, Joshua Palmatier and David Sklar.

Harry Potter: The Films (Sunday 4:00 PM): With the release of the final Deathly Hallows film last year, we seem to have reached the end of an era. Wipe your tears and swallow back your sobs, for now we discuss the transformation of the beloved books into the box office-dominating film series. Is this truly the end? With Melissa Gavazzi, James Hinsey, and Resa Nelson. (Hmm, I just noticed that I’m moderator for this group too, so maybe I should start preparing!)

Making Politics Work in Fiction (Sunday 7:00 PM): Real world political narratives are filled with cultural revolutions, passionate speeches about social change, war, and intricate, Machievellian plots. How can you portray them convincingly in your story? From noble houses in fantasy worlds to galaxy-spanning empires in SF, how do you make them believable and engaging without burying your reader in the intricacies of your setting’s political theory? With Leah Cypess, Kimberley Long-Ewing, Kenneth Schneyer, and Phoebe Wray.

If you’ll be at Arisia, be sure to say hi!

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