Interview with Author and Editor J. Richard Jacobs

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author J. Richard Jacobs today! jheadshot J. says he is a country boy turned scientist/engineer/naval architect turned author. He writes science fact, science fiction (usually hard), occasionally horror and fantasy. He’s also the editor of the successful “Twisted Tails” series, the most recent of which has just been released and features a story by Yours Truly. His web page is here.

So tell us about the “Twisted Tails” series!

J. RICHARD JACOBS: Well, first and foremost, The “Twisted Tails” series of anthologies is a demanding thing to get into. The reason for that is simple. I look for quality in every sense for these books. It’s a tough nut to crack for many. In one of them I received 480+ submissions—only twelve were included.

Next, they are eclectic. There is a theme for each, but no genre restrictions are set. As long as the story fits the idea of the theme, I don’t care if it’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror (the no gore kind), Paranormal or Mainstream. We’ve had a good run through seven books so far and this new one, TWISTED TAILS VII: IRREVERENCE (the eighth book in the series) is no exception.

VENTRELLA: Wait — it’s the eighth collection and it’s called TWISTED TAILS VII?

Is that a twist?

JACOBS: TWISTED TAILS II was released in two volumes and, though there is a complete edition available, TWISTED TAILS VII is actually the eighth book in the series…. Not a twist, just confusing….

Anyway, the stories have no set word count. There is one major element that must be met, and met well. TwistedTales All of them contain a twist ending (Twisted Tails). It may be subtle or a violent yank on the carpet, but it must be a logical and plausible part of the story line. Not many authors can do that.

All of them are aimed at fun and entertainment. Sometimes the fun is a mite on the dark side, but it’s still fun.

VENTRELLA: The “Twisted Tails” covers all feature dragons – because of Double Dragon Publishing, I assume. Do you think this may mislead people into thinking they’re all high fantasy stories?

JACOBS: Deron Douglas of Double Dragon Publishing and I discussed this in the very beginning as I wanted the books to become a part of the Double Dragon trademark, so to speak. We decided then and there that the way to do that would be for all the covers to feature one or more dragons. The first book, TWISTED TAILS: AN ANTHOLOGY TO PLEASE AND DELIGHT, had two dragons on the ground, a result of flying too close and getting their tails entangled. I think everyone who sees these covers will admit that Deron is quite an artist…!

As for people thinking they’re all High Fantasy, I don’t think that is necessarily true. They are listed with the genres indicated and the overleaf and inside flaps spell it out fairly well. The truth is, most of the books have had at least one Fantasy included in the collection.

VENTRELLA: What kinds of stories will we find in the new book?

JACOBS: Oh, my, now there’s a tough question to answer. Would saying that they’re all great be of any value? I guess not. This edition of the series includes examples of all genres. It drools humor and mystery and fantastic panoramas and shadows and sunshine and darkness and….

All of the authors in this one have gone several extra miles to fill the pages with delightful material that I guarantee will entertain.

VENTRELLA: How do you determine themes for the books?

JACOBS: Oh, boy, that’s a biggie. I have to think long and hard on that before I commit to a theme. Though the process is complicated, the reason is simple. I have developed what could be called a stable of authors, bless’em all, who are highly talented wordsmiths and story spinners. Without them there would be no “Twisted Tails.” TT2-510 You, by the way, are one of them. Oh, you knew that, didn’t you? Okay, so I just gave you a plug on your own blog. I’m not ashamed of that and I am proud to present you in this new one.

Anyway, I have to think about what my authors have produced in the past and how they may handle whatever little germ of a thought I have. After considering that carefully, I can then firm up the idea and name a theme. As an example; this next one in the works has as its theme: Para-Abnormal. I’ll let your imagination deal with that.

VENTRELLA: I also edit a short story collection, and it’s not as easy as it looks. What are the major problems you have had with editing?

JACOBS: Authors. There are a lot of writers in this world—there are very few authors. Now, authors are wonderful in all respects except following instruction about things like format. Also, most authors are atrocious spellers and typists. Typos and spelling errors are a large part of the job. Not so much with grammar, though it rears its ugly head on occasion. I am willing to work with any author to almost any level if they have given me a great story. I’ve even ghostwritten a couple of works for authors who have presented a compelling story.

VENTRELLA: How do you deal with telling authors you have rejected their stories?

JACOBS: That’s simple. I’ve been in this business about 57 years and saying, “What the hell is this? Did you take special classes in school to become this stupid, or does it come naturally?” is easy for me. Okay, okay, I’m really not that cold, but close to it. If someone has presented me with something that shows promise, I will tell them. If they have sent me crap, I’ll tell them that, too, but I try to be diplomatic.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake made by authors who submit to you?

JACOBS: Hah! Format. Format. Format, and telling me their work is copyrighted and I’d better not do anything with it other than what has been agreed upon. Arrogant newbies.

VENTRELLA: What advice do you have for authors wanting to write short stories?

JACOBS: Short stories are harder to write than novels. You have few words to work with, yet you need to land on the run with fully developed characters and that ain’t easy. som510 Pacing a short is not an easy thing, either. The best advice I can offer for those who would dare write short is, write until your fingers hurt, the words on the screen look like they’re printed backwards and your legs are so numb that you can’t feel your feet. Then, do it some more. Read other short stories by great authors from the dim past to see how they made it work. Then, write some more. When you think you have it wired, begin submitting your work everywhere and see what happens. Oh, and do develop a really thick skin; this business is brutal.

VENTRELLA: Which of your novels have been most successful in your opinion?

JACOBS: That depends upon how you view success, doesn’t it? If you think about sales, you have missed the point, in my opinion. Sales are nice for the wallet and, perhaps, for the ego, but personal satisfaction in what you’ve done is far more important. I have written nothing I would not love to rewrite. After having rewritten it, I would like to rewrite the rewrite. Never satisfied with my work. It could always be better. Having said that, I think SEEDS OF MEMORY has been the most successful in my way of looking at things. It took ten years of writing, head scratching, rewriting, research, more head scratching, more rewriting, putting up with constant interruptions and free advice before it was finished. I just rewrote it…!

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the “Rain” trilogy.

JACOBS: We recently had a meteor come down in Russia. People saw the videos. In short order, they will forget what they have seen and return to an all-is-well-in-the-world life of complacency. The first two books of the Rain Trilogy, STORM CLOUD RISING and MAELSTORM, are aimed at shaking that complacency by the lapels—hard. The third one, still not completed, is more of an adventure dealing with what the world is like after the rain—the hard rain.

VENTRELLA: What makes your fiction unique? In other words, what is it about your stories that makes them stand out against all the other similar stories out there?

JACOBS: Hmm. Well…they’re not similar. At least I hope they’re not. xeno-version3_03 I bring a lot to the table in terms of knowledge of subject and experience in researching things. Believe it or not, you need to know how to look for things. Merely Googling is not the answer and accepting what you find on your first or fifteenth try without cross-referencing is a waste. In my Science Fiction I’m quite at home with details most of the time. I also have many friends who are experts in their fields who have saved me much embarrassment at times. I can tell you this; my work is complex because I know life is complex. I have had many high-powered mentors in the past (no name dropping here) who have seen me through my infancy and I really hope I have done well with what they taught me.

VENTRELLA: What is it about science fiction that attracts you?

JACOBS: Horizons beyond an arm’s length and an infinite playing field for conjecture and speculation. I also like to play with science (real science) and make things work. None of the worlds I create are impossible or improbable, though they may appear to be so sometimes.

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

JACOBS: I have no idea. Science Fiction has never been one of the mainstays of the written word. It has had a better following in the past, that’s true, but why it has hit a little slump is a mystery. I look forward to that changing. We’re getting a lot of imaginative authors in the field these days and I’m sure the Phoenix shall rise again.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written nonfiction (including something in INSIDE SCOOP which also features me!). What is different about writing nonfiction?

JACOBS: The difference is that it is not fiction.

VENTRELLA: What other projects are you working on?

JACOBS: Aside from the new one for the Twisted Tails series, TWISTED TAILS VIII, I have three anthologies I’m considering that will not be an unending series. All will be based in pulp fiction style. One will be Science Fiction, another in Mystery, and the final will be on Heroes (super-hero stuff with a twist). StormCloudRising-510 I am working on another novel, MT PROMISE, and am desperately trying to complete the third book in the Rain Trilogy.

VENTRELLA: What’s your biggest pet peeve about the writing business?

JACOBS: Small checks….

VENTRELLA: I’ve blogged a lot about self-publishing. What’s your take?

JACOBS: Frankly, I don’t like self-publishing. I know there is a bundle of good stuff written and self-published, but the majority is not worth the electrons and/or paper used to put it on the market. Self-publishing still has a stigma hanging on it (with good reason) that makes me not want to read anything offered. I am aware I’m missing a plethora of good, engaging and imaginative works that are well-written, but I’m avoiding an immense amount of disappointment and saving my bucks in the process.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

JACOBS: Everyone. No, I’m not kidding. I am selective in the things I’ll pick up, but I read across the board. All genres. Short. Medium. Long. Even Michener behemoths. My favorites remain Asimov, Sturgeon, Brin, Clarke, Brown, Dick, Shakespeare (really), Poe, Hemingway and so on. Those folks knew how to do it and do it right.

To order TWISTED TAILS, click on the “books” link above. As of this posting, the only versions available are the kindle and e-book versions. The paperback and the nook versions should be available shortly.

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!

Tales of Fortannis: A Bard’s Eye View

The new collection of short stories taking place in the world of my two novels is here!

TALES OF FORTANNIS: A BARD’S EYE VIEW is the first in a planned series. I’m very pleased with the stories collected here. There is a wide variety of tales being told in a myriad of styles.

“A Bard’ Eye View is a wild and weird collection of fantasy stories that present some of the freshest writing around. Derring-do with a great sense of fun. Highly recommended.” – New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry, author of THE KING OF PLAGUES and DUST & DECAY

“Rollicking good fun perfect for a beach read, subway read, airplane read—heck, just buy it and read it! Mirth, mayhem and magic in an intriguing world.” – Gail Z. Martin, author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series

“A Bard’s Eye View is a varied collection of adventures, whimsies, variously grim, grand and comedic; this book will appeal to fans of gaming and fantasy alike.” – Jay Lake, Campbell Award-winning author of GREEN and MAINSPRING

“You don’t need to know the background material to enjoy the range of stories from the talespinners assembled here. It has plenty of adventures that end with a twist that leave you shaking your head in pleased surprise. I’ll be happy to look for many of these writers in days to come.” – Jody Lynn Nye, author of VIEW FROM THE IMPERIUM and DRAGON’S DEAL

Here’s a short summary of the stories you’ll find:

The Zombie King’s Plan by Michael A. Ventrella: Squire Terin and his friends from the novels ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL journey to retrieve the last magical ring for a biata girl whose memory was stolen. As they fight through zombies, they begin to discover that something isn’t right…

Stealing the Sky by Danny Birt: A brave admiral — who, as a youth, had his arm bitten off by a gryphon from the lands of Thessi — has been planning his revenge for a very long time. Determined that no one else should suffer his fate, he gathers his army and, with the help of the dwarves, moves against the gryphons with his plan.

Listen to a Tale, My Friends by Mike Strauss: A traveling minstrel fascinates the local townspeople with a horrifying tale of a necromancer — and and provides a surprise ending.

Bad Debts by Bernie Mojzes: A simple job turns out to be anything but simple. An evil ritual, a nameless monster, a dead patron — and a young woman must come to terms with her ex-lover and his new flame before she can defeat the threat.

Grip of Chaos by Laurel Anne Hill: When his squire brother does not return from his quest to fight the Ice Queen, an untrained young man has to face his fears and confront the necromantic creature himself.

The Great Green Kettle Pie Recipe Caper by Roy C. Booth and Brian Woods: A timid hobling decides the only way to obtain his favorite pie from the baker who refuses to share is to break in and steal the recipe — but things never go as planned.

Behind the Bar by Mark Mensch: Nigel the tavernkeeper has a successful business. And he has a secret panel in his back room and a secret retirement plan — a plan that not one of his satisfied patrons suspects.

A Rock is a Rock is a Rock … Or Is It? by J. Thomas Ross: When a group of goblin children sneak into the human’s cave to see what riches the humans are mining, they find no gold or gems … but discover a strange secret.

The Messenger’s Trap by Matthew C. Plourde: A mercenary is not sure who to trust when he is released from prison after promising to deliver a simple message.

Faith by Tera Fulbright: A biata bent on revenge learns his true mettle when faced with a life-threatening emergency.

A Child’s Tale by Davey Beauchamp: The kids love to hear stories of their heroes Oliver Songbringer and Aramis Llyrr, but will they act as bravely when they encounter danger in the woods?

Suffer the Liar by Ron. F. Leota: Two con men who spin fabricated tales of mighty adventures suddenly find themselves in an all-too-real situation fighting ice trolls. Can they discover a way to save their skins from both the monsters and the townspeople?

The Long Sleep by Nick Bond: The ancient forest has awakened its defender, who must seek out the necromancers who have stolen its heart.

The Otherside Alliance by Jon Cory: A lazy knight, whose king demands that he arrange an alliance with Duke Frost or die, comes up with a brilliant plan to obtain the Duke’s support — so long as no one sees through the ruse.

J. Thomas Ross was the copy editor and the cover is by Sheila Haswell.

Next week the authors themselves will introduce themselves and discuss their stories here!

Click here to order your copy!

Interview with Author Tee Morris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing Tee Morris today. Tee grew up very near me in Richmond, Virginia yet we never met until a few years ago at a convention. His web page is TeeMorris.com.

Let’s start by discussing your latest book, which will be first in a series –- PHOENIX RISING: A MINISTRY OF PECULIAR OCCURENCES NOVEL. How did you decide to collaborate with Pip Ballentine?

TEE MORRIS: It was a bit of arm-twisting on Pip’s part. I had a bad experience with co-writing, and my co-author really put me in a precarious position that completely ruined our friendship and professional relationship. So I was quite gun-shy. Pip eventually talked me into a compromise: we would write a podcast-for-pay idea. Unexpectedly, someone contacted Pip’s agent on this “steampunk idea” she was working on, I was then picked up by Pip’s agent, we changed focus and then we got to work on what would become PHOENIX RISING.

I still can’t believe we put this puppy together and are now, presently, closing in on the sequel’s climax.

VENTRELLA: Was there a conscious decision to write a steampunk novel because of current interests in steampunk for business reasons?

MORRIS: Actually, no. Steampunk was a conscious choice, but it was because we wanted to write it.

I first discovered “steampunk” back in 2006 and found it fascinating. I wanted to write something in it, but I didn’t want it to be a knock-off of what I had already read and seen. There’s a lot of cool things to explore in steampunk, and the more I delve into it the cooler it gets. There are authors who are riding the steampunk train to capitalize on its rapidly-growing popularity, but Pip and I wanted to do something we were sincerely drawn to, and steampunk really appealed to us.

VENTRELLA: How much should a writer consider the market when deciding what to write?

MORRIS: The writer should look at what is selling when they want to begin pitching to agents and editors. However, you really should consider how good of a product you are going to produce if you simply write to what’s hot. I’ve seen authors do that, and the writing comes across as trite. If your heart isn’t into it, the reader will assuredly pick up on that. At present, I won’t write a werewolf-vampire-Buffe-Blake urban fantasy because I have nothing new to offer to that market. If I tried, it would probably insult readers of the genre and do a lot of damage to my career.

Sure, look at the market, but don’t try to force a story to happen. That can backfire and really damage a career.

VENTRELLA: How did your collaboration work?

MORRIS: Believe it or not, writing across hemispheres was very productive. Whenever I slept, Pip wrote; and when Pip was asleep, I was writing. Literally we got in 24 hours of non-stop writing. This is one reason why, with Pip working on relocating to the Americas, our word count has taken a hit.

The downside was that we had small windows of time when we could discuss the book. We couldn’t bounce off ideas when we had them, and discussing problematic moments were…well, problematic as we could only do that for a small window of time between hemispheres. Still we managed, and we now have a pretty solid workflow at home.

VENTRELLA: How did you interest Harper? Did you have an agent first? Was the novel completed and then submitted or did they accept a proposal?

MORRIS: The Harper Voyage deal is all due to Laurie McLean, our Super-Agent. What happened was Pip’s write-up in Locus Magazine took an interested party to her website. When they saw she was working on this steampunk property with me, they immediately asked “When could we see it?” So I signed on with Larsen-Pomeda Agency and then we got cracking. The “interest” didn’t really kick in until someone made an offer. Literally, within 24 hours, there was a bidding war (from people who had initially passed on it), and then the wildcard — Harper Voyager — stepped in and said “We want it. Badly.”

The rest is future-history.

VENTRELLA: How are you promoting this book?

MORRIS: Pip learned a lot of new promotion tactics when working with ACE and GEIST. Between our previous experiences with Dragon Moon Press, we’re simply incorporating years of what has (and hasn’t) worked, and creating a plan:

1. The “Tales from the Archives” Podcast. This is the first volume in what could be a continuing series of short stories set in the world of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. We’ve been having a blast with this, watching really talented authors like Valerie Griswold-Ford, Nathan Lowell, O.M. Grey, P.C. Haring, and many others produce original steampunk of various moods. We’re only a few episodes in, and people are really enjoying these works.

2. The Book Trailer.

People have really mixed opinions about book trailers and whether or not they sell books, but I argue that it really does depend on the book trailer. This one was particularly ambitious as we were creating original footage as opposed to working with stock footage as I did with Pip’s Geist trailer (which I edited together). We have been getting a terrific response from it with over 1000 views on YouTube and over 500 shares on Facebook in just over a week. It’s also a great way to get the word out about the book. How will it equate in sales? We don’t know, but it is helping in letting people know what the book is, or at least what the mood of our book is.

3. The Ministry Blog and Podcast Tour. As you see here with your blog, Michael, and others online, Pip and I started writing guest columns and interviews not only with podcasts (which really worked well for us back in August 2008 when we hosted “Double Trouble” online) but with blogs as well. Pip found that work with bloggers — book reviewers, authors, and others — cast our net a little wider than the podosphere. We’re reaching new people who show a little more faith and trust in their book blogs than they do in the mainstream media book critics. (Something we find very telling.)

4. Ministry May-hem. The month of May is when we start with the push of live appearances. It begins on April 30 (Not quite May, but close enough) with a stop at Borderlands in San Francisco. Then on May 7th we return to Staunton, VA (where we filmed the Ministry trailer) at BookWorks, and we will be wearing our steampunk best. May 11 we head up to Harrisburg, PA for a Watch the Skies meeting. Again, we’ll be in our steampunk best. Then May 20-22 is the Steampunk World’s Fair in Sommerset, NJ. We close the May-hem with Balticon May 27-30.

June … we’re going to have a wee rest.

5. Buttons, stickers, bookmarks, and postcards. You can never go wrong with freebies.

Pip and I have learned over the years that the key months of promotion should be the month before a release (keeping it fresh in people’s minds), and then two months after the book’s release (as it has that “new book” smell). If after June the book hasn’t “caught on” it probably won’t. You can still promote and still pimp, but it’s “old news” after that.

For Pip, though, she’s got SPECTYR (the sequel to GEIST) coming at the end of June, so there will be some serious gear shifting during the May-hem. Rather appropriate, now that I think about it.

VENTRELLA: This is your first novel with a major publisher (if I am not mistaken). What differences have you found between Harper and Dragon Moon? (And why do so many small publishers have “Dragon” in their name? My publisher is Double Dragon. Maybe they should merge and become Double Dragon Moon.)

MORRIS: Apart from the advance (which is a mixed blessing in itself), the distribution (which is a blessing no matter how you look at it) and the layout of the book (which I did for myself quite often because I liked that), there is still a “team” feel about working indie and working corporate. I have noticed with Harper Voyager that our publicist is also working hard to get our names and book out there to critics and media outlets, both traditional and new. Having that kind of support in publicity has been very nice! Dragon Moon and I did a lot of great things together, but distribution was always a challenge. I grew as a writer, and they gave me my first opportunity. A lot of terrific things happened to me because of it.

Harper Voyager is not my first orbit around the Moon, but it is definitely my “small step” and “giant leap” into what I hope will be my writing career.

VENTRELLA: You travel to many conventions to promote your books. Do you advise aspiring authors to attend these things? What do you get out of these conventions yourself?

MORRIS: Something else that I have learned in my years as a writer is really, really listen to what other authors have to say. (Both good and bad, when it comes to advice.) Perhaps one of the most important nuggets of know-how I got was from Hugo/Nebula/Aurora/insert-SF-writing-award-here winning author Robert J Sawyer:

“When you get an advance, don’t spend it. That advance is your marketing and advertising budget.”

I was traveling without an advance as my budget, and pushed myself several of thousands of dollars into debt. Even when I was writing books like PODCASTING FOR DUMMIES and ALL A TWITTER, I was already so deep in the red. People across the country had my books in hand, sure, but I was broke. Part of the problem was poor financial planning. When I got out of that debt, I plan events very differently now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love going to these conventions. I love talking shop, meeting other authors, and talking to other fans, not just about what I write, but about other geeky things like Firefly, Eureka, and steampunk. I dig that. But as I mentioned on my blog, these conventions are not cheap. I get invited to a lot of cons, but unless some of these costs are offset, I can’t go. In my early days/years, I would never make claims to have cons offset my costs. However, I have to make it a point of asking now as it’s just not that easy for me financially. I think cons are great for authors, provided you are smart about which cons you are going to attend; and more importantly, what you can afford.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing industry changed since you entered it?

MORRIS: Well, there’s the e-book market for starters. The whole e-book movement has really been fascinating to watch. I think with the development of the ePub format, the elegance of iBook and the Kindle, and the affordability of digital books in comparison to hardbounds, the e-book is coming into its own. The publishing industry is now being forced to adapt, and I think many publishers are on top of it.

I’m also noticing over the year a growing animosity between writers and publishers, more of it coming from writer. There’s a mentality of “Us vs. Them” which rings hollow when I hear writers say “We understand it’s a business.” I’ve always regarded my career as a business, and I can only hope that I’m still writing when my child is in college. Harper Voyager have asked a lot from Pip and myself, but we are all working together to make the best book possible. If the book is a hit, it’s a win from everyone involved. That’s why I’m a little put off by that argument.

Something I have noticed, too, is that misconception of “writers just writing and letting someone else handle promotion as that is someone else’s job” is finally dying out. Even older authors have recognized the power and potential in podcasting, blogging, and social networking. Writers have needed to become Swiss Army Knives, wearing many hats and building up neck muscles in order to support them all. We have to look beyond “the end” and work with our publisher and the public to make our upcoming titles meet their potential.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about the craft?

MORRIS: The biggest misconception (apart from the one mentioned in the previous question) is the editor is out to “ruin” your work. Only bad editors tell you something like “Change it, or else.” An editor’s job is to make your good book a great book, and in this process help you become a better writer. Again, it’s a team effort. And when you do have a point of contention, you have to defend your choice with facts and resources backing up your facts. Simply saying “because it is cool” doesn’t cut it. I am thankful for every editor I’ve had, and I am a better, smarter writer because of them.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see beginning writers make?

MORRIS: Superiority complexes. I’ve seen this in both writers with big and indie houses and it sickens me. A byline doesn’t make you any better a person. You just come across to people as a right jerk …with a byline. Maybe fans would “look away” once upon a time, but that kind of behavior can affect your sales. It can also make you a real leper amongst your peers. And even with books, awards, and movie deals (if you are really blessed) behind you, try and keep your head on straight. This ride can end at the drop of a bowler hat. I know that. So, I do what I can to be the best person (who just happens to have a byline) I can be.

VENTRELLA: What’s your next project?

MORRIS: My next project is a steampunk reboot of MOREVI. I love the story and I love the characters of MOREVI; but as it is, MOREVI is not ready for the mainstream press. It needs a rewrite. It needs a new direction. And it needs, for the love of God, to lose the elves. Those were my co-author’s touch, and I’ve hated them since the original printing.

I don’t have a problem with elves. They’re like Vulcans with better tailors. I just felt like they were not a good fit with MOREVI, and I think a complete reboot with Rafe taking to the skies and the region be China. (Still kicking around ideas, you know.) It would be something like Battlestar Galactica, only without so much gender bending.

me&tee

Interview with Publisher Deron Douglas

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m interviewing Deron Douglas, publisher of Double Dragon Press, the largest science fiction and fantasy e-publisher in the world (and, I might add, the publisher of my books). Deron, is that claim based on the number of books you have available, the most sold, or what?

DERON DOUGLAS: Hi Mike, it’s based on both numbers… sales and number of editions available for purchase from DDP and all our retailer sites worldwide. However, it is a fluctuating number as well.

VENTRELLA: What is in your background that made you want to start Double Dragon?

DOUGLAS: I’ve been involved in the publishing industry, in various aspects for about 25 years. I’m also an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy reader from when I was a kid. About 10 years back I purchased one of the first ebook devices on the market called the Rocket eBook (I still own 3) and found that there weren’t very many titles that I would enjoy reading myself. After further investigation into the technology it “clicked” that I had the personal experience and technical ability to pull it off.

VENTRELLA: Have your standards changed over the years? Now that DD is doing better, are you being pickier with which manuscripts you accept?

DOUGLAS: We’ve always had high standards, but like everyone else are restricted by our submissions pool. But generally I like to select titles that I find interesting and diverse; something that I would want to read myself.

Yes, as the submissions pool gets larger we find that we can select more carefully based on market trends and an author’s current readership base.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake that aspiring authors make when they submit their work?

DOUGLAS: In a lot of cases they do not bother to read the guidelines or take the time to find out what we publish. Double Dragon Publishing is essentially a Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher, but I still have people sending me relationship books, autobiographies etc. If an author does happen to read the guidelines and are submitting within the right genre, they neglect to send their best possible “polished” work. We edit all titles before they are published, but we won’t accept a title that is still in the development stages and requires massive rewrites.

VENTRELLA: What do you personally like to read?

DOUGLAS: I like science fiction with a time-travel, time paradox sort of twist, as well as “steampunk”, alternate reality, divergent societies sort of stuff.

VENTRELLA: You’ve recently begun to expand a bit and publish other genres. Tell us about that!

DOUGLAS: Actually, from the start we accepted everything in all genres, over time we found what sells and what doesn’t. But occasionally I’ll accept something that is “out there” because it’s well written and I’m curious as to how it will be responded to by our readers. But maybe you are referring to our sister imprints, Carnal Desires Publishing and Blood Moon Publishing? Each is dedicated to a genre that we felt was growing to a degree that it deserved its own identity and staff.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been able to lure some fairly famous authors to DD for their e-books. How has that worked out?

DOUGLAS: It’s worked out very well for us. The things take seem to be common to all is that they’ve heard our reputation for a very expansive eBook distribution network, fair methods of working with authors and our “professionalism”.

VENTRELLA: Most of the paperbacks you publish are print on demand. Do you see a future where you would have regular print runs?

DOUGLAS: No, not at all. In fact I can see a near future where we will be phasing out paper book completely. Last fall (2010) is was reported by Amazon that eBooks were outselling “hardback” books on Amazon. This year in Feb It was reported by Jeff Bezos (CEO and Chairman of Amazon), that eBooks are now outselingl paperbacks. People tend to forget that Double Dragon Publishing is an eBook publisher and has always been, and as a result we are well positioned to take advantage of this huge market. After all, we are one of the pioneering ePublishers and have been involved for more than 10 years.

VENTRELLA: How do you publicize your books?

DOUGLAS: Currently we release between 100-120 titles per year, as such we are unable to publicize every title ourselves. We depend upon the author to promote themselves and build a base of readership. After all, if they leave DDP they will take this base with them. But we also provide venues of promotion such as out blog at blog.double-dragon-ebooks.com, Facebook, etc. We also provide a forum where new authors can discuss methods of publicizing themselves with other seasoned veterans.

VENTRELLA: Do you see e-books as the future? Is this good for the industry?

DOUGLAS: Ebook have taken off from where they began 10 years ago, it seems every major manufacturer is now building an affordable ebook device that allows the seamless purchasing of titles almost anywhere in the world. Yes, I think ebooks have a future and think they are also good for the industry. But the industry will change, portions such as paper book production services will die off. But eBook conversion services will sprout, are sprouting in fact.

The Axes of Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can order the paperback here.

You can download the ebook here.

You can download the kindle version here.

And you can join my Facebook fan group here.

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

Interview with Christopher Hoare

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am interviewing Christopher Hoare, whose books can be found with my publisher Double Dragon. Chris was born in London, England in 1939, immigrated to Canada in 1967, and became a Canadian Citizen in 1974 but we won’t hold that against him. He led an interesting life, studying around the world, serving in the Royal Artillery and then worked in oil exploration in Libya among other things. He now writes full time, living in Alberta at the eastern edge of the Rockies with his wife of almost 40 years, Shirley, and two shelter dogs.

Chris, there are so many new authors out there. What do you say to readers to get them to check out your books?

CHRISTOPHER HOARE: Gisel Matah, the protagonist of my Iskander series, is a woman who excels in a man’s world of action and danger, driving stories that women may find a refreshing change from being treated as sidekicks or helpless targets. She becomes the top security agent for her people when the small group of moderns are stranded in a 17th century world.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide to make the main protagonist a female?

HOARE: I picked my strong and reckless female protagonist to oppose the relegating of women into accidental and amateur roles in action adventure fiction. I felt that women readers would enjoy one of their own who could stand with all the James Bonds and Rambos out there. I have heard skepticism about parts of the early stories where the young Gisel becomes the only person in the situation with the skills to take the lead, but partly because of her age. They query her action because they relate it to our society, that keeps the young in immaturity far longer than earlier societies did. I write such scenes with the age justification for her position carefully buttressed. For example, at 16 in ARRIVAL, she is picked to be Colonel M’Tov’s assistant in training a small group of parachutists because of her gymnastic experience; she then becomes the only person with the technical understanding to lead them on the operational jump when M’Tov breaks an ankle in a training exercise.

My next release is due to come out very shortly. THE WILDCAT’S BURDEN is a plunge into a dangerous writing minefield – I have Gisel both pregnant and moderately active as the governor of a rebellious city. The mothers in my writing group felt I’d mostly succeeded in depicting her in the conflicting roles, but also added their expert advice into the states of mind she should experience. The final crisis naturally takes place during her confinement and so the novel ends with attacks on her and on the city, while the plans she has prepared for the situation must unfold unattended. Another writer admitted she had a character in a fantasy give birth on a battlefield, but wouldn’t risk it again. We’ll see if readers accept this story.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on next?

HOARE: The novel I should be writing now instead of these answers. I have long wanted to write SF where the power of the mind is more important than the gadgetry. I think Lucas, in “Star Wars”, approaches this with the abilities of the Jedi, and I believe the ’50’s classics did as well in such stories as Alfred Bester’s jaunting in STARS MY DESTINATION (Tiger Tiger) and Asimov’s telepathic “Mule” in SECOND FOUNDATION.

The protagonist I introduce in MINDSTREAM is a retired professor of systems theory who has become abbot of a quasi-Buddhist monastery. He is able to access other beings – on this world, in deep space, and on other worlds – and, mentally, participate in or direct the action there. I blend a lot of the fascinating Tibetan Buddhist esotericism with String Theory in the background scenario. In the novel, Crumthorne and his assistant attend a NASA spaceflight convention to protect it against similar alien intrusion from adepts on other worlds, but it turns out that one of the Earth ‘attendees’ becomes a greater threat to all of them.

VENTRELLA: What’s the hardest part about writing?

HOARE: That’s easy – getting one’s work noticed among the cacophony of other media out there.

VENTRELLA: Have you had any formal writing training? Do you think that is necessary?

HOARE: You should have competence in the language you write in as a prerequisite. I’m appalled at the number of people who write although they have little knowledge of grammar and cannot spell; and even more appalled at those who self publish their writing without rectifying these inadequacies.

As to formal writing programs, I’m always skeptical about over-academicism because it can lead to rigidity and a failure to accept ideas that do not lend themselves to clever analysis. However, I attended a couple of university extensions that contributed greatly to my early development. A writers’ conference at NAU at Flagstaff in the late ’60s had an invited writer whose depth of analysis of fiction really opened my eyes.

VENTRELLA: How did you end up with your current publisher?

HOARE: I’m lucky to have landed with Double Dragon. Deron is supportive of ideas I sometimes spring on him, even when they turn out to be of less value than his own; he allows a writer to amass a growing body of available work without the fear of losing earlier writing to the deadly ‘shelf life’ demon of mainstream publication. Of course, that is also a function of e-publishing, where one is safe from being destroyed by the dreaded ‘returns’ policy.

I have been able to investigate the sales and distribution of POD vs e-books in my own way and learn from my mistakes (the only way I ever learn anything).

VENTRELLA: Do you have other long term goals to grab a more “mainstream” publisher?

HOARE: I would like to have a more mainstream publisher at some point, but I doubt I would find working with them (and they with me) completely successful. Really, the only thing they have that I covet is the greater exposure.”

VENTRELLA: Your short stories have also appeared in various collections, including TWISTED TALES. Do you find short story writing easier?

HOARE: Actually, I don’t like writing short fiction. The two stories accepted in TWISTED TALES II and III are the first short stories I produced since my early writing days. I doubt I will write more as I feel I was not able to get across the intentions I had in writing the stories. Possibly a fault of my lack of experience with the medium, but I really detest the literary genre that most short story writers write in.

VENTRELLA: Do you advise starting writers to concentrate first on short stories?

HOARE: Conventional wisdom when I started writing seriously said that one should always attempt to develop one’s idea first as a poem, then as a short story, and only later consider turning it into a novel. What rot. I do advise a developing writer that the shorter medium is a necessary foil when one is learning the essences of the craft of theme, tone, and plot. In a first novel one can easily lose all control over what one is writing – it certainly happened to my early attempts.

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

HOARE: Would you recommend taking your first transatlantic flight in the captain’s seat rather than the passenger cabin? It requires an inordinate amount of hard work and luck for one’s self pub not to ditch in the ocean.

I do know a few good self published novels (other than Tolstoy’s and Dickens’) but they are exceptions. The writers were not first-time novelists and had some experience and craft knowledge to back their efforts. For a year or two I tried my hand at reviewing fiction and tried to give equal time to self-published works, but after receiving more than one that was actually painful to read I gave up on the exercise.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to rely on outlines first or do you just plow right in?

HOARE: I much prefer to start with the characters and the opening question and write a first draft as an exploration. By the time the novel reaches the halfway point the ending should have made itself inevitable if one remains true to what has gone before.

There are times, when I’m not sure what should happen in a necessary scene or what comes next, that I will explore ahead with an outline or even an unorganized scattering of issues to determine the logical order which develops the story. I have never sat down and written a detailed outline of a story before starting to write as I feel that would destroy all the life – the illusion of real life happenings – that make the story flow.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about NovelPro.

HOARE: I learned almost all I know about writing during the five or six years I belonged. The partnership with some really brilliant authors and the hard work of extended whole novel critiques was more valuable than a conventional MFA. Not just my opinion, as I saw it expressed by other members who had MFAs.

If you can get in, I’d advise any writer to shelve their own writing ego long enough to submit to the group for awhile. Not everyone can do it. Some quit even before completing their very first novel crit – the be all, end all, of the NPro system – while others get kicked out because they become obstructive. I was cautioned a couple of times, and my posts put on ‘review’. I’m still in contact with some members and past members and have accepted that there will come a time when the writer has to accept that their own needs and the group’s no longer coincide. I still wish them all well, and wait for the time when a work from the group becomes a bigger success than THE DaVINCI CODE – as well as better written.”

In line with others in the NovelPro group I spent an inordinate length of time trying to perfect the query letter and the bit by bit perfection of the opening attention grabber to gain a top NY agent. Then I slowly began to realize that my writer profile ruled me out of their consideration. I’m a grouchy and opinionated senior who lives as far away from New York, and the New York mentality, as it’s possible to get without traveling through space. I tried to bend in the appropriate ways – I became a Toastmaster to hone my public speaking skills for those career building moments on camera, but by the time I became a CTM I realized I hated making speeches. I tried to convince myself that I could turn myself into a saleable ‘brand’ under the tutelage of a wise old literary agent, before I realized that I’m too much of a loner to fit the profile. I’ll go on writing my way and being me – and if that doesn’t fit with the NY concept – to Hell with them.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any specific advice you would give a writer trying to make it in the publishing business that they may not have heard before?

HOARE: I hope a few of the answers I’ve given above have pointed others to useful insights of their own. If there is anything I believe that I’d like to prove true it’s that in order to be a lasting writer – one who produces something that lasts – one has to be a contrarian. Not pretend to be one but to actually feel offended when life tries to squeeze you into a conventional slot.

My old physics prof at engineering college used to say, “If you want to have a brainwave, you have to have a brain, and you have to wave it.” I have absolutely no proof that these qualities will allow you to ‘make it’ in the conventional publishing business, but I assure you they will lead you to a more worthwhile life.

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