Start in the Middle!

The theme of this blog is “Learn from My Mistakes.”

I just wanted to emphasize that. I don’t want anyone to think that my advice posts here are because I am an expert in the field of writing and publishing, because I am not. Almost all the things I am advising you not to do here are because I did them already, and found out they don’t work. I’ve warned you about the proper point of view, using outlines, why you should not use prologues, and other obvious writing rules that aren’t so obvious.

So today let’s discuss another bit of advice that I just had hammered into me: Starting your story in the middle.

I’ve always known that it is important to start your story with a bang, and all my books and short stories have done so. You want to grab the reader in the first page, and keep those pages turning. I jump right in and fill in the background later.

I know that.

However, there was something I was missing that, in retrospect, seems really obvious to me now.

I just received two rejections from agents looking at my latest manuscript BLOODSUCKERS. Both said the same thing. They liked my writing, but there was no urgency — the story didn’t grab them quick enough.bloodsuckers-510

And they were right.

You see, I started the story off with a beautiful naked vampire killing a Presidential candidate on the eve of his nomination (sex! violence! politics!). Soon after, a new candidate was chosen who was accused of being a vampire by crazies (called “batties”) who actually believe vampires exist. This was followed by a conspiracy to assassinate that candidate, and a plan to frame the assassination on a disgraced reporter who had written an article about the crazies. Then the plan is carried out …

Well, do you see the problem?

The main character in this story is the reporter — the guy who is framed for the assassination and then has to go into hiding, running from the vampires and the FBI. Once that happens, the story kicks into high gear. The only way he can prove his innocence is by proving that vampires exist. He gets help from the batties and eventually from some other vampires. Can he expose the candidate, will he be killed along the way, or will he be corrupted by the system?

But that didn’t happen until page 60 or so.

I mistakenly thought that all the other action was sufficient — that the conspiracies and plots would be enough.

The problem is that these early threats and dangers all concern people other than my main character … there’s not even the suggestion that he will be involved until the assassins pick him to be their scapegoat. That early stuff didn’t matter personally to him. The “middle” of my story is actually the start of the story for my character. And that’s where I needed to begin.

So it’s time for a new draft. I need to get the reader to understand the danger my protagonist is in early, so that the reader has some connection to the story and cares.

So learn from my mistakes — it’s not enough to have lots of action, drama, and “tension on every page” early on. You need to connect that tension to your protagonist if you want your reader to care.

Interview with Hugo-Nominated Author Janet Morris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Hugo-nominated author Janet Morris. Janet is probably best known for her Silistra series. She has contributed short fiction to the shared universe fantasy series “Thieves World” and then created, orchestrated, and edited the fantasy series “Heroes in Hell,” writing stories for the series. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Her 1983 book I, THE SUN, a detailed biographical novel about the Hittite King Suppiluliuma I, was praised for its historical accuracy.

Janet, let’s start by talking about the Kindle promotion going on right now.

JANET MORRIS: There is an Amazon giveaway (May 15-17) of the author’s cut reissue of BEYOND SANCTUARY as a Kindle book. This is the only time this book will be offered as a free Kindle download.

It the first novel in the “Author’s Cut” group of reissues: each “Author’s Cut” volume is compeltely revised and expanded by the author(s) and contain new material never before available. The other “Author’s Cut” volumes that have been released as ebooks and as trade paperbacks are TEMPUS WITH HIS RIGHT-SIDE COMPANION NIKO (2011) and THE FISH THE FIGHTERS AND THE SONG-GIRL (2012). The next “Author’s Cut” edition will be BEYOND THE VEIL (2013), second of the three “Beyond novels” in the Sacred Band of Stepsons series. We will eventually reissue all the Sacred Band of Stepsons books, and then more of our backlist, in this ‘author’s cut’ program. It’s very satisfying to get all the errors and deficiencies corrected, and have a chance to enhance these perennial sellers.

Most Sacred Band novels will not have giveaways; we chose BEYOND SANCTUARY as a good starting place for those new to the series and, in its enhanced and expanded form, as an attraction for those who loved these books and stories in the 20th century. We are planning to do a few Sacred Band stories as Kindle shorts as time goes by, but nothing specific has been decided.

VENTRELLA: You started your publication history with the Silistra series. How did you make that first sale?

MORRIS: I wrote HIGH COUCH in 1975 and its two follow-ons, THE GOLDEN SWORD and WIND FROM THE ABYSS thereafter for fun: following the story for my husband and our friends. I knew no one in publishing and had no aspirations to break into the business.

One friend said her husband knew an agent and the book (HIGH COUCH) should be published but I would need to provide the manuscript in a clean, double-spaced copy, not single-space with handwritten corrections. I had my dad’s ancient typewriter (non-electric, non-correcting; the “p” key stuck) and was a terrible typist. I found out it would cost $1.00 per page to have the manuscript typed by a professional, which meant a $250.00 investment. So I didn’t do that for over a year; by then my second book was finished. In 1976 my friend sent the typed HIGH COUCH manuscript to an agent, Perry Knowlton, president of Curtis Brown, Ltd.. Perry called me and said I was a natural storyteller and he wanted to represent me and the book, and did I have any other books? I said I did but they weren’t typed up. He said, “Get them typed.”

Perry remained my only agent until his death. By the time I had the other books typed, he had sold HIGH COUCH for five figures to Frederik Pohl and Sydney Weinberg at Bantam and I was able to quit my day job. Then Perry sold THE GOLDEN SWORD and WIND FROM THE ABYSS to them in a package. By then I was writing THE CARNELIAN THRONE. By the time THRONE came out, Bantam had over 4M copies of the first three in print.

They bought THE CARNELIAN THRONE also, and my next series went to auction in two countries simultaneously based on sample chapters: I still don’t like to write outlines.

Silistra got many foreign rights deals, but only the French one is a divergent manuscript: for a sizable additional sum, I provided extra ‘erotic passages.’ ‘Erotic’ in those days was much less explicit than now, but even so, SILISTRA shook a lot of people from complacency: it wasn’t feminist, nor was it conservative; it featured pansexual characters and dealt with philosophical and sociobiological questions about sexuality and abuse of power; the main female character was powerful and had a sword: all these elements were challenging to the fantasy and SF community. And the book didn’t fit a neat category. In what was then a very hidebound and immature market, it blazed tough trails and still today doesn’t fit any simplistic or political model.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing world changed since then?

MORRIS: E-publishing is a big change. Deconstructionism is rampant: the continual division of the novel into smaller and smaller subsets of its constituent elements (such as mystery, thriller, erotic, adventure, romance, horror, etc.) either mirrors or leads the deconstruction of politics and of society. Writing outside established marketing categories is increasingly difficult; the mid-list book, which was an incubator of talent, is all but gone in print publishing.

As an ox-gorer and a windmill-tilter who writes mythic novels with political subtexts and who never has been easy to categorize, I think e-publishing is a good thing. I no longer have to cut a big idea into three volume-sized chunks: I can write the book at the length it needs; I don’t have to fix or endure additional errors from semi-educated production people; I can control my covers and the book’s sell copy. The downside is there is much more free reading material (some worth the price, some not), and a lower educational level among some groups – but there have always been books and writers for every echelon of society.

VENTRELLA: Do you see a future where self-publishing will be accepted?

MORRIS: Sure, eventually. When we decided to return to fiction (after taking 20 years off to create the nonlethal weapons mandate, the nonlethality concept, and other initiatives in the defense policy and planning realms), we wanted to keep our fiction e-rights and at that time my agent (Perry Knowlton’s son, Tim, at Curtis Brown) said it was impossible to make a deal like that with a major house. So we decided to put together a small publishing house that did e-books and trades and make strategic alliances with other small publishing houses who produced quality hardcovers. We did this because the self-publishing road is still stigmatized, and because the production learning curve is steep. Kerlak did our first two hardcovers and gave me what I wanted: sewn binding, linen boards, generous print size, etc.

The stigmatization of self-publishing is primarily from the big chains, who look down on POD but POD was what attracted me to small publishing: no remaindered books; no books going to dumpsites; no torn-off covers returned and no tax liability for unsold stock. When we do reissues, we do “Author’s Cut” editions in which we can correct and expand and enhance each book that we’re releasing with better covers and production values than the twentieth century originals: an approach possible now but not practical even ten years ago.

Machiavelli commented in THE PRINCE as follows: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more uncertain of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things: for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in those who would profit by the new; this weak support arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually experience it.” We found this when initiating the nonlethal weapons programmatics: twenty years later, we are where we should have been in five years in nonlethals, and at absurd cost because nothing is adopted until big things take that viewpoint onboard commercially. Similarly, with publishing, as vested interests deal themselves in and competitive entities are created, things will stabilize – hopefully with new players, but with many of the old entities in new guises.

VENTRELLA: Will the rise of smaller publishing houses and e-books mean that these may someday be better accepted? For instance, will SFWA someday accept more of these publishers? Would that be a good thing?

MORRIS: Eventually the writers organizations must accept reality. E-books and small publishing are part of the new reality. SFWA, like all bureaucracies, protests that it protects its membership while it actually protects primarily itself. When SFWA sees that it must change to survive, it will change. Adaptation is always necessary for survival.

VENTRELLA: Now let’s talk about something more fun: Writing! What led you to write fantasy?

MORRIS: My work doesn’t fit many contemporary definitions of fantasy. I really write mythic novels and stories, sometimes in an SF and sometimes in a fantasy context, but there’s nothing ‘sweet’ or ‘pastel’ about my work: my characters face challenges and so do my readers.

When I write something that publishers call ‘fantasy’ I am writing in what I think is the most important tradition of fiction: starting with Homer and up through Shakespeare and Milton, the most important themes to tackle are those of the mythopoeic domain, tales of the body and mind seen through a temperament and a cosmos divorced from current reality so what is said can be more clear. For me, myth is the ‘common’ language of us all – or has been until these days of stories reduced to their lowest mechanical nature. My stories have a historical cognizance, a literary cognizance, and a philosophical/ scientific cognizance.

Bantam once wanted to separate a book of mine into two books: a short ‘wisdom literature’ book and a longer ‘mainstream’ book. I didn’t do that, but in retrospect it was a well-thought impulse on the publisher’s part.

I’ve also written nonfiction; a rigorous historical about Suppiluliumas, a Hittite king; a pseudonymous ‘novel’; other pseudonymous ‘high-tech thrillers’ (or what you will) with strong technology drivers. I make more money when I write under one male name than when I write under one female name or, as reality dictates, as “Janet Morris and Chris Morris.” But I write the book, each time, that forces me to write it, whether fiction or nonfiction. If the book is fiction, I write only when the story and characters demand that I give up my real life because what they will say is more important.

VENTRELLA: How do you create a realistic, believable fantasy world without just looking like every other realistic, believable fantasy world out there?

MORRIS: We say about THE SACRED BAND, our newest mythic novel, that it is “an adventure like no other.” This book had waited since the late 1970s to be written.

My books are remarkably unlike most of what else is available in contemporary fiction, so making the story or milieu ‘unique’ is not an effort for me. We started ‘The Sacred Band of Stepsons’ series and characters in the ‘shared world’ universe of Thieves’ World®, and so wrote in a milieu populated with other writers: making my work ‘fit’ their construct was a challenge. I have a deep love for the third, second and first millennia BCE, and my ancient characters always are touchstones to historical reality: I don’t “try” to make my fantasy world different from reality: I try to take you into the mythos of humanity. Silistra had a complete language, a glossary, a unique context, a rigorous rationale actually based on sociobiology and genetics, but had sword-wielding women and horses and ancient skirmishers as well as high-tech outsiders trying to understand it. The “Dream Dancer” series, also ‘science-fantasy,’ was set in space habitats primarily. It’s very easy for me to establish a credible world construct and posit behaviors there: I have predicted several major events in the real world over a number of years based on that ability to identify the most likely course of action that a country or individual will take in a given context. Now this skill is beginning to become a field of study called “intuitive decision making” and also “implied learning.” We once called it “speed understanding.” Writers often have this ability, and it allows creators to make their characters and societies credible. The writers who don’t have it can’t make their characters, or worlds, credible enough to please me.

If you want to write something completely unique, you will probably fail or at best write something without redeeming value. The mind works in certain patterns: the mind organizes facts in story form; it is your commonality with that body of human thought that makes a good book, not its estrangement from the common values that humans share.

VENTRELLA: As one of the original THIEVES’ WORLD gang, you’ve had a huge influence on modern fantasy fiction. It’s one of the first (or maybe the first?) shared world anthology. (I copied it completely and stole this idea for my TALES OF FORTANNIS series, by the way.) Where did the idea for this originate?

MORRIS: TW had one volume published when I was asked to come aboard: “Thieves’ World,” which had Joe Haldeman and Andy Offutt and Bob Asprin and others. Bob had the original idea for the “worst town in fantasy, the grittiest, meanest, seediest place possible.” He asked me to write for it at a convention and I said, “How serious are you about gritty?” I had written a very short piece about a woman who killed sorcerers for a living, and I proposed to bring those characters into Thieves’ World, plus an immortalized and very unhappy mercenary who regenerated. Bob said okay, I could bring the characters and take them out again afterward.

I started the story “Vashanka’s Minion,” that introduced Tempus (a/k/a the Riddler, Favorite of the Storm God, the Obscure, the Black). He has a metaphysical link to Herakleitos of Ephesus, and lives as a warrior in a Herakleitan/Hittite cosmos that I overlayed on what Bob and Andy already had done. But when Tempus got down to the dock and Askelon of Meridian got off the boat, Tempus said, “You, get out of my story. There’s not room enough here for both of us.” So Askelon didn’t arrive in Thieves’ World until “Wizard Weather,” although Cime, Tempus’ sister-in-arms, did show up. Tempus forms the Sacred Band of Stepsons in Thieves’ World #2, meets the patron shade of the Sacred Band in #3, and puts the Band together.

Then the TW books start to succeed and people get cranky. I called Bob and asked for a letter because I wanted to take my characters out of the shared town and do a group of novels with them, since Bob was complaining my characters were “too big.” So we agreed on that plan. These tensions made the stories more fun: people came and went; I took my characters into my own constructs such as Wizardwall and into the real ancient-world settlements of Nisibis and Mygdonia. Everyone contributed something useful to TW, and its fabric is still very rich.

I got Lynn Abbey’s permission, after Bob died, to bring the Sacred Band back to Sanctuary for a big novel to tie up loose ends that was set ten years after the Stepsons left town in TW #11 and well before Lynn’s own novel, since that milieu wouldn’t work for me. This project became THE SACRED BAND. As agreed with Lynn, THE SACRED BAND was followed by a novella, “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” (the title story from the second “Sacred Band Tales” anthology), which takes the Stepsons back out of Sanctuary again and sweeps up all my TW stories not previously collected. So now, between “Tempus with his right-side companion Niko” and “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” all our ten TW Sacred Band stories are assembled in two volumes, along with other Stepsons tales not available elsewhere.

As for fun quotient, I get more joy from the Sacred Band of Stepsons than from any other characters. And the SBS character list is expanding….

VENTRELLA: Another great series you’ve run is the HEROES IN HELL series (which now apparently includes LAWYERS IN HELL, which could be the name of my autobiography). What future themes can we expect to see?

MORRIS: If I’d known you, I’d have invited you to contribute to LAWYERS. In the 21st century Heroes in Hell books, next up is “Rogues,” to be followed by “Dreamers” (or “Visionaries,” I haven’t finalized the title), then “Poets,” then “Pirates” (or “Swashbucklers”). “Doctors” is a distinct possibility. There are many stories left to tell in hell, especially now that we have met hell’s landlords and heaven has sent down auditors to make sure hell is sufficiently hellish.

VENTRELLA: How do you work with the authors to make sure there is consistency in the world setting for these collections?

MORRIS: Each hell book takes a year to write and assemble, and the writers must coordinate more completely than was possible before the internet: we have a “secret” working group on Facebook where the writers interact and arcs and meta-arcs are chosen and polished. They choose characters. Our “Muse of Hell,” Sarah Hulcy, has put up 130 orientation docs, so there’s plenty of available information. When they choose the characters, we check to see if those characters have been used previously, and if the characters are available and meet our criteria, they can “claim” those characters for the time they write for the series. If they leave, they can’t take the characters: characters come back to me and stay in hell to be recycled.

Then they work on a short “two or three sentence” synopsis. I must accept the synopsis and the characters before they start to write. They can use legendary, historical, or mythical characters. They can’t use characters from modern fiction (post 1900) and they can’t use recently dead or living people. Then writers are allowed to post in-progress snippets which the group can read, and comment upon – or not. Chris and I write “guide stories” (two or three), setting up the current long arcs and the general tone of the volume at its beginning and end. Between these “bookends,” the other writers must set their stories.

When the stories are generally selected, I edit for continuity and tone, and Sarah Hulcy follows me with a copy-edit. Chris Morris is the final editorial reader, and with the three of us working on the stories for continuity and cohesion, we get a strong result and a better book than we could have produced before the internet.

VENTRELLA: I assume your anthologies are primarily invitation-only (correct me if I am wrong). How do you deal with stories that don’t meet your standard or are rejected for other reasons?

MORRIS: We are invitation-only. The milieu of our hell belongs to Chris and me. The authors know that from the outset. We usually won’t let them write a story we don’t think will work: by the time we’ve approved characters and synopsis, we know what the story will be and how we’ll use it. If someone simply fails to write a useful story, they probably haven’t met our guidelines. Our hell universe is easily recognizable. Each writer has left a clear trail of participation. If they want to rewrite a story we won’t accept and take out the arguably HIH context and characters, of course they can try.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss your novels. Which is your favorite?

MORRIS: In fantasy: THE SACRED BAND (Janet Morris and Chris Morris; Paradise, 2010; Kerlak, 2011), the mythic novel of the Sacred Band of Stepsons uniting with the Sacred Band of Thebes and returning to Sanctuary. In historical: I, THE SUN (Janet Morris, Dell, 1987).

VENTRELLA: Who is your favorite character?

MORRIS: Tempus and then Niko and the Sacred Band of Stepsons fighters.

VENTRELLA: What would you ask that character if you could meet him or her?

MORRIS: Tempus lives in my skull. I meet him on a regular basis and I’m happy to have a character so available. He’s been there since 1979. I went to the White House and he said, “Kinda small, isn’t it?” I would ask him, in all seriousness, whether he truly believes that “character is destiny,” a line he shares with Herakleitos.

VENTRELLA: And what do you think he or she would answer?

MORRIS: “The sun is new every day.” We call him the Riddler, remember.

VENTRELLA: Do you prefer writing fantasy or science fiction?

MORRIS: Fantasy, because very little in SF can transcend the gimmickry of a technical conceit, yet without that conceit at its heart a book isn’t truly science fiction. Furthermore, so little emerging thought and technology is employed by sf writers today that the genre is lagging far behind reality both in the cosmology area and the technology area: sf is no longer a place to experiment, but is now very derivative.

VENTRELLA: Do you find novels easier to write than short stories?

MORRIS: A novel is a major commitment, and must move smoothly along its trajectory. A “short story,” if it’s more than three thousand words, actually lets you focus more deeply on a circumscribed area or event. I think short stories and novels are different; each form is unique and equally demanding. I prefer novels but short stories are good exercises in discipline.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in? What is your writing style?

MORRIS: I don’t “outline” in the way that you mean. I get characters, and their background; I immerse my intelligence in a milieu that’s fully realized: a place with weather and politics and problems and a special nature. I use square post-it notes to write down certain things that must happen during a sitting: a line of dialogue, a particular event, where I need to be when the section is done; a section or chapter or story title. I know where I want the story or chapter or novel to end; I know where I want to start each section: how I get there is the fun for me.

Often times the question for me is which viewpoint character will have the best take on a particular set of events. When I have (twice) sold a project based on outline, it took all the fun out of it.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what techniques do you use?

MORRIS: I wait. I lie on the bed or go for a drive with paper in my pocket and wait for the characters to start to interact with me, or to tell their story to me. I need to “see something moving” and other writers who write this way all agree – if there’s something moving in your mind’s eye, there’s a character there.

Abarsis was a good example: I knew I wanted to do “A Man and His God” in which at the end the Slaughter Priest would die in Tempus’ arms. I got a character called Abarsis. I thought he and the Slaughter Priest would be two different people but the character wanted to be “Abarsis, the Slaughter Priest.” This was a very big, very strong character and I argued that if Abarsis was the Slaughter Priest then he would die. He said that was fine. Susan Allison of Ace called me up after she read it and confessed that the story made her cry. And Abarsis came back as patron shade of the Sacred Band: the character knew more than I what to do and how, in order to be memorable. Sometimes with good characters you must let go and let them forge ahead. This requires belief in your Muse.

VENTRELLA: You’ve collaborated with other prominent authors, at least one of whom lives with you, which makes it easier. How have these worked? (For instance, do you share writing equally? Does one author do the basic work and the other expand from that outline?)

MORRIS: With whatever writer, we talk about the story line, points of interest, what needs to be accomplished. If it’s Chris, he may come up with a title or a concept. I usually do draft or if I write with others, I’ll often write first: I like beginnings. With some writers, I send sections and they pick up the action; with others, I’ll do a draft and then they will add to it after I’ve done all I want to do, from beginning to end.

Everyone has a special genius, and working with each person is different. If the other writer starts, that’s a different process for me: I work on the story they’ve sent in Track Changes, do what I want to the entire manuscript. Then they accept or reject or we go back and forth. I worked a number of projects with a writer who was outline-driven and I could never figure out what those notations were supposed to evoke, so I’d call to discuss it. The outline made the other writer feel better. I can do a series of chapter titles and use those as an outline, but beyond that, outlines don’t help me. I often work with other writers who don’t like to outline either, or outline in the most cursory way.

VENTRELLA: Writers who are trying to make a name get hammered with lots of advice: The importance of a strong opening, admonitions about “writing what you know,” warnings to have “tension on every page” – what advice do you think is commonly given that really should be ignored?

MORRIS: All advice should be ignored. Every real writer is different. Every story has a nature, an organic way it wants to unfold. Tell a story that sweeps you up, that you want to hear, that keeps YOU on the edge of your seat. Some stories start best with dialogue, others with narrative: writing is catching the wave of creativity. The wave must be there for you to catch.

Writers learn from reading other writers whom they can admire, and writers whom they detest. Before Silistra, I bought a paperback by a famous writer and when I was done I threw it in the wastebasket, said “I can do better than that,” and did. When I read, I try to read writers who can teach me something, who are better at some things than I am. But print-through is always an issue: often when I am writing fiction I read only nonfiction, and vice versa.

The only person who should ask you to make changes in your book is some editor who has paid a lot of money for it. Even then, changes are risky: the story unfolds on the first pass the way the universe unfolded in the first moments of creation: in the way that it must.

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

MORRIS: Writers who have no characters and force a story bore me. Writers who are good at one thing – such as dialogue – may do that one thing too much: talking heads don’t work except very occasionally, when they can work very well. Knowing when to do something is part of the art of writing. Sometimes I act as an acquisitions editor. If you want to sell to me, you’ll tell me who, where, what, and why, and then finally how – all on the first page, hopefully in the first couple paragraphs: where I am, what it’s like, who cares about what’s happening. I want to fall through the words into a different place. But most of all, you must make me care almost immediately.

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

MORRIS: Homer, Hesiod, Tiye, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius, Herakleitos, Einstein, DaVinci, Xenophon, Kikkuli, Thales, Plato, Odysseus (assuming he was Homer’s grandfather), Epaminondas, T.E. Lawrence, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Byron, Mary Shelley, Evelyn Waugh, Emil Zola, Dwight Eisenhower, Sun Tzu, Aspasia, Aristotle, Marguerite Yourcenar, Henry James, Suppiluliumas, Anksepaaten, Herodotus, Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Richmond Lattimore, Solomon, the Biblical “J.” And I’d really like to have Roger Penrose as toastmaster, but he’s still alive.

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.

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.

Interview with Author Donna Galanti

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Donna Galanti. Donna is the author of the paranormal suspense novel A HUMAN ELEMENT (Echelon Press). She has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and Pennwriters. Her blog is here. You can connect with Donna here on Twitter and Facebook and purchase her book here!

Donna, your first novel has just been released. Tell us about it!

DONNA GALANTI: Absolutely!

In my paranormal suspense novel A HUMAN ELEMENT, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite –- her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices –- redeem him or kill him.

Readers who devour paranormal books with a smidge of horror and steam will enjoy A HUMAN ELEMENT, the new novel about loss, redemption, and love.

Here’s what reviewers are saying:

“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of ASSASSIN’S CODE and DEAD OF NIGHT

“A HUMAN ELEMENT is a haunting look at what it means to be human. It’s a suspenseful ride through life and love…and death, with a killer so evil you can’t help but be afraid. An excellent read.” –Janice Gable Bashman, author of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

VENTRELLA: How did the idea originate?

GALANTI: It came to me in a flash from nowhere 15 years ago driving to work. I wrote the entire outline on my lap as I drove (dangerously) and shelved it until 2 years ago.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in? What is your writing style?

GALANTI: I do outline but when I over-outline I can’t get started. I tend to write an 8-10 page preliminary synopsis, bulleted chapter outline, and a 1-page worksheet detailing each character. I like to write “from the dark places” in the third person. A HUMAN ELEMENT has a ton of dark in it from murder and mystery with an evil paranormal thread. However, I did challenge myself to write a middle grade adventure fantasy recently in the first person and had a lot of fun.

VENTRELLA: Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit. What writing experience did you have prior to publication?

GALANTI: I definitely don’t think it’s easy or a sure thing to be a huge hit. Being a writer is constant learning and improving your craft. You may write a good book but you still need other elements like having professional editing skills, a good cover, and be marketing savvy. Before this novel came out I was writing in one way or another since I was seven. I majored in English and Journalism in college and did some news reporting for Gannett News Service. I eventually ended up in marketing communications and after several layoffs launched my own resume writing service and also became a freelance advertising copywriter. I closed up my resume business to write novels.

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

GALANTI: Writing a book before I learned the craft. I became involved with other writers and took writing workshops after I finished my first book. This required going back and fixing a ton of things! I don’t regret the learning that took place afterwards as I can now write a better book from the beginning. And hopefully keep learning and writing even better books. The sequel (in progress), A HIDDEN ELEMENT, starts out fast and dark and propels you into an evil underworld where chaos, despair, redemption, and murder reign.

VENTRELLA: OK, let’s be honest here — You (like me) are with a smaller, independent publisher. Of course, we’d both like to be with Random House or some other huge publisher, where we could be easily found in book stores. Did you make an effort to obtain an agent first and go the traditional route or did you instead look to the smaller publishing houses for your first venture?

GALANTI: I did submit to agents first, yes. I spent several months doing this and waiting on feedback from manuscript requests. However, I knew my premise was a harder sell for a debut author as it crosses genres in a blend of paranormal, romance with a smidge of horror and sci-fi. I believed in the story and so did Echelon Press, a small press with a solid 10 years in the industry. Karen Syed, the president, worked with me on developmental edits before I even signed so she was invested. I’m also not focused on “getting in every brick and mortar bookstore” in America. I am focused on being seen at the online bookstores.

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

GALANTI: Definitely personal attention. I like that. I also like that Echelon Press honored my title and delivered on the cover I was pursuing. They listened to me as an author, and I was not treated as a product. I also have much leeway with my own marketing, and as a former marketer I like having that control.

These days, it takes much more to be a successful author than merely writing a good book. What efforts have you made to publicize yourself and do you think they have been worth your time?
With a book coming out, one in editing, and one being written – I’m finding out that this is only half my author time spent. The other half is “being seen.” And it’s absolutely worth the effort. I have an active blog where I post and host guest authors. I’m also active on Twitter, Facebook with a personal and author page, and GoodReads. It takes time to build relationships in all these places and manage them while promoting others too, yet I have met many supportive peers through these avenues and built a network of readers and professionals. I am currently running a blog tour (as seen here!) which involves multiple articles written, a grand giveaway, and a GoodReads giveaway. I also coordinated a book launch (4/21 at The Doylestown Bookshop) and wrote several press releases around the locales in A HUMAN ELEMENT.

VENTRELLA: I’ve met so many people who think self-publishing is the way to go, and I have tried to dissuade them of this idea. What is your opinion?

GALANTI: I honestly think a writer should start at the top and work their way down. It takes patience and waiting. Lots of waiting. I understand some people don’t want to wait. I gave myself a timeframe to look for agents and decided, after that time, it was best to go with a small press. I don’t regret it, as it allows me the ability to sell my books at conferences and be on conference panels. These are some things self published authors may not have access to. Yes, there is still a stigma. I also could not have become an accepted active member in International Thriller Writers if I self published. That being said, I see many authors with much success being self published. If you are marketing savvy I believe you can have success with it if you deliver a good product, great cover, and know how to be seen. Being a debut author, I think there are benefits to having a respected publisher standing behind you.

Interview with author Gabrielle Faust

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Gabrielle Faust, author of the acclaimed vampire series ETERNAL VIGILANCE, three collections of poetry entitled BEFORE ICARUS, AFTER ACHILLES, CROSSROADS and THE BEGINNING OF NIGHTS, the horror novella REGRET and the celebrated new dark fantasy adventure novel REVENGE. Her short stories, illustrations and editorial commentary have appeared in a variety of online and print publications such as SciFiWire, Blaster, Doorways Magazine, Girls & Corpses Magazine and Fear Zone. She was the Guest of Honor at the Queen of the Damned Vampire Ball in 2008. In 2009 she was crowned “New Orleans Vampire Royalty” by the Vampire Lestat Fan Club at the Tru Blood & Gold vampire ball and was a Special Guest and performer at the House of Blues for the 2011 Endless Night ball. In 2011 Faust was awarded the Texas Social Media Award by the Austin American Statesman. More information on Gabrielle can be found at www.gabriellefaust.com.

Your latest novel REVENGE comes out soon. What’s it about?

GABRIELLE FAUST: My co-author, Solomon Schneider, and I are absolutely thrilled to see this project finally finding its way into the hands of our readership. It was a project that was born of chaos, in chaos and has experienced a rather turbulent road to publication over the past year. That said, we feel strongly that it is some of the finest work we have produced. This will be my seventh book I have had published. However, it will be Solomon’s first foray into the world of novel writing as he has primarily been a poet, philosopher and musician up until this point. Or, as he likes to say, a “wandering wizard”.

As for the tale itself, here is a brief synopsis to give you a bit more of an insight into the epic dark fantasy tale, which I like to describe as “Lord of the Rings” meets “Dante’s Inferno” — “When Marcus Glenfield committed suicide, he took his place among the Legions of Hell as the Demon of Regret. When he learns that the Prince of Wickedness, Belial, is planning to take his former fiancé, Brenda, as his consort, Marcus’ newfound belief in a second chance is quickly shattered in a fit of all too human rage. Incensed by the new demon’s disrespectful hostility, Belial plunges Marcus into the deepest pits of Hell.

But Lucifer has other plans for Marcus. For in the tormented lands of Purgatory, a strange and powerful uprising has gathered to form a new plane of existence—one that would break the ancient caste system of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Limbo and Earth, thwarting both God and Satan’s permanency within the universe. Not only have these brash metaphysical pirates kidnapped the powerful child born of Brenda and Belial’s union, they have also guided Marcus out of the prisons of Hell to their new realm.

When they promise Marcus freedom in return for his help, he realizes that he will finally have to choose a side. But can he find one that he can truly believe in?”

VENTRELLA: This is your first collaboration. How did that work out? Did you share the writing equally or was there some other method?

FAUST: Yes, this is the first time I have collaborated with another author on a project for the novel itself. Prior to this, I teamed up with Michael Marano to complete a series of illustrations for his collection “Stories From the Plague Years” in 2010.

The collaboration with Solomon Schneider came about in 2010 when I came across an ancient cryptic blog post he had posted in 2005 which ended up inspiring me for the sequel to a novella I was working on. Solomon is a masterful storyteller and I saw it as an opportunity for us to mesh creative minds and really produce something otherworldly. The first 5 chapters of REVENGE are actually the original novella REGRET, which I combined with this manuscript to give it a true “first book in a series” beginning. After that, we divvyed up the chapters based on the characters we felt most passionate about. There were particular characters who were solely Sol’s invention and vice versa. After the creation of these separate chapters, however, it was up to me to take everything and make it mesh so that it sounds like one cohesive author’s voice throughout the book. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out!

VENTRELLA: Your work has been distributed mostly through mid-sized publishers (like me!). What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

FAUST: The advantage to mid-size publishers is a personal connection with the publisher and an ability to, usually, contact them directly about issues. However, as all authors know, there are a lot of untrustworthy publishers out there in the mid-size world and, unfortunately, an author must keep their wits about them at all time. There is also the issue of a lack of marketing budget. Thus, the author must be prepared to pay for their own book tours, organize most of their own publicity, etc. I feel quite blessed to be with my current publisher, Barking Rain Press, as they have been a true breath of fresh air! I’m just thrilled to be working with them.

VENTRELLA: Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit…

FAUST: HA! Writing a book is never an easy task. In fact, many an author have compared it to childbirth. However, if it is your passion, you will embrace the process, which may very well drive you insane by the words “THE END” are typed, and revel in all of its glory and madness. There is no guarantee your first book will be a “huge hit”. In fact, that is a very rare anomaly. As with all artistic processes, we learn about our strengths and weaknesses with each project. We learn what our audience gravitates towards with zeal and, at times, we cringe at the mistakes we made.

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

FAUST: I’d say I made two big mistakes when I first started out: as aforementioned in the above question, I truly believed my first book was going to make millions and I was going to galavant around the world riding trains and living the romantic dream of the author of old. It was a brutal awakening to realize that the world just doesn’t work that way and, no matter how many stellar reviews I received, it was still going to be a very hard road to true success. As I like to say, “You can’t eat critical acclaim.”

The other mistake I made was to trust blindly that your editor is going to catch every single typo. That’s just not the case. The editing process is a two-way street and each time an editor sends you a PDF to review you have to carve out a week and comb over each and every page with a magnifying glass. Editors, no matter how amazing and detail oriented they may be, are still human. That said, every book I have ever come across has had at least one typo in them and, so long as there are just one or two, it’s simply not the end of the world.

VENTRELLA: I admittedly don’t read much horror so I’m not sure where in ones inner self you would find these ideas… What’s your process in developing a story?

FAUST: Everyone has their inner demons. We wrestle with darkness on a daily basis. The human species is only one step away from their animal instincts at all time and it really and truly takes very little push someone to their breaking point. It’s terrifying but true. For me, that is the true “evil”. Not hell-spawned demons or other mischievious paranormal and supernatural entities, but our fellow human beings. One simply has to turn on the evening news to find inspiration for a horror novel.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in? What is your writing style?

FAUST: Lately I have begun outlining more and more for the initial stages of my novels. This is primarily because the plotlines are becoming more intense involving multiple levels and dozens of characters. It’s really the only way I can keep track of them all. However, I always like to leave at least a little organic process to my writing. I may know all of the key points that need to happen throughout the book to get from A to Z but what happens between A and B is still a mystery even to me.

VENTRELLA: Do you enjoy the labels people have put on your work or do you think it may limit your audience?

FAUST: I actually find it highly amusing when people try to label my work because they always do it with a slight degree of confused uncertainty. The fact is that my work can’t really be pigeonholed because there are multiple elements running throughout. However, people do adore their labels.

VENTRELLA: When I have discussed the current novel I am working on (BLOODSUCKERS, about a vampire who runs for President), many agents and editors roll their eyes and say “Oh, not another vampire book.” Yet vampire books continue to sell. Do you think the market is oversaturated or will people always be interested in this?

FAUST: Vampires will always sell because people identify with the vampire on a primal level. The vampire is also the penultimate escapism in the supernatural world. Right now, I do believe there is an oversaturation of the “paranormal romance” vampire story which has basically, in my opinion, defanged our beloved predators and turned them into GQ playboys. However, I will always remain true to my own vampire mythos and will never feel in the least bit threatened. When people tire of their frolicking, sparkly playthings, they know where to find vampires with real “bite”!

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing? Do you think this is a good idea for first-time authors?

FAUST: Honestly, unless you already have an established, widespread fanbase before you even release the book, you should try to publish traditionally first. Self-publishing is very expensive, time consuming and most bookstores will still not carry your work if they know it’s self-published because of the reputation that industry has for low-quality work.

VENTRELLA: What does the future hold for you? What projects are in the pipeline?

FAUST: I am currently working on the fourth ETERNAL VIGILANCE book, which I hope to have completed by the end of 2012. I will also begin work on the sequel to REVENGE next month. I will be touring extensively throughout the year to promote REVENGE.

Interview with author Peter Orullian

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Peter Orullian. In 2006, Peter sold his first short story to a Denise Little anthology, and has since sold numerous stories to both Denise and Marty Greenberg, as well as Orson Scott Card’s “Intergalactic Medicine Show.” Then, in early 2009, Tor purchased the first three books in an epic fantasy series Peter is writing. His web page is here.

How did you get your first “big break” in publishing? Did you have an agent first?

PETER ORULLIAN: I think my story here is pretty traditional, and maybe a tad boring. I did get an agent first, and he then sold my fantasy series, The Vault of Heaven, to Tor. The funny thing is that in today’s publishing world, the path to publication is happening in so many ways. But my “big break” was that I landed a new agent—-I’d had one prior-—who took a deep interest in my work and almost immediately sold my books. There’s much to be said for having someone who really gets behind you.

VENTRELLA: Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit. What writing experience did you have prior to publication?

ORULLIAN: Well, I’d sold a dozen or so short stories. But more than this, I’d spent several years working on my craft and understanding the business side of writing and publishing by attending workshops and following the industry. That isn’t to say that I’ve got it all figured out, but if a writer is serious, he needs to commit these kinds of things.

On instant success, I get how aspiring writers start to think this way. They’re close to their own work, and they yearn to be writing full time, doing something they love. And unfortunately, the success stories of writers who have this happen to them are oft repeated in writing circles. The thing a writer needs to do is keep writing, put his heart into each book, and then move on to the next one. With that approach, things will generally continue to get better on all fronts.

VENTRELLA: What resources did you use in creating your fantasy world?

ORULLIAN: Lots of imagination. That sounds cavalier, but it’s kinda true. I’m sure that all my years of reading, and my college days, and all my wide interests have found their way into the work. And often you’ll start down a path, and realize you need to know a bit more about a particular thing, and so you’ll do some research. But I like to extol the value of invention. Plus, therein lies the fun!

VENTRELLA: What distinguishes your fantasy world and story from all the others?

ORULLIAN: At the end of the day, stories are about the characters. And I’ve got a unique bunch. Oh, there are things like magic systems, one based on music that is pretty unique —- I’m a musician, you should know. Then, of course, the cosmology is my own, and like that. But I tend to believe that we mostly read for characters, and I’ve put mine through the grinder, as they say. They’re forced to make very hard choices, and to try to reconcile doing the right thing for the wrong reason and vice versa. Those moments of intense personal conflict, I like to think, are one of the hallmarks of my series.

VENTRELLA: THE UNREMEMBERED is the first in a new series. Have you planned them all out in advance or are you taking them one at a time?

ORULLIAN: I’ve got the first three pretty well defined. And I know the ending with a great deal of clarity. Then, the space between the end of book three and the end of the series, I have in broad strokes. So, there’s still some planning to do late in the series.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the plot for THE UNREMEMBERED.

ORULLIAN: Oh, man. I’m not good at summarizing my own work. And mostly, I don’t think it can be done well in short bits of text for any book. Suffice to say that nations and realms are on the brink of war; social upheaval is putting ideologies at odds; ancient threats and enemies are stirring; and there are some who see the coming storm who are working desperately to avoid it.

See, that’s not real awesome when you boil it down. But I’ve had readers who like George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss and others email me and tell me liken my work in many respects to these epic fantasists. So, that’s both humbling, and perhaps an indication of the type of books I’m writing.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in? What is your writing style?

ORULLIAN: I’m somewhere in between. I have a rough outline, that I deviate from quite a bit. But having the outline is a nice set of guideposts to get me moving. And I do a great deal of story thinking in my outline phase, which I find helpful when I sit to write. That said, a lot of discovery takes place in the writing itself.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what techniques do you use?

ORULLIAN: Think first: What matters most to my character? Then, give them conflict and real motivation.

VENTRELLA: What was the biggest mistake you made in your career?

ORULLIAN: I stuck with my first agent for longer than I should have, since he didn’t seem to have an active interest in my career.

VENTRELLA: Tell me about the book trailer. Did you produce this or hire someone to do so, or did your publisher take care of it?

ORULLIAN: I produced it with the help of some friends. I’m lucky to have folks around me with crazy amounts of talent. So, between the set of us, we’ve done some pretty cool things, I think.

VENTRELLA: Do you feel that book trailers help sales at all?

ORULLIAN: Good question. I’m not sure. I don’t have any analytics on my own stuff, so I can’t speak with any kind of authority on it. Mostly, these kinds of things are there to help create awareness of your work. So, doing at least some of these kinds of things seems right. You simply have to take a balanced approach—don’t over-index on marketing stuff. The best sales tool for your work is the work itself.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also placed a map and other information about your world on your web page. Have you found this to help sales at all or is it more for those who have already read your book and want more information?

ORULLIAN: I believe it’s both. Hopefully, readers who haven’t read my work yet might find this information and consider getting the book. But it’s also there to provide some depth for those who have already read it. Whether it helps sales or not really wasn’t my motivation though. I’m a bit of a geek for this kind of stuff, as I love finding it on the websites of authors I read. So, I went ahead and did some of it from a reader’s point of view.

VENTRELLA: Do you find short stories to be easier to write in any way?

ORULLIAN: Well, they take less time. But if you’re asking from a craft standpoint, no. It’s a bit of a different form, for sure. But each has its own unique considerations. I enjoy writing short fiction, as well as novels.

VENTRELLA: Do you advise authors to write short stories to help promote their other work?

ORULLIAN: No, I don’t advise it, as such. The main reason I do it is because I have this idea that some of the stories are too much like a data-dump, were I to drop it into one of the novels. But I like the backstory, and think others might appreciate some of the depth. So, I write the short stories for those who want to have a deeper look into my world. They’re not necessary by any means, but readers who read both the short and long stuff will have a some of those “aha” moments when they’re reading.

VENTRELLA: Many authors are now making short stories set in their world available for free online. Do you think this is a good way to grab new readers? Has it worked for you?

ORULLIAN: Again, I have to say I’m not sure if it’s a good way to grab readers or if it has worked for me. I have no way to track such a thing. For my part, I don’t do it so much as a marketing tactic, as much as I do it because I like the notion of transmedia, where using the strengths of various artistic media to tell a broader story is the goal. What that means is that you can read my book and not read my short fiction (or watch my webisodes, or explore my online map, or spend time looking through the art, etc), and you’d be just fine. But if you read and explore some of these other things, there’s a kind of larger “story experience” available to you. I really dig that possibility. That’s why you see me doing these kinds of things. I love the resonance and enlarging opportunities transmedia affords me as a storyteller. Oh, gosh, I could go on and on . . .

VENTRELLA: How do you prefer to make your short stories available – anthologies, magazines, download? What is better, in your opinion?

ORULLIAN: There’s no science to this yet, in my opinion.

VENTRELLA: Couldn’t help but notice that you’re a musician (as am I). I used music to help explain the magic in my world – has music played a part in your fiction as well?

ORULLIAN: Absolutely! As I mentioned, there’s a music magic system. And it factors heavily in several aspects of my series. Plus, I’m writing a concept album as part of the transmedia approach I mentioned above. It won’t be a retelling of the novel. It’ll be additive story, going into the early life of one of the characters, a old war, and some explanation of what I call “The Song of Suffering,” which is a song of power in my world.

On another level, I think it helps me approach a sense of lyricism in my writing. So, yeah, this is a great big question that we simply don’t have enough space to go into here . . .

VENTRELLA: Why do so many authors also tend to be musicians?

ORULLIAN: I’m not sure that’s true. Thinking now of all the writers I know, most aren’t. But yes, of course, some are, too. Rather, I’d say, “Why do so many authors also tend to engage in other artist pursuits?” Because I know writers who are painters, poets, photographers, etc. I think writers are creative types, and most creatives have more than one creative outlet, or so I’ve noticed.

Interview with author A. C. Crispin

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing A.C. Crispin, whose new novel is PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM. She’s best known for the novelization of the 1984 V TV series, but also for her bestselling Star Wars novels THE PARADISE SNARE, THE HUTT GAMBIT, and REBEL DAWN — although I first discovered her through her Star Trek novels: YESTERDAY’S SON, TIME FOR YESTERDAY, THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDERS, and SAREK.

Ann, You’ve been able to write novels in some of fandom’s favorite stories. How did you manage that?

A.C. CRISPIN: After I wrote YESTERDAY’S SON and V, publishers with franchises approached my agent when they had projects they thought would be a good match for my skills.

If your readers want to read about how to get an agent, soup to nuts, they should read “Notes on Finding a (Real) Literary Agent” on my website.

VENTRELLA: Do you make proposals or do the studios come to you directly now?

CRISPIN: For original novels I write book proposals. For tie-in work, they pretty much come to me.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss THE PRICE OF FREEDOM. How much freedom were you given to develop Jack Sparrow’s background?

CRISPIN: After a considerable amount of back and forth on the part of the Disney studio liaison, during which several detailed outlines were not approved, the studio liaison decided that instead of writing the project I had been originally hired to write (the story of the Isla de Muerta mutiny re: the Aztec gold) I should instead write the story of how Jack Sparrow worked for the EITC and wound up making that bargain with Davy Jones. So I knew where the story had to end up. How I got there was left pretty much up to me.

I did consult with both my editors on the book, the acquiring editor and the editor who completed the project. For example, they both agreed that there should be a “Lady Pirate” as a character, so that’s how Doña Pirata was born. The Legend of Zerzura plotline was my creation, but my editors suggested having talismans as a way to get into the Sacred Labyrinth and reach the treasure. So I then came up with the bracelets.

By the time I finished with my outline, it was over 70 single spaced pages long. Of course, THE PRICE OF FREEDOM is a long novel, some 235,000 words.

VENTRELLA: Did Disney censor any of your ideas or tell you to make major changes?

CRISPIN: My Disney editor (somewhat regretfully, because she really liked them) bowdlerized my hottest sex scene. I’m not sure you’d call that a major change. After all, we are talking Disney, here. (The scene was hot, but not graphic — she felt that it was a bit too hot.)

VENTRELLA: What were your main goals in trying to develop his character?

CRISPIN: To create the character of “Jack becoming” so that people would recognize Jack Sparrow, but also know this wasn’t quite the Jack they see in the films … this was a younger, more vulnerable, more trusting and less cynical Jack. He gets more cynical and “savvy” during the course of the book. He’s not the same Jack at the end as he was at the beginning. Of course that’s the goal of good fiction, right?

VENTRELLA: What adventures in your novel help shape Jack into the character we all know?

CRISPIN: Oh, Jack experiences betrayal, disappointment, fear of imminent death, hatred, and as a result learns to be much more wary and cunning, and to trust almost no one. Readers who want teasers can read the excerpts on my website. There are six there.

VENTRELLA: Do any other characters from the film appear in the novel?

CRISPIN: Edward Teague, Cutler Beckett, Hector Barbossa, Pintel and Ragetti, and a certain squid-faced Captain.

VENTRELLA: Were you given a peek at the script for the most recent film in order to work in some foreshadowing?

CRISPIN: No. I was given the script for “At World’s End” before the film released, but my book was finished before the script for “On Stranger Tides” was written.

VENTRELLA: The most recent movie is loosely based on Tim Powers’ novel ON STRANGER TIDES. Did you use that novel at all for reference?

CRISPIN: I’ve read ON STRANGER TIDES a couple of times, but aside from the fact that it’s an excellent pirate yarn, no.

VENTRELLA: Will there be more books in the series?

CRISPIN: That will be Disney’s call. I imagine they’ll base that decision on how well THE PRICE OF FREEDOM sells.

VENTRELLA: What’s your favorite of the Pirates movies?

CRISPIN: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

VENTRELLA: Do you find using established characters in your media novels to be a limitation?

CRISPIN: Nope. I find it a challenge to have them grow and change in ways so subtle that the studio doesn’t realize I’ve done it.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written your own series: Starbridge. Tell us about this!

CRISPIN: Funny you should ask about that. There’s a good chance that the seven StarBridge novels will soon be re-released as e-books. There have been quite a few requests for them from readers, over the years. The series is about a school for young people from the Fifteen Known Worlds who come to an asteroid in deep space to learn to be diplomats, planetary advocates (known as “interrelators”) and explorers. The books focus on First Contact, and explore what it would be like in a galactic society.

VENTRELLA: Do you find writing books based on your own work easier?

CRISPIN: Not really. I put my full efforts into both my media tie-ins and my original novels. With the original novels, it’s generally a bit more work, because I have to create the world, the technology, the history, the geography, the society, etc. World-building and universe-building have to be done well if you want to create the illusion of reality –- something that’s essential to writing s.f. and fantasy.

VENTRELLA: We met at Balticon this year. Do you enjoy conventions and do you advise authors to attend them?

CRISPIN: You can learn a lot at conventions, and once you’ve gone pro, you can do a fair amount of networking and business at gatherings such as the Nebulas, Worldcon, etc. I enjoy conventions, still, even after all these years.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about Writer Beware. How did the idea for this come about?

CRISPIN: Back in 1998, Victoria Strauss and I both realized, independently of each other, that writing scams were proliferating on the internet. At some point our investigations brought us into contact with each other, and we decided to do something about it. SFWA gave us its blessing and sponsorship, and that’s how Writer Beware was born.

VENTRELLA: I meet many authors who have gone the vanity press or self publishing route and then wonder why no one takes them seriously. Other than “don’t do that” do you have any specific pieces of advice for these authors?

CRISPIN: I advise them to go to Writer Beware and read our articles about POD, vanity publishing, etc., so they’ll go into self publishing with a clear vision of what it can and can’t do for an author. E-publishing has taken off in the past six months, and it can now be a realistic way (provided the author has the sales numbers) to break into commercial publishing (advance and royalty paying publishing with a major press, that is). This is generally not true for POD and hardcopy “self publishing.” But there are exceptions.

The main problem with “self-publishing” is when authors confuse it with commercial publishing and expect their books to be on the shelves in bookstores nationwide, plus have other unrealistic expectations. It is really not a shortcut into a successful writing career for the vast majority of those who do it. I believe it’s still true that most POD and self published novels still sell fewer than 100 copies.

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about the publishing industry and what would you change about it if you could?

CRISPIN: Here are my top two picks for that:

(1) I’d go back in time and eliminate the Thor Power Tools Supreme Court ruling. That had a terrible effect on a publisher’s ability to keep books in stock. Look it up.

(2) I’d get rid of the Internet for two reasons (A) the internet has given aspiring writers the idea that they’re entitled to be published, no matter how well or poorly they write, and (B) because of the internet, writers are getting scammed at an appalling rate.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read for pleasure?

CRISPIN: Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Peters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mahy, Ursula K. LeGuin, George R.R. Martin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Charlotte Bronte, and too many others to name.

VENTRELLA: Of what work are you most proud?

CRISPIN: I do my level best on all my books. I’m pretty proud of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM, because I had to do so much research. It took me three years to write, and the whole time I was writing it, I was doing research on the historical period and the nautical stuff.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily, for instance?

CRISPIN: For tie-in work I HAVE to produce detailed outlines, so I’ve gotten used to working that way. I don’t like writing myself into corners, and a good outline usually prevents that.

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

CRISPIN: I have no idea. Personally, I prefer science fiction, though I read both.

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

CRISPIN: Learn to read and analyze publishing contracts. Agents aren’t perfect, and you really need to be able to read a proposed contract and spot pitfalls.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?

CRISPIN: Here’s my top five list:

1. They spend years writing a Star Wars or other tie-in novel without ever researching whether they can actually submit the thing and have a chance of having it published. (With Star Wars, for example, they won’t even read the book; all Star Wars novels are contracted for in advance.)

2. They look for shortcuts, such as “self publishing” or POD publishing, often with a scammy publisher like PublishAmerica or Strategic, because it’s the easy thing to do.

3. They develop “golden words syndrome” and can’t see any flaws in their writing, and if someone points them out, they get mad. This is death to any aspiration to ever be a pro.

4. They submit first drafts.

5. They want to write fiction, but they don’t read it. I’ve never yet encountered a single writer, in the dozens, maybe hundreds of workshops I’ve taught, who wrote fiction well but wasn’t a reader. In order to write well, especially fiction, you must be an inveterate reader. No exceptions.

VENTRELLA: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they never do?

CRISPIN: Where readers can buy my books. There are links to purchase all my books on my website.

Intrerview with Nebula nominated author Bud Sparhawk

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing three times Nebula finalist Bud Sparhawk today. He’s primarily known for his short fiction with heavy and hard science, but also for his humor (in particular his “Sam Boone” series).

Bud, although you have extolled the virtues of outlines, do you think it’s possible to write a great story without an outline?

BUD SPARHAWK: I’m not certain “extolled” is the right word. Certainly I’ve advocated paying considerable attention to a story’s structure – the sequencing of scenes, time frames, and points of view. I don’t think I’ve ever recommended preparing a formal outline where a story is described in detail, point by point.

My own style of writing is to set up the scenes I think the story needs, block in the characters, setting, and time, and then move things around to the way I want to tell the story. Many times I write quite a bit before breaking what I’ve done into key scenes and then add sketch ideas that fill in empty spots. It’s generally a messy back and forth process but it works for me.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever done so?

SPARHAWK: Written a great story or used an outline to write it? All three of my Nebula finalists were done sans outline – just bashing along until they felt complete. I wouldn’t call any of them “great” – entertaining maybe. The one story that I felt was “great” was “Bright Red Star” and which received almost no literary comment, except from David Hartwell who included it in his Years Best SF #14. This story has now appeared in several languages and on audio pubs, which is somewhat of an affirmation. It was my response to some of the hysteria surrounding 9/11.

VENTRELLA: You’ve concentrated almost entirely on short stories and novellas. What is it about the shorter form that appeals to you?

I’ve been blogging about this very subject on budsparhawk.blogspot.com for some time. One of my latest musings dwelled on the differences between novelists and we short people. Although there are clearly differences between the two camps, my conclusion was simply that that some do and some can’t: Temperament, patience, and economic necessity are probably involved in a writers choices, but the mix would vary considerably.

VENTRELLA: Many writers consider short stories to be harder than novels. What is your experience?

SPARHAWK: I don’t think “harder” is the distinction I’d make. Some writers find it impossible to describe anything in a single sentence while I find it difficult to drone endlessly on about anything because I’m always anxious to get to the payoff. In my opinion, brevity always makes a point sharper and I usually edit down to reach that clarity. For example, I recently turned in a 15k piece that was originally 33k in second draft and around 20k in the penultimate one.

When I started writing I could write a 5-7K story in a weekend and once wrote one – “Persistence” – that I later sold to Analog – in an evening. I like to deal with issues or ideas and the short form is ideal for that. Longer pieces deal more with character development or expansion of a situation. I’ve written several as yet unsold novels and have found developing increasing complexity that forces the word count ever upwards tedious, albeit interesting.

Dedicated novelists have told me that they cannot begin a story without discovering that complications arise and they are faced with an irresistible urge to explain, describe, or comment. Then too, other characters come along with their own damn issues, backgrounds, motives and … well, you see how that goes, with the inevitable result is other than short.

VENTRELLA: What usually comes first for you – an idea or a character?

SPARHAWK: The idea or concept, always. I see characters as vehicles that carry the ideas forward, and try to make them eloquent spokespersons for what I try to say.

VENTRELLA: We’ve met at various conventions over the years. Do you enjoy conventions and do you advise authors to attend them?

SPARHAWK: I’m just a ham and enjoy the spotlight, talking to fans, and especially having the opportunity to talk writerish with the other pros. I love the readings, especially by unfamiliar writers to me.

VENTRELLA: What’s your favorite convention experience?

SPARHAWK: The random discussions that arise in the hallways or in the dealers room have be my favorite experiences. I hardly ever leave one of these random discussions without a story idea or two.

VENTRELLA: I meet many authors who have gone the vanity press or self publishing route and then wonder why no one takes them seriously. What’s your opinion on self publishing?

SPARHAWK: The line between vanity and self-published has become very thin. Established writers are self-publishing collections, reverted novels, and even original works – all to take advantage of the opportunities eBooks have created. Some non-professionals (another vague term) have been highly successful with their “vanity” publishing. Results are mixed, but in most cases it seems to depend on the degree of self-promotion one is willing to undertake. Social networking seems key to success for both types.

VENTRELLA: Do you think there is a difference if an already established author self publishes new material?

SPARHAWK: If a writer has already established a reputation, then selling new material via POD or eBook should not be a problem. Otherwise you use up a lot of time, effort, and creative juice that could be used for improving your writing.

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about the publishing industry and what would you change about it if you could?

The lengthy delays between submission and response, which is an unfortunate consequence of limited staff and/or time available to the publisher. The industry probably needs more underpaid English majors looking for “experience” in the publishing field.

Since most editors now accept electronic submissions I can easily see the day when some maven will design an app that evaluates e-manuscripts on the fly, all tailored to an editor’s preset specifications. That would certainly change the writing game for both writers and editors. Don’t know if this would make the publishers happy or not.

VENTRELLA: What do you like to read for pleasure?

SPARHAWK: Short stories, of course, and mostly SF, but I make an exception for anything by Terry Pratchett.

VENTRELLA: Of what work are you most proud?

SPARHAWK: See above – “Bright Red Star.” Interestingly, I’ve written three more shorts in the same universe, two of which are in McPhail’s anthologies.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on now?

SPARHAWK: I’ve a long novel in penultimate editing, four or five shorts that still need work, and getting as much of my published works into eBook formats as I have time for. The novel deals with the long term effects of human expansion into the universe and what exactly makes our descendants “human.”

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

SPARHAWK: It is a puzzle that in these days of instant everything and twittering phrases that short fiction does not sell better. Steven King recently observed that much of the popular long form fiction has little substance but does carry the reader along in an engaging, but superficial narrative thread that provides an immersive experience. Summer reading at the beach, in other words. I find that much of the “epic” fantasy fits this description. Clearly, fantasy in general is not my cup of tea, but there are some fantasy works that rises above the rest – like Laura Anne Gilman’s Vineart series.

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

SPARHAWK: 1. Don’t give up your day job.

2. Put some time aside for writing every day.

3. Learn humility and to accept rejection gracefully.

4. Join SFWA as soon as you can.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?

SPARHAWK: Endless rewriting in pursuit of perfection, which can never be achieved. The pursuit of “better” is ever the enemy of “good enough.” A writer should rewrite only until the piece achieves a satisfactory level in their own opinion and, of course, whenever an editor asks.

VENTRELLA: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they never do?

SPARHAWK: “Where do you get your Ideas?” to which I respond “a guy in New Jersey sends me two a week for five bucks.”. Ask a silly question …

Seriously though, no one ever asks how the magic is done and the toll it takes on family life, work, and socializing. I wrote for years while holding a fairly demanding job, raising a family, and dealing with the issues of aging parents, yet managed to eke out a few words each night, having them add up to some decent stories and a lot of less than sales worthy. The ideas bubbled up during my non-writing times and, if they were worthy of remembering, finally made it into a story. Truthfully, I have no idea where the ideas come from. I only know how much work it takes to turn them from daydreams to reality.

Interview with author Mark L. Van Name

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Mark L. Van Name, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Arisia convention in Boston recently. Mark has worked in the high-tech industry for over thirty years and today runs a technology assessment company in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. He’s published over a thousand computer-related articles and multiple science fiction stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies.

How important is it that writers of hard SF especially have a background in science?

MARK L. VAN NAME: There are no hard and fast rules about writing, SF or otherwise. The right good, smart writer can pull off just about anything. You can learn so much via research that not having formal training in an area is no excuse for not learning about it. So, I don’t think it’s vital that hard SF writers have a science background.

That said, I do think it’s helpful to have a solid base in any areas you try to cover in depth. Without that base, you better do your research, because otherwise, you’ll make mistakes, and your readers will spot them.

VENTRELLA: Since all of speculative fiction relies on things that are not, do you think a beginning writer should be wary when writing about things of which they have no experience?

VAN NAME: Wary, yes, but afraid to tackle it, no. You just have to respect the material you’re using. If you haven’t been a fire fighter and want to write about them, reading about their work and talking to some would be a very good idea. Making it up entirely based on what you’ve seen on TV, though possibly better than no research at all, is rarely enough for your work to have the verisimilitude it should.

VENTRELLA: Given your background, are you worried about the growing anti-science attitude we are seeing in much of politics these days?

VAN NAME: Definitely, though I have to say that particular concern is lower on my list than many others, including global climate change, the huge levels of hunger and poverty around the world, our national debt, child soldiers, and many other causes. There have always been groups opposed to rationality, and there always will be.

VENTRELLA: How did you break into the field? What was your first sale and how did it come about?

VAN NAME: My first fiction sale of any type was a short story, “Going Back,” to a now-defunct, small-press, feminist SF magazine, Pandora. My first professional (by SFWA guidelines) sale was a short time later, a story, “My Sister, My Self,” that went to Asimov’s but ended up in their original anthology, ISAAC ASIMOV’S TOMORROW’S VOICES. In both cases, the sale went down in the usual way: I mailed them the manuscript, and they bought it. For the first story, the editors asked that I interview some battered women–the protagonist was one–and then do a rewrite based on what I learned. I did, I learned a lot, I rewrote the story, and they bought it. For the Asimov’s piece, I mailed it, and they bought it. Not very exciting, I’m afraid.

VENTRELLA: Did you get an agent?

VAN NAME: Nope. Only after I’d sold the first four novels did I talk to an agent. I’m not at all convinced that agents help beginning writers sell short stories. More to the point, I suspect that few agents you would want to represent you would take you if you were writing only short pieces, and that’s all I was doing for many years.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the Jon and Lobo series!

VAN NAME: Talking about a multi-novel series is a lot like describing a multi-course meal of experimental cuisine: whether you focus on the individual dishes or the overall meal, you’re bound to miss a lot. I’ll try it a bit from both perspectives.

The overall series is a future history that I tell from the first-person perspective of one man, Jon Moore. I’ve always found history more interesting when it comes directly from the people who were there, so I wanted to chronicle a very important time in humanity’s far future–I’m writing about a time roughly 500 years from now–but limit myself largely to what Jon can see and experience. Of course, he’s a most unusual man, as far as he knows the only nanotech-enhanced human alive, so he naturally ends up in quite a few interesting situations. In the first novel, ONE JUMP AHEAD, he meets and becomes first the owner and then the friend of Lobo, an extraordinarily intelligent assault vehicle that can go anywhere–on land, under water, in the air, or in space. Over the course of the many books the series will take to complete–I’m estimating about eighteen, but that’s just an estimate–the characters and the universe will undergo many significant changes.

On an individual book level, each part of the series is simply a novel that should stand entirely on its own. You can pick up any book in the series and enjoy it. You can read them in any order. If you read them all, however, and further, if you read them in order, then you should have a richer experience. I’ve talked to lots of readers who’ve joined the series several books in, and so far, all of them have been able to enjoy whatever books happened to be their starting points.

VENTRELLA: You like to attend science fiction conventions. Are they really worth it, given the expense?

VAN NAME: I have no clue, because hard data on the sales value of cons–or blogs or pretty much any other marketing tool–is almost impossible to get. That said, I don’t go simply to increase sales. I attend cons to be part of the community, to see friends, visit new cities, eat at good restaurants, and so on. You can’t be sure you’ll boost your sales, but you can be sure to see friends and have an entertaining time.

VENTRELLA: What’s the funniest experience you ever had at a convention?

VAN NAME: I’ve done a lot of humor panels at cons, and I’ve done stand-up comedy/spoken-word shows, so that’s a tougher question than you might imagine. Certainly one of the funniest hours I’ve spent was listening to my friend, Lew Shiner, give a talk on humorous mimetic short fiction at a long-ago Disclave at which he was the guest of honor. He delivered the entire thing in very scholarly style, but it was just an excuse to tell a ton of jokes–which he did, brilliantly.

VENTRELLA: What process do you use in order to make believable, realistic characters?

VAN NAME: I don’t see that process as separate from the overall writing process. I sit down to tell a story. The story becomes very real in my head, because I spend a great deal of time living in the world of the story. The story includes people. I get to know those people. Like any other folks, they behave the way they do because of who they are. If I try to make a character do something that she or he simply wouldn’t do, it feels bad, wrong, as wrong as it would feel if a friend suddenly behaved completely out of character. I listen to those feelings. I write the story. The characters behave as they would. That’s about it.

I should probably clarify that I’m not one of those writers who believes his characters are real humans. I know they’re not. I know I control them. I know I could make them do anything I want. I also know, however, that doing so, that violating a character’s identity simply for the sake of a plot, would be bad craft. I don’t want to do that.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process–-do you outline heavily, for instance?

VAN NAME: I generally outline, but how detailed the outline is varies widely. For a thriller, FATAL CIRCLE, that I’m partway through and hope one day to finish, I had to do some research in key areas and consult with some experts. The result was a very detailed, very long outline–over twenty-six thousand words, a quarter of a typical novel. For CHILDREN NO MORE, I went with an outline of barely three thousand words. I outline to the level I feel necessary before I’m ready to start writing the book, and then I write.

I do some writing work every day. That’s been the key to changing me from someone who sold a story every few years to someone who has multiple novels out. I don’t, though, have a word-count quota. I avoid that sort of goal because it’s so easy to fail at it, and I hate failing. Instead, I have a time requirement: I must devote at least half an hour a day solely to writing work. As long as I’ve done that, I’ve succeeded. Most days, I do more. Most days, I get a fair number of words on the page. Some days, I produce very few. As long as I’ve tried for half an hour minimum, I call it a success.

VENTRELLA: What do you see as the future for printed books? For book stores?

VAN NAME: I love books. I really do. My house is full of them. They’re everywhere. Sadly, I believe the printed book is going to become a minority taste. I’m not sure if the transition will take ten years or fifty, but I believe it’s coming. That said, in the fiction world, books are containers for stories, and ebooks are simply other containers for stories. Similarly, I believe bookstores will continue to exist, but they will evolve, and in time their numbers will shrink. I will hate that, because I love bookstores almost as much as I love books.

I hasten to add that I don’t see any of this as the demise of writers or of people paying for stories. They’ll just pay for those stories in other forms.

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

VAN NAME: Rather mixed. I write a blog, so in a sense I self-publish. I sell all my fiction, however, to traditional publishers. I know that some writers can make a great deal of money self-publishing, but being a publisher is a lot of work, and most of that work is not writing, which is what I most want to do. So, for me, selling to a publisher remains the way I hope to continue to bring my fiction to the market.

I also expect most people who self-publish are unlikely to make a lot of money doing so. The sales and marketing experience that a publisher brings to its job helps make each writer a brand–some obviously much bigger brands than others–and it’s hard to manage that feat on your own. Plus, self-publishers have to be good enough at analyzing their own work to know when it’s of publishable quality. I’ve read some who are indeed good at that job, but I’ve also read many who are not.

Like so many things, if others want to do it, I wish them the best. For the most part, though, it’s not for me, at least not now. I add that last bit because even for those of us who work in the future every day, it’s pretty darn hard to predict.

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

VAN NAME: I agonized over this question for months. In fact, it’s the biggest reason I’ve been so late getting this interview back to you. I really took the challenge seriously, and I found I simply couldn’t come up with a single ultimate dinner party. I won’t let myself cop out completely, though, so I’m going to give you, in no particular order, a few that particularly caught my fancy.

Each on his own, just so I could focus exclusively on him: Homer, Shakespeare, Keats, and my biological father, whom I’ve met only once for a couple of hours.

My mother as a young woman, but with someone standing by to knock me out if I started to give away the future.

Several women I care about deeply, each alone, each as a young girl, just so I could see who they once were.

I could go on and on, but one thing is clear: I’d be greedy, going for one-on-one time rather than organizing a group.

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