Misha Burnett

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One of the things that impressed me about Catskinner’s Book is how it is an interesting amalgamation of a number of ideas, such as the tattoo-binding of a demon/alien to a human infant, the “walk-ins” concept of aliens on earth, a kind of schizophrenic experience of having two minds in one body, a sort of interstellar gang warfare, the uncomfortable relationship between parasite and host, a rather complex and uncertain sexuality and the “lone gunman” aspect of the professional hit man among others. What was the starting point, the original idea, and when and how did these other aspects, in so far as they were conscious and deliberate, come into play?

The starting point was James and Catskinner. I wanted to tell a story from the viewpoint of someone who was dissociative, who had multiple distinct identities. Realistic fiction that features dissociation tends to focus on the early trauma that caused it, and I didn’t want James to be seen as a victim of his upbringing—I didn’t want to tell the story of what was done to him, I wanted to tell the story of what he did. So I fictionalized it. By writing Catskinner as something truly alien I was able to concentrate on how James dealt with the present, instead of dwelling on the past.

The relationship between the outsiders and the human race was largely inspired by William Burroughs’ Nova Express novels. Fans of Burroughs’ work will notice quite of number of references, but fortunately it’s not necessary to pick up on them to follow the story. The basic idea that I lifted from Burroughs was that the Earth is host to alien intelligences which are essentially carrion feeders—they sow chaos and discord in order to feed on the energy released by suffering.

So I didn’t want a galactic empire or anything organized. This is an invasion of carpetbaggers, flim-flam artists who move in to take advantage of the gullible rubes for a quick profit. What’s more, they lie—they lie about themselves, about the other Outsiders, about everything. The heart of my cosmology is in Alice’s speech in the bowling alley, when she tells James, “They have been influencing human history for thousand of years, starting wars, inspiring all sorts of atrocities for their own purposes, and we don’t even know for certain what they are.” (Which is why I used that quote for the back cover of the print edition.)

How I told the story was largely inspired by Phillip K. Dick, particularly works like A Maze Of Death and Time Out Of Joint, where the narrator doesn’t understand the rules of the world in which he finds himself. James is not a contemplative man, he’s not concerned with answering the cosmic questions, he just wants to get through the next day.

The physicality of the relationship between James and Godiva was partially inspired by Burroughs (and also by Samuel Delany, another author whom I feel has been woefully neglected by the mainstream) and partially my own sexuality. Without getting overly personal, I have always responded to another person as a person, and the gender of the person is pretty far down on my list of significant characteristics. Godiva’s physiology was my way of expressing that concept in a speculative context.

Much of the book, especially the various shoot-out scenes, are quite cinematic, and I wonder if you had that in mind when you were writing – how would these scenes develop if it were a movie? – or was that more unconscious and instinctive?

I am a product of my time. I grew up with movies, and the cinematic mindset has shaped me as a storyteller. I didn’t set out to write scenes to be filmed, but I did “see” much of the action as if I was watching it in a movie. I am a huge fan of the films of John Carpenter, and I’m sure that his style inspired the way I paced the action sequences. At times I saw James as Jack Burton from Big Trouble In Little China, in fact, a very simple, down to earth man suddenly confronted with the fantastic.

As far as Catskinner becoming a film—I certainly wouldn’t say no to the money. But I wouldn’t expect the film to follow the story of the book—they’d probably cast Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and make James a science teacher from Pittsburgh who decided to follow his lifelong dream of opening a bookstore in the inner city or something.

But, hey, that’s the movie business. Note to any producers who read this—I am so willing to sell out my art for cash. Just tell me who’s buying.

Catskinner’s “host” has a difficult relationship with his parasite. At times he seems resigned, at times he seems to glory in its capabilities, at times he seems frustrated by the whole thing. This relationship seemed the heart of the book and the most interesting part to me. Was there a time when the host tried to rebel or thought of rebelling, leading to, for example, a sort of “exorcism” attempt. I imagined there may have been a struggle at some point, perhaps in his youth?

James has certainly fought against Catskinner—fairly early in the book I allude to an incident where James actually threatens to kill himself because of Catskinner’s actions. However, James has never known what being without Catskinner would be like—he really can’t imagine it. He wants Catskinner to be more tractable and less randomly destructive, but he doesn’t want Catskinner to be gone. For good or ill they are two halves of the same organism. Even leaving out Catskinner’s unique physical abilities, James would be lost without him.

The book has received mostly very high ratings on Goodreads and, I expect, elsewhere as well. You must be gratified by that. I have a sense that indie authors such as yourself must play a long game. Your book(s) will not be going out of print and are not at the mercy of the old-fashioned publishing cycle. There are a lot of different ways of going about getting attention for the book, such as targeting particular readers through reading clubs or online specialty book sites, engaging in promotional events (blog tours, book giveaways, etc ..), producing and distributing video promos, and so on. How active have you been or intend to be, and what are some of the activities you’ve engaged in or considered?

Heh. I’m making it up as I go. I am currently featured on a site called “Story Cartel” (http://storycartel.com/ ) that allows authors to offer free downloads of e-books and giveaways of print copies to generate reviews. I also just joined a site called “Ozark Hellbenders” (http://ozarkshellbenders.weebly.com/ ) that is for authors of paranormal and horror fiction from the Ozarks region. (I grew up in Springfield, MO.)

I am also going to be at Archon, a local science fiction convention, this year, with a table of books (I should have Cannibal Hearts out by then.)

Personally, I believe that the best strategy for independent authors is to work together, to build word of mouth networks to promote each other’s works. When I find a book I like, I always check the author’s website and see who she or he recommends, and have found a lot of excellent books that way. I see author-created platforms for promotion springing up all over.

I personally have found that a combination of WordPress and Twitter seems to suit my own communication style. I am not by nature a social person, and so self-promotion is outside of my comfort zone, but it’s part of the business of being an author today. The days of living in a cabin in the woods and having a publisher do all the promotion for you are long gone—even for those who write for a traditional publishing house.

I liked the cover art for Catskinner’s Book and I noticed you’d mentioned having done it yourself. Can you share some of the tools and tricks you like to use? Do you do other artwork or just covers?

I started with an outstanding photograph, so the rest was easy. My partner, Susan (MzSusanB (http://mzsusanb.wordpress.com/ ) on WordPress) took that picture, and those are my hands. I did the text in Paint.Net, the font is Times New Roman with some extra stretching on the uprights.

Now that I have sort of set a theme, I used another picture that she took of my hands for the cover of Cannibal Hearts.

Oh, and any authors looking for a cover photograph are welcome to check out her Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/-susanb-) her work is available for licensing. Contact her for rates.

What, if anything, can you tell me about ‘Cannibal Hearts’, your current work in progress? Is it a sequel?

Yes, it is a sequel, the second of what I plan to be a series. It picks up about a year after the end of Catskinner’s Book. It’s a little different in scope, it opens with James and Godiva working as local bosses in the Outsider syndicate. It’s more of an ensemble cast, many of the characters from the first book and quite a few new ones. I feel that a sequel should offer the reader something different than the first work, a new story set in the same universe.

Consequently, while the first book dealt with James discovering the true nature of the world he (and the rest of humanity) lives in, this one is more concerned with the relationships between the modified humans and how they function while keeping their existence below the radar. There’s still conflict and action, and I am working to make it as fast moving and exciting as the first book, but it’s a different sort of story.

I feel that I have more freedom to explore the cosmology in this book. So much of Catskinner’s Book was concerned with simply setting up the sandbox, in Cannibal Hearts I get to really play in it. 

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Todd Keisling

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TL: Did you plan for a sequel or series from the beginning of A Life Transparent? If not, when did that idea first occur to you?

TK: Oh, no way. I wrote ALT expecting it to be a single novel (in fact, I expected it would be just a 2k word short story when I started), and there for a while, that’s all it was. I took a hiatus from writing in 2008, and during that period of time I had a daydream about Donovan Candle tied to a chair. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how he’d ended up in that room. The thought persisted over the months, and by the end of that year, I’d decided I should probably find out—and that’s how TLM came to be.

As for the story becoming a trilogy, I have my editor to thank for that. I sent her draft #2 in early 2011, and she took issue with the original ending. “It doesn’t fit with the tone of the novel,” she said. In hindsight, she was right, but at the time I fought her on it simply because I was ready to work on something different. I sent the manuscript out to several beta readers and solicited their feedback. The responses were varied, but most agreed the ending was missing something. I had the option of either adding another 100+ pages to smooth out the ending as it was, or split the book into a third novel (which would allow for more development). I chose the latter option, Amelia (my editor) smugly said “I told you so,” and the Monochrome trilogy was born.

TL: In the case of both books, did the story change from the time you started writing it until completion? If so, how?

TK: It did. There’s a big difference between the first and second editions of ALT. I initially set out to just clean up the original ALT manuscript, but after taking a closer look at it, I realized there was a lot that needed to change in order to maintain consistency with the second novel. The overall story and message remained the same, but I removed some scenes, added others, and ended up cutting about 7k words out of the final book. The second edition was actually more of a revision, but it was necessary.

TLM’s story changed as well, which was the cause of the delays in the editing process. I removed a character from the story in order to slim down the manuscript and improve the story’s pace. Whole scenes were cut, requiring a full rewrite of about half the chapters in the book. As a result, there’s a 16k word difference between drafts #2 and #3. That old quote, “Murder your darlings,” comes to mind. Amelia and I did so with a pair of hatchets and smiles on our faces.

TL: What is the easiest part of writing for you? What is the hardest?

TK: I think the easiest part for me is the . . . well, the “thinking” aspect of it. The plotting part. Figuring out what the story is before I begin. A lot of that happens during the writing process, but the initial realization that there’s a story to be told (e.g. Donovan tied to a chair) is the easiest, as it usually occurs naturally.

The hardest part is everything else. Having the discipline to sit down every day and actually write this story that I’ve been thinking and talking about for months, knowing that what I write is probably going to be shit and that I’ll have to rewrite it or edit the hell out of it to make it presentable to the general public. It’s long and grueling and very time consuming. Case in point, TLM took almost four years of my life. I worked on it for so long that when the book was finally finished, I didn’t quite know what to do with my time. I felt like a hermit emerging from his cave for the first time in years.

TL: Did you find ‘The Liminal Man’ easier to write than ‘A Life Transparent’, given that the fictional world it takes place in had already been invented, or did you find that to be a constraint or limitation, or did it free you to concentrate on other aspects of the story? 

TK: I did find it considerably more difficult. ALT is rather straightforward, while TLM is multi-faceted, with a bigger theme in place. TLM is the “world-building” novel in the respect that it expands the Monochrome “mythos,” and I realized early on that I had to answer a lot of the questions left at the end of ALT. Namely, how does the Monochrome work? What is it? Who is Dullington? Where do those Cretins come from?

Those questions were easy to leave open when ALT was a standalone novel. Now that the story has grown into multiple novels, I can’t leave things open so easily. I answered what I could in TLM, and saved some of the more interesting details (Dullington’s origins) for the final book in the series. Another difficult aspect of TLM’s process was making sure the story wasn’t bogged down by its own mechanics. I couldn’t sacrifice the pacing for the sake of the theme and overall plot arc—which is why a lot of the scenes I mentioned before had to be cut. I didn’t have to do that very much with ALT.

Oh, and it also didn’t help that a lot of people were anticipating the follow-up to the first book. That book peaked at #2 in Amazon’s Top 100 horror last year while I was in the midst of finishing TLM’s 4th draft. No pressure or anything!

TL: Is there a third book in the series in the works?

TK: Book #3 is in the planning stages right now, although I don’t expect to begin the actual writing until next year. I’m taking some time away from Donovan’s story in 2013 to work on some shorter fiction for a collection which I hope to have published at the end of the year.

That being said, I am thinking about book #3 constantly, figuring out the details of the plot. I have a broad outline; I know how it starts and how it ends. All that’s left to do is connect the dots in between. Oh, and write the book. That’s an important step, I suppose.

TL: Finally, it seems to me that “horror”, or fear in general, is a constant, if not growing, attraction in our culture, like a shiny ball we can’t take our eyes off. It is reflected everywhere, from news headlines to the most popular books and movies, and draws us all in, whether we live in actual scary conditions in the real world or not. I’d like to know your thoughts on this, both in general terms and from your perspective as a writer who deals directly with these matters. 

TK:I think we’re drawn to the things that scare us, almost like a subconscious drive to best what we perceive to be threatening—even if we can only overcome these things vicariously. Scary movies and horror novels are great for this because people can walk away from the experience unharmed. They “survived” the threat, even if it was a fictional one.

With that in mind, I think the rise of fear as an attraction in our culture can be linked to a string of wars, atrocities, and catastrophes in recent decades (Chernobyl, Iraq 1.0 & 2.0, Columbine, 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook, et al). Our culture is suffering from shock, and I think the desire to drown ourselves in fear as entertainment stems from an inherent need to overcome these tragedies by facing them head on in other forms. That’s just my opinion, of course. I have no background in psychology or sociology, so I’m probably way off base.

Speaking personally, I write horror as a means of facing what I’m afraid of. I wrote ALT for a number of reasons, but the two big ones were out of fear of losing my wife and fear of losing myself. TLM was written out of fear of losing my way. In some ways, I suppose that’s one of the reasons I write: to face my demons. Maybe society is doing the same thing in its own way?

Paul Samael

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Paul Samael is a very interesting and thoughtful writer – and interviewee. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him, including the following responses to my questions:
 
1) How long have you been writing fiction? 
 
Well, quite a long time really, but with a lot of false starts along the way.  In my late teens/early twenties, I started writing what I thought at the time was rather avant-garde poetry, but was probably just pretentious nonsense.  Eventually even I decided that it was too obscure and that if I had something to say, maybe fiction was the better way to go.  So I embarked on a rather weird, slightly stream of consciousness narrative, which probably wasn’t much more readable than my bad poetry.  Then lots of other stuff intervened (work, having children, writing various non-fiction books etc) but I still had this half-finished novel lying around which I kept going back to – and eventually, several major rewrites later, decided to self-publish it.  I am now in my early forties – so it’s been a rather long, circuitous and much interrupted journey.  
 
2) How have you gone about putting your writing out into the world, and what has that experience been like for you?
 
Initially – like many aspiring writers – I harboured hopes of getting taken on by a “proper” publisher.  But the advice I received on that front was not very encouraging – probably rightly so, because I think it is genuinely extremely difficult to rise to the top of the slush pile.  So then I started looking into self-publishing – and thought to myself, well what have I got to lose?  The other big step for me was the decision to make my writing available for free, which I suspect gets you considerably more readers – but I accept that not all authors have that luxury (in my case, I hadn’t been expecting to earn big bucks from it anyway and am lucky enough to have a day job that I like, so it was an easier decision to make).
 
So far I’ve only gone down the ebook route, mainly on Smashwords and Feedbooks, both of which I would strongly recommend.  Aside from that, I’ve done the usual thing of setting up a website with a blog etc.  And like you, I’ve started reviewing free fiction by other self-published authors because I think it’s important to demonstrate that there is some quality material out there – the problem is finding it.  I’ve also done some book trailers, which were fun to make, but I’m not sure how far they’ve really helped.  
 
I had expected it to take a while to get any feedback on my own stuff – and sure enough, I did have to be quite patient.  But it’s great to be able to get direct feedback from readers and I really like the fact that I am  in control of the whole publication process.  So overall, I don’t have any regrets about not having tried the professional publishing route – and I feel fortunate to be around at a time where authors have a way of reaching readers without going down that road.
 
3) What are your writing habits (if any)? Are you someone who writes on a schedule or more sporadically? 
 
As you’ve probably gathered from my answer to question 1, I’m more in the sporadic camp.  I doubt that I’ll ever manage to be very prolific, although I’m hoping that I will manage to increase my output a bit (based on my performance to date, that shouldn’t be too difficult).  
 
In the past, I think that my own preconceptions about length stopped me being more productive – for example, when writing my novel, I told myself that it had to be 60-70,000 words, otherwise no publisher would be remotely interested – so every time I jettisoned something because it didn’t fit or wasn’t good enough (which seemed to happen quite often), that meant I’d effectively moved further away from my ultimate 60-70,000 word goal.  But once you’ve decided to dispense with commercial publishers and go down the ebook route, length seems to matter less – which I’ve found quite liberating.  It certainly helped me finish the novel (final length: just over 50,000 words, which might bother a publisher, but doesn’t seem to matter so much when it’s a free ebook).
 
4) What is the hardest part of writing for you? 
 
I generally find character and dialogue the hardest to get right.  Also, the longer something gets, the more difficult I find it to put myself in the place of the reader and gauge whether I’m getting the overall pacing right.  I suppose both those things go some way to explaining my current preference for writing short to medium length pieces.
 
5) On your website you mention that one of the ‘biggest mistakes’ you’ve made was “writing the whole novel without really considering who it was aimed at and how I was going to get it in front of readers.’ You go on to say you were unsure of the answers to either of those questions. Could you elaborate on your thoughts on this? It’s such an interesting question to me. 
 
What I was getting at in that post is that writing a novel is a pretty major undertaking – so unless you just write purely for yourself, you’d want to be at least reasonably confident that when you’ve finished the damn thing, there will be at least some people out there who will read it.  Several people who read first drafts of mine asked who I thought it was aimed at, because to them it seemed to be neither one thing nor the other in terms of genre/audience.  For example, they pointed out that it contained some sci-fi ideas, which might be offputting to  literary types who sometimes look down their noses at that kind of thing – whereas the sci-fi element probably wasn’t substantial enough to satisfy real sci-fi enthusiasts.  I think they have a point – there isn’t an obvious genre or market I can aim at, because when I wrote it, I just wasn’t thinking about that at all.  
 
But was it a mistake for me to write with so little regard for who might read it?  Well, if we all tried to write in a way that would fit neatly into pre-existing genres etc, the world would be a much duller place.  On the other hand, I would probably have an easier time finding readers if I could do what I wanted to do within the conventions of detective or crime fiction, for example.  And for me, there’s not that much point in writing something if almost no one reads it.  So, speaking as someone who for many years produced stuff that was probably unreadable, I think it’s important for writers not to divorce themselves too much from the pragmatic question of who’s actually going to read it when it’s finished – otherwise it’s just a waste of all the hard work that went into writing it.   
 
Fortunately for people like me who haven’t really thought through who they were aiming at, sites like Smashwords and Feedbooks offer a way of getting your work in front of readers – although I wish they had better categorisation and descriptive tools, so that you could give yourself a better chance of matching up your work up with the kind of people that you think might like it.
 
 
6) I thought ‘The Hardest Word’ was quite dramatic and perfectly suited for live performance – have you thought about (or gone about) adapting it for stage or teleplay?
 
I’m pleased you found it dramatic because on the face of it, the financial crisis doesn’t provide obvious material for drama.  I hadn’t thought about adapting it for either stage or screen, although I agree that it could be done.  On stage, I can see that it might work quite well as a short, rather intense piece, especially in a small theatre.  The only difficulty I foresee would be how to render the inner thoughts of Kevin, the investment banker character – these are important in the sense that they explain various aspects of his behaviour, such as his sudden change in attitude towards his kidnappers.  
 
As for a teleplay, I’ve never done anything like that before but my impression is that TV/film producers tend to want to work with a bigger canvas – so maybe the whole piece would have to be opened out rather more, perhaps by adding a detective-drama-style sub-plot focussed around the hunt for the kidnapped banker.  You could also throw in an undercover cop who has infiltrated the kidnap group and is not unsympathetic to their aims, so finds himself having divided loyalties.  But I think I may be in danger of getting a bit carried away here.  Already on my virtual casting couch I can see Kevin Spacey as the investment banker…  [at this point the interview had to be interrupted so that the interviewee could calm down and get a grip on himself]
 
 
7) Please tell me something about the title of your novel, ‘In the Future This Will Not Be Necessary’, such as where the title came from and what it means to you.
 
I came up with the title quite late on in the process, once I had started to worry about how on earth I was going to persuade anyone to notice it, let alone read it – so part of the idea was to try to make it stand out from the crowd by having a slightly unusual title.  I can’t really explain where it came from – I just started messing around with longer form titles and it popped into my head, as these things sometimes do.  I then Googled it to find out if it had been used before – the answer appears to be no (or at least not in the first few pages of search results).  But there are lots of results for “In the future there will be robots,” which is – apparently – the title of a strange piece of performance art forming part of the backdrop to one of the Grand Theft Auto games (a sort of “play within a video game”).  I’m not much of gamer myself, so that was the first I’d heard of it – but I suppose that subconsciously you pick up all sorts of things, so maybe I’m kidding myself when I say it “just popped into my head”.
 
As for what it means to me, a lot of novels have been written about characters looking back on the past and trying to make sense of it – and mine has a pretty big element of that too.  But it’s also a novel about our relationship with the future – how we expect it to turn out, how that makes us behave in the present and how we feel when it doesn’t turn out quite as we anticipated.  So I wanted the title to pick up on that, particularly the tendency of techno-enthusiasts to assume that advances in technology will increasingly remove all the tedious and irksome aspects of life, when in fact it’s not always such a linear progression.  The other “meaning” of the title (for me, at any rate) relates to the narrator, who’s writing a kind of confession. He hopes that by the time he’s finished, it won’t be necessary for him to keep on with that kind of self-examination in future – but it doesn’t turn out to be quite as straightforward and clearcut as he envisages.
 
 
8) What is your next fiction project and where are you in its process?
 
I’m intending to do some shorter pieces – probably around the same length as “The Hardest Word”, possibly a bit longer, but certainly not full novel length (at best novellas).  The one I’m working on at the moment is semi-autobiographical – its starting point is an incident with a child in a playground a couple of years ago, which in real life didn’t amount to much, but in the story gets seized upon by the UK’s rather ferocious tabloid press.  I also have a couple of other ideas that I’m still thinking about – one is more of an espionage story, about a US agent who offers to help the Chinese, the other is about a lawyer who’s asked to write a constitution for a seasted (a kind of artificial offshore island).  But these last two are just ideas at the moment and are some way off seeing the light of day!

Carla Herrera

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1) My favorite story of yours so far is ‘Stairs’ in ‘Day Gazing’. Like all great short stories, it reveals character through action and atmosphere. Please tell me more about it. I’d like to know how and why you wrote it and what your thoughts about it are now.
 
That story came from a dream. A very strange dream. I woke and found myself in a car. I was the character you read about there. She/me felt hopeless. She was a recovering addict (I’ve never done drugs btw). and a recovering anorexic and her daughter Amber had been taken from her. She had just gotten Amber back and was supposed to pick her up from school.
 
Many of my stories have been taken from dreams I’ve experienced. Probably because of my need to express some of the strangeness.
 
When I read the story now, I feel like that character is someone out there. I’ve experienced part of who she is and hope I never have to re-visit that again. I know this: whoever I was dreaming about had a much rougher time than I’ve ever had and I hope she’s okay.
 
2) What is your favorite story in ‘Day Gazin’, and, if different, what is your favorite story of all you’ve written?
 
The Declination. It was written during my morning writing. It was very short, simple, just came to me. I like the scene of the three characters sitting and talking to each other while experiencing all these changes.
 
The Wrist in Splint is probably my favorite of all time. It’s an essay I wrote after an accident in Iowa City. I read it now and the language feels much different than what I write today.
 
I think I was a better writer then. Or maybe I took more time thinking about each sentence, because it feels as if the language is more flowery. Eloquent at times.
 
3) I thought the scenario in ‘Pink Eye’ was quite prescient and possible. Have you considered re-shaping it as a screenplay or teleplay? Have you written anything for performance, whether theater, television or film?
 
No I haven’t. I don’t have those skills. I love writing, but it’s difficult for me at times, because I want the story to be perfect. All of my energy goes into making the story the best it can be, so stretching and making it into a play isn’t something I’m interested in. If someone else wanted to take one of my stories and do that, I’m not opposed to the idea. I just want to focus on the story though, not the formatting.
 
4) How long have you been writing, and what does writing mean to you? Is it mainly a hobby, a business or both?
 
That’s a good question. I’ve been writing since my teens. I was playing around with it in the late 1970s, after I read some feminist books. I wrote several non-fiction essays/journal pieces. I started writing fiction in my late twenties, but put it down to work on the non-fiction because it seemed like an easier market to break into. I’ve written for alternative publication and several weeklies. I picked the fiction back up again in 2007 (after my father died) to express what I felt the non-fiction couldn’t.
 
Writing means life to me. It’s hope for the future. My children are grown and have their own lives, so I can do what I want. I hope to make a living from it one day, but that’s not happening yet. I wouldn’t call it hobby, because I’ve made it a priority in my life. I write full-time.
 
5) What region do you live in? Have you always lived in that area? What have been the most important locations in your life so far?
 
I live in Northwest Arkansas. On the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas. I’m a California native and was raised in Clearlake Highlands (now called the city of Clearlake) and lived about twenty-five years in Stockton.
 
Most important locations: Clearlake, because I refer to it as my father’s lake. He found it during the late 1940s and fell in love with it. That side of my family ended up buying quite a bit of property there. He went back to the Bay Area for awhile, but always ended up back at the lake.
 
Louisiana, because of the people. They were so warm and friendly. I lived in Leesville and Shreveport for awhile and then later visited New Orleans and it left an impression on me. The language, the food, the warmth.
 
Dallas/Ft. Worth, because I hate the big city. It’s left me with an impression of city life that I use in my writing.
 
Iowa City, because of the intellectual growth I experienced. Though I was only there for a year, I really had to reach to keep up in my studies and my writing. A very good experience, though scary for someone who doubted herself so much.
 
6) When you write a story, do you usually begin with a character or set of characters, or with a plot? Do you usually know the ending before you start writing?
 
Every story is different for me. I knew everything about Pink Eye before I began writing, because the story came to me in a dream. I wrote it out and had to tweak it, working on the scenes, but it was not a lot of work.
 
Usually my stories are spontaneous. They begin with morning writings and flow from that. The only stories that I’ve used plot in are MentaChip and Two.
 
I rarely know the ending when I begin writing. Sometimes it will come when I’m in the middle of a piece and I’ll write it out quickly and then tweak it when I get to that point.
 
7) Are you an organized sort of writer? What are your writing habits?
 
I used to be more organized than I am today. I have certain habits. I like to wake up, get my coffee and look through what I need to get done for the day.
 
I have to work with words for about ten or fifteen minutes before I actually start writing. Or read something. I can’t just immediately start writing unless it’s something I’m frantic to get out (as in waking from a dream).
 
After word work, I dawdle. I think about writing more than I write and I do it in spurts. I’ll spend a couple hours in the morning, then another few hours during the day in the process of working out, tweaking and writing the story. Another couple hours in the evening.
 
 
8) Could you list five books and/or authors who have been indispensable to you?
 
Watership Down, The Son of Tarzan, The Stand, Ender’s Game/Shadow, 1984…
 
Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Orson Scott Card, Richard Adams, E.G. Burroughs.
 
9) What is the next book you plan to publish and when? I’m ready to read it!
 
The next story I publish will be an untitled story I’m currently working on. It’s not as long as a novel, because it’s under 15k words, but it’s a long, short story.
 
I should be finished with the story, editing, etc. within the next two weeks and I’ll load it up on Smashwords.

Willie Wit

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Finding Willie Wit’s writing is one of those great internet ebook revolution revelations. His very short stories are intensely spring-loaded and attack the reader with the sheer joy of fiction. You can find them all here. I recommend you click the link the moment you’ve finished reading this post, and start devouring those suckers. You won’t want to stop.

I managed to come up with a few interview-like questions for him. Nothing such as “where do you get your ideas?” or “one lump or two?” but a few things I genuinely would like to know about. This time I’ll just start with the questions in a bunch, and then let him rip.

1) Do you have a favorite place and/or time for people-watching and if so, where and/or when?

2) I have a sort of obsession with failure. it’s one of my favorite themes. i’d like to know about a story you have written or want to write but either haven’t been able to or haven’t been satisfied with.

3) I love all your surprise endings. you could pleasantly shock me with a story that didn’t have one, or that had a surprise beginning instead (or as well). does a surprise beginning even make any sense? none of this is actually question three. question three is, do you ever draw pictures of faces, and turn them into your characters? do you clearly imagine what they look like or is that not even a part of your way? Do you have any drawing skills? (I only wish I did)

4) Which of your characters, if any, keeps begging to appear in stories where they really don’t belong?

5) I noticed you mentioned Richard Brautigan (on your blog, I think it was). I also enjoyed his breezy sunny hippie ways way back when, when I was also very big on Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain. I still love all those guys, but tell me about your discovery of Brautigan. I hadn’t thought of him in ages.

6) I just thought I read a story that you might have written someday in the future. the story takes place in the mind of a circus performer, who turns out to be a bear. what is its name?

7) Somebody wrote me today, inviting me to turn one of my books into some kind of ‘interactive’ fiction-app. what the hell does that even mean?

Willie replied:

I watch people for a living, i am a `Library Attendant`, i hang round at the front door answering questions and scaring off the loonies. It`s fun but somebody has got to do it. That`s just 3 days a week, during the other days i sit in a cafe window regularily, just along from the Library. It is a perfect spot, a main drag with a junction opposite, all pedestrianised…hmmm.

I have no idea how i write my stories, they are like when somebody rings your door bell and runs away, i suddenly start scribbling and then i stop. When i look out there is nobody there.

I have a troublesome story in me funnily enough. 
It is about a woman who has procured a visit into the oval office with the help of the security services, it has taken huge amounts of secretive planning over a long time. throughout the story you will think she is to be a suicide bomber, as she is carefully strapped into clothing that is very tight, a raincoat on top hides this. When she gets into his office she throws the raincoat on the floor, revealing a floaty white dress, bright red lipstick… and starts to sing ….Happy Birthday Mr President… 
It is stuck in my head like a bit of chewing gum on my ribs at the moment tho`. It is the only story i cannot write.. because i have thought about it.

I was an engineer once so my drawing skills are very technical based, it used to be really cool to think in 3d but computers have spoiled all that nowadays.

When i was 18 punk rock came to town and i ran away from the circus. i became friends with a cool band called `crass`. 
They were ex hippy turned barmy anarchists, all noise and bother. Strangely the people in the band were the kindest and most gentle i had ever met, i started to get to know them, helping them at gigs as they did it all themselves. They were a goldmine of interesting stuff, being older and totally unconventional. I live in an area where culture never happens, a bermuda triangle bordered by Liverpool,Manchester and Birmingham, it all passes us by. We did great for music but not ideas and books.
At a gig Annie Anxiety asked me if i had ever read Jack Kerouac, i told i hadn`t read anything yet. So i read him and within a fortnight i was off hitch hiking to Paris – with a two week dole cheque in my pocket. I returned a month later to find everything the same…but i certainly wasn`t. 
One person in the band introduced me to Richard Brautigan, `Joy de Vivre` She is a hugely talented writer and artist who luckily for her was never discovered. She would have hated the money and hassle that came to JKR. So for a decade i raged around Britain and Europe, never really believing in an impending revolution but having a great time meeting people and having fun. 
So Brautigan was helping me along the windy zen loony road, i suffered from youthful depression at that time ( caused by a wheat intolerance i now know) One defining moment was on a bus back from London, I was reading `Sombrero Fallout` with my brain feeling like fog. Suddenly a window opened in me and light flooded in, his writing was the magic key. 
I nearly drove myself crazy the other week when i suddenly remembered him after so long, then i promptly forgot him, this then driving me even crazier.

That bear eludes me, i keep thinking of fozzie – having gone off the rails, boozing. Kermit having been abducted by a french restaurant… sadly now in a wheelchair.

interactive is when you get a choice of endings, not half as much fun a stories that don`t have an ending, or one that surprises. They are the bollocks i think.

Do you know of Alan Hutcheson ? he lives in the UofSA, we have adopted him here on the Amazon forum, he is a sweet and funny man who wrote a great book called `Boomerang` I just had an idea… the `bermuda triangle` interviews…hmmm. sounds sweet in my head.

Simon Royle

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Simon Royle is the author of TAG, a futuristic science fiction thriller concerned with a conspiracy to eliminate billions of “lesser” humans through a high-tech implanted ID chip. His vision of this not-so-distant future includes a virtual elimination of personal privacy, given up in exchange for the peace and security of a unified world nation. The political underpinnings of this kind of thing are not the main focus of the novel, as might be expected from such loaded terms (these are libertarian nightmare scenarios). Rather, the attention is focused on a hero and his companions, in a classic sci-fi style.

TAG by Simon Royle

Simon has established a place for himself in the burgeoning phenomena of “indie publishing”, with an excellent website, featuring a comprehensive “indie reviewer” list and posting many interviews with indie authors (one time including myself). In my little series here, I’m trying to avoid the more typical questions, so I came up with the following, which Simon graciously replied to. My thanks to him and best wishes for the future.

1) Env, Envplex and rules of pronunciation
I enjoyed the way you built up a viable, generally realistic future Earth in TAG, with, among other essential elements, the general purpose “Dev” and “DevStick” (devices are certainly taking over the world these days). One thing that kept pestering during my reading was “how are you supposed to pronounce this?”, especially in regards to the words Env and Envplex. I had to split the “Env” into two syllables, as in En-vy. How about you? How do you pronounce them? Are there any other terms in TAG that you want to provide some pronunciation tips on?

I pronounce Env as one word as in Envy without the Y. Envplex, pronounced two syllables, split where you would expect it. Travway same thing – trav and way. Naturally Env is short for environment.

2) Telepaths and where did that come from?
There are a few key telepaths in the novel, but no explanation as far as I can recall. Usually someone mentions “mutants” or “freaks” or something along those lines, but Sharon, Jibril and others seem to be naturally telepathic as a matter of course. Did I miss something or did you just figure what the heck, that’ll come in handy so I’ll just go for it?

I think some (and maybe all) people are telepathic, but have “lost” the skill. Gabriel relearns this skill while with the Waarlpiri tribe who reside in the Arnhem Desert in Northern Australia. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding stories of telepathy across the vast distances of Australia, by Aborigines. Jonah learns that he has this skill through his encounter with Gabriel (without spoiling the plot, I think there are obvious reasons why they both might have the ability). You have to make a judgment call on how much background explanation you want to put into these things, without slowing the pace and bogging the book down. I opted for “draw your own conclusion in many instances. My “back story” for Cochran is that she was trained from the time that she was recognized as a “special” child, by the Oliver Foundation for their nefarious purposes.

3) Sex scenes then and now
Reviewers other than myself have noted the several sex scenes (and some notable descriptions of female body parts in particular), and I had a couple of questions about that. I got a Heinlein feeling about those things and wondered if I was just way off the mark there. Also, I wonder if you have a different feeling about those scenes now that they’re out there and people are reacting to them? I’m sort of squeamish myself – I have only one actual sex scene in all of my books, and it was absolutely essential, the “climax” of the story, as it were – but I know it’s quite common and even expected more or less in movies and books these days, so I wonder if you felt a sort of obligation or if it was something you just like doing and wanted to do for its own sake?

So far, only one reviewer has touched upon the sex scenes as being “unnecessary”; again that is a judgment call. Before I get into the explanation – you are bang on with your Heinlein reference. Love most of what he wrote and followed his rules for writers too – so no more editing of the story for me. Writing sex is hard, but to me it is just another natural part of our world. I didn’t feel as if I was obligated to put sex in the book, I was just telling a story and the characters have sex at that point in the story.

4) Global conspiracies and the role of heroes in fiction and reality
The central plot of TAG is not too far-fetched, it seems to me. Recent history has many examples of organized mass murder, whether for crazed ideological motives (Hitler, Mao) or brutal power politics (Stalin, Saddam Hussein). These are generally conspiratorial in the sense that a smallish group of people are behind it, while rallying the idiot masses through fear or frenzy. I don’t doubt such things will continue to happen, in reality. One thing that seems to be different, in fiction, is the role of the hero. In the real world, there is never a hero who stops the madness. It usually requires a massive amount of bloodshed before all the kinetic energy is spent and general revulsion spits out the villains. I wondered if any particular massicide was a special inspiration to you – I was especially wondering if the Pol Pot massacres had any influence, with your Southeast Asian experiences?

There are to my knowledge two instances where mass killing of “intelligentsia” create a massive problem for the people that were left. One was Stalin’s purging of his officers and the other the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia – and the country is a mess now because of what was done. It will take centuries to recover. In Tag, the central issue and premise is Eugenics. The motive for the Tag is to “improve” the gene pool in one quick strike; an experiment in eugenics on a massive scale. I agree that the idea of a single person, or a small group of people, being able to stop such crimes, is largely the work of fiction.

5) The general and the personal
This is sort of an open-ended question. I have to admit that I liked your ‘Heavy Metal Harvest Dream’ better than TAG, and this is largely because I prefer the personal story to the general. I began writing – back in my twenties – by taking on big social issues (I was heavily influenced at that time by the social sci-fi writers of the 70’s – LeGuin, Brunner, Delaney among others). Of all those books I wrote then, only one survives to this day, and that one only because of certain peculiarities of style which still appeal to me. The rest are in boxes under the bed where they belong. You obviously felt you wanted to take on a huge general story and I think you pulled it off, but I wonder how you personally feel about these two strains of writing, and what your plans are for future writings in both of these directions.

I have many stories that I want to tell, and the range of genre is huge. I have to restrain myself not to start these, but rather to put the ideas in my scrapbook of thoughts for stories and be patient. My first priority is to finish the Zumar Chronicles trilogy and I am aiming to finish K:OS, the next book in the trilogy sometime this year. I write by the seat of my pants, very little outlining, usually just an idea (Heavy Metal was written in two hours and published in four :)) and then sit down and write. When I hit a hole I work the problem until I have a scenario that’s plausible to me and then continue. Like you, Tom, I write because I love telling stories and those stories just come to me; so I cannot say that I am tied to or prefer general or personal, sweeping sagas or detailed vignettes, just what is in my head at the time that I am sitting down to write.

Moxie Mezcal

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This is the first of a series of interviews with “writers I like” ™ – calling it “In the Lighthouse” for no other reason than my love of Pigeon Point Lighthouse:

Moxie Mezcal is a writer of guerrilla fiction – with a 10 point manifesto I agree with 100 percent. Writers have always been able to write what they want and give it away if they wanted to, only now it is so much easier! We have the internet and an infrastructure for global distribution of fiction, so we no longer have to make xerox copies and stand on street corners handing out novellas like discount furniture leaflets. Now we can write and publish through venues like Smashwords and Feedbooks and within minutes, some stranger halfway around the world has downloaded and begun to read our story.

Writers can make money this way if they want to, but there is typically a definite trade-off – if you distribute your book for free, you will likely get more readers. If you charge, you will get fewer. Some of us opt for free, not only to get more readers, but also to get the whole business of money, so to speak, out of the way. But enough about that.

I’ve read all of the “Moxie Mezcal” books displayed and linked-to below. I’ve put the author’s name in quotes because “Moxie Mezcal” is a pseudonym. I have no idea what his or her name is, or whether he or she is actually a him or a her. I have my intuition about that, but I don’t need to know. Great stories don’t depend on the gender (or age or ethnicity or nationality or creed or color) of their teller, and Moxie Mezcal writes great stories.

I asked Moxie some questions by email and was happy to get a great response. I didn’t want to ask all the usual questions (“where do you get your ideas?”, “how many words per day do you force yourself to eek out?”, etc …). There’s some more great stuff here on moxiemezcal.com as well.

Three

My favorite of yours so far is ‘Fake’ (from ‘Three’). What’s your favorite of yours?

That’s interesting, I really like Fake myself but it’s not one of the more popular ones. It’s more personal, in a weird way that I won’t get into now. My favorite, though, is Concrete Underground, even if it’s the obvious answer. Being my first full novel, I had the mindset that I can’t know what the future will bring, I could get hit by a bus or a falling piano tomorrow, so if I’m gonna write a novel I’m going to make it count. I literally threw everything I could possibly want to say with my art into this one book, so now no matter what else happens in my life, at least I’ll have written my one perfect little novel that’s exactly how I want it to be. Even the ending, which has been the source of roughly 90-95% of the criticism of the book, was designed very deliberately and I”m very pleased with how it came out.

Concrete Underground

I work in the south bay in tech and I loved to hate your Dylan Maxwell techie billionaire a-hole, but my question is, do you have any particular locales you especially like to have in the back of your mind when writing? I thought I detected some Guadalupe Park and possibly Mission Peak in Concrete Underground, but I’m probably wrong about that, and curious. Also there were some scenes in Fake that reminded me of Bonny Doon.

You are absolutely right, and I do tend to work in a lot of landmarks from Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area into all my stories, but then I also do take certain liberties to fit the locations to suit the fiction. Basically the idea for the city in Concrete Underground was that it was San Jose’s dark twin, like if you were walking through Cesar Chavez Plaza and slipped through a tear in the fabric of space-time and ended up in the alternate dimension where all film noir and pulp fiction take place, so that everything would be more exaggerated, sexier, more dangerous. So a lot of the landmarks in the book, such as the park, the river, the homeless encampment, even a lot of the buildings, are all exaggerated versions of things that do exist in and around San Jose. However, I did also take elements I’ve seen in other cities and work them in as well, such as the underground city which was based on Seattle.

Making Dylan Maxwell

Do you have any wild predictions you want to make about this whole ebook thing? (I kind of feel like I caught a little bit of a ride on a nice wave but don’t expect that ride to last much longer, unless I can think of some sexy teenage vampires to write about.)

I think that’s actually a smart direction to move in, there will always be a market for sexy teenage vampires, or really any other sexy teenage supernatural anything–werewolves, witches and wizards, elves, chimera, zombies. Well maybe not zombies, since it’s kinda hard to be sexy and decomposing, but probably you can make it work. Actually, you already did a zombie book, right? So just do that again, but sexy-teenage-ize it.

Because what the e-book thing and the self-publishing thing have shown us is that what’s commercial and marketable will still be what’s commercial and marketable whether it’s self-published or traditionally published. The people who are going to make money off self-publishing are those working in identifiable genres and telling stories that appeal to a broad audience. And I don’t say this with any bitterness or resentment at all, I wish these people all the success and happiness in the world. I’d only caution those budding writers out there who are thinking about self-publishing their dark, quirky, experimental, non-genre, non-linear opuses, don’t get discouraged when you’re not racking up sexy-teenage-zombie-level sales figures.

But to your answer your original question, I’m always willing to make wild predictions, about any subject really.

First off, bricks and mortar bookstores are obviously dinosaurs slowly lumbering off the historical stage, and the e-book revolution has only accelerated their extinction. And I think that even though e-book sales will continue to grow, overall book sales will continue to decline, so it’s really a question of taking a bigger slice out of a rapidly diminishing pie. This will become more pronounced once dedicated e-reader devices lose their novelty and people start abandoning them for iPads and G-Tabs and Xooms.

I think the death of physical bookstores, the fact that fewer people are reading fiction regularly for entertainment, and the fact that the added costs of physically printing and distributing books require a certain minimum sales volume to be sustainable, all add up to this: pretty soon we’re going to see a shift to e-only release from major publishers at least on a trial basis for books with limited commercial appeal, and then after that inevitably the e-only book will become the rule rather than the exception. Basically, walk into any non-bookstore, like a supermarket or a Walmart or a Costco, and see the kinds of books they stock. In five years time, those will be the only books actually getting printed on tree pulp. There simply won’t be shelf-space for anything else. That and possibly specialty books that could be sold in some other kind of store, ie you could probably still print how-to books about sewing and knitting and shit and sell them at fabric stores, that kind of thing, or the books they sell at Urban Outfitters.

Another wild prediction I’ll make is that the $12.99 price point on e-books cannot and will not last. $9.99 probably is also too much. Even albums are going for $6.99-$7.99 on iTunes and Amazon. I see the market settling down comfortably with the $5 median e-book.

The bottom line to all this is that publishers smart enough to want to play the e-game correctly will be moderately successful at shifting diminishing print sales into increased e-book sales. The other publishers, the knuckle-draggers who think hardcover-only releases and $12.99 e-books are smart moves, will still see their print sales evaporate and will also lose what few potential customers they could’ve had to a combination of more forward-thinking competing publishers, other competing media like movies and web content, and of course pirated copies of their own over-priced works.

For fiction authors who are new or working outside of established genre conventions, all this means it’s going to be increasingly difficult to get a book printed on paper by a traditional publisher, and doubly hard to actually earn a sustainable living this way. Experimental or fringe literature is going to live or die by electronic distribution, so if that’s what you want to write, you might as well make your peace with that now. That means either self-publishing or signing on with a publisher who has a coherent and forward-thinking strategy for online marketing and distribution.

Forgive me for going on a bit of a rant. If you need to edit this down, the alternate answer can be: “No, I never make wild predictions about anything.”

Sweet Dream, Silver Screen

Did you ever work in a bookstore?

No, although I was a page for the public library when I was a teenager. As a result of that job (and a certain obsessive-compulsive streak in my personality), whenever I do go into a bookstore now, I usually end up walking up and down the aisles making sure the books are arranged neatly on the shelves, which consequently makes people assume that I do work in the bookstore. But really I don’t and never have.

Is there a book you’ve read that you wish you’d written?

Oh, so many. If I had to pick just one, it would probably be Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. Or Paul Auster’s City of Glass. Or Philip K. Dick’s VALIS.

As a fan I want to know, what’s coming up?

Quite a bit actually. I have a few short pieces slated for release this year, mostly along the lines of the other “singles” I’ve done like Fake, Home Movie, and 1999. I think I’ll probably end up packaging together an anthology when they’re all ready. The ones that don’t make it into the anthology are going to be part of a non-linear quasi-experimental project I’m working on called “Excerpts from a Book That Will Never Be Published”.

I also have a novella that’s should be completed by the end of the year that’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit murder mystery, and is intended be first in a series of inter-connected novellas with the same private detective character. Kinda like my version of Poirot, except she’s this surly futuristic psychic lesbian with a drug habit. It’s very different than a lot of what I’ve done before, but the readers who enjoyed picking apart the occult symbolism in Concrete Underground are gonna have their heads explode when they read this one.

Finally, I am flirting with the idea of follow-ups to Concrete Underground. I was really hesitant to do that because the novel isn’t set up to be sequel- or franchise-friendly, but I was getting a lot of e-mails and comments suggesting I should return to those characters, and then I came up with an idea for a way to do it that would be satisfying without diminishing the original novel. So they really aren’t going to be sequels, the approach will be more along the lines of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy or Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy.

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