Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction – Author Interview Series

This week’s interview is with Robert Freund, author of “Keepers of the Flame.”
Where did you get the idea for your story?
I must have watched a documentary at some point about Neanderthals that sparked my interest in human prehistory.  I did a little bit of research on my own about the subject and found that period of time to be fascinating.  In particular, it was the theory that Neanderthals went extinct likely through a combination of warfare and crossbreeding with humans that sparked my imagination.  My mind naturally went to a colorful place in making up a reason behind the slow dying-off of Neanderthals.
Do you plan to write more stories in that setting or with those characters?
I don’t have any plans to do so as of now.  I think I told the story that needed to be told, and I’m satisfied with that.
What was the appeal of Sojourn for you?
Sojourn provided me with two opportunities that I couldn’t pass up.  Firstly, as an aspiring writer, the chance of exposing my work to an audience wider than my friends and family was uplifting and inspiring.  Even before I knew the fullness of Ryan, Laura, and Dan’s dedication to the project, I was more than happy to add my voice to the project.  Secondly, the anthology was planned from the start as a community effort, and I’ve never been part of an online community as inclusive and good-natured as the one that has formed around Fear the Boot.  Not only were we displaying the talent of the Writer’s Guild sub-group, but that of the hosts, fans, and friends of the podcast.
What was your favorite part about writing for the Sojourn anthology?
Knowing that I was a part of something that was bigger than any one of us (by which I mean the contributors, the editors, Dan, etc.).  There was an entire community behind it, even if most of that community was unaware of the anthology’s existence for most of that time.  The result is more than I could have imagined, and truly something that we can all take pride in.
Did you learn anything while writing your story, if so, what?
I learned a lot, and I think I’ve grown significantly as a writer during the whole process.  After numerous false starts (there were eight attempts at writing this story, one breaking the 2000-word mark, before my wife finally helped me find the right voice and tone), I ultimately chose a tense which I have never used before—present tense—and paid very close attention to the language and terminology that I put into the story.  And I think those little touches, like the boy thinking of hyenas as laughing hounds or sabertooth cats as longtooth cats, really helped set the atmosphere and bring the reader into the boy’s world.  It really helps a piece of writing to think long and hard about the sort of language the characters would use, the way they would see things, in the context of their own environment.
It being my first time working with editors, I learned a lot about that part of the process as well.  My dealings with Laura and Ryan were always polite, professional, and constructive, leaving me to hope that any editors I might work with in the future are of similar demeanor.  This side of it is all about telling your story in the best way for your audience.  There are always going to be disagreements, but the biggest lesson I’ve taken away is this: as long as both the writer and the editor maintain their professionalism and an open mind, the process can be relatively painless.  Dare I say, it can be downright pleasant.
Is there any trivia or behind-the-scenes information about your story you would like to share?
I know what the Keepers of the Flame are in this made-up version of human history, but I like to leave most of it to the readers for speculation.  All I really want to say is that they are NOT aliens.  There is every other imaginable way to interpret the evidence, so long as you don’t think they are aliens.
What was the biggest influence on your story?
Apart from my interest in Neanderthals and prehistory (fleeting as it was, looking back), I would imagine the biggest influence was Robert E. Howard.  I’m not as widely read as I would like, but he is the only writer I can recall who has a number of short stories that are set in the mists of prehistory, even if you don’t count his Kull and Conan tales.  The one I recall in particular was called “The Valley of the Worm,” which was about a prehistoric hunter and featured, among other beasts, terrifying sabertooths.

Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction – Author Interview Series

Tom McNeil is the author of “Top of the Heap,” and the next victim author in my interview series.

Where did you get the idea for your story?
I started writing “Top of the Heap” around 2002.  At the time, I had read several articles on the Internet by futurists claiming that, because of the rate of advancement of medical technology, immortality might be just around the corner. I wanted to write a story based around an idea, in the classic Sci-Fi sense, and I latched onto the idea of immortality. Similarly, articles about climate change were also hard to avoid. It seemed natural to set a story about an immortal at some time in the future, and a future in which some type of climate change even had happened only seemed logical.

Thinking more about immortality, I asked myself what an immortal life might be like. What would a person do once they had earned enough money to never have to work again?  Wouldn’t they get bored?  Not to give too much of the story away, but thinking of answers to that question was the spark that led me to write the story. During the writing process, I fleshed out more of the characters, gave them a history and incorporated that into the “Top of the Heap” giving the main character, Dale Medici, more of a motivation than just boredom.

Do you plan to write more stories in that setting or with those characters?
I am toying with the idea of writing a novel about Dale Medici.  There were a few ideas that I had for “Top of the Heap” that I liked but just couldn’t fit in.  After I finished it, I realized that a third idea that had been bouncing around in my head (a civilization with no fossil fuels) would fit perfectly in the future world described in the short story, and once I made that connection, I was flooded with new themes, ideas, bits, scenes, characters, and an overall conflict.  I even came up with a title – “The Lost Art of Making Fire.” I’ve never even attempted to write anything that long, but I feel motivated to at least give it a try.

What was the appeal of Sojourn for you?
The Fear The Boot Community. Dan, Ryan, and Laura were all incredibly supportive and helpful. For me, they took a lot of the fear and guess work out of the process. I think all writers fear rejection, but the way this project came about lessened that fear quite a bit for me.  Also, being a collection by lots of different writers with varying styles and subjects reduced the pressure quite a bit.  I realized that if I made “Top of the Heap” the best story I could, some readers would like it and others would not —and that’s fine.  In fact, that’s a good thing.  Fiction should be written with an intended audience in mind.

What was your favorite part about writing for the Sojourn anthology?
The editing and, in my case, re-writing process was fun, once I got to it.  It was great to get honest feedback from someone that was not a best friend or family member.  Honest feedback is essential.  Laura was especially helpful in getting my story finished.

Did you learn anything while writing your story, if so, what?
The story is more important than your ego.  I’m 49.  So, sometimes I have to fight off the feeling that I am older and wiser than everyone else—because it usually isn’t true. When I first brought “Top of the Heap” to a writer’s group meeting/online review session and read it out loud (and I’m sorry, I do not remember who was there), the almost universal feedback I got was, to paraphrase, “we love the idea, but the way you told the story stinks.” Faced with that, I felt my ego well up, and I almost withdrew thinking that maybe I was not a good fit for this.  But, in a rare moment of maturity, I decided to take a step back and try it “their” way—which basically meant re-writing the whole thing.  I had a lot of roadblocks and false starts, but once I got the first re-write done, I realized they were right.  It not only became a much better story, but it allowed me to add more material than the original version had.

Is there any trivia or behind-the-scenes information about your story you would like to share?
It takes place on an island in the Saint Lawrence river.  I used to go to that area on vacation with my family as a kid, so I described it as a combination of how I remember it and how it might be different in the future. Also, there is a pun, sort of, in the narrative pretty early on, but no one has ever pointed it out to me.  It might be too subtle.  I keep waiting for someone to send me a “I saw what you did there” comment, but so far—nothing.

What was the biggest influence on your story?
I am a fan of classic science fiction, particularly Isaac Asimov and Fred Pohl.  Their stories were always based around a fantastic idea or concept and how people would react to it.  They wrote stories that challenged you to think, and I wanted that feeling in “Top of the Heap.”  Hopefully, that came through to at least some of the readers. I think my dream job as a writer would be to write episodes for an anthology series like “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits.”

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
I just want to thank Dan, Ryan, and Laura for everything they did on this project.It was great working with them, and I look forward to working with them again on Sojourn Volume 2.

Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction – Author Interview Series

Some time last year, someone at Fear the Boot had the idea to publish an anthology of short fiction written by members of the Fear the Boot Writer’s Guild and other genre authors (by invitation). I wrote up a pitch, and my story Forgotten Dreams was accepted and published this month in Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction.

This is not news, as I have spoken about it before. A few days ago, I decided to do a series of interviews with the authors and editors of this anthology to give more insight into the creative process and the anthology itself. So, every Friday from now until it is done, I will publish new interview with the authors and editors of Sojourn – An Anthology of Speculative Fiction.

First up, since this is my blog and I don’t have to wait for him or her to e-mail me answers, is ME! Hans Cummings, author of “Forgotten Dreams.”

Where did you get the idea for your story?
After coming off two fairly hard sci-fi novels (the Zack Jackson novels), I wanted to do something more space opera-y, something with more ships zipping around, pew-pew-pew, space magic, and everything running on Rule of Cool. The words “Seven Galaxies” popped into my head at some point and I thought “Well, what if the universe these characters inhabit is just these seven galaxies?” The void in between the galaxies would be their version of Hell, a vast realm of absolutely nothing where all the unknowable, unfathomable…things…lurk, but the galaxies themselves would be teeming with life. The galaxies are connected by conduits, call them warp gates, star gates, whatever. I’d often thought about a sci-fi universe where humans were not dominant, and I played with that a little bit with the Zack Jackson series in which the humans are relative newcomers to the greater galactic community; but in my Seven Galaxies stories, I decided they would be a completely subjugated slave race, considered little more than vermin by the dominant species. Once I had that and decided to have a human viewpoint character, well, the number of stories I could tell increased tremendously.

Do you plan to write more stories in that setting or with those characters?
In short: yes. I invented the Seven Galaxies setting for a novel. Writing short stories in that setting allows me to explore various parts of the setting and try out certain concepts before I start writing the novels.

What was the appeal of Sojourn for you?
I’ve been a member (albeit a relatively silent member) of the Fear the Boot community for a few years now, and Laura Anderson edited a few of my novels for me, so when this opportunity came along, I thought it would be a good way to work on a few short stories. Most of the time, I feel that if I’m working on a short story, it’s time I’m NOT working on a novel. However, if I’m working on a short story for a publisher, my brain is fooled into thinking it’s OK. Which, of course, it is, but sometimes you have to do mental gymnastics to justify things you want to do.

What was your favorite part about writing for the Sojourn anthology?
Being able to combine fantasy and sci-fi and not having to worry about scientific accuracy was great fun. Even though my story was much darker than anything I’d written up to that point, I had a lot of fun being creative with the aliens and their descriptions.

Did you learn anything while writing your story, if so, what?
I’m not sure I learned anything new, per se, but writing “Forgotten Dreams” honed skills I was already working on. I don’t have a lot of experience with short stories, and it was challenging to include a character arc and a start-to-finish plot in such a small number of words.

Is there any trivia or behind-the-scenes information about your story you would like to share?
I was going to have Jahni’s big crisis be whether or not seeking her freedom was worth becoming an assassin. I had a cool gun described and everything (I think I have a picture of it somewhere). Her target was going to be the Aelfar friend with whom she started out. In the end, I didn’t believe in that story and couldn’t make it work in the short amount of space I had. I decided the best thing I could do for the story was not to have an action-packed shoot ‘em up climax. It was harder to write, and ultimately, more rewarding.

What was the biggest influence on your story?
Spelljammer. Magic, and sailing ships in space? Yeah! Although, I don’t have sailing ships in space…yet. The only ship we see is more of a big crystal, but I was definitely influenced by my love of Spelljammer as I developed the Seven Galaxies setting. It will probably be more obvious in the novels than in the short stories.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
The next Seven Galaxies story I’m writing features the Pleasure Pools of Persiphia, a location to which I alluded in “Forgotten Dreams.” There will be all new characters, but I promise you haven’t seen the last of Jahni and Rana. I have plans for the series and for those characters. I promised myself I would write another World of Calliome fantasy novel before I do a Seven Galaxies novel, though, so I’m building up to it.

A Taste of Teaching

Last week, I stopped by Holy Name Catholic School in Beech Grove, Indiana to speak to two 7th grade classes about writing. I was invited by the teacher after she read my Zack Jackson novels. I’ve never thought of myself as a teacher, or indeed, as one anyone would want to take writing advice from, so the invitation was surreal. I wracked my brain thinking of what I could tell them other than the standard advice to read a lot and write a lot.

In addition to that type of advice, I decided to talk about generating ideas. So, I explained how brainstorming worked, talked a bit about free writing, and other ways to generate ideas. I then led the class in a short exercise. I read to them a passage out of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the description of the chocolate room. In the first class, we brainstormed together a new room for the factory (the Peppermint Room), talking about the entrance, the machines, the exits, the dangers, etc. In the second class, each row of students worked together to come up with a room, then wrote a short description based on their brainstorming. They came up with the Skittles Room, the Laffy Taffy Room, and two Cotton Candy Rooms. It was very interesting how two groups came up with different takes on the same room, and some of those kids were pretty damn sadistic when it came to deciding the fate of the child who misbehaved in the room. That’ll teach ‘em to steal cotton candy from Willy Wonka!

As one might expect in a middle school classroom, some students were more interested in what I had to say than others. There were a few in each class who really seemed to get into it; those are the future writers with whom I was trying to connect. Hopefully, some of the students gained something from it.

Beta Readers needed for Zack Jackson 3

Zack Jackson Arc

The time is rapidly approaching when I will need Beta Readers for my upcoming YA sci-fi novel, Zack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra.

This is the third book in the Zack Jackson series and clocks in at just under 80,000 words (so far). If you, or your children aged 12+ are interested in helping out, please send me a message. I plan to have the manuscript ready within the next week and can provide it in PDF, .mobi, or .epub (or if you insist, I will mail you copy).

I would like to have feedback returned to me by April 13th. You will not be expected to do any editing or proofreading (though if you notice something really bad, feel free to mention it); I’m mostly looking for feedback on the characters and plot. There are several fairly heavy topics that come up and I want to make sure that I’ve handled them with the respect they deserve. These topics include: dealing with the death of a parent, dealing with the aftermath of an assault (including suicidal thoughts from the shaming), and one character is a practicing Muslim (I don’t feel this is controversial, per se, but I do want to make sure I’m not being overtly ignorant or offensive with her portrayal).

I will also provide a series of questions I would like you to think about as you read the manuscript. You don’t have to provide your feedback as answers to the questions; they are intended just to give you an idea of the type of feedback for which I am looking.

Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction is now available!

Last year, I submitted a short story to an anthology being published by Fear the Boot, LLC. The anthology is now available! My story is “Forgotten Dreams,” the first, I hope, of many tales set in the Seven Galaxies. Think of it as dark space fantasy. Kind of like high-tech Spelljammer, if you remember that TSR property from the late 80s-early 90s, but a little bleaker. It’s not as dark as Warhammer 40K, or even Game of Thrones. It’s definitely space opera compared to my Zack Jackson novels, though (and definitely NOT for children). I’m working on another Seven Galaxies story in case there is a second volume of short stories.

“Forgotten Dreams” tells the story of Jahni, a former slave in a universe where all of humanity is enslaved and seen as barely a step about animals. She looks for a way to aid in the struggle to free her people and is forced to ask herself how far would she go to fight humanities’ oppressors.

You can purchase Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction at these places:

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Sojourn-An-Anthol … ref=sr_1_1

Apple iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/sojour … 0967?mt=11

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sojourn … 0991487707

DriveThru PDF: http://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/126517

DriveThru ePub: http://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/126582

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/ … ve-fiction

More are being added as the anthology works its way through the distribution network.

What I’ve Been up to

As I am notoriously bad at updating this blog (at least, in my own mind), I thought this would be a good time to catch up and let everyone know what I’ve been up to.

Work on Zack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra progresses. I have started the revisions on my first draft and hope to have a second draft ready for Beta Readers by the end of the month. I tackle some pretty heavy issues in this book, and I want to make sure I treat them with the gravity and respect they deserve. However, it also needs to be accessible to my target audience, so it’s important that I get it right.

The anthology in which my Seven Galaxies space fantasy story, “Forgotten Dreams” debuts has gone to the printer. I don’t have any details yet on when Sojourn will be available for purchase, but I will be sure to announce it when I have that information. There’s a great lineup of authors in the book, and I’m very pleased and honored to be among them. Already there are whispers of a second volume for which we are all once again invited to write stories. I will certainly do so.

I may write another Seven Galaxies short story, even if another anthology doesn’t present opportunities this year. Eventually, I would like to write a series of novels in that setting, but I’m still fleshing it out and I’m not quite ready for that. I keep telling myself I’ll get back to my steampunk-horror-western story, too. I think about that story a lot. Writing is 50% mental, right?

I am also working on another world of Calliome novel. I mentioned earlier that I went back to the well of Pancras and the Drak twins, Kale & Delilah, and I have been dabbling with the plot and writing. What I have in my mind might be enough for a series, possibly a trilogy, but I don’t want to commit to that right now. I’m barely 20,000 words into it, but based on where I want the story to go, I have only just begun.

In addition to all this writing, I will be giving a lecture at a local school for a class of 7th graders next month. At least some of them (and their teacher, as well) have been introduced to my Zack Jackson novels, and the school wants me to come and talk to the class about writing. It will be an interesting experience as it is like nothing I have ever done before.

The Ballad of Twilight Dungeon

Iron Fist Cover for KindleI have secured permission to embed The Ballad of Twilight Dungeon on this site!

This song contains spoilers for the plot of Wings of Twilight. It was commissioned by my wife as a Christmas present. The song was written and performed by Dan Marcotte, aka Dan the Bard. If you’ve ever been to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, you may have heard him perform. You can learn more about his music at either the link above, or a http://www.bardsong.net.

The great thing about this song is that if it’s been a while since you’ve read Wings of Twilight, or you didn’t read it, but read Iron Fist of the Oroqs, the song will tell you the tale of what occurred in the first book of The Foundation of Drak-Anor series, much like the minstrel play in the prologue of book two. In fact, one could skip the prologue altogether, and just listen to the song instead!

The Ballad of Twilight Dungeon, by Dan the Bard:


I’m going to look into embedding the file in to the Kindle version of Iron Fist of the Oroqs, as well, though file size considerations may make that impractical.

 

Interview with me on SciFiPulse Radio

A while back, I did an interview with SciFiPulse Radio. The episode went live today! You can listen to it here. I talk about my fantasy novels and my young adult science fiction novels, and I may have completely put my foot in my mouth when I talked about one of my homosexual characters, ’cause talking off the cuff is NOT something I should be allowed to do. Ever.

So for no other reason than that, it should be entertaining!

New Review for Wings of Twilight

I just found a new review up on Amazon for Wings of TwilightIt’s short and to the point, but the reader liked my novel enough to give it four stars! Thanks, Valued Reader! What a great way to start the week off after two days of Snowmageddon!