Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

We’re creeping up on the three year anniversary of Stuff and/or Junk and I spent some mental currency on trying to come up with a way to celebrate the fact that Holy cow I haven’t let it die yet?? without an obligatory blog equivalent of a sitcom clips show.

Fortunately for me, 2012 was a good year for debut authors in the SF scene. At least it was pretty rad for debut authors on my shelf. I started the blog on Feb 12, 2012 after lurking on twitter for a few weeks. It coincided pretty closely with my first writing related convention and the debut book from author Myke Cole. With the upcoming release of his fourth book, Gemini Cell, on January 27th, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to check in.

Headshots of Myke ColeCole’s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a serious breath of fresh air for me as a reader. I describe Cole’s universe as a military urban fantasy or how the actual military would deal with sorcerers being dropped into their ranks. And it’s a description I use a lot because they are one of the most recommended books on my shelf. There’s an entire unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard readers that I helped along.

Gemini Cell takes place in the same universe as the original Shadow Ops trilogy but earlier in the timeline with a different cast of characters. This time around magic isn’t established in the world, the book is “set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel.” I’ve preordered mine (and lots of links down at the bottom if you are so inclined to do the same).

So in the spirit of the upcoming three year mark, I’d like to bust out some shop talk since that’s the sort of thing I like to do and Cole, being one of the friendliest authors out on the scene, has been kind enough to indulge me. Of course, I’ll be out of any useful shop talk questions when we cross paths at Boskone 52, but that’s a problem for later. Maybe we’ll just talk about beer at that point and hopefully not blizzards that are outside the convention hotel waiting for me to drive through like last year… or the year before (Boskone has a thing with blizzards).

geminicellOne of the themes in your reviews over the years, which I’ve completely agreed with, is that your writing levels up with each book. I loved Control Point but Breach Zone blows it out of the water. Do you find that there is a leveling up of your back end writing process as well? What’s changed about your writing process between Control Point and Gemini Cell?

Thanks for noticing this. I can’t say whether or not I’m a “good” writer, and I can’t say that I’m “getting better” with each book, but I can objectively and definitively say that each novel is very different from all the others. This is by design, and I’m enormously proud of it. There’s a lot of pressure for direct to Mass-Market Paperback authors like myself to write in-series novels that feature the same protagonist and are all very similar. I’m not knocking that style. There are some GREAT writers out there doing great things in this mode. Look at Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs. One of my favorite writers, Bernard Cornwell, writes this way (his Richard Sharp and Thomas of Hookton novels).

But that’s not what I want to do. I push really, REALLY hard to progress as a writer. If my career fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t challenge myself. Control Point is sort of a bildungsroman and a fugitive story. Fortress Frontier is a fantasy quest piece. Breach Zone is a siege tale and a tragic romance. All three books have different protagonists by design. Breach Zone stops using chapter group sections, and is a double-helix narrative (a story in the past and a story in the present intertwining and climaxing together) that I stole from Mark Lawrence.

Gemini Cell is a *very* different novel from the Shadow Ops trilogy. It’s got much stronger elements of romance and totally different characters. The magic system is completely different. Scylla got some POV time in Breach Zone, but Sarah Schweitzer is a major POV character who can almost be counted as the book’s protagonist.

At the same time, I wrote The Fractured Girl (the 5th draft is currently with my agent, and I’m hopeful we’ll go out to market soon), which is a medieval “grimdark” fantasy in the mode of Lawrence and Abercrombie, whose protagonist is a 13 year old gay girl.

My point is this: I strive to get better, but I know that’s totally subjective. What isn’t subjective is this: I do something *different* with each book. To the extent that improves my writing, I’m delighted.

Your writing mixes genres. Even before we crossed paths at my first Boskone the idea of a modern military fantasy book came off as new and fresh. After spending twenty years reading in the genre, new and fresh is an amazing thing. And then Bookbinder came along and the support staff became the protags. And I absolutely maintain that Breach Zone is really a romance book in disguise. Now I’ve seen tidbits on twitter that the horror book scene is keying in on Gemini Cell. What kind of challenges are there with mixing genres and bringing other people’s tropes into our SFF scene?

All major successes in the arts are outliers. Take a look at A Song of Ice and Fire. We all talk about Ned Stark’s beheading as if it’s just part of the fantasy literature. But the truth was that, in capriciously killing a major and well-loved character, Martin took us into new territory. Look at the major comics that broke out when the Comics Code was bucked off in the 80’s – Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Swamp Thing. These books went into completely uncharted territory and they reaped major rewards.

All of these examples were not creating anything new out of whole cloth. They were riffing in creative ways on extant tropes. Martin was writing a medieval fantasy. Miller was working with Batman, one of the oldest and most loved characters in the history of comics. But they consciously pushed out into new territory. They took risks, and audiences responded.

I like to think that I’m doing that here. I grew up with zombie fiction. I started with the Romero flicks like everyone else, but I got in on the ground floor with the zombie renaissance as an early reader of Kirkman’s Walking Dead in ’03, long before the TV show made it a household word. I’m certainly not the first person to ask more complex questions about the zombie phenomena (what if zombies can still think? How do they integrate with humanity?). Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series deals with this, and Carey’s Girl With All the Gifts is getting a lot of press lately. In making Gemini Cell‘s character undead, I wanted to explore the military applications of zombies, and I also wanted to avoid the trope that zombie infection is always via virus.

When Dread Central, a major hub site for horror, picked up the story, I was tickled. I hope it means I’m on the right track.

One of the other upcoming projects you’ve talked about is the Fractured Girl (like a few paragraphs above), which I’ve seen you describe as a Mark Lawrence-esqe grimdark starring a teenaged girl protag long before you described it above. That’s a big swing from the cadre of military officers that make up your other protags. I can’t even listen to the same genre of music when I switch gears so drastically. Do you need to cultivate a different headspace for writing from such a different point of view? Do you have to change up the mechanics of your process any?

I’m not sure, but only because it’s so new to me. I’ve had a hard time writing Javelin Rain, which is the sequel to Gemini Cell (I just finished a 1st draft of Javelin Rain on December 31st). Keep in mind, I also had a hard time writing Breach Zone, which is widely regarded as my best published work (judging from the critical reception). So, this could mean that it’s simply how it goes for me lately: I have a hard time writing the book, but it turns out to be solid, or I could be having a tough time switching gears between The Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain.

I will say this: I was much more excited to write The Fractured Girl than I was to write Javelin Rain. I think some of this is the “oooooh, shiny!” tendency to be drawn to something new and different. Gemini Cell is my fourth military novel. If you don’t count unsold work, that means roughly 500,000 words (or 2,000 pages) in the same arena. It’s nice to branch out and stretch your legs. It’s also really important to me that I be a writer with a capital “W.” I want to show that what success I’ve enjoyed isn’t gimmickry, that it’s about more than my “authentic” military voice.

This one is kind of cheesy but it’s a topic that fascinates me, but what kind of soundtrack would you drop for Gemini Cell? Sometimes I see books with an author’s playlist in the back. What’s the playlist for Gemini Cell?

This is a tough one for me, since I almost always write to movie soundtracks. So, there literally is a soundtrack playing as I create my world. It would definitely be a composite soundtrack that included orchestral scores interspersed with pop artists. For example: Snow White and The Huntsman‘s soundtrack, which I write to a lot, includes Florence and The Machine. Narnia‘s soundtrack includes Switchfoot and Alanis Morrisette. I am loving the Skyrim soundtrack as well. Video game soundtracks loom large in my repertoire.

One more slightly cheesy one, but as a film school grad, I can’t resist. If the mythical Hollywood movie deal dropped into your lap and you had a say in the casting call, who would you tap to be the stars across Gemini Cell or any of the other books you’ve written? I have to say, I’d be partial to Idris Elba or a younger Djimon Hounsou as Oscar Briton.

Funny you should mention this. I actually was asked this very question and gave a detailed breakdown here. (Interviewer’s note: I tried really hard not to write repeat questions but my google-fu failed me that day)

Gemini Cell would be really tough to cast for. The lead, James Schweitzer, has his face blown off and poorly reconstructed. He’s so hard to look at that they put a modified flight helmet on him (as shown on the cover) to keep him from scaring the shit out of living troops.

PlayersHandbookYou’ve talked about how D&D was part of your nerd foundation, specifically the paladin archetype. (Chaotic neutral sorcerer here, Green Rodrick ftw!) I know we’ve all been tempted to take the stat sheet and keep writing. Jim Hines actually did in a round about way. China Meiville’s Perdido Street Station and The Scar read like they could be D&D source books, he even makes references to the classic adventuring party in the former. Have you ever had any characters make the jump from dice to the page? Do you find any useful synergy between tabletop RPGs and writing?

I find TONS of useful synergy between RPGs and writing, but not in the way you think. Playing D&D taught me to imagine myself as someone else, to form an external model/vision of the person I wanted to be (in this case, a paladin). I wasn’t parented well, and so that vision became the role-model I never had. It allowed me to reinvent myself as a military officer and eventually as a writer. The task of going pro as a writer is so impossible that it would make almost anyone give up. A paladin doesn’t worry about that. He hefts his shield and advances into hell. Without RPGs, I would *never* have become a novelist.

This next one approaches a “standard” question, which I’ve been doing my best to avoid, but according to my google-fu, you’ve yet to answer this one since the Breach Zone release window so it’s new for 2015! I know you’ve got the previously mentioned Fractured Girl and Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell, in the works, what else are you juggling with that epic work ethic you’ve got?

operationarcanaFunny you should mention. My novelette, Weapons In The Earth, will be published in John Joseph Adams’ Operation: Arcana military fantasy anthology in March. It’s a POW story set in the Shadow Ops universe and told from the goblin POV. I’ve also been invited to do short work for the Urban Allies anthology and Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology.

While I wait for beta-reads to come back on Javelin Rain and for my agent to comment on The Fractured Girl, I’ve dusted off an old science-fiction police novel proposal that is highly influenced by Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. (Interviewer’s note: !!!) It deals with cops who merge with a race of nanoscale xenocarids who colonize their bodies for law enforcement applications. It would leverage a lot of my work in law enforcement with a lot of my work in . . . dreaming up crazy shit. It’s also very, very bleak (like The Fractured Girl). I know a lot of people are already predicting “grimdark’s” demise, but that tone is still what resonates most with me in fiction.

We’ll see what comes of it. Fingers crossed.

As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Myke Cole’s fourth novel, Gemini Cell drops on January 27th. Connect with Cole on his website mykecole.com or on twitter @mykecole. Preorder the book at your bookseller of choice – Barnes and NobleAmazon IndieBoundPowell’sBooks-a-millionPandemonium Books & Games, Cambridge MassBooks on the Square, Providence RI

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cormorantChuck Wendig’s prose is a friggin’ force of nature.

Everything of his I’ve read is like an avalanche. You keep turning the pages and just try to keep up because you aren’t stopping. I’ve also got a special affinity for talking about Wendig on this blog. His first book, Blackbirds starring the foul mouthed protag, Miriam Black, debuted not long after I started posting on ye olde blog. His work ethic is like a tornado so I haven’t read all the books he’s published yet, but I still see him leveling up with each book I’ve read.

Today, we’re talking The Cormorant, the third of the Miriam Black books. My pal Drea blogging over at Scribbles at Midnight lamented on twitter that she needed to pick a new book out of the To Read Pile on the same day as me. So we both picked up with the swearing woman who knows when you’re going to die. We’re each attacking one angle of The Cormorant and getting feedback from the other. Read all the cool stuff going on below this paragraph and bounce over to Drea’s “Not a Book Review” to read all the other stuff the cool kids are going to be talking about.

Now I’m pretty sure this makes us some sort of blogging Voltron. I think I’m the left foot.

Let’s hit the back of the book copy before we get any farther along in saving the universe.

Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from “thief” to “killer”.

Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she’s good at, but in her vision she sees him die by another’s hand and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam.

She’s expected…

Hrm. Not much to go with, eh? I seriously feel bad for whatever person at Angry Robot that has to write back of the book copy. Angry Robot books tend to be off the beaten path, which often means spoilers and things that aren’t just going to be summed up in two paragraphs. But that’s ok when you get to book three in a series I guess. If you’re getting this far along, you’ve probably already met Miriam. I know I don’t often bother reading the back of the book in a series until I’m sitting down to blog about it. I just said “Ohh! Book three. Hell yeah to that.” I must have at some point though because I vaguely remember the phrasing in it. But I don’t think it was until after I already purchased it.

So I’m off on a wild tangent. Let’s kill the introduction and get on with the good stuff.

The big thing I want to key in with The Cormorant is the character arc Miriam has in this book and how it fits in with the character arc over all. More to the point, this is the first time I felt there was any sort of serious character growth going on with Miriam. In the first book, Miriam is a swear filled breath of fresh air in the genre. I loved every second of it, but in the end Miriam was doing nothing but surviving. In the second book, Mockingbird, Miriam starts out in a better place, but gives stability the finger early on and regresses back to just surviving. The stakes are much higher in this book so it’s all good though. Now we’ve gotten to book three and… more of the same. She spends the first half of the book doing exactly the same. She’s doing a fortune teller thing and is one small step above homeless. Survival. It started to wear me down a little bit. Around the halfway point, Miriam comes across her mother. After that, woah! There was three books worth of character arc crammed into some 150-odd pages. I definitely felt satisfied that the growth happened, but it was almost too late. I’m excited for the fourth book, when it comes out, but there were a couple chapters in the middle of this one where I got worried.

So anyways. That’s the short version of what I thought. But I’m not talking shop by myself today! We’re fancy today, so I’m tossing out some questions about Miriam and her character arc to Drea to see thinks. When you’re done, don’t forget to bounce over to her blog where we reversed the set up and I talk at length about the questions she came up with during her reading.

Me: How do you feel Miriam’s character arc in Cormorant fits in with the overall arc of the story? Do you think it took too long to get there?

Drea: I think Miriam’s character arc was pretty consistent. In the first and second books she is the same pithy mouthy smart ass. However in this third book I think she was a little more muted. Which was honestly a relief. Miriam is difficult to like, she’s rough on everyone and she knows it. What frustrates me the most is definitely how long it took for her to realize that maybe she should smooth over some of her rough edges for the sake of the people she cares about. Or even just to keep herself out of a little trouble.

I think that’s one of the things that confuses me about why I keep reading the series. She’s a truly unique character – she’s intentionally unlikeable. I enjoy how different she is. But I really don’t like HER. It astounds me that Wendig has gotten me to return three times considering how irksome I find this protagonist. J

Me: How do you feel about her mother, i.e. her past, being the catalyst for the change?

Drea: I think Miriam has been running from her mother and what happened to her all her life and I think it’s about time she actually tried dealing with her relationship problems instead of flipping them the finger.

That said it’s only natural that her mother sparks this change in her. In some ways I think seeing that her mother had changed gave Miriam the courage to admit that she needed and wanted to change as well. Although it’s clear just from her interactions with Gabby when she actually apologizes to her that she had already begun maturing some.

And in fact the more I think about it the more I think Miriam is just getting older and more mature in this book. There’s no one catalyst for change. When she murders the teenager she realizes she’s crossed a line and I think that more than anything else is a defining moment for her.

Me: Do you think it’s better or worse that she is doing all her character growing solo without Louis, even though he was such an important part of the previous books?

Drea: Can I just say I’m solidly, staunchly team Louis? I think he’s the main reason I keep coming back to this series.  And while I missed him in this book I think it’s an absolutely necessary thing that she’s doing all her growing AWAY from him.

As the second book showed – you can’t change just to please someone else. She tried to settle down with him before she was really ready to and the outcome was disastrous. I have high hopes for them in the future. And to be honest I hope that there isn’t any romance blossoming between Miriam and Gabby over the long haul.  I think Miriam is bad news for anyone she touches and Gabby has already had enough bad news.

In the next book I hope to see a LOT more change in Miriam because I’m tired of her hurting everyone who tried to help her.

So I hope that Wendig doesn’t backpedal on what I saw in the last half of the Cormorant because I’m tired of Miriam causing most of the conflict in the novel by being an asshole. This time I want to see some truly external conflict. I’m looking for less of a character study and more plotting.

Boom! That was rad, wasn’t it? Make sure to hit Drea’s website for the other half of the Two Person Book Club.

lextalionisLast week I finished reading and talked all about the fantastic book Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia. I seriously enjoyed the book. As a writer, I’m not just enjoying books from a reader/fan perspective though. The craft that goes into a novel is a whole additional layer of enjoyment for me when I read. The craft of Lex impressed me just as much as all the other aspects of the story.

I love talking shop (duh) and had all sorts of stuff I wanted to talk about with Garcia so I invited her over to this here blog for some shop talk about one of my most fascinating topics, worldbuilding. Every novel revolves around its story, and every good story is driven by the characters. More so in science fiction than any other flavor of genre, the set dressing and world building can become a character unto itself. There are an endless amount of ways that authors go about it and I always love to compare notes on this.

So without any further rambling, I’m going to let Garcia take the stage and share how she went about building the world of Lex Talionis.

 

Worldbuilding is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating and have heard dozens of different approaches to it. In other interviews, I saw you mention that you weren’t much of an outliner but the entire time I was reading Lex, I felt there was huge detailed galaxy out there. The reader in me loves it. The writer in me is impressed with this world packed full of depth that still never distracted from the story. How did you go about this?

I swallowed a galaxy before I started writing, obviously. That’s how all the best god-heads do it. Bow down to my skills, puny human!

Well, okay, maybe not.

First off, thanks for the compliments! I did work hard to try and set up a vast universe without writing every bit of it all down. Growing up, I preferred to visualize what a author wrote and I was no fan of standard assists like maps. I appreciate the work that goes into it, and I know people love stuff like that, but I hated having to stop the story to go look up a mountain range, and I idolized writers who could take me there with words alone. So I worked hard at using all the senses–sight, taste, smell, sound and touch–to paint a complete picture.

I’ve always been a pantser. With me though, when I write, I see the world and I add what I see to the database in my head. I like to follow ideas wherever they lead and one thought usually leads to another, so if I know I have a planet with an atmosphere poisonous to humans, I will ask myself what WILL survive there, and then bam! I have an alien species. If I made more notes, I wouldn’t have to flip back so often to see what I decided to call my floating jellyfish aliens, but when those aliens show up, they tend to walk in dragging their people’s history and their old boyfriends with them. Then I just write it down.

Did the world Lex inhabits come from years of marinating in your head or did it just appear like Athena, fully formed bursting out of your head?

Very few parts marinated over the years, mostly to do with Lex herself and her background. The rest of the world formed as I wrote and asked myself questions ‘what if’ questions. The first one was, ‘what if aliens found us instead of us finding them–and they just wanted to trade?’ I would ask myself questions about why some things and places were the way they were and the answers formed the basis of the world.

My approach was also influenced by how technology changed over the years, of course, so some things did come fully formed, birthed by some random tech articles or a sentence in a new article. But I didn’t have any of it burst from my head, which sounds really painful, by the way. I doubt there’s enough Excedrin in the world for that!

Did the level of worldbuilding change as you progressed through drafts, i.e. cutting parts out or filling in more detail?

Oh, for sure! I started writing Lex years ago, so a lot had to change. I grew up, got better at writing, started filling in more detail, experienced a lot more life. Those factors and others helped change the world I was building. It started out a lot more light-hearted, less gritty. That changed when I started asking the ‘what if’ questions I mentioned.

I cut an entire book to write Lex, if you can believe it. The sequel to Lex is actually the book I was working on first. But I asked myself how this woman I was writing came to be, and it turned out I needed a book to answer that. It also turned out I needed a few books to work out all the trouble that came with her. Should have just left her alone in the first place–would have been much quieter in my head.

Is your worldbuilding approach going to evolve as you work on the sequel and/or other unnamed projects?

Definitely. The database in my brain is getting obsolete, like all good tech eventually does. I need to start making notes now so I don’t have to flip through all the manuscripts I write looking for the name of some street. I’m exploring writing software to help with that–I heard Scrivener’s good. I want to make sure my other books can be written without me getting eye-strain and cramps from clicking through the pages.

My plan was always to advance the tech in my world as the years pass, so the reader can see the world’s evolution as they go. Technology is proceeding at such a pace these days that it’s going to be a tall order writing a science fiction novel that Elon Musk hasn’t rendered archaic by the time it goes to print. But we’re also closing the gap between finishing a novel and publishing it to satisfy this new generation of ravenous readers, so perhaps I have a better chance of getting away with that now than before.

Either way, I hope to keep changing, improving on my worldbuilding and writing better stories as I go. Otherwise I’ll be forced to return to my galaxy swallowing ways and believe me, only the Children of Cthulhu want that *gives everyone the evil eye*.

 

RSA Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs–not that any of them belong to her.

She decided to be an author when she discovered that Louisa May Alcott had been published at the age of 8. Determined to waste no more time, she finished her first collection of stories at 10. She has not stopped writing since, and indulged herself in a deep love of all speculative fiction despite the best advice of every English teacher she has ever had.

Lex Talionis is her debut novel available now from all the major players. Learn more about her and her novel over at rsagarcia.com.