Genre Chick Interview: Bradley P. Beaulieu

Some of you might remember Brad from last month’s gushing review for his novel The Winds of Khalokovo in my column over at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

While I had his attention, I thought it would be a great idea to bug Brad with some questions. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Genre Chick Interview…so here you go!

(Upon reading back over this, I realize I had a bit of an obsession that day with things that “spark.” Kudos to Brad for not making fun of me. I mean, seriously. Three times in one interview? Really? Sheesh.)

Like most authors, Brad can be found on Facebook and the Twitter, and his very cool (read: cooler than mine) website:


Princess Alethea: What’s a “quilling”?

Brad Beaulieu: Funnily enough, no one’s ever asked me this before. There once was a literary discussion group associated with Oxford University. J.R.R. Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Christopher Tolkien, and many more, were members of this group. It was called the Inklings. They met at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, an establishment I visited when I went on a whirlwind tour of the U.K. and Ireland on 2004. When I learned about the Inklings on a tour of Oxford, I thought it would be neat to call my website (when I eventually made one) quillings, in honor of Tolkien. That, and I didn’t really want a website called

Incidentally, that was the very same trip where I stopped into the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and picked up the various artwork pieces that I later used as the primary characters in The Winds of Khalakovo.

AK: What sparked your interest in a Russia-based fantasy setting?

BB: I think it was the setting itself that led me to the Czarist Russia. It’s hard to remember when the actual spark occurred, but I had already created the world, and I knew it was a very cold an inhospitable place, and I’d been wanting to find something that wouldn’t settle into the typical western European (especially Britain-based) fantasy. I wanted something different, and Muscovite Russia seemed to fit the bill. When I’m brainstorming, I try not to set any “answers” I come up with in stone. I like to try them on for a while, see what the implications are, and try a few alternatives before really allowing the idea to set. So I did a bit of research. I read up on Russian history, especially with respect to the Czars and Russian customs and styles of dress, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It ended up working well with the Persian influenced Aramahn in the book as well.

AK: You were a “late bloomer” as a writer. Was there an event that sparked this transformation?

No, not really. I’d always been interested in writing, but never really thought that it would be something I could make a go of. I didn’t focus on English or writing classes in high school or college, but I did dabble in writing a book in my last few years of college. It was something I set aside after a while, not because it didn’t hold my interest, but because life was creeping in. I wasn’t making it a priority.

When I moved out to California in my early thirties, I had a bit more time on my hands, so I picked up writing again and became more serious about it. I bought some books on writing and read those. Then I bought some more. I started to see what a big commitment it was. I began writing a novel, and it took me about four years to write because I was still just dabbling, and I figured if I really wanted to do this, I’d better dive in or just drop it, because I didn’t really want to do it halfway.

That’s when I started to hit the convention circuit. I started making contacts and becoming even more serious, because I could see how dedicated others were, and I was also rubbing elbows with some of my idols while growing up. That was a really cool feeling, and it made me want it even more, not just to “have the life” of a writer, whatever that means, but also to share my stories.

AK:  You’ve been to various acclaimed writers workshops. What are the pros and cons of attending?

BB: Well, I think workshops can be an incredibly rewarding experience. I wholeheartedly recommend them, though I do think you need to be ready for them. It’s one thing to have friends and family read your stuff and give some light comments on what they think is wrong. It’s another thing entirely to take work and place it before experts for dissection. I would recommend becoming involved in local writing groups or online workshops before taking the step of a multi-day, pay-lots-of-money-for-it workshop. Get some feedback on your writing in those venues, which will, I think, both make you a better writer, and prepare you for criticism. Not only that, it’ll make you a better critiquer, which will help the others in the workshop, since most of them are peer-to-peer as well as instructor-led.

Getting back to your question, there are tons of pros to attending workshops, especially for people like me who didn’t have as strong of a background in writing as others might have from formal education or self-teaching. My writing surged forward with every workshop I took. So by all means, if you’re of the mind, do consider going to one that matches your goals as well as the time and money you have available, but by the same token, make sure you’re ready for it, because otherwise you might just set yourself back (perhaps permanently) on your path to becoming a writer (whatever this means to you).

AK: Are you still an avid reader? What books have sparked your interest lately?

Instead of avid, I’ll say eager. I wish I had more time to read, but I just don’t. The day job and family take priority. And then I set aside roughly one hour for writing (sometimes forgoing if life intrudes). And that generally leaves me only a few minutes at the end of the day to read, usually just before I go to bed.

I’m really digging the Steampunk movement over the last several years. I enjoy the milieu, and I’m liking the variants that are now cropping up in both short and long form. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m really looking forward to reading Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. I’m also excited about the wave of dystopic environmental SF that The Windup Girl is going to unleash. This is purely conjecture at this point, but I think it’s a natural shift that’s going to occur as the environment and climate change, and the resulting predictions of catastrophe, begin to weigh more and more on our minds, not just the speculative fiction community, but the wider reading audience as well.

AK: How’s the sequel to Winds coming? What’s next on your writing plate?

BB: The sequel is going great. Of course, I’m on deadline now, so it feels like the due date is breathing down my neck, but I’m about four chapters away from finishing the “zeroeth” draft. Then it’s on to changes that I’ve built up during the draft and then a dive into the entire thing once more to create the true first draft. That’ll be done by May, at which point I turn it in to my editor, my agent, my beta readers, and the readers of Wellspring, a peer-to-peer writing workshop I started based on the Blue Heaven Workshop model.

I’ve started mulling my next project. I have a couple of possibilities, but I’m leaning toward one of them more than the other at this point. It’s based loosely on a story I sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies called “From the Spices of Sanandira.” (That story, btw, will be out this spring some time.) It’s not so much an expansion of this story as it is a re-imagining. It’s a story that springs from the city-state of Sanandira, a large desert oasis known for its caravan trade and spice bazaars. It’s got a strong Thousand and One Nights feel to it. It will probably focus on a pair of twin sisters, one of whom is sold to one of Sanandira’s famed assassin rings at a young age. The other girl (the protagonist) finds her sister by happenstance years later, and because of this chance meeting is drawn into the world of intrigue her sister walks every day.

One thing I really want to explore in this story is the concepts of night and day. My thoughts are really raw at this point, but I’m thinking that the city has an alter ego. It changes at night, especially around the new moon, when the dead return from the desert wastes to cull the city of those who are sick and dying from a disease that if left unchecked would spread throughout Sanandira and destroy the house of cards that has been built painstakingly over the course of centuries. (Whew, take a breath, Brad…) Where this thread and the sisters meet, I have no idea. That’ll be the subject of future brainstorming sessions, but I like where it’s headed so far.

AK: Tell us about your foreign sale.

BB: Yes! Na zdrowie! (To your health, in Polish.)

This is kind of a funny story. Several weeks back, I came across a Google link… Wait, why are you looking at me like that? What, you don’t Google yourself? So sue me. I have a book coming out and I wanted to see if anyone noticed!

[Edited to add: I can’t ever remember to Google myself. So I set up a Google Alert to do it for me.]

So anyway, I stumble across this link that says that Polish rights have been sold for The Winds of Khalakovo. I’m like, what? I knew my agent would eventually be trying to sell foreign rights, but I didn’t think they were actively doing so yet. And then the next morning I get an email from an editor at Proszynski Media, the publishing house that the announcement claimed had bought the rights. He wanted to get me in contact with the translator. By this point I was pretty sure rights had been sold, but I hadn’t heard from my agent yet. As it turns out, the press release was a bit premature, but I was informed that yes, indeed, Winds was going to be translated, and it was already moving pretty quickly. The translation should be done by roughly June for an August release. That’s pretty fast!

AK: If you were a qiram, which elemental creature would you be associated with?

BB: I would be a havaqiram, meaning I would be able to commune with wind spirits. It’s probably been that way ever since the windships came into the picture as the primary vessel for transportation of people and goods. I love tall ships. I’ve taken a voyage on a few, and though I will admit I got a little seasick the first time, I love the feeling of being pulled along by the wind. It would be really cool to be able to control the wind as the havaqiram do in the book, even to the point of summoning enough wind that you could fly for short periods. And it would be freeing to fly on the windships and call the wind to bring you to further shores.

Yes, being a havaqiram would be pretty cool.

AK: If you were a superhero, what would your power be and why?

BB: I used to play Villains & Vigilantes, as well as a boatload of Champions, back in the day. My favorite character was the Dart. He could leap really far and stick to walls like Spiderman, and he had a belt with different kinds of darts: some explosive, some gas darts, some poison. I even had an artist friend that drew up a really cool character picture of him. (I don’t know where it is anymore, though.) But that’s who I’d be. The Dart. Because who doesn’t like to jump around and throw darts?

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Genre Chick Interview: Peter S. Beagle

Alethea Kontis: You call yourself an “occasional musician.” How much do you play/sing anymore?

Peter S. Beagle: I don’t have any regular gigs now, as I used to when I lived in Santa Cruz. I haven’t really had one for well over 20 years. So I sing on occasion, when I’m asked. A couple of weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the annual Nimrod Journal gathering, there was a party, where a lady with a very nice voice and I passed a guitar back and forth. I sang my songs, she sang folk songs. It was nice. I’ve been missing that. My business manager, Connor Cochran, tells me that next spring in Chicago I’m going to get a chance to do a real gig as part of a big weekend art show/music show event based around The Last Unicorn. Going to have to do some practicing to get ready for that.

AK: Tell us about the 52/50 Project. How is it going?

PSB: I should probably take a moment here to explain. The 52/50 Project is basically a demanding birthday present I gave myself back in April, when I turned 70 and simultaneously celebrated the 50th anniversary of selling my first book. The idea was simple. I love writing both poetry and song lyrics, but I hadn’t done either in years, except for sneaking some fragmentary song lyrics into a few of my stories. So at Connor’s suggestion I made the crazy commitment to write a new piece every week for a year, with ten of them based on subscriber suggestions. Every Sunday or Monday I send Connor what I’ve written, then he polishes my “liner notes,” typesets everything, comes up with an illustration, and sends the result out via email to subscribers. Bit by bit we’re recording all of these, too. Subscribers will get free MP3s of those as they’re ready.

AK: Has it been a challenge to produce something fabulous and new once a week?

Lord, yes. No sooner is something online on Monday than I’m worrying about the next week. Usually it takes me until Wednesday or Thursday before I figure out what the hell I’m going to do. Then I have to write it, which is exciting, challenging, and of course scary, too. But we’re at week 30 and I haven’t missed one yet, so I think I’ll make it.

AK: Can people still subscribe? (I do, and I bought a subscription for a friend. I love it!)

PSB: People can still subscribe at, all the way through to the end. It’s only $25, and whenever they join they’ll get everything that was done up until then, in one big burst of email attachments. After that they’ll get each week’s new song lyric or poem on the regular Monday schedule.

AK: You travel and do so many appearances–what do you like best about conventions?

PSB: I very much like seeing people I don’t usually see except at conventions–I’ve made some friends of surprisingly long standing that way–and each individual locale has its own peculiar charms. I love the fact, for example, that when we go to Baltimore we always stay with the same people, because April keeps lox in the refrigerator whenever I’m there, and her husband Travis brews beer. You couldn’t ask for more, or at least I couldn’t. And I have my own room there, which is a nice change from the usual run of Motel 6s or Super 8s that Connor and I stay in to save money. (Though even that has had some benefits, because I’ve learned to sleep with the light on while Connor stays up all night working.)

AK: How do you feel about the latest trends in the fantasy genre, such as paranormal romance and steampunk? What themes would you like to see make an appearance…or a comeback?

PSB: One thing I would like to see slack off is the endless factory-made Tolkienesque trilogies. I’m not usually in favor of the death penalty, but for these things I’ve thought about it: felony trilogy writing. But really, I don’t have a sense of trends in any particular field. I just read whatever jumps off the library shelves at me, without much of a particular pattern to it. Fact is, the overwhelming majority of what I read these days is in other fields: mysteries, poetry, biographies, and general nonfiction, especially history. When I read fantasy it tends to be for a project, or else because it’s something written by a friend, or is some old favorite I’m revisiting. I’m always glad–since he is long-gone–that I called Poul Anderson after I reread three or four of his fantasy novels in a row, just to tell him “I know you wrote these 40 and 50 years ago, but I just wanted to let you know that they hold up beautifully. I hope my stuff holds up that late in the game.” It was a joke between us that I loved his fantasy but couldn’t make heads or tails out of his science fiction.

AK: What were your favorite books/poets/musicians as a child?

PSB: Back then I did read more fantasy than I do now, and I’ve always told people that what turned me in that direction was being sent The Wind In the Willows by a favorite teacher while I was sick and staying home from school. For musicians, I loved blues, and my buddy Phil and I grew up particularly interested in Josh White. We were constantly sitting up at night trying to figure out how he did this or that on guitar. Phil got to where he could do an almost perfect vocal imitation of White, and I did pick up a few fingering and tuning things. And I’ve always known way too many Broadway musicals by heart. A couple of nights ago I was watching a program on one of my old favorites, Johnny Mercer, and found myself singing along with very nearly every song on the show. I also listened to classical music because that’s what my parents were always playing. They took me to see Segovia when I was about nine. And by pure chance I came into contact with a lot of ‘50s country music, because one of my friends took pity on me and built the crystal radio set that I was supposed to make for shop class. It would only bring in one station, which played nothing but country music. I was so grateful that I would come home, sit down to do my homework, hook up that crystal set, attach the ground wire to the radiator, put on my headphones, and listen to whatever it brought in. As a consequence I have to have been the only Jewish kid in the Bronx who knew about Hank Williams, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Little Jimmy Dickens, Patsy Cline, and all those folks. I was only 12 or 13 when Hank Williams died, but I understood the grieving in the country music world.

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Genre Chick Interview: Daniel Waters

When I met Daniel Waters at the Southern Festival of Books here in Nashville this year, he had no life. Specifically, his one-line bio was something along the lines of “Daniel lives in Connecticut with his family.” Outraged at the oversight (and a little frightened of meeting a person who really had nothing more to say about them), I concocted a much more colorful history with which to introduce him at our “Young, Fanged, and Undead” panel. In appreciation (and because he’s just that awesome), he answered these interview questions for me in about 12 hours, reciprocating in the same witty spirit.

And no. We’re not telling you whether or not zombies are real. Some things you just have to decide for yourself.

Alethea Kontis: What were you like in high school?

Daniel Waters: My standard answer is that I was a near-perfect mix of the five personalities from The Breakfast Club, meaning that I am equal parts Brain, Criminal, Athlete, Basket Case, and, um, Princess. The reality is that I was probably about 95% Basket Case, even if I tried to look all Criminal on the outside.

You know, teen readers ask this one often, and I think what they are really asking is, “Will I be okay?” And the answer is, “You will.”

AK: I was struck by how poetic the chapters written from the Zombie POV are. Do you write–or have you ever written–poetry? Any favorite poets?
DW: Why, thank you for that–I tried really hard to get somewhat experimental things like the speech pauses in Generation Dead and the “first person, zombie” POV in Kiss of Life down correctly. I’ve never written poetry and don’t really consider myself to have an aptitude for it, but admire and have great respect for those that do. Some of my favorite poets are Langston Hughes, James Scully, Allen Ginsberg, Theodor Geisel, James Merrill, and Morrissey.

AK: Zombie walks are all the rage this year — do you participate in them?

DW: Every morning when I shamble from my bed to my coffee.

I’ve never been in an official zombie walk but they look like a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll get an invite someday from some friendly undead person.

AK: What do you think is the reason so many young folks have been drawn to the zombie “culture”?
DW: There are so many reasons to embrace zombie culture! I think in some ways, entering into a zombie horde allows a person to escape the terrible pressure of having to be an individual all the time. America especially places a very high value on being “unique,” and I think that can cause a lot of stress in hothouse environments like most schools. Zombification could be societies’ great equalizer. On the flip side, releasing one’s inner zombie is a fun way to be an individual in more polite society.

The culture, like many dark or horror based entertainments, allows young people to deal with any number of universal fears–fear of death, fear of disability or disease, social fears, etc. There’s something inherently pathetic and borderline humorous about zombies as well which also contributes to the whole cathartic experience.

It is easy to identify with a zombie, whereas it can be difficult to do the same with vampires, the superheroes and villains of the supernatural world. Zombies are us, but dead.

Plus, let’s face it, zombies are just cool.

AK: What’s your costume going to be this Halloween? Best costume you ever had?
DW: No costume this year, sadly. My best costume ever was probably Wez, who was the scary guy from The Road Warrior. My mohawk was about a foot tall. I was never a zombie (or a zombie cheerleader) but I was a Ghostbuster (a la Bill Murray) one year. I used an old metal canister that had most recently held a deadly insecticide for my proton pack, which probably wasn’t the brightest idea in the world.

AK: What were your favorite books as a kid?
DW: Favorite book as a kid is D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I read that one approximately one thousand seven hundred and fifty three times. I loved series books of all sorts, and science fiction, fantasy and horror especially.

AK: When you visit schools, what’s the question all the kids inevitably ask?
DW: “Are zombies real?”

AK: If you could travel back in time to visit yourself in high school, what bit of wisdom do you wish you could impart?

DW: “Keep in touch.” It is the same advice that I would hope my teenaged self would give if he traveled forward in time to drop some knowledge on me.

AK: Tell us a little about your New Year’s Eve goals. Do you have any idea of what will be on 2010’s list?
DW: I started doing New Year’s Eve goals the year after my daughter was born. Although I’ve always been blessed with a happy family life, there were a number of things I wanted to change about myself, both professionally and personally, and writing down what I wanted to change seemed to be the logical place to start.

I wrote “This Year Will Be Different” in black ink across the top of a sheet of paper. Item #1 was “I will henceforth write with blue ink”. I wrote this in blue ink, thus guaranteeing that at least one of my potentially life-changing goals would come to fruition. Then I wrote about a dozen or so other goals–some personal, some family, and some occupational–and folded the list in my appointment calendar, so I’d see it every so often. At the end of the year I spend some time reflecting on the list and what happened over the past 12 months, then I think about what I want the year ahead to look like, and then I add to the list.

I’ve got a number of writing goals on the list, although they tend to be mainly goals around the career and business side of writing life. Creativity, I find, resists legislation. I only write down things that I consider to be realistic and achievable; other than that I don’t have any rules. “Be invited into a short story anthology” was one I accomplished this year, and I’ll also get to check off “Be the author of a book I cannot read” soon, because my agent sold Spanish rights for the first three Generation Dead books last month.

One of the goals that have been on the list for a few years is the rather pedestrian “Have one of my works adapted for film or television”. I think I’ll also add: “Have two new books be published in a calendar year”. Time will tell.

AK: Any fun library stories?

DW: I have found good writing mojo at a small local library where I recently gave a talk. The librarians there won’t go as far as to say the library is haunted, but they have told me a few stories that are pretty interesting, like when they were having a discussion about wildflowers one night after closing. They heard a thud from one of the aisles, and when they went to investigate, a single book had fallen to the floor. The book, of course, was a guidebook on wildflowers. And inside, between pages 113 and 114, was a freshly severed human head.

I’m kidding about the human head part. I hear it was a really old human head.

I haven’t experienced anything supernatural at the library, except I think I’ve done some really good work there, and when the writing is going well it almost feels as though something supernatural is happening.

AK: What’s next for you?

DW: Passing Strange, the third book in the Generation Dead series, will be out next June. Then I will do a non-GD book, but I’m not sure which yet because I have a few finished projects stacked up in my office like airplanes on the runway in Atlanta. I’d like to launch a new series next year.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be & why?

DW: Well, the obvious answer would be Matter-Eater Lad from the old Legion of Superheroes, because he can eat anything he wants to and never gains any weight. But the one I’d most like to be is the Silver Surfer. Being able to surf through space at faster than light speeds would be the bomb. He’s shiny and smooth. And hey, you just can’t go wrong with the Power Cosmic.

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Genre Chick Interview: Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough, the British Grace Kelly of the horror genre, is riding high–having just won a British Fantasy Award for her short story “Do You See”–and in a few weeks she is up for the World Fantasy Award for her short “Our Man in the Sudan.” Anyone who follows her on Twitter knows that she’s […]

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Genre Chick Interview: Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is a displaced Tennessee Gal–she may live in Seattle now, but she was born & raised in the South, so we still claim her as one of our own. Similarly, the setting for her new steampunk novel Boneshaker is the Pacific Northwest, as opposed to the Southern settings of Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Fathom (Tennessee and Florida, respectively). We’re also super excited about Cherie’s new ventures in the shared world of the Wild Cards series, edited by George R.R. Martin. I saw Cherie recently at Penguicon in Detroit–she’s a beauty, a ball of energy, and looks great in costume. I took the opportunity to open her skull and pick her brains a bit, just to see what makes her tick. You know…like I usually do.

Corsets and Goggles and Superheroes, oh my!

Alethea Kontis: What’s the most difficult part of a steampunk costume?
Cherie Priest: Integrating color. My friend Jess Nevins says that steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown, and he’s at least partially right–but the Victorians loved loud, tacky color, and so do I.  And although I appreciate a good charcoal outfit that sucks up all the light in the room, sometimes you just want to get a little festive.  Fortunately, it’s easy and fun to add a certain “Ringling Brothers” vintage carnival element with the help of stripes, oranges, reds, and golds.  Add some colored petticoats and skirt lifters, and you’re good to go.

A lot of people think that the corset must be the hardest part, but it really isn’t.  If you have a good, properly fitting corset with serious, sturdy boning (steel or fiberglass), after the initial shock of getting the thing on correctly, they’re quite comfortable over the long haul.

AK: What’s the best way to remove coal stains from a corset?
CP: If Oxyclean doesn’t do it, then I say just smudge the rest of it down with charcoal for an old-fashioned, blue-collar working-class look.  It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

AK: What should one look for in a decent pair of aviator goggles?
CP: It depends on if you’d like a pair to wear, or a pair to stick on a hat for an accent.  If you’re looking for a wearable pair, you don’t want something too hot; avoid fur-lined or rubber-sealed lenses, and look for something with a more open, spectacle-style design if possible. Even a nice light foam rim will get sweaty in time.  Also, adjustable straps are a must, because what’s comfortable at breakfast won’t be comfortable at suppertime.  And make sure the lenses aren’t tinted too darkly, unless you’re using them as sunglasses and plan to spend all day outdoors. Eye strain isn’t sexy on anyone.

If you just want something to mount on a top-hat, then pretty much anything goes except fragile pieces that might not survive the height, any dancing, or the constant pull on the strap. Vintage goggles are awesome (I have a WWII pair, myself), but you have to treat them a little more gently.

AK: Make-up or no make-up when wearing goggles?
CP: I always wear make-up under the goggles, because I never wear them very long.  More than a few minutes on the eyes, and they leave a goofy raccoon ring impression that takes forever to fade.  So I tend to just keep them up on my forehead, or on the front of a hat.

AK: Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?
CP: Now that you mention it, I haven’t …

AK: Who’s the craziest character in your family?
CP: Oh, I’d better not go there.  Besides, my family is stuffed with so many bananas, how could I pick just one?

AK:What sort of historical research did you have to do for Boneshaker? How was it different from Four and Twenty Blackbirds?
CP: Well, I started by taking the Seattle Underground tour nearly a dozen times, and generally getting to know my way around Pioneer Square downtown (which was easy, since I worked there for about six months).  Then I nabbed every bit of weird local history I could find, including strange ghost stories and bizarre historic characters, and started stalking the cemeteries for names and peculiar facts.

Finally, I made up a bunch of stuff about zombies and decided I’d stick a big wall around the place.  It was really a lot of fun.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (and the subsequent Eden books) are all set in a real city in the real present, though there are definitely fantastical elements peppering them throughout.  But Boneshaker is an alternate-history version of Seattle, set around 1880.   And beyond that, there are plenty of more general thematic differences.  For example, Eden’s books are about Eden and maybe a couple of other people; they’re very tightly focused–but Boneshaker comes with a cast of thousands and a sprawling backdrop of historic weirdness.

AK: What’s it like working in the Wild Cards universe?
CP: It is awesome and terrifying.  This is a world where there have already been about 20 books written over the last 25 years or so, not to mention entire role playing games and reference volumes of world canon.  Sometimes it feels so huge that I have no idea how to start writing; I’m afraid I’m going to fictionally step on someone else’s character, or mess up something in the canon continuum, or do something that breaks the rules of the Wild Cards universe.

But at the same time, it’s very rewarding and I’m learning a lot. I’m not quite halfway through my portion of the next Wild Cards mosaic (Fort Freak), but I’m quite frankly very proud of what I’ve got so far.

AK: As a successful blogger with a significant online presence, what are your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites?
CP: I really like Twitter, I’m indifferent to Facebook (though my Twitter feed crossposts there), and I just deleted my MySpace account a few weeks ago, because it gave me nothing but porn spam and band spam.  I have a livejournal too, though my “proper author webpage” crossposts there these days–so although I do participate in a lot of online social sites, I double-up to save energy.

I moved around quite a lot when I was a kid; I went to about eight schools all told, and I lived all over the country … so it’s always neat to reconnect with people I knew back in the day.

AK: You’re working on so many projects…what *aren’t* you doing in the next six months?
CP: I am not sleeping, not keeping my apartment from falling into squalor, and not quitting caffeine like I’d been planning.  But really, it’s better to have too much work than not enough.  I’m always happiest when I have things in the queue; I don’t know what to do with myself when I don’t have a deadline looming.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?
CP: I used to have Wonder Woman Underoos, so she’s the immediate favorite that comes to mind–even though I never liked her background story and until Lynda Carter got hold of her, no one seemed to do anything very interesting with her.  My ambivalence is rooted in the old dilemma of being a girl who loves superheroes… back when I was a kid in the seventies, there was just … Wonder Woman.  That’s all.  So if you wanted to play superheroes with your cousins and friends, well, that’s who you had to be, even if you didn’t like her very much.  Therefore, I eventually acquired a defensive affection for her–and I’ll fight to the death anyone who calls her crap.

Even so, sometimes when I can’t sleep or I get bored while stuck in traffic, I fantasize about actually, formally, thoroughly rebooting her franchise. And it’s the only time I ever consider writing anything like fanfic.

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Genre Chick Interview: Alfred Martino

Alfred & The Princess at the 2009 Audie Awards

Alfred Martino is an author very near and dear to my heart–not only because he writes engaging sports stories aimed at reluctant middle grade readers, but because he is the co-founder of Listen and Live Audio. At this most recent BEA, Listen and Live’s production of L.A. Meyer’s Curse of the Blue Tattoo swept the stage with a total of three Audie Awards. In between champagne toasts (and meeting Neil Gaiman, which I *promise* I’ll get to, Mom!), I took a little of Alfred’s time to ask him about his life, his adventures in audiobook publishing, and his newest book, Over the End Line.

Alfred Martino is an author very near and dear to our hearts here at Ingram–not only because he writes engaging sports stories aimed at reluctant middle grade readers, but because he is the co-founder of Listen and Live Audio. At this most recent BEA, Listen and Live’s production of L.A. Meyer’s Curse of the Blue Tattoo swept the stage with a total of three Audie Awards. In between champagne toasts, I took a little of Alfred’s time to ask him about his life, his adventures in audiobook publishing, and his newest book, Over the End Line.

Alethea Kontis: Your Web site pictures show you wrestled as a kid…were you a jock in school? What other sports did you play?
Alfred Martino: Actually, I’ve been a jock all my life. In high school, I was captain of my varsity wrestling team and played varsity soccer. I also wrestled in college at Duke University. At various times, I’ve also played organized (and pickup) football, street hockey, basketball, beach volleyball, tennis, etc. I pretty much spent my youth outside playing some kind of sport or game (especially Frisbee, skateboarding, stickball, step ball, etc.) with friends and neighborhood kids. I still try to do that now on the weekends.

AK: What was your best subject in school? Your worst?
AM: I graduated from one of the best public high schools in the country (Millburn Sr. High, Millburn, NJ), but the curriculum was very straightforward, with typical classes like, English Literature, American History, French, physics, chemistry, etc. To be honest, while I enjoyed, say, AP Biology quite a lot, I would have preferred to learn about economics, business principles, politics, and other similar subjects. Even after having received my college degree from Duke and my MBA from The Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, I feel the majority of my business and political understanding has come from my own research and reading. And, generally, I believe most Americans (especially teens) would be better served learning how to run a small business–even something as simple his or her own personal finances–as well as recognize how the American political system, both locally and nationally, affects their day-to-day lives.

AK: You’re the co-founder of Listen & Live Audio — what was the impetus to start an audiobook company?
AM: I didn’t want to work for somebody else. It’s as simple as that. I wanted to control my own destiny. I wanted to benefit, or suffer, financially, based on my ability to run an entrepreneurial venture. The audiobook industry happened to be in its infancy at the same time I was graduating from graduate school. The two merged.

AK: Listen & Live published the audio versions of both Pinned and Over the End Line. How much direction did you give in the production? Were you a tyrant?
AM: Actually, I gave no direction for either audiobook. I have always believed that what makes an audiobook a unique, and very exciting, entertainment product is that it combines the best of two worlds: The author’s words, and the narrator’s interpretation of those words. I did not sit in on either of the recording sessions. The only suggestions I gave to the narrators were for pronunciations of places and people’s names.

AK: Do you ever get sick of this crazy publishing biz?
AM: Every day (sometimes). It is not an easy business to be involved in and, of course, the nation’s economic conditions don’t help. However, I work very hard and am eternally optimistic, so I usually end the day enjoying the challenge and feeling good about the direction Listen & Live Audio is moving in. Plus, we recently won three Audie Awards for one of our titles, Curse of the Blue Tattoo. Receiving that kind of industry recognition makes it all worthwhile.

AK: Who’s your favorite wrestler?
AM: My favorite amateur wrestler is, of course, Dan Gable. Gable is really the name that is most associated with the sport, as both a competitor and coach. Throughout his high school and collegiate career, he lost only once–in the national finals his senior year at Iowa State, in what is generally considered the greatest upset in amateur wrestling history. He later went on to win a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The stories of Gable’s determination and willpower are legendary. As far as the most talented American amateur wrestler ever, I lean toward John Smith, an Olympic gold medalist in ’88 and ’92. I watch his matches on YouTube and still marvel at his technique.

AK: Your books target a young adult male demographic we like to call “reluctant readers.” Do you ever get fan mail from these readers?
AM: I do get e-mails and letters from students (both boys and girls) who have read Pinned. I appreciate any comments that readers make, but I am particularly touched when they’re from a boy who, typically, says that he never reads or doesn’t like school, but decided to try my novel and really enjoyed it.

AK: Which sport will you be writing about next?
AM: My third novel, which I am halfway through, is about a girl who is on her high school’s boys’ wrestling team (and her older brother is the team captain). Wrestling is, perhaps, the fastest growing girls’ high school sport. In many states, in fact, there are wrestling leagues made up entirely of girls’ high school teams, as well as post-season state tournaments run exclusively for girls. As a former wrestler, I am fascinated when I speak with girls who wrestle because they are as dedicated, and love the sport as much, as any guy. I am also intrigued with the obstacles that these girls invariably have to overcome from parents, fellow students, friends, and school administrators (Typical questions: Why do you want to do ‘that’ sport? Are you lesbian? Or do you just like touching boys?), in order to compete.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?
AM: I was a huge comic book fan when I was younger. In fact, I still have quite a collection from the 1960s and 1970’s. There are two characters that I loved: Iron Fist and Nova. You’d have to be a comic book aficionado from those decades to know about these two, but suffice to say, both fulfilled all the dreams and aspirations for superpowers and incredible strength that a young New Jersey kid like me wished so dearly for.

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Genre Chick Interview: Diana Rowland

Happy Release Day  Diana Rowland!

Detective Kara Gillian is both a cop and a conjurer of demons, accidentally conjuring sexy  angelic Rhyzkhal during a routine spell. Now she needs his help to catch a deadly serial killer–The Symbol Man–who’s back in Beaulac, Louisiana on a killing spree after a three-year hiatus. There’s also that handsome-yet-disapproving FBI agent hanging around, messing with both Kara’s heart and her first homicide case.

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland is a delicious blend of police procedural and urban fantasy. In honor of its release today, I have an interview here with the author herself! We had a lot of fun. (Almost as much fun as John Scalzi had with Diana at last year’s WorldCon. —->)

I also reviewed Mark of the Demon in my most recent column for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and blew a whole Saturday reading it in one sitting. I miss those days.

If you’re like me at all and yearning for a fun, smart urban fantasy that isn’t cashing in on the whole vampire wave (I am so tired of vampires…and no, Dark-Hunters don’t count) then be sure to pick up Mark of the Demon at your local bookstore today!

Alethea Kontis: How long have you lived in Louisiana?

Diana Rowland: The simple answer is 22 years. However, those 22 years weren’t consecutive.  I was born in Louisiana, and then my family moved to Florida when I was about a year old. Then, when I was in fifth grade, we moved back to Louisiana, and lived there until I went off to college at Georgia Tech. I lived in Atlanta for eight years, then moved back to Louisiana and got married. Lived there for about two years, and then moved to the Mississippi Gulf coast. In 1998 I got divorced and finally moved back to Louisiana, where I think I’ll be staying for a while. You’ll notice that I’ve never lived north of the Mason-Dixon line, so I’m definitely a life-long southerner!

AK: THANK YOU for not writing about vampires. (Which is not really a question, but I’d still love for you to comment on this.)

DR: I really have nothing against vampires, or vampire stories, however I think I have to agree that it’s a topic that’s quickly approaching the point of being done to death. The problem I’m seeing right now is that people who still want to write about vampires are desperate to make their vampires different, and thus will change the mythology in some major way to show that they’re not doing the same old tropes. But if the themes and the stories and the angstiness is still the same, then it doesn’t matter whether your vampires can live off synthetic blood or sparkle in the sunlight or are a benevolent alien race. What I think makes a good vampire story is, as with anything else, the story. Not the physiology of the vampires.

AK: Can we look forward to more Kara Gillian adventures?

DR: Yes, you can! The next book is tentatively titled Blood of the Demon, and is currently scheduled for release in February 2010. I do have more books planned beyond that, but contracts for those will have to wait on the dreaded-yet-important sales numbers for Mark of the Demon.

AK: Given your widely-varied background did you prefer being a cop or working forensics?

DR: I loved being a cop. LOVED it. Don’t get me wrong–there were times when I disliked the job. It had the capacity to be miserable and stressful, or incredibly emotionally painful, but I loved being a part of the brotherhood, and I loved the excitement of the job and the feeling that I was a part of making the world a less chaotic place. That being said, the forensics and crime-scene end of things was fascinating and appealed to my geek nature. However, being a street cop and a detective was more an intrinsic part of my total psyche.

AK: What do you think of CSI and the legion of similar detective/forensic shows?

DR: This is very much a hot-button topic with me and I could probably go on for pages, but I’ll do my best to rein myself in. On the one hand I recognize that these shows are incredibly popular and successful, and they’ve done a great deal to introduce the public to an area of law enforcement and the judicial system that most people had no idea existed. However, the majority of the shows (and CSI is probably the worst offender) are utterly rife with inaccuracies and outright science-fiction that’s being played off as reality. The enormous drawback to this is that the general public has a tendency to take this fictional information as fact, and thus expects that every crime will be investigated by a legion of well-dressed crime scene investigators, who will employ all of the latest and greatest technology, collect oodles of evidence, and get lab results back in days, if not hours.  The sad backlash of this is that crime labs are now horribly swamped because of the public demand for every possible forensic test, and there’s no understanding or patience on the part of the public for the fact that equipment, testing, and personnel cost money (usually tax money), and lab results take months, or sometimes years, to come back.  There’s also an even more disturbing trend for jurors to acquit defendants in the absence of rigorous forensic testing, even if the existing evidence is more than sufficient to prove guilt.

I certainly don’t suggest taking these shows off the air, but I’d love to see the public become more aware of the realities of forensic testing. And, I would urge people to please vote for taxes that fund their local police departments and crime labs.

AK: As a woman, what physical activity/class do you recommend I should do/take to best protect myself?

DR: Personally, I think that every woman should take martial arts. I don’t think it matters what style you take, but you should take it for long enough that you earn your black belt or equivalent. It’s really not so much about knowing how to fight and “kick ass” as it is about having the self-confidence and self-esteem to be willing to either face a bad situation, or remove yourself from it.

That being said, I have a personal bias toward “realistic” fighting styles such as Hapkido (in which I hold a black belt), jiu-jitsu, or kenpo–well-rounded arts that focus on grappling, joint locks, and throws as well as punches and kicks.

AK: Do you have any relatives with supernatural powers?

DR: My sister can organize ANYTHING. Seriously. She needs to run the world.

AK: Who/What brand makes the best sweet tea?

DR: Hank Reinhardt, the late husband of Toni Weisskopf and former owner of Museum Replicas, made the BEST sweet tea EVAH.  I’m not sure what brand he used (though I believe it was plain ole Lipton), but he would boil a big pot of water with six or seven tea bags in it, and then add the sugar while it was still boiling hot. Then he’d pour it into the pitcher and add ice. But the thing that made his tea utterly awesome was the fact that he didn’t use lemon. Instead, he had a small fruit strainer, and he would strain half a lime into his glass of tea.

It was bliss. I’ve tried to recreate it many times, and have never quite managed it.

AK: As if Hank could go up any higher in my estimation that man was truly a superhero. Which begs the question: if you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

DR: I want the ability to FLY! And telekinesis. And maybe throw arcane fireballs. That would totally ROCK.  As to why? Umm, well, because it would totally ROCK!

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Genre Chick Interview: C. C. Finlay

I’ve found that in the genre world the friends of my friends are some pretty cool people. And so, based on the compliments of author Jim C. Hines, I liked Charlie Finlay long before I met him. Already a noted historian, C. C. Finlay is taking the speculative fiction world by storm this summer with his Traitor to the Crown trilogy: The Patriot Witch (April), A Spell for the Revolution (May), and The Demon Redcoat (June).

With my Genre Chick hat on, I took Charlie aside and asked him a few questions about his deepest darkest secrets.

Alethea Kontis: Three books coming out, essentially all at once, is pretty gutsy. How did you pull that off?

C. C. Finlay: I crawled into my cave nightly for about 18 months and did nothing else but write.  My beard grew to my knees, my eyes bulged like a deep ocean fish, and I wore all the letters off the keyboard keys.  I feel great about it.  I’m glad people get to read the whole series over one summer if they want.

AK: You’re quite the history buff–if you could live in any time in history, when would that be?

CCF: I’m very happy that I live right now.  If I lived in most other times in history, between childhood diseases and starvation and war, I’d probably be dead.  Plus we’ve got this whole Internet thing these days, which is very cool. The past is a great place to visit, especially in a novel, but I’m not sure I’d want to stay there.

AK: In The Patriot Witch, Proctor Brown has a special relationship with eggs. How do you take your eggs?

CCF: Good eggs are like a good high school midterm, over easy.

AK: On your blog, you recently discussed “genre fiction as the future of serious literature.” What are your thoughts on the subject?

CCF: Genre fiction is about characters who take action to change their circumstances and lives.  We’re coming to a point in history–because of global climate change and resource depletion, to name two things–where we have to take transformative actions individually and as societies to preserve our world.  Genre fiction is a laboratory where we can rethink our relationship to the world, reassess our values, and create models for taking action.

AK: I hear your son has won some pretty prestigious writing awards. How do you feel about that?

CCF: You’re talking about the Scholastic Books Kids Are Authors competition that he won with his classmates in 5th Grade.  They took first place out of something like 3,000 entries and had their picture book published by Scholastic.  It’s been three years, and he still reminds me that he will always have published his first book at a younger age than I did.  Aside from the smack talk, I’m very proud of him and his friends.

AK: You’ve taught various writing workshops across the country. What do you think is the most important lesson a budding writer should know?

CCF: There are a collection of traits that are important to writing.  Love writing–take joy in the process. Read all the time. Be persistent in the face of discouragement. Be committed to your own self-improvement.  Different traits come naturally to different budding writers, and then they have to pick up the rest.  It’s a matter of helping each writer find which piece of their puzzle is missing.

AK: According to your Web site, there are quite a few famous Charles Finlays out there. Has this challenged you to stand out from the crowd?

CCF: When I started writing, the most famous Charlie Finlays out there were baseball owner Charles O. Finley–the man who invented night games, the designated hitter, and donkeys in the outfield–and Dr. Charles Finlay, who found a cure for yellow fever and made the Panama Canal possible.  Those are pretty tough acts to follow.  Fortunately, neither one of them blogs or uses twitter, so between that and writing fiction I’ve slowly been able to climb up the google rankings over the past view years.

AK: Andre Norton, the late SF Grand Dame, was a local Murfreesboro gal and her memory is very dear to us. You’ve previously co-chaired the jury for the Andre Norton Award. Can you tell us a little bit about that award?

CCF: The Andre Norton Award is for best young adult fantasy or science fiction novel.  When I was growing up as a reader, the line between adult and young adult fiction wasn’t so clearly drawn.  On the one hand you might have Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden, and on the other hand you had the Gor books, but on the whole, the distinctions were much less clearly drawn.  But more recently, I had come to take the different categories for granted.

The year before I served on the Norton jury, I was on the jury for the Phillip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback.  Doing the two juries back to back was enlightening.  On the whole, I found the YA novels better: they were more engaging, with more vivid characters, and more fun to read.  Many of the themes were just as important and complex.  So now I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the best books being written right now for any age are being marketed as YA.  Even putting aside J.K. Rowling, who is a phenomenon unto herself, I find that many YA writers can be equally enjoyed by adults: Scott Westerfield, Maureen Johnson, John Green.  And other people seem to think the same thing.  Explicitly YA novels are finalists for both the Nebula and Hugo awards this year.

With that said, I think it’s fantastic that there is an award meant to draw attention to YA books.  I loved serving on that jury and would do it again if time ever allowed me to, just for the chance to find new authors.

Click here to download a free copy of The Patriot Witch.

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Genre Chick Interview: Davis Macinnis Gill

David MacInnis Gill and I first met at Orson Scott Card’s week-long literary writing boot camp back in 2003. As an assignment, we all had to write a story in 24 hours. Mine was about a magical society of Victorian Lady Etchers. David’s was about space crabs. He won all the points for originality.

I can’t tell you how proud I was to hold the advance reader’s copy of David’s debut YA novel in my hot little hands. I knew that no matter what deal Bug Smoot made with the devil for her car, she was going to keep surprising me all the way to the end. And with a title like Soul Enchilada, David still wins all the points for originality.

Alethea Kontis: What make & model was your first car? What kind of car do you drive now?

David MacInnis Gill: My first car was a very used 1970 Buick Regal with a four barrel carburetor and a V-8 engine. It could flat-out fly. Sadly, it caught fire driving up Lookout Mountain and burned to the frame. I now drive a Toyota RAV-4. There’s nothing fiery about it.

AK: What was your dream car back then? Now?

DMG: 1958 Chevy Apache Short Bed Pickup. Then and now.

AK: How spicy do you like your food?

DMG: Hot. Very hot. So hot that the menu warns you not to touch your eyes while eating.

AK: People always ask about the genesis of ideas, but what inspired this novel in particular?

DMG: The idea came from a fellow writer, James Maxey, who gave me three story seeds as part of a competition to tell the most original Halloween story: A chocolate crucifix, the anti-ghost, and blistered roses. My job was to construct a tale using those elements, and the first image that came to mind was of a young man holding a pair of Twix bars to fend off a vampire. Except a vampire was way too easy. I tried to think of some other supernatural creature, one that would be offended by chocolate. Clearly, it had to be a demon, because chocolate is everything good in the world.

AK: What was your first job?

DMG: House painter. I started when I was six years old. I worked for my father. The first thing I ever painted was a door. I think it took two hours.

AK: Have you ever promised someone something you wish you hadn’t?

DMG: I once promised my father he could drive my Buick Regal up Lookout Mountain…

AK: What temperature would you guess would constitute a “cold day in Hell”?

DMG: -1 degrees Kelvin.

AK:  What sort of research did you do for this book? (Repo men, car washes, lawyers, witches, priests?)

DMG: Quite a bit, now that I look back on it. I’ve never celebrated Dia de los Muertos or been to El Paso, where the novel is set. So I used travel books, National Geographic, newspapers, and local forums (to get that authentic flavor of grumpiness that only natives can lend to a locale). My critique partners were a huge help, too, especially with smells, flavors, and sounds. To create the fusion of mythology, religion, and pop culture, I studied the Bible, the Testament of Solomon, and Old Scratch folk stories such as The Devil and Tom Walker. I also made several trips through a car wash and spent two hours in a convenience store examining its shelves and blocking out a food fight scene. The cashier thought I was shoplifting Cheez Whiz.

AK: Have you ever witnessed any supernatural events?

DMG: I wish. I’ve gone on ghost walks, stayed in haunted hotels, and eaten in spooky restaurants. I witnessed nothing scary, not even food that was a danger to my eyeballs. I have, however, seen UFOs and met Bruce Springsteen in person.

AK: What were your favorite books as a teen?

DMG: Logan’s Run, Lord Foul’s Bane (I seemed like to titles with possessives in them), Goodbye Columbus, The Amityville Horror, everything Stephen King (especially Salem’s Lot), and of course, Lord of the Rings. You know, books full of repo men, car washes, lawyers, witches, and priests. Not to mention hobbits.

AK: In your opinion, who was the most talented student in Orson Scott Card’s 2003 Literary Writing Boot Camp? (Other than you, of course.)

DMG: That would be the Amazingly Awesome Angel-Among-Demons Alethea Kontis.
Could there ever any doubt?

AK: If you could be any superhero or have any superpower, who/what would it be?

DMG: When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be Captain America. I even practiced slinging a shield like him. Unfortunately, the shield was actually a rusted out washboard, which I had to stop slinging when I wounded my cousin in the forehead. Now, I would like to be Ghostrider. A kick-butt chopper AND a flaming skull? Who could ask for more?

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Genre Chick Interview: J.F. Lewis

Southern gentleman and fellow convention-goer J.F. “Jeremy” Lewis has a thing or two to say about vampires…but he wouldn’t want to be one. In a recent chat with Genre Chick Alethea Kontis, he opens up about writers groups, SF and comic conventions, and the details of his recent excommunication from church as a result of publishing his paranormal novel Staked (9781416547808), and the brand-spanking-new sequel, Revamped (9781439102282).

Alethea Kontis: What sparked your interest in Vampires and the paranormal?

J.F. Lewis: My earliest memory of the paranormal was a showing of the Jean Cocteau version of Beauty and the Beast on public television in Mobile. The makeup got me. Jean Marais’ performance as the Beast struck such a nerve that I pretended he (the Beast) was my imaginary friend. Unfortunately, I got it crossed up with a Looney Tunes cartoon and called him George. (“I will hug him and squeeze him and I will name him George.”) /sigh

Yeah… I was a weird kid.

I didn’t catch the vampire bug until Lost Boys came out. Before then I was more into Godzilla, Ray Harryhausen effects movies, and Japanese Super Robots. I read a lot of epic fantasy, but I wasn’t a big Dracula fan until after Lost Boys. Then I began reading tons of Steven King, H.P. Lovecraft, that sort of thing. I’m sure comic books had something to do with it too. I’m a huge comic fan…so much so that we had to have the space under the comics-closet professionally reinforced so that the floors wouldn’t tilt in that direction.

AK: What paranormal authors do you read?

JFL: I’m a big C. E. Murphy fan and I just finished her Negotiator series… which reminds me of the Beauty and Beast television series (with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman) except with gargoyles and a female lead that can actually kick a little butt and *do* things. I tend to shy away from reading other vampire stuff because I’m afraid of unintentional influences cropping up in my writing. But since I’m a member of the League of Reluctant Adults, I’ve been enjoying their books. Mario Acevedo’s Felix Gomez series is cool, and I love Mark Henry’s zombie stuff. Jackie Kessler is great fun, too. The way Stacia Kane and Mark Henry each went with what I’d call a darn near perfect mix of parapsychology and magic is very interesting. The way Simon’s psychometry is tied to hypoglycemic fits as the “price” of his abilities works very well. Probably the paranormal author that scares me the most is Nancy A. Collins. Her Sonja Blue stuff can be downright disturbing. And of course, I read anything Neil Gaiman writes, but I think that’s pretty much a given.

AK: In the acknowledgements for Staked, you mentioned your writers group and their input on early drafts of your manuscript. Is that group still around? How is it set up, and how do they give you input?

JFL: Yes, the WTF is still around. We meet most Fridays, sometimes to do the writerly thing and other times just to game and hang out. Technically we’re all supposed to submit between 2,000 to 10,000 words a month and rotate, but only two of us are actually working on novels right now. (Hi, Rob! Where’s that novel of yours, old buddy old pal?) We also have two grammar Nazis in the group who submit stuff from time to time, but mostly come to have pity on the grammatically-challenged and bleed on our fiction. So it’s kind of turned into a nice mix of writing group/beta readers/good friends. I can always count on them to come over on short notice, bring food, and proof-read into the wee hours of the morning when I have a deadline. They are supportive to the point of bringing cookies to my late-night panels at conventions. They’ll all be around during ImagiCon this March. Several of them are planning to come to ConCarolinas, as well.

AK: How exactly *did* you get excommunicated from your church?

JFL: Basically, it was a failure to communicate. I’d been a member of that denomination for over fifteen years and a member of that specific congregation for three years about a decade ago (before we moved) and four years recently (after we moved again). The reason I say it’s a case of miscommunication is that I was continually open and honest about my goals as an author and the kind of fiction that I write. Even in our bio in the church directory, it says that I’m an aspiring novelist. It says that I’m a gamer, too. As I was writing Staked (9781416547808) , I even pulled one of the elders aside, long before I’d sold the book, and talked to him about the content, the language, etc. Heck, I even offered to let him read it. He said (with a smile) that he didn’t think that would be necessary. I didn’t hear anything else about it until after the book was out, and I went to OmegaCon (a first year convention in Birmingham).

As a result, I wound up being interviewed by the local news… one day later (on Sunday) I had a voice mail from the Elders informing me that they wanted to meet with me about the book they’d “discovered” that I’d written and “had published and was promoting.” Discovered? I thought, but I told you guys about that… What do you mean discovered? My heart sank and it was pretty much downhill from there. They accused me of being guilty of all kinds of things, ranging from adultery (because I wrote sex scenes) to trying to teach children to curse (because they apparently think all fiction novels are aimed at children, and it contains profanity). For the record, it’s not aimed at kids. I’d think the quote on the cover and the stripper pole would give that away, but that’s neither here nor there. My true crime was that I suddenly failed to match their mental image of what a member of that congregation should be.

Anyway, I went into the meeting expecting to have a rational discussion, but it became apparent very quickly that I was there to be corrected, not heard. One Elder went so far as to tell me “in the Old Testament we would have just stoned you” (which he later denied saying), and then another referred to me a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My brain kind of derailed. They told me that in order to avoid being withdrawn from (what most folks would call excommunicated), I needed to refuse to promote the book, stop writing that sort of thing, refuse to turn in the second book, publicly denounce the books, give back the money, and refuse any future profits. Obviously I wasn’t going to do any of that, so they went after my wife and tried to use her against me. They basically accused her of aiding and abetting and threatened to excommunicate her, too. There were lots of meetings, and once it was all said and done, they gave me a deadline to accede to their demands. I let it pass… and they gave me the boot. After lots of tears, my wife met with the elders and, essentially, said anything and everything she had to in order to keep from being kicked out. As a result, her grandma is still alive, she and our kids still effectively attend that congregation, and she cries a lot. Some have asked if the whole thing is a publicity stunt, and all I can say to that is…. I wish.

The weird thing is, I don’t think most folks understand exactly what “being withdrawn from” means. It’s less about not being allowed into the church building, and more about not wanting other members’ kids to play with our kids. (Which is really tough, because their kids and our kids were friends.) I can still attend classes and services, but I’m not allowed to serve on the Lord’s Table, do a scripture reading, or give the invitation. We get the occasional message from members saying that they miss us and pretending not to understand why I’m not comfortable being there anymore. It’s very passive-aggressive. They say that I’m welcome, but if I actually go, I get weird what-are-you-doing-here looks, particularly from two of the Elders. Sometimes we talk about trying to find another church in our area, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

AK: At conventions, there is always a smiling group of people clustered around you wearing “Welcome to the Void” t-shirts. Are you actually related to these people?

JFL: Some of them. J Most of them are either members of the WTF or members of my family. Of course, now that I’ve sold a few t-shirts, some them are actually fans, which is always a shock to me. We have a few of the 2008 shirts left and are working on the 2009 version (the date and the band names on the back of the shirts change each year), which will be out soon.

AK: Did you go to strip clubs to do research for your books?

JFL: Nah, I’ve never been to one, which is why I was kind of astonished to get fan mail from a few dancers telling me how close I’d gotten on some aspects. Some said I was way off on how dancers get paid, but I maintain that most dancers don’t give their boss blood, so it makes sense that Eric pays extremely well and provides benefits that non-vampiric club owners wouldn’t.

AK: Tell us about the stuffed rat. [edit: Alethea humbly apologizes for referring to Stanton as a rat.]

JFL: Stanton is a WebKinz White Mouse and I carry him to conventions so that I won’t be lonely… or that’s what my youngest son claims. The LOOONG story about how I got into WebKinz in the first place can be found on my blog here. But Stanton’s story is a little different. When I was heading out the door to go to one of my first “by myself” cons (San Diego Comicon, I think?) my youngest son asked me who was going to keep me company, and he insisted that I take Stanton along to do just that. Being a wise little four year old, he also insisted on photographic evidence. So, now, when I’m at a con, I often have Stanton with me in my backpack (he has to be in the mesh side pocket so that he can see of course) and I take pictures of him and send them back so that I don’t get into trouble with my kids.

AK: If you could be any superhero, or have any superpower, who/what would it be?

JFL: So… the cheesy answer would be The Beyonder, because he’s basically omnipotent. If I picked my favorite superhero, though, I’d be Wolverine. There’s Superman, but if you’re Superman then someone out there would have Kryptonite, so I think I’ll go with the Power Cosmic. Sure I might wind up painted metallic silver and riding a cosmic surf board, but it also comes with functional immortality and the ability to travel through space at obnoxiously improbable speeds.

AK: Additionally, if you were any monster in Void City, what would you be?

JFL: Vampires are cool and true immortals are very nifty, but if I got to pick, I would totally be a mouser. I can’t really say why yet, because I haven’t given up the goods on mousers in the books yet, but… mouser. Definitely.

J.F. Lewis, Ted Kosmatka, and Stanton at the 2008 Hugo Award Ceremony

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