Interview: Robert Gleason

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

RobertGleasonTor executive editor and nuclear terrorism expert Robert Gleason answers questions about his novels The Wrath of God and End of Days.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Is End of Days a prequel to The Wrath of God? A direct prequel or an indirect prequel?

ROBERT GLEASON: WRATH OF GOD takes place 50 years after END OF DAYS. Kate Magruder, the heroine in END OF DAYS, is an 80+ old woman, and the Citadel is the only bastion of technology left in the world. A modern incarnation of Tamerlane the Earthshaker is coming down the rubble of the Alaskan Highway leaving mountains and towers of human skulls in his wake. As his consort, the Lady Legion, once tells Tamerlane: “We have made a skull of the earth, around whose throat we string not gems but dead worlds.” The Citadel is ill-equipped to confront such a warlord, so Katherine Magruder’s son, Richard,who was trained by Los Alamos scientists and an Apache shaman,opens a hole in Time. Together, they bring back George S. Patton, Stonewall Jackson, Amelia Earhart and a triceratops to combat Tamerlane in the Southwestern desert in the Battle of the Apocalypse. When Rosie O’Donnell heard that plot description, she said: “Smoke a lotta crack, don’t you, Bob?”


One of the main characters has apocalyptic visions. What’s the premise for this? Genetic? Paranormal? Pharmaceutical?

Kate Magruder’s grandmother was a legendary real-life female Apache war shaman named Lozen. Kate inherits Lozen’s visionary abilities.


Why Russia as a setup rather than India, Pakistan, or Iran? Why Islamic extremists rather than extremist religionists in Israel or America or secular nationalists in China. Or Britain, which has both nuclear weapons and a growing population of Muslims, as well as a recent history of terrorist attacks?

Russia has the most fissile explosive of any foreign power, and it’s easier to steal. If you run a nuclear forensics test on the fallout after the nuclear attacks, it will come back as Russian-made nuclear bomb-fuel. Also my rogue state wants to destroy the developed world, and Russia has enough arms to do it. So does the US. No other nations capable of hitting the world with thousands of nukes, except the US and Russia. If my rogue state wants to get the developed world to wipe itself out, it needs both Russia and US fully on board. Why did I choose Muslim terrorists? Well, actually I chose a Middle Eastern nuclear rogue state, which employs real soldiers and sailors. I fictionalized the name of the state but was thinking of a combination of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are close, almost inseparable allies in reality. The Saudis leadership is extremely wealthy and has a long history of funding terrorism. They even funded Pakistan’s nuclear program, still fund it, and Pakistan,among the world’s rogue states–has the most ambitious nuclear weapons program. To make END OF DAYS nuclear scenario work, you’d need a rogue state with those kinds of capabilities. (I took my scenario from Herman Kahn’s THINKING ABOUT THE UNTHINKABLE. It’s called “Catalytic Nuclear War.”)


Do weapons like Black Stealth Crow – “a creature of inconceivable cunning, elusive as smoke, invisible as night,” designed to evade infrared detectors, change shade in a flash, and hide in plain sight” – already exist?

The Crow exists and is called the B-2 Bomber. It was designed to assassinate the Soviet leadership during the Cold War and destroy their Control-and-Command Centers by delivering multi-megaton strikes in sequential laydown patterns. I got most of my information from some books by Bill Sweetman. Here’s a wiki-link for it.


Explain and describe “the no-man’s-land between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.”

The Oak Ridge and Sandia Nuclear Weapons Labs have done studies arguing that nuclear bomb-fuel reprocessors can be built with equipment from old wineries or old dairies by as few as a half-dozen technicians. Oak Ridge claimed terrorist groups could do it. It is certainly within the capabilities of a rogue state. The two labs in separate studies said building it could take less than six months. If you have the spent fuel rods from a nuclear power reactor, Oak Ridge said you could reprocess enough bomb-grade plutonium to fuel the Nagasaki bomb. This can be a clandestine program capable of eluding weapons inspectors. (The UN’s IAEA nuclear inspectors are notoriously inept.) With such low-tech nuclear explosive reprocessors, a nuclear power reactor can become a nuclear bomb-fuel factory. Former Japanese prime ministers and defense ministers have said they opted for nuclear power primarily because it allows them to stockpile dozens of tons of plutonium explosive and has allowed them to develop technology with which they can rapidly assemble nuclear weapons if the need for them arises. That is a major secret reason why so many nations love nuclear power. Nuclear power is also said to be the nuclear terrorist’s training wheels.


If the material for nuclear weapons is so easy to obtain and if building and detonating the bomb is so simple, why haven’t terrorists already used nuclear weapons?

The two nuclear terrorist groups that have the greatest access to nuclear explosive,the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba,are both in Pakistan and, as they are currently constituted, are only about seven years old. The TTP has been blowing up Pakistani nuclear installations since 2006, and in 2012 announced it wants to launch attacks on the US. These organizations were created, trained and funded by the Pakistan military and intelligence services and are far more sophisticated and better funded than any other global terrorist groups. They are really military organizations and states within the Pakistani state. Also it’s not that hard to acquire Pakistani nuclear explosive. Obama’s first Pakistani ambassador said in a Wikileaked memo that she didn’t fear terrorists stealing Pakistani nuclear explosive. She feared the Pakistani officials and the people guarding it would steal it and give it to terrorists. A significant amount of it is continuously transported in truck and van convoys to elude detection by the US and India. Terrorists could hijack the convoys. The groups aren’t very old though. Also if those groups were to do it right, they’d want to stockpile enough nuclear explosive to take out a half-dozen US cities. That would take time and planning.


You’ve been researching nuclear weapons for 30 years. What has that research involved?

I’ve talked to a lot of military experts, former defense secretaries, physicists, scientists, politicians, Special Forces generals and other officers. I read a million studies. I never found a definitive book on the subject though, because the so-called experts are afraid to trace the funding for nuclear proliferation/terrorism and to expose key individuals. They were also afraid of “the no-man’s-land between nuclear power and the nuclear bomb.” The experts spend part of their time working for the government and are loath to antagonize government officials. I only broke down and wrote the non-fiction book because I couldn’t commission one for the experts I pitched.


Have other nuclear experts corroborated your research and agreed with your conclusions?

Lots of top military officers and top government officials, including a former defense secretary and chairman of the energy committee read, vetted the book and you can see their endorsements. I sent my nonfiction book, THE NUCLEAR TERRORIST, out to a lot of experts, met and corresponded with a number of them, and no one disproved or seriously attacked anything in it. What amazed me, however, was how little the experts knew about actual nuclear terrorism activities including those groups in Pakistan we just discussed. (One of the very top guys said he know “nothing about nuclear terrorism.) They also weren’t familiar with those Oak Ridge and Sandia studies I described above. Most of the so-called experts focus on nuclear arms control among nations not terrorist groups, and the odds of terrorists stealing nuclear weapons and using them are remote. Terrorists could however steal nuclear explosive and cobble together crude but powerful terrorist nukes. Most of the experts I know don’t want to get into the no-man’s-land between nuclear power and the nuclear bomb. They work with governments and even the nuclear industry.


Is End of Days a warning or a prediction? Is there still hope? What can be done to avert nuclear terrorism?

END OF DAYS is a warning. If terrorists nuke us, they would very likely try to frame an innocent third party for the attack. How do you prove the innocent party didn’t do it? Terrorist nukes leave no terrorist fingerprints, and the nuclear bomb-fuel could have been stolen from an innocent country. We might well retaliate against the innocent. Also we seldom focus on nuclear theft prevention. We always focus on illicit nuclear bomb-fuel programs. Terrorist would be more likely to steal their bomb-fuel, then build crude but powerful terrorist nukes and use them. It’s easier and safer for them.


Bestselling authors and high ranking military and political officials have called your book prophetic and plausible and have compared it to On the Beach, The Road, The Stand, Swan Song, Left Behind, Fail Safe, Sum of All Fears, Dr. Strangelove, and even the Book of Revelation. A few have compared you to Dante, Milton, and even Nostradamus. By contrast, readers on Good Reads said it’s too long and too descriptive and has too many characters and anthropomorphic animals and weapons. How do you reconcile such drastically different perspectives on the same book?

Booklist and PW gave it starred reviews. Booklist said it was better than THE STAND and that it was “in a class by itself.” PW said it made “THE ROAD look like a stroll through the park.” LJ gave it a rave review. I received no negative print reviews. All the experts and professional writers liked it. In fact, l got lots of great fan mail and it was a national bestseller. It is, however, a long complex novel. I never have fewer than ten intertwining viewpoint chapters in the book at any time. I’ve never seen that done before in any book. I did this in part because I wanted to dramatize Armageddon,something no novelist has ever done, all the other end-of-the-world novels being post-apocalyptic, not apocalyptic. I devote 150 very dense pages,almost a third of the book,to the apocalypse and I do it through that multitude of viewpoint characters and viewpoint chapters. I needed all those viewpoint characters to fully dramatize the apocalypse. I thought that was important when I wrote the book. It may be, Carl, that I wrote a serious novel and the publisher packaged it as a thriller. Hence, some readers thought they were getting THE STAND and were surprised to get something much more complex than THE STAND. I also packed the scenes with immense amounts of scientific, geographic, political, historical, architectural, anthropological, mythological and religious detail. The serious reviews and professional authors love and admire that sort of stuff. I do make the reader work, and I guess some people couldn’t handle it. The book was a national bestseller, got the best print reviews I ever saw, so I’m not too perturbed.


You were prominently featured in a History Channel documentary entitled “Prophets of Doom.” Is that documentary available online?

My website has a seven-minute clip from that documentary. If the readers want, they can click onto it and see if they like it. I’m sure the History Channel website would sell them a DVD. Or they can see if HC is rerunning it. They rerun it with fair regularity. It had high ratings, and now some filmmakers are doing a documentary on me and THE NUCLEAR TERRORIST. They have excellent commercial and critical credentials, and we start shooting next month. It’s not in the can though. Hollywood is weird. Who knows what will happen?


Do you have any tips for speculative fiction authors who want to use nuclear weapons as a premise?

The Pentagon refuses to seriously study nuclear terrorism. Among other things, it’s complex, requires some knowledge of science, and the consequences of nuclear attacks are largely unpredictable. All you can do is develop possible scenarios. Therefore, I would try to absorb as much hard information on the subject as I could. To that end I’d read THE NUCLEAR TERRORIST: His Financial Backers and Political Patrons in the US and Abroad. I wouldn’t recommend writing anything like END OF DAYS. It was too hard, too time-consuming and too exhausting. Write something easier.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Interview: Vixy and Tony

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Filk music. Never heard of it. Neither had I until I listened the Vixy and Tony‘s mesmerizing song “My Heart Was Like the Moon.” They have won 2 Pegasus awards, one for songwriting, one for performing. Tony gives us the inside story on the Filk genre and the band.



VIXY AND TONY: Filk is a type of folk music associated with sci-fi and fantasy fandom. It’s something that’s been a tradition at SF conventions for several decades. Late at night, after the rest of the convention has wound down, some hardy folks with guitars get together and play songs until the wee hours. The name “filk” started off as a typo, which stuck. The name is appropriate because it’s a slightly tweaked version of folk music. For more detail on the topic of filk music, you can look up the Wikipedia article on filk music. Some of that Wikipedia entry was written by me as a matter of fact. (Where by “me”, I mean, Tony, the one being interviewed.)



There is no single membership or association for filking. Filk is a community, rather than a club. Filkers are just people who like SF and like to write songs about their favorite books, shows, or movies. They like to gather together at SF cons and share songs. Anyone who wants to, can show up at a filk circle and participate. Filkers are very accepting and welcoming.

You can sometimes find online mailing lists or other social groupings of filkers. For instance, where we live, in the Pacific Northwest, there is a regional filk mailing list and web site called the Emerald Forest Filk Society. There is also a filk mailing list for the United Kingdom, there was an IRC channel at one point, that sort of thing.

Over time, the filking at SF conventions got to be a large enough thing, with enough people participating, that they started to become entire convention “tracks” of their own, and eventually, spun off into their own separate conventions. There are now several regional filk conventions held annually, in various places around the world. Our Pacific Northwest convention is held in late January/early February, and it’s called Conflikt.

Some of the filk conventions give awards. For example, the OVFF convention, held yearly in Ohio, gives the Pegasus awards for various songwriting and performing categories, and the FilKONtario convention, held yearly in a suburb of Toronto, has a yearly Hall of Fame awards ceremony.



Filk can be very informal, springing up organically at SF cons. That’s how it started in the first place, of course, and it still happens that way much of the time. However most SF conventions will reserve one or more rooms for filk circles late at night, and some of the more interesting conventions will have concert performances of some of the more well-known filk musicians. Our local Pacific Northwest regional convention, Norwescon, has a very active music track that encompasses filk, nerdcore and general geek music. Coincidentally, at the time of this writing, the person running the filk track at Norwescon, Dara, is also the one running the Emerald Forest Filk web site and mailing list that I mentioned earlier.

At SF conventions which host filk tracks, you will sometimes find that the panel schedule will include filk-related panels, such as songwriting workshops, harmony workshops, guitar workshops, that sort of thing. If you attend one of the actual dedicated filk conventions, then the entire convention is devoted to those things, and the entire weekend will be filled with panels, concerts and filk circles.



Filk songs are about a wide variety of topics which either directly or tangentially touch upon SF fandom. You can get songs which are very specific retellings of a particular book or movie, or maybe they are like fan fiction, imagining other stories in those same universes. The Vixy & Tony song “Apprentice” is one example of such a song, where we imagined a backstory for a character in the Firefly television series, and told the story through the eyes of an entirely new character.

Geek and fandom topics are also a big subject for filkers. Songs about computers are a large part of filk, as are songs about going to SF conventions, songs about being a geek (or a fan) in general, songs about mythology, or literature, or math… the list goes on. Let’s just say that filkers can write about anything they want, it’s just that we tend to write about the things we love the most: SF and geekdom.

Filk songs can be serious or funny, originals or parodies, and can encompass many different styles. Mostly filk songs are in the style of folk music, but can also range to celtic, to rock, to rap, and other styles. Although there is usually a certain specific flavor to filk that is hard to describe, anything can be a filk song if you have written the song with the intention of it being a filk song. Anyone who actively participates in filk circles and is a part of the community, anyone who self-identifies as a filker, and who intends for their songs to be enjoyed by the filk community, is a filker, and by definition, the songs they write are filk songs.

There are other genres which are very similar to filk. What separates those genres from filk is simply the association and self-identification. For instance, if you write geeky songs in other genres but you don’t attend filk circles and aren’t a part of the filk community, then they’re not technically filk songs. Nerdcore, for example, is specifically geeky hip-hop music, and you don’t usually see a lot of crossover between filkers and nerdcore artists, although some crossover does indeed occur. There is a lot of comedy music out there, very hilarious songs which can also be very geeky. But if the artist writing and performing those songs aren’t also filkers, you can’t really call them filk songs. I enjoy all of those kinds of music very much, of course, I’m a consumer of just about any type of geeky music I can get my hands on. Most filkers I know are the same way. For example, I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Coulton, whose songs are frequently enjoyed very much by filkers, so JC has a lot of fans in the filk community. But he’s not really a member of the filk community himself, and so his songs aren’t filk songs.

Parody is a very common theme in filk music, some of the most brilliant song parodies I’ve ever heard are filk songs. Some people in the filk community specialize in parody, and that’s all they do. Filkers often use the word ‘filk’ as a verb to mean that they have written a parody of another song and that their parody is intended to be a filk song, as in, “I filked ‘Horse Tamer’s Daughter'”. Sometimes people get this confused, and think that the words “filk” and “parody” are synonymous when they’re not. Though filkers do tend to write a lot of parodies, not all parodies are filks and not all filks are parodies.



I met Vixy at Orycon in Portland, where she was performing with her husband Fishy under the band name “Escape Key”. We became good friends, and when Fishy got bored of playing the guitar, I started playing guitar for her when I could. Eventually we formed an official duo, “Vixy & Tony”, which was what other filkers had already come to know us as by that time. Vixy and Fishy aren’t their real names, by the way, they’re just Internet handles that stuck, and now all their friends know them by those names. We all live together in a big house in Seattle, where Fishy makes art for Burning Man in the garage, and I’ve set up a little home recording studio upstairs, next to Vixy’s crafting space. I’m working on our second album now, in fact.



For the older songs, before we teamed up, Vixy wrote everything: Music, lyrics, arrangement, all of it. But that was very hard for her, doing it all by herself, so after we teamed up, now we have a pretty good collaboration system: Vixy writes the lyrics, and then we collaborate on the music. Usually we start with a first draft of the lyrics, sometimes just a verse and a chorus, then decide upon an overall style for the song. Then I start coming up with chord progressions on the guitar, based on the desired style. She gives me feedback on the way the chords fit the lyrics, and we make changes to the chords to fit the lyrics or vice versa. She will either come up with a melody based on the chord progression, or, sometimes she will already have parts of a melody in her head, and I will write chords which fit that melody, and fill in the gaps. Sometimes I will make a suggestion to change the melody to fit the chord progression I wrote. Occasionally I’ll write sections of words or melodies myself, or provide suggestions for the lyrics in spots. Frequently we will collaborate on the verses and choruses but she will leave the bridge up to me (she calls me her Civil Engineer because I make her bridges for her).

Instrumentally, I play the guitar, Vixy plays the djembe (it’s a kind of standing drum), and we have friends who help us on other instruments. On the albums, we’ll get a wide variety of musicians to play the parts using instruments that we could never bring to a filk circle. I do all the album production, selecting and hiring other musicians where needed, in order to get the exact sound we want. Live, we’re quite different than on the albums. In live concert performances and sometimes in filk circles, our best buddies are Betsy Tinney on cello and Sunnie Larsen on fiddle. Vixy is our lead vocalist, but I will occasionally sing a little bit, and Sunnie also sings on a few songs. We try to play with other musicians wherever possible, so you’ll frequently see us collaborating with other people, mashing up our band with theirs. At Betsy’s recent party for her solo album “Release the Cello”, at one point we managed to get something like ten musicians on stage at once, all playing on the same song, all of us friends who had played together before in other combinations. Betsy’s a bit of a musical nexus, you see.



We try to go to at least a few conventions per year, where we can play a concert and/or participate in filk circles. Sometimes after we do a concert we are too tired to go to the filk circle that night, but we try to get to the ones that we can. In between conventions, we occasionally play at Wayward Coffeehouse in Seattle, which is SF-themed and owned by a wonderful loud Browncoat from Australia. So we probably only do about 5-10 shows a year… it’s just a hobby you see, we’ve got day jobs.



The song “My Love Was Like the Moon” is one of our cover tunes, it’s written by our good friend Blake Hodgetts, another filker from Oregon. Blake wrote it with female pronouns, and when Vixy sings it she usually changes them to male pronouns. It’s a fairly straightforward relationship song, much like many pop songs about relationships that have gone before it. But we cover this one because it’s particularly beautiful and expresses its sentiment in a special way. It contains extremely geeky references and metaphors about math and science (it’s the only song I’ve heard that mentions phi, the mathematical “golden ratio”), yet it’s gorgeously poetic and painfully poignant. It’s about the experience that many of us has had: being in love with someone and depending on that person, but discovering that you aren’t able to be everything that they need you to be. In the end, because you love them, you have to let them move on, and continue to grow, which they will do better without you. In our lives, as we move through different relationships, many of us have been on either side, or both sides, of that particular equation. So the song is one that usually resonates quite strongly with many listeners.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Interview: Anatoly Belivosky

anatolybelilovskyAnatoly Belilovsky is a rising star in the steampunk subgenre. He was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later (see wikipedia, Jackson-Vanik amendment), he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the 4th most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published stories in NATURE, Ideomancer, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets.



ANATOLY BELILOVSKY: A story unlocks its market the same way a key opens a door, by lining up its bits with lock pins. Some bits must match the publication’s needs , length, style, subject matter; some must, in some ineffable way, tickle the editor’s fancy. I’ve had excellent experience with DSF; they tend to publish what I like to read more often than not, and also more often than not they like what I send them. In fact, if you look at my bibliography, NATURE, Kasma, Stupefying Stories, Toasted Cake, and DSF bought 3 or more of my stories, each. That’s half of my entire output in only five markets. Granted, these are the five most flash-friendly publications, but there is also undoubtedly an excellent match between my sensibilities, and their editors’.



Steampunk is basically 19th century fanfic, and my homage to authors of that era who shaped my own writing: Poe, Verne, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov, Conan Doyle. And I’m a history buff, too, so it’s a natural fit. Other subgenres , alternate history, magic realism, humor. Or combos thereof. One of my own favorite stories will be reprinted soon by Fantasy Scroll magazine: “Hither and Yon,” wherein a nexus of alternate realities converges on… but why spoil it?



Must have been that immortal phrase I had my fictional Richard Wagner utter: “Fools! They seek to defeat me with Bizet!” Although at least one editor fell in love with the military rank I invented for the story, “Timpanenfuhrer.”




Not quite the first, but yes, very early. The editor of IMMERSION BOOK OF STEAMPUNK was actually one of its critiquers on the Critters workshop and asked for it specifically. “Prep work” — this reminds me of a literary agent I met once at a con almost 30 years ago. I told her I wanted to write, and about what was going on in med school – I had just started clinical rotations then. She nodded and said, “It’s all copy.” So here we are, 30 years’ worth of family, career, and other experiences later. Yes, from the viewpoint of my writer side, it’s prep work. From every other viewpoint, it’s life. A bit farther down I mention my favorite line from a Chekhov story – but it didn’t hit me how brilliant that line is, until I actually saw enough undemonstrative people under overwhelming pressure, and saw how small and subtle and poignant are the ways of their display of these pressures.




Yes! Of this I dream: to crank out my novels, see them sold before me, and hear the lamentations of their copyeditors. One of my literary heroes is Georges Simenon, he of the novel-a-week school of writing. I can pretty much manage a thousand words a week, two thousand if inspiration strikes. Now if only there were a niche for flash novels…




Inspired, yes: in the footsteps of Chekhov, Bulgakov, Conan Doyle (the usual physician writer suspects) in drawing upon that experience for knowledge of how people act under pressure. But I rarely write medical fiction: too many biomedical ideas get discarded because I know they wouldn’t work in real life, and can’t get past the shame of perpetrating a palpable falsehood in the one subject about which I may never be intentionally misleading , “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” (As you can see from QUANTUM MECHANICS, I have no such trouble with other sciences.) Two exceptions – NOR CUSTOM STALE, in NATURE, and DON’T LOOK DOWN, in Daily SF and Toasted Cake, both touch upon medical aspects of aging. A lot of what happens in medicine is a lot less exciting than it sounds. As a resident, I oversaw a voodoo exorcism of a dying boy in an intensive care unit. It was a last-ditch measure that the parents asked to try, and they brought their own practitioner, and everyone agreed that it could do no harm but no one wanted to be there when it happened, so I volunteered. So this quiet, unassuming gentleman in a business suit came to the ICU, whispered a prayer, sprinkled something on the child’s forehead, thanked me and left. That was that. Total anticlimax.


FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ ANATOLY BELIVOSKY’S LATEST DAILY SCIENCE FICTION STORY, SPOILERS IN THIS QUESTION AND ANSWER. In “Quantum Mechanics,” a man’s life is rewritten by, guess what, quantum physics. Was it the Mexican restaurant cook or the mechanic across the street who rewrote the main character’s life? Based on the implications of the next question, I’m guessing the cook. Why is the cook’s girlfriend alarmed when the customer asks about the shark bite that took the cook’s hand, and later, sad when she manned the cash register to take the customer’s money? Did the cook lose his hand saving his girlfriend’s life? Does he practice quantum mechanics on people who ask about the shark bite and the lost hand to prove to them that their life isn’t as bad as they think, ie, he lost his hand but it was worth losing and his life is still good because he has his girlfriend?

No, I was actually thinking of the mechanic: the unseen offstage presence, the actual hand that closes the lid on Schroedinger’s box, then opens it again to reveal the new reality – or at least “good as new.” Then again, once the story is out it belongs to the reader: one interpretation is as good as any other. Subject to the same caveat, this is my interpretation , and, again, not speaking ex cathedra: Here is the cook who, yes, lost his arm saving a woman from a shark. He lives across the street from “quantum mechanics” who, for a very modest fee, can rebranch the reality to where he got to keep his arm , good as new , and the shark got to keep its breakfast. Her anxiety, in part, is from her triggered recollections, and in part perhaps from a sense of insecurity , will he, or won’t he, reconsider his decision? He knows that will never happen; the answer to: “Did that hurt?” , is for the woman’s ears: “Not that much. Not really” , meaning: I’ve no regrets about the bargain I’ve made. And maybe for them, this is the second branch? Perhaps the cook first watched her die, then, with the mechanic’s help, went back to save her, and both of them remember both realities? And, knowing this, both look upon the story’s narrator with “countenance more in sorrow than in anger?” If you will allow a small digression, let me mention what I believe to be one of the most brilliant sentences ever written. It’s from Chekhov’s “A Lady with a Dog,” from the scene where the narrator sees the eponymous, and quite attractive, lady, with the eponymous dog, and approaches, ostensibly, to look at the dog. At which point: “He does not bite,” she said and blushed. I may be reading too much into it, and be wrong, but it’s my prerogative as a reader: I think this gives a wide-open view of her state of mind, of her desire to get the narrator to come closer, of her longing for, imagining, and blushing at the thought of the touch of the narrator’s hand. Analyzing my own line in retrospect: “Not that much. Not really.” It feels like it’s treading the middle ground, between: “Not in the least!” – which would have been a palpable lie, and: “Hurt like hell!” – which would have given the woman grounds for feelings of guilt on her part, or for thinking he might trade her back at some point when the sacrifice might seem not worth the outcome. Here he is both acknowledging her feelings, and tries to assuage her. This is all in retrospect, of course. Ultimately, it seemed the right thing to say at the moment and so I wrote it.



One original (NIGHT WITCH to Tales of Old,) the rest reprints. I love podcasting; my writing runs to storytelling, I have to hear the story in my head before I can write it, and the podcasts I’ve been on so far have done magnificent jobs with narration and sound engineering, and given both the higher expense of audio production, and the lack of revenue stream endemic to all Creative Commons endeavors, payments have ranged from token to low-semipro. But to hear the perfectly timed musical punchline to KULTURKAMPF as produced by Cast of Wonders, or Tina Connolly’s sublime Toasted Cake interpretation of LAST MAN STANDING, a zombie story that quotes Sartre and Camus, is a pleasure that overrides all other considerations. All stories audio produced so far have been submissions; the one “shoulder tap” was for a sequel to a story previously podcast. The sequel is written and first rights sold to its original market, but the publication of that anthology is woefully delayed, and so the podcast waits for its availability.



ENGLISH IS NOT YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE. I have a degree in journalism and 25% of my freshmen class failed their first English department writing course. So I know from experience that even most native speakers don’t have good writing skills. I teach English as a Second Language and I’ve taught several writing classes to ESL students. So I also know from experience that most ESL students, even most of the English majors, can’t write a complex sentence completely and correctly, much less a polished, understandable, interesting manuscript. Even the English majors who specialize in translation make a lot of minor mistakes. You were not raised in America and it’s much harder to learn a second language as an adult than as child. How then did you not only master English but also master fiction?

Nabokov may have been too modest (or falsely so) when he wrote, in the preface to LOLITA: “My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian language for a second-rate brand of English.” Nabokov, of course, gets the medal for best literary command of English as a second language, with oak leaf clusters for French and German in which he had also wrote published stories while living in Europe. Starting in another language can make one more acutely aware of the fine structure of English, of how English sentences work, of how it compensates for lost declensions and abandoned conjugations; of how our first language’s classics had been translated (or mistranslated) into English, and vice versa. It certainly has not deterred the many amazing multilingual writers working now , I know for certain that Ken Liu and Alex Shvartsman both acquired English far later than they did their respective first languages, but the same is probably true of a number of others. Ken Liu, Alex Shvartsman, and James Beamon belong at the top of another relevant list – writers whose advice, encouragement and critique, all dispensed with unstinting generosity, brought me much farther than I ever would have gotten without them. To quote your question — “How then did you not only master English but also master fiction?” If “master” even remotely applies, as a verb, a noun, or an adjective, to any of my writing, it is to them that the credit is due. And then there is the subject of literary translation which a whole ‘nother bag of skills altogether, which I am trying to break into with variable success – the “uptick” of “variable” being my translation of WHITE CURTAIN by Pavel Amnuel, out in the May-June 2014 issue of F&SF to very encouraging reviews (all of which say nothing about the translation, a fact I find most flattering as it means I succeeded in making the translation seamless and invisible.)


In my neighborhood, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. In which I say, respectively, Spasibo, Gracias, and Shukriya.


Note: One of Anatoly Belilovsky’s Daily Science Fiction stories is a collaboration and was published under the pen name A.J. Barr.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Interview: Jennifer Rush

JennRushJennifer Rush does YA and MG, sci fi and horror, prequels and sequels, male and female POVs, romance and action. Let’s just say she’s versatile.


CARL SLAUGHTER: When your agency decided to represent Altered and when your publisher decided to buy it, what type of feedback did you get from the agent and editor? What aspects of the story appealed to them?

JENNIFER RUSH: I think it was a few different elements. Thrillers, and characters that have been genetically altered, weren’t huge at the time, so I think it helped that the idea was fresh. I also focused a lot on keeping up the action, and the plot twists, so I think that helped too!


CARL: Your third Altered book is going to be a prequel. Why delve into Nick’s past?

JENNIFER: It’s technically a companion novel to Altered and Erased, since it takes place shortly after Erased ended. A lot of readers expressed interest in Nick after reading Altered and Erased, and I really loved him as a character, so when it came time to deciding what my third book would be, it really was a no-brainer! Nick is an interesting guy, with a dark, complicated past. I knew he’d be fun to write, and I knew there was a lot of potential for plot lines with his past involvement with the Branch. I’m hoping readers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


CS: Why do you use a dual POV in the third book, one boy, one girl, as opposed to one POV in the first two books, namely the female character?

JR: It was my editor that suggested I try writing the book in a dual POV, and using Nick as one of the POV characters in order to get inside his head. I was afraid of trying it at first. I didn’t think I’d be able to do him justice. And Nick is a mysterious character, and I wasn’t sure if readers would really want to see inside his head. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to peel back that layer. But, it turned out, writing Nick was one of the best experiences I’ve had yet! You’re never really sure what he’s going to do, or what he’s going to say. I loved that aspect.


CS: One of the main characters in Altered 3 is male, broken, and a badass. You’re none of the above. So how do you take the reader into this character’s head?

JR: Good question! This was something I definitely worried about when setting out to write Altered 3. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write from a male POV. I have in the past, with Bot Wars, for instance, but Trout is a twelve-year-old boy, which isn’t quite the same as writing an older teenage assassin. I definitely used my husband for some of the writing. I would ask him what a boy would do in a certain scenario, or what he would say. As far as the broken aspect, I just tried to imagine what it would be like to have lived through the things Nick has lived through, and what it would do to a person. For Nick, that means a lot of destructive behavior. The only thing keeping him together are the people surrounding him — Anna, Sam, Cas, and in some regards, Trev. Nick really is a better man with his “family” around.


CS: The male characters in the Altered series are described as hot. But at the same time, there is plenty of danger for the main characters. How do you blend the sex appeal and the danger into the relationships and the plot? Do the protagonists make decisions based on their survival instinct, their moral compass, their desire for human fulfillment, or their romantic and sexual attraction to each other?

JR: I think it’s all of those elements. Their decisions do have a lot to do with surviving. They’re running for their lives on a daily basis. But they are also good people, or want to be. They don’t want to kill people just to kill, but sometimes its necessary in order to survive. And I think romance, or perhaps love is a better way of describing it, factors into their decisions too. They all love each other, especially Sam and Anna, so when they make a move, they want to be sure the risk is worth it.


CS: Are there steamy scenes? How steamy can you get with a YA novel?

JR: There aren’t many steamy scenes in Altered. There’s some kissing and some sexual tension, but I’m a writer that fades to black. I’m a bit conservative when it comes to writing sexy scenes! But that’s just a personal preference. I feel like YA now is a lot more open to a lot more subject matter, and there are fewer lines drawn in the sand. You have to write what you’re comfortable writing, and what feels right for your book and your characters.


CS: Your first series, Bot Wars, is MG. Your second series, Altered, is YA. What are the distinctive storytelling challenges between these two age groups?

JR: With YA, the story is much more personal. Teens (usually) are getting their first taste of freedom, and exploring what’s important to them, and how they relate to the world. Romance is also a huge part of YA. As a reader, I expect there to be romance! As a writer, I try to strike a balance between story and romance, so that neither element overshadows the other. With MG, families still play a huge part in a tween’s life, so I like to incorporate parents and siblings as much as I can into the storylines. I also think humor is important in MG, at least from my standpoint, and being funny is hard work!


CS: You’re working on a horror story. Is this an experiment or is this your next targeted genre?

JR: At this point, it’s still an experiment! I have the entire story mapped out, and quite a bit of it written, but it’s still in its early stages, and I’m not sure its quite right for my “brand” at this point. But I’m not giving up on it entirely! I’m just putting it on the back burner for now.


CS: The cover art for Altered has tree branches covering a boy’s body. What do these branches represent?

JR: One of the boys — Sam — has that tattooed on his back. The tattoo factors into the plot quite heavily. But I don’t want to dig further, because I don’t want to spoil anything!


CS: What does a typical month look like for an author promoting their books?

JR: For me, it’s a lot of social media work — tweeting regularly, whether it’s book stuff, or just personal stuff, to engage with readers and potential readers. There’s usually a blog tour as well, and we always try to keep it fun and unique! I also like to send out bookmarks, and books, through giveaways, or fun Twitter games. I really like playing trivia games on Twitter! I try to keep the month before a book releases as laid back as possible, because it can become stressful!


CS: Did you start with short fiction or delve directly into novels? How many novels did you write before you sold your first?

JR: I never really experimented with short stories in the beginning. I read primarily novels, so it’s what I knew and it’s where I started. Now with the digital market expanding, and with readers hungry for more content, I’ve started writing novellas to fill in characters’ backstories, and give readers extra content between novels. Before I signed with my agent, I wrote somewhere around 12-14 novels. I’m an impatient writer, and there’s always a book waiting in the wings! I tend to write fast, and then move right on to the next project.


CS: Any advice to aspiring novelists?

JR: Read! Read lots, and read widely. Read books you love, and read books you hate. Take note of what you liked about a book, and what you didn’t like, and how you might have done it differently. And then write the book that you want to read. If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, then the reader won’t enjoy it either. Don’t write to trends. And, most importantly, keep going. Don’t give up. Perseverance is more than half the battle. It takes a long time to learn the craft, and perfect it, and it takes even longer to find the right fit with an agent or publisher. Try to be patient. It’s easier said than done, though, I know!


Books by Jennifer Rush
“Altered” – out now
“Erased” – Altered #2 – out now
“Forged” – Altered prequel – out now
“Untitled” – Altered #3 – January 2015
“Bot Wars” – out now
“The Meta-Rise” – Bot Wars #2 – July 10th 2014