Interview: Jonathan Maberry

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Ghost-Road-Blues-by-Jonathan-Maberry-300-dpi1-621x1024EDITJONATHAN MABERRY is one of the most versatile and prolific writers in the speculative fiction.  His specialty is horror, but he also writes fantasy and science fiction, as well as mystery, thriller, western, and humor.  He has 5 wins and many nominations for the Bram Stoker Award, wins/nominations for other genres and encyclopedic nonfiction, and recognition from writer and librarian associations.  His first novel was in competition with one of Stephen King’s novels for the Bram Stoker Award.  Several of his projects are in development with Hollywood.  He has worked with Marvel and other major comic book companies.  He has consulted/hosted for Disney, ABC, and The History Channel.  He has written several series, most notably the Joe Ledger international thriller sci fi series and the Rot & Ruin young adult horror series.  His has edited several anthologies, most notably an X-Files series.  He has participated in a multitude of writer conferences and workshops, most notably Write Your Novel in Nine Months, Act Like a Writer, and Revise & Sell.  He writes/speaks as an expert on the cannonal background and cultural phenomenon of the horror genre.  He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, Horror Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers Association, International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators .  He is a contributing editor of the ITW’s The Big Chill newsletter.  He is a cofounder of The Liars Club writer network.  His novelization of the Wolfman film  –  starring Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt, and Benicio del Toro  –  reached #35 on the New York Times bestseller list.  Not surprisingly, Publishers Weekly featured him on the cover.

Jonathan Maberry’s full bio.  Jonathan Maberry on Amazon.  Jonathan Maberry on Good Reads.  Jonathan Maberry’s website.  Liars Club writer advice page.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I’m fortunate to have several of my projects in development for film and television. My Joe Ledger thrillers are being developed by Lone Tree Entertainment and Vintage Picture Company as a possible series of movies, likely beginning with Extinction Machine, the 5th in the series. And my vampire apocalypse series, V-Wars, is headed to TV, with a brilliant script by former Dexter head writer, Tim Schlattmann. Several other properties, including Rot & Ruin, The Pine Deep Trilogy, and others, are being discussed.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Like most writers I’ve coasted the edges of the Hollywood experience for years. There are some frustrations, of course, but that’s part of the game. For example, back on 2007 I co-created a show for ABC-Disney called On the Slab, which was a horror-sci fi-fantasy news program. Disney paid us to develop it and write a series bible and sample script; and then there was a change of management in the department that purchased it. Suddenly the project was orphaned and therefore dead in the water. Another time producer Michael DeLuca (Blade, Magnolia) optioned the first Joe Ledger novel, Patient Zero, on behalf of Sony, who in turn took it to ABC, who hired Emmy Award-winning TV writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost) to write a pilot. Then after we’d gone a long way toward seeing it launch they decided instead to focus on the reboot of Charlie’s Angels, which flubbed badly. That’s Hollywood. I don’t take this stuff personally, though. And I never lost my optimism.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  It’s important to focus on presenting a positive brand and to turn out quality products. Being a prima donna doesn’t help you get in through the door. Being someone people can and want to work with is a big plus. Patience is also very, very important.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  For most Hollywood projects the author has little input. I have a lot of friends who have had books optioned and developed, like Charlaine Harris (True Blood), Isaac Marion (Warm Bodies), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and others. And although they dig what’s been done with their work –at least for the most part—they are often observing from a distance. That said, I own half of the V-Wars property, sharing ownership with IDW Publishing, so I will probably have a little more input there. And I’ve become friends with the producers who optioned Joe Ledger, and as a result they’ve invited me to participate in creative discussions.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  My dream casting for my characters changes on a daily basis.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  With Marvel my creative involvement varies. On projects like Marvel Zombies Return, the world was already created and I was asked to join a writing team along with Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Fred Van Lente (Cowboys and Aliens) and David Wellington (Monster Island). We each had one issue to write and could pitch our own story, but that story had to fit into the overall five-issue arc.

With Black Panther, I was asked by Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, to come in and take over the book from Reggie Hudlin (producer of Django Unchained) who was leaving. I had to finish a few of Reggie’s storylines and then tie them into my own story arc, which I further developed into the DoomWar limited series.

Everything else I did for Marvel was entirely based on original pitches, including Captain America: Hail Hydra, Klaws of the Panther, Punisher: Naked Kills, and my series, Marvel Universe vs The Punisher, vs Wolverine and vs The Avengers.

I moved on from Marvel because I wanted to write horror comics and focus entirely on my original characters.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Dark Horse and IDW are blowing up. If Marvel and DC are the top tier, then Dark Horse, IDW, and Image are the next level. They also deal with a lot of licensed products. Dark Horse has Aliens and others. IDW has Transformers, X-Files, GI Joe and many more. And, of course, Image has The Walking Dead.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I had a lot of fun working with Dark Horse, but I only really pitched that one idea to them.

My relationship with IDW is much bigger and covers several product and formats. I did the Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart graphic novel, which was a one-off; but my deepest involvement is with V-Wars and The X-Files. The V-Wars project began as a series of shared-world prose anthologies. I’d write a large framing story and then invite other writers in to do individual stories. The third volume, V-Wars: Night Terrors, just debuted. I also did a run of comics which have been collected into graphic novels as V-Wars: Crimson Queen and V-Wars: All of Us Monsters. The V-Wars TV series is in development and on Feb 15 we launch a board game, V-Wars: A Game of Blood and Betrayal, with insane rules written by legendary award-winning game designer Rob Daviau.

I did Bad Blood for Dark Horse, with brilliant art by Tyler Crook, and two books so far for IDW –both of which are based on my novels, Rot & Ruin and V-Wars. However these are not straight adaptations of my novels but instead new stories set in those worlds.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I’m editing a series of X-Files anthologies. The first, The X-Files: Trust No One sold out its initial print run in record time. The second, The X-Files: The Truth is Out There, debuts February 16, and The X-Files: Conspiracy Theories is in development. The idea was cooked up by Ted Adams, CEO of IDW Publishing, and he asked me to come aboard as editor. Initially it was planned as a single anthology, but I talked him –and FOX, who holds the license—to let me do at least three. This was something we started working on before Chris Carter announced that he was doing a new series of the show.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Joe is actually based on several real-life Special Ops guys I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. They are a remarkable breed, and they need to be capable of extraordinary things in order to do what they do. They aren’t like other people. They have high intelligence, good language skills, amazing coordination, and they are deeply trained in a variety of skills. There’s nothing Joe Ledger does that these elite special operators can’t –or don’t—do.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  If Joe has a weakness, it’s the same thing as his strength: he is not motivated by politics but is instead a humanist. That means he gets hurt a lot, but it also means that he is damned hard to stop when he is doing what he feels is right.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  The team dynamic is what makes the Ledger series work. Although Joe Ledger is often alone for large sections of each book, his team always matters in getting the job done. That team includes the administrative genius of Mr. Church and Aunt Sallie, the tech skills of Bug and Dr. Hu, and the men and women of Joe’s field teams, notably Top and Bunny –his right and left hands. Without them, Joe would have died a long time ago; and with them he is a far more interesting character to write and, I’m told, to read.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I have no plans to stop the Ledger series anytime soon. In fact I just sat down today to begin writing the 9th Ledger book, Dogs of War, and we have two cool projects coming up that support the series. The first is The Joe Ledger Companion, which is a nonfiction book that takes readers behind the scenes of Ledger and his world. It’s being written by Mari Adkins and Preston Halcomb, and I’ll be contributing to it as well. And then there’s Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, an anthology of all-original short stories about Ledger being written by wonderful A-list writers including Scott Sigler, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Steve Alten, Weston Ochse, Mira Grant, Jon McGoran, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Joe McKinney, Jeremy Robinson, Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, Dana Fredsti, James A. Moore, James Ray Tuck, Larry Correia and others. That will be out in 2017.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  People will always love monsters, but zombies and vampires have a very special appeal to writers and readers. Zombies are a blank canvas; they represent a massive shared catastrophe which impacts the lives of every character in equal measures. The characters have their lives, their hopes and dreams, their protections and resources, all stripped away and must struggle for survival while at the same time trying to discover who they truly are. One introduced, the zombies become immediately less important that their effect on the lives of the human characters, and therefore the true focus on these stories is about people in crisis. That is an endlessly renewable creative canvas.

Vampires, on the other hand, represent a variety of other metaphorical problems: rape, abuse in all its forms, jealousy, fears of sickness, dreams of immortality, forbidden love, and so on. The vampire stories were once straight horror but now they’ve either become romances or they are a kind of super hero tale, much like the myths and legends of gods and demigods. Again, there are a lot of stories you can tell with that model.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Horror is a genre of fiction that has dozens and dozens of variations, including Gothic, body horror, suspense, psychological horror, ghost stories, religious horror, existential horror, monster stories, zombies, vampires, folkloric horror, extreme horror, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction horror, and so on.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Groups like the Horror Writers Association has awarded its coveted Bram Stoker Award to books as diverse as Thomas Harris’ crime thriller Silence of the Lambs to Stephen King’s subtle Lisey’s Story to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to Joe McKinney’s brutal zombie thriller Flesh Eaters.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Most of what I write tends to be hug on the scaffolding of the thriller, which is a model applicable to virtually any genre. I love the race against time to prevent something dreadful from happening. But I’ve also written in a variety of sub-genres in both long and short fiction and often go cross-genre.

Among the categories in which I’ve written we have vampires/American Gothic (Ghost Road Blues and its sequels), ghost stories (the short story “Property Condemned”), paranormal mystery (“Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Greenbrier Ghost”), psychological horror (“Doctor Nine”), serial killer (“Saint John”), horror movie adaptations (The Wolfman), zombie apocalypse (Dead of Night andFall of Night), urban fantasy (“Mystic”), paranormal mystery (“Like Part of the Family”), dark fantasy (“We All Make Sacrifices”), weird western (“Son of the Devil”), historical ghost story (“Red Tears”), epic fantasy (“The Damned One Hundred”), Lovecraftian horror (“Dream a Little Dream of Me”), science fiction horror (Patient Zero andAssassin’s Code), weird science thriller (The Dragon Factory, Code Zero), post-apocalyptic existential horror (“The Wind Through the Fence”), Alt-History Steampunk horror (Ghostwalkers: A Deadlands Novel), post-apocalyptic zombie horror for teens (Rot &Ruin), folkloric horror (“Cooked”), historical horror comedy (“Pegleg and Paddy Save the World”), and so on.

Do I have a favorite? No, not really. I’m most in love with whatever genre or sub-genre I’m writing at the moment.



JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve been fortunate to win five Bram Stoker Awards. I won Best First Novel for Ghost Road Blues, then shared a win for nonfiction with David Kramer for a book on the paranormal we wrote called The Cryptopedia; after that I won two back-to-back Stokers for Young Adult novels for books two and three of the Rot & Ruin series (Dust & Decay and Flesh & Bone); and more recently picked up on for Graphic Novel for Bad Blood.  As for how many times I’ve been nominated…I’m not really sure. Maybe ten or twelve times.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  Every year there is such amazing horror writing being published, and often by close friends. It’s odd –but also fun—to be nominated alongside people you like and whose work you respect. That way, no matter who wins…it’s a party.

My first time out, however, I was up against Stephen King. Ghost Road Blues had been nominated for both Best First Novel and Novel of the Year. I won the Best First but King took Novel of the Year for his wonderful book, Lisey’s Story. If you have to lose…there is zero shame in losing to Stephen King.



JONATHAN MABERRY: I was trained as a journalist and that doesn’t encourage one to be a slowpoke. Some of my professors were very aggressive and had us cranking out a couple of thousand words in the space of a few hours. After college I was a magazine feature writer part time, but even though I was working day jobs (variously –bodyguard, bouncer, jujutsu instructor, college teacher, graphic artist), I wrote over twelve hundred articles and at least three thousand reviews and columns. And I wrote more than a dozen textbooks and nonfiction books on subjects ranging from a history of competitive sparring to the folklore of supernatural predators.

When I switched to fiction a little over ten years ago I brought that same work ethic with me. I like the fast lane. Not everyone does. I have friends who prefer to write a book every couple of years. That’s not for me. I put it in high gear and keep my foot on the gas. And I write my best stuff under tight deadlines.

The last two years I’ve written four to six books per year, plus comics and a slew of short stories. I just signed an agreement last week to add a fourth book to this year’s slate, and there’s a possibility I’ll do a fifth.

Nowadays writing is my full time job. I write, on average, eight hours a day, and usually log about four thousand words. Between novels, comics, short stories and novellas I write about a million and a quarter words for publication per year.

That wasn’t how fast I started, of course. My first novel took years to write and revise. I got faster as I studied my own process and worked to improve my habits and deepen my understanding of the writing craft. It’s fun, though. And writing so many projects means that I’m always exploring new creative areas. I write for adults and teens, and I write in a variety of genre including thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, Steampunk, alt-history, weird science, action, westerns, mysteries and more. I am never bored.



JONATHAN MABERRY:  I always advise new writers to attend writers conferences. The classes are useful and the networking is golden. The only writing book I ever recommend, however, is Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. It’s brilliant and incredibly useful, either for helping you feel your way through the plot or revising a draft.



JONATHAN MABERRY: There are several important things to know about becoming successful as a writer. Things I wish I’d known earlier in my career.

First –be very good at what you do. Having a natural gift for storytelling is great, but you need to learn the elements of craft. That includes figurative and descriptive language, pace, voice, tense, plot and structure, good dialogue, and many other skills. Good writers are always learning, always improving.

Second –learn the difference between ‘writing’ and ‘publishing’. Writing is an art, it’s a conversation between the writer and the reader. Publishing is a business whose sole concern is to sell copies of art. Publishing looks for those books that are likely to sell well. There is absolutely no obligation for anyone in publishing to buy and publish a book totally on the basis of it being well written. It has to be something they can sell. A smart writer learns how to take their best writing and find the best way to present it to the publishing world, and then to support it via social media once it’s out.

Third –you are more important than what you write. A writer is a ‘brand’. That brand will, ideally, generate many works –books, short stories, etc. Each work should be written with as much passion, skill, love, and intelligence as possible, but when it’s done, the writer moves on to the next project. And the next.

Fourth –finish everything you start. Most writers fail because they don’t finish things.  Be different.

Fifth –don’t try to be perfect. First drafts, in particular, are often terrible. Clunky, badly-written, awkward, filled with plot holes and wooden dialogue. Who cares? All a first draft needs to have in order to be perfect is completeness. It is revision that makes it better, and makes it good enough to sell. So, don’t beat up on yourself if your early drafts are bad. Everyone’s early drafts are bad. Everyone.



Carl 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: Rob Dircks

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

rob-portraitHe talks with Diabolical Plots about self publishing, self recording, the sci fi humor market, buddy stories, the rambling/interjective narrative style of his main character, his recent how-to guest blog on Cat Rambo’s site (you guessed it, how to write humor) , the sci fi humor authors and stories that influenced him, his startup self publishing service, his recent membership in SFWA, and his fascination with Tesla conspiracy theories.

He also takes a crack at a 700 word flash piece, “The Moment I Laid Eggs in You,” by Josh Vogt, recently published in Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge. One of Resnick’s trademarks is humor.

(Mike Resnick, current holder of the most Hugo nominations (with second place far behind), has been interviewed here at Diabolical Plots, as has current SFWA president Cat Rambo.)


Why go straight to novel instead of building a short story resume?

That’s a good question. There wasn’t a plan to it at all. I started out writing screenplays (and not selling them), then an anti-self-help book titled Unleash the Sloth! 75 Ways to Reach Your Maximum Potential By Doing Less, then just naturally went for another book, this time long enough to be called a novel. I’ve got lots of short stories, snippets of stuff, in my horde, but haven’t the slightest clue how to go about selling them to publications. Maybe you could give me a few pointers.


Why self publish?

Rejection. Well, not entirely. I love building things myself, and as a graphic designer too, I love creating art, books, websites, whatever. So when the rejections started coming in for my manuscript, I knew I couldn’t be the author who waits for the two-hundredth rejection before hitting something. Instead, I said “You know what? The tools are out there now, the playing field is starting to level, so f**k it – I’ll just do it myself.” Of course, the BIG bummer of self-publishing is that you start with ZERO exposure – no agent, or publicist, or publisher out there helping you get noticed. So I’ve had to learn that myself, too. But I’m definitely learning, and enjoying it as I go. (Oh, and I get to keep 70% of my sales with Amazon, and 40% of my sales with Audible. That rocks.)


You also help other authors self publish. What can you teach them and what can you do for them?

Well, it’s in the infancy stage right now, but I’m enjoying the ride and getting moving on some projects. There are three ways I’m helping authors: 1. For maybe two or three books a year, I’m handling the whole process, from editing to cover design, to production, platform building and promotion; 2. For authors who just need a particular service, like cover design or interior layout, I offer a la carte paid services; 3. For DIY folks like myself, I post about things I’m learning as I go on my website for Goldfinch Publishing. It’s all free, and people are starting to reach out and let me know it’s helping, particularly with their self-published audio books.


Your book is also available on Audible. And you did your own recording. How easy/difficult is that and what’s involved?

I’ve got lots of background in audio recording and voiceover, so I found it easy. But I did write up a lengthy blog post to help others do it themselves as well — because without any experience, as long as you have a few bucks for equipment, a decent voice, and common sense, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself too. The post is here. In short, you need an account with ACX/Audible (easy); recording software like Garageband (which comes free with all Macs); a decent mic (you can get for under a hundred bucks); headphones; a room that can get quiet, and some foam/blankets, etc., whatever you can use to deaden the sound in the room; and PATIENCE. It took a solid week to record my novel, and a solid week to edit it and upload it to Audible.


How much does an audio book sell for, versus an ebook, versus a tree book?

I don’t have any control over the pricing for the audio book, so Audible prices it at $19.95 (I think that’s kind of high, but like I said, I don’t get to determine price). The ebook is $3.99. And the print book is $10.79.


You recently wrote a guest blog for Cat Rambo about sci fi humor writing. How did you arrive at each of those 8 lessons?

I’d say it’s a mish-mash of learning, mostly through reading, taking classes, and trial and error. For example, with “Exaggerated Contrast”, John Vorhaus’ book The Comic Toolbox does a great job of walking you through the idea of fish-out-of-water and how it works. But then you start to see it everywhere, in so many things you read and watch on TV, and you play with it in your writing, and eventually it becomes one of the tools in your own toolbox. For “It’s Not About the Jokes,” that probably started when I took a screenwriting class at NYU, and my professor lightly scolded me for just sprinkling in jokes in my work to make it funny. And from then on I made sure to be wary of “jokes.” Some of these that I’ve learned haven’t come from anywhere in particular, like “Playfulness” and “Heart” – I think those were learned a looooonnnng time ago when I was a kid. It’s just always been the way I look at the world, that no matter how bad things are, there’s always something funny in there somewhere, and I’ve always sort of known that the books that I don’t like just lay there flat, with no heart in their characters.


Perfect timing. There’s a sci fi comedy in the latest issue of Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge. “From the Moment I Laid Eggs in You,” a flash piece (700 words) by Josh Vogt. What lessons can we learn from that story?

This story’s great. It sets up the expectation right off (couple just had sex). Then right into the “discovery” (of her egg-laying) — which totally upends our expectations. Totally opposite to the norm. Then it becomes an argument (arguments can be the best comedy), and the classic twist at the end (another defeat of our expectations). It’s great.


What kind of market is there for sci fi comedy?

I actually think it’s an untapped market. You have just a couple of huge traditional names in sci-fi humor, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and maybe Philip K. Dick, and now you have only a couple of modern names that immediately spring to mind: John Scalzi, David Wong maybe. But with successes like Big Bang Theory (a total sci-fi nerdfest comedy) on TV, I think that shows there’s a great potential market for more sci-fi humor — not only does that sit-com grab sci-fi fans, but it crosses over into the mainstream, people who want something funny and entertaining who aren’t necessarily sci-fi fans.


Why Tesla?

For a long time I’ve been fascinated with conspiracy theories. They’re very out-there, and usually hilarious. One in particular that I always thought was cool was the theory that Nikola Tesla, in his later years, kept a series of secret journals that contained plans for advanced technologies, some of which might be used as weapons, or as free energy for all. The story goes that the government (of course) took these journals upon his death, and they were never seen again. Also, the fact that New York was home to Tesla, one of history’s great inventors, responsible for alternating current, radio, x-rays, and more — and we never hear about him — made him even more intriguing to me.


Your main character is a vivid narrator – when he’s not interjecting or rambling. So why does he interject and ramble so much?

Chip is an exaggeration of myself, and in my writing I tend to interject a lot (in case you haven’t noticed). So it’s natural that he would ramble on even more. But I also think, in my everyday conversations with people, that there is a TON of rambling and interjecting going on. Just listen to two random people talking at a mall, or walking out after a movie, or standing in line at Starbucks. Sometimes these conversations are nothing BUT interjections! I wanted my book to feel very conversational, very much like your ADD friend is blabbing to you about his adventures, while you’re waiting on line at Starbucks.


Why a sci fi misadventure instead of a sci fi adventure?

Misadventures are funnier. Think about your favorite sit-coms: the funniest situations are the ones where the most things go wrong. Modern Family is a perfect example of this. Their writers are great at creating little farces, where multiple things keep going wrong, but in the end the resolution makes you feel wonderful. And I always loved Dortmunder, the cat burglar from the old Donald Westlake novels. Those novels were one misadventure after another, but made the ride a whole lot of fun, and actually made you root for Dortmunder even harder. (And laugh harder.)


Why a buddy story?

Who doesn’t like a buddy story? Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Crosby and Hope. Chandler and Joey. Aziraphale and Crowley in Good Omens, and David and John in John Dies at the End. Seth Rogen and James Franco. The list goes on and on and on. There’s something about a best friend that we can all relate to. It makes the story and the humor more intimate, it makes it easier to root for the hero, it gives the hero a friend to confide in (to help tell the story), and a foil to bicker with (to increase the comedy).


Will there be further interdimensional misadventures with Chip and his buddy? Will the girlfriend return for the sequel? Will the government be involved again? Will it involve another one of Tesla’s secret inventions? Will it involve time travel?

I said when I finished this book that I didn’t think I was a sequel kind of guy. But the response has been great, and many people have asked about a sequel, and I’ve caught myself thinking things like “I wonder what really happened to Bobo?” If I do write a sequel, you can bet that it’ll have everything you just mentioned – and more. I’d make it as over-the-top as possible.


Which sci fi humor authors influenced you?

The ones I mentioned above: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi, David Wong.


Which sci fi humor stories influenced you?

Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Pratchett’s Good Omens, anything by John Scalzi but maybe Agent to the Stars is my fav, and even though it’s not sci-fi, I absolutely loved John Dies at the End. There are also lots of Philip K. Dick stories that are total gems and hit your funny bone straight on.


Did your advertising background contribute to your fiction skills?

I guess, but only in the sense that all of our past experiences help us in whatever our next thing is. For example, writing copy for ads for twenty years certainly helped my grammar, my pacing, my ability to surprise and delight (hopefully), so maybe those things helped my fiction. But I’ll tell you what the advertising background really helps with: marketing books. As a self-published author, marketing is completely up to you. So I think my experience has given me a bit of a head start, and has helped tremendously.


Any stories in the hopper?

Yes! I’m working on my next sci-fi comedy novel, about an A.I. that finds itself in the middle of nowhere, with a very important package to deliver. And I’ve got a bunch of things behind that, clamoring for my attention. The hopper is full. That makes me happy.


What’s your take on the SFWA?

I’m new to the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), but so far I like being a member a lot. There are tons of resources for finding your way as a new author, like finding out avenues to sell your book, or targeting blogs for guest posts, comparing notes on promotions and book sales. They have very active member forums — every time I’ve asked a question, it gets answered right away. And I’ll admit I really like the credibility that it lends me as an author. You can’t just pay your dues and become a member: you have to have sold a certain number of books, and only if you pass that threshold are you allowed to become a member. In other words, you can define yourself as a professional. I like that.


Any advice to aspiring sci fi writers?

With just one sci-fi novel out, and an anti-self-help book, and a bunch of short stories and screenplays piled up in my drawer, I’m not sure I’m the one that should be giving advice to aspiring writers. But if I had to say one thing, I’d repeat what I’ve heard lots of other folks say: that this is a loooonng road, with no shortcuts, so keep doing your best work, over and over again, and enjoy yourself!


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: Andrew Burt

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Critters,Preditors & Editors, ReAnimus, Advent, Nyx, SFWA, snap books. Andrew Burt is a busy guy.


How is Critters different than/better than Scribophile, SF Novelist, Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop, and other critique workshops? Critters is the first workshop on the web. How did that come about?

Critters pre-dates the others you mention, but I don’t know if Critters is fundamentally better or different from any of the others. The more the better! The reason I started Critters was simply that there wasn’t any critique workshop on the web at the time. I was searching for one to join, actually, but, being the early days of the web, there just wasn’t one yet. Before I started Critters someone in a forum suggested we try emailing manuscripts back and forth, which I think half a dozen of us did… once. I submitted my critiques of the others’ manuscripts, but I think I was the only one. 🙂 So I figured, well, there’s this web thing, I’ll hang a shingle and see if anyone comes.

Over time other workshops popped in and out (often off-shoots of Critters, like Critique Circle), and some of them stuck, which is terrific. The more depth of critique an author can get the better for everyone. In terms of differences, Critters’ workload is modeled after a local, in-person workshop I belonged to, begun by the award-winning and awesome Ed Bryant (himself an alum of one of the early in-person workshops, Clarion). With a monthly meeting and a rough average of three manuscripts everyone critiqued, I implemented that as a “three critiques per four weeks” ratio in Critters. That’s seemed to work well. Doing critiques of others is probably half the benefit to one’s own writing, so it’s important to ensure people do critiques. (And in-depth ones; we have minimum critique length limits to encourage people to peer deeply into every story.)

One thing I do think that accounts for Critters success has been our “diplomacy policy,” whereby those reviewing a manuscript are urged to phrase their bad news in ways that have been shown to communicate, and avoid the phrasings that don’t communicate the message but do provoke negative reactions from the receiving author’s “lizard brain.” It’s usually as simple as saying, “The pace was too slow for my taste” instead of, “The pace is too slow”; this really seems to help.


Why is your workshop still free after so many years even though many workshops charge?

So this all started in 1995, back when the web was young, and there probably weren’t even enough people around for anyone to make money from a web site yet. I had also been running Nyx as a free service. Nyx was (and still is) free to use, funded by voluntary donations from those who like it. That seemed like the right model, so I started Critters as a free workshop as well. It made sense since the biggest “cost” if you will, is the effort that all the critiquers put into critiquing their fellow authors. Doing critiques of others is also of huge help to improving one’s own writing craft, so we do nudge people to participate, both in quantity and quality of in-depth critiques. You can’t buy that quality; and making people pay for it may even dilute it.

For our modest monetary needs, folks who like it donate as they feel the urge (with some low-key fund drive reminders; I don’t care for the in-your-face, we’re-holding-your-program-hostage-until-twenty-people-donate kind of public TV/radio fund drives, though I understand their necessity). I also added some Google ads to the site to fill in the gaps, though I figure most people run ad blockers and never see them. Critters doesn’t need a huge budget,it isn’t my full-time job and we have a few volunteers to help with questions and such,so we do fine.


You mentioned Nyx, the world’s first Internet Service Provider, which you founded in 1987. How did that come about? What made you want to start the first ISP?

I’d been on the “ARPAnet,” the network that later became the “Internet,” for many years, and was active in “Usenet,” the gigantic (for its day) distributed forum system. ARPAnet was only accessible to a small number of people at academic/research/government organizations. It was so cool, though… So when our department (I was a computer science professor at the University of Denver) was donated a behemoth of an old computer,a PDP 11/70, which filled an entire room,and we had nothing really to use it for, it sort of fell to me, because I was the only professor who even knew how to run it. I put the open source operating system known as “BSD Unix” on it (a precursor to today’s Linux), connected it to the university’s network going out to the world at large, hung some modems on it, and opened it up for the general public so everybody could access what was just being renamed “the Internet.”

I’m a fan of capitalism, but it doesn’t always work as well as it should. Before the public had any way to get on the Internet, I could see the writing on the wall that they would be getting on eventually, and I was dismayed at the thought of people being gouged to access all the cool Internet stuff. The culture of the net was/is something special, with (at the time) a high degree of altruism,people helping others just because it was a good thing to do. There were many large, corporate, non-Internet dialup modem services, like “Compuserve”, which were generally extremely expensive; and I could foresee them soon connecting to the net and charging people far too much. I thought it would be a good thing if that altrustic culture could get a leg up. The university itself is a non-profit, and lots of the content on the net was freely available, so it all made sense to open the net up to the public for free to show that it could be done. I also wanted to do what I could to continue the spirit of freedom of speech that permeated the non-public Internet, and avoid the heavy-handed moderation many of the other pay dialup systems showed. (I am a bit disappointed that so many forum sites have again returned to fairly heavy moderation, but perhaps this too shall pass.) So I wasn’t really thinking, “Hey, this will be the first Internet Service Provider for the public”; more it was, “Hey, people ought to be able to get on the net because it’s cool, and they can’t, and I can do something about that.” It didn’t even occur to me until later that I’d started the first ISP, when someone mentioned it. At the time I just figured it sounded like a good idea to get people onto the net. I suppose the experiment was a success! Nyx is still going, now as its own 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, still providing free email, web hosting, etc. and I’m glad to see that the general public now has a lot more choices, with costs of access that are still reasonable (indeed, often still free).


How do you keep such a massive site as Critters going with no full-time staff?

Minions! 🙂 In this case, software minions. I enjoy automating things, and seem to be reasonably good at it. (My computer science background is in networking, operating systems design, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity.) So, I’ve created a ton of custom software that handles 99% of what goes on with the site. I have a small number of volunteers who help answer questions, and I fix things when the minions make a mess.


You recently opened the workshop to nonfiction, mystery, and a slew of other genres and categories. Give us a list and tell us how this experiment is going.

Originally Critters was just science fiction, fantasy, and horror. That made sense in the early days, given that the people on the net were still largely geek types, who tend to like those genres more than others. I always had requests to broaden the list to include everything, so recently I did. We now have 16 workshops, covering every genre and every form of creative endeavor I could fit in. The list is:

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Writing
Mainstream and Literary Fiction
Mystery, Thriller, and Adventure Writing
Non-Fiction Writing
Script, Screenplay, and Stageplay Writing
Kids Books
Comics, Graphic novels, Manga, etc.
Western Fiction Writing
Romance Writing
Adult Fiction
Video and Film
Music and Audio
Art, Painting, Drawing, etc.
Apps and Software
Website Design

The SF/F/H workshop is still by far the most active, since it’s best known for that. The others are growing, though I think I made a tactical mistake breaking them out into separate workshops at the outset. I should probably merge them back so there’s one large workshop everyone is in, and when I start getting calls to split off a genre then do that.

I had hopes that some of the non-writing workshop areas would catch hold, like video, music, art, web design, etc.; though that hasn’t largely been the case. There’s a long history of writers workshops, whereas there isn’t that depth of history in the others. But we keep trying things, alerting people they exist, so I’m ever the optimist.


Don’t you have to be an experienced author or editor to critique someone else’s story? If I can see how to improve your story, why can’t I see how to improve my own story, and vice versa?

Two parts to that…

1) They’re two different skills. I can tell that a computer won’t boot, and I may even be able to diagnose it as a particular blown chip, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I can pull out the board and solder in a new one. In some ways, critiquing a story is easier than writing: I can read it and keep tabs on whether I’m liking it or not. If not, I can, hopefully make some sort of guess what isn’t working for me. Too much boring text? Stilted dialog? Cardboard character? Critiquing is, at the heart of it, about explaining how you felt as you read that piece. All that requires is paying attention to your feelings as you read. But that doesn’t necessarily mean one knows how to fix it, and not break something else. (Add more detail about the character, but if not done well, may create stretches of boring text.) On the flip side, some authors may write well, but have little idea how they do it; or know how to fix what isn’t working. Hopefully as you critique a lot of other people’s work, you gain a sense of what works and what doesn’t, so you can avoid the pitfalls as you write your own stories. Both take practice, and I think both improve the other. Critiquing is often easier to get “right” to start with.

2) The Blind Spot. No matter how good you are at writing and/or critiquing, you can’t see your own work from an outsider’s point of view. You can’t have that “first time” experience, since that was when you put down the words in the first draft. You also know too much about the parts you didn’t write, which someone else won’t know. You know that the your human protagonist’s unnatural love of carrots is because he was raised by gladiatorial jester rabbits (which you never mention in the text); but the fresh eyes of a reader who only sees the text can ask the question, What the heck is it with the carrots?


Isn’t it dangerous to post a story for multitudes of strangers to see? What’s to stop someone from plagiarizing a story? And although manuscripts are copyrighted, ideas are not, so what’s to stop someone from stealing my premise?

Actual plagiarism is extremely rare (I can’t think of any actual cases in Critters in all the years and tens of thousands of manuscripts). I suppose it’s because (1) people know they shouldn’t do that; (2) the penalties are stiff if you do and you get caught; (3) the story in Critters is the unfinished product,why should someone want to steal a half-baked cake out of the oven?

As for ideas, right, they aren’t copyrighted. However, they’re not what make a story uniquely yours. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Most ideas have already been done over and over. (A spunky group of rebels fights against an entrenched empire… Is that Star Wars, the American Revolution, Asimov’s Foundation, Hunger Games, V for Vendetta, or… or… or…?) Even if someone has a truly unique idea, (1) without good writing it won’t matter, and (2) several authors could run with the same idea and make completely different stories.

So, nawww, nothing to worry about.


Is one week really enough time to read, evaluate, and comment on a story? What if I critique regularly for several members and 2 or 3 post a story at the same time?

Interesting question! Nobody has ever actually asked for more time to critique a short story. (Novels have their own slower-paced program.) I think it’s enough in that the story itself rarely takes more than a few minutes to read, and then it’s a matter of writing up what you thought about it. I’d say for a typical story that takes me maybe an hour tops, and I don’t think I’m particularly fast at it. I may let the story percolate in my brain a few days, but there seems to be time by the seventh day to get the thoughts written down. The emphasis is really on how you felt about the story; what parts worked and what didn’t; not so much about line by line edits. It’s then a matter of relating your feelings.

As for regular authors, I don’t know if I would encourage that. To my mind, it’s more helpful to both the author and critiquer’s own writing to critique a wide variety, not a “stable” of authors.


How many critiques might a story receive on Critters?

Historically the average has been 15. That varies quite a bit based on a bunch of factors (length of your story, for example; and middle chapters of novels have a hard time, which is why there’s a program to critique entire novels).


What kind of publication success rate do Critters members have?

It’s hard to measure precisely, but I once did a study and it came out that members of Critters were ten times more likely to make professional sales than non-Critters. Of course, it could simply be that the more motivated writers have joined! I can’t attribute cause and effect.


Have you had a lot of pro writers participate? Any Hugo, Nebula, or Campbell winners/nominees? Any Writers of the Future winners? Any members who participated in the Clarion or Odyssey workshops? A lot of SFWA members?

Lots and lots… though I really don’t keep a database of them. Pro authors tend to be busier, but many like to “pay it forward” by helping new authors. I’ve noted in many years that around a third of nominees for the Hugo or Nebula awards are Critterfolk. Probably our most decorated author is Ken Liu, who’s won a bunch of Hugos and Nebulas.


You’ve proposed that keeping an ebook online indefinitely can eventually bring in as much sales or more as putting a paper version in the bookstore because the paper version is pulled in a few months. But suppose ebook formatting evolves and the old formatting is no longer compatible with the new readers or new software?

There is already software that can convert between formats. Calibre is one example. Formats like EPUB are particularly easy to convert in the future, since they are basically a “.zip” file with HTML files inside, which is human readable text that software can easily operate on. Very easy to convert to some other format. Even if there were some difficult file format, since the text has to be visible to the human eye to read it, there will always be a way to convert it, even if it’s taking photos of the words and converting back to text (like ReAnimus Press does for out of print books). It’s highly unlikely anybody buying an ebook today will be unable to read it in the future.


Selling ebooks requires using PayPal or a credit card. Doesn’t the author have to pay a fee for these payment services? If a customer buys only one of your books, you still have to pay that fee. If 10 people, 100 people, 1000 people buy only one book each from you, you’ve paid that fee many times. How is that going to work out for you as a business model considering one of the chief advantages of ebooks is reduced price?

First off, the lions share of ebook sales today are through Amazon. They take their cut (about 30%), and that’s that. That includes the credit card fees. Many authors seem to be okay with that 30% figure. Amazon provides the infrastructure (including the payment processing as well as the web site to display and host the books), they provide a reasonably priced ereader device, they provide a sort of central market square where a lot of people congregate,which includes providing a sense of trust, which shouldn’t be overlooked for it’s value,and they provide marketing (“If you liked that perhaps you’ll like this”).

But even for direct sales the processing fees aren’t particularly painful. Paypal for example is around 3% plus 30 cents, or, with their “micropayments” account, 5% plus 5 cents. Not trivial, but for a $5.99 ebook, 35 cents to Paypal leaves $5.64 to the author. That’s a lot more per sale than you’d earn if you published through Random House.

I also imagine, as time goes on, we’ll have even better forms of payment. There are a number of concepts and startups out there to make payments even easier and cheaper. While I think bitcoins are too volatile as an investment vehicle and prone to security issues, they do have one potentially interesting use: An “instant” way to send money, even between different currencies. That is, if I wanted to send $10 to someone in Upper Nowheria, where they use Quatloos as currency, I could use a service where I send in $10, the service converts it to bitcoins at the current exchange rate of that moment, sends the bitcoins to the person in Upper Nowheria, converts to Quatloos, all within a microscopic fraction of a second, and with a very low exchange fee (a fraction of a percent, depending on bitcoin exchange fees). Currency exchanges often cost 5-10%, so this could cut that way down. Or some other virtual currency or system could serve the same function. Someone out of the US made a large donation to Nyx recently using, which, including foreign currency exchange fees, was at 0.5% in total fees. The tendency is toward zero exchange and transmission cost.


Don’t ebooks make piracy easier?

Yes, but. First, you’d have to determine what percent of pirated copies would have actually resulted in a sale if piracy were impossible. I did a survey on that once, and it came out that most people simply wouldn’t have paid. There were very few truly lost sales. Most pirates just wouldn’t have paid, for a variety of reasons. (They may not have the money, they may not have lived in a country where they even could have easily paid if they wanted to, they may not have felt the book was really worth X dollars, etc.)

Second, you have to figure out if there’s any marketing value. I view them much like used books. Authors make no money from used book sales or books passed along to friends, etc., but readers who receive the free/low-cost used book may turn into fans who buy the author’s other books.

Third, copy protection (DRM , Digital Rights Management) software is almost always intrusive and annoying. In order to prevent a few pirated copies, it greatly limits and greatly annoys legal users. DRM can also get outdated, rendering the protected thing inaccessible. (Has happened to me.) As a legitimate user, I hate copy protection.
Many publishers have decided it’s best for their bottom lines to abandon copy protection.


You’ve been a strong advocate of ebooks. You’ve gone so far as to predict the extinction of publishers. Can ebook self-publishing replace the massive editorial and marketing apparatus at the disposal of publishers?

I think ebooks are wonderful. I’ve been an ebook reading person since the early 2000s, when I started reading on the old Blackberry phone I had. I would write to the authors of books I wanted to read to request copies of their manuscript (it helped that they were fellow SFWA members and often friends). I also think we’ve just scratched the surface of digital reading devices. (For example, if there were an inexpensive device that looked and felt just like a book, except every page was digital,digital ink on real paper, or digital paper,you would hold in your hand the same thing as a paper book, except it would be an e-reader. At that point, you have all the “features” of a print book, plus all the benefits of digital. We may phase out paper sooner than that, but it represents a sort of upper bound on when we’ll no longer read paper where the words on the page can’t change.)

So publishers have a problem. If they don’t remain relevant, and bring something unique to the table, they will fade away just like blacksmiths and buggy whip makers.

Anyone can now do (or hire someone to do) the traditional tasks that publishers have done to put together a book (editing, cover art, layout, etc.),and do them in such a way that the author earns a lot more of the proceeds from the sales.

I think one key role left for the large publishers is marketing. Unfortunately, publishers don’t do a lot of that for most books. To some extent, getting paper copies of a book placed on tens of thousands of bookstore shelves counts as marketing. (Readers can’t buy what they never see.) Having the economies of scale to print thousands of copies of a book inexpensively is still one of the competitive advantages that big publishers have. (Which dwindles the more people read digitally.) But if that’s substantially all the publisher does in marketing a particular book that an author can’t do themselves, then it becomes questionable if that’s worth the huge cut of the profits that they take. It’s not unreasonable to say a self-published author could sell 5% as many copies of a book and make the same money.

The question is whether the self-published author can sell that number of copies. The average self-published book sells around 100 copies over all. That’s not much. However, the flip side is that same book may simply never sell to any publisher at all, so that’s 100 compared to 0.

If an author is incredibly good at marketing, and is able to do or pay for the production work, they can probably make more money self-publishing. If not, using a publisher may make more sense.

Another factor in the publishers favor is that they put up the money for the production/distribution costs, taking on the financial risk they might lose money; and they pay the author an advance up front. Those may be more important to a given author than overall earnings.

However, the other big hiccup is in the duration: Large publishers may take the rights for the duration of copyright,that’s the life of the author plus 70 years(!). During which a publisher may not do much marketing after the initial push. Not to mention, a lot can change in that length of time. Even a slow trickle of sales could add up. (Let me emphasize that: If an author is, say, 30, and lives to be 90, the publisher will collect the lion’s share of the royalties for 130 years.)

Full disclosure: In addition to my Critters hat, I’m a publisher; I run ReAnimus Press. We specialize in digitizing out of print books for authors, though we also publish some new releases. We do our best in marketing, and we typically work with authors who for whatever reason don’t want to do the production work themselves. (That said, we pay the highest royalty rates of any publisher I’m aware of. We try to do right by authors.)

Bottom line, an author has to carefully evaluate what a publisher brings to the table, today and for possibly a hundred or more years into the future. It’s a hard decision to make.


As a former vice president and one time presidential candidate, do you agree with Mike Resnick’s assessment of SFWA?

“The broader the membership, the less clout is has. When I joined SFWA more than 40 years ago, we were a lean fighting machine, boycotting publishers and making it stick, publicizing bad contracts and bad agents, auditing publishers and actually winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported royalties for our members. But we were all full-time writers. Then we stopped insisting on requalification every 3 years, and our membership went from maybe 150 real writers to 1,500, of which more than 1,300 are not full-time writers and do not have the same professional interests as the full-timers. As a result, we are now pretty much powerless to act as an organization whose first duty is to protect its membership, because our membership no longer consists of people who write for a living. We have not conducted an audit in 30 years; we have not publicly evaluated a contract in 25 years; we have not publicly evaluated agents in 25 years; we do not report the average wait time , above and beyond what is contracted for , for a publisher to pay the signature advance, the delivery payment, or to issue the royalty statement; and we have totally disbanded our piracy committee. All this is a direct result of becoming a less professional organization with every passing year and more of a social club, so you’ll forgive me if I think that lowering the standard even more will be anything but deleterious.”

So: Yes, I agree with what Mike says about SFWA having become less effective. I mostly disagree that the cause of this drop in effectiveness has anything to do with who the members are. I think the lack of effectiveness stems mostly from a lack of focus on the part of the leadership. Or a focus on things that don’t necessarily accomplish anything: Such as focusing ad nauseum on rewriting the bylaws and shuffling the furniture around. (The presidents have generally been authors who make a living from their writing, and they’re the ones who guide the ship, so I don’t really think the fault is lack of full-time writers making the decisions.) I think SFWA could easily do all those things it did in the past to help writers,and with 1500 members get more respect from, say, Congress, than if it had 150 members. Not to mention the much larger budget and surpluses in the bank. I’m constantly optimistic that at any moment SFWA could re-awaken as a real force for writers. There are tons of things it could do to help writers, if the leadership wanted to steer that direction.


How did you become the editor of Preditors and Editors and what can we expect with you at the helm?

Preditors and Editors fell into my lap mainly because I had worked with P&E’s founder, Dave Kuzminski, since the late 90’s running P&E’s annual Readers Poll. So as time rolled around to start the poll, I emailed Dave to discuss various things. And heard nothing. I kept trying, eventually getting in contact with his wife and learning that Dave had died very suddenly. They couldn’t even access the site, nor had any idea how to do his P&E magic (not being authors), they turned it over to me. My hope is to keep running P&E the way Dave did, helping authors avoid scams, though he left mighty big shoes to fill. We have added a general guide to avoiding scams that encapsulates advice about a lot of what we see.


You started ReAnimus Press. Why? What do you publish, and how’s it going?

ReAnimus is going great. We have about 200 titles released or in the pipeline, almost all from well known and award-winning authors. We have a couple dozen from Ben Bova (including his rare first novel, paper copies of which were going for $500 apiece), over 20 from Norman Spinrad, everything by SFWA founder and Grand Master Damon Knight, and a lot more. We just got the rights to do the ebook of edition of DEAR AMERICA: LETTERS HOME FROM VIETNAM, which is a bestselling book and basis for the Emmy award-winning documentary (letters read by Robert DeNiro, Robert Downey Jr., Robin Williams…). So it’s been an amazing ride so far.

I started ReAnimus because I had these huge shelves full of books, most now out of print, and I wished they were all still available for readers, either as ebooks or in print. I had the technical background to do something about it and some author friends asked me for help getting their backlist back out there… so it all just came together. We now have a pretty sophisticated artificial intelligence system to fix the huge number of errors that result from scanning.

While we mostly only publish established authors (where, to be honest, the risk of losing money is a lot less), we also offer the digitizing and layout services for folks who want to do their own thing.

It’s a real blast, and I’m honored that we’ve been able to bring some great books back into readers’ hands.


How did you acquire the celebrated Advent Publishers and what can we expect with you at the helm?

Advent Publishers is another story of reanimating books that might otherwise be lost. Because ReAnimus Press specializes in bringing out of print books back to life, one of our authors put me in touch with the publisher of Advent. They had a bunch of books still in print, but no digital files to make ebook editions. We got to talking, and it became evident that the best solution was just for ReAnimus to acquire Advent.

We’re thrilled, since Advent is a Hugo Award winning publisher that’s been around since the 1950s, having published the biggest names in SF (Heinlein, Blish, E.E. “Doc” Smith, et al.). Our plans are to create new ebook and print editions of their catalog, help sell the existing warehouse full of print titles, and, to be sure, acquire new titles that fit in with Advent’s illustrious family.


How’s your own writing going? Anything new?

Yes, I recently finished a novel that I’m shopping around, Termination of Species. The biggest problem I have,assuming some major publisher actually wanted it,is the same dilemma as I outlined above: Which way would I be happier with, locking up my rights for a loooong time with a major publisher who doesn’t pay a very high royalty rate, or the potential but much higher risk of self-publishing it? I’m really gridlocked on that! I’m working on my third novel, and making good progress.


What other projects are you involved in to facilitate activity within the science fiction community, what is their purpose, how do they function, and where do we access them.

Well, I do try to sleep sometimes. But I toss out various tools for writers, blog about stuff of interest to readers and writers, and fill in cracks of time with other sorts of things that are listed at

Within ReAnimus Press, we’re developing and patenting a way to easily sell ebooks through bookstores, called “snap books”,the name coming from the incarnation where there’s a physical, book-like-object sitting on a bookstore shelf, with the book’s cover art and description on it, and the reader snaps a picture of the QR code to buy, download the book, and put the display box back on the shelf for the next person. Has a huge number of applications.

It came into being because I’ve long wanted to find a way for physical bookstores to sell ebooks. I love the experience of browsing in a bookstore. But they’re out of a lot of titles, they don’t have ebooks on the shelf, etc. So the idea hit me how to solve that, and we’re rolling it out. So far people love the idea. (Gratuitous plug: If anyone reading this works in a bookstore, or knows people who do, or, for that matter, any place that could sell physical things, like a coffee shop, convention dealers room, etc.,drop me a line!)

All in all, I’m having a blast! Thanks for choosing me for an interview!


Carl_eagle Carl 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: Frank Dutkiewicz

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

IMG_20120830_182040_092We asked Frank a long time ago if he would be so kind answer a few questions for us. He said he would as soon as he found a little time. Months went by with excuses like I have to wash my hair, and I need to clean my fingernails, or I got to pick up the dog poop in my yard today, on why he couldn’t give us a few minutes. So we popped in for a visit where we threw a burlap bag over his head, hogtied him, threw him in the back of a trunk, and took him to an undisclosed location to a dark room with hot lights glaring in his face.


Thank you for joining us today.

Pleasure to be here. Could you cut the plastic zip-ties around my wrists, please? I can’t feel my fingers.


When I first started reading your stories several years ago, your material was barely marketable. You’ve had 2 stories in Daily Science Fiction and you climbed to the top of the Writers of the Future contest. What happened in the interim?

Life. A new job, growing kids, and other responsibilities (car and house maintenance) that take precedence. Writing is but a hobby for me , an activity to help sharpen my dulling mind and keep me preoccupied in a job that keeps me away from home for long stretches of time.

On the writing front: not much. I’ve taken on new responsibilities that are tied to my ‘hobby’ but grant me less time to create new works of fiction. In other words , I am submitting less than I have in the past but I’m not quite out of the game.


You were slush editor for Unidentified Funny Objects anthology and the On the Premises humor contest. One of your Daily Science Fiction stories was humor and “Intergalactic Nuisance” was borderline riotous. Why humor?

Because I like it. There is no shortage of great works of speculative fiction but not a lot of it is humorous. It’s difficult to pull off and opinions on what is, and isn’t, funny, vary. I need not go any further than my slush reading duties at UFO to prove that. Alex Shvartsman (UFO editor) has a half-dozen slush readers for his annual project. Alex has told me that he has yet to receive a submission that received a unanimous yes from all his helpers.


Rom Zom Com. I’m guessing that stands for romance, zombie, and comedy. Is that like Shawn of the Dead and Warm Bodies?

Couldn’t tell you, I never saw either movie before. I just saw their guidelines. They were looking for humorous zombie tales and I just happened to have one in my files I wrote for an in-house contest for one of my writer groups. I submitted it and they bought it.


Why is it significant that other review zines don’t cover Daily Science Fiction? Or to put it reversely, why is it significant that Diabolical Plots covers Daily Science Fiction and is the only review zine that does?

I don’t know why other review zines ignore DSF. I was reviewing for Tangent Online when the publication first came to life. I recommended that we at least try to review it but the editor wanted nothing to do with it. As I recall, he said they had too much material to review and that their business model likely doomed them to obscurity and predicted it would close soon. I disagreed and felt the publication deserved a measure of recognition for their herculean effort. So after to being rebuffed by the Tangent Online editor, repeatedly, I asked David Steffen at Diabolical Plots if he’d be willing to host my reviews.

The reason why it is significant that Daily Science Fiction is covered (I am grateful to David for posting the reviews all these years) is that the DSF editors and their authors deserve the satisfaction to know that their work has been read. It’s a good publication, outstanding in fact. The price for subscription is affordable (free). Their distribution is innovative (daily email), and the talent is first class. They attract the best speculative writers and publish more first time authors then any professionally rated publication. The editors of DSF deserve more than just a review or two, they deserve an award for all they’ve done for speculative fiction these past few years.


You’ve been reviewing Daily Science Fiction for 4 years. They publish 20 stories a month, so that’s a lot of grunt work, even if 4 out of 5 stories per week are flash. Why stay on this beat for so long?

Commitment, stubbornness, loyalty , take your pick. I did it for so long because I enjoyed reviewing and reading DSF.


Lois Tilton cranks out that kind of volume and more, but she reviews full time. How do you accomplish that feat and hold down a full time non-literary job at the same time?

It is taxing, I confess. Without the help of my colleagues James Hanzelka and Dustin Adams, I would have thrown in the towel long ago. My first review received a positive response from many who read it and from the editors of DSF. Encouraged by the feedback, I vowed to keep at it and decided I would continue to do so as long as my reviews were within six months of current published works. Alas, that mark was crossed this summer (I had a lot going on). My reviews of the publication have ceased (I have one last month I need to finish). I enjoyed doing them very much but they had started to become a chore to maintain, so with much regrets, my next review of DSF will likely be my last.


You’ve been reviewing the Writers of the Future anthology for 6 years. Again, why the longstanding interest in that market?

My first one was written as an analysis of the winning stories. I started reviewing the publication about the same time I started to submit to them. At the time of my first WotF review, Diabolical Plots first came online. I asked David Steffen if he would be willing to post them. He was all over it.

The reviews of the contest are written from the perspective of a long time reader (I’ve been a fan of the anthology since it first debut decades ago), a submitter to the contest, and with the experience I’ve gained as a reviewer over the years. Studying the anthology to write the reviews has helped me to improve my standing in the contest , 2 finalist finishes, a semi-finalist honor, and over dozen Honorable Mentions.


What did you take away from your role with Unidentified Funny Objects?

Two things: Humor is subjective and I’m not as funny as I once believed. It is also the first true slushreading job I’ve ever done. I have sympathy for those who do it on a regular basis and no longer get offended when I receive a rejection now. I also have had this theory confirmed:
a) Not everyone will agree on what is funny and…
b) Everyone can agree on what isn’t funny

We got a lot of submissions where you could feel the writer giggling as they jotted the funny idea in their heads on their computer screens. There was a lot of eye rolling, head shaking, and groaning done as I read the slush. It became clear to me that humor isn’t for everyone.

However, we also had a few I thought were brilliant but not enough of my colleagues shared my opinion. Truthfully, some of the funniest submissions we received (IMO) didn’t make it in. Not everyone’s funny bone responds the same way, I guess.


Same question for the On the Premises contest.

I adore On The Premises. The editors are the slushreaders. They whittle down the submissions to a handful and send them to the judges to read. The prize money, although not pro-paying, is enough to make it alluring. They’ve made it a blind read contest , the authors names are not known to the editors or judges during the contest. I’ve come to regard it as a great place to practice if you like to submit to contest publications like Writers of the Future or Glimmer Train. What helps to make them unique is the editors will (for a fee) critique your story if you fail to make their top ten. I’ve learned a lot about my submissions from their critiques.

I had become such a regular to OTP (as a contestant and guest judge) that they made me a permanent fixture there as a fulltime judge, an honor I haven’t taken lightly.


Same question for Tangent.

It was an experience. My time there was short but I learned a lot from it, both positive and negative.


Why all this slushing and reviewing? Do you have your eye on a full time editing gig?

*snort* not unless I hit the Powerball jackpot, but what a dream. Can you imagine running your own professional paying publication? Got to have the money and time to burn to be able to do that.


Did you gain anything from participation in the Critters workshop? Why did you drop out?

Critters is an excellent place for beginners to start. You learn to critique and absorb real criticism from total strangers , both a prerequisite if you expect to stand a shot as a contributor in the speculative fiction industry. It’s also a great place to find friends who share in the passion of writing science fiction and fantasy. I recommend it to everyone to give it a try.

The reason why I don’t participate anymore is because I moved on and made room for other stuff.


Same question for Hatrack.

Hatrack is a good place for writers to congregate. It’s more personal than Critters and the feedback is almost immediate. Most of the stuff I’ve published came about thanks to a Hatrack writer’s challenge.


Same question for Codex.

Codex is that secret club your friends will tell you about that you can’t get in (you have to had made a professional sale or completed an accredited writers workshop to be eligible to be a member). They have some tough in house contests over there. Joining them is like being the big shot in middle school who learns he’s a nobody the first day of high school. It can be a little intimidating.


Care to share some invaluable, free wisdom with aspiring writers?

Sure. You’ll see this advice sooner or later…

…if you want to make it as a writer, you got to treat writing as if it is your job. Set goals every day , minimum word counts to target or a certain number of pages to complete, even when don’t feel like writing.

The best advice I can give you is to IGNORE that advice. Treat writing as if it’s your job? Jobs suck. The only reason why anyone goes to a job is because someone pays them to show up to do work. So unless you’re earning a living as a writer, you should never treat writing as it is your livelihood (or job).

Hobbies though, hmmm. We love our hobbies. We’ll spend money on a hobby. We’ll take classes, arrange for lessons, and read books so we can get better at them. Hell, most of us have schemed to get out of work so we can spend more time on a hobby. Hobbies are enjoyable things to do.

Writing requires passion. Sure, you can be passionate about your work but you’ll crave diving into a hobby. People love doing a hobby and you have to love writing to be any good at it. Hobbies are easy things to step away from and pick back up later (sometimes you just need a break). You can’t do that with a job. You’ll get fired. The fact is if you set it in your mind that you have to get a minimum amount done every day you’ll come to resent writing. Any job that is that demanding and is one you do for no pay, is an easy job to quit, and you really don’t want to quit anything that you pored that much passion into, do you?

So treat your writing as some do golfing, or bowling, or painting, or crafting. Do it because you want to. Do it because you want to get better at it. Do it because you hope to be good enough to have it become your job one day (it has happened before). To get that good requires patience, a long term commitment, and a ton of passion.


Thank you for your time.

Can I go home now?


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: Nancy Kress on POVs

Nancy KressMike Resnick said of Nancy Kress, “No one teaches writing basics better.” Here she gives us the basics on POVs. When to use one and not the other, why one works and another doesn’t.
First person, second person, third person, alternating person, third person subjective, third person objective, third person omniscient, multiple third person, epistolary. Did I miss any?

I’m not even familiar with all the ones you listed! I think in terms of: first person, multiple first, third person, multiple third, second person (rare), omniscient, objective.
When do we use them and why, when do we not use them and why not?

That’s a big topic; entire books have been written on the advantages and disadvantages of each. Briefly: First person allows for a very tight reader identification with the narrator, as well as a more distinctive voice,which means it’s a good choice if your character has a distinctive voice. Its disadvantage is that you are limited to only what that character knows and observes. Third person allows more description and observation of the characters. Multiple third “opens up” a book to more settings, action in different places, more characters’ internal lives. It can, however, feel more fragmented if each POV character is not fully developed. Omniscient is hard to do well; it’s more than just going into anybody’s mind whenever you feel like it. Omniscient implies the presence of a strong authorial POV (the “all-knowing” presence of “omniscience.”) Objective goes into no character’s thoughts, recording only what a camera would see and hear. It works best for short stories, and even then can feel cold in less-than-skillful hands.
When is it a hard and fast rule to use/not use a certain POV, and when is one OK but another is better?

There are no hard and fast rules in writing. Everything is a trade-off: are you gaining more than you are losing with a particular point of view? What overall effect are you trying to achieve, and how much reader identification are you aiming for in this story?
Is there such a thing as a story that is more effectively told with several POVs, each chapter or scene with its appropriate POV, omniscient in one chapter, second person in the another chapter, epistolary in another?

That actually sounds like a mess. Unless you are aiming at a deliberate confusion of identity (as in Alfred Bester’s classic “Fondly Farenheit”), don’t mix first, second, and third. With multiple third, I usually keep to one POV per scene. Epistolary, as in inclusion of a letter or diary entry, works in any POV.
Suppose an author’s fan base has come to expect a certain storytelling style that involves certain POVs, whereas a different POV strategy might appeal to a broader audience but alienate the established readers.

This sort of thing is always a problem, if what you mean by a change of POV is “a different protagonist doing different things and written in a style different from previous books.” Then it’s not really a POV question but, rather, a content question. Readers will easily accept one book written in first and then another written in third, if the story being told is the same kind of story usually associated with that author. J. K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter books are all multiple third; so is her novel CASUAL VACANCY, but their audiences are entirely different.
I’m working on a short story with every character in every scene. One is dominating the situation, one is trying to moderate the situation with mixed success, one is trying to take control of the situation with no success, 2 are asking a lot questions and seeking a lot of assurance, 2 are preoccupied with each other and neutral toward the others. There’s lots of rapid fire, heated dialog; lots of action; lots of choreography. Everything about the plot and the characters is revealed in real time through the interaction of the characters; no info dumps, no flashbacks, no descriptions, no body language, no inner narrative; strictly the words and activity of the characters. Which POV/POVs do I use?

It’s hard to be sure from that description, but if this were my story, I’d probably tell it in either first-person or limited third. In both cases, I would give the internal reactions and thoughts of only one character, whose story it would then become, and that choice would be the character who either has the most at stake or is the most capable of change. The events of a story should affect the protagonist,if they don’t, why should I, the reader, be affected?
Is POV a standard part of the curriculum in most workshops?

Yes, either through direct lecture or, if not addressed directly, it inevitably comes out in critique sessions, as in “You are switching POV on page 6,why?” or “You cannot describe a character’s appearance in first person unless he’s thinking about his own looks” or “This story might be better told from the wife’s POV and not the husband’s.” By the end of the first paragraph an author has usually committed to a POV, so it’s a good idea to consider your options before you begin.



Nancy Kress’ writing craft books:



Meet up with Nancy Kress at the Hugo House workshop in Seattle, Washington and at Taos Toolbox workshop in Taos, New Mexico.



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: Jeff Carlson

Jeff Carlson Jeff Carlson was a shortlister for the Campbell, a finalist for the Dick, and a first placer for WOTF. He is the author the alien Frozen Sky series and the post-apocalyptic Plague War series. His latest novel is the post-apocalyptic Interrupt. His short stories have appeared in Asimov’s and Strange Horizons. His short story collection is Long Eyes. His stories have been published in 16 languages.


CARL SLAUGHTER: I listened to a podcast of “Topsider” on StarShipSofa. I was very impressed with the writing. So clear and efficient. Every passage is relevant, every sentence is in the right place, every scene is vivid. How did you learn to write so well? Did you attend a workshop? Do you have a ghost writer? Do you have an army of editorial assistants hidden in your basement combing over every word, every line, every paragraph? Are you an alien sent here to intimidate us human writers with your superior skill? Or do you just have a natural gift?

JEFF CARLSON: The truth is I’m the evil pod clone host of the poltergeists of Hemingway and Eliot. Every word is pure gold. Kneel before me, you fools!

Aha ha ha.

Thank you. No, actually I’m just an obsessive freak who fell in love with the spare, evocative styles of authors like Joe Haldeman, John Varley, Connie Willis and Spider Robinson right as I was coming of age as a fledging writer myself. Short story collections like Dealing In Futures and The Persistence of Vision made a vibrant impression on me. At their best, Haldeman and Varley could pack more human complexity into one sentence than some writers accomplish with a full page.

Most of their works are dated now. The science and the geopolitical scenarios in their books can seem alien to 21st Century thinking†which isn’t a bad thing if you enjoy the “what if” sense of wonder on which science fiction is built. Seriously. Go read the Worlds trilogy or Steel Beach or Bellwether or Night Of Power. Those books are mind-croggling even if there’s not an iPhone in sight.

Early in my teens and twenties, I did attend a lot of conferences and book signings, soaking up as much as I could from established authors. I joined a local writer’s group. I have a B.A. in English Lit. Mostly I read a lot and wrote a lot. Trial by fire.

I came up the once-traditional path in writing. When I was fifteen, I cranked out a sprawling, million word epic novel. It was pretty bad but it had heart. Then I got serious, buckled down, and began writing short stories. Of course I tried to emulate the minimalist, shock-ya story arcs of Haldeman and company. It’s a real challenge to squeeze an entire plot and character development into the space of forty pages, especially if you’re also introducing new worlds and explaining futuristic science and weapons tech. Each story was also a different opportunity to play with voice or POV.

In time, I began selling short pieces to small press publications, then to semi-pro and finally to full-on professional magazines with glossy ads and comparatively nice pay rates. Then I wrote a new book. Landed an agent. Sold the book in a minor bidding war. I think some people still become writers that way even now after the e-revolution.

What I should add is that in the process, I learned everything I could about editing. Some of this education came through studying what the magazine editors and the staff at Penguin did with my manuscripts. Other tricks I learned through sheer repetition.

The brain is a muscle. You can strengthen it.

From first draft to final proofs, I read Plague Year more than forty times. The sequel, Plague War, I read thirty times. The third book in the trilogy, Plague Zone, I read twenty times. By the time I got to The Frozen Sky and Interrupt, I was reading my books fifteen times. I don’t know if I’ll go less than that, but I hope I’ve streamlined the process. I’ve learned to avoid some mistakes.

Oh, just to clarify: “Topsider” is an excerpt from The Frozen Sky, and Sky and its sequels are self-published. Yes, I have beta readers. No, there are zero professional editors involved. These books are essentially a solo act. I’m working without a net, although I have surrounded myself with a small squad of keen-eyed volunteers as well as paid masterminds like the cover artist, Jasper Schreurs, who’s a freaking genius.


The Frozen Sky includes a lot of science and several fields of science. Astrophysics, biology, geology, pharmacology, AIs, computer hacking. How much research do you have to do for all that science to be feasible and accurate? Or do you have a rolodex of consultants on speed dial?

I read a lot. I remember what I read. The bulletin board on my office wall is layered in a madman’s stack of print-outs and clippings. Oh, and I have this thing called the internet, ha ha. I’m constantly jumping online to reach how granite is formed or what’s the capital of Finland or because I need to examine the molecular structure of hemoglobin. As a sci fi guy, I’m also fortunate to know any number of real-world engineers and scientists. I pester them from time to time.


Frozen SkyThe aliens in The Frozen Sky are intelligent, but they look a bit like squids, they don’t speak and they don’t have sight. Why not bipedal aliens like Vulcans or Klingons or Romulans with vocal cords and eyes?

Because I’m not constrained by a production budget! Ha. “Let’s glue some ears on him. We’ll glue some forehead thingies on them. Okay, we’re done.”

Star Trek is good fun but limited in presentation. That’s the beauty of being a novelist. The medium requires the reader’s imagination. Yes, I direct the action, but hard sf readers are smart readers. They want to be strangers in a strange land. So I can say, well, I have this claustrophobic three-dimensional low-gravity environment like the mazes of an ant farm inside Europa’s icy crust. What would kind of creatures would evolve here? Six-foot-tall bipedal creatures like people? Heck no.


The aliens have a math system and hieroglyphics type alphabet. Have they invented the wheel yet? How technologically advanced are they?

Man, I can’t tell you that! You’ll have to go deeper into the ice!


The novels of The Frozen Sky are told through the POV of Alexis Vonderach, one of the European astronauts. Why not the POV of a member of a different team like the Chinese or the Brazilians? Why not the POV of one of the aliens?

Great question. I have written novels with multiple POV storylines like Interrupt or the Plague Year trilogy†but for The Frozen Sky, the setting is already so complicated, I wanted to ground the story as best I could.

Also, I really like Vonnie. She’s smart and brave and capable and resilient. Does she have her weaknesses? Yes. She’s very human. I felt like staying within her mind was a necessary focal point. The catacombs inside Europa’s “frozen sky” are a bizarre and horrific environment. Adding more storylines was too much.

Having said that, an early draft included some chapters from the POV of an alien. Holy cow, was that a chore! These aliens are really strange, am I right? Trying to convey their thoughts in English was like dropping acid at the bottom of a Vegas swimming pool with Hunter S. Thompson, three tigers, a box of cookies and leaking SCUBA masks while reciting a Latin mass with the pope on your waterproof phone to Snooki as she’s driving drunk in downtown L.A. through commuter traffic. Did you follow that? I don’t know what it means, either. That’s just an approximation of how convoluted it felt trying to write from inside the brain of a sunfish. Whoa, Nelly.

I hope I managed to convey their very foreign way of thinking in their dealings with Von and the other human characters. The transcripts of their sonar calls and body language were incredibly fun to write. Also, I love comparing so many of things we take for granted with the pure, straightforward existence of my alien tribes.


If there was an alien main character, what would he be saying to his friends about Earthlings? Kill them and feed them to our offspring. Perform an autopsy on one of them. Steal their technology. Maybe they’re causing all the geological instability.

Examples one, three and four are reasonable. Number two doesn’t sound like the sunfish because, well, they’d just eat yaâ€


In the recent movie Europa Report, people travel to the same moon and encounter a similar alien. Then it turns into a body count horror movie as the squid picks off the entire crew. Instead, you have the two species interacting. What type of issues do they face trying to communicate with each other and understand each other’s cultures?

I haven’t seen Europa Report because I know I’d be disappointed. My book was first. More important, movies tend to suffer from the exact same problems you laid out for Star Trek and from the necessity for a body count.

That’s not to say The Frozen Sky doesn’t include sex and violence. Heck, the first 100 pages are basically one big chase scene, and among my favorite haters of all time is a lady who chastised me for using this novel to depict human beings as “just rutting animals with no purpose other than to destroy everything in sight with the exception of a few enlightened yet rutting souls.”

Hee hee. The oh-so-graphic depictions of sex in The Frozen Sky amount to a few interested glances between the heroine and her crewmates, one deep kiss, and an erotic thought or two from her POV.

Do I believe sex and violence are not only central to the human condition but also go hand in hand? God, yes. Look at what we consider entertainment. Look at the geopolitical scene. Every problem we have , pollution, racism, religious strife, war, disease , can be traced to overpopulation and the pressures between various groups or nations. Now that’s a nuts-and-bolts view of an extremely complex planet. We could spend our lifetimes connecting the dots. It’s easier to simplify everything to a basic dogma of “We’re right, they’re wrong,” but that easier view is part of what makes life harder on everyone in the world.

If sexuality makes you uncomfortable , if you think it’s scary or forbidden , I’d like to suggest that you have an immature sense of reality. Where did these seven freaking billion people come from if raw desire isn’t a major element of human motivation?
If greed , if destroying everything in sight , isn’t another major element of human motivation, why are our cities and slums expanding while the forests disappear and the oceans fill up with trash and poisons? Why are we fighting ancient wars over worthless deserts except to control everything we see? Granted, the oil in select areas of those deserts is valuable, but doesn’t that further prove my point? Is killing people for religious or racial differences better than killing them for energy sources?

Anyway. Too much coffee for me again this morning.

From what I see, we’re barely able to communicate among ourselves. Human beings cheat and lie and hurt each other. We have so many forms of insanity. Developing The Frozen Sky, I thought “Why wouldn’t intelligent aliens have their own delusions and conflicts?” Those fallacies would make it even harder for people and aliens to communicate.


Your work has been translated into 16 languages worldwide. How big of a chunk of your sales comes from foreign markets?

Never as much as I’d like. It is really, really fun to see my stories in languages I can’t read with new titles and new cover art. The experience is a mix of dÃ’ jÃ’Â vu and that awesome, twisty sense of “What if?”

When a foreign edition appears, it’s like having written an all-new book without having put in the work because those publishers have their own translators and artists. Every now and then a new magazine or a new novel shows up on my doorstep and I examine it with a smile, imagining how it reads in Spanish or Czech or whatever. Less frequently, I get fan mail from someone overseas, occasionally in broken English but usually in more grammatically precise English than my own, which is even more of a pleasure. Over time, I’ve struck up e-friendships with readers in the Netherlands, Estonia, Germany, you name it.

My job description is I sit alone in a room with a laptop listening to the voices in my head. It’s spectacular to hear from real live people who enjoy the books.


A lot of novelists continue to write short stories to keep their name out there. They have bylines on the cover of Asimov’s two or three times a year. They get nominated for multiple Hugos and Nebulas. They get top billing at conventions. You chose not to go that route. What was the reasoning and how has that worked out for you?

Ha! Is that a trick question? I would love to be nominated for Hugos and Nebulas and receive top billing at conventions. I didn’t choose not to go that route. I haven’t been invited!!!

Regardless, I don’t know that bylines in Asimov’s equate to Hugo nominations and GOH slots at the big cons. I’ve had three stories with Asimov’s, and Penguin took out a lovely full-page ad in the magazine to promote Plague Zone, which was seriously cool. Also, Sheila Williams is a gracious, witty, hard-working genius and a pleasure to work withâ€

†but these days I write very little short fiction because I have a family and a mortgage, and short fiction rarely pays well. Equally important, as a reader I prefer to sink my head into a good novel and stay with the characters for a while. Most people are the same way. Hence the pay rates for short fiction. There’s just not as much demand for short stories.

I’m totally overwhelmed with my life in the real world plus my own writing / editing / research / etc., so my choice is to write a chapter of the next book rather than a short story. I only have so many hours in the day. Having said that, surprise! I recently accepted an invitation to contribute to a new anthology, and I have two more pieces of short fiction in progress. It’s just a matter of carving out enough minutes to get to everything. I definitely need some Carlson Clones.


Big open-ended questions: After the ebook revolution, when have you opted for self-publishing and what was the result? When have you opted for traditional publishing and what was the result?

Late in 2010, I self-re-e-published the original short story of “The Frozen Sky” on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes. It sold 40,000 copies.

I’d always wanted to develop it into a novel. The setting is literally as large as an entire moon. That’s plenty of room for new storylines, surprises and reversals. So I moved this project to the front burner. Going solo involved any number of new learning curves, but, again, I’d been paying close attention to the game while working with Penguin for the Plague Year trilogy.

Late in 2012, I self-published the all-new The Frozen Sky: The Novel. To date, it’s sold 37,000 copies. For a hard sf novel, that’s a very strong number, better than a mid-lister would expect with a Big 5 publisher in NYC. Color me excited. Japanese rights recently sold to Tokyo Sogensha, and our hope is the book’s success will lead to more interest overseas and in Hollywood. Let’s face it. It’s a cool idea, and far better executed than Europa Report.

If I had to pitch The Frozen Sky in a few words, I’d say: “This story is Pitch Black crossed with The Thing, and it features a strong female lead in impossible situations.” Also, it wouldn’t demand a massive budget, more like Lucy than Prometheus.

As for the many forms of publishing in our brave new e-world, these days I’m sort of climbing back and forth over the fence. Traditional publishing was good to me, and I’d happily accept the right deal. In the meantime, Interrupt was published by 47North, one of the new Amazon imprints stocked with top editors and publicists who were headhunted out of New York and released from many of the usual corporate restraints. They’re wild-eyed e-pirates on the laser’s edge of the future, man! Working with 47North was a delight. The book did well. You can’t really say 47North is a traditional publisher because their focus is ebooks, but the process was similar and I take pride now in being a triple hybrid , a traditional, a new model, and a self-published writer.


What comfort level have you reached as an author? Do you have liveried servants, do you still mow your own lawn, or somewhere in between?

Uh, yeah. Someday I hope to become such a jaded bigshot that I float in a pool lazily dictating my lunatic visions to a super model while legions of butlers and maid polish the silverware and fold our all-organic silk wardrobes. Hasn’t happened yet. I’m still barely making an honest wage in part because the money’s up and down. I have fat months. I have lean months.

But it beats working for the man!


Hollywood used to be into spaceship sci fi. Now they’re into alien sci fi and post-apocalyptic sci fi. You’ve got both. Any feelers from Hollywood?

Paging Steven Spielberg†Paging Mr. Spielbergâ€


Which actress would you chose to play Von?

Someone who’s smart and bright-eyed. Quick of wit and quick in combat.


Got any advice to aspiring writers?

Get a job, hippie! Bwah ha ha ha.

No, seriously: writing is a sketchy way to make a living. It takes a lot of work (which you can control) and some luck (which you can’t control), so the main thing is to put butt in chair and grind away. Try not to make yourself too crazy. Use the crazy to drive you. A little monomania never hurt anybody. Finishing a novel can be a long, hard marathon, which is why I always recommend starting out with short stories. It’s a joy to finish something, and each short story can be a different experiment in voice or pacing. Love ‘em and leave ‘em. Move on. Work hard. Read a lot. Improve.

I suppose those sound like slogans, but there’s truth in slogans. Very few of us are the magic wunderkind who simply writes a perfect book and hits the bestseller lists. Most of us labor at our craft for years. We always labor at it. That means you need to enjoy the work. Write because you love listening to the voices in your head. Write because language and imagery and the human condition are fascinating to you. The work isn’t always fun, but should be satisfying.

That’s my five cents. If you don’t take satisfaction in the challenges you set for yourself, you’re doing it wrong. Enjoy the solitude. Enjoy the thinking. Believe me, when you get an email from Moscow or Dallas or Poughkeepsie informing you that you’re a genius, it’s worth the hours spent.


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: Jacey Bedford


Jacey Bedford

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Jacey Bedford uses the Milford Method for workshopping/critiquing. She uses Diabolical Plots’ Submissions Grinder for submitting. Her debut novel is 171,000 words, so she apparently doesn’t suffer from writer’s block. She has been participating in workshopping/critiquing 20 years. She is one of the organizers of the Northwrite SF Writers’ Group and the Milford SF Writers Conference. She is represented by Maass agent Amy Boggs, who was also interviewed by Diabolical Plots. She has signed a 3 book contract with DAW and Empire of Dust is out this month.
You’ve done a lot of workshopping and critiquing. First, what’s the difference between workshopping and critiquing? Is a writers conference synonymous with a writers workshop? What are the advantages and disadvantages of workshopping? What should you expect and not expect from worshopping. What are the advantages and disadvantages of critiquing? What should you expect and not expect from critiquing?

I’ve been part of various critique groups over the last twenty years, both face to face and by email, and I’m also one of the organisers of the Northwrite SF Writers’ Group and the Milford SF Writers Conference which is a week long event where writers take chunks of their works in progress or complete short stories for both critiquing and workshopping. In Milford terms workshopping just means a general discussion where fellow writers will make suggestions and dissect ideas, sometimes in macro terms, sometimes micro. This usually goes above and beyond what you would probably get in a normal critique session and usually evolves throughout the week. When you have fifteen writers kettled together deep discussions are often the result. (Though, of course there are workshops which are more like courses where there is a leader or moderator and writing exercises may be involved. I haven’t taken part in any of those, so I’m not qualified to talk about them.)

At Milford each writer submits (in advance) up to 15,000 words in one or two pieces. The week is organised to include reading/writing time (mornings), formal critique time (afternoons) and social time (evenings). There are no teachers and no students. At Milford every writer is equal, whether they have a string of published novels or a single short story sale. The critique sessions use what has become known as the Milford Method which is now used in many other writers’ groups. (Just Google Milford Method and see how many hits you get.) Basically each participant, in rotation, spends up to four minutes (timed) giving their critique of the work at hand. No interruption, whether by the author or anyone else, is allowed during this stage of the proceedings. After everyone has spoken the author gets an uninterrupted right of reply and then this is followed by a more general discussion which is often continued over a good glass of red in the library after dinner.


Is Milford a workshop? A conference? A critique session? The short answer is: all of the above and more. It’s called a conference because historically that’s what James Blish called it when he brought it over from the USA to the UK in 1972 – way before my time. Should it really be called a conference? Is it a conference? I haven’t a clue, but it’s the name we inherited.

Before Milford I was part of a small email critique group which we called RECOG. There were ten of us and we took turns to submit a piece of up to 10,000 words in rotation. So there would be a piece to critique every ten to fourteen days and your own turn would come round every eight to ten weeks. The critiques from participants tended to vary from macro critiques to detailed line edits. Very occasionally if someone was having a plot problem there would be a request for ‘plot-noodling’ in which ideas would be exchanged. We were truly international with writers from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Finland, so there was no face-to-face interaction at all.

Writing is a solitary experience, so writers’ groups are great because apart from the obvious advantages of getting a second (third, fourth, fifth etc.) opinion on your work, the transmission of information, expertise and enthusiasm is vital. It’s easy to get too close to your own work so you lose track of the big picture. Someone else can often pick out what’s wrong, or tell you what’s right. Of course if you have nine other writers’ opinions you may get some conflicting ideas. At the end of the day it’s still your book and where it goes is your responsibility.

Setting up your own writing group is an option if there isn’t a suitable one nearby, but you might want to try critiquing by joining an online group like Critters first to see if it’s for you. Beware some local writing groups that exist just to read their work aloud and pat each other on the back. Some people get into creative writing as a form of therapy or for social reasons (which is all very valid if that’s what you want) but if you are working towards publication, you need a serious group of like-minded writers who are going to inspire each other to greater efforts. It helps if it’s genre specific if that’s where your writing ambitions are.
What about your own experience. What was your writing life like before and after workshopping and critiquing?

I’ve always written. My first novel attempt was at the age of fifteen. I managed six chapters, typed out very slowly on an ancient Imperial 66. Until the advent of the internet I was a secret writer, amassing many unread manuscripts, mostly in longhand. As soon as I got online, back in the 1990s, I was lucky to find two usenet newsgroups, misc.writing and rec.arts.sf.composition. They were not critique groups, but offered discussions about the writing process and delivered important information about the nuts and bolts of welding words together.

Critique groups are not just important for the critique you get, of course, but also for the critiques you give. You get to read a lot of work by other writers, some much more experienced than you, and some much less. You see mistakes and critique them (thoroughly and constructively, but also sensitively) and learn not to make the same mistakes yourself. Whether online or face to face, you need to be able to commit to a critique group. It can be hard work, but very rewarding.
Your debut novel has just come out. DAW is a very distinguished publisher. How did you break into that market? Did you go through an agent, did you meet the editor at a convention, did you do some networking, or did you just submit through the slushpile?

I’d had an agent, whom I liked a lot, but who made the decision to cease her agency business, so while I was looking for another agent I sent a manuscript to DAW, but with an introduction from another DAW author (met at Milford). It was kind of a slushpile thing, but because I had an introduction I was able to land it directly on Sheila Gilbert’s desk. Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim are the two managing editors and the leading lights of DAW. Though DAW is now part of the Penguin Group it still feels like a family firm, and, of course, Betsy is the daughter of Donald A Wollheim, the founder. It’s a fabulous publisher to work with. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sheila and Betsy at both the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in 2013 and Worldcon in London in 2014, which was marvellous because normally we’re on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
What kind of feedback did you get from Sheila Gilbert? What was it about “Empire of Dust” or your writing that appealed to her? What’s it like working with her? You signed a 3 book contract. Will they be a trilogy? What’s the timeframe for the release of the next 2 books?

When Sheila emailed to say she’d like to buy my manuscript I was gobsmacked (surprised/delighted/elated). She asked when she could call me and I said NOW! The phone rang almost before I’d hit send on the email. The manuscript Sheila bought was my magic pirate adventure, which – as I’m sure you’ve guessed – is not the first book that’s been published.

Sheila bought Winterwood and then asked that wonderful question: What else have you got? She liked the idea of science fiction as well as fantasy so I sent her Empire of Dust – at that point a finished novel but only 123,000 words long (actually cut back to that on the advice of a previous agent). In the meantime I’d accepted an offer of agency representation from Amy Boggs at Donald Maas, so the actual negotiations went to Amy at this point. The next thing I knew Amy called me with DAW’s offer of a three book deal for Empire of Dust, a sequel (as yet unwritten) and Winterwood. It turned out that DAW’s publication schedule meant that there was a gap for the space opera in November 2014, so Sheila decided that would be the first one out. The sequel, Crossways, which is at the editing stage, is scheduled for August 2015 and Winterwood (which may yet have a title change) will be published in 2016.

I hope to be able to write more in my psi-tech universe. It has the potential to be a series rather than a trilogy. Of course, I have other novel projects on the go, too.

Sheila is a hands-on editor, but rather than getting a manuscript back from her covered in blue pencil, I get extensive and detailed phone calls or a face to face meeting over breakfast at a convention. When Sheila talks I listen (and scribble notes like mad) because she’s vastly experienced. She quickly spots where my character and worldbuilding holes are and gives me the opportunity to fill them without being prescriptive. If anything DAW tends to like long books, so Sheila is keen to encourage relevant detail. I ended up adding in a lot of what I’d cut out to please my previous agent and Empire of Dust grew from 123,000 words to 171,000 words between submission and publication.
What themes do you address in Empire of Dust?

The broad theme is trust and betrayal, but there are lots of strands which include corporate over-growth, colonialism, personal freedom, and of course it’s all told via a very personal story because themes affect characters. Megacorporations, more powerful than any individual planetary government, even that of Earth, are racing each other to establish colonies and gobble up resources, using as their agents psi-techs, humans implanted with telepath technology, who are bound to the megacorps – if they want to retain their sanity. Empire of Dust is the story of what happens when two psi-techs from rival megacorps (Cara Carlinni and Reska (Ben) Benjamin) both fall foul of their respective bosses and hook up. What happens next turns into a galaxy-spanning manhunt and endangers a new colony. It’s fast-paced with a twisty plot. I had a whale of a time writing it.
Are you treating us to any short stories anywhere?

I don’t write many short stories because writing novels takes up pretty much all of my writing time, but I do have a few published recently. My story, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda”, came out in Nature Magazine in 2011 and was also done as a podcast and republished in the Futures 2 anthology in August 2014. Then it was translated into Galician for the Spanish magazine Nova Fantasia, and has been bought for the online publication, Buzzy Mag for 2015. I’ve just sold a short ghost story, “Last Train”, to Grievous Angel, again for publication in 2015, and I have a short-short story, “Root and Branch”, out in the September 2014 issue of Albedo One, the Irish SF magazine. There’s a list of story publications on my website including some upcoming ones. I can particularly recommend the anthology River, edited by Alma Alexander, which contains my story, Floodlust.

I used to be very bad at sending out my short stories. I would send out a batch and then gradually they would come back in with rejection slips (or sometimes sell, of course) and then they’d sit on my hard drive where they weren’t any use at all until the next time I worked up enthusiasm to submit them all again. My Milford buddy, Deborah Walker, has a motto which is ‘Submit until your fingers bleed.’ She’s inspired me to make sure that as soon as a story is rejected by one magazine or anthology I send it out to another, so my stories are always out there looking for a home. Unsurprisingly I’ve actually sold a lot more stories since I started following Deb’s advice. It’s the writer equivalent of ‘If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.’ I use the Submission Grinder at Diabolical Plots to research suitable markets and track submissions and then I back it up with my own database to I know exactly where all my stories have been. I’ve just sent Crossways off to my editor, so I have a few weeks before I get the editorial comments back. Maybe it’s time to write a couple of short stories. Watch this spaceâ€

Twitter: @jaceybedford



Book buy links: Kindle edition

Barnes and Noble / Nook

The Book Depository


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: Toni Weisskopf

WeisskopfCARL SLAUGHTER: Let’s start with some business questions, especially about ebooks, the first one being very open ended. How has Baen’s adapted during the ebook revolution and what has been the result?

TONI WEISSKOPF: Baen joined the ebook revolution very early on; we published our first ebooks in 1999. Jim Baen (and our webmaster at the time, Arnold Bailey) listened to our readers, so we quickly settled on the best way to deliver ebooks to our customers, at a price point they would accept. We helped create the market for ebooks with our CDs full of free ebooks bound into first edition hardcovers. And with our Baen Free Library, we made it very easy for people to understand how to download and use ebooks. And we still do.


Do most ebooks sell through retail, direct mail, or downloads?

Through retail outlets like, Amazon, B& and so on.


Does every book have a hardcover, paperback, and ebook version? Are they published in a certain order? Are they ever published simultaneously?

No, not necessarily. Sometimes a book is a paperback original, and only later gets a hardcover edition, like Mike Williamson’s Freehold or Eric Flint’s first novel, Mother to Demons. We have two modes of ebook delivery: pre-pub, in which we sell both the EARCs and the serialized Webscription books of the month. Then post-pub, when both the paper book and ebook edition are available simultaneously.


Which version sells more copies? Which version is more profitable for the publisher? Which version is more profitable for the author?

Entirely depends on the book and the times.

Does a manuscript get to the reader faster because it’s in electronic form?



How many copies of a book do you need to sell to break even?

Another question that depends on so many variables,it’s a different number for each title.

Exactly how many sales constitutes a best seller?

Also a sliding scale, depending on what other books were published that month, that week, that day.


Has Baen been affected by the self publishing revolution?

Probably, in that some authors go directly to self-pub and we don’t see their submissions. But I also know many authors who do both. So perhaps not all that much.


Now some writer questions. Are there any subgenres you are specifically looking for, any you definitely don’t accept, any you like but get too much of, any you like but don’t get enough of?

We are always looking for strong stories, whatever the subgenre. Of course we publish only science fiction and fantasy.


Looking through the catalogs of the speculative fiction imprints, I notice an awful lot of trilogies and series. Is this the order of the day? Or has this always been the case?

There is such a large investment in a writer’s time to create a world, a future history, a magical system, that often they discover that more than one story can be told. And the same is true of the reader’s time, getting invested in a world. So it’s inherent to the genre.


Is a trilogy/series more commercially viable/safer than a string of stand alones?

Depends on the author.


When you sign a contract with an author, is it for a single manuscript, a certain number of books, or a certain amount of time?

Either a single book or a certain number of books. Again, depends on the author, how much experience he or she has had, what our experience of working with the author is like, and so on.

About how many manuscript submissions per year do you receive?



What percentage of those manuscripts do you buy from debut authors?

We buy on average 1-2 new-to-Baen authors a year.


Do you prefer an author with a resume of several short stories and maybe an award or two, or is the decision based solely on the manuscript?

Those other things don’t hurt, but the decision to buy is based solely on manuscript.


What are the most frequent questions you receive from writers at conventions/workshops?

While most people are there to hone their craft, a few, perhaps optimists, are looking for a magic bullet, the secret thing that will shoot them to the top of the bestseller lists right away. If there is such a thing, I don’t know what it is. Some people ask, what are you looking for now? But the answer is always the same: great stories of science fiction and fantasy. If you say vampires or space opera or unicorn zombies, you will always be chasing a trend. I’d rather see what most excites you now.

What are common misconceptions writers have about editing and publishing?

Perceptions of time. Things take longer than they think, from typesetting to marketing and sales promotion.

What are the most common manuscript mistakes authors make?

Computer screen formatting instead of double-spaced, no line breaks between paragraphs. Oh, and not numbering the pages. We need a running head or footer with page number, last name of author and enough of the title to identify it, if say the printed manuscript the editor is reading gets mixed with some other manuscript. I’m not saying that’s happened to me,but it’s happened to me.


Advice to aspiring writers?

Pastiches, fan fiction, and homages are a great way to hone your craft. But at some point you will want to find your own voice, and write about what moves you most.



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: Betsy Wollheim

625529_576885235658092_918951020_nBetsy Wollheim has an advantage unique in speculative fiction book publishing. She is owner, editor, and publisher of DAW and it is a private company. She recently won her first Hugo for Best Editor. She tells Diabolical Plots what she wants and doesn’t want from authors.


CARL SLAUGHTER: DAW has been described as a place to pursue a career, not just to get published. What happens at DAW that makes authors want to call it their home?

BETSY WOLLHEIM: DAW is a family business, we don’t publish by committee, and we consider our authors part of our publishing family. As a small company, we can’t compete in the “who will pay me the highest advance this time around” game. Not to say that we can’t or don’t pay large, competitive advances, we do, but they tend to be to authors who are loyal to our company. Sheila and I work too hard and care too much to publish authors who change publishing houses with each book or series. We want to know that our work will pay off in years to come for both the company and our authors. We’re in it for the long run and we want our authors to be also.


CS: You’ve described Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name on the Wind as the most brilliant first fantasy novel you’ve seen in 30 years. What is it about The Name on the Wind that distinguishes it from other first time fantasy novels?

BW: Prefer not to answer this question, if you don’t mind. After 40 years, you just know when you find something that is extraordinary.


CS: Are there any subgenres you are specifically looking for, any you definitely don’t accept, any you like but get too much of, any you like but don’t get enough of?

BW: I look for gripping writing, not specific subgenres. For me, it’s about the quality of writing.


CS: How many novel manuscripts submissions do you receive per year? How many of those submitted manuscripts do you buy? How many novels a year do you publish by first time novelists?

BW: Many, many, many submissions–electronic and paper. I don’t count them for sanity reasons. I *hope* to find many new novelists. I’m always happy when I find someone new–the more new good writers the better, I would publish a new author every month if I found one worthy. Most submissions have sub-par, not professional level writing, unfortunately.


CS: Do you read every manuscript or use slush readers?

BW: My staff pre-sifts the slush–I have far too much work, and unfortunately no clone.


CS: Are you hands on with revision? How extensive and how long is the revision process?

BW: How extensive depends on the novel and the author. Rewrites can take years, or not be needed at all and everything in between. Yes, I’m hands on.


CS: How far are you willing to go with a diamond in the rough, whether that diamond be the author or the story?

BW: As far as I need to. When I find a diamond in the rough, I will do whatever it takes if I feel that someone has the potential. I put Pat Rothfuss in the #1 New York Times slot with his second published novel.


CS: Do you meet with would-be novelists at conventions? How do you prefer to be approached? Verbal pitch, written pitch, sample chapters, full manuscript? Do you quiz the author about the story? Give them a yes or no answer on the spot or get back with them?

BW: I’ve always thought that “pitches” belong in Hollywood. To publish a novel, the editor has to have the entire thing. If a person has talent and willingness, any problematic aspect can be changed, but if a person can’t maintain for the length of a novel, he or she is not a novelist. Anyone can come up with a pitch. Show me the entire book. Anything else is useless. No, I would never meet with a “would-be” novelist. If you haven’t actually completed a full length work, you have no right to call yourself a novelist! The only “pitches” I consider are from my already published authors–they can sell me a book or a series with one sentence!


CS: What are the most frequent questions you receive from writers at conventions/workshops?

BW: What are you looking for? To which I respond: “professional quality writing.”


CS: Advice to aspiring writers?

BW: Join a writer’s group. Don’t be defensive about criticism. Don’t try to write like someone else. Write from inside you.


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: Eric Laster

Eric LasterEric Laster is a YA author, former ghost writer, and orphan/homeless advocate. Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior is the first of a trilogy.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Before publishing your own book, you were a YA ghostwriter. What are some of the YA novels you worked on?

ERIC LASTER: Actually, I published one book under my own name, through Simon & Schuster, entitled The Adventures of Erasmus Twiddle, which is what led to my being hired as a ghostwriter. I’m not legally allowed to disclose specifically what YA novels I ghosted because I signed an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). What I can tell you: I ghosted a fantasy trilogy, two volumes of which perched awhile on the New York Times YA bestseller list. More recently, and unrelated to YA, I worked as the unacknowledged ghost/credited editor of a lush photography book entitled 108 Rock Star Guitars by Lisa S. Johnson, the soft-cover of which comes out in November (obviously, I did not sign a NDA).


Does an author provide a ghostwriter with a synopsis, an outline, a rough draft manuscript, recorded dictation of ideas? Do you meet with the author for a question and answer session? What type of communication and how much communication goes on between a ghostwriter and the author about what the author wants to accomplish with the novel?

I can, of course, only describe how the process worked for me. When I first met the credited author of the YA stuff I ghosted, she told me the plot outline of what would become the first book in a trilogy. After hearing the outline, I said that it sounded as if she knew the broad gestures of the plot, but little else. Yes, she knew the main characters’ general backstories, but she didn’t have a single scene in which characters spoke or interacted with one another, and I said that she’d have to be okay with me making all of it up. Once we came to terms and everything was official (she hired me, not a publisher), I received notes on various elements of the book’s invented world,weapons, means of travel, that sort of thing. In addition to changing some of the given characters’ backstories, I wound up conceiving of a number of my own weapons, characters, and creatures.

Incidentally, though I didn’t say this to the credited author at the time, I suspected at the outset that the broad gestures of the plot would not fully remain once the characters were going about their business. For me, in this kind of writing, there’s a rhythm to a plot or story, which is dictated by what seems natural for characters to think or do, and which is set going once the writing starts. It’s best to listen to that rhythm rather than superimpose a structure onto their doings. If an element of a preconceived plot works,great. If it doesn’t, forget it. So the first book I ghosted did not follow the original outline, though many of the most important broad strokes remained. For book two of the trilogy, I was left alone,meaning that no plot points were discussed beforehand, no ideas bandied about until I’d already started writing. For book three, I made a concerted effort to involve the credited author more in discussions of plot, etc. But in general, for all three books, I would send new chapters every several weeks or so, and we would then discuss them. I was very lucky in that she seemed to like the choices I made. Overall, we had an excellent relationship and are now friends, though we both admit to sometimes feeling weird about the whole thing. Publishers weren’t keen to have both of our names on the books. A proper, exhaustive credit for the trilogy would be: story by credited author and me, written by me.

We did have some rough patches in the beginning. I mistakenly assumed that because I was being well paid, I had to write whatever she told me to write. At one of our earliest meetings, after she’d read some chapters, she suggested a change that I didn’t agree with. “I’m not going to do that,” I said, being really impolitic, and to which she didn’t take kindly. I thought I would quit and return the advance I’d received. We talked it through: as long as I truly listened to and entertained her suggestions, I didn’t have to use them, provided I made a good case for why I wouldn’t. But sometimes what seems (or is) a bad editorial suggestion leads you unexpectedly to good results. You start asking yourself what about the story caused the suggestion to be made in the first place. If you can find the answer to that question, and rewrite the manuscript to pre-emptively counter it (the revision is pretty much never the original bad suggestion), the rewrite,at least for me, so far,is often an improvement.

It’s important to note that when I was hired, since there was no manuscript, there was as yet no publishing deal. A deal was secured only after I’d completed approximately 150 pages of a manuscript. The verbal pitch to editors had always been excellent, but they wanted to see the quality of the writing before making an offer.

What did the credited author want to accomplish with this project? She had a great, commercial conceit that she wanted to see fleshed out as a legitimate narrative. Not being a writer, and realizing that a great conceit wasn’t enough, she went looking for someone who could pen the books, which have become the Big Bang, as it were, of an imagined universe that has now expanded across a variety of media platforms. Sorry to sound like a marketing guy, but it’s true.


Why did you decide to switch from ghoster to author?

As mentioned earlier, I had published under my own name before becoming a ghost. But much as I’d never set out to write for children,Erasmus Twiddle was marketed as “middle-grade” fiction; it came into being after I wrote a paragraph in a voice I didn’t know I was capable of,I never planned on becoming a ghostwriter. I agreed to do it as an experiment, wanting to be less reverential toward what I commit to paper (and yes, I write on actual paper). Not that I ever wished to take less care with what I write. I wanted confidence that, when pressed to revise, I could conceive of word/sentence/plot variants at least as interesting as what I’d originally set down,even more, I wanted to develop the professional habit of always (up to a point!) questioning my choices so as to arrive at more nuanced, more revealing, more fun or dramatic. Five years as a ghost completed, I was eager to publish under my own name again. And while I enjoy writing things like Welfy Q. and YA, I’m simultaneously at work on material for an older crowd.


Why did you choose an orphan as a main character?

Welfy Q. pokes gentle fun at the standard conventions of sci-fi while exploiting them. Welfy is the “prophesied one” in an alien world. I thought the pithiest, most dramatic way to counterbalance this was to make him an orphan, a runaway from the foster care system, a kid who has never been the one chosen for adoption by prospective parents. Plus, I think it’s heroic for anyone, but especially a young person, to survive in the face of misfortune, neglect, systematic indifference, or undeserved hostility.


Eric Laster cover artWhat are themes/messages you want young people to take away from this story?

I don’t think about infusing messages into the fiction that I write. With Welfy Q., themes and motifs developed the further I got into the story. Once the book was finished, I teased out and/or tightened certain narrative threads, motifs, themes. But as to what, specifically, I want young,or any,people to take from this story, I have no answer. What I read in Welfy Q. is not what others will read. The most I hope for is that people find the book both fun and, for one reason or another emotionally resonant. Obviously, I have certain beliefs, an ethical code, and there are subjects about which I feel strongly and am drawn to explore; I wouldn’t be human if these things didn’t find their way into my writing.


Some of the characters’ names are Nnnn and Ffff and Grrrmmph. Is this just for fun or is there a method to it?

It’s “Grrrrmmph” with four r’s. The names are a nod to the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, whose book Cosmicomics features characters with the names “Llll” and “Qfwfq.” Besides, it’s fun to hear Siri stutter over them on an iPhone or iPad. Nor does it seem unreasonable to assume that what we as earthlings might consider goofy names are, elsewhere, to alien ears, not at all goofy. We hear “Ann” and think it’s perfectly normal, but to citizens of distant worlds it might sound just as odd as “Nnnn” does to us.


Some of the aliens say things like “gxo rlimoi Tryndian kcjcio,” “am gxo jcml lr gxo Tryndian,” “xoi jlicgalm ah ilmraimol.” Again, is this just for fun or is there a method to it?

Both. The alien language in the book (less than one page total) is not random. It’s a code, systematically translatable into English. As to the rest of the above quotations, here are the translations: “gxo rlimoi Tryndian kcjcio” means “the former Tryndian palace,” the Tryndian being an alien race. “Am gxo jcml lr gxo Tryndian” translates to “in the land of the Tryndian,” and “xoi jlicgalm ah ilmraimol” translates to “her location is confirmed.” Besides patterns in the alienspeak (the repetition of “gxo,” for example), the book contains further clues that the Brundeedle language can be translated,alienspeak followed by its English equivalent.

I don’t think it’s necessary to translate any of the alienspeak to enjoy the story, if readers don’t want to. Again, the total amount of Brundeedle dialogue takes up less than one page of the entire book. It just seemed wrong to have the aliens automatically speaking English when Welfy first appears among them. Often, bi-linguists will revert to their original language when voicing asides, etc. Why should the Brundeedles be different? But because I’m not a linguist and cannot, like Mr. Tolkien, invent an entire language, I decided to have the Brundeedles’ “gibberish” be a code, which kids who are so inclined can decipher. I had a bit of fun with some of what the aliens say in this code, knowing that only a special group of readers would ever likely decipher it.

The first-edition paperback and Welfy Q. ebook don’t explain any of this, by the way. I was leaving it to readers to figure out on their own. Nor are certain Brundeedle letters underlined or otherwise differentiated with asterisks and the like, as they are in the second edition, to help ease translation. But I’ve included a page at the end of the second-edition paperback that explains the Brundeedle language. It reads:

Out of the seventeen English letters that constitute the Brundeedle language, nine of them look as if they can stand for two different letters in English. For instance, an “a” in Brundeedle might either translate to an English “i” or “z.” To determine which English letter the Brundeedle “a” represents, you need to see if it is underlined. Thus, “a” in Brundeedle equals an English “i,” whereas “a” in Brundeedle translates to a “z” in English. Exceptions to this underline rule are “g” and “j.” A plain “g” is equivalent to an English “t,” but the same letter with an asterisk,”g*”,is equivalent to an English “k.” A plain “j” is equivalent to an English “l,” but if the same letter appears as “˘j” (note the strange smiley mark!), then it is equivalent to an English “q.” Proper nouns (names of people, places, creatures) are not translated.


twiddle-380x624Are there going to be further adventures of Welfy?

Yes, at least two more books, which I’m currently in the process of writing. But it’s very likely that a different book of mine will be published first. Tentatively titled Aftereffects, it’s a coming-of-age story cum murder mystery, complete with meds, young love/lust, family dysfunction, and an afterlife Walmart. In 2015, I’ll be at BEA and numerous Comicons, both to promote Welfy Q. and to build anticipation for Aftereffects prior to its publication.


Tell us about your involvement with orphans and homeless.

At present my involvement is minimal, and though I’ll be traveling a fair amount next year, I hope to rectify that somehow. Previously, I volunteered as a teacher in a Los Angeles literacy program. I grew up in New York City, where the homeless are omnipresent and yet willed into invisibility by those hurrying past them on the streets. Los Angeles too has a large homeless population. I have been around the homeless and hungry for as long as I can remember, and I have a BIG problem with the most vulnerable members of a population,kids,being punished by society because they got a less than stellar draw in the birth-lottery. Consider this dilemma: you’ve told me that some of the orphans you work with are cynical, and suspicious of do-gooders who appear in their midst, because they know that these do-gooders will soon abandon them. But are the do-gooders any less well-meaning because they vanished? Unlikely. They are, I trust, doing what they can, and very few people are able to devote a large portion of their lives to helping strangers, however much they might want to. Yet I don’t blame the kids for being wary of part-time do-gooders. If they haven’t had a stable homelife, or consistent emotional support from dedicated sources, how can they be expected to accept that fleeting emotional attachments to supportive individuals, largely strangers, are better than no attachments at all? How can it not seem just a cruel tease, a reminder of what they haven’t had, especially when hardships have conditioned sentiment out of them as a means of survival? My involvement with orphans and the homeless is a work-in-progress. On, I maintain an ever-expanding list of resources for people in need. Suggestions to add to the list are always welcome.


Got any advice to aspiring YA writers?

Read, persevere, read, persevere.


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.