Niche Games: Katamari Damacy

<Coming up soon in Fantasy Magazine is a series of articles written by me, about something I call “niche games”. None of them have been posted there yet, but here’s a sneak peek. This article will only appear here on Diabolical Plots, and will perhaps whet your appetite for more over at Fantasy.>

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Katamari Damacy, released in 2004 by Namco, is easily one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. The title translates to something like “clump spirit”, which is as accurate as anything, I suppose. The game begins when the King of All Cosmos (a strange deity with a gigantic codpiece and a carpet-roll for a head) goes on a bit of a binge and eats all of the stars, constellations, and the moon. Now it is your responsibility, as his son, to correct his mistake. How you ask? By the use of magical objects called katamari.

If you don’t ever pick up the game, at least check out the theme song. It is so weird, but I find it hilarious, and it never ever gets old.

Katamari are balls of various sizes which are supernaturally sticky. They can pick up anything that is realatively small compared to them, and I do mean anything. When the game begins, the first katamari is very tiny, only about an inch across. Right away you can pick up tiny objects like push pins and buttons simply by running into them. They stick to the ball and increase the diameter by a little bit. But if you try to pick up slightly larger items, like mice or tape dispensers, then the katamari will just bounce harmlessly off of them.

As your diameter increases, so does your ability to pick up larger and larger items. From buttons to staplers to bananas to pumpkins to people to cars and so on. I must admit, I giggled like a schoolgirl when I picked up my first human. The poor child was stuck to the side of the Katamari, legs wiggling until he was buried in other stuff (mostly also wiggling people). When each level begins, you are given a time limit and an objective size. You must reach that minimum size. If you do reach that size in time, then another level is unlocked, and so on. As the levels go on, both the starting size and goal size of the katamari increase, as does the scope of the level.

The controls in the game are quite simple, all based on the use of the two joysticks on the PS2 controller. If you push both sticks up, then you push the Katamari forward. If you pull them both back, you pull the Katamari backward. If you pull one forward and one back, your little guy rotates around the ball, swiveling the perspective. The only difficult control is the speed boost. If you tap both joysticks from up to down repeatedly and simultaneously, you’ll get a sudden boost of speed that launches you forward. You will need this from time to time. The Katamari has mass and must obey the laws of gravity, so a steep slope may be impossible to conquer without the speed boost.

You can’t die in the game. If you do take a big knock from something larger than you, then chunks fly off your katamari, shrinking its size and flinging it far, far away. Most of the time you’re more or less spherical, but if you pick up an oblong object it will affect your ability to roll, making you lopsided and ungainly until you pick up some more swag to even yourself out.

The time limit on each level keeps things interesting and exciting. Even when I replay levels I’ve played it’s not a foregone conclusion that I will pass it again. It all depends on what area of the level you take, so you learn as you play to remember where the most pick-up items are. As the timer gets close to the bottom I’m always rushing from place to place trying to find a last few items. By that time I’ve cleared out all the obvious ones and it’s a matter of picking up the items on the periphery.

The last levels are especially cool just because of the sheer size. In those levels you START at a size of a couple meters, and become a monster of epic proportions, getting so large that you not only are picking up buildings, but freighters, islands, eventually even clouds from the sky once you’re big enough to touch them while touching the ground. The greatest strength of the game is it’s ability to scale the world smoothly so that in such a level you never notice the growth, it happens so gradually it just seems natural.

There are some features which enhance replayability. If you reach your size goal in a level before the time limit you can choose to keep going, growing larger and larger, and can try to get a record for the largest size in each level. Also, outside of the levels, there is a collectibles screen which has a short description of everything you’ve absorbed into a Katamari. This is actually fun sometimes, because many of the items are Japanese food items that I’d never heard of, so this lets you learn tidbits of Japanese culture. Also, in many or all of the levels, you have cousins hiding out, litting guys with funny shaped heads. If you collect them then you can use them as playable characters in multiplayer modes. Also, there are presents left for you by the King of the Cosmos that you can try to find. The presents are things the prince can wear, such as a guitar strapped over his back or a hat. They don’t affect gameplay, but they’re a cut little customizable thing. And all of these things still have time limits, so you’ve got to manage it in the time allotted.

Finding a copy of Katamari Damacy shouldn’t be hard. A quick eBay search finds a brand new sealed copy for a Buy It Now price of $10. That is well worth this weird gem of a game.

Fantasy Magazine is looking for slush readers

Fantasy Magazine is looking for slush readers. The job is unpaid, but would definitely carry some benefits. The main drawback is that Fantasy would be unable to publish your fiction if you ended up with the job. That’s a deal-breaker for me, because breaking a story into Fantasy Magazine is one of my major goals, but if you don’t write fiction or you are okay with cutting one magazine off your submissions list, you might want to give it a try!

Like a Moth to Flame: Jordan Lapp

headshot1-244x300Jordan Lapp is a writer who has won the first prize of the prestigious Writers of the Future (WotF) contest. Only writers very early in their career are eligible: after a few publications you are disqualified. Don’t let the fact that the entrants are mostly unpublished lull you into thinking that winning is easy. Competition is fierce, and winning is a major event which can often act as a launching point for a writer’s career. Past winners have included Nina Kiriki Hoffman, David Wolverton, K.D. Wentworth, Eric Flint, Patrick Rothfuss, J. Kathleen Cheney, and countless others whose careers have all grown in leaps and bounds after winning. Keep your eye out for Jordan.

Besides winning the Writers of the Future contest, Jordan is also the editor of Every Day Fiction, which publishes a new flash fiction story, 1000 words or fewer, every day.

He has also recently attended the Clarion West writer’s workshop, which is an accomplishment in itself.ÂÂ Jordan has blogged about both Clarion West and the Writers of the Future workshop and awards ceremony on his site Without Really Trying.

David Steffen: In your own words, could you tell us a bit about “After the Final Sunset, Again”, your winning story?

Jordan Lapp: Certainly. The central character of “After the Final Sunset, Again” is a creature called the Phoenix, who is a kind of demi-god that exists to further humanity’s goals from the grandest scale right down to the personal level. Every morning a new Phoenix is birthed from the ashes of its predecessor, assembling a personality by copying and internalizing memories from surrounding humans, and is then sent into the world to accomplish specific goals. On this particular day, one of the humans who is “donating” memories dies at the moment of the Phoenix’s conception, thus giving her a sense of her own mortality, something no other Phoenix has ever had to confront. Thus, she eschews her “duties” in favour of finding a way to survive past sunset, thus setting the story in motion.

David: I always like to hear story origins. What triggered the idea for this particular story?

Jordan: Mortality is a recurring theme in my work. I’m fascinated by the tale of the ant and the grasshopper. In the fable, the ant works hard all summer storing away supplies for the winter, while the grasshopper spends the days dancing and playing on his fiddle. When winter arrives, the ant is safe in his home with plenty of food, while the grasshopper is left to starve in the cold. I always ask myself, what if the ant had died at the end of the summer? Would he have envied the grasshopper? In this particular tale, I asked “how exactly can we achieve true immortality”? To answer myself, I created a character with the shortest possible lifespan and had her wrestle with the question.

David: With this huge milestone reached, now what? What are your goals, hopes, dreams?

Jordan: I spoke a lot about this with the judges at Writers of the Future, all of whom are award-winning writers. Universally, their advice was to write a novel. Not a one suggested I keep writing shorts. I’ve now got enough credit to attract some attention, so I should capitalize on it by writing a novel, they said. When people like Rob Sawyer and Dave Wolverton tell you to write a novel, you pretty much have to do it.

David: The last winner, Patrick Lundrigan, submitted 21 times before winning. How many times did you submit before you won? How were your results–had you made semi-finalists and finalist before?

Jordan: My 1st place winner was my 7th entry to the contest. Previously, I had one non-placer, three Honorable Mentions, and two Semi-Finalists. Interestingly enough, KD Wentworth identified the same weakness in both of my Semi-Finalist critiques (unsympathetic protagonist). I worked on this aspect of my craft, and won not long after. I believe my non-placing entry was because I failed to follow one of the unspoken (and unwritten, unless you know where to look) rules of the contest: You must have speculative content on your first page or two.

David: When you dropped this story in the mailbox, could you tell that it was different than your previous entries, or did it feel the same?

Jordan: I actually made myself cry at the end of this story. And I still do every time I read it. This is what we call a Good Sign. I knew it was better than anything I’d written before by a fairly significant margin, but of course, I didn’t have any idea it would place. In fact, when I re-read it after Joni called me to tell me it was a finalist, all I could see were the flaws. Goes to show you that writers are their own worst critics.

David: Has winning opened new doors? Do you get more positive responses on short story submission? Have publishers or agents approached you?

Jordan: Yes and no. “After the Final Sunset, Again” was really a bit of a fluke in terms of story quality. Until recently, I wasn’t sure how to duplicate it. It took a stint at Clarion West to show me where I needed to shore up my craft. I’m only now turning out pieces that I feel equal it in quality.

Attending the workshop has opened more doors for me than the actual story. First, I’m discussing doing a graphic novel with Luke Eidenschink, the illustrator of Matt Rotundo’s story “Gone Black”. When his illustration was revealed, I commented that it was very true to the style you see in graphic novels. He confessed that he wanted to produce one, and he’d written a few stories, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about them. I mused that it would be nice if he could team up with a writer. He asked if I knew any, and the rest is history.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Steve Savile at the workshop, a previous winner. Steve has written 23 novels in the six years since he won, and offered to take a look at our novels once we’d written them. If he likes them, he’s offered to introduce us to a few editors. Many of the other judges made the same offer.

David: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Jordan: I suppose I always knew I wanted to be a writer. When did I know I wanted to give it a serious go? About four years ago I met Andy LeBlanc, a friend of a friend, and a brilliant writer. At the time, I thought I was good. Andy showed me what good was supposed to be. I’ve spent the last four years trying to equal him. At this point, I still think I have a ways to go.

David: Do you think being the editor of Every Day Fiction gave you insight into how to improve your own writing?

Jordan: Yes and No. Yes, you learn what not to do from stories that you reject in the first paragraph. However, there comes a point where reading slush actually hurts you. For instance, there have been a few ideas that I would have liked to develop that I’ve shelved because I’ve seen similar work in the slush. If I hadn’t edited EDF, I wouldn’t even have known those stories existed and thus been free to develop those ideas on my own. Also, I’m a strong advocate of learning from writers who are better than you. If you don’t know any, read “Best-Of” Anthologies. As a slush editor, the vast majority of the submitted work is unpublishable, and therefore of little good to my development as a writer.

On the other hand, if you’ve never done it, I recommend reading slush. It shows you how you stack up as a writer, gives you an eye on the competition. It also shows you how common vampire stories really are, and that you should NEVER EVER WRITE ONE. My recommendation is to read slush for a year or two, learn all you can, then leave it behind.

David: Now that you’ve been through both the WotF workshop and the Clarion workshop, how has your writing changed? What’s the most significant difference? Attitude? Skill?

Jordan: I was the first writer ever to win Writers of the Future and THEN attend Clarion West. Usually it works the other way around. At the time, I knew that the Phoenix was a fluke and that there was a definite weakness in my writing, but I didn’t know what it was. Turns out my characterization was weak. “After the Final Sunset, Again” had won because the Phoenix was such a strong character. Since Clarion West, I’ve been turning out stories with very strong characters, and I think my writing has improved dramatically as a result.

David: How did you react when you found out you were a finalist? When you found out you’d won?

Jordan: I was on my honeymoon with my wife when I got Joni Labaqui’s message. I made a beeline for my hotel room and screamed my brains out. Apparently, those rooms aren’t soundproof.

I found out that I won while I was at work an interminable month later. I’d practically gone nuts figuring out my odds of placing (37.5%), and evaluating and re-evaluating my story. When Joni finally phoned, I screamed my brains out. Apparently, my office isn’t soundproof either.

David: You also attended Clarion West in the past month or two, an application-based writer’s workshop. Any advice for getting in?

Jordan: This is a fairly tough question. My application story was my Writers of the Future winning story, so that certainly didn’t hurt my application (though they didn’t know it had won when I submitted it). They also ask for an application essay, but admission is judged solely on the basis of that story.

What they’re looking for are writers that are at a place where they know the basics, but need a small push to send them over the edge. To that end, write a challenging story. Have a unique voice. Have something to say. Fantasy is the perpetually undiscovered country. Blaze a trail into the wilderness and stake a claim.

David: Are there any stories coming up in Every Day Fiction that you’re particularly looking forward to?

Jordan: To be honest, Camille Gooderham Campbell has taken over most of the day-to-day responsibilities at EDF. Between Clarion West and Writers of the Future I’ve been run off my feet with writerly responsibilities. My role has become more promotional. To that end, I’m working on a few ideas that I hope will really boost the magazine’s profile.

David: Is there anything you’d like to see more in the slush pile of Every Day Fiction?

Jordan: Original work. Lord, don’t send us another vampire story. You know, we never get enough genre work, or rather, what we do get is generally of poor quality. I suppose this is because, with the amount of space that must be devoted to setting, writing sympathetic characters becomes an exercise in word management. Because of this, a well-written horror, fantasy, or science fiction piece jumps off the page at us.

David: If you could only give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Jordan: Find writers who are better than you are and learn from them. In person is better, but if you don’t know any and live someplace remote, study Best-Of anthologies. Finish everything you write, send your work out, and never give up.

David: What’s your favorite thing to do that’s not related to writing?

Jordan: Spending time with my wife. I was lucky enough to meet a loving, supportive woman who encourages me to pursue my passions. When I’m not writing, we’re generally bike riding, watching movies, renovating our house, and generally laughing our way through life.

David: If you could meet any fictional character in person, who would it be?

Jordan: I can’t think of a single one. The problem is that if a writer is doing a good job, what they’ve created on the page can never be equaled by a face to face meeting. On the page you have direct access to a character’s innermost thoughts and emotions. After that kind of experience, a direct meeting would feel so limiting.

David: What was the last book you read?

Jordan: I’m halfway through dozens of books, mostly by Clarion West instructors or Writers of the Future judges. Of course, the last book I’ve read–as of this interview–is Writers of the Future XXV itself. To be honest, I’ve read several previous volumes and always found a couple of stories that I flat out wouldn’t have picked to be in the anthology, but that’s not so this time. Of course, I’m probably biased, but this year is the strongest one I’ve read. My prediction is that at least one story will find its way into a Best-Of anthology.

David: Your favorite book?

Jordan: I’ve been reading a lot of shorts these days. Of those, “The Monkey” by Stephen King is the only story I’ve ever read that scared the daylights out of me. It was in the anthology “Dark Descent” edited by David G Hartwell which should be required reading for any writer of short fiction. In terms of novel length works, Lloyd Alexander’s “Taran Wanderer” will always hold a special place in my heart. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Card’s Ender’s Game, and The Scar by China Mieville are all excellent for different reasons.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Jordan: I don’t really have “favourite authors” so much as favourite stories. I suppose the last writer to absolutely blow my mind was Stephen King with his Gunslinger novels. One of the greatest things about the first book in King’s opus was the opening line, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger pursued.” That, perhaps, is the most powerful first line I’ve ever read. The whole novel is contained in that line.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Jordan: Ugh. It was “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp. The movie was terrible in terms of both the writing and the cinematography. As far as good movies, it was “Once Upon a Time In the West”. Andy LeBlanc and I are making a study of classic films to see what made them work, and perhaps incorporate those qualities into our own writing. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing Western influences in my upcoming work.

David: What is your favorite movie?

Jordan: I have several favourite movies. The Last Unicorn is amazing because I enjoyed it for the artwork and fantasy elements as a child, and now love it as an adult because of its incredible depth. The book, by Peter S. Beagle is an absolute masterpiece. I also liked TRON (I took up a career as a video game programmer because of this movie), The Prestige, The Sixth Sense, and Watership Downs (though the book is far, far better. Maybe the best ever written in the English language). Generally I love movies that are challenging in terms of theme, or that have excellent kung-fu. I suppose in that Venn Diagram, the Matrix lies squarely in the middle.

David: Do you have any works in progress that you’d like to tell us about?

Jordan: I’m currently adapting my winning Writers of the Future story into a novel (in the outlining stages). I’ve also placed work in the Time in a Bottle Anthology, and recently written the foreword of Michael Ehart’s excellent novel “Tears of Ishtar”. Michael is a good friend and excellent writer of Sword and Sorcery a la Howard or Moorcock, and I was flattered to receive the invitation to write the foreword.

David: Thank you for taking the time for the interview, Jordan. I can’t wait to read the new volume of Writers of the Future.

Also, thank you to Frank Dutkiewicz and Anthony Sullivan for your contributions to this interview.

Dragon*Con report by Lou Anders

<This report is reprinted from Lou’s blog>

This past Labor Day weekend was my very first time attending Dragon*Con as a publishing professional, and really my first “real” time at all. I say first “real” time because I went three years ago for a single day to see Jetse de Vries, who was there at the time with Interzone. I spent most of it with him at his table, watching the crowd pass him by for the guy next to him installing vampire teeth (at $60 a pair, using the same dental instrument and, seemingly, not bothering to clean it between applications). I left with the (mistaken) impression that it was a weird goth con with nothing to offer the book trade. I came back when Mike Resnick and others kept telling me that I had it wrong, and what’s more, the percentage of people there aware of and interested in books was growing every year, both in the demographics of the attendees and among the organizers.

So I was there with a specific agenda, which was to see if it was a place that Pyr books needs to be in future.

So in that light: Forget the 30,000-40,000 plus attendees or whatever the head count ends up being. I was personally most impressed by the number of publishing professionals there. Authors like Kevin J Anderson, Michael Stackpole, Gene Wolfe, Walter Jon Williams, Eric Flint, John Ringo, Alan Dean Foster, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mike Resnick, Aleathea Kontis, Todd McCaffrey, Scott Sigler, Josepha Sherman, James Maxey, Catherine Asaro, Gail Z Martin, SM Stirling. And many more I didn’t run into, such as Peter S Beagle, JF Lewis, Jody Lynn Nye, Christopher Golden, Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, Cherie Priest, Susan Sizemore, CL Wilson, Janny Wurts, Timothy Zahn, and Lois McMaster Bujold. (I’m leaving people out too, but the sheer number of famous/award-winning/best-selling authors in this list makes it comparable to a major literary con already.)

Then there was the art show – in a HUGE and very HIGH CEILING-ED space, and featuring artists like Bob Eggleton, Don Maitz, Rick Sternbach, and William Stout.

And then the publishers that were there – Editors like Ginger Buchanan (Ace/Roc), Pablo Defendini (, Stacy Hague Hill (Tor), Paul Stevens (Tor), Jennifer Heddle (Pocket), Toni Weisskopf (Baen), Steven H Segal (Weird Tales), Jason M Watlz (Rogue Blades), and of course Yours Truly representing Pyr books.

As to how all these publishing folk were being received, I myself spoke on three panels and did one live podcast (thanks, Mur!). The smallest panel had over 60 people in the audience, the largest around 120, and the podcast was standing room only with about 60 people. What’s more, they weren’t the same people all weekend. And lots of people came up to me and shook my hand and told me how they really appreciated what I said on my panels.

Personal highlights were hanging out with Mike & Carol Resnick, Jennifer Heddle, Mur Lafferty, Madelynn Martiniere, Pablo Defendini, Stacy Hague-Hill, James Maxey, Jason M Waltz, Rich Sternbach. Was great to meet Scott Sigler and the folks from steampunk costumers Brute Force Studios. Really loved the Baen books party Friday night (and Toni Weisskopf is rapidly becoming one of my favorite people.) Also loved meeting the folks from the Inner Worlds book discussion group too.

My assessment: This feels very much like the place to be, and if it isn’t yet, it’s going to be soon. Probably very similar in vibe to the San Diego Comic Con when it was smaller, before Hollywood became the driving engine. The other thing I noticed at Dragon*Con verses Comic Con is that, though it has that crucial young demographic, there seems more interaction between the age groups. You saw children, teens, 20/30 somethings, parents with small children, and old folks, all hanging out together, rather than all there and then peeling off to hang separately. I liked that a lot. For the writer looking to do business as well as meet with fans, it’s probably not there yet in the former category, but will be as more publishing professionals choose to attend in future. And in terms of the attitude of the con to publishing, both the organizers and the audience certainly communicated that they were interested in books in general and Yours Truly in specific. I felt appreciated, welcome, and productive. I felt something slightly different when the near-naked, 300 pound guy with a mohawk and fangs grabbed my ass on the elevator.

But hey, it was Dragon*Con, after all! At least some of my first impressions weren’t mistaken.

LouAndersA 2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2008/2006 Chesley Award winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008), Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008), Fast Forward 1(Pyr, February 2007), FutureShocks (Roc, January 2006), Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), and Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001). In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, DeathRay, free inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles and stories have been translated into Danish, Greek, German, Italian & French.

Grand Opening Winner!

Congratulations to Keira Kroft of the great city of Chicago, Illinois is the winner of our Grand Opening contest. Keira, your free copy of Writers of the Future XXV will be in the mail soon!

For the rest of you, we’re already thinking about our next contest. And in the very near future, expect the interview with Jordan Lapp, winner of Writers of the Future–his story is included in WotF XXV.

Welcome! Grand Opening! Fabulous Prize!

Welcome to Diabolical Plots, a nonfiction zine focused on speculative fiction. Our goal is to provide interviews of industry professionals, reviews, con reports, editorials about writing, and anything else that may touch on the realm of science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

Check out our past interviews, with well-known subjects such as Cat Rambo, David Farland, and KD Wentworth. Stay tuned for new content on a regular basis. We have a full interview schedule out to early 2010, including Jordan Lapp, Charles Coleman Finlay and many others.

Also, please note the art at the top of the page, an original by professional illustrator Joey Jordan. That art was made just for Diabolical Plots and she did a splendid job of it if I do say so myself.  That image is part of a larger piece. You can see the whole thing if you click on the “Diabolical Art” tab.  If you want to see more of her work, check out her site. Also, she is the subject of the most recent interview, posted just before this announcement.

Have any ideas for interviewees? Drop us a line. Do you have a con report you’d like us to consider printing (or reprinting)? Just ask–we don’t make it to as many cons as we’d like and we may be able to fit your report in. Questions and comments? We’d love to hear them.

This site is owned and operated by Anthony Sullivan and myself (David Steffen), two writers in the early stages of our careers trying to claw our way up into the professional writing world. We’re pretty nice guys, at least after the first cup of coffee, so if you have questions or comments don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

Now I’ll move on to the important part: the free stuff! Complete a simple series of questions and we’ll enter you in a drawing for a free copy of Writers of the Future XXV, which will be mailed to the winner free of charge. Writers of the Future is one of the most prestigious venues for short story work, and I never cease to be amazed at the quality of the stories I find in it each and every year. You won’t be disappointed.

To enter the drawing, simply answer the following questions and email them directly to contestemail. The trivia questions are all right here on this site, so you should be able to find them all with just a bit of effort. Do NOT post the answers publicly or this will result in disqualification (and we’d have to make up new questions, which we’d rather not do). Relatives of Anthony and myself are not eligible. You have one week. You must send your answers by the end of the day on Sunday, September 6th.

Everyone who answers the questions correctly will be entered in the random drawing, probably through the sophisticated randomization algorithm I like to call “names in a hat”.

  • Name:
  • City, State, Country:
  • Where did you hear about Diabolical Plots:
  • What sort of content would you like to see on Diabolical Plots?
  • Is there any particular interview guest, movie, book, game, or con you would like to see featured?


  1. Who is the editor of the Shadows of the Emerald City anthology?
  2. What story in the August issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine did Anthony review?
  3. Who is the hero of “Sweeney Todd”, according to David?
  4. What does Anthony believe is the most effective way to improve your writing?
  5. What is Joey Jordan’s favorite art medium to work in?
  6. David Farland once received a story penned with what unlikely utensil?
  7. Name one of David’s fiction stories scheduled to be published.
  8. What forum or workshop is credited for earning Anthony both of his Honorable Mentions in the WotF contest?
  9. What are the three purposes listed for “beats” while writing dialog?
  10. Name one of Anthony’s hobbies, other than writing.

Exploring Canvas Caverns: Joey Jordan

joeyJoey Jordan is a freelance illustrator of fantasy and science fiction. For a glimpse at her work, just look at the top of this web page–that mad scientist is a Joey Jordan original. Her work has also been seen in Jim Baen’s Universe, The Drink Tank, and Renard’s Menagerie, among others. If you want to see more of her art, check out out her website here. In addition, she’s on Facebook, where she’s always interested in meeting new people, and there she runs the group called the Con-Goer’s Inn.

David Steffen: Thanks for joining us, Joey.

David: At what point in your life did you realize you were going to be an artist? Why not a butcher, baker, or candlestick-maker?

Joey: When I was a real young child, prior to kindergarten. I had always seen myself as an artist and wanted to do it as a career till I was older and thought that it could only be a hobby. Then back in 2004 I decided that if I were to live a happy life I would have to do what I love, so I started to fiddle in art again. Then in 2007ÂI came into some “Luck money” and filled the studio that my husband made for me. He is really supportive and even sends me to my art room if I am drifting from a piece or allowing to many things to distract me.

David: What appeals to you about fantasy and science fiction illustrations, that you choose to focus on that aspect of art?

Joey: Even my earliest pictures were of fantasy and science fiction. I have always had an awesome imagination and found traditional art boring to me… except for a few landscapes here and there but I still always brainstormed the idea of turning them into a fantasy or sci-fi piece.

David: When you create a new piece of artwork, do you create a backstory for the image or does the image exist in isolation?

Joey: The piece tells me it’s story, it’s like it has it’s own life and being, I am only deciphering it. Well that is with the “flash images” the full ideas that I get in an instant flash, then I have partial ideas where I may only see a background or character then I have to find their perfect match. Back to the Q: Sometimes I have the full story, sometimes only the part of it the image wants me to know… so I never feel like I truly make it up, it’s more like it’s just there.

David: As an example, the black and white image on your home page really draws my eye. Can you tell us the story behind that one?

Joey: That was actually an experiment in contrast, the woman in the foreground is the only item in the picture to have true black and true white, everything else is 10% grey to 90% grey.ÂIt started with a partial idea, the woman, then I had to decide what the best backgroundÂwould beÂto express the idea. With this one it is one of those pieces where I myself can not read the full story from her, in some pictures I understand the full story behind it, this was only a partial idea. The main character has this ability or curse, where when she writes the name of a person on paper it becomes a death spell. I do not know why she does it or if she has to do it, I don’t think she is evil but I don’t know why she does not stop. She may be an assassin. On the paper pieces I wrote the name Kioki in Japanese, which means happy child if I did it right, though some of the pieces are ripped. When the girl reads her name the demon will take her. In a way it also felt like she was in the past and almost going back to kill herself before she goes on to become what she is.

David: I think your illustration for Diabolical plots (partial image at the top of the page, with the full image under the “Diabolical Art” tab) turned out really well. Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about that?

Joey: The Diabolical Plots project was a fun project. I had a lot of fun figuring out the lighting and adding in all of the little writer related details to the writer mad scientist. Like his tie which says #1 writer, the stack of writer help books, The top book is Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D., and the word count machine attached to the computer on the right side.

I made a head set for the poor test reader, that forces their eyes open so they can read the unedited manuscripts and the brain reader cap reads their honest responses and finds flaws in the story so you crazy diabolical writers can take over the world with your perfect creation of speculative fiction and science fiction. You guys already work in mind control and subliminal wording right, because I am already addicted to your short stories!

David: When I write I go through about half a dozen drafting stages to help work out kinks in the writing. Do you use a drafting process with your art, or do you just know what you want it to look like right away?

Joey: If its a flash image in my head or an idea I do a real quick sketch and write down any key notes on color to trigger the image again at a later time. I have so many images in my head and have held some of them for years, though it’s great that I can still remember them years later, or trigger their memory with a sketch and note. It kind of feels like everything I look at gives me ideas. My husband thinks it’s funny when we pass a cliff and I mention the awesome brush strokes that would be if done in oil or how that would make an awesome picture with a character right there.

IÂdo pre sketches and laying out all of the problems that may arise so that I get it right the first time.

I also sketch everything out on the paper or canvas prior to putting down the detail and or color to make sure it is balanced.

David: What’s your favorite art medium?

Joey: Berol Prisma color pencils on Bristol, but I am moving to oil and liquin or oil and turpentine with linseed on masonite or artboard.

David: Can you tell us some of your goals for the future? (Such as trying a new and challenging type of medium or a goal to get published in a particular venue.)

Joey Jordan: Here in a month or so I am going to submit to Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. When I have a kick *** portfolio in oil I want to hit up Baen books for a cover, Tor, Spectrum, Analog, DAW, Wizards of the Coast…

David: What is your ideal working environment? For example, music or not, amount of uninterrupted time, etc.

Joey: Music adds a lot to the feel of my work. If I find a song or sound that fits the feel of the piece then I continue to play it while I work on the piece. I try toÂpush the music into the piece. I work best uninterrupted and though I am a people person and have a great attitude, when I am working on a piece and am totally into my “art mood” I sometime feel like I come off as if I am cold and uncaring at the time, I only want to be left alone to work on my picture. Everything else is a distraction that prevents me from finishing the piece and the longer I am held back from making that piece the more painful it seems.

David: How long does one piece of art typically take from conception to completion?

Joey: If I work it without too many distractions then mostly 3 days with larger works going up to one week.

David: If you could give one piece of advice to an illustrator trying to break into the market, what would it be?

Joey: Enter Illustrators of the Future!

David: If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner artist, what would it be?

Joey: Practice working your chosen medium until you feel you truly control it… Though now I will veer back toward the Illustrator style… tell a story with your images… make the viewer feel what you feel.

David: I know you enter your art in the Illustrators of the Future contest. What do you do to prepare an entry? Do you work on pieces specifically for the contest?

Joey: I do work on pieces specifically for the contest, but then the wonderful thing about that is you can use an illustration over and over. First I enter it, then when the time is up I can submit the image to markets as a stand alone piece, use it in my portfolio, and sell the original. You get so many uses out of the one piece, why not start its journey as an entry into a contest with a ton of wonderful benefits.

David: You regularly attend conventions, and have been the guest of honor at one convention. Do you have any advice for those of us who’ve never been to one?

Joey: Go! It’s wonderful, you get to hang out with lots of fans of the genre in one place, authors, illustrators, publishers, actors. I wish I hadn’t put it off so long… On face book my husband and I have a group called The Con-Goer’s Inn where we have lists of conventions in the discussion section and links to other con info.

David: Who’s your favorite illustrator?

Joey: IÂdon’t think I would say IÂhave one particular favorite,ÂthereÂare alot of truely wonderful pieces out thereÂthough I am able toÂtell quite a few artists by their style. I guess if I were to narrow it downÂa bit I wouldÂpitch Todd Lockwood, Dan Dos Santos, Donato Giancola, John Picacio and the late Keith Parkinson.Â(In high school I loved “Rift’s” and Keith did alot of my favorite covers)Â But I will add that their are so many wonderful works out there that I mostly look at the individual piece.

David: What’s your favorite illustration (done by someone else) that you remember?

Joey: The piece that pops into my mind right now is one by Dan Dos Santos, I don’t know the name of it, but it is a piece with a young lady dead on the ground, dry snow covering the stones a bit and she is wearing a green shirt and holding a green new growth. Another woman is above her in a white cloak touching the dead girls forehead.

David: What was your favorite vacation and why?

Joey: I tie art into my ideal vacation ideas too, It’s more of a, “that will be an awesome place to get reference photos” I want to go toÂTiahuanaco, Bolivia for reference photos for my alternate prehistory paintings. So I can come up with my own ideas of what the place was in the past and to have accurate layout photos to alter and try and paint how I thought it hadÂlooked in the past.

On the norm, we go camping alot, go to the westcoast beaches (went to Virginia Beach once too), and check out little cafe’s and shops in artsy towns here in WA. Though If we are going anywhere that may have a great reference photo, I’m on it!

David: What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

Joey: It’s hard to narrow down to single activities, horseback riding, hiking and exploring waterfalls and caves (There is a freaking awesome one hidden in Cinebar WA bordered both sides by private land… knew one of the people till they sold… It was 100′, two sections of about 50 feet with a pool in the middle and at the base. There was a boulder I would climb onto near the middle and the force of the water would blow may hair back behind me. I had long hair back then.) and aggressive skating…

David: What’s your favorite indoor activity?

Joey: Painting! And drooling over DickBlick’s art catalogue… imaging the damage I could do with some of those art supplies… I also love Cirque du Soleil and live acts with a similar feel.

David: What was the last book you read?

Joey: TheÂactual last book I read was Chariots of the Gods, though Shaun my husband has started me on a few to read by a fewÂauthors that I have met at cons. I don’t really make alot of time to read though, except when I get projects and that he thoughtÂwere good, includingÂThe NameÂofÂthe Wind by PatrickÂRothfuss, I hope to pick up a few tradeÂpaperbacks get to read a story to illustrate before others have read it, except the editor of course, kind of a cool feeling.

David: Your favorite book?

Joey: P.C. HodgellsÂÂ Dark of the MoonÂÂÂ TheÂfantasy by P.C. not the sci-fi one that was turned into a movie. Though the sci-fi had a good idea with the Bermuda triangle being a teleport area to a triangle on the dark side of the moon.

My favorite series is the Death Gate Novels Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Joey: Why David, you of course. Kind of likeÂthe favoriteÂillustrator, I don’t really feel I have one exact author, it’s to each work. Again though I will name off a few, Patrick Rothfuss, Mark J. Ferrari, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Anne McCaffery (I grew up on her Pern, even named a pet mouse Jaxom), Kevin J. Anderson, David Farland, see you evil man, I can’t really narrow it down to one,ÂI could keep going but for the sake of the readers I am going to stop now.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

Joey: Dragon Ball Z resurrection and right before that the Watchmen …. on demand. The last movie in theatre IÂsaw was The Day the Earth StoodÂStill. Though I don’t watch alot of movies, I mostly spend my time looking up art references and sketching ideas out. Hey it’s fun time for artists…

David: What is your favorite movie?

Joey: For fun I have always like Labyrinth with David Bowie… Loved the new Star Trek restart movie.

David: Do you have any upcoming shows, cons, publications we should check out?

Joey: Joey: I decided to work on some of the oil tips I have received so that I can put on a high level focused show, so I will not be attending any cons till OryCon, RadCon and Norwescon. I also plan on doing WorldCon when it’s in Nevada in 2011.

I intend to go to FoolsCap in WA Saturday only. I will probably be on the Mythical Botony panel, maybe another one or two. (I have to contact programming)

David: Can you tell us a little bit about your next big work in progress?

Joey: I am starting a series of oil paintings with an ancient Minoan and Atlantian theme, I want to pitch the idea as a coffee table book of art and stories of alternate prehistory ideas that I have gotten from dreams, flash images, and ideas from ancient times. Alot of Ancient Astronaut themes.

I also have been asked to work children’s book illustrations for 2 different authors and I believe I shall do it.

David: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, Joey. I’m always eager to check out the next Joey Jordan original!

Cower, minions! It’s K. D. Wentworth!

K.D. Wentworth
K.D. Wentworth

K. D. Wentworth has reached an almost divine state in the eyes of many aspirants; especially those who participate in the quarterly Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest. K. D. is editor of the anthology, and first-reader for the writing portion of the contest. She reads, or at least starts to read, every entry that comes through the doors of Author Services, Inc; a colossal task that she completes not once but four times per year.

Thankfully, unlike the varied recognized deities of Earth’s many cultures, K. D. is very approachable and friendly. While she is known to smite overwrought prose wherever she sees it, she would never pulverize a well meaning aspirant. Her kindness shows in the many ways she strives to help struggling writers achieve the elusive goal of publication.

Above all else K. D. is an author. She has several books and dozens of short stories in print. You can find her work in virtually every mentionable genre publication currently in print and many who aren’t. You can learn more about K. D. and her writing at her website,

K. D., thank you for the opportunity to give this interview.

Anthony Sullivan: Three-time Nebula finalist, winning the Writers of the Future contest, Teacher’s writers award, tons of novels in publication; is it true are you really HG Wells reincarnated?

K. D. Wentworth: Actually, I’m a four-time Nebula finalist, but after you’ve lost three times, people mercifully stop counting. As for me and H.G., have you ever seen us in the same room together? Just a little food for speculative thought.

Anthony: As we all know, the speculative fiction genre lost an icon in Algis Budrys last year. How close were you to Mr. Budrys and how has he affected your craft over the many years you worked together?

KD: I adored Algis Budrys. He bought my first story and gave me invaluable advice at the Writers of the Future Workshop. We kept in contact over the years and it was a delight to see him every time our paths crossed. I still use what he taught me about writing every single day when I sit down to write.

Anthony: What was the most helpful or perhaps most profound piece of advice Algis gave you?

KD: There was so much, but one of his sayings was that “Remember that the story is not the words.” It was his theory that the story exists inside the writer’s head where it is perfect. The words we use to try and tell it on paper (or the screen) are imperfect vehicles for what we want to say. They will never be as good as what’s inside our heads. Lots of different words can be used to tell the same story. Just look at how many different versions of “Cinderella” exist. We have to make the words as smooth and descriptive and professional as we can, but should not get hung up on the fact that they aren’t as good as what’s inside our heads or else we’ll never stop revising.

Anthony: What, if any, formal training have you had? (i.e. MFA, etc)

KD: I have a degree in English, Liberal Arts, from the University of Tulsa, in addition to certification as an elementary teacher, fifteen hours of Computer Programming, and fifteen hours of Education graduate school classes.

Anthony: This year is the 25th anniversary of the Writers of the Future contest and its popularity seems to be growing still. Is the quality of submissions trending upwards or down? Does this make your job easier or more difficult?

KD: The quality of submissions is improving all the time. It makes it more difficult, but I love the increasing quality. There are so many talented writers out there who only need to be given a chance.

Anthony: As the contest continues to grow, many new writers are getting the courage to finally submit. What advice can you offer them as they pen their entries?

KD: Don’t reject your own story. A writer really never knows how good her story is until someone else reads it. Take a chance and send it in!

Then write something else!

Anthony: You’ve always kept the exact number of entries close to your vest but we know for sure that the number is large and that you read, at least the beginning of every story. Do you ever tire of the process? What keeps you going? Do you have any help?

KD: I only work about an hour at a time on the first-reading so that my eye stays fresh. I don’t have any help, but that’s the way I want it right now. It’s a lot of work, but I value being entrusted with this responsibility.

Anthony: What are a few things that are sure to send a story into the ‘Thanks for trying’ box?

KD: Passive characters. Weak endings that just fizzle out. Idiot plots (where someone has to do something stupid or there is no plot). Overused ideas without something new to entice the reader. Overdone language. Over the top metaphors and similes. On-stage sex. Pointless and gruesome violence. Anything that sounds like Star Wars, Buffy, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight, etc.

Anthony: About what percentage of stories do you actually make it all the way through?

KD: I’m just guessing, but I would say fifteen to twenty percent.

Anthony: What is the most memorable story you have ever sent up to the judges?

KD: That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child!ÂÂ Here are a few favorites: “Blackberry Witch” by Scott M. Roberts, “Last Dance at the Sergeant Majors’Â Ball” by Cat Sparks, “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird” by Diana Rowland, “Numbers” by Joel Best, and “Sleep Sweetly, Junie Carter” by Joy Remy.

Anthony: Dave Farland once mentioned that he received a submission written in crayon. What is the most bizarre entry you’ve seen in your time with WotF?

KD: I keep getting poetry, scripts, hand-drawn illustrations, and high school and college theme papers about things like the evils of okra and how misunderstood pit bulls are.

Anthony: Do you feel like your affiliation with the Writers of the Future contest is a lifelong one?

KD: I certainly hope so. I love getting to pay back some of the help that was once given to me.

Anthony: In 1988 you won the Writers of the Future contest with your story Daddy’s Girls. How important was this in the success of your career?

KD: It was an amazing moment in my life. I’d never sold anything up until that point. Winning meant that I wasn’t wasting my time writing and that it was possible I could have a writing career.

Anthony: How hard was the wait until your second publication, Dust, two years later?

KD: It was a year after winning the Contest before I sold “Dust” and the waiting was very hard because my expectations had been raised. I just had to have faith in myself and keep writing.

Anthony: Most of your stories and books seem to be fantasy and urban fantasy. Do you have a penchant for those sub-genres?

KD: I like and write everything, from high fantasy and a bit of horror to hard sf. All but one of my books have actually been sf. I especially like to write about aliens, the way their minds work, and how they see the universe.

Anthony: Your novel with Eric Flint, Course of Empire, has received a good deal of praise. So few authors are able to collaborate well. How are you and Mr. Flint able to balance the responsibility of such a project?

KD: Eric writes the outline and an extensive background. I write the book. Then Eric adds material, in some places up to an entire chapter. He’s a very generous collaborator and I enjoy working with him. I think our strengths braid well together.

Anthony: What can you tell us about your upcoming novel project?

KD: The next book out is Crucible of Empire, a sequel to The Course of Empire. It deals with a trip to a distant nebula where a human/Jao crewed ship encounters not only the Ekhat again, but another species long thought by the Jao to be extinct. There’s lots of fighting and space battles and I got to bring back two of my favorite characters from the first book.

Anthony: Do you have any short fiction releasing anytime soon?

KD: I just had “Hex Education” published in Witch Way to the Mall. Upcoming I have “Special Needs” in Strip-Mauled, “Owl Court” in Sword and Sorceress XXIV, “Miss White-Hands’ Class Goes Shopping” in a yet untitled humorous suburban vampire anthology, and “The Embians” in Destination Future.

Anthony: Some say that short form fiction is being revitalized by the internet. What changes do you see on the horizon for short fiction and the publications, both print and electronic, that publish it?

KD: The SF/fantasy field is blessed with still having a vigorous market for short fiction. I just wish that everyone who is trying to sell short fiction would subscribe to at least two magazines and help support them. These are tough times and we just lost Baen’s Universe, a wonderful market, due to lack of revenue. Online venues are good showcases, but most of them do not pay very well.

Anthony: You have written some stories in the alternate history genre. Do you see this as viable market or a fad? Would a AH story stand a chance in the WOTF contest?

KD: Alternate History is always fun, both to write and read, and it seems to be here to stay. It will always have a chance in the Contest as long as 1) it’s well researched and 2) you make it clear where the point of departure from the real timeline is.

Anthony: K. D., thanks so much for your time. I hope our readers will take your advice and run out and subscribe to a genre pub to support short fiction.

Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Dan Gaidin, David Steffen, Brad Torgersen, Laurie Unas and Jennifer Wendorf for their submitted questions.

Photo used by permission from Author Services, Inc.

Dan Gaidin

Upcoming interview: Joey Jordan

Coming soon: an interview with artist and illustrator Joey Jordan Her illustration work has been printed in Jim Baen’s Universe, and you can check her site, with art samples here. She’s a very talented artist who I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with on more than one occasion.

If you have any questions for her, drop us a line and we’ll try to work them in.

Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

InfernoWritten by Frank Dutkiewicz.

Inferno is the modern day telling of Dantes 14th century epic poem. Even for those who have never read The Divine Comedy (such as myself), this tale of a trip to hell is familiar to many. The 1976 Hugo and Nebula nominated novel by Niven and Pournelle has had over twenty reprints over the years. The latest reprint is available on the shelves of bookstores in time for its long awaited sequel Escape from Hell.

The novel opens with Science Fiction writer Allen Carpentier dying in a stunt to impress fans. The agnostic Carpentier finds himself in an astral equivalent of solitary confinement. His world is a bronze haze. He can think, speak and move but cannot feel or see a thing. His very existence challenges Descartes statement I think therefore I am. In a fit of madness, he says the magic words that frees him from his prison (a djinn bottle), only to find himself in the Vestibule of Hell where he meets guide, Benito (a real person in history). Benito informs him where he is and claims to know the way out, through the nine circles of hell to its very center.

The ever-skeptical Carpentier chooses to believe he is elsewhere and theorizes he is in a futuristic amusement park he terms ‘Infernoland’. Allen and his guide travel through all the horrors of hell all while he meets people that he knew during his life and famous people throughout history.

Inferno is a visual masterpiece. Each layer of hell is laid out as maze of terror. The souls of the damned suffer as cruelly as the fire and brimstone preachers have claimed, and some, in this book. Carpentier and his companions suffer many of the punishments of the damned as they cross each circle. They endure such cruelty as a boiling lake of blood, a desert of burning sand with snowflakes of fire, and an industrial wasteland patrolled by driverless Corvettes that run down the wasters in life. However, Carpentier’s real struggle is with his own agnostic beliefs.

One of the foundations for an agnostic is why would an all powerful being create a supernatural torture chamber like hell? Allen, the Science fiction master prefers to believe he is another prop in a futuristic society than contemplate a possibility that Dante’s vision was real. He is constantly reevaluating his theories while witnessing many of the miracles and horrors of hell, such as; never being able to reach the short wall the circles hell, the judge of Hell, Minos, and his impossibly long tail, and the ability to heal despite suffering the worst of injuries.

Carpentier cannot understand the unending punishment souls are forced to face for eternity. The suffering that many endure seem out of balance for the sins they had committed in life. His conscience argues this point throughout the book while he tries to piece together the where and why he and others are there. The ability to make a universe does not presuppose moral superiority, he concludes at one point. By the end of the novel, Allen finds a reason on why god would have a place like hell, one that I found fitting.

As an amateur that writes as hobby, I recommend Inferno as a great template on how to build on a familiar theme (hell) and insert characters that are larger than a wonderful plot. One of the recommendations that many ‘How to’ books stress is to make your character change from the experience in your story. Allen Carpentier changes like few others that I have read before. Niven and Pournelle create a man who faces down demons and wades through boiling blood very believable to me.

There are very few writers in the industry that are able to work together and produce a publishable story, Niven and Pournelle make it look easy. The two accomplished authors have published several together, The Mote in God’s Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall, are just a few. Inferno was their third collaborative novel together, and in my opinion, their best. I was hooked on the first page, followed their journey eagerly as they passed through each circle of hell, and found the ending moving.

Some may find Inferno theologically challenging. I believe it was written to be that way. As reader who loves Science Fiction and Fantasy, Inferno has remained in my top ten favorite stories of all time. I can’t recommend highly enough.


Frank Dutkiewicz is every bit as cute and cuddly as his picture suggests. He has nine storiesÂthat have been published.ÂHis first eightÂwere all flash fiction then he got wise and rode Dave’s coattailsÂand sold one to the upcoming Shadows of the Emerald City anthology. The chicks digÂFrank andÂcan’t keep their hands off him but hate his cold nose.
Frank‘s owner is a truck driver for a car hauling company. He travels all across the country and may have ran you off the road at one point. He has a lovely wife and two equally as lovely teenage daughters.