Archive for the ‘Other Authors’ Category

Guest Post: Kevin Ikenberry — How has science fueled my fiction?


When Pete put this question to me, it took a bit of time in hospital for me to fully grasp it.  The question wasn’t the cause of my medical issue, but laying there without much to do besides think and dream gave me the chance to realize that there are three ways that science (hard or speculative) has fueled my fiction.

1.  Endless possibility. 

We live in a time where major scientific advancements that will affect our future generation happen nearly every day.  We may not hear of them for years, but they are out there.  Whether it be a medical advancement in the treatment of a disease or a proposal for a hyper loop transportation system, we may not see the fruits of those labors during our lifetimes, but our children and their children will know them as the norm.  Take a look around you.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the idea of a computer in your hand was absurd.  Computers during those days still took up portions of large rooms.

Or, consider that humanity went from the first powered flight in 1903 to the moon in 1969 and you’ll see what I mean.  Imagining the progression of our current norms toward the future breeds endless possibility.  We may get a portion of that future right based on what we know of the science now, or we may botch it enough that our future generations will read our work and laugh at our innocence.

I tend to look at our sciences today as a keyhole to the future.  We cannot unlock the door, but our understanding of things now provide us a way to see into the future and what might be.

2.  The occasional moment where your idea becomes reality (in a way).

Several years ago, 2009 in fact, I wrote a story entitled “Digger Girl” that took place on an asteroid converted for interstellar flight.  The idea seemed logical to me.  The heavy shielding necessary would mostly be in place, depending on the thickness of the asteroid in question.  Propulsion would have been an issue, but the orbital mechanics of speeding up an asteroid to fall towards the Sun and receive a gravitational assist from several planets were sound.  Attach a reaction control system to the beast and a theoretical propulsion system that could perpetually thrust the asteroid forward and a mission to proximal could take a couple of hundred years.  The asteroid became a generation ship without the nasty business of lifting all of that mass to orbit.

Imagine my surprise late last year when a scientist postulated the same thing and it reached the press.  For that brief moment in time, I knew what it must have been like for Clarke and others to have predicted something that became reality (in a way).  To me, that’s one of the thrills of writing science fiction.  Your dreams have a chance of being reality.  To me, it doesn’t matter that this scientist proposed the same thing, and for all I know it was postulated a long time before 2009 (remember, all good science fiction stories have been told before).

That brief connection to a possible future made my day, and I hope to have many others before I reach the “clearing at the end of the path.”

3.  Science is how we take destiny by the horns.

I’m inspired every day by some aspect of science, especially when I look at the collective mess we are as a species.  Without waxing political, I worry about the future that my children are growing up into.  We live in a world that still thrives on conflict to no end.  Our world, the very ecosystem, is in chaos.  This may be the cyclical nature of things or it very well could be manmade, but the argument is the same nonetheless.  I am a firm believer in a statement from Tsiolkovsky that “the Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.”  Time is against us.  The Sun is going to die.  It doesn’t matter that it may be billions of years until then.  We have a lot to do as a species before then, and I believe we will get there, but the goal must be to leave this planet behind.

Science provides the progress to change our basic human needs – longevity, better shelter and clothing, better foods.  I try to look beyond the political machinations and global profiteering of our current society in the hopes that science has the impact it should, to take our destiny by the horns and propel us to the stars.  I will never see it, but I can dream about a time when the world pulls together and all of humanity reaps the benefits versus a tender few.  That motivates me to write.

In all, I tend to tell very human stories that hopefully reflect how science is a benefit to our ever-changing humanity.  Science inspires me because it continues to move forward.  It does not stagnate.  There is always someone, somewhere, thinking and postulating and experimenting.  Let us hope that never changes.  If science stagnates, humanity will stagnate.  Bringing a bit of science to the forefront reminds a reader how much that science has changed their lives.  We take our technology for granted now, when a few decades ago, we had nothing of the sort.  That progress came from science.

Think of where we can be in another hundred years. I know I do.

Kevin Ikenberry

Jason Franks: 5 Questions & 1 Statement


A talented writer and artist, Jason Franks is the energetic force behind comic series such as McBlack and Left Hand Path, as well as the novel Bloody Waters (which I am halfway through at-time-of-writing and absolutely loving). I’ve been lucky enough to pre-read the first two chapters of next year’s release: Shadowmancy which kicks butt…and I’m doubly lucky to belong to the same writing group as Jason.

I caught up with him recently and pitched five questions and a statement his way …


1.  Can you tell us something of your creative process: what happens between the genesis pool of ideas and completed, polished projects?

Usually, an idea will roll around in my head for a while before I start writing. Unless I’m working on a commissioned project with a deadline, this process will usually continue for months, or even years. I let my subconscious do most of the work at this stage. Mass accumulates–more ideas adhere to initial thought–until there’s a story there. Then, suddenly, I need to get it out. I guess it’s like a kidney stone in that regard.

The joy is all in the first draft, for me. I like to write my way into the characters and settings and they often surprise me. I do not generally outline my stories, but I do almost always know where they’re going and I just strike out towards the destination.

Then, the long hard slug of editing and polishing. I’ve completed some of my more recent stories in four or five drafts, but I’ve been known to do 15 or 20 before I am satisfied. I am currently looking for ways to streamline this part of the process.


2. Apart from the pictures, what’s different about writing for comic/graphic novel and writing pure prose (short story or novel)?

It’s a very different discipline. You can’t really say ‘apart from the pictures’ because 90% of a comicbook IS the pictures. Even if you’re not drawing them yourself, you need to communicate to the artist how to visually tell the story–how to break it up into images. As a comics writer you may or may not contribute to page composition but you will usually control pagination and panel density, and those are they key elements in pacing. Learning to pace a comic with a fixed pagecount is very different from learning to pace a prose story.

Comic script has that increased overhead and requires more planning, but you don’t have to worry as much about polish–so long as your descriptions are clear to the artist your script does not have to be beautifully written. Copy that will appear on the comics page is only a tiny fraction of the writing. With prose every word needs to be perfect, which for me requires a lot more editing. Usually I will nail a comic script on the second pass.

Also, comics works tend to be shorter. You will usually have a limitation in the amount of page real estate available and that limits he amount of story you can tell. Detail belongs in the artwork.


3. McBlack remains your most popular comic work: what’s it about and what’s the inspiration for it?

McBlack concerns the metafictional adventures of Whiteface McBlack, a freelance thug. McBlack will take on any kind of dirty job: detection, skip tracing, sabotage, arson, murder–provided it promises the opportunity to shoot some dudes or blow up some stuff. This is me smashing genres together to see what breaks. In the first book, McBlack is hired by a dame to find her missing husband. He’s assigned the role of a Phillip Marlowe (hero of The Maltese Falcon), but his behaviour is closer to that of Angel Eyes (the villain from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). You’re expecting a noir mystery, but instead McBlack rides the story roughshod over tropes more familiar to the SF, fantasy, horror and western genres.

What was the inspiration? Well, I noticed how many independent comics writers go directly to The Maltese Falcon when they need a plot (“It’s the Maltese Falcon–but Marlowe is a Samurai!” “It’s the Maltese Falcon–but Marlowe is a Talking Cauliflower!”) and I decided I was sick of it–so I guess this was me over-reacting to that. (“It’s the Maltese Falcon–but Marlowe is a bodiless murderer with a grudge against the Fourth Wall!”).

The colour one-shot stories are discrete missions, in which McBlack takes on different modes of storytelling (video games; dreams) and different tools employed in comics (voice-over captions; thought balloons).

Lady McBlack, the new series, is a continuation of the main story–this time looking at romance in these genre stories. (Yes, really!)


4.  How much of your own interests and experiences are in Bloody Waters? (My son has a guitar with a Floyd Rose Tremolo, btw, just like Clarice).

Well, I guess it’s fairly obvious that I’m a music nerd. I play the guitar–badly–but I’ve never been in a rock band. I’m interested in writing music, but I completely lack the desire to perform in front of an audience.

I’ve never tried to summon the devil, but I do have a particular interest in villain characters and Old Scratch is pretty much the logical endpoint of that line of inquiry, so he turns up quite a lot in my fiction.

I did play trumpet in various high school bands, so a lot of that stuff comes from life. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging around in guitar shops and reading guitar magazines and I know a bunch of people who have and do play in legitimate rock bands, so hopefully my descriptions of the gear and the music is reasonably accurate.

Aside from that, I guess you can see a bit of the creative artists’s wish fulfillment in there. I wish I was as good a writer as Clarice is a musician. I wish I had the kind of career she does. I wish I was as talented and driven and confident. I also wish I was as laid-back and patient and pleasant as Johnny. There’s a bit of me in all of the principle characters–and that most certainly includes Satan.


5.  What can we look forward to in next year’s novel Shadowmancy (and what’s the title about anyway)?

Shadowmancy began as comic serial which was to run in my regretfully short-lived Terra Magazine. It’s a ‘dark urban fantasy’ about a damaged boy who is enrolled in a magicians’ Academy after his disgraced father is kicked off the faculty. It’s more Ursula Le Guin than Harry Potter–by way of Cormac McCarthy, maybe. This is not a book full of whimsical hijinks; it’s about damaged families and institutional power and coming of age and… well, it’s about magic. I wanted to take a deep dive into the discipline of a magician. The story is written in the first person, by a protagonist who has some pretty heavy duty baggage, so there’s a lot more introspection than spellcasting. I want to give the reader a taste of what it feels like to have power, but to yet be powerless. It’s not for children. I hope it’s not boring.

The title refers to magic that is based on the manipulation of shadows–literally, metaphorically, and all of the Jungian stuff in between.


Statement: “It’s impossible to make a living as a writer in this day and age.”

I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult. During the years in which I was pitching Bloody Waters I noticed more doors in traditional publishing closing than opening and I think that continues to be the case as the big five struggle to come to terms with the evolving market. There are more opportunities than ever to get work out there, via small press and self-publishing, but that also means there’s more competition. I hope it is still possible to make a living as a writer and I wish I could–but I am certainly not at that point yet.

Thanks, Jason!


See also:

Geoff Brown aka GN Braun: 5 Questions & 1 Statement


A true gentleman of the publishing world,  Geoff Brown/G.N. Braun is an author, an editor, the irresistable force behind Cohesion Press and Cohesion Editing, as well as a prolific Facebook status-poster.

I caught up with him recently and pitched five questions and a statement his way …


Geoff, what made you a writer? (As opposed to a fireman or astronaut or short order cook).

I don’t think anything really made me a writer. I’ve always loved to read, and I’ve always written. When I was in high school, I did best in English classes, and my creative writing stuff always earned me high marks. I’ve always been a storyteller, whether vocally or writing things down, so I think I have always been a writer, and it just took over my life as I grew older.

What lead you to become an editor, in addition to writing?

I’m a grammar ninja. Always have been. The reading that I mention in the first answer was always a case of noticing the errors and typos in books while I read them. After I started getting published, I worked with editors and saw the job from the aspect of a writer. Then, I completed a full-time Diploma course at TAFE – Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing – and the editing side of things was something I just felt was natural for me. As anyone serious about their writing knows, there is little money to be made in books unless you are King or Patterson or Child, so the natural thing for me was to move into a field where there was money to be made while working with the things I loved the most – words.

Tell us about your last release as G.N. Braun. What was its genesis and the thing you’re most proud of?

Well, my only full-length release so far has been Hammered: Memoir of an Addict, and it holds a special place in my heart. It’s the true-life account of my early life as a substance abuser who mixed on the edges of criminality for many, many years.

It shows my history as a drug-user throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s in Melbourne, Australia. It tells how I was first introduced to drugs in my mid-teens, the lifestyle I led while using and selling drugs – from marijuana through to speed and heroin – and how I finally gained the strength and conviction to get off drugs. Hammered is available from Amazon as a Kindle book ( and in print ( and on all the standard online sales points, including Apple, Nook, and Kobo. I’d read many memoirs of addiction. I loved A Million Little Pieces until I found out it was mostly rubbish embellished by the author. I struggled through The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx, mostly due to the fractured narrative set up in diary form. Best of all, I read William S Burroughs’ timeless memoir Junkie, his first published book. I fell in love with his writing. It was both dead and alive, just like I was. There were all the standard junkie tropes, but there was something more. An undercurrent of blandness and focus that only another junkie could relate to, yet put in a way that it would be somewhat apparent to readers of all stripes. It rang of my truth. I tried for the same subtext in Hammered. I’d like to believe I rang that bell.

I own a copy of that book and found it compelling. I gave it a 5 star review on Goodreads…Tell us about your publishing house. What inspired it?

Cohesion Press was a result of my longing to move into publishing the work of others combined with the nudging from my wonderful wife, Dawn, who knew about my longing.

I already had Cohesion Editing and Proofreading running, so it wasn’t too hard to incorporate the new direction into the current business. It really makes me feel good to put new and established authors out into the world, to help spread the word about great writers, either Australian or from another country. I wanted to show what I thought was great writing. We’re not in this for short-term gain. We offer some of the best royalty percentages in the business, and for me it’s all about the writers making as much as they possibly can, while still leaving us enough to cover costs and promotion of the books.

What annoys you in the publishing world?

I see it all the time, all over Facebook. The ‘author’ that claims to be an editor and then charges people for sub-standard work that does little to nothing to improve the manuscript they work on.

I studied full-time for two years at college level, gaining a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, and upon graduation was awarded two ‘Student of the Year’ awards, for Christ sake. I opened my own editing business halfway through the course, and it has built up to the point where I subcontract to a number of highly-skilled professionals. Yet I see all these untrained people calling themselves editors and taking money from people and offering no real expertise in the field. I look at their (usually amateurish) website, and I see no list of qualifications. At least, nothing that really applies to professional editing. It really galls me that so many people think that just because you can read and write it means you can also edit. For God’s sake, people, go and get some proper training and then come back.

Professional editors get trained and educated. Professional editors work so hard at improving their skills that they bleed sweat every single day learning the difference between tenses, the minutiae of grammar, the many and varied plot elements, characters, story arcs, and everything else that makes a great book. Editors constantly stay abreast of new skills and styles. Editors have an eye for design, an eye for voice, an eye for a unique narrative style, and they have qualifications to show this. Yes, there are some naturally-good editors, but they are few and far between. For the rest of us, the skills are learnt, every single day of our lives. Most of all, editors read as much as writers should read.

Just because someone can self-publish and open a Facebook page doesn’t make them an editor. And it never will.

Statement – please respond: The overabundance of sub-par (and poorly edited) novels and short fiction online nowadays makes it more difficult for readers to find and purchase quality fiction.

Apart from untrained editors (who contribute a lot toward this problem) my other bugbear in the publishing word is authors who rush through a novel, write the second draft after untrained beta-readers have given some feedback, and then upload to Amazon an unedited work that is full of typos and mistakes. They usually top it off with cover art that looks like a bad cut-and-paste job done in Microsoft Paint, or like someone has given a few pencils to their talented five year old child.

Every book needs an editor. Writers, no matter how great, need a new pair of (trained and experienced) eyes to look over their work. Writers see what they believe is there, yet editors provide the fresh eyes that see what really is there. No matter how great the writer, an editor, a good editor, will find the flaws, the problems, and the blind spots that the author can’t due to being too close to the story to see what is really needed to make the manuscript great rather than good. And get professional cover art, too.

I will say, however, that the abundance of bad cover art makes it easier for readers to sort out the good books from the bad. You always hear not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s what we do. It’s a fair assumption that an author who didn’t spring for a great cover likely didn’t spring for a great editor, either.


Geoff has kindly offered the following as prizes to eager readers! There are five ebook copies of Hammered (epub or Kindle), and five of Martin Livings’ Carnies (also epub or Kindle and published by Cohesion Press).

To win a copy of Hammered, post an answer to the following question in the comments section of this blog post:  What’s the name of G.N. Braun’s first short story listed on his “bibliography”? First five correct answers win the prize. 

To win a copy of Carnies, post an answer to the following question in the comments section of this blog post: In what year was Carnies originally published? First five correct answers win the prize.

Note 1: Don’t be a putz. Please. This is a competition in good faith. I decide which victors receive the spoils and I will do my best to be fair and just.

Note 2: Yes, you will need to click a few links and do a bit of “research” to find the answers. The links below will no doubt help you in your quest for knowledge.




See also:

Devin Madson: 5 Questions & a Statement


As a writer, I often read as a writer (analysing, nitpicking, oohing-and-ahing and brilliant technique). Devin Madson’s Blood of Whisperers made me forget all that and just read for the sheer thrill of it. See my Goodreads review for more if you’re interested.

I caught up with Devin recently and assailed her with my usual five questions and a statement…


PETE:  Blood of Whisperers is a stunning novel. How on earth does an author come up with something so true to the genre and yet so unique in a debut novel?

DEVIN: Thank you very much! The immediate answer is ‘um….’ There was never an intention to write something unique, no decision that I would be different. I’ve always just written the stories that came to me naturally – the characters that spoke to me and wouldn’t leave me alone until I had written down their tale. I think perhaps the unique way I learned to write and the fact that I read extensively outside the fantasy genre through my formative years might have something to do with it.

PETE: What was your “breakthrough” moment as a writer?

DEVIN: It wasn’t so much a moment for me, as a series of gradual realisations over a few weeks. I had been writing seriously for about seven years, ever since leaving high school, but I had never been to a class, never read anything that taught writing, never even met another author – I had learned to write in a vacuum, as it were, just me and my words. And there were LOTS of words. By the end of the seven years my writing was good, my ideas were good, but I had no concept of structure. Enter Sydney Smith – story whisperer extraordinaire. I drank in everything she ever had to say, but it wasn’t until I sat down to apply her teachings to my own work that everything started to piece together in my head, and from there I was able to make my own discoveries about story structure. That was the moment I was finally ready for people to read my work – after nine years of full time writing!

PETE:   Which writer(s) have had the most profound effect on you and why?

DEVIN: What hard questions you ask! I don’t have a favourite author, especially not a fantasy author. I’m still looking for one. But in terms of authors that have affected me… two come to mind. Georgette Heyer and David Eddings. Georgette Heyer wrote mostly regency romances, very clever stories with very real characters, which is why I read them again and again when usually it isn’t my genre. I think I’ve learned a lot from her about characters. And David Eddings was the first fantasy author I read. I don’t think I write like him at all, but it was David Eddings who brought me to my love of fantasy in my late teens and I’ve been writing fantasy ever since.

PETE: What do you think of the trend toward self-publishing?

DEVIN: Like everything I think there are two sides of the coin on this subject. The good is that there are no gatekeepers and the bad is that there are no gatekeepers. It’s hard to argue that in many ways the current traditional publishing model is old fashioned and no longer a perfect fit for a society where immediacy is key. That being said, the fact that self-publishing allows anything and everything to go on the market for reader consumption has led to self-publishers having a stigma it’s hard to avoid. It isn’t a problem with the market being swamped with terrible books, because I trust that readers are smart enough to look at the book, read the blurb, glance inside and see if the story is for them, but the stigma means there is a whole section of the reading community who will never touch a self-published book no matter how good it might be.

All in all I think it’s an interesting time in publishing (everyone says that, I know, but it’s true!). The self-publishing movement is growing, and where it is done with proper professionalism I think that’s a great idea. It encourages competition, and in that situation the cream should rise. After all the majority of people still rely on word of mouth to choose which books to read.

PETE: That stigma is curious given that even Dickens self-published (arguably) his most popular book ever. So what’s next for you beyond the Vengeance trilogy?

DEVIN: I have a problem called ‘always wanting to write six things at once’. I don’t because I like to focus on something once I get started, but trying to decide which will be the next is quite hard. In the world of The Vengeance Trilogy, I plan to continue writing the story of the world in first a stand alone story that I will post for free on my website, followed by another trilogy to be released 2015. I also have a number of short stories in the works, some branching off from characters of The Vengeance Trilogy. One is the story of how Hope became a Vice, some years before the beginning of The Blood of Whisperers.

PETE: What’s your response to this statement? Every character (no matter how depraved/noble/bellicose/witty/thoughtful/etc) reveals something of the author themselves.

DEVIN: I hate to think what my characters say about me! I think in general I would agree to that statement, because all we really use to write our characters and our stories is ourselves, whether it’s consciously or unconsciously. But in some situations, with some authors, I sometimes feel there is more of what they WANT the reader to think of them as a person, rather than what they really are. When you’re not bleeding words onto a page and giving yourself to the story, you’re much more likely to get recycled cardboard cut-out characters, and those don’t say very much about their authors, at least not to me.


You can visit for more about the author and her works including links to buying them.



Ronald Malfi: 5 Questions & a Statement


I have to admit, I’d never read or heard of Ronald Malfi before picking up the Kindle edition of Cradle Lake.

But I’m bloody glad I have now.

I’ve just finished the novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great fiction should not only thrill you, it should take you inside a character’s personal problems with empathy. And thrill you. Cradle Lake does both. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work into the future.

I caught up with Ronald recently and assailed him with five questions and a statement…

PETE:  What did you read, growing up?

RONALD: I read everything I could get my hands on. Genre didn’t matter, the author didn’t matter. When I was about eleven, I found a box of old books in my grandparent’s rec room and spent the summer reading everything from Reader’s Digest condensed novels to Lolita by Nabokov. I cut my teeth on Stephen King with his fantasy novel, The Eyes of the Dragon, and later discovered the wonderful prose of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the rest of the Lost Generation.

PETE:  Tell us about Cradle Lake: what was its genesis? What are you most proud of in it?

RONALD: Cradle Lake started out as a subplot that was ultimately excised from my novel, Floating Staircase. I really liked the relationship between the husband and wife, and their back story with the miscarriages and the wife’s subsequent depression, but it didn’t really fit with the themes of Staircase. So I cut it out and worked on it as a separate project, which quickly took on a life of its own. My wife was pregnant at the time of writing it, so my mind was already a mess with fears of becoming a father for the first time, and all the things that could go wrong in pregnancy. I’m most proud of the relationship between the two characters, how the husband has become so obsessive about taking care of his wife that he loses sight as to whether he’s actually helping her or hurting her.

PETE:  Exactly what’s engaged me the most in this novel. Where are you heading next in your writing?

RONALD: In May, my novel December Park will be released. It’s a coming-of-age novel about five teenagers growing up in the nineties who vow to stop a killer that’s murdering children in their hometown. It’s marketed as a thriller, but I feel it works just as well as a mainstream novel about childhood, friendship, and growing up. I’m very excited for this book to come out; it’s very personal to me.

PETE:   What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

RONALD: This is a tough question. Advice is a tough thing, particularly in this business, where there is no sure way to success and everyone’s experiences are different. There is one constant, though: to succeed as a writer, you must read and you must write. Every day.

PETE: What are you “into” (reading/watching) at the moment that you think the whole world should be into also?

RONALD: I don’t watch a lot of TV, though when I do, I enjoy independent films, genre and otherwise. I have very little interest in what Hollywood is doing. As for reading, I continue to read everything I can get my hands on. I’ve recently read John Fowles’s The Collector and Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which was fantastic. I prefer fiction that challenges the reader, that is artful in its presentation and eschews the familiar tropes of specific genres. That said, I find myself reading horror fiction less and less nowadays, as much of it is formulaic and disappointing.

PETE: What are your thoughts on this statement?  “Every character, no matter how noble/depraved/deranged/outrageous, reveals something of the author who created them.”

RONALD: By virtue of the craft, the author will always bring something of himself to the work he creates, to include the characters, but I think it’s presumptuous and somewhat simplistic to assume an author will either deliberately or subconsciously invite his own personal traits into these characters. Some authors do indeed use their characters as a pulpit to pronounce their own convictions, but I don’t think that’s most authors. I think it’s just the opposite—a good author will create real characters with real views about life that may or may not be completely in contradiction with the author’s.


Cradle Lake is available in paperback and ebook.

You can visit for more about Ronald’s other novels.



Sharon M Johnston: 5 Questions & a Statement


“Someone will die so I can live. I’ve come to terms with that.”

So opens SLEEPER, a new YA novel by Sharon M Johnston. I am 39% through the e-book as I write this and loving it (I only review and interview authors whose works I genuinely enjoy).

I recently caught up with Sharon via Facebook and fired 5 questions and a statement at her. Here are her responses…

PETE: Sleeper is excellent. What’s the main concept for the novel and where did it come from??

SHARON: Oh, to share the true answer to that would be giving away the twist at the end. It’s like a bomb goes off. What I can say is that I write speculative fiction and this is that in the truest essence. I speculated about two certain people were to meet and built the whole plot to allow these two people to meet and then the fall out from this meeting: “What if this person meet this person?”

Discussing it in non-cryptic terms, it’s about a girl, Mishca, who has a heart-transplant and then weird things start happening: constant nightmares, new superhuman abilities and seeing things that make her think she’s crazy. At the same time, altering facing death on the operating table, she decides to try and track down her birth parents. She tries hard to fight her freakiness and focus on her new boyfriend, Ryder. But that all falls apart when she goes to university and gets a bad case of love-at-first-sight with her university professor.

I’m not sure where exactly the idea came from. I like letting my mind wander and thinking of weird things. For example, my story Karma, which was runner up in the Australian Literary Review’s short story contest (which I’m now turning into a novel) came from the thought “What if there were people responsible for delivering Karma?”

PETE: I love “What if” questions… Do you or have you ever written for family members? If so, what was their response?

SHARON: I wrote my Basics of Life anthology short story GROWTH for my dad. He never read it as it was about his terminal cancer diagnosis and it was published after he died. I’m coauthoring a novel that I’m writing at the moment that’s based on a concept I came up with for my son. He has epilepsy and in the story the seizures are more like a superpower. He loves the concept and I’m excited for when he’ll get to read it.

PETE: That must be truly cool for your son. So, who have been the most influential writers in your world?

SHARON: Holly Black has definitely had a huge impact on me. Her Curse Workers series helped me find my preferred writing style and understand writing from a male POV. Angela Slatter has been somewhat of a mentor to me, and edited SLEEPER (as well as coming up with the book name and series title!). She’s not only a fantastic writer, but a giving person who has helped me understand the industry and how to improve my characterisation.

PETE: What habits have served you well as a writer?

SHARON: I use alpha readers when I write and I have found that that most effective way to combat writers block and pump out words (yes, Stacey Nash, I’m getting that next chapter finished soon). I used to write regularly at the beach when my husband was a lifeguard. That’s a habit I miss as it was great to be unplugged and focused on the words. I also write multiple stories at once. This may sound odd, but it ensure that I don’t lose an idea. Quite often I get to 20K and then return to my main WIP. Then I use an alpha reader to help me whip the rest out.

PETE: How much of yourself is in your characters?

SHARON: That really varies. Like a lot of authors, my first character, Mishca, has a lot of my traits. But there’s virtually nothing of me in Justin (Karma) or Jenna (novel I’m currently querying. I have one character that is more of me than Mishca, which is Kaylee. She’s in a WIP which is kinda-of autobiographical. I’m trying something different with a retelling of my senior year as though that’s when my dad got his terminal cancer diagnosis. It’s a bit odd, like a faux-memoir. But writing is about experimenting.

PETE: Please respond to this statement: Australian horror-fantasy-sf writers need to write Australian stories set in Australia.


1. Because if we don’t, who will?

2. Because the readers around the world are thinking more globally and want to know about places beyond the US/UK boarders.

3. Because Australia is kick-arse interesting and needs to be shared.

4. Because we have a unique culture that fascinates people in other countries.


SLEEPER is available on Kindle and will soon be available on Nook and Kobo. Watch Sharon’s FB profile or website for news. Goodreads reviews here.

About the Author:

Sharon is a writer from Mackay in Queensland, Australia who has short stories published in anthologies and was also runner-up in the Australian Literary Review’s Young Adult short story contest with KARMA. By day she is a public relations executive and by night she writes weird fiction and soulful contemporaries while her husband, two sons and cat are fast asleep.



Michael Pryor: 5 Questions & a Statement


I’d like to introduce you to the erudite and dapper Mr Michael Pryor – if you don’t already know him and his works. I’ve been enjoying his latest series The Extraordinaires this year. It was my pleasure to meet Michael at Melbourne’s recent Continuum convention where I found him to be a true gentleman and a very interesting man to listen to.

So. I’ve fired five questions and a statement at Michael. What follows are his responses…

With over 30 novels to your name, what would be the secret(s) to your longevity as an author?

MP: Longevity? I think it’s a matter of working steadily (every day, if possible), being alert for new ideas (I think everyone has ideas – I just grab them and write a story using them) and always aiming to write better and better.

Of your novels, what is your favourite and why?

MP: My usual response here is, ‘My latest – because it’s the freshest in my mind.’ That would make it The Subterranean Stratagem, which expands on and deepens the world of The Extinction Gambit, the first book of The Extraordinaires series. Having said that, I do have a deep and abiding penchant for Blaze of Glory, the first book of The Laws of Magic, because in it I was trying to do a number of things I’d never tried before (comedy/fantasy, Steampunk and a romance) and by the end of it I think I managed to do it.

Who would be YOUR current favourite 3 or 4 authors?

MP:  Tim Powers. A supreme storyteller whose researching is first class and whose nose for the oddities of history is top class. Neale Stephenson. Erudite, esoteric and funny. Lois McMaster Bujold. She can do character like few others – deft, subtle and with the appearance of effortlessness. Dan Simmons. I’ll read anything he writes. Even his lesser works are great. Oh, and can I slip in Terry Pratchett? Because Terry Pratchett?

Where did the inspiration for The Extraordinaires come from?

MP: I’ve always been fascinated by magic, by sleight of hand. As a kid I read a lot about the history of magic and I loved the world of the Victorian/Edwardian stage with all the big names up in lights. The showmanship of Thurston, Hermann and Maseklyne was enchanting. The Edwardian era appealed to me as a rich and textured time, the beginning of the modern world in its advances in science and technology, where society was moving out of the Victorian strictures, as evidenced by the beginnings of the Suffragist movement and the rise of labour associations. I love the chance to play against the old-fashioned manners and morals, where courtesy and politeness were important. With the addition of a little magic and mystery, it was the perfect world for my particular brand of Fantasy. Thus, The Extraordinaires.

The Extraordinaires begins in London in 1908. This is, in some ways, the height of the Edwardian period. London hosts both the Olympic Games and the great Franco-British Exhibition and is still the centre of a vast and prosperous empire. Naturally, this is an irresistible backdrop to imagine a world that lies underneath such a well-organised and forthright society, a shadowy world that contains both the malign and the magnificent, a world that can be found behind unexpected doorways, beneath the streets and in those parts of the city that are unfrequented by upright citizens. This Demimonde – the half-world – intersects with the criminal underworld and the world of the theatre, where our young hero, Kingsley Ward, is hoping to make a success. The problem is, though, that he was raised by wolves and this upbringing unfortunately surfaces in times of stress. Howling and biting people during your stage debut is never a good way to start a theatrical career …

Advice to up-and-coming writers?

MP: I echo Stephen King. Read a lot and write a lot. Also – finish something! So many people have the beginnings of a dozen stories lying about. Finish one, and finish it properly, so it’s as good as it can be. Then start the next one and finish it, too.


Statement: Australian speculative fiction is enjoying its healthiest season yet.

MP: We certainly have many, many people writing it, that’s for sure. Gone are the days when I could count on the fingers of one hand those who were writing in this field. Now, if only it could get the recognition and respect it deserves from outside genre circles.


Michael’s work can be found in all good bookstores, with samples available on his website:


Keith C Blackmore: 5 Questions & a Statement

This post is the first in a new series where I invite an author whose work I’ve enjoyed to respond to five questions & one statement. It’s meant to be short, sharp and interesting. So, I’ll get on with it!

Our first guest is horror and fantasy writer Keith C Blackmore. This year I “discovered” his Mountain Man (MM) series of zombie novels, a series I’m loving (I’m currently immersed in the second book). Keith is an indie author and a stand-up guy. Let’s see how he handles my questions…

PETE: Where did the inspiration for the Mountain Man series come from?

KEITH: Always wanted to do a zombie story (as well as some other classic monsters) so I sat and thought about what I liked about the genre and didn’t like, and kept those notes handy. I had read Stephen Knight’s book “The Gathering Dead” which was my first exposure to military vs. zombies, and while it was a great read, I knew I couldn’t do something like that.  So I created Gus, who is essentially Robinson Crusoe at heart, but with a little more emotional baggage. I didn’t want to do an “outbreak” book. That really didn’t interest me, but I did like the concept of this average guy surviving with no special training, using only common sense and taking no chances (at least in the beginning, anyway). MM was always a character piece right from the start, with the zombies as the backdrop, but with attempts to make it scary, or at least suspenseful.

PETE: It’s a wonderful character piece: Gus is a very likeable (if flawed) character! So, what are you most proud of in your various novels?

KEITH: Difficult question to answer as I can’t say I’m really proud of the books. I am extremely happy that people buy,  read and enjoy them. And I guess I do feel vindicated that my work is selling after 20 plus years of trying to get a publishing contract.  I’m glad people like the characters. At one time I felt that my characterization skills were lacking, so I really tried to work on them, making mental notes of such great writers as David Gemmell and Stephen King. And MM got a movie option agreement/contract just a few months ago and even though I know it’s a long shot of it even becoming a flick (something like 5%, if that?), it’s a professional pat on the back that I’m doing something right.

PETE: Absolutely! Hope they make the fillum. Next: whose advice do you listen to on choosing the books you read? (Goodreads, friends, professional reviewers, Amazon reviewers…?)

KEITH: On choosing the books that I read? I usually do my shopping on Amazon nowadays (it’s so convenient) but if I’m around a used book shop I’ll go in there too. I read the product blurb and the first few pages to see if the writing style clicks with me. The storyline has to be really, really interesting for me to purchase without sampling. I don’t usually follow any advice (or if I do, it’s from friends). I read a lot of different genres, and make a study session of the ones that really impress me.

PETE: What has been the hardest or most wearisome part of getting your writing off the ground?

KEITH: The hardest part? Definitely the editing . After going over a book two or three or more times, just looking at the cover makes me want to barf. It’s like eating your favourite food for a solid week. The writing of the first draft is usually great, and going back for that second draft a few months later is also great, but after that, it gets really tedious.

PETE: What’s next for you?

KEITH: I write in Horror and Heroic Fantasy. 2013 was set to focus on developing a new fantasy series called “131 Days.” I like the grim worlds of say George Martin and Joe Abercrombie, and my work mirrors theirs, so I’ll be writing a couple of fantasy books as well as others. I actually just finished up on the first draft of book 3 of “131 Days,” and I have a sequel to the “White Sands, Red Steel” book. “131 Days” is more of a character study while White Sands is more action oriented. There’s a werewolf book in my head that I’ll start on September 7th, and there’s the fourth book of MM. Always had an idea for MM4, but I couldn’t go back to zombies after MM3 as I needed to take a break from them. Been taking notes all the while, and I think I’m ready to go back to that world. For a bit anyway.

So production-wise, the schedule looks like this: (all are first drafts and second drafts will happen in between projects)

Book 3, 131 Days (done)

Werewolf Story

He-Dog 2 (White Sands sequel–already partially done, needs second draft)


And that should take me up to the middle of 2014, I think. Only hope they sell and that people like them! One of the things being a full time writer is the unknown of it all. I’m still building my reader base, and I’m very well aware that one “bad” book could cripple whatever progress I’ve made thus far. And if the writing career falters, well, (shrugs) I’m not sure what I’ll do, which is all good motivation to produce quality reads.  

 PETE: Here’s your statement (respond as you wish): Self-publishing beats traditional publishing in this day and age.

KEITH: In my experience it certainly does :). But then it’s a different road for each writer. If a person can’t afford to take on the costs associated with self-publishing (cover, editing, etc) then the traditional route is probably preferable.

Keith’s work is available on Kobo and on Amazon. Be sure to check it out!


What makes you pick up a book and consider it? The cover art? A friend’s recommendation? The title?

Whatever it is, you probably pick it up, scan the blurb on the back then flick open the first page. If you’re like me, that’s possibly the make or break moment for the book. Like what you read in the first twenty seconds or so and you’re more likely to buy it (or borrow it if you’re standing in the library).

As an author, I’m endebted to writing buddy and editor Davidh Digman for introducing me to the 25 word test. In other words, if the the first 25 words catch the editor’s eye and hook them, they’ll persist…just like the browser in the bookstore. So those first words are vital to the success of a short story, a book, a series even. Consider these beginnings and let me know how they affect you …

“It was a bright, sunny day. Not, you might have thought, the sort of day for hunting ghosts.” (The Dark, James Herbert … I just love that play on “It was a dark and stormy night”!)

“All nights should be so dark, all winters so warm, all headlights so dazzling. The van jacked, stalled and quit on a drift, and the homicide team got out, militia officers cut from a pattern of short arms and low brows” (Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith).

“The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I didn’t see him at first. I smelled him though –” (The Street Lawyer, John Grisham).

“There should have been a dark whisper in the wind. Or maybe a deep chill in the bone. Something. An ethereal song only Elizabeth or I could hear. A tightness in the air. Some textbook premonition. There are misfortunes we almost expect in life — what happened to my parents, for example — and then there are other dark moments, moments of sudden violence, that alter everything. There was my life before the tragedy. There is my life now. The two have painfully little in common.” (Tell No One, Harlan Coben … Ok, so that’s a lot more than 25 words but that’s because the prose just pushes me along to the end of the first paragraph, and at that end I nod my head in appreciation…and have to force myself to put the book aside and pick up the next from my desk!)

“The loading dock smelled of turned milk, and the storeowner’s breath of beer and cheese. The odors of white people, Junior Inspector Keung Yeng thought.” (Illegal, Pete Aldin and Kevin Ikenberry … ok, self-indulgent, but I’m bloody proud of this opening that got us published in Andromeda Spaceways.)

“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.” (Patient Zero, Jonathan Mayberry).

“I know there’s something wrong the moment I see the dead girl standing in the Wintergarden food court. She shouldn’t be there. Or I shouldn’t.” (Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson).

[Similar to the one above, but no less hook-y]: “Had the man in front of her not already been dead, Chess probably would have tried to kill him. Damn ghosts.” (Unholy Ghosts, Stacia Kane).

Nightmares by Day: Interview with Ian Welke


It was my pleasure recently to chat with one half of brother and sister team, Ian and Nicole Welke about their web comic Nightmares by Day. Ian has been a great friend of mine for a few years now, a generous, funny and insightful bloke. He’s also very very clever when it comes to conceptualising and delivering dark fiction. I began by asking him why he is drawn to reading and writing dark fiction before we moved on to chatting about the comic Nightmares by Day, its website and H.P. Lovecraft.




IAN: For me I think dark fiction is the most tempting because it’s got the most on the line, the world is in danger, someone might lose their sanity and their soul. Also my favorite writers have all written dark fiction of some sort. My favorite scifi writers write dystopias. Hell, even Tolkien: one of the best parts of LOTR is where they have to evade the dark riders – say what you will, but I found that to be some of the most frightening storytelling I’ve read.


PETE: “because it’s got the most on the line, the world is in danger, someone might lose their sanity and their soul. “ – that resonates with me, Ian. I think I write it because it feels like what happens to the characters matters, everything’s at stake. (You said it better, though). So: Nightmares by Day. A great website and comic. Very creepy stuff, beautifully illustrated. I imagine the work that Nicole puts into those panels is phenomenally time consuming. She paints them??



IAN: Yes indeed, and yes she really puts a lot of hours into them. She paints them and then hands them over to me to scan.



PETE: So, tell us about the concept and what we can expect from Nightmares by Day over the next few months.



IAN: The concept is based on a combination of things, but it started with my sister and I remembering a game we used to play with friends of ours when we were children.

Due to a fascination with Scooby Doo, we’d get together and “solve” paranormal mysteries. So as adults Nicole and I had the idea “what if that were real” and I always wanted to do a series of stories with young paranormal investigators. At this point we’re nearing the halfway point of the first story arc. The first story arc will conclude around December, if we manage to stay true to schedule, and has a resolution that I think will please people, especially any Lovecraft fans reading the comic.



PETE: Okay. Who was Lovecraft, what’s Lovecraftian “stuff” and why do I keep seeing it everywhere when I look at horror publications?



IAN: H.P. Lovecraft was a dark fiction writer during the first part of the 20th century. Lovecraft created a mythology for his fiction, a set of monsters, dark gods, ancient tomes, that are often reused throughout his stories. He then encouraged other writers to expand upon this universe. I think it’s partially the depth of this universe that is why he’s so popular today. But it’s also that what makes those stories “Lovecraftian” resonates with readers.


As for what constitutes Lovecraftian, that is a big question. I’ve seen entire panels on this at cons. I think for me there are a number of different things that I’d call Lovecraftian. The sense that the universe is completely different than what you would think or what you should think. The feeling that one’s craziest, darkest, most paranoid dreams are also correct, is Lovecraftian — that the delusional person is seeing the real truth. That there are, and have always been, dark forces working against our interests. And certainly the thought that there is a parallel world (or are parallel worlds) is pretty prevalent in his mythos. And our comic story starts off with a story where the characters travel to another world, one where there are monsters that are trying to break into our world.


For me, so much of my developmental years was spent in collections of his short stories, and the stories of people who were in turn influenced by him, so much of my time today is spent either reading Lovecraftian fiction, playing games based on his work, or writing stories and game materials along a similar vein… It was very tempting to kick off the comic with a Lovecraftian story. For one thing, I think if we started with a classic movie monster for the first story: vampire, werewolf, or Frankenstein’s monster, it would be harder to tell a Lovecraftish tale later, whereas if we start with something Lovecraftian we can use one of those classic monsters in a story later without feeling like we’ve broken something.



PETE: The story arc for Nightmares. How did you plan that out together? How did you decide where the story’s going?



IAN: Initially we envisioned it as a graphic novel, so in terms of length and pacing  we were thinking to go a certain distance with that arc. In terms of pacing, we figured we’d do six page-posts since I was a big fan of Freak Angels by Warren Ellis, which posted six pages at a time. Six pages is also a nice way of having a set up and hopefully a pay off, hook, or both at the end of each post.



PETE: It’s worked well for me as a reader.



IAN: As for the story itself, this first arc is seen as a big introductory story, but it puts the characters into the danger pretty quick I think. The second arc will be a different kind of interesting because they’ll have to deal with supernatural dangers but also the more normal real world dangers, which are often worse… or at least more embarrassing.



PETE: So you’ll raise the stakes?



IAN: I think the stakes will be raised in each story, but in some ways the second arc might speak to people more directly since there will be more that people have had to go through in their own lives…Except for people that had to rescue their brothers from a nightmare alternate reality: those people will have plenty in the first arc to relate to.



PETE: You said earlier, “So as adults Nicole and I had the idea ‘what if that were real’” — Did this project arise from one of those sitting-round-the-table-at-the-diner brainstorming sessions, like the one that created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?


IAN: We wanted to work on a project together since I moved back here. I’d been living up in Seattle and when I came back to Southern California we decided we should work on something together. I had a few ideas, but especially after looking at the paintings she did that appeared in HBO’s True Blood, I thought we could do something that made good use of her art style.



PETE: I read about Nicole’s art being in True Blood. That was for one episode, yeah? I didn’t see it, but having seen your comic, I can guess why they asked her to do it. The thing that first grabbed me with Nightmares was the style of the artwork. It reminded me of the warm and rich illustrations in childrens books I’d read to my kids…only there was this sinister undertone to it, and a dark storyline developing. Beautiful counterpoint.



IAN: Her paintings are in the bathroom in the vampire bar, Fangtasia, which was originally Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. There’s an episode in the first season, episode 9, Plaisir d’amour, I believe, where they first appear in the show. I believe in the latter seasons these have been reproduced for a set. I finally got around to watching season 4, and you see a bit more of them then. Yes she has this innate ability to combine cute and creepy. It works beautifully for the material I think.



PETE: What else have you and your sister done? I’m interested in the experiences you bring to this project. I know I’ve read several of your published short stories (and I’m lucky enough to have read some drafts of others you have in the pipeline), but tell our readers about yours and Nicole’s backgrounds.



IAN: Nicole’s art has appeared in numerous forms: gallery art shows, covers for albums and tour posters, as well as tattoo flash. She’s also a talented musician, playing all sorts of instruments and singing. As for our background, we grew up in a very suburban neighborhood in southern California, much of which will be reflected in the pages of the comic. As for my background, I have a degree in History with a lot of additional studying in literature and mythology. I’ve spent most of my life lost in books or stories. Escapism to me is almost an ideology.


PETE: What made you decide on a web comic rather than a print edition?



IAN: Well were planning for, if not planning on, a print collection eventually, but it’s our goal to first build an audience this way, and then there’s things we can do with the web that might not fit as well with a print edition. We have plans for lots of one-shots in between story lines for instance. Also, although it’s not my favorite thing, since I am a caveman when it comes to computers, it’s still nice to do something new, and I’ve been learning bit by bit on how to make a website and hopefully make the website nicer eventually. One slow step at a time on that web learning. Kind of like mastering fire.



PETE: Only this doesn’t burn. I hope.



IAN: Jury’s still out on that. 🙂



PETE: A caveman when it comes to computers? Didn’t you work for Blizzard Entertaiment? I googled you and one of the hits placed you in the credits for Starcraft (one of my all time favourite games).



IAN: I did work at Blizzard, for eight years, and then at a THQ company, and finally at Runic Games. But I was never a real technical person, I worked in the testing departments where it was my job to break things, much different than building things.



PETE: I wanted to ask you a side question, writer to writer: how the heck do you manage the various projects you have and the ideas that won’t stop coming? How do you keep all the balls in the air?



IAN: Right now I’m fortunate enough that my wife likes my cooking and tolerates my cleaning, which while it can be time consuming, does allow me more time to write. For one thing working in the home… well it’s hard to beat the commute.  As for how to write multiple projects, that’s a big work in progress for me. It seems like what works changes from project to project, and by the time I figure out how to keep a couple different stories going, I’m usually finishing them. Maybe that’s just because my main focus has been short stories though.



PETE: Where do you hope to take the project over the next year or two? What’s the future for it?



IAN: Good question. Well I have over five years outlined, but obviously we’ll have to roll with the punches somewhat to see how it goes and adapt when the story changes on us. We have so much detail and background material written and so little of that comes out in the comic because of the nature of the posts, that it’s hard to tell at this point. If all goes well, sometime after the second story arc begins, we’ll look to sell some prints, t-shirts, and maybe even a collection of the first arc. As for the story, like I say, it’s there, but it will likely evolve as it gets produced.




PETE: Well, the care and attention you both put into the project really shines through. I wish you both good luck and godspeed with it. Been great to talk.



IAN: Thanks! Always love to chat about writing with you.




You can find Ian and Nicole’s web comic at What are you still here for? Go look!