5 Tips For Bringing Characters to Life


, , , , , , , , , , ,

(Previously published at Flash Fiction Chronicles 2013)

Compelling fiction thrives on convincing characters. They are the flypaper that snares us mid-flight, the bones of every plot and story. The more realistic they are, the more vivid the reader’s window will be into their world. With a quick Google search, it isn’t hard to find lists of advice about the development of strong characters (give them motivations, histories, weaknesses, and hunger, among others), but my goal here is to shirk those broader tenets in favor of some less obvious techniques.

Here’s my list of five tips for bringing characters to life:


Tip #1: Give Them Senses

Close your eyes. Can you isolate three unique sounds? Is there an aftertaste of the last thing you drank still coating the palate? Is there a small pebble in your shoe, nipping your feet?

While omniscient narrators can show us everything, the characters force us to live the story. Clearly, as writers, we can’t overindulge. Not only can this convolute and bog down the plot, the human mind naturally focuses on only a few senses at a time in order to protect itself from sensory overload. But by mentioning unexpected senses, we color the world with meaningful details through the characters themselves:

Beijing was not new to pollution. Xui Li often called it the city of clouds, in jest. But it wasn’t the gray pall or even its acrid stench that bothered her. It was the taste, the air’s grit coating her tongue that brought her to wear the unsightly mask.

Likewise, in Flash, where every word counts, a simple reference of a familiar sense can evoke a distinct personality or even an implied history with just a few words:

Stepping off the bus, my Father’s brisk hug swallowed me in Jovan Musk – the stench a stale reminder of cold dinners and Sunday School.


Tip #2: Give Them Quirks

A character without strengths, weaknesses and motivations is not a character at all. But where these attributes give characters depth, quirks make them stand out in a crowd.

Quirks add a great dynamic that effectively frames a character’s history and personality without requiring a lot of investment in word count. But more importantly, they make characters memorable and likable.

Think about the people in your life. What is it about them that stands out the most? Try not to focus on bigger traits, like how Bob donates to charities, or Vanessa does missionary work in Chile. Think more along the lines of how Jim is a forty-year-old Justin Bieber fan, or how Katy, being an obsessive movie goer, always compares events to scenes of classic flicks.

Most quirks don’t need an explanation, but some deserve it. If Vicki wears an eye patch, there’s a history there that requires some explanation, and it may even be central to the plot. But unless it is a core aspect of the story, a good rule of thumb for flash is to keep it simple, keep it unique, and let the characters use them how they will.


Tip: #3 Make Them Move

None of us simply stand still when we talk. We move, walk around, drink, and smoke, often without even thinking about it. As an experiment, try going to a friend’s house for coffee and spend twenty minutes discussing whatever you want. But casually, secretly, watch the other person. There are more than words being spoken: there’s the language of body movement, emphasizing and ever implying.

Having characters coil fingers in the cord while on the phone, taking intermittent sips as they talk or even butting a lit cigarette halfway through the discussion is a great way to pump blood into the dialogue. These little motions add a certain realism which piques the readers’ attention and keeps them in the world.

Sure, you could write this:

‘Right,’ Terry said. ‘I’ll just run a system scan and it should be good to go.’

But by adding a small action, you spark even the tiniest moment:

‘Right,’ Terry pushed his glasses up the crook of his nose. ‘I’ll just run a system scan and it should be good to go.’


Tip #4: Let Them Speak For Themselves

As a writer, it’s important to always remember that this isn’t about you, it’s about the characters. So, give them the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings. Just as movements are a great way to keep characters active, they can also be effective means of showing what characters think or feel. Never tell what they’re experiencing when dialogue or actions can deliver the same point.

This could capture the character’s emotions:

‘At least you still have the girls,’ Carol said.

‘I know,’ Gina nodded. But it still hurt. There was a void where her baby once was, and he wasn’t any less of a child in her heart. 

But the character could easily convey the same information without pushing the reader into her mind:

‘At least you still have the girls,’ Carol said.

‘I know,’ Gina whispered, touching the void where her belly once swelled. ‘He just…he was still my baby boy.’

Naturally, we shouldn’t force characters to express themselves when they normally wouldn’t want to; some thoughts are best kept in the head. But showing instead of telling goes a long way in fiction, and it grants characters personal freedom to make their own impact.


Tip #5: Challenge Them

How much do you know about your characters before starting the story? No matter the answer, the reader knows nothing, so giving them opportunities to learn more about the characters is paramount. Life is full of little complications, and how we react says a lot about us: how patient we are, how forgiving, how sympathetic. The same applies here. As an exercise, try challenging your characters with seemingly unnecessary complications to help bring their personalities to life.

Have someone cut him off on the ride home; have a homeless man accidentally bump into her on the subway; have him spill coffee on his newspaper. These little occurrences can prime the readers’ understanding of whom these characters are, which further validates how they react to larger events.

When Pastor Johnson gets cut off, he curses, telling us he may not hold as much conviction to his faith; when Judge Roberts goes to work, she condemns the homeless man his accident, telling us she’s quick to, well, judge; and when Bruce, the mailman, spills coffee on his paper, he gives a heavy sigh and cleans it up, explaining why he doesn’t go into a rage when told he’s lost his job.

In flash, minutia is crucial, and a few hints at a character’s humanity can work wonders for a robust personality. By giving them the ability to experience their own world; to be whatever quirky self they may be; to stretch their arms on a long drive; to express their own thoughts and feelings; and the opportunity take on little challenges, you give them life.

A Special Halloween Interview with Anthony J. Rapino


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halloween is my favorite time of the year. It’s a day for candy, a day for kids, a day for going to overpriced junk stores peddling the foulest wretches of your secret, sexy-pizza nightmares. It’s the only day of the year when family movie night means Hellraiser and chocolate coated skulls of baby squirrels, instead of the usual Wall-E and veggie chips. Needless to say, as my first Interdimensional Interview proves, I take this holiday very seriously, so when it came time to pick a costume, I knew it had to be original — something truly unique — and I had the perfect idea.

I was to be Breaking Bad’s Walter White!

I didn’t need much to play the role: I already shaved my head, grew a goatee, and developed a bunch of lung cancer, so all that was left was a cheap, yellow hazmat suit. I would be the belle of the ball! Assuming, of course, I could find the costume.

I looked everywhere. I tried the local stores first, then set out on my travels to far and distant lands. On my way to Amityville, I took a left turn at Elm Street, got lost at Camp Crystal Lake, and stayed the next night at the Overlook hotel (where men in animal costumes fed me whiskey and demanded I tell them “What the fox say”). Continuing on, I somehow ended up in the small town of Moon Hill.

While I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, everything about Moon Hill felt a little off. One charming lad politely informed me that “There is no hope,” just as his eyes turned black and he vomited pea soup on my shirt. Another person turned out to be a tendinous, squirrely creature with fleshy nubs for teeth. He was nice enough to give me directions. But then I saw them: They were a moaning mass of bodies, lurching, shuffling, all twisty as their ravenous eyes fell my way. I ran, screaming, and they gave chase. Through the streets I went until at last I found the “Moon Hill Monster Closet” sign. I ducked in for safety.

So, here I am. The place is dark and full of ominous, mechanical laughter. Slowly, my eyes adjust, and I realize it isn’t a Halloween prop making the noise, it’s the man behind the counter. He stops laughing and glares through grim eyes, his goateed mouth chewing some unseen horror. Or, maybe just spaghetti. It’s hard to tell in the dim lighting.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I’m looking for a Walter White costume. The kind that he wears in the lab.”

The man stares and chews. Chews and stares.

Then comes the pounding at the doors. They’ve found me!

“Crap! Look, I’m in a hurry! Do you have the costume or not?”

“Who are they?” he asks, pointing a finger outside.

“Justin Bieber’s fans,” I gulp. “They always mistake me for him. But in a manly way!”

He nods, says, “Sure, sure. To answer your question, that’s a very popular costume, but we may still have one in stock.”

“Oh, it is?” I rub my arm. “Yeah, well, it’s, uh, for a friend. I’m doing something amazingly unique this year.”

He shrugs, then leads me deep into the labyrinthine store, past ghoulish grins and smoking-ape masks. That’s when we pass under a blazing black light and I see his face.

“Hey, you’re Anthony J. Rapino!” I cry. “Author of Welcome to Moon Hill, Soundtrack to the End of the World, and Exquisite Death! Your new audio book, Reality Engineers, literally just came out!”

He nods again. Wipes the red from his lips.

“So, yeah, uh, I’ll make a deal with you! If you maybe just let me slip out the back, I’ll interview you!”

Slowly turning, he hands over the last costume, and with a wide grin, says, “Hey, why not?”

So I say:

Great! Thanks for giving me the time to interview you, and for helping me escape Bieber’s army. Anyway, let’s get started: What is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

I’ve dabbled in nearly every creative art.  I enjoy creation.  I play guitar, draw, paint, build, photograph, design, you name it.  The thing is I’m not very good at most of those things.  Competent?  Sure.  Skilled?  Perhaps.  But I’d reached my peak, and I knew on some deep level there was no more ground to gain.

When I considered becoming a writer, it was different.  The sky opened and goblins rained down, soaking me in blue-green viscera as they exploded on the ground, expelling their essence.  I drank deeply of their dark waters.  I bathed in their juice.  I danced among the gore.

And when they released me from the asylum, I started writing.

I’ve dabbled in nearly every creative art.  I enjoy creation.

Sounds messy. So, what’s your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous? Does it involve subsisting on human guts and coffee?

I have always relied on ritual to focus my mind and energy on the task at hand.  This ritual has changed over the years, at different times involving things like donning special “writer’s hats,” saving a single cigarette for after I’ve completed my writing for the day, having a certain type of drink on hand (sometimes beer, sometimes Kool Aid), and sacrificing the grey spotting lily-licker to gods of old.

While I do still have a ritual, it has been simplified.  No longer do I perform the stump-handed box step atop the eviscerated.  Nor do I paint my body in the eight signs of Sargozath, bringer of meal worms.

I sit at my computer, get a nice cup of coffee (it must be a nice cup; grumpy cups will not do), put on some instrumental music, and write.  And sometimes I’ll rub my Poe head for luck.  That’s not a euphemism.

I do the same thing, only I rub D.B. Tarpley’s head. His actual head, of course, not some doll or bobble-head. Sometimes it talks to me, tells me to do things… Anyway, tell me about Reality Engineers!

Reality Engineers is a new audio novella about residents of Moon Hill who unwittingly discover a way to manipulate reality.  These various skills, however, come at a price that no one is ready to pay.  As eldritch and benevolent creatures materialize, the Moon Hill crew must choose sides and attempt to save not only themselves, but the entire town.

For anyone who has followed my work, Reality Engineers will have many “Easter eggs” throughout the narrative, which relate back to my short story collection, Welcome to Moon Hill.  In fact, I consider this audio book to be the unofficial sequel in the Moon Hill Trilogy.  The books are all standalone, but the characters and settings often cross over.

Why release Reality Engineers as an audiobook as opposed to print?

My decision [to] work towards an audio release is simple:  It’s mind-numbingly amazing!  There are simply not enough audio books available, and releasing these things in a digital-dominated market makes too much sense not to do it.

I used to listen to audio books on tape when I worked in retail, and the fact will forever remain, when you don’t have the ability to read (because you’re driving, or doing some kind of physical labor, or shopping, or running, or a million others examples), you can still listen to an audio book.  And besides, the voice actors Mark employs (Ian Baldwin being the one who reads Reality Engineers) breathe new life into the characters and the work itself.

Let me put it this way:  I wrote the damn thing, I’ve read it more times than I can count, I’ve edited it, I’ve revised it…I should be SICK TO DEATH of it by now.  But when I listen to the recording, I find myself engaged, laughing like I’m batshit crazy, and simply LOVING the story all over again.  I’m not trying to blow smoke up my own ass.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Ian’s performance, and Mark’s team over at In Ear transforming my story.

Although I have no immediate plans, I may still release Reality Engineers in print as well, but that won’t be for a while, if ever.

There are simply not enough audio books available, and releasing these things in a digital-dominated market makes too much sense not to do it.

What is it about horror fiction that speaks to you? Were you raised by eyeless dolls?

I’m currently staring at a human skull named Sunshine that I have mounted in my office.  You tell me.

We’re in a costume store. But good point all the same! Moving on: I like that your work revolves around a single location, called Moon Hill. Wait a minute, we’re in Moon Hill! What a coinkidink! Anyway, do you have more works planned for this universe? 

Yes, I’m working on a full length novel that takes place in Moon Hill (which will be the third installment of the unofficial Moon Hill Trilogy).  I’ve spent a long time fleshing out the town and its inhabitants, and I simply love revisiting this place.

I’ve spent a long time fleshing out the town and its inhabitants, and I simply love revisiting this place.

How about outside of Moon Hill? 

Most of my work does take place outside of Moon Hill. My first novel, for example, is not in the Moon Hill universe.  And once I complete this novel, I’m going to focus on other locations and storylines for a while.  Though, I fear I may never be too far away from Moon Hill.

Okay, you’re in a horror movie: Who would you cast for yourself and why?

This is probably going to sound conceited, but I’ve been told I can sometimes look like Johnny Depp.  Personally, I think it all has to do with the facial hair.  I do like most of his movies, though, so I think he’s a damn fine choice. 

Yeah, I’d peg myself as Brad Pitt, or maybe 50 Cent. It’s hard to choose. So, who or what are some of your biggest influences? 

Food.  It influences me daily.  Halloween occupies my mind on most days as well.  Some literary influences are Edgar Allan Poe, Chuck Palahniuk, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I do.  You should read all of my books and pay careful attention to all of the marketing strategies I employ, then do the complete opposite!  Similarly, if you ever catch me trying to give you advice, ignore everything I say.  I’ve caused too many people to become imprisoned already.

Similarly, if you ever catch me trying to give you advice, ignore everything I say.  I’ve caused too many people to become imprisoned already.

Noted. Okay, final question: If you were a–Oh my God, what the hell is that hideous thing behind you?!

A mirror.

Oh, right! What I meant to say was, who is that handsome devil with the bald head behind you!

Well, thanks again Mr. Rapino for chatting with me and for letting me out the backdoor! For the readers, you can follow Anthony on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to check out “Reality Engineers” available now through In Ear Entertainment. 



An Interview with C.S. Johnson


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I believe the children are our future, because they’re both inevitable and unpredictable. Like the apocalypse. Or iPhone 10’s or something. The point is, even if we teach them well we should be cautious of letting them lead the way, at least until we better understand their motivations. Otherwise, we put the entire planet at risk of having a twerking Ninja Turtle for President, and that must-not-happen!

With this in mind, I set out to better understand these pubescent enigmas by the only means that makes any sense: I was to infiltrate a high school and pretend to be one of them.

As I strolled up to Apollo Central High, the students all gaped in awe at my solid gold parachute pants. They enacted the ritual of acceptance by pointing and laughing at my McGuiver mullet. Even the jocks, the coolest of the cool, inducted me into their number by performing the honorable Atomic Wedgie as I entered the door. Then they showered me with praise:

“Awesome digs, loser!”

“The 1980’s called, they want their reject back.”

I just smiled and waved. I had no idea what any of it meant, but being one of them now, I knew it was only a matter of time before I cracked the code of tomorrow’s generation.

That’s when the meteor hit.

The city shuddered and I immediately took the high road, of completely abandoning my objective to valiantly warn everyone of the impending danger, by running through the streets screaming. After a good hour of this, I was parched and decided my job there was done, and that’s how I ended up here, in this coffee shop.

As I order my Triple-Mocha-Cappa-Frappa-Decaf, a newscaster is describing the situation over a radio at the counter: “In related news, the people of the city have been surprisingly calm, except for one man that reports tell us was dressed in MC Hammer pants and screaming “We’re doomed, we’re doomed, the children are upon us.”

I sip my scalding coffee and sit at the couch. That’s when I see her!

“Hey!” I cry, “you’re C.S. Johnson, author of The Starlight Chronicles (WestBow Press) and YA fiction extraordinaire!”

She blinks at me, no doubt spellbound by my immaculate taste in clothes. “Um, yeah, that’s me. Do I know you?”

“No, but together, we can save humanity!”


“How about an interview?”

That’s when she calls a magazine, and gives my description, no doubt to alert them of this new trend in fashion. “Yes, officer,” she says. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.”

Then she turns to me: “Sure! Ask away, just so long as it takes at least ten to fifteen minutes. Also, I hope you don’t mind me staying on the phone.”

“Not at all!” I beam. And that’s when I say:

Thanks for giving me the time to interview you! And for calling that magazine to talk about my awesome outfit. So, let’s get started with the usual suspects: What is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

Thank you for chatting with me. It is always a pleasure to talk about myself. Especially with coffee. Oh the luxuries of being an author!

Writing makes me human, and keeps me human. Words have always formed the foundation for ourselves, whether we admit it or know it or not. I am better able to understand myself, and others, through writing, and express ideas I can’t really talk about in person very well.

When it comes to my writing, I think I should admit upfront I have never taken criticism well. I do not change for people. My writing is staunchly set forth in a world that would have me bend over and twist around, but I have made it my voice and mine alone. That being said, I think it is very hard to put my writing style into any particular box. It’s like watching a Disney movie and then going on a drive-by. Witty-whimsical, fluffy with a bite; very intentional, but disguised. As a teacher-writer, my writing can be didactic, but I know more than anyone how unimpressive people find this.

I started writing largely because I wanted to have more of a voice. I was the “good, smart” girl in school – all through school, really. To this day I doubt people largely remember anything else about me, if they remember me at all. I was very shy and a lot of people have told me I was snobbish, when I was really just too shy. I kept writing because I was good at – people started realizing I was funny, and actually did have helpful and meaningful things to say. I keep writing today because it is part of who I am – and part of who I am meant to be.

Writing makes me human, and keeps me human. Words have always formed the foundation for ourselves, whether we admit it or know it or not.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous? 

It has to be spontaneous. I have a full-time job, I’m working towards my master’s degree, and I have recently started a family with my husband. And my son makes sure he is very distracting to me. But if I could plan it out, I would always write when it rains. I love it when the weather makes a bunch of other people ticked off.

Most of my writing process revolves around daydreaming first. My codename for this stage is “The Iceberg effect.” When I do get to writing, I will tell people I can’t hang out with them because I’m “saving the world.” And when I am editing most of it is the bipolar response: it’s either “genius, brilliant, world-changing, life-affirming!” or it’s the “shallow, weak, too silly, too stupid, I thought I was better than this oh God please help me to be better than this, calling my mother” episode.

One of the funnier things about is: I have a really funny concentration look. People think “something’s wrong” when I am daydreaming.

I do the same thing! People are always thinking something’s wrong with me. Strange. So anyway, tell me about Starlight Chronicles, and the first book of the series, Slumbering.

The starlight series is an epic fantasy I’ve been working on since high school. I thought of the original ideas then and I wanted to grow it where I could. Everything in it holds the best and worst of my teenage years, with my own version of fantasy twisted all around it. The story centers on Hamilton Dinger, a teenager who seemingly has it all. He is popular, good-looking, charismatic, and athletic, and he wants nothing more than to ask Gwen Kessler, a girl who “agrees with [him] on mostly all the right things” to be his girlfriend. Complications arise as a meteor strikes his city, and supernatural evil is released as a result. Hamilton finds out that he has been chosen to collect the supernatural creatures – the Seven Deadly Sinisters, and their leader, Orpheus – and he is absolutely repulsed by the very idea of usurping his life in order to help. The story works through his origins as a ‘superhero,’ but also focuses on his own paradigm shift as he begins to acknowledge his own limitations and failures.

Sometimes I feel like I tried very hard to rework “The Princess Bride.” My series has everything! Battles between good and evil, adventure, romance, amazing creatures, miracles, and true love, of course!

What was the biggest challenge of writing this novel for you? 

Editing. Editing is always the biggest challenge for me. It is the acknowledgement [that] what I wrote the first time is not perfect, or needs to be changed. It is painful. I imagine it’s like performing plastic surgery on your own child for medical reasons.

The second hardest part is just getting it all in, and working through it naturally, although I did leave some of the awkwardness there. It is the trademark of teenage years in real life. While I am a fan of YA lit myself, I don’t always agree with how little of the actual experience they get. What if Bella had acne? How does Edward go to the bathroom? Does he need to, as a vampire? And Harry! What is Harry Potter’s take on the Internet? Do wizards have computers? What about Katniss’s driving test? And her career path after the Capitol is disbanded? The teen years are about identity, and new experiences, finding something to work toward, and overcoming challenges; and these first and foremost come first from our own selves, whether it is our BO or pimples or insecurity, uncertainty, or poor time management skills.

Editing is always the biggest challenge for me. It is the acknowledgement [that] what I wrote the first time is not perfect, or needs to be changed.

Are you currently working on a follow up novel?

Yes, but I am running into some of the same problems I had with book 1. I have the first three books technically written, but book 1 underwent some changes which domino-effect the rest, and I have to streamline it carefully. I need to start paying my mother for all the talk therapy she gives me over this.

There is a short story I have written as an interim for books 1 and 2 (entitled “Awakening”) coming out soon in an anthology I worked on with my writer friends from Southern New Hampshire University, where I am currently getting my master’s degree in English and Creative Writing. There is a whole series planned out, with little puzzle pieces of it all scattered around my brain’s living room floor.

Do you have any other projects outside of the Starlight universe planned or in the works?

Several! I have submitted my debut adult literature novella, Soul Descent, to Nextnovelist.com, where they have a pool of readers select one book for a grand prize – there’s money involved, so I was highly motivated – and I’m working on getting pumped for Novelist November, that thing where you write a whole novel in one month. I’m going to try!

I also want to work on giving back somehow. My dream is to start a charity website where people can “verify” (affirm, or thank, or mention) the good deeds a person or friend does for them. Readers would vote “yay” for their favorites, their votes counting as “Brownie Points,” and the most voted good-deed-doer gets a brownie care package and a gift card from some participating company I’d have to get signed on. My tagline was the inspiration: “Bake a Difference.” I need some help getting started with it though, so it’s been put on the back-burner. (P.s. Anyone interested? Tweet me!) I thought it would be a good indie author promotion piece, too. I know from doing a lot of my own marketing that it can be very hard or very expensive. I think the brownies would help.

YA Fiction can be a bit tricky for some authors. It walks a line between adult and children’s work, and it requires a solid understanding of teen struggles and interests. How do you understand them so well? Does it involve dissection?

Conflict is universal, so understanding one automatically helps you understand the others. You’ve got a good idea, starting with dissection.

Thinking about conflict is like thinking about the hierarchy of animal classifications in science (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species – still know them after all these years, didn’t even have to Google that!). Domain is like ‘Conflict.’ Then you break it down through the system and the symptoms: Fear, anger, rejection, jealousy, isolation, alienation, regret, loneliness, hatred, etc. All of them are interrelated, but different, even if they happen at the same time (like twins!) or stem from the same instance. For example, when I was in high school, I was still shy, and so I felt rejected, and I was hurt, and I felt lonely.

The trick is different people will handle the same things differently. I know my characters very well (I have them go through the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II just to add more depth) and so I can predict how they will act. My protagonist, Hamilton, for example, has been called arrogant, and he is. He’s worked hard to get where he is, no doubt, but since he is proud and used to applause, he is simultaneously irritated, intrigued, and afraid of a new challenge. On the other hand, his ‘supposed counterpart,’ Starry Knight, thrives on challenges because she is confident, not proud. There’s a difference, but it is still the same in many ways.

Realistic, consistent characters make a story great. The worst movies have the poorest writing, particularly with characterization. No amount of sex, blood, or gore can atone for poor characterization.

Realistic, consistent characters make a story great. The worst movies have the poorest writing, particularly with characterization. No amount of sex, blood, or gore can atone for poor characterization.

Okay, you get some awesome news from a stranger. Is it, A) You’re a Wizard, B) You’re the son of a Greek God, C) You won a lifetime supply of Sponge Bob toothpaste, or D) A dashing and talented Transdimensional Traveler asks you for an interview? 

Oh there are so many awesome ways to answer this question. Go ahead and pick one: A) I’m a Christian, so I already have awesome news, B) I want Wal-Mart store credit for that toothpaste, or C) If this is like a “chicken or beef” question, I am bringing pizza.

So, I’ll just mark you down for “D” then. Moving on: Who or what are some of your biggest influences? 

I have a background in teaching English and English lit (I know I’ve just lost half my audience here) so my writing style is varied, but purposeful and playful at the same time. I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I have wasted trying to get students to learn. People talk about the war on terror, but the war on education? We are not interesting enough or connected enough to get enough screen time. Our weapons aren’t scary enough, I suppose.

Personally, I love C. S. Lewis. His voice was the first one I could hear as I read his work (there was no British accent, though.) When I think about how to write something, I write trying to get my own voice to work in my head. For someone as quiet as myself, I have a loud-mouth inside of me, but I still have to focus. I love to read, but I don’t read as nearly as much as I should. Part of the reason I write books is because I am a very picky reader.

On an elitist note, I hate postmodernism to a large extent, so I classify myself as a neomodernist (Matrix fans will love that) against the post-postmodernism stuff going on. Basically, I believe people are flawed – and all of my characters are flawed – and not necessarily hero material (Hamilton) but they can be. Or at least, they make for interesting, passive villains.

When I think about how to write something, I write trying to get my own voice to work in my head.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Yes, but part of the advice I was given as an author was to charge people for advice. $50.00 please.

Okay, here’s a freebie:

My most famous advice is to blackmail someone famous (cough *Ryan Seacrest* cough) into helping promote your work. It is time, energy, and money consuming. Worth it, but costly! But seriously, it is a lot of work. Competition is fierce. I told someone once I felt invisible in high school, but it is nothing compared to how I feel some days, now. I feel like I am trying to get the rest of the world to pay attention, and no one is listening.

Final question: With the rise of Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus, what are the chances we’ll survive the next century?

If they were a threat to our evolutionary or social well-being I’m sure they would have been quietly hauled off to ‘rehab’ like the others. From a conspiracy theory point, they could be government pawns or spies sent to distract us from all the problems of the ‘real world’ we would be better to spend our attention on. Statistically speaking, celebrities are not known for their longevity. I think we’ll be okay in the end.

On a side note, I think it would be great of them to use their fame for giving back and the betterment of mankind. To my knowledge a sex tape has yet to make the world a better place, but giving time, love, and resources to those who are in need has.

Thank you so much for the lovely chat! And the skinny-no-foam-extra-milk mocha.

The café is closing, and night is upon us. Back to the world we know, and has made us known.

That sounds very optimistic. Anyway, thanks again for sitting with me to talk about your book and…oh, hey, the police are here. 

For the readers, you can follow C.S.Johnson on her Facebook and Twitter, and pick up your copy of the Starlight Chronicles: Slumbering at all major outlets. Also, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for my exciting new fundraiser to help bail me out of jail!


An Interview with Nicholas Ahlhelm


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I love Facebook. Sure, it’s mostly politics, kitten videos, and viral photos misquoting famous people that are posted by hordes of duck-lipped teenagers and soccer moms. Yet, there are diamonds in that rough. It was there that I discovered my calling in life, as I logged in and found atop my wall the beauty, the wonder, the magnificence that is cosplay girls. One look at an Alexandrian Steampunk Harley Quinn and I knew what I must do.

I was to go to a convention!

Naturally, I couldn’t just go as myself. I would travel incognito, and when I heard about HelmCon in the city of Federation, there could be no other costume for me than my infamous alter-ego, Semi-Colon!

The plan was set: I would show up; droves of fans would scramble for pictures; luscious women would swoon; panels would invite me on for a chance to freestyle a rap; I’d describe epic battles with my arch nemesis, Comma Splice; and sweet, sweet fame would take me into her plush, maternal embrace!

So why then am I now standing alone in a bustling lobby, overlooked by a plethora of lesser known super heroes, like Marvel’s Deadpool? Seriously, who is that guy?

“Is that a costume, or are you happy to see me?” One woman jeers. Her group laughs as they walk away.

I sigh.

That’s when I feel the blow over my head and everything goes dark.

When I wake, I’m in a brightly lit room. I look around, confused. There are goons on either side of me, dressed in tights, their bristling facial hair framing scowling faces.

“Mr. Colon, we meet again!” howls a madman across the room.

Jerking my arms from the goons, I say, “It’s Semi-Colon, there’s a very significant difference.” Then I look up and gasp. “Hey, aren’t you … Nicholas Ahlhelm? Author and Editor-in-Chief of Metahuman Press?”

He coughs, says, “I … er … no! I’m Brain Master, master of the brain-men!”

I blink.

He nods.

I scratch my head.

He says, “Okay, yes. I’m Nicholas Ahlhelm. But now that you know my true identity, you must die!”

A shark pit opens up.

“Wait!” I cry as the men wrench me from the chair, dragging me closer to the edge. Below, laser-mounted Great Whites splash about. “This was all a … uh … ruse! Yes! I’m not really Semi-Colon, I only dressed as him in hopes of being captured and taken to your lair!”

The men stop. Nicholas rubs his chin. “And why would you do that?”

“To interview you about your Kickstarter project!” I flash an overly toothy grin.

“Oh, well, that sounds reasonable. Very well,” He snaps his fingers and the goons let me go.

Clearing my throat, I retake my seat. That’s when I say:

Thanks for giving me the time to interview you, and for not feeding me to your basement laser sharks of doom. So, let’s get started: What is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

The need to tell my stories. As a supreme figure in the ever growing world of super powered fiction, I have to—nay, I must—make the world know of my skill and care at crafting narratives of metahuman adventure.

I have long held these beliefs, since my days of childhood, many years ago. Growing up, I was far from the obvious ruler of men I am today. Instead, I was but a boy in love with two things, books and superheroes. It seemed only natural that I would work to meld the two in a most unholy manner.  

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous? Does it involve capturing interviewers and then sending them on their way after a brisk shark scare that everyone can laugh about later?

Interviewers have little to fear from me should they avoid my great wrath.

My process is haphazard, as fits a being of my obvious genius. As I have two young protégés in my care, I must often find time around their weapons and tactics training to put the metaphorical pen to paper. I often write at night, either on breaks from my regular career as a megalomaniacal conqueror of men or on my rare night away from said task.

I often write at night, either on breaks from my regular career as a megalomaniacal conqueror of men or on my rare night away from said task.

So, tell me about Lightweight.

Lightweight is the tale of a foolish mortal that deems to call himself a hero. He is not yet eighteen when his story begins. He awakens to strange dreams to find their contents are real and he can suddenly control the very force of gravity. Instead of making the wise decision to use such abilities to conquer all mankind, he uses them to defend friends and his city from threats. His first foe is a giant robot known as Titan, an engine of destruction that should be more than a match for some foolish young upstart.

Of course, there is more to the boy’s story than just that. He sits in the middle of a pair of ancient sects and a massive conspiracy of super powered beings that could shake the foundation of the world. But those are secrets for another time.

Superheroes are very popular. They can be found everywhere, from comics to movies and even video games. I’m sure you remember a time when superhero fiction was considered a fringe market, something only a nerdy few were interested in. How do you feel about it becoming so mainstream over the last decade or so?

I would not call it mainstream even today, but a certain acceptance of this milieu of stories has arrived. I am a man of the future, and I see this trend only continuing. If all goes well, I will be a man of great fortune from these endeavors. All the more resources to put behind my master plan.

I would not call it mainstream even today, but a certain acceptance of this milieu of stories has arrived.

What was your favorite part about bringing super heroes to novels? 

Creative control. My mind cannot and will not be filtered by fools and madmen. Only the imperious eyes of the one called “my editor” have a chance to do such a thing. In the pages of prose, I can enter the minds of my foes and weave intricate plots the world has never seen, and shall not on the pages of a comic or on the silver screen.

There seems like a lot of room for growth in this kind of project. Any plans to turn Lightweight into a larger series? 

The Kickstarter is only the beginning for Lightweight. Should it prove successful, I see the project continuing forth for months and years to come. My glorious intelligence has envisioned over three years of plots for the character already with many more to come one hopes.

The Kickstarter exists for two reasons. One, I must pay the talented Brent Sprecher for the work he is doing on the project. Two, I must prove the concept of ongoing monthly prose fiction has the legs to stand on over the coming months and years. For it must one day reign supreme!    

The Kickstarter is only the beginning for Lightweight. Should it prove successful, I see the project continuing forth for months and years to come.

What other projects do you have in the works, outside of the Lightweight universe?

Lightweight is the main focus of my current existence, but alas not my only one. It exists in a shared universe, one already seen in other masterworks, such as Freedom Patton: A Dangerous Place to Live and Living Legends: Old Soldiers. But even they are not the limit of my works.

I have several stories in the pipeline for both Airship 27 and my own Metahuman Press line of anthologies. At the current time, I work to finish the first draft of Fight Card: Rosie the Ripper, a novel that will lure MMA fans in to my nest of evil.

You’re applying for a job at Target: What super hero would you want to be and why?

I do not know of this superteam, The Target, that you speak about, but I do know I would never stand with them. Nay, I would destroy them as only a man of my great power could do.

I suppose I see much of my colleague, the magnanimous Victor Von Doom, in my character. Both of us are clearly smarter than those around us and far too powerful for mere mortals to ever truly understand.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences? 

In my path of world conquest, I owe many thanks to the aforementioned Von Doom, Former President Luthor, and of course Lord Darkseid of Apokolips.

In the field of fiction, my influences are many. My writing style owes much to Stephen King, Jane Yolen and Robert B. Parker. My inspirations in the world of superhuman graphical literature include one Robert Kirkman, a conqueror in his own right, Erik Larsen, Kurt Busiek and James Robinson, among many others. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors or people attempting to escape evil lairs?

Never ever challenge the intelligence of a superior.

And write. Always, always write. It is the most important factor in anyone looking to hone their craft.

And write. Always, always write. It is the most important factor in anyone looking to hone their craft.

Okay, final question: What are the chances that you already fed those sharks today?

I say you were a fool to walk in here today.

But should you survive, let it be known other wayward mortals can find me at SuperPoweredFiction.com, Twitter or Facebook.

I’ll take that as a yes then. Selective perception for the win!

As for the readers, be sure to check out the Lightweight Kickstarter, and keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming self help book, “I survived Laser Sharks of Doom, and so can you!”


5 Tips for Getting Published at Every Day Fiction Magazine


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hey everyone, I’m taking a brief interlude from Interdimensional Interviews to let you know I have a new article up at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

Having been a slush reader at EDF for around eight months now, and having been published there three times, I thought it might be helpful to share some pointers that I picked up along the way. So, if you’re interested in getting your flash published at Every Day Fiction, or other places for that matter (my advice applies to most publications), I’d love for you to check it out. And if you have any pointers of your own, feel free to share in the comments!

An Interview with Patrick Donovan


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Some guy’s head pops off.

Like, right in front of me.

I’m okay with this, I tell myself. This is okay. Everything’s okay—

Now the woman that did it is turning my way, her green eyes glowing in head-popping glee.

“Screw that noise!” I scream, politely informing every monster in my area just where I’m at.

When I came to Boston, I had planned on a calming, relaxing evening at a Dropkick Murphys concert. I didn’t expect to be running through seedy alleys being chased by demon possessed Bostonians!

Another one drops in front of me, blocking me off. I slink against the wall, closing my eyes, ready to die…then feel the knob. A door! Soon I’m inside a building that seems to be in competition with the alley for the “Seediest Place in the City” award.

It’s a bar, and there are people everywhere, all mostly keeping to themselves. The hardwood floors are splotched and stained with dried blood spatters. Shattered glass crunches under my steps as I move through the smoky, dimly lit air. It reminds me of my childhood home. Good times.

Sliding up to the bar, I ask the pallid fellow on the other end where I’m at.

“Garrison’s,” he says, his heavy eyes clearly annoyed. “Want something?”

“Clamato juice?” I test.

He shakes his head and walks away.

“This is a pretty rough neighborhood,” I say to the guy next to me.

He’s quietly leaning over his drink, his long, dark hair obstructing his eyes. He says, “You have no idea.”

I knew right away he could be trusted, so I extended a hand and introduced myself.

“Patrick Donovan,” he says back.

I gasp! Patrick Donovan, author of the novel, Demon Jack (Fable Press) is sitting next to me! I realize immediately that this is a great opportunity to kill some time. Maybe the beasts outside would tire of my absence, and then I could quietly slip away.

“Well, Mr. Donovan, this is your lucky day! I’m here to interview you about your new novel.”

He regards me for a moment, and then gives a quiet smirk. “Okay, sure.”

That’s when I say:

Thanks for taking the time to sit here with me. It’s in no way a cover for me to hide from the evil, creeping just outside. So, let’s get started with the usual suspects: What is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

Honestly, it’s because there’s just not enough magic in the world man. See, that’s the thing, I’m not in this for the money, or the women, or anything glamorous like that. Ok, maybe a little part of me is in it for the convention girls dressed like Twi’leks, but I digress. Honestly, I just want to be able to give that poor guy or gal that’s having a bad day a little bit of an escape. I want to give them the chance to sit back, kill a few hours, and experience a world where there is a little more magic, where the good guy eventually wins, gets the girl, that kind of thing. As far as what got me into it, truth, I’ve always been in it. I was drawing stories in crayon before I could write.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous? I mean, aside from the booze and creepy bars. 

I usually write late night, chugging coffee with a pipe hanging out of the side of my mouth. On more than one occasion there’s been known to be various form of 80’s pop metal blasting from my speakers. The main thing is that I always try to set a goal for myself, be it edit a chapter, write two thousand words, whatever and then I absolutely refuse to sleep until I hit said goal.

Honestly, I just want to be able to give that poor guy or gal that’s having a bad day a little bit of an escape.

Tell me about your novel Demon Jack.

On the surface Jack is sort of my action movie. There’s a lot of violence, a lot of high stress situations, that sort of thing. That said though, it’s also the first book in what I hope turns out to be a series so there’s a lot of groundwork being laid here to unravel later. As a series, there’s a lot of hope there, a lot of broken people going for some form of redemption, whether they know it or not.

Demon Jack deals with demons and possession, and they have certainly had their place in popular fiction. What is it about this subject matter that pulls you in?

You know, I’ve never really thought about it. If I had to say though, it comes down to two things. The first, there’s something I think that’s just damned frightening about something taking you over, forcing you to do things you don’t want to do, and leaving you inside your own head enough that you’re watching all these things you’re doing without being able to stop yourself. That’s number one, number two, I guess in a way it’s sort of metaphorical. Not to get into the nuts and bolts English 101 stuff here, but looking back I suppose you could say it’s sort of a metaphor for addiction, wherein something has that sort of control over you and Jack being a former heroin addict is always going to be fighting that.

Granted, my vampires are a far cry from the stereotype.

Wait, you’re not possessed by demons, are you?

No, but I am friends with the Goddess of Cake and the Goddess of Snark. They’re both pretty damned awesome beyond words.

Both lovely ladies, I’m sure. Moving on: Word on the street is you have plans for sequels. Any news on that? Do you plan to extend Demon Jack into a series?

I hope too, but there’s nothing set in stone. I’ve got an overarching story arc in mind though.

Do you have any other projects in the works, or planned for the long term, outside of the Demon Jack universe?

Yes and no. I just finished a rough draft, that I’m editing currently that takes place in Jack’s world, but it’s told by a completely different character that has a completely different point of view. He’s a Shaman, or my take on a Shaman rather. Where Jack sees the world as a very tangible, physical thing. Jonah, the main character in this new series, has a completely different perspective. He doesn’t just see, for example, the drug addict. He sees the addict and the spirit of addiction that’s causing him to use heroin, despite how badly he wants to quit or where Jack would beat someone about the head and neck to get information, Jonah will just talk to the spirit of a stop sign or something else. It’s really been a lot of fun to write though, and while it’s still dark in places, it’s a lot more light-hearted at times than Jack too.

Demon Jack has a vampire antagonist, so I have to ask: Vampires, do they A) Glitter in the sunlight, B) Burst into a pool of chunky blood in sunlight, or C) Go into politics?

They sorta turn to ashy grease stains mostly. Granted, my vampires are a far cry from the stereotype. There’s no sparkling, no swooning over barmaids. They’re more like Great White Sharks who can think and plan, which when you think about it is just a little on the frightening side.

What I mean is, write crap. Write total crap and don’t delete it. Leave it there, let it stink up your hard drive. After the smell’s seeped into just about everything, sit down and edit it into pure gold.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files, is definitely up there. I’m a huge fan of the “conversational” tone in the Dresden Files. You really feel like while you’re reading them, that Harry Dresden is telling you the story over a beer. Stephen King is another big one. Let’s see, Richard Kadrey, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne and then there’s the usual suspects, folks like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lovecraft, and Poe.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Three things. One, toughen up soldier. Seriously, you’re going to be rejected. It’s a part of the game. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. That said, look at it like this: You get 50, 60, 100 rejection letters, that’s only a small fraction of the total number of people who read in your genre. There are hundreds, maybe thousands more out there that are gonna love what you put down on paper. Two, work a service industry job. Deliver food, wait tables, something that puts you in contact with people. You’d be absolutely amazed at the wealth of ideas you’ll find falling into your lap. Finally, no one cares about what you write down on that sheet of paper or type on that screen. They care about what you leave there. What I mean is, write crap. Write total crap and don’t delete it. Leave it there, let it stink up your hard drive. After the smell’s seeped into just about everything, sit down and edit it into pure gold.

Okay, I think that’s been long enough. Er, I mean, that about covers all the questions! Just one more though, before I go: Any suggestions on how to handle green eyed fellas outside?

Yeah, find the guy in the hooded sweatshirt with all the scars on his face, tell him you’ll buy him a six pack if he can give you a hand.

You mean that creepy dude in the corner? I…er…think I might stand a better chance with this battle axe that just appeared in my hands for no apparent reason. (Deus ex machina for the win!)

Thanks again for giving me the chance to learn more about your novel. And to the readers, you can follow Patrick on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to check out Demon Jack, available now in print and for Kindle through Fable Press.


An Interview with Milo James Fowler


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elton John was right. It is lonely in outer space.

I sigh at the vidscreen, its image a sweeping portrayal of star spangled darkness. There’s not much to do out here, floating in the vast, infinite nothing. Just a man, alone in the heavens (Squawk!), abandoned to his thoughts and ruminating on past loves (“Screech!”), missed opportunities, indelible regrets… (Moo!)

“Can you guys shut up?” I shout at the myriad aliens cluttering the galactic transport shuttle. “I’m trying to think here!”

They go on with their raucous mumblings, apathetic to my plea.

“Major Tom,” I call to the cockpit, “how much longer until we get to the Space Station?”

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t like me, or maybe because he’s just a large eye with tentacles, but Tom doesn’t answer. Either way, the ship settles into dock shortly afterward, and I soon find myself wandering the station’s halls in search of the infamous Milo James Fowler.

Milo is an enigma of the universe. He doesn’t sleep. A teacher by day, he spends his nights writing. And he writes. A lot. After only a few years of submitting, he’s amassed sixty-five published short stories, including “Soulless in His Sight” (Shimmerzine), with another ten forthcoming. He’s seen a successful release of his first novella, Immaterial Evidence (Musa Publishing), and even made it into the SFWA.

I’m out here to interview him about his story, “The Cost of Freedom” which was recently released as part of the pulp-speculative collection, The Kennedy Curse (Exter Press). Well, that, and I was hoping he could foot the bill for my ride back to earth.

I find Milo’s classroom empty, save for the janitor sitting at the desk. He’s a pleasant fellow, very casual and calm.

I say, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find Mr. Fowler?”

“That’s me,” he smiles.

“What? That’s not possible!” I cry. “You’re far too…normal! Fowler is a machine. You don’t look like a machine.” I squint.

He chuckles and leans back in his chair. “No, I guess I don’t, but I’m definitely Milo Fowler.”

Clearly I’m being tested. The aliens are watching me, playing a game with my head! But I won’t buckle to their trickery. I’ll play along. And maybe, just maybe, I can still get that shuttle fare.

“Er…alright! I’ve come to interview you about your new story.”

With a glance at his watch, he nods, saying, “Sure. I have time. Pull up a seat.”

I do, and then I say:

Thanks for giving me the time to chat. I mean, even though you’re a machine and all, time is tough to come by. So, what is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

And here I was thinking these wet-works were a clever disguise. Writing? I guess I enjoy creating imaginary worlds, populating them with imaginary people, and giving them imaginary conflicts to overcome. It’s a great way to escape real life while, at the same time, explore real life issues in a fictional setting.

I guess I enjoy creating imaginary worlds, populating them with imaginary people, and giving them imaginary conflicts to overcome.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous? Does it require a battery?

Batteries not included. I try to write 1K a day while I’m in the middle of a project, and the rest of the time, I’m usually revising — or writing flash-sized tales in spontaneous bursts.

So, tell me about The Cost of Freedom. Is it expensive and can I get some on the black markets of Goobalox Five?

It might take all you’ve got. Like most Americans, I’ve always been curious about the Kennedy assassination. There were so many factors involved and so many factions that disliked the President. In “The Cost of Freedom,” those factions are still present — along with an alien threat. Kennedy wants to save the world from invasion, and he knows he may have to die in order to unite his people.

JFK was a huge figure in American Presidential history. What was your favorite aspect of writing about him?

I enjoyed the research — and that was the part I was dreading. I write speculative fiction, so I don’t usually have to research anything; I make everything up. But with this story, I wanted all the details to be authentic from the Oval Office to the Texas School Book Depository. Unlike most Presidents, Kennedy passed away before his presidency could sour. In “The Cost of Freedom,” he’s not only an American icon; he’s a pulp hero.

…with this story, I wanted all the details to be authentic from the Oval Office to the Texas School Book Depository.

I hear you have plans for a much anticipated follow up to Immaterial Evidence. Any news on when we can expect that to appear?

Funny you should ask. I sent the synopsis and first twenty pages to the publisher today, so I should hear back from them in a couple months. The working title is Yakuza Territory, and it picks up the story just a few days after Immaterial Evidence.But while Immaterial Evidence was Blade Runner meets The Maltese FalconYakuza Territory is more like Assault on Precinct 13 with mandroids and a telepathic suprahuman.

You’re a man that never sleeps. It’s not a question, it’s an irrefutable fact. So, what other projects do you have in the works?

Guess I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Currently, I’m in the process of finding good homes for twenty-five short stories and six novels, and I’m revising a weird novella I wrote earlier this year.

Who shot first, Han or Greedo?

Han — Greedo had to go.

That was a “Voight-Kampff” question. You’re design is impressive, very convincing. Moving on: Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

Radio shows and serials from the 1950’s; Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and China Mieville.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Write every day, and don’t let your body of work sit on a hard drive or in a box. Get it out there where it belongs. Join Write1Sub1 for the challenge, and stay for the community.

Write every day, and don’t let your body of work sit on a hard drive or in a box.

Okay, final question: I’m a bit short on credits. Is there any chance you can give me a ride back to earth?

Sure thing. I’ve got papers to grade, but you can borrow my Cody 5000 jetpack. It should get you there in one piece.

Woah, this can’t be cheap. Thanks Milo! And thanks again for letting me insinuate you’re lying about being a human!

To the readers: You can follow Milo on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to pick up your copy of The Kennedy Curse, available now through Exter Press, or find more of Milo’s work here.


An Interview with Jesse Pohlman


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve never been to college before, but after watching National Lampoon’s Van Wilder for the thirteenth time, I knew it was finally time I went.

Sure, I could get a degree and learn how to write gooder. But more importantly, I could have mentally challenged rich kids in robes spank me as I invoke deities of debauchery! We could throw topless parties where they lift me up on a golden throne, spraying me in fountains of shaken beer whilst chanting our fraternal name in a dead language as Jimmy Eat World blazes on in the stereos of our hearts!

So, why then am I now wandering the quiet halls of the Catskill Community College in upstate New York, finding only erudite people of varying ages focused entirely on their education?

“You there!” I say to a passing fellow, certain he will know the way. “Tell me where your parties hide!”

“I’m sorry?” he says, turning around to see if I was speaking to someone behind him.

“The parties sir!” I cry. “All your parties are belong to us! Woop! Woop!”

He scratches his lip, says, “You must be new here. I hate to tell you this, but college really isn’t how the movies depict it. Those types of parties aren’t allowed on campus, and this is a community college, so–”

“You lie!” I hiss, giving him a hard stare for good measure before continuing on my way.

Walking even further through the labyrinthine corridors, I at last come upon a door with a sign on it that reads: ENTER AND YOU WILL BE STABBED IN THE EYE!

“This is the place,” I grin.

Inside, a man is standing, surrounded by tables covered in beakers and other sciencey stuff. His short blonde hair is scruffy and receding, revealing two fingers pressed against his temple. He smirks as what appears to be a needle spins about, orbiting his head like a drunken insect.

I recognize him immediately. He’s Jesse Pohlman: author of five novels and a collection of short stories; founder of The Weekly Freeporter; teacher; mad scientist; and eater of Teriyaki chicken.

“Why are you here?” he asks.

“Er…party?” I mutter.

“You did not read the sign. Prepare to di—“

“Wait!” I throw my hands up. “I was just joking! I’m actually here to…um…interview you!”

He cackles, his maniacal laughter echoing in the strange room. Then he says, “Cool! I have a new book out you know.”

“I do,” I nod, ignoring the sweat dripping into my eyes as I find a chair.

Quietly looking for potential weapons for self-defense, I say:

Thanks for letting me interview you, and for not stabbing me in the eye with that needle. As I usually do, I’ll start by asking about what draws you to the craft. What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

I got into writing through the usual nerdy procedure; I liked dragons and sorcerers and all that, and I wound up involved in chatroom-based role-playing games. From there, I started creating my own stories and spreading them around. At first I was really terrible, but at some point my work became bearable to read. The overarching theme here is telling a story: The characters I come up with are like visions in my head, dancing about and acting strange.

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous?

Rituals? They sound fun! I have a lot of ways I generate my artwork. Usually, it starts with inspiration – I see something in the news, or in the world around me, that helps me come up with a concept for whatever it is I need. Maybe it’s an article about a new invention, whatever. From there, I tend to come up with some basic notes on how a plot should go. When I actually write, a lot of times I just write whatever I think; though, I have a habit of reading dialogue out loud, and even talking to myself a number of times. [Laughs] I have some go-to literary techniques, like alliteration and onomonopoetics.

The overarching theme here is telling a story: The characters I come up with are like visions in my head, dancing about and acting strange.

Tell me about your novel Physics Reincarnate.

I’m always up for a challenge! Physics Reincarnate is the second novel of the somewhat obviously named Physics Incarnate series. The first book introduced us to Emmett Eisenberg, and the big hook of the story was that he had been a super-hero – I use that term loosely – about ten years before the novel takes place. In his day job, he’s a physics professor; by night, he’s literally the master of physics as he can re-arrange atomic structures at will. Readers discover that Emmett was the cause, by way of psychiatric breakdown, of a nearly world-devouring nuclear accident at a secretive research facility located in Africa. A decade later, the physicist had reunited with his old “research” buddies in order to put down a couple of threats from their past.

In Reincarnate, Emmett and his colleagues, a team of super-heroes calling itself The Consortium of Trust, are recruited to investigate strange radio transmissions coming out of a newly-constructed facility in Alaska. They run head-long into another new-world-order type organization, The Coleman Group, who are not merely prepared to face down a collection of super-heroes, but quite literally saw them coming. While the first book is about Emmett resolving his past and accepting his fate, this book is more about how the Consortium deals with protecting themselves, their loved ones, and their friends.

Science played a big role in Physics Incarnate, the first book of the series. How much research did you have to do for that book, and how much of a role will that research play in this sequel?

One technology that I feature in both this series and in my Protostar books is called Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors (LFTR). They sound like pure science-fiction: A nuclear reactor that isn’t pressurized and has built-in fail-safe measures in the event of a coolant failure? Sounds too good to be true! And, there are technical hurdles to this technology; but the long-and-short of it is that back in the height of the cold war the U.S. wanted to build – I kid you not – a nuclear-powered aircraft. [Chuckles] They figured out that if you use Thorium salts you can accomplish that goal kind of safely, but the government didn’t invest heavily in it because it had already chosen to invest in the much more dangerous nuclear power that we’ve got today. Right now, China and India are really interested in this stuff, and while American scientists like Kirk Sorensen have been on the warpath for some time, we’re still taking baby steps.

I also did a lot of research on the Theory of Relativity, the concept of faster-than-light travel, and the way matter itself works. I also look into history and even more fanciful conspiracy theories. It’s not like I’m a crazy guy with the brains to rule the world, or anything! [Winks] Let’s take that radio signal I mentioned our heroes are after in the second book; it’s what people refer to as a “numbers station,” and all I’ll do is suggest you look up “UVB-76.” Preferably, look it up in the context of the Cold War.

The first book set readers up to wonder if Emmett was crazy or not. I decided I wanted to investigate one of the characters around him, James Lowery, and through that lens I set up the plot of the second one.

What is it about the subject of Science and super powers that inspires you?

I think my favorite aspect of reading scientific information and writing about the real, super-power-like things it can create is that it gives me a lot of hope for the future, even if it can be scary sometimes. I know there’s lots of problems today, but look at some of the one’s we’ve fixed: Technology has all but eradicated smallpox, polio, and tuberculosis; we can communicate almost instantly over the internet; a trip to the other coast of America would take maybe a week, when it used to take months if not years; and, even though there’s still many famines and droughts, our world can – if its resources are arranged right – support ever more people. For all the downsides we’ve seen, like the rise of a surveillance state, we are infinitely better off for each experiment we conduct.

…Is that heroin?

You can spend your time worrying about what’s in here, or you can ask the appropriate question; who is it for?

I, uh, I’d rather not. Moving on: Do you plan to turn the Physics series into a trilogy?

At first, I didn’t. The first book set readers up to wonder if Emmett was crazy or not. I decided I wanted to investigate one of the characters around him, James Lowery, and through that lens I set up the plot of the second one. I haven’t written the third, but I could tell you, if I was so inclined, what’s going to happen.

I hear you plan to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, is there anything you can tell me about that process, and about any other projects you’ve done through it?

I tried NaNoWriMo in 2010, but succeeded at it in 2011. I really enjoyed the experience, especially because November is a month that I usually can scrape together some free time. It’s a real test of willpower and dedication, but it’s not to be entered into with dreams of creating a best-seller. Sure, some people turn their NaNos into big bucks, but most of the time the pressure of writing fifty grand in a month leads to sub-par prose.

I came up with a relatively simple tale called Protostar: Memoirs of the Messenger. It’s a space opera, and it seizes on some common tropes like a human war with an alien species and a united world. What’s fun is that I try to tie it in with science (again, Thorium as well as discussing some of the technical problems that an interstellar empire would have to overcome to flourish, like gravity), and I turn some of the usual concepts on their side. Just as an example, lots of fiction pictures humanity on its back, relying on some last-minute heroics to artfully destroy its opponents. Protostar has no such heroic bias. Humans are not warlike, but they are not incapable of self-defense. Plus, while other aliens might be jerks, humankind has made friends with some.

Be patient. Be prepared to work a day job. Unless you write absolute, pornographic trash you are probably not going to be an overnight success.

If you were a college party, rife with shenanigans, where would you be?

In a beautiful woman! Unless you mean what college or frat house I would be? In that case, I’m not really sure.

Wait, how did that question get in here? Okay, so who or what are some of your biggest influences?

To be honest, I don’t really write what I read. I know a great deal about dystopian literature and art. My favorite book is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and I love George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. When it comes to TV, I’m a huge fan of Lost and Undergrads (one of these things is not like the others…). Maybe it’s just a belief that, by reading about how science and technology can go bad, we can better understand ways to use it, right?

Makes sense to me. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Writing is easy; making it in the business is incredibly difficult. If I were to be sincere, I’m not there; yet. Hopefully, some day, I will be – and I think that’s the biggest bit of advice. Be patient. Be prepared to work a day job. Unless you write absolute, pornographic trash you are probably not going to be an overnight success. Find a job that pays the bills, but won’t drive you crazier than your writing style requires. Be ready to start small, with freebies and blogs and the rest. Be friendly, since friends can be a great benefit…

Like movies and TV shows, the publishing industry is being transformed by digital technology and it’s becoming a “feast, or famine” racket.

As I understand it, you’re a proponent of Indie publishing. What is it about self publishing that you feel strongly about?

I am! I’m not exactly a patient person, and moreover I’m not really good at handling the lack of communication that comes with traditional publishing. If you’re looking for a good reason I’m a supporter of the indie scene, its economics. Like movies and TV shows, the publishing industry is being transformed by digital technology and it’s becoming a “feast, or famine” racket. For every huge best-selling novel that spawns a series of episodes, there’s literally tens of thousands of people who would like one hundredth of the investment that the few remaining publishing powerhouses plunk down. Today, these titans would rather see an author with an established fan-base join their ranks because they don’t have to develop something new.

Okay, that’s all of my questions. So … now that we finished this totally legitimate interview, I can safely leave with my eyes intact and never whisper a word of what transpired down here, right?

Thanks for your time, and – don’t take this personally! – but if you tell anyone about this room, well, nobody will believe your last words, anyway!

Works for me! This will be our little secret.

For the readers, be sure to check out Physics Reincarnate, available now in print or for download on Kindle. You can also follow Jesse Pohlman on Facebook and Twitter. And stay tuned for updates on the exciting new charity that’s working hard to help me buy a bionic eye!


An Interview with D.B. Tarpley


, , , , , , , , ,

Once upon a time, it was a dark night and stormy night, I wrote. Leaning back, I glanced out the window at the gleeful puppy playing in the sunlight. It wagged its tale and hopped around a tree.

“I just don’t get it!” I cried, slamming my laptop shut.

I had been reading a lot of DB Tarpley lately, and in light of the release of “Lick the Razor” (Germinal Press), his new fifteen-story collection of anus fracturing, Lovecraftian evil, I was determined to grasp his gift for the visceral brutality of Splatterpunk.

But how?

I sighed. There could be only one way into Tarpley’s brain, and that would require a private room, a hand saw, and some Mentos.

The plan was simple: I’d break into his house, kidnap him, stop for some Taco Bell, and then carve his skull like a cantaloupe. Simple, sure. So, why am I now strapped onto a chair with my eye’s taped open, in a room of infinite shadows that’s broken only by a single shaft of light?

“I hope the Slobberdobber didn’t hurt you…much,” he says. He’s nude as he stands at a table, eyeing a plethora of dull surgery tools.

“It was…er…licky,” I say, testing my bonds.

“So, what brings you here?” He’s brushing a thumb along the blade of a rusty straight razor now.

“I, um, wanted to interview you!”

D.B. stops, turns my way. He doesn’t look insane. If anything, he looks bored. But there’s genius behind that steady gaze. Then he nods, says, “Alright. Why didn’t you say so?”

With that, he pulls a stool from the darkness and sits his bare, hairy ass down in front of me.

“So, what would you like to know?”

That’s when I say:

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to pick your brain, and without even having to remove any flesh! So, let’s start simple: What is it about writing that draws you to the craft? What does it do for you, and what got you into it?

I think that a true writer isn’t really drawn to the craft they are more or less shoved toward it on a daily basis.  We have all these stories and ideas inside us which scream to get out and we are not satisfied unless we can get them out of our head and breathe life into the corpsified words.  The craft comes in translating that to the fullest extent of your satisfaction.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had a great idea fly south once I attempt to express it on the paper.  The more you write though, the easier it is to catch the damn thing and pin its bloody wings to the page.  It is a catharsis.  I got into writing because I was an extreme social introvert with a near terminal case of social anxiety disorder growing up and it became a way for my voice to be heard, even by myself.  Sometimes I don’t know how I feel about a subject until I write it down and re-read it.  I am often surprised.

When that switch is flipped on it is like I have a virus and I can’t feel whole again until the entire thing has been completed. 

What is your writing process like? Do you have a ritual or habit, or is it more spontaneous?

The nearest thing I have to a ritual is I listen to music as I write.  It keeps me entertained when I hit a wall which is often.  I write in spurts.  I can stop and not write anything for like a year; then I sit down one day and spill it out for months on end.  I become feverish about it sometimes.  When that switch is flipped on it is like I have a virus and I can’t feel whole again until the entire thing has been completed. 

So, tell me about Lick the Razor. What inspired this collection?

The collection was initially called ‘The Devil’s Teat’ and contained twice as many stories.  I can be quite prolific when I am in one of my moods.  My publisher and I agreed that the old title was a bit clunky on the brain so I re-titled the collection after one of the included stories.  The collection for me was thematic, dealing mostly with the concept of where inspiration comes from for the writer… i.e., the devil’s teat.  Many of the stories play with the concepts of ideas and inspiration and the power we give ideas.  Of course they scare the shit out of you while discussing these themes.  For me, story always comes first.  I like to experiment with style and utilize a unique methodology from tale to tale, but in the end without story you have nothing.  This collection was very personal to me as I abstractly discussed and developed my style as a writer.  Though I have been writing for approximately 25 years I still feel I am a relatively young writer and I am proud to have developed a sense of ‘voice’ at this early stage in the game.

For me, story always comes first.  I like to experiment with style and utilize a unique methodology from tale to tale, but in the end without story you have nothing.

What would you say was the most difficult part of writing this book? 

I had, well I suppose I always have a self-imposed deadline when I write.  I am all about order, even though the nut of how I write is spontaneous flow.  I usually allow one word to dictate the next and often do not have any idea how a story will end once it is begun.  But I still have a deadline for the book, and this often weighs heavy on my brain.  In the case of this book in particular, I had a very specific number of tales I wanted to tell and I was behind at the end.  This caused a flurry of writing which turned out to produce the best stories I had written to date.  I was very surprised.  I guess there is a place you can tap into sometimes and when you do it is a beautiful thing.  I think most of the time, as writers, we all are trying to reach this place… like a drug addict perpetually attempting to achieve that first high.

Are there any stories in the collection that really stand out for you? Any that rise above the rest?

Well you have to remember that for this collection, my publisher and I cut the story count down from 37 to 15.  Not that the other stories were necessarily waste, we just wanted a reasonable book for the format and picked the best of the best.  So all the stories in this collection rock balls.  There is not a weak one in the lot.  Still, there is one story which I think has come closer than anything I have written before to satisfying me, ‘Everyone Knows’.  I just think it is a very mature piece of writing which most encapsulates the ‘Splatterpunk’ movement I strive to be identified with.  It is the story that I finished and read and just sat back going, “Yes.”

Inquiring minds must know: Boxers or briefs?

I have a custom designed codpiece constructed of old rusty cheese graters.  It is welded shut so I never have to worry about dirty laundry.

Sorry about that. Not sure where that came from. So, anyway, how about your future works? A little bird told me you’re working on a novel. Can you tell us anything about that, or anything else you got going on? Also, should I see a shrink because birds talk to me?

I am in fact working on a larger piece.  I have primarily worked on short fiction to date so I am finally taking the plunge into the long form.  Btu I figure go big or go home so I am working on a trilogy.  They are all outlined and that is as far as I will go into regarding the specifics of the story.  I will just say that they are extremely bloody with just the right amount of humor, action, and social commentary.  The titles are:   THE DEATH OF FEAR, THE DEATH OF LOVE, and THE DEATH OF DEATH.

I just go for it.  I don’t try to offend; I just say what I think.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

Growing up, I read King exclusively.  I consumed everything he put out.  And when I read hacks like Koontz I quickly realized they were just pretenders to the throne, Radiohead/ Coldplay and all that.  I later became fascinated with Howard and Lovecraft and other pulp writers of the day.  Then Kesey blew me away with his raw open naked honesty and I strive to achieve even a tenth of that in my writing.  But what really opened my eyes, I mean what really blew me away and made me want to spill my life essence out onto the paper were a pair of anthologies called ‘Splatterpunks’, and ‘Splatterpunks 2’.  It was a brutal introduction to a movement I had not previously been privy to which seemed to throw out all the rules and just go for it.  That is what I try to do when I write.  I just go for it.  I don’t try to offend; I just say what I think.  And anyone who says what they think will inevitably offend in a society where we speak in repetitive social niceties on a daily basis.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Just write.  Write as often as you can until you find your own voice.  And reread your words often.  Rewriting is the soul of any good piece.  Read it over and over again until the words make sense to you… until every syllable is in the right place.  And if you like what you read… then fuck everyone else.   Always write for yourself.  I write the stories I want to read.

Okay, final question: Is there any hope for my survival after finishing this interview?

What do you think?

That I will, and you’ll give me cookies and wish me the best as you send me on my way!

Anyway, thanks again for giving me the opportunity to ask some question, D.B. And to the readers: Be sure to check out Lick the Razor available now from Germinal Press.


5 Tips for Bringing Characters to Life


, , , , , , , , , , ,

Hey everyone. I have an article up at Flash Fiction Chronicles, where I give some tips on writing living characters in flash fiction. This is my first publication on the craft, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!