It has been very cold the last few days! It seems only weeks ago that it was summer and I had to use my air conditioning all the time. But that's alright. I think better in the cold air. With some luck, maybe it will help us all with our writing.
There was an interesting discussion on Victorine Lieske's blog over the last few days about my book
The Brontosaurus Pluto Society: Magic Makes You Strange. A number of readers and authors were discussing how to make it more marketable.
Feel free to add your two cents to the conversation.
Thank you all for joining us again today. If this is your first time joining us, I have read and enjoyed at least the free preview for all of my featured authors. My questions are based on what I've actually read. I hope that you will take the time to read all three interviews. You may discover a new author or two who you'll enjoy.
Noahan Author Interview – Toni Dwiggins
Noahan Author - Thanks for joining us, Toni. Please tell us about yourself.
Toni Dwiggins - Cassie is
age 29, attractive although not a major head-turner, smart (got to solve those
crimes), strong in mind and body but not kick-ass (must survive threats, but
believably), trusting and thus often vulnerable, dedicated to doing right but
sometimes getting things wrong, prone to make a joke when things get tense, bit
of a nerd.
Toni Dwiggins - Quite a
bit. I researched forensic geology, radiation, nuclear waste, and Death Valley.
I read a good deal about each topic, lurked on a nukeworker chat room to get
the real stories, consulted with experts in forensic geology and nuclear
issues, visited Death Valley. Had an adventure there:
Toni Dwiggins - I love
finding out why the physical earth is the way it is. Drive on the freeway and
look at a roadcut and wonder why are all those rock layers tilted?
Toni Dwiggins - I come
from a family of writers: Dad was a newspaperman and wrote books about
aviation, Aunt/Uncle wrote Westerns and Detective stories, Mom wrote a couple
of B-movie scripts. Must be osmosis.
Toni Dwiggins - Nope. I’m
a skeptic. That said, if someone turns up positive proof, I’ll gladly think
about changing my mind. I do believe that there could be some kind of life
somewhere else in the vast universe. As Carl Sagan said, there are “billions
upon billions of stars” out there.
Toni Dwiggins - Nope. I’m
hoping it won’t come to that.
Toni Dwiggins - Um…are YOU ready for the end of civilization?
Noahan Author – No. I may have written a book about the end of the world, but you won’t find anyone who is more convinced that civilization will outlive us all than me. People have been predicting the world was about to tumble for thousands of years now. It changes, but never ends. I think that’s scarier. I think there is a bit of wish fulfillment in these stories. There’s a sense that we would like to see the structures of our society fall. Most of us are not on the top of the heap. Maybe we would like there to be fewer people in the world? Yes, it’s dark, but I think imagining the end of the world is often really imagining a revolution. It’s a wish for a quieter world, and maybe also the heads of the present kings.
Noahan Author Interview – Craig Hansen
Noahan Author - Tell us about yourself.
Craig Hansen - My mother read to me when I was young, and I think that had a lot to do with developing a love for story, and a love for the written word. And I was a fast study. I was beyond picture books and reading slightly older kids' books on my own before I entered kindergarten.
Before I entered second grade, I was reading books out of the middle-grade and teen section. And adult books, in terms of thick volumes on every imaginable subject from A History of Television Programs to books on dinosaurs, the planets, and whatever struck my fancy, shortly thereafter.
I think I wrote my first short story sometime in second grade; our teacher had asked us to write a one-page story, make it scary, but don't use Halloween. I immediately wrote a story about something scary happening on Friday the 13th, about six years or more before the film franchise debuted. I knew the story was good for my age because in addition to an A, my teacher wrote, "I want to know what happens next!" at the bottom of my story. At that age, I felt frustrated because I'd done the assignment … why was I being asked to do more than everyone else? It took a few years to recognize that for the compliment it was. Now I write longing to hear those kinds of things. (Laughs.)
Anyway, I was into a lot of creative things. Speech team, theater, and music, as well as writing. Then, in eighth grade, a story of mine was published in a statewide journal of student writing through the COMPAS program in Minnesota, and I knew from then that writing would be my first love. I wrote a lot of stories and novels and sent them off to get ignored in New York, spending a small fortune on postage, paper, envelopes, photocopies, attending writers' conferences and local critique groups and other such things.
It was a long time before I sold my next work of fiction. But I got caught up in journalism in college, won some awards, strayed into ill-fitting day jobs, went back to journalism in Wisconsin, won some more awards, and strayed into a horrible career in sales, briefly. Eventually, I found my way back to writing. And now, here I am, releasing my second book, the novella SHADA. That's me in a nutshell.
Noahan Author -What would you like us to know about Shada, both the book and the person?
Craig Hansen - It's good that you saw fit to separate the two in your question. I'll speak about the book first.
SHADA is the first volume in the EMBER COLE series of young adult paranormal suspense books I plan to write. It will be longer than a trilogy, and I have many stories to tell with Ember. SHADA's the story that comes first.
In short, SHADA is inspired, in a way, by the Stephen King novella, "The Body," which appeared in his DIFFERENT SEASONS collection and was made into the classic movie STAND BY ME. The main difference is that SHADA has a female cast. And, of course, a very different story to tell. But I've admired "The Body" for decades now and wanted to write something in the spirit of that story. SHADA is the result.
At its core, SHADA is a story about the last big adventure four friends share before most of them enter high school and life takes them in divergent directions. So it's both a celebration of the friendships we treasure in our youth, while also noting the loss that takes place as those separations occur.
There are some big topics that emerge in the storyline, including grief, coping with a loved one who has Alzheimer's and dementia, the loss of friendships, dealing with big life changes, and the inner need to seek out answers that bring some order to all the chaos such events thrust upon us.
At the same time, it's this fun paranormally-tinged adventure story about four girls going into the woods, camping out by an Indian burial mound, telling ghost stories, and holding a séance. So while there are some big themes touched on, it's balanced by lighter elements.
That kind of takes care of SHADA the book.
Now, as for Shada Emery, the character, she is our narrator for this tale, the voice through which the storyline is filtered. And even though she's our narrator, she's not necessarily the main focus character. Ember Cole is.
That might seem like an odd choice to some. If the story is Ember's, why not make her the narrator, right? But see, I'm writing this book with a longer game plan in mind.
Furthermore, some great storytelling is done in this method. Take the British SF serial, DOCTOR WHO for example. The Doctor is the focus of the series, but we understand him through who? His companions. They're the relatable ones and the eyes through whom we come to understand him. So, this approach is not without precedent.
What I wanted to accomplish with this novella was to give the reader an introduction to Ember, and the best way to do that was through the eyes of someone else; someone important to her, close enough to see things others might not, to know her before the events that take place in later novels.
That set of eyes became Shada Emery. Shada is someone who is very important in Ember's life, but as often happens when we're young, people move in and out of our lives. Shada's role in this story is vital, even though most of her story is how she reacts to and interacts with Ember and the other girls in the story. Shada's our guide.
She goes away after this novella for a while, but there is a big return planned sometime down the line, and when it happens, the events that take place in SHADA are going to be vital to understanding the changes Shada has undergone in the intervening period. But now that I've danced around the specifics quite a bit, I'll admit defeat and say that I don't want to spoil what's to come, or what happens in SHADA, so that's why I'm being a bit vague.
But trust me, if readers stick with me, there will be long-term payoffs to everything I'm doing, and Shada Emery is just such a character.
Noahan Author - Reading your preview, I was struck by this line: “I read a book last year that said traumatic events can make people want to stick around even after they die." Do you believe that’s true?
Craig Hansen - That's a tricky question to answer, actually. You see, I'm a man of faith; I study the Bible—both the Torah and the New Covenant writings—and the faith side of me agrees with what I find there; that we're given this life, and once it's over, the next thing we know in The World To Come, what some people call heaven. If put on trial, that's what I'd ultimately confess to believing in my bones.
On the other hand, I've read ghost stories and enjoyed paranormal stuff since I was a young, nerdy kid reading comic books and magazines like Fangoria and The Twilight Zone Magazine and everything Stephen King had ever written. Even now, I get a kick out of watching Ghost Hunters and Haunted Possessions and some of the better-done examples of paranormal reality TV.
So I know that this is a tenant of faith, of sorts, in the paranormal genre. And in some ways, it lines up with certain feelings and experiences I've had over the years. I mean, I've been places where I've gotten creeped out. And then maybe you find out that's a place where a murder occurred, or something like that.
For example, could anyone walk around the John Wayne Gacy house and think, "Yeah, nothing to see here. It's just wood and nails, like any other house." I think that'd be difficult, if a person was being honest with themselves. And anyone who has snuck down to a cemetery after dark, sure, there may not be any full-bodied apparitions walking around. But who can honestly say they don't feel a bit weirded out? Who can say it's just like walking through a school playground?
Ultimately, I think Shakespeare put it best in Hamlet: "There are more things under heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio."
So, in the end, I think I leave room in my mind for an element of mystery, an element of the unknown and, perhaps, unanswerable. Let's leave it at this: it's a prevalent theory, and I'm not sure it can be entirely discounted. After all, in the book of Genesis, the LORD Himself tells Cain, "Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground." So, who's to say they know everything about this for sure?
Noahan Author - Have you ever taken part in a séance? Do they work?
Craig Hansen - I just wrote a long blog entry on that very topic, at Craig-Hansen.com. The short version of that story is, yes, I tried it a couple times as a mischievous young kid. And while it didn't work in the way you see on TV or in the movies, let's just say it came close enough to working that I never tried it again.
Noahan Author - Both in the text of your book, and in your “about the author” you mention the music of Johnny Cash. Can you talk a little about what he means to you?
Craig Hansen - I believe Johnny Cash was probably the first favorite singer I can ever remember admiring. When I grew up, LPs were still very common. I used to dream of being a DJ and some summer afternoons when I was bored, I'd grab my turntable, plug it in next to the one my parents had in the dining area, grab all my favorite records, and "play DJ," putting on my own little radio station broadcasts where I talked between the songs and such. Mom … tolerated it.
Johnny Cash's album, "Johnny Cash's Greatest Hits, Volume 2," from his years at Columbia Records, got a lot of airplay from me. I sang along to it and knew all of those songs pretty much by heart. My mom even complained about it, because I tried so hard to mimic his voice and vocal style that she thought he'd ruined my ability to sing any other way. She was kind of relieved when I moved on to singers like Billy Joel and Lionel Richie and the songs of Alabama.
For some reason, though, I always associated Johnny and June with my mom and dad, because of their love for country music in general, and Johnny and June's music was part of that.
I went away from Johnny Cash for a lot of years, but started getting back into him when I spent a few years going to karaoke nights in Wisconsin restaurants. Then, the movie WALK THE LINE made a big impression on me and I discovered all his late-career music I'd almost missed, the stuff he did for American Recordings.
Looking back on Johnny Cash's career, I can now see some elements that really drew me to him, and still do even today. Johnny Cash was a man of deep faith from his earliest years, and wanted to be a gospel singer. But Sam Phillips at Sun Records was the man who told him he needed to find his own voice, and as a result, he wrote what church people would call "secular songs."
Songs about murder, regret, grief, justice, being an outlaw, and those were the songs that made him famous. Yet he never gave up his deep appreciation for the gospel, and after he got over his rebellious phase that WALK THE LINE details, you listen to some of his live concerts from the late 1970s on, and his concerts were these wonderful mixes of the popular songs people loved, and the gospels songs he loved.
And he had a very distinctive style. No matter how good a song might be when someone else did it, if Johnny Cash covered it, he put his own stamp on it. I'm not sure exactly how that connects to me and my writing, but these are some of the things that fascinate me about Cash. Plus, it's just great background music while I'm writing; it doesn't distract me the way the Glee soundtracks do.
Noahan Author - What effect do you hope your book has on your readers?
Craig Hansen - I want them to have a few hours of fun reading it, enjoy it, and be eager to know what happens next. I'd love to be flooded with emails demanding to know just how much longer it's going to take me to finish EMBER. And if my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, as I recall, is still out there and among them, so much the better!
I hope people get their appetite whetted for Ember and for Hope, Wisconsin. I hope they get a taste of the paranormal thrill they were looking for and are eager to see it increase in future releases. And I hope that the bigger themes I touch on, like the Alzheimer's issue, hits a touchstone and adds to the experience and gives SHADA a bit more depth than the average paranormal suspense novel, young adult or otherwise.
Noahan Author - Is Pluto a planet?
Craig Hansen - I love that you asked this, since I devoured books on the solar system for several weeks one summer, back in second or third grade. And this is something that I actually, strangely, feel very impassioned about.
Every book and authority I read as a kid… and I read books well above my age level… called Pluto a planet. It's been considered a planet since its discovery in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh. To me, it's a planet, and it always will be a planet. I mean, it has four moons. What asteroid has moons? It also has an atmosphere. A thin one, mind you, but it does have one. Not many asteroids have that either.
But see, some "smartest guys in the room" folks known as the IAU come along in 2006 and invented out of thin air a so-called "official definition" of a planet. They cited three criteria. First, it must be on orbit around the sun. Second, it must take its form by the power of its own gravitational forces. Pluto meets both of those criteria.
The problem is their third criteria. This very wobbly-worded criteria that it must have "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." See, on a planetary scale, Pluto's tiny. So it hasn't quite done that, even though I won't bore you with the details. But the IAU invents, again out of thin air, this new designation of "dwarf planet" and plops Pluto into it. Probably just so they'd have an example of one.
Well, to borrow a British expression, I say bullocks to that. You don't undo the work of Clyde Tombaugh and overturn over 75 years of scholarship just to sound smarter than everyone else.
So, yeah, bullocks to the IAU. Pluto's a planet.
Noahan Author - Are you ready for the end of civilization?
Craig Hansen - Today? 2012? Al Gore's suddenly right about global warming? You know something I don't? (Laughs.) Joking aside, I count myself ready for it. I take a religious slant on the topic, but I won't bore your readers with my personal theological views.
But hey, maybe if the world's about to end, someone can de-age me, pop me in a spaceship, and send me to a distant planet. A pair of kindly farmers might find me in a field before the government does and raise me as their own son… and then, walking home from the theater one night, I see them gunned down in cold blood by a simple mugger, and it changes my life forever. Then I'm bit by a radioactive spider, and… uhh… what was the question?
Noahan Author - Would you like to ask me a question?
Craig Hansen - Sure. I've noticed your new series, the Brontosaurus Pluto Society, and it got me to wondering: how much of a role did old radio serials and movie cliffhanger serials of the 1930s to early 1950s play an influence on you? If there was another influence, please explain the source of your inspiration.
Noahan Author – The radio serials were before my time. They sound exciting to me, and I would like to look into them one day, but no they haven’t been an influence of mine. To write The Saga of The Brontosaurus Pluto Society, I spent a lifetime reading philosophy, comic books, fairy tales, myths, legends, history – both official and speculative, and everything I could get my hands on. I read quite a bit about magicians – the people over the last few hundred years who did believe in magic and pursued it.
Some readers might see the combination of space-travel and magic as random, strange, nonsensical, but read the old books from any truly ancient culture. They all say that the “Gods” descended from the sky in great metal chariots and brought magic and civilization with them. The universe I outline in Magic Makes You Strange, and will flesh-out in the following books, matches what the Babylonians, Mayans, and Egyptians describe a lot better than most stories you’ll read.
Noahan Author Interview – Richard Jackson
Noahan Author – Richard, please tell us a little about yourself.
Richard Jackson - This is the question I always dread. I'm not good when it comes to talking about myself. It's not because I'm humble. There's a lot to tell and I never know what or how much to tell. I'm always afraid that I'm babbling or bragging.
The easiest way to describe my personality is to look up the qualities associated with Scorpios. As for the other stuff like interests and hobbies, I have a lot of them. The big ones are writing (surprise, surprise), travel, martial arts, costuming, reading and gaming. I enjoy hanging out with friends and meeting people. Other than that, I'm your basic New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx.
Noahan Author –What would you like everyone to know about your new book, The Hunger?
Richard Jackson - The Hunger is a novella. The story takes place after the Gift of Fury but just prior to the events in the next full-length book. It helps set the stage for some of the things going on in Count's world. You get to meet Timothy, who was mentioned in the first book. You're also introduced to Sam who has his own story to tell. Both will be appearing in the next book along with Bethany and Caine from The Incarnates series.
Noahan Author –What kind of a guy is Count Albritton?
Richard Jackson - I think of him as one of the good guys but he has a lot of rough edges. He likes helping people. It's his main motivation for most of the things he does. He's got a knack for spotting trouble or a situation that needs his attention. Count is all about payback. If you do right by him, he'll return the favor. He will always help a friend in need. If you do wrong by him or one of his friends, he'll be out for revenge. Sometimes this has gotten him in over his head.
Noahan Author – You’ve written quite a few stories about Count now. As an artist I’m sure that you have new ideas every day for all kinds of stories. What do you think it is about Count and his world that keeps calling you back to that same sandbox?
Richard Jackson - For me, world building is a big part of writing fiction. When I wrote The Gift of Fury, I spent a lot of time fleshing out Count's world. Since I had the world built anyway, I figured I might as well get as much use out of it as I could. There were a lot of good stories to tell that dealt with Count, his friends and things about his world. Some of these stories take place before the Gift of Fury while other happen in between the later novels. Some stories, like the Incarnates, feature other characters who play a part in Count's story.
I could have written a compendium or included appendixes at the back of each book but I felt it was better to actually tell the stories. That way is more entertaining for me, and hopefully my readers.
I guess I should mention that I have two other sandboxes to play in. Each one has just as many sandcastles as the Count Albritton series. You'll be seeing more of them in the near future.
Noahan Author – I’ve read a number of your stories. I would describe your work as a mixture of noir and the paranormal. Who are some of the artists who have been the biggest influences on your writing?
Richard Jackson - I've read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. If you look at my bookshelf and Kindle, you'll see a lot of authors ranging from Larry Niven to Steve Perry. My favorite authors are Roger Zelazny, David Eddings, Robert Aspirin, Steven Brust, and David Drake. Those five along with Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir have had the biggest influence on my writing.
I also read other genres and some historical pieces though not as much as I used to. To be honest, I've gotten a bit behind on my reading. I'll probably catch up on it some time during the holidays.
Noahan Author – I keep wondering why Kara plays as small a role as she does. She could be Count’s partner, but she always seems to be far away and talking in his head telepathically. It sometimes feels to me like she’s almost a part of his subconscious. Can you talk a little about their relationship?
Richard Jackson - A lot has to do with who and what Kara is. She can't even stay linked telepathically twenty four seven because she has other duties and responsibilities to attend to. In a way, it's like a long distance romance and in other ways it's like those espionage shows where a person in the field is guided by someone back at headquarters. They’re still partners but distance adds a different dynamic to the relationship.
Of course, the books and stories take on a totally different meaning if you think Count is hearing voices and hallucinating.
Noahan Author – Can you talk a little about your journey as an artist? How did you get to where you are today?
Richard Jackson - I've always liked telling stories. I had written some stuff for online games and ezines but nothing that I considered publishable. At a convention, I had the good fortune to meet Robert Aspirin. Now, that man was a storyteller. We spent most of the night trading jokes and stories. He was the one who encouraged me to take my writing seriously. When I got home, I started work on the Gift of Fury.
After a few false starts, I figured out what I wanted to do and how to tell the story. A year later, I was submitting queries to agents and publishers while I hung out on Baen's Bar submitting short stories to Jim Baen's Universe and other sci-fi / fantasy magazine. As the soul killing rejection letters piled up, I finished another book. The few responses that I got which weren't form letters or refusals scribbled on index cards was that they liked my story but they couldn't sell it or it wasn't right for them. The only ray of light came from Eleanor Wood of Spectrum Literary Agency. She gave me some constructive criticism which went a long way to improving my writing.
With the arrival of the Kindle, I decided to self-publish my stories. I had been reading stories and books on my old palm pilot. I thought eBooks would have a bright future. That was over two years ago and I haven't regretted my decision. I've had some good months and some bad ones but I feel good about where I am and where I'm going.
Noahan Author – Are you ready for the end of civilization?
Richard Jackson - That depends on how civilization ends. We have a pool going and there is money riding on this.
Noahan Author – Is Pluto a planet?
Richard Jackson - Yes it is. Ask any Scorpio and they will tell you that Pluto is a planet.
Noahan Author – Would you like to ask me a question?
Richard Jackson - Why aren't you writing short stories and novellas or the occasional piece of flash fiction? I find taking a break to write something short helps me relax and write longer pieces. And for extra credit, do you ever want to collaborate on a story or book with someone?
Noahan Author – Great questions, Richard. I did release a short story last year, The Song of Ballad and Crescendo. It’s free on Smashwords and .99 on Amazon. Even at that price, it doesn’t sell as well as my full-length work. I guess that gave me the impression that the public would prefer books to short stories. But you have got me thinking. Let’s see what I come up with in the coming weeks…
As to your second question, yes, in the right circumstances. With the right people and the right ground rules, I think collaborating could be a heck of a lot of fun.
And then, why not go ahead and download some free samples from the authors you've spent some time getting to know today?