I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest. I loved JCM Berne’s Wistful Ascending (review here) and invited him on for an interview!
First of all, speculative fiction is what I read. I find spec fiction empowering in a way the real world isn’t – a wizard or a starship captain (or a superhero) can impact the world in a way that a middle aged software developer finds quite difficult. I like those kind of stories, so that is what I read. When I read, I’m often very critical. I’ll find elements in a story I love, but other elements will take me out of the story, and then I search for a way to make my own thing that incorporates those parts that I loved while avoiding the pitfalls that annoyed me. That’s basically why I write: a love for parts of the genre crossed with a certain level of curmudgeonliness that makes me think I can do better.
That’s quite the origin story! I’m curious to know if there’s a specific book that led you to want to do better. I remember trying to write a couple sci-fi novels because I decided too much sci-fi had too many space battleships without any of them shooting at each other. I wasn’t well read, clearly, and haven’t gotten fiction published yet, either! Alas. What’s the elevator pitch for “Wistful Ascending?” What made you decide to combo space opera and superheroes?
No specific book got me interested in writing in general – maybe the Steven Brust Jhereg novels (he wrote fantasy crime fiction, and I wanted to do the same, but with a dwarf main character). That was back in the 90’s. The Hybrid Helix was sort of inspired by a very specific plot turn in the comic Invincible (now a cartoon on amazon) that I can’t really describe without spoiling that plotline. There are many other inspirations too; I keep finding elements of other stories I’ve read somewhere in the Hybrid Helix without having consciously putting them in. It’s a lot of theft from a lot of places!
The elevator pitch isn’t my strong suit; probably something like, “living weapon of mass destruction Rohan seeks a quiet life on a sentient space station trying to forget his past, but his past won’t forget him.” I really have a hard time marketing this book, finding comps for it, or describing its tone to people (you can tell by the number of reviews that start with ‘this book wasn’t what I expected’ – it’s incredibly common and, while nice, kind of annoying).
“Legends and Lattes but in space, with a side order of genocide.”
*Side-eyes my own review that talks about the unexpected combination of space opera and superheroes.* Yes, I’m sure it would get a bit old hearing the same thing every time! But it works so well! There are three books out in the series so far, and having read the first one, I’d say it works pretty well as a standalone with a ton of room to explore more stories. Does each book mostly wrap up its plot? How many books do you plan for the series?
Each book attempts to do the same thing – wrap up in a satisfying way while leaving room for more stories. I’ve gotten bad reviews, but nobody has complained about cliffhanger endings or unsatisfying resolutions. I do plan to write many more, and it’s possible I’d have some of them act as a trilogy, but that’s way farther down the road. And I’d be sure to explicitly tell people I’m doing that.
I jokingly tell people 25 books. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but that’s the ballpark I’m aiming for.
Awesome! I love that concept for a series because readers can know they aren’t going to get stuck with a cliffhanger without warning and wonder about a resolution until it comes. Obviously, the concept of space opera meets superhero brings all kinds of possibilities to mind. What challenges did using superpowers in space bring for you in writing? And, what’s your favorite superpower?
I seem to get that first question a lot, but superheroes and space have always gone together. Superman came to earth in a spaceship. Entire comic book series were taking place off earth since I was a kid – look at something like Jim Starlin’s Warlock series, for example (among many others).
The big challenge is trying to think of ramifications. If superpower X is possible, you kind of have to assume people have it, and that people have had it for a while. This assumption multiples with an interstellar setting – if there are many inhabited planets, there should be MANY people with whatever power or ability you come up with. How has that impacted history? If there is a balance of power, what maintains it? If there is constant warfare, why are there still people left alive?
That’s a big reason I don’t have real time travel or most kind of psychic powers. The biggest powers come with a cost, and defending against them has to be reasonably cheap. Otherwise the universe would be quite violent.
So the challenges for powers in space aren’t that different, just bigger in scale.
My favorite power is probably rapid healing. At my age the idea of waking up without pain is very appealing!
Thanks for the great interview! I think it gives readers a lot to look forward to–and extra reading. Where can readers find you?
What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What made you decide to write it?
Oh gosh. So many things! My childhood was a perfect storm of geekery. My brother John was my first Dungeon Master and the clerk at my local comic shop. My mom was deep into the 80s Doctor Who fan community. In prose, I was mostly getting fantasy early on. CS Lewis and Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper, but then I discovered Douglas Adams when I was in maybe 5th grade, and the damage was done. I can’t remember when I found out, but my mom was actually working on a kids sci-fi novel when I was a baby. She was home with me, and I was — I dunno — spitting up on myself in my crib, and she was at the dining room table writing out a whole book longhand. Multiple complete drafts! Hundreds and hundreds of pages. I don’t think she ever got as far as sending it out to editors, etc. but it shaped her. And us! I grew up just… *intrinsically* aware that stories aren’t just a thing that’s given to us. They’re things that anyone can create — that *everyone* can create — and share with the world.
Douglas Adams is who I thought of immediately when my group previewed your book, “Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days.” To me, it had that same fun vibe without having the comedy detract from the story. Other than Adams, what inspirations did you draw on for “Percival Gynt”?
I’m a neurodiverse author. I have ADHD. And one of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is, whether as author or audience, my brain is really geared to fiction that tries to do everything. That’s funny and scary and sad and exciting and thoughtful and ridiculous and and and… I actually have a bad habit of falling asleep watching TV or movies, even stuff I like, if it’s just the same tone over and over. My brain has a hard time maintaining focus.
There’s a movie I saw this year called EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE that I adore, and I caught an interview with the directors on NPR where they described the movie as “maximalist.” As in, the opposite of minimalist. And it was a real light bulb moment for me, because I never had a word for it before, but that’s absolutely it. I write maximalist fiction. So a lot of my inspiration is just “everything I’ve ever loved in a blender” but I also have these touchstones, creators or works that really exemplify what I’m trying to do. I go back to a comic book guy, Kieth Giffen, who was doing this amazing stuff with JUSTICE LEAGUE and LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES in the late 80s. To BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, which magically sprang into existence without a writer. To PRINCESS BRIDE. The movie and, maybe more importantly, the book. And to Shakespeare, when I’m feeling fancy!
I definitely get a sense of “everything and the kitchen sink” in this book, but you make it work! There are at least 3 possible sequels teased in the novel–will we be seeing more of Percival Gynt and/or others?
Indeed! The one I can talk about is PERCIVAL GYNT AND THE INEVITABILITY OF FIRE AND OTHER CASES which, if the stars align and fate finds favor, should finally be out in 2023. It’s a short story collection, set mostly before the events of CONSPIRACY OF DAYS, and structured so that it can be enjoyed equally by new and returning readers. In it, Percival catches killers, slays monsters, exorcizes ghosts, and saves Christmas! And plays bridge. Not well, but he’s a good sport about it. Oh. And the title novella, THE INEVITABILITY OF FIRE, is structured like an old-time Choose Your Own Adventure!
So lots of fun ridiculous stuff, and along the way we’re watching this flawed young man grow into the hero of CONSPIRACY OF DAYS.
I can’t wait to read about Percival saving Christmas, among other things! Where can readers find you?
I’m @drewmelbourne on Twitter until it implodes and I’m forced to decamp to Instagram, Hive, Mastadon, or Fnargle. And my website, https://drewmelbourne.com, is a great place to find out more about my work, with links to reviews, interviews, merch, and more.
What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What lead you to write it?
I very distinctly remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in and then sitting on the floor at the grocery store reading the Marvel Comics right after. This is 1977 and I’m also reading everything the rack. X-Men. Spider-Man. And I was writing or trying to around five or six. Little comics and stories. I read everything. The thrift store always had older scifi books for like 10 cents and then a quarter. Frankenstein is what really got its claws in me, though I’m not a horror person. It always came back to comics. The Body.
I love that it was Star Wars and comics that got you into speculative fiction. That combination reads like an inspiration for “Ever the Hero.” What other inspirations led you to writing this specific novel and featuring diverse characters?
Firefighters in Tennessee let a house burn because the owner didn’t pay a bill for emergency services. At the time, the callousness seemed particular. Now it feels too familiar. Sadly, the book becomes more relevant all the time as states pass bills that outlaw giving bottled water to homeless people among other things.
But right away the idea clicked – what if you had to pay for superheroes? It took a while to get to the right shape. I tried a few different approaches. One was a television pilot. I took that to the Austin Film Festival in 2016 and it made the second round in the Screenplay Competition.
I started writing what became the novel in November of that year. It took some more work before I finally published in 2020.
I wanted the book to reflect the world I live in. I grew up and live in a town in Iowa that has the largest African-American community in the state. I grew up with a lot of girls like Kit. It’s very diverse in general. LGBTQ representation is very important to me as well. I always strive for authenticity and make sure as best I can I’m elevating and honoring. And knowing where my limits are.
Around college I found Kelly Link, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Cunningham. Writers who were writing speculative fiction with literary elements. That really inspired me.
I both love and hate that a real world event inspired the idea behind the story, and it definitely makes for a fascinating premise. I also appreciate your efforts to have broad representation in your novel. What helped you write experiences beyond your own?
I pride myself on being a good listener. A good observer. I’m curious and I think you have to be to appreciate the world you live in. The people in it. So I want to learn. I want to see the world from different perspectives. That’s one reason the Eververse series shifts protagonists from book to book. My interest is in perspective. Voice. Embodying a character.
In the last few years I’ve learned I’m autistic. I think this informs my interest in how other people a great deal. It helps me with Kit certainly, who is also autistic. This becomes more prevalent as the series goes on, since we’re both on a journey of self-discovery.
What (spoiler free!) can you tell us about the rest of the series and the aliens in future reads? Where can our readers find you?
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest.
Here, we’ll be interviewing Clayton Snyder, author of Blackthorneand many other works, including co-authoring the SPFBO Finalist, Norylska Groans.
What was your gateway into speculative fiction? What lead you to write it?
I’d say my gateway at the earliest age was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. My mother bought me the big bound version, and I used to read it on a regular basis. As far as writing it, it wasn’t until I read Zelazny’s Amber series I thought it was possible. He had such a facility for painting a picture in small strokes. For whatever reason, that opened the craft for me. I could see how the sausage was made, so to speak, and loved the idea that writing wasn’t this opaque wall, but a window I could see into and subsequently learn from. It also helped that something about Amber really captured my imagination and made me want to spin out worlds of my own.
Zelazny certainly had an impact on many readers! His “Lord of Light” is among my personal favorites. “Blackthorne” is your entry for the SPSFC2, and one of the first thing I noticed is the theme of some darker magic combined with cyberpunk ideas. What inspired you to bring a kind of necromancy over to science fiction?
Honestly, I’ve always loved that idea of magic mixing with tech. I had my first taste of it through RPGs like Shadowrun and Rifts, and the early Pern novels to Final Fantasy. I’ve always kind of figured if I’m going to write speculative fiction, why not go for broke.
What else did you draw on to inspire “Blackthorne”? Can readers expect a sequel?
Movies. Action flicks, specifically. The Rock, a little bit of Blade Runner, some Conan, etc. I will be working on a sequel next year, as I’ve had more than a couple readers threaten me with unrelenting positivity towards this novel. In the interim, I’m working on a more traditional cyberpunk noir.
Your novel, “Norylska Groans” was co-written with Michael Fletcher, another semifinalist from our group! What’s it been like being in the SPSFC with your coauthor?
Fun. Mike and I get along really well, and in this case it’s less friendly competition and more of us cheering each other on. I figure as long as I stay positive for him, he’ll never see the assassins coming.
Your library of works includes westerns, fantasy, and science fiction. What has led you to incorporate a grimdark flare into the genres you’re writing?
I’m a weird mix of optimist and cynic, and I mostly write about the terrible things we do to each other, but as cautionary tales. The idea that there’s hope, but only if we’re willing to open our eyes and see the things we’re capable of and turn away from those paths.
Awesome! Glad you’re having a good time in the contest! Where can my readers find you?
I’m delighted to bring you an interview with Kay MacLeod, a favorite indie author of mine. I hope you’ll check it out and be sure to check out her books (links near end)!
Interview with Kay MacLeod
What got you into speculative fiction as a reader, and as an author?
I grew up in a family who loved fantasy. My mum’s an incredible artist who drew and painted fairies, and my dad was always a big reader. He had shelves filled with speculative fiction and it was the passionate way he talked about the books he enjoyed that sparked my interest from an early age. Soon enough, I began reading for myself; The Hobbit, Redwall, Discworld. They captivated me like nothing else.
I devoured everything fantasy related I could get my hands on, expanding my obsession with video games such as Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and Baldur’s Gate. It seemed a natural progression to create worlds of my own at that point, though I only wrote small pieces and mostly drew maps and characters. I didn’t seriously consider writing my own books for a long time. My creations were a way to occupy my time and gave me joy. It didn’t occur to me that others would enjoy them. Until I started to DM Dungeons & Dragons games. The thrill of seeing other people invested in my world and plotlines was amazing. They cared about the stuff I made up and wanted more!
I love that you had a kind of natural progression from Redwall (and others) to DMing and storytelling. In many ways, your background is similar to mine. I was absolutely obsessed with Redwall. You have one series, the Maiyamon series, which seems inspired by Pokémon. What led you to write a gamelit series?
Maiyamon was definitely inspired by Pokémon. I got my first Gameboy with Pokemon Red in 1999 when I was 11 – the perfect age it was catered to. Over the years, I got every new release and still do. But now I’m in my 30s and the story isn’t aimed at me anymore. I’ll never grow out of it, I’m as excited for Scarlet/Violet as I was for Gold/Silver, but I do want something different from the genre.
As an adult, I crave more depth of story and characters, and I figured there was a whole generation of original Pokefans with that problem. So, Maiyamon was born. The main characters are around twenty years old, and I’ve done my best to include more mature themes and conflicts without going too extreme the other way and putting off younger fans. Exploring what would really happen if superpowered animals existed has been delightful, especially looking at how technology would change, or the opposing viewpoints people have on the subject.
To be honest, I adore gaming as much as reading. Combining them is a no-brainer! Even my fantasy books have been compared to Dragon Age (still the best compliment I ever received). Though I’m still working on my Maiyamon novels, I do have some ideas for other GameLit books in the future – a Rune Factory farming style series and a Magic: The Gathering card game inspired story. We’ll see if they go anywhere…
Okay, I gotta say your ideas for other series have definitely gotten me excited! I think having a more mature plot with a monster collecting-type game is going to get more and more popular as people who got introduced to RPGs with Pokemon grow up. You mentioned your fantasy series–what’s the elevator pitch on that?
I have way too many ideas and want to write them all right now! My fantasy series is about an invasion by a spirit race who feed on life energy looking for a new world to consume. To combat them, a group of ten people know as the Constellations are given unique powers which are passed to their first-born child. Some of those parents were better at preparing their children than others… Kitty never questioned why she could bullseye every shot with a bow. Asher assumed the other new Constellations would have been pushed to breaking point to develop their powers like he was. Add in an aloof member of the royal family, and they have to figure out a way to work together to find the rest of their allies before the enemy picks them off first.
There are three books out in The Constellation Saga so far with the final one due after the third Maiyamon book is complete. It’s such a fun series with some of my favourite characters – I often describe it as swords, sorcery, and sarcasm.
It looks like readers have a fun range of works to dive into from you! I know I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read. Where can readers look to find out more/follow you/etc.?
If you want to check out my range, I have a free welcome pack with several short stories set in each world – including an exclusive peek at some Maiyamon history… You can get it by signing up to my newsletter at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/3c5ckf3ld7 All my books are available from http://author.to/KayMacleod And I’m around on most social media sites as @kaymacleodbooks so please feel free to follow or get in touch (especially if you want to chat books, RPGs, miniature painting, or Critical Role).
Thanks so much for your time! I’m looking forward to reading more!
Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Edward Nile is the author of Ironshield, a dieselpunk epic set in a war-torn world.
Edward Nile Interview
What was your gateway to speculative fiction? How did you decide to write it?
This is where I give the normal answer that I’ve been a lifelong lover of fantasy blah blah. It’s a cliché because it’s true. As a nineties kid, some of my first memories were of cartoons and television shows like the Power Rangers. I swung plastic swords and collected Transformers (No prizes for guessing why I write about giant robots) and generally was absorbed in stories, whether it was what was on the screen or what I made up in my own head while bashing figures together. I’d spend unhealthily long hours making stuff up until the sun rose. From Beast Wars to Gargoyles to Reboot, I devoured it all. A love of traditional fantasy followed. One of the very first movies I remember being engrossed in that wasn’t a Disney cartoon was DragonHeart when I was about six or seven. So, around that age I started drawing a lot, making up characters and scenarios to fuel my addiction to escapism. By the time I was twelve I was dead set on becoming a comic book creator. Anime was a huge influence at the time, with Escaflowne and Gundam Wing being two of my earliest discoveries. By age fifteen, after reading all the popular fantasy and sci fi everyone was reading at the time, I’d scrapped the comic book dream in favor of wanting to write my very own Robert Jordan-esque door stopper fantasy novel. And here we are.
And here we are.
I love that people can come to speculative fiction from childhood but have different influences. Can you tell us about your inspiration for your fantasy world?
After a hiatus from writing I tried to reinvent one of my darling stories from when I was 15. Scrapped it. Tried a dystopian sci-fi, wound up shelving a first draft that will never see the light of day. Moved on to an attempt at urban fantasy/horror. At this point I realized I needed to work on something unique just to keep myself motivated. I’d had an interest in dieselpunk for a while. Trench warfare always held a fascination for me and my reading was veering steadily from fiction to military history. I started listening to podcasts about WW1 and WW2 and picking up just about any book on the subject I could find. Then it was the American Civil War. Now, my shelves are crammed with books about just about every conflict from the Crusades to the Vietnam War (I’m currently reading an excellent book about the Anglo-Boer conflict and have a tome about the Crimea waiting for me). So, pretty quickly I knew I wanted to write something that reflected this newfound interest in 19th and 20th century warfare. Still being a fantasy nerd, I wrote my first published novel, “Bloodlight”, to be a blend of fantasy and dieselpunk. But before “Bloodlight”, I wrote a little short story called “The Worm Sleeps.” A vignette set in a dystopian future in which a mech pilot operates an old rust bucket, juxtaposed with the more advanced, futuristic machines of his comrades. This piece (which I’ve since thrown on Amazon with one of my fantasy shorts for a dollar) was a test run for me. I wanted to write about mechs, but I wanted them to have all the grit and grime of a WW2 tank. Fast forward about a year. “Bloodlight” is being prepped for release, and I’m at a friend’s place leafing through Shelby Foote’s series on the Civil War. And the scene just springs to mind, of a hulking gray mech standing in a dusty road, being challenged by a man with a field gun. Everything just grew from there.
I thought I sensed some of the historical background of both the Civil War and World War I in “Ironshield.” It’s good to know I wasn’t far off! How long do you expect the Ironshield Saga to be, and what other projects do you have up your sleeve?
I think any time an author taps into a world and story with this kind of scope, it opens the way for an almost infinite number of ideas. After all, the history of humanity and armed conflict is such a vast cornicopea of information it’s literally impossible to write or read everything involved. Doubly so for me, because while there are historical inspirations to “Ironshield” it is, at the end of the day, a fictional world I’m writing. I can do whatever I want with it, combine inspirations from just about anything. I have material for the Ironshield Saga to last for more books than I can count. Originally, I envisioned at least 4-5 large, numbered entries in the main series, plus a ton of smaller novels and novellas such as “Old Bolts” to flesh out the world further. And that’s just in the first era of “Ironshield.” I have plans for an urban detective story set a century or so after the main events I’m currently writing about. A series built around a central character in a steadily advancing dieselpunk world, complete with new technologies and the implications they come with. That being said, I have to be realistic with my time and my efforts. “Ironshield” clocked in at 170k words. “Iron Wrath,” coming out this June, is over 200k. These are large books with a lot of story to them, and I have to balance their production with real life obligations. Knowing that, it’s likely I’ll have to switch gears to another story setting at some point for my own sanity. There’s an epic fantasy book I want to write, as well as a dark fantasy western and a ton of other projects I really want to work on. More ideas and stories than I can reasonably complete in a lifetime. Of course, when this writing thing starts paying some of the bills, I’ll be able to put more time in (ha!).
Can we circle back for a moment and discuss a side topic? WWI and some of the other influences you mentioned were heavily influenced by colonialism. In “Ironshield,” some of that colonialism appears as a possibility in how both the Xangese people and the native inhabitants of the continent are treated. How are you wrestling with the history of colonialism and the evils thereof within this fictional setting?
What “Ironshield” wrestles with, if it “wrestles” with anything, is monarchy and centralized power. Xang, a monarchy ruled over by a king, has neglected its hold on a nearby island chain, which has since developed its own identity and considers itself a separate entity from Xang, even though they share a language and other cultural background. As far as Arkenia is concerned, why shouldn’t they? Why should someone miles away who knows nothing of the everyday lives of a people get to make blanket declarations about how they live? This was the basis of Arkenia’s Revolution, after all, the desire not to have a distant authority tell them what to do, what to believe etc. As far as the native tribes, I only really get to explore one fringe group, a cargo cult called the K’Tani, who worship machines, falsely believing the Arkenians had used their Warsuits (mechs) to save them from colonial rule. In fact it was their own freedom the Arkenians wanted, and the benefits to the tribes came as an unintended bonus. If my book was to be more focused on an anti-colonialist message, I’d be writing a different story. “Iron Wrath” has been delayed two years because I had to scrap an outline that was, in part, unworkable due to my trying to cram too much political realism into the narrative. Having real-world inspirations is great, but I’m writing books about stompy robutts. Everything that goes into the plot, therefor, leans toward said stompy robutts in some form or another. If an aspect of the world doesn’t tie into that, it doesn’t get explored too deeply on the page. Hence we only really see the tribe that is most directly involved with these machines.
I appreciate how the setting clearly has so much going on behind the scenes, too. Of course, the big draw for me was the stompies, too! How can readers connect with you?
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Steven Healt wrote Along the Perimeter, a book I quite enjoyed early in the contest. Check out my review.
Steven Healt Interview
How did you get into speculative fiction?
My interest in speculative fiction started with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I watched Empire Strikes Back countless times as a kid, especially the Hoth scenes. I saw the Lord of the Rings in the theater and read the Hobbit in middle school. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time was the thing that made me take my writing seriously and then eventually begin down the path of self-publishing.
Star Wars definitely started my own journey for science fiction, too! The first time I saw any of it was walking in on Return of the Jedi partway through at my uncle’s house, and seeing Jabba’s palace with Boba Fett. I was obsessed. It’s interesting you mention Wheel of Time. I thought your first book, “Along the Perimeter” has that kind of epic feel of “Eye of the World”–a lived-in universe with secrets all over.
“Along the Perimeter” has a kind of sneakily science fantasy feel to it. The world feels like this big epic fantasy world, but it’s almost all contained within the Perimeter, other than those who live out in the Haze. How did you come up with your worldbuilding ideas?
The foundational idea for the Amboy Series came to me while I was driving back to college after visiting my parents. There’s dozens of small, single stop light sort of towns along the way and one time I was thinking what if the area that this town took up was the only habitable place on the planet? From there I started asking the why’s, how’s and who’s of it all.
I love how small towns were the inspiration for what reads as a pretty expansive world! What made you decide to integrate that with science fiction elements like aliens and give it a fantasy feel?
The combination of aliens and fantasy actually came from pieces of another story idea I had floating around in my head. It was about this village who had to give natural resources as offerings to a shrine, which turns out to be a delivery system that provides for an advanced civilization that had used up all of their homeworld’s resources.
I took that idea of the power dynamic of a group of defied individuals ruling over a larger population, and combined it with the idea of the small habitable zone surrounded by a hostile environment. That’s how many of my stories come about: I have a few pieces of something floating around in my mind and eventually they coalesce into something greater.
The Amboy series is at 2 books currently, with a third on the way. How many books do you have planned in the series, and when can readers expect the next? Do you have any other projects planned?
I’ve actually just locked in time with my editor to look over the manuscript for the third installment of the series. I haven’t settled on a firm date yet, but I’m expecting to release book three later this year. I’ve got three more books outlined and unless I get carried away I see the series wrapping up with book six.
As for future projects, I’ve been working on a fantasy series for about a year or so. I’ll be focusing on once I’ve finished the Amboy Series. I’m really looking forward to getting that out to readers.
I know I am looking forward to book three! For our readers, where can you be found/what links do you want to share/etc.?
I’m working on finalizing an author website where readers will be able to stay up to date with my works in progress and book related things. For the time being you can follow me on my Instagram page, I post fairly often about writing and what I’ve been up to in general. I can also be found on Twitter.
How did you get into speculative fiction? What made you decide to write it?
Like most authors I read a lot growing up. But unlike most authors, I suspect, what led me into science fiction were non-fiction books. My first love is aviation and I’m also interested in cars and history. I spent countless hours reading how the machines worked both in broad and specific detail. As example, I remember when I was at a summer camp and rather than play in the pool with everyone else I was reading turn performance charts for an F/A-18C [an American strike fighter].
If you’re curious they look like this:
One of the camp counselors (highschooler) saw me and asked in amazement if I could actually read that. Never thought what I was doing was strange until then. It wasn’t much of a leap for me to go from studying cars and airplanes to studying future vehicles, then far future vehicles, then vehicles that don’t or can’t exist. My bookshelf was filled with science fiction before I knew it.
As for the second part of your question, I love telling stories and I find the craft and mechanics of storytelling endlessly fascinating. However, what drove me in a lot of ways to write was dissatisfaction in the stories I read and watched. It wasn’t, “I can do this better” it was more, “what if you did it this way.” In many cases the key elements for me was/is intensity, deep character focus, personal in lieu of societal or civilizational threats, and world building that doesn’t require the story to stop to be explained. Everyone has their own personal preferences, for me the four pillars I mentioned are what I specialize in as a writer.
Wow! I have never even seen a chart like that. It’s fascinating how people come to speculative fiction from all kinds of different experiences. As I recall, vehicles don’t really feature much in “Monster of the Dark.” What inspired you to write that novel, with its visceral, psychological feel?
You are quite right. The traditional elements of science fiction such as technology, otherworldly settings, aliens, etc are present in the next books in the series, but not “Monster of the Dark.” When I conceived “Monster of the Dark” (more than ten years ago) I made a very deliberate choice to eschew fantastical technologies or settings to instead keep an extremely tight focus on character. There are hints of it in the background, but I didn’t want any distractions from the central focus.
I was very interested in the tools and methods of social/individual control at the time I was working out the major beats of the story. You, me, everybody has been programmed from the moment we were born to think and act in a certain manner. That can be positive, though there are countless examples where it has been to an individual person’s or people’s detriment.
The main character of the story and the series, Carmen, is unique in that she ages from six to nineteen years old over the course of the story. That she is manipulated and some of the techniques used to do so are obvious, but there are many which are quite subtle. What is also subtle, and in fact was technically difficult to write, were the changes in personality as she matures. A lot of research went into childhood development, abuse victims, and responses to trauma. As Carmen ages I wanted the reader to see who she was turned into, what she could have been turned into, while seeing hints of what she was supposed to but can never be. The tight focus on character is what creates the visceral psychological feel. The reader is with Carmen every step of the way and is in her head as she feels and experiences everything. My intent was to have the reader empathize with Carmen to the point that it feels like they are going through the same trials she is. And while there are moments in the story that are genuinely funny or light-hearted, no punches are pulled.
The long preamble of the past few paragraphs was required for me to answer the question, “what inspired me to write the novel?” I’m an unabashed optimist. It is interesting to see how people fall, there is an entire genre dedicated to it (tragedy). I personally am more interested in how people rise. As I mentioned in the previous question, I like to try to do things differently. The conventions of storytelling have existed for thousands of years for a reason. I don’t wish to shatter those conventions, but to bend or warp them with a purpose and in a way that is meant to enlighten. As prime example, Carmen is written as an inverted power fantasy.
In the typical power fantasy, the character starts very weak then grows, usually in self-knowledge. The climax of the story is the character using the mastery of self (usually represented as martial skill) to overcome their obstacles which are usually an individual (i.e. the villain). Carmen wields extreme personal power even as a six-year-old. She is intelligent (though not knowledgeable), has extreme martial skill, and is described as physically beautiful. Her growth in the mastery of self is not expressed in martial skill but in the wisdom to know WHEN and even IF to use martial skill, as well as her other talents. With that in mind what “inspired” me to write “Monster of the Dark” was the hope it could inspire people to realize that in matters of the spirit, no matter their circumstances and no matter how impossible it might appear to be, they already have everything they need to succeed.
You’ve definitely given readers, including myself, something to look forward to! I was a big fan of the intensely focused narrative of the first novel. I like the notion that it is pushing back against some of the trope-flipping that is common in some corners of sci-fi. Now that you’ve whetted our appetites for the rest of the series, let’s talk about it a bit more. I had book 3 preordered, and it just released. Is the series a trilogy, or are there more books planned? If there are more, how long is the series planned to be? Do you have other writing projects coming up, too?
Thank you for preordering “Cause of Death,” I hope you enjoy it. The Mirrors in the Dark series is planned to be five books long. I’m working on book four (untitled) and it is coming along slowly but steadily. It is a very complicated story for reasons I’d love to say, but can’t mention without spoiling anything. It should be done in early to mid 2023. After this series is done I’ll probably write an epic fantasy trilogy. A lot of lessons learned from the Mirrors in the Dark books have gone into its conception and I very much look forward to writing it. After that I have a near future standalone that is basically a love letter to the pleasure of driving. I also have another standalone, this time dystopian sci-fi. Lastly, I have another sci-fi trilogy set in the Mirrors in the Dark universe but set several hundred years before “Monster of the Dark” takes place. It is about decadence and the fall of societies.
Those are the firm books that are plotted and read to go. All of them are character stories. Character-driven speculative fiction is my lane and no matter what changes with regards to setting, plot, or theme the central focus will remain the same. I don’t know how many stories I have in me, everytime I think I’ve run out of ideas something new pops in my head. For that I’m thankful. Writing books is fun!
Thanks so much for sharing some ideas for upcoming series! I’m sure my readers will be excited to see more. Where can they follow you to keep updated?
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Specifically, I’ll have interviews from my team’s semifinalists. Without further adieu, to the interview!
First off, tell us a bit about your background. What got you into science fiction?
It’s a combination of my own interests and my parents during my childhood. My parents used to read to me as a kid, so I grew up with a love of books. I read things on my own and then as a family, we were definitely into science fiction movies and TV shows. There are the standard things we watched as kids like the DC Animated Universe written and/or directed by Bruce Timm (i.e. Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Static Shock), and then the Marvel animated shows like the 90s Spider-Man and X-Men, and then things like Transformers: Beast Wars and pretty much anything on WB Kids or Toonami at the time.
I also loved anime as a kid and into my teens, so pretty much most of the 2000s Toonami anime lineup, I grew up watching every day. I am a huge Batman fan, first and foremost. I’ve met Kevin Conroy and gotten a photo op and autograph from him and I have the Bat signal tattooed on my right shoulder in his honor. All those different things are what got me into science fiction and I still enjoy it very much to this very day.
It’s incredible to see how you got into science fiction and how much of that journey we share. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my all-time favorites, and I recently bought the whole series to re-watch it all. Toonami was my jam and got me into anime and certainly some flavors of sci-fi I didn’t know existed. Thanks for that trip down memory lane!
Your work includes a lot of diverse main characters, both protagonists and antagonists, like Dr. Kamala Anjali, Kazuma Okegawa, Yagami Sugimoto, and Misaki Fujioka. Is their inclusion in the story related to being a BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Color) in the science fiction genre?
Yes, certainly. One of the first things I did before I even decided to write Of Cinder and Bone was survey the science fiction landscape. One thing that I think is distinctly lacking in American science fiction is people of color as the main leads instead of simply rounding out a mostly white cast cast or being the Token Minority. And those times you do have POC, it’s often only black characters in anything mainstream, and they’re often still in the minority (no pun intended) in the stories. I noted that Indian and Middle Eastern characters in particular don’t show up that much in American mainstream science fiction, so that motivated me very much with Dr. Kamala Anjali. I feel extremely passionate about writing her because the American lens of India and Pakistan (Kamala is biracial) is extremely skewed and I thought she would be an excellent main character. I also took great care to make sure Kamala was also not just The Love Interest. She is her own person with her own agency and her own important to both Jack and the story.
As for the Japanese characters, I noticed that from an American perspective, Japanese characters really only ever show up in American mainstream fiction in the context of martial arts films and sometimes in crime dramas. While it’s true I did lean a bit into the yakuza stereotypes for Kazuma Okegawa, overall, I wanted to dive into the richness of what Japan has to offer by setting half of the book in Tokyo and its surrounding areas. I especially find the Japanese language absolutely fascinating. It’s one of my favorite languages, hence why my pen name is Japanese, and I featured it heavily in the book to give it some more exposure in the science fiction genre, but in a way I hope is organic.
The end goal of having Kamala and the others as main leads is to avert some common stereotypes about people from those cultures and backgrounds and to show the world from another perspective.
I think that one of the biggest strengths of Of Cinder and Bone is its characters, and it’s wonderful to see your inspiration for them. What inspired you to write the book itself, and how did you think about the background for dragons?
Thank you! Famously, I’ve said in interviews before that the two biggest inspirations for the Of Cinder and Bone series are film-based: Jurassic Park (1993) and Reign of Fire (2002).
I’m sure the inspiration from the classic, amazing Jurassic Park is pretty apparent. I have seen that film so many times not only for the action-horror elements, incredible practical effects, and all around incredible atmosphere, but what I found over the years that I really liked was the conversations that they have about Man vs. Nature and Man vs. God. The lunch scene in particular is one of my favorite exchanges in the movie, even with there being more awesome, iconic moments in the rest of the film. I liked the argument that just because you have the ability to create life from something selected by nature to be eliminated doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. Especially not for the sake of profit. I love the theme being discussed so well by the characters. I decided to play with that idea in another sense–exploring what happens if we instead tried to create life for an extinct creature that was unfairly hunted to extinction, not chosen by nature not to continue. As always, though, greed and disregard for life took over and there were horrible consequences, but the series also explores that there were some good things that come of Jack and Kamala’s resurrection project as well.
The other inspiration is from a rather ridiculous, over the top, largely forgotten movie called Reign of Fire. Few people remember it, but it always stuck out to me even 20 years ago as being one of the only times a Hollywood film explored dragons in the context of actual science fiction and not fantasy. We all know famous fantasy dragons like Draco from Dragonheart or Smaug from The Hobbit movies, but Reign of Fire took an actual scientific approach to their dragons and I was intrigued by the idea of what it would be like to have these enormous invasive species walking around in modern times. At first, I had planned to do a post-apocalyptic story like the one in Reign of Fire, but as I began writing the first book, I realized I actually didn’t want to do it. In Reign of Fire, the dragons are essentially monsters. They do not coexist with any other species on the planet, not even their own, as we see them later cannibalizing one another when food begins to run out after they scorched the Earth. The conversation I wanted to have in my series is summed up by a line from Jack later in the first book: “Just because something’s dangerous doesn’t mean it has no place in the world.” And so I scrapped the idea for a dragon apocalypse and wanted to write about the idea that dragons were indeed invasive, but not necessarily evil or deserving of being hunted to extinction. I thought approaching it from a conservationist angle would be a cool idea to explore.
As for the background of the dragons themselves, oh boy. I did a mountain of research before I began the first draft and I’ve done several more mountains of research as the books continue. Hell, just for the fifth book coming out April 22nd, the research document is a whopping eighteen pages long. Single spaced. The dragons in the books are all put within the context of reptiles, so I studied alligators, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, komodo dragons, chameleons, you name it. For the later books (mild spoiler alert), feathered dragons with more avian traits are introduced, so then I had to do research for birds of prey. I studied to see the different physical traits they’d have if they were real, the types of foods they’d eat, their mating habits, and then I added in some environmental science to study the most likely place each type of dragon would inhabit. That’s how some of the dragons ended up with endemic names like the Nordic sea serpent or the Japanese viper dragon. It is a lot of hard work, but I honestly love it. I’ve learned so many cool things about reptiles and birds of prey and I truly hope it comes through in the books. Especially with Of Claws and Inferno. My sister-in-law, who reads the advanced copies before my books come out, joked that this book is the most National Geographic of the series. I really went hardcore on the animal and environmental science with this book, trust me.
You can definitely see all the research and inspirations you cite throughout the first book. At this point, I’m sure readers are eager to sink their teeth into it! How many books do you have planned for the Of Cinder & Bone series, and do you have an end in mind? And, for our readers, what are the best ways to follow you and find out about your works?
It’s very unlike me, but I actually don’t know when the series is going to end? Of Claws and Inferno ends in a sort of open-ended way for that very same reason. I have a three book deal with Falstaff Books with the first book tentatively scheduled for February 2023, so I know I’ll be working on those until 2025. With my debut urban fantasy series, I knew for certain it would be a trilogy and then the short story anthology and the novella were added on later as bonus content. I’m going to take some time as I write the new science fiction novels for Falstaff Books to decide if the series will end with Of Claws and Inferno or if it will continue. My early hunch is that it will continue, but it might be after a time jump of a substantial amount. The first two books in the series occur back to back, but then Books 3-5 take place close to a year apart each. If I write another one, I think it would be with a larger time skip of multiple years to catch up with the gang to see what’s changed, but we’ll see. All I can say is stay tuned for now. Once I figure it out, I’ll definitely be forthcoming about my plans.
-The Black Parade series: The Black Parade is my debut urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel. It tells the tale of Jordan Amador–a cranky waitress with a drinking problem who lives in Albany, New York–who happens to be a Seer, or someone who can see and hear ghosts, angels, and demons. She accidentally killed a Seer and has to help 100 souls crossover into the afterlife in two years or she’s going to Hell. Her hundredth soul comes in the form of a handsome but annoying poltergeist named Michael. His peculiar ability to touch things and interact with his environment tips her off that there’s something special about him, and as she starts solving his case, she stumbles across a much bigger plot by the archdemon, Belial, to take over the free will of innocent people.
There are five books in that series: The Black Parade, The Deadly Seven: Stories from the Black Parade series, She Who Fights Monsters, Back to Black, and The Holy Dark. All of them can be found here and on all other sales platforms as well. The first book has been positively reviewed by Publishers Weekly and by New York Times and USA Today bestselling urban fantasy author, Ilona Andrews. It is also permanently free to download on all sales channels.
-Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda anthology: This is a 2021 release by Marvel Comics and Titans Books featuring yours truly and 17 other incredibly talented black and African/African-American authors writing about the world of Wakanda. My story is called “Ukubamba” and it’s about Okoye searching for a kidnapped girl. Go here to get a copy in ebook or hardcover: https://titanbooks.com/70432-black-panther-tales-of-wakanda/
-Terminus and Terminus II anthologies: There are both anthologies with science fiction and fantasy stories based in Atlanta, Georgia published by MV Media LLC. My stories are “My Dinner with Vlad” and “Hunted,” both about a werewolf named Cassandra Moody, who is the original Wolfman’s daughter. In the first story, she’s taking Dracula, known to her simply as Vlad, out into Midtown Atlanta for a night on the town and they both run headlong into trouble. The second story, “Hunted,” is Cassandra about five years later out for a midnight stroll through the woods and she realizes she’s being stalked. Grab copies here: https://www.mvmediaatl.com/all-products