Saturday, April 28, 2012

Steampunk Sci/Fi

A steampunk dirigible
Steampunk-Sci/fi.  Hmmmm . . . .
What intrigues me about this idea is this;  the 'what-ifs.'  What if this set of circumstances happened to create a different universe?  A different kind of physics?  Different life forms?  What basic Life follow along most accepted lines of development (whatever the hell that might be defined).  Would sentient life look something remotely recognizable to us?

Would the basic human emotions of fear, love, hate, revenge, and hope be the same?  And adventure.  Would a rousing adventure story STILL be a rousing adventure story?

Hmmm . . . .

So this first chapter of a steampunk-sci/fi story came to me the other da.  I thought I might share it with you.  Maybe garner some commentary.  Some feedback.  Encouragement, maybe, to continue with the idea--or maybe a factual admission that the poor bastard should be buried and forgotten.  I dunno.

But if you got the time read it and tell me what you think.  Always curious to hear from you.

            He almost missed it. 
            Almost mistook the distinctive sound of cannon fire for the growing bravado of an approaching thunderstorm.  But in the wind, now whipping the usually calm waters of the bay into frenzied white caps and pounding surf far below his tree house perch on a towering rocky cliff, he distinctly heard the rumble of gunfire.
            He came flying off his makeshift wooden cot and hurried out onto the wide veranda he had built surrounding the large tree house.  He gazed out across the sea at the growing aerial cathedral of mindless power and jagged illumination.  In the distance a vast thunderstorm had built itself over the black waters of the ocean.  The clouds towered for miles into the air and a magnificent light show of rolling thunder and cascading lightning illuminated the thunder cell.  Above the uppermost reaches of the thunderhead the three moons of this strange planet painted their silvery and red light across the edges of the cloud.  The wind, growing more fierce with each passing moment, compelled him to grip the bamboo-like railing with both hands and to spread his bare feet to further brace himself.   But squinting, leaning forward over the railing dangerously, his eyes adjusted to the night and he saw it.  Saw the flashes of angry cannon belching fire and fury into the night.
            Seconds later he heard the gunfire.
            The unmistakable sharp exchange of angry cannonading.  Straining to hear better he tilted his head to one side to listen.  Indeed!  The sound of fusillades--like that of ship-to-ship combat back in the Age of Sail on Earth three thousand years past!   Two ships pounding away at each other.  And from the sounds of it, one ship distinctly at an advantage in both the number of guns it could bring to bear against its opponent and in the heavier caliber of fire per gun fired.
            Around him the large number of ape-like creatures, large and small, who inhabited the island were in a frenzy of agitation.  As they always were when powerful storms brewed up over the warm waters of the seas around them.  Shrill barking noises, like a pack of angry dogs, filled the night as vague black shapes leapt from tree to tree in a sea of shadowy movement.  Disregarding the growing cacophony of arboreal outrage he turned and ran back into the wooden structure he had called home for over a year now and began frantically throwing things out of an odd metal looking container until he found a bulky rectangular object.  Leaping to his feet he sprinted out onto the veranda again and lifted the object to his eyes.
            With a soft click the blue-white images of the electronic binoculars came on and automatically began feeding him data.  Using a thumb he hurriedly rolled the dial up for higher magnification as he scanned the edge of the thunderstorm for the sources of the cannonading.  The binoculars automatically adjusted its imagery every time there was a blast lightning from within the cloud.  But at first nothing seemed to be out there---nothing which indicated something other than nature itself shouting angrily into the night. 
            But then . . .
            Vague shapes emerged from within the haze of waving curtains of rain.  Two massive black spheroid shapes.  Like gigantic dirigibles of the early 20th Century, sailing magnificently through the rain soaked heavens side by side.  Guns blazing.  The muzzles of big guns . . . what looked to be like muzzle-loading black powder devices . . . rolling out of the bulwarks down the length of each hull and roaring into life with sound and fury!  And with each blast of a fusillade huge chunks of what looked like wood . . . wood! . . . disintegrating from the hulls of the dirigibles before being engulfed by waves of rolling black smoke.
            Lowering the binoculars he stared, pale faced, into the darkness.  Color drained from his face.  He felt weak.  Felt faint.  After all this time . . . a whole year marooned on this island . . . finally!  Finally proof this planet was indeed populated by a sentient race!
            A hand slid across his lips slowly.  His mind was numb.  He . . . he wasn't alone on this world after all.  There were creatures who built flying machines.  Had their own level of technology.  Who warred with each other.  Could it be . . . might it be possible . . . these creatures were advanced enough to . . . to communicate with his own kind a thousand light years away?
            The cold shock of rain slamming into his face brought him out of his reverie.  Sucking in breath he turned and lifted the powerful binoculars again to his eyes and began reading the data flashing on the binoc's tiny view screen.
            Ship composition:  a variant of the bamboo-like wood he had used to build his
                                           rambling tree house.
                              Range:  Just under nineteen miles out.
                             Altitude: 930 feet.
                              Speed:  Both ships were doing just under 21 knots.
                          Tonnage:  The large ship roughly 1,200 tons (est.,)
                                            The smaller ship just over 850 tons (est.,)

            And then he saw it.  Saw the source of power which propelled the ships through the air.  Stunned, amazed, in total shock, he lowered the binocs for a moment and simply stared off into the night.  But only for a moment.  Lifting them again to his eyes he thumbed the dial for maximum magnification.  And couldn't believe what his eyes was seeing!
            Billowing black clouds of steam speckled with bright glowing embers roaring out of smoke stacks just behind what appeared to be the wheel houses of each dirigible.  The large of the two ships had three tall stacks bellowing smoke.  The smaller ship two short, chubby stacks.  From all the stacks bright angry sparks flew out in large numbers---indicating that both crews were stoking the boilers with fuel in an effort to get as much speed as possible from their engines.
            But . . . but . . . steam power and flight!  Impossible!  It made no sense!  Too inefficient.  Too heavy to generate enough power to lift dirigibles of these sizes and weights into the skies!  But, staring through the electronic binocs, the visual evidence was before him.  Steam powered dirigibles!  Flying through the teeth of a powerful thunderstorm!  Guns blazing.  Incredible.  Unbelievable.
            And coming this way.  Each ship shot out from the depths of the thunder cell, the storm's winds adding to the speed of the rapidly descending dirigibles.  Both on a course that would have each slamming into the high tree covered hills of the large island in very short time.  If the smaller ship made it that is.  She was being pounded mercilessly by the bigger ship.  Her guns had grown silent.  What few running lights which had burned from what appeared to be gigantic brass lanterns fore and aft of the ship had been snuffed out.  Pieces of her hull, small and large, were falling from her sides and dropping into the rolling seas.
            And, suddenly and startlingly, so too where members of her crew!  From out of the depths of the stricken ship dark figures . . . hominid in shape . . .emerged.  Through the binocs he could see they looked human.  And in immense pain.  One by one they emerged, staggering onto the open decks of the ship, throwing from their grips what appeared to be weapons and clutching their heads with their hands.  Bent over in pain they staggered to one side or the other on the decks and then . . . one by one . . . leapt overboard and fell into the sea!  Fell more than nine hundred feet to their deaths.
            In the wind he thought he heard the faint sounds of cheering.  An entire crew cheering in delight whenever a stricken crewmen aboard the smaller ship leapt into the night and fell to their deaths.  As he watched he saw the black silhouette of one figure make his way to the foredeck of the small dirigible.  Something long and black his hands, perhaps that of a long barreled rifle, he lifted it up and toward the larger ship.  From the larger ship now slightly above the dying one a hail of small arms fire erupted from twenty or more different points on the ship's decks and superstructure. 
            Amazingly the hail of gunfire missed the lone figure.  The man took aim and fired.  Through the electronic binocs he clearly saw the muzzle flash from the long rifle.  He thought he heard the voice of someone screaming in pain.  But then the lone rifleman, tossing his weapon away, stood straight and tall and lifted a hand in an arrogant salute toward his enemies before turning and running to the railing of ship's prow and leaping head first over the side of his stricken vessel, arms spread in a Swan Dive, and disappearing into the darkness!
            It was a gesture of a defiant, undefeated madman!  A warrior acknowledging the battle lost but not his defeat as he met death in his own fashion.  A show of gallantry he had not seen for . . . for . . . generations!  He lowered the binocs and impulsively threw a fist into the air and screamed his defiance just as the large dirigible sailed over his tree house barely fifty feet above his head and disappeared into the now raging storm.
            Far below him, almost a thousand feet, at the base of sheer cliff from where he had built his tree house, he heard the faint splintering of trees and a wooden hull crashing into the rocks and forest covered beaches of the island.  Too far down to view through the hammering rain of the storm he knew he could not descend to the island's beaches until after the storm had passed.   With reluctance he retreated from the veranda and lowered the wooden screens over the windows and doors of his tree house and waited out the storm.
            And the storm raged for days.  The winds blew and howled.  Thunder and lighting boomed and shivered the timbers of his stoutly built tree house.  The fury of the storm seemingly the anger expressed by this planet's divine immortals.  An anger and fury that threatened to destroy all before it.
            If only he knew . . . if only he knew.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Releases Coming Your Way

Apparently it's out and available.  Paul D. Brazill's, Drunk On The Moon: A Roman Dalton Anthology.  Paul's innovative  idea of coming up with a character (Roman Dalton), making him a werewolf, writing the first story for the series---and then opening the series up to a number of different writers to flesh out the character into a more complex, interesting, person really rocked my curiosity.
We've talked about Roman before.  And I mentioned that Paul asked me to throw something together and offer it up.  So I wrote a short novella and entitled it Insatiable.  I had an idea on one aspect of what it would be like for someone to wrestle with both his conscience and being a werewolf at the same time.  Talk about a guilt trip!  Really . . . how could you live with yourself when you knew you were a fairly decent human being, but when the moon came out in its full glory, you got . . . shall we say . . . a little 'testy' with others.  As in wanting to suck them dry of their own blood and toss them away like an empty pop can.

Eight other writers have sketched their visions for what Roman might be.  All of'em are damn good.  If you're looking for a treat (and something to read on a moon lit night with the wind shaking the tree boughs and rattling the panes of glass in your windows)  this is it, brother.

Buy it.  You won't regret it.

Come this May another collection of writers are bringing out an anthology.  One which I offered up a 'Smitty' story.  It's called, appropriately enough, Burning Bridges: A Renegade Fiction Anthology.

The collection is from a group of writers from a publisher all of us used to write for.  This collection of keepers is the love child of a fellow writer-friend of mine, Heath Lowrance.  His idea was for each writer  to compose a story about about 'burning bridges' (either allegorically or in reality) behind them and starting anew.

Confession here:  I just wrote a Smitty story.  Meaning someone gets plugged, knifed, axed, ran over, or general doesn't pull through some act of vicious mayhem only Smitty could create.    The defense I offer for my story is that, allegorically speaking, the person Smitty helped in the story has old bridges burnt behind him and is allowed to start a whole new life.

Yeah . . . let's go with that.  Sounds as good as anything else would.

Finally, if you'll look at to the right of this blog at the top most title of mine, you'll notice Call Me Smitty: See You in Hell.  The second compilation of short stories I wrote featuring Smitty from last year.  Fourteen of'em.  All me to so some blatant self promotion here, but you'll find some pretty good reads in this batch of stories.  If you've discovered Smitty you'll probably agree with me.  If you haven't discovered Smitty---take a chance and try this collection.  It won't set your credit-card back much in the process.  And who knows?  You may actually find yourself enjoying the read!

Hell, stranger things have happened.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A conversation with Brett Battles

This is neat!  This is good!  I get to talk shop with a writer who is a skilled artisan in the fine art of writing the spy genre.  His Jonathan Quinn character is a knock down, kick-you-in-the-teeth kind of critter that just makes you grin from ear to ear whenever one of his books comes along.
Of course I'm talking about the writing, and the person, who calls himself Brett Battles.

Okay . . . okay, so I really don't 'know' Brett.  He's another one of my contact/friends found on Facebook. (Jesus, that invention . . . Facebook . . . really has reshaped the social/literary world in so many ways, hasn't it!).  Still, the idea that (A) I like his books, and (B) the man was gracious enough to allow me to bug him with a lot of questions, really made my day.

If you don't know Brett's work, you need to discover it.  He writes the spy genre.  He has an on-going character by the name of Johnathan Quinn who is, some believe, a little bit meaner than, say, a Jason Bourne.  An unusual character whose main occupation is to go in and 'clean up' someone else's messes.  Those messes being, you know,  dead bodies . . . lots of blood . . . incriminating evidence . . . getting rid of witnesses.

Enough of this prologue.  Let's get down to the interview.  I think you're going to enjoy it.

1. You've mention on several occasions that it was your parents who instilled in you the love of reading. Tell us, which parent was the most influential. You've mentioned your father and his love for science-fiction. Anything from your mother? Finally, when and how did you branch off in your own reading preferences?

They were both influential in their own way, both very encouraging of my reading habit. Both read to me when I was young, and almost everyday before I went to sleep until I was old enough to do it on my own. That, probably more than any other one thing, instilled the love of a good story. I remember them reading me Swiss Family Robinson, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Treasure Island in particular…all thrillers/adventures. I also remember my father would come home from work every day and sit in the living room reading for about 30 minutes or so before we even ate dinner. My mom would also read, but more during the day when we were all at school and work. I think she thought I was reading too much science fiction at one point, and bought me the novel about Jerimiah Johnson to give me something else to think about. Of course I had zero interest in westerns at that time so put it on the shelf and didn’t read it. Could kick myself now.

Not sure when or why I augmented my sci-fi love with more intrigue/adventure stories, but at some point I found myself adding Alistair MacLean and Jack Higgins to my regular rotation of Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. Later, sci-fi took more of a back seat as I found Robert Ludlum and eventually one of my all time favorites to this day Stephen King. Whenever a new King book comes out I automatically move it to the top of my reading pile.

The Cleaner
2. Genre writing; how easy, or how difficult, is it? In genre just about every plot/character/situation has not only been thought up, but written and rewritten countless times. So how do you in particular find success, and how would any novice find success?I guess I don’t think about it in terms of easy/not easy. Writing adventure stories and thrillers just comes naturally to me. I think this is largely due to those early reading habits. And sure, most plots have been written a million times, but each author comes at it from his or her own perspective. To me, it’s the characters that drive a story. If you have interesting, three dimensional characters, you should be able to retell just about any basic plot and still engage your readership. That said, I always try to be as original as possible and not go with the easy angle on any story. I’m like a reader when I write. I want to enjoy the story, too.

3. I have to admit I am fascinated by your Jonathan Quinn character. You describe him as a 'cleaner.' For the audience, describe for us what is a cleaner--and tell us how this specific character came to mind.

A cleaner, in Quinn’s case anyway, is a person who works in the world of espionage with the very specific task of making bodies disappear. I don’t mean killing the target, but coming in after the target is dead, removing the body, and either making it look like nothing ever happened or confusing the crime scene so no one will realize the truth. A successful job is one where no one ever discovers the body again. Of course things don’t always go as planned, and while the majority of Quinn’s jobs come off without a hitch, it’s those wayward ones I write about in the novels.

Quinn’s origin with me is a bit murky in the scene I can’t point at an exact moment. I knew I wanted to write an international based thriller, and I had always been drawn to the spy world (thank you Mr. Ludlum), but I didn’t just want to create another James Bond or Jason Bourne. I was looking for something different. Eventually, over the course of probably a couple of years, Quinn developed in my mind to the point where I was finally ready to sit down and write the story.

4. You are doing several series/character-driven novels at the same time. Come on, tell us . . . which one is your favorite. And why so?

HA! No way. Love them all for different reasons. Quinn I love because a) he’s my first, b) the international aspect appeals to me, and c) I love the continuing storyline between my main characters. The Logan Harper books I love because a) though Logan has training, he’s more of a regular guy who gets pulled into things, b) there’s a bit more mystery/solving a case involved, and c) I love writing about the relationship between Logan and his 80 year old father Harp. The Project Eden Thrillers are a blast because a) when you’re writing about an organization bent on wiping out 99% of mankind to give humanity a reboot, you can really stretch your creativity, b) I love the relentless pace of these books and telling the story through multiple points of view scattered around the global, and c) I’m able to create a level of suspense that even makes me nervous.

5. What's your take on this conflict between epublishing and traditional publishing. Will one destroy the other? Will they eventually find a happy eq uilibrium between themselves? More importantly, do you think one will become, for the writer, more financially viable over the other?

Hmmm, this is a tough subject. I really don’t know if an equilibrium will be reached or not. It is definitely a changing world. The thing about ebooks is that because places like Amazon and have allowed the uploading of books by anyone, authors now have something we have never had before…direct access to distribution. This is a fantastic development as it allows authors to be in full control of their careers if they want. Many mid-list writers now have a second chance at the writing world. It used to be if a publisher dumped you and you didn’t immediately get picked up by another publisher, the reading world never heard from you again. It didn’t matter if a series was in the middle or not, you were done. That is no longer the case. And while this opening of the gates to anyone who wants to publish means a lot of crap is getting up there, readers aren’t stupid. They can sample a book and immediately see if it is any good or not. Good books will always rise to the top and I think those write those books will be able to make a decent, if not excellent, living from this new direct to reader method. I know I’m writing full time, and pretty much most of my income (minus some royalties from my earlier books I get twice a year) is from my ebook sales. The other thing about ebooks is that I can write whatever I want and not be concerned that it will never see the light of day. For instance, my novel SICK was twice rejected in proposal form by traditional publishing, and it is my best reviewed book and has sold very well. So much so I wrote a sequel and am now working on the third book in the series.

6. In this struggle between epublishing and traditional publishing, what influence does the writer have in this struggle. Do publishers, in your opinion, consider the ideas and reactions of their writers? Or are writers nothing but pawns to be moved in a gigantic chess game?

I guess the influence would be that many writers who go the independent publishing route, writers who were once under contract by traditional publishers, are making very good money now, more than publishers probably realize. I’m sure as that message sinks in more, it’ll have some kind of effect. What? I don’t know. As far as the other two questions, I don’t have any idea what they are thinking, and, honestly, don’t worry about it at this point. I’m very focused on writing the absolute best books I can, and getting the word out about them. In essence I’m Brett Battles Publishing House now, so that’s where all my energies need to be focused.

The Deceived
7. Coming back to genre writing, and especially writing a series. Question; for a writer, how long does a series . . . an on-going character . . . live? What are the signs that indicate to a writer their creations are still viable and healthy or in need for some kind of respectful conclusion.
Good questions, but ones that I think can only be answered on a series by series basis. I’m sure I’ll know with Quinn, though I’ve already put some things in place that could see the series continue even if he starts to take a back seat at some point. I like series where characters grow, whether in a good way or bad, and that’s what I’ve been doing with Quinn, and to a lesser degree at this point with Logan. So, naturally, they’ll come a point where it’s time to draw it to a close. Or, perhaps, just take a lengthy break. We’ll see.

8. Finally, tell us about your latest efforts. What's next for a book? Any nibbles for something of your creation perhaps becoming a movie(s)? And who, in your opinion, will play the Jonathan Quinn character?

The next book is book three in my Project Eden Series. I’m hoping to have it out in early June. I left book two, EXIT 9, off on a pretty big cliff hanger (and that’s actually an understatement), so I have several readers who will be pounding on my door if I don’t get the next one out soon!

Have had several nibbles on the Quinn series but no full on bites yet. Fingers crossed! I think Nathan Fillion would be a great Quinn, or Jeremy Renner would also do a fantastic job. Honestly, think I’d like to see Quinn as a TV series on one of the innovative cable networks, though I’d take a movie if someone wanted to do that!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The multi-talented Harry Shannon

 I'm jealous.  No . . . . no . . . I mean it.  I'm jealous.  I just write stories.  Some good.  Some not so good.  I haven't a musical bone in my body.  Absolutely incapable in being coordinated enough to talk, much less sing. (think of a bull elephant trumpeting angrily while standing in the middle of a mud hole)

And don't ask me to act.  God help the poor bastard who ever asks me to stand in front of a camera and act.  Sheez.

Harry Shannon does it all.  And does it with grace, ease, aplomb and mucho talent.  So yeah.  I'm jealous. 

But happy to say I know the guy.  Yes, only thru Facebook that's true,  Mildred.  But we have commented to each other several times.  It seems like we vibrate on many subjects with the same frequency.  So I'll stick my neck out and say Harry and I could be considered 'friends' in a kinda long distance, over the internet, platonic way.

But krikies, Crayon!  The guy is just fracken interesting!  Songwriter, recording artist, actor, a big wig at indie movie company, and one crack'in fine writer.  He writes both horror and hardboiled.  Nice combination there.  In his Mick Callahan series, he's created an interesting character that comes knocking hard on the classic definition of hardboiled,  but with a uniqueness all his own.

Okay, okay, okay . . . the bottom line is this;  I really wanted to interview the guy.  Pick his brains some.  See how he ticks.  Maybe (and this is just between me and you, so keep it under your hat)  glean from his words some little secret on how to become a successful writer myself.

So without further fanfare, let's get to jawboning.

1. Writer, musician, actor, business executive. Say . . . is there anything you can't accomplish in a long and illustrious career? When and where did you discover you creative talents? And what compelled you to try your hand in acting?

I think some of that stuff is just genetic, though some is environmental. My parents were both dedicated readers, and my father played ukulele, trumpet and drums. He also sang, did magic tricks and acted in amateur theater. I got early exposure to those types of things, so they seemed natural to me. I've tried to provide the same sort of environment for my daughter, who at 12 is a great singer, plays guitar and ukulele, has done some writing and is in an Arts program at school. Her mother studied Theater Arts at Berkeley and acted in Shakespearian theater. We all come by it naturally. As for me, I got into writing very early. I've always wanted to write. Even when I was acting in Middle School and High School I was just as interested in writing the play as starring in it. My project as a senior in High School was a small one-act musical. I wrote the book and lyrics and directed. When I went into show business, things were tough, so I just took any work that came along, music or songwriting or acting or voice-over work in movies. Whatever paid the bills.

2. As a writer you stray, if I can use that description, over into the dark recesses of horror often. What is it about the macabre and terror-filled genre which seems so attractive to you?

I don't know, it's always been there. Some of the first authors to really, really grab me were guys like Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes) and Richard Matheson (I Am Legend). I've had an affinity for the macabre since boyhood. Halloween is my favorite holiday. In the 60's I discovered pulp fiction and those Gold Medal and Lancer men's adventure paperbacks. The two genres fused in my mind, I suppose. A lot of horror authors also love mystery and noir and cross back and forth. Ed Gorman, Dave Zeltserman, Tom Piccirilli, Dan Simmons, John Connelly, Mo Hayder, Christa Faust. I'm in good company.

3. Working, say, either on horror or your interpretation of the mystery/detective genre, which of these two do you prefer? Or do you have a preference? And while we're on this subject, how--when--and where did you come up with the character, Mick Callahan?

The Mick Callahan novels

If you pin me down to one genre, I'd probably say the hard boiled mystery is my favorite to both read and write. I take it very seriously. Horror is usually a lot of fun for me to create, rather like decorating the yard for Halloween. It generally makes ma laugh and cringe and giggle fiendishly. As for Callahan my first mystery was Memorial Day. I was searching for a series character, and the idea of a TV shrink fallen on hard times caught my fancy. Then I pictured him working on one of those weird flying saucer radio shows, of course out of complete desperation. And why not make him return to his home town as a loser just to cap it off? Mick is a bit like me obviously, since I'm also a practicing counselor, but his upbringing was far more violent than mine, and I don't have any military experience. Those things came out of a need to make him capable and resourceful in ways a normal counselor wouldn't be...though long time I ago I saw a therapist who had been a Green Beret. I used a little of him for Mick as well as a touch of a journalist I know. I guess Mick is me with a bit of those other men thrown in for good measure.

4. Music versus writing; are they similarities with the creative juices which flow in the mind of their creator? Which one is the more complex to write? When one gives you the most satisfaction? And can one inspire the other?

Wow, serious questions. Yes, for me the processes are similar. Hearing interesting music inspires me to create or arrange it, good song lyrics make me want to write a song. Good novels inspire me to start a new novel. Books are far more complex for one simple reason, they are more like operas or works of musical theater in that they require so many different skills and such a great deal of time. Some song lyrics came in an hour, including my biggest hit, a country song for Eddy Arnold called "Cowboy." Other lyrics took weeks or months to complete. A novel routinely takes four to six months just for a first draft. I find all kinds of creativity satisfying--songwriting, acting, musical production, lyrics. The most satisfying? Probably the things that require a team effort. One bad thing about novel is the loneliness intrinsic in the process. Movies and musicals and recording sessions can be an absolute blast, the kind of thing that drew me to the arts in the first place. Working with other people to put on a show. As for one inspiring the other, I never thought about it. That's probably true, though. Good art makes us all want to create new art. It inspires. Always.

5. What is your take on the current level of the movie kingdom these days? Do you see fresh, new talent coming onto the scene? Do you see an influx of new writers? New young actors? And what is your take on this seemingly growing urge for 're-makes?'

Great writing and directing and producing for sure, and some marvelous acting too. It would be fun to be a young artist these days. Cable television is doing wonderful work, shows like Game of Thrones and Battlestar Gallactica and In Treatment are as good as television has ever been. Superb acting and writing and visual arts. As for feature films, the future looks a bit more grim. Movies are either dirt cheap or very expensive, with very little in between getting produced. I don't think that side of the business is nearly as healthy. I don't care for the new trend of stuffing songs into films, either. In the old days, I had the privilege of working with geniuses like Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein, Billy Goldenberg, Lalo Schifrin, my old friend Harry Manfredini. There are good composers out there still, but the art of the genuine film score is limping right now. As for actors? A whole new generation has arrived. Just to name one, Jennifer Lawrence impresses the hell out of me. She was astonishing in both Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games. What a bright future.

6. How do you write? Do you hole yourself up in a man-cave, close all the doors and windows, and put out signs that say, "Enter at your own peril!!" Are you an organized, sequential, process writer? Or do the ideas just come and you go with the flow?

Running Cold
I'm not very organized at all, actually. I struggle to keep going and exhibit a modicum of discipline. I sketch out the acts of a novel and the key plot points, just so I know where I'm going, and maybe put together a few index cards. Then I dive in. I tried a very, very detailed outline one time and never wrote the book! I was bored and felt like I'd already done it. I cannot work without a structure though, I tend to get lost. For me the answer is somewhere in the middle, a Goldilocks level of preparation, not too hot or cold, just right. Yes, I have a man cave. Half the garage is enclosed and contains a bright room with a computer, guitars and book shelves. I even use foam ear plugs. I have to take the phone off the hook and block out the world to get anything done. I'm too easily distracted. I often write before dawn, to get something down before the family wakes up. My wife is supportive and always allows me a bit of alone time on the weekend, and I take Mondays off from my counseling practice just to read, write and imagine.

7. As a writer/actor/musician share some practical wisdom to anyone out there who is thinking about attempting to crack into these very competitive fields. Are there any 'secrets' to make the assault any easier? Or are there dues which have to be paid regardless of who you are or how talented you may be?

Read and write and write and read. We learn to write by writing. Know the rules before you break them. The best advice I ever got was from novelist Jan Burke, who told me to keep my head down, to ignore praise and criticism and success or failure, just keep trying to become a better writer. Those same rules apply to music. Technology is changing everything so rapidly, which creates a unique kind of pressure as well as new opportunities. The business part of the businesses are more convoluted and confusing than ever. People seem to feel entitled to get art for free, as if the author or recording artists wasn't entitled to a living wage for a mountain of effort. I wish that would change, but the poor economy seems to have made things worse. An entire generation has grown up thinking is perfectly okay to steal someone's work and pass it along to others. If you hope to get rich doing this, you are almost certain to be bitterly disappointed. I'd say folks should try to find a way to do it for the love that drew you to it in the first place, get your work protected and out there only when it's ready, and hang in. Keep going. For years. Decades. A lifetime. Oh, and do NOT be in a hurry to get published. Most of us have stories or even a novel we wish we hadn't published. I know I do. Take your time.

8. What's coming down the interstate for Harry Shannon? What are you writing on now? Ready to jump into a new role for a movie? Back into the music industry?

I just did a bit part as a drunken, perverted Santa Claus in a B movie tentatively entitled Escape from Clown Prison, written and directed by novelist Lee Murphy. The script is hilarious and as ridiculous as it sounds. I had an absolute blast that day. I have no idea when the film will be completed or released, but we sure had fun. Another friend asked me to do a web episode of a horror series. I'm just waiting to hear the details. As I said earlier, I love doing those things. I'm working on a fifth Mick Callahan book, a novel project with Joe Donnelly (our short story Fifty Minutes was selected by Otto Penzler for the Houghton Mifflin anthology Best Mystery Stories of 2011), a short story and the last chapter of The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God, which will be out in July. I always feel like I'm not getting anything done, but when I list them like that it's a bit jarring. Guess I am staying busy!

Thanks for inviting me to chat!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The always interesting Chris Rhatigan

Let's have a conversation with Chris Rhatigan today.  If you're into writing noir, you've heard of Chris.  Both as a writer and as an editor.  Maybe more as the other editor for the anthology of noir stories found in Pulp Ink.  He and his fellow co-conspirator, Nigel Bird,  whipped up this interesting idea  a little while ago and assembled stories . . . stories based off some relevant fact or nuance found in the move, Pulp Fiction.
(You can scroll down in my list of blogs and eventually come to my interview with Nigel as well.  One hell of a coincidence, eh?)

I hear the anthology is selling well and both Chris and Nigel are putting together Pulp Ink 2.  So, yes kiddies . . . . Chris is one interesting writer/editor/entrepreneur.   And on top of that he has some solid, blunt talking opinions about writing, the writing process, and editing.   Of course I had to ask for an interview! 

I mean . . . what the hell!?

(By the way, Chris also edits an ezine called All Due Respect.  You should go over and check it out.  I plan to begin submitting stories veeeeeerrrrrrry shortly!)

1. Writing versus Editing. Since you delve in both venues, which one do you prefer? And tell us why, if you please.
They’re very different, but I guess what you’re asking is if I had to give one up, which one would it be, so I guess I’d give up editing. I don’t like actually writing that much most days (it’s always a struggle to put butt in chair and pound the keys after dealing with 82 eighth graders all day) but I love the final product, putting a story out there that I’m proud of, that only I could have written.
Editing has its own joys as well. Sending out acceptances is fun. Making a writer’s story just a little bit better (when that’s possible) is cool too.

2. As an editor for a noir/genre magazine, what is it in a story you look for the most? What separates a good story from the chaff?
I feel like I’ve answered this question many times and contradicted myself at numerous points.
Anywho, for All Due Respect, I tend to look for three things: strong writing, a plot that works, and atmosphere. The writing has to be smooth—it doesn’t have to be fucking Hemingway or something, but it has to sound good, it has to have some sense of style. The plot doesn’t have to be original, but it has to function. I used to say that I didn’t want to see stories about two people sitting and talking, but I’m not sure if I think that anymore—if you can make that work, go for it, especially if the talk builds tension effectively and leads to something interesting. Lastly, but not leastly, the story should take place in a world the writer’s created. Not Lord of the Rings or some shit like that—but I want to believe that I can walk into the story’s reality, I want the story to be a place where I can have a drink and shoot a round of pool with the characters, even if I know one of the characters is just going to snap the pool in half and stab me to death with it.
And if you don’t want to do any of that, write a bunch of really weird shit and throw in a gun or a set of brass knuckles in somewhere—I’m into that. (I’m not being sarcastic.)

3. Your an American and Nigel Bird is a Brit--yet the two of you collaborate on as editors and anthologists. How did this unique working duo come into existence? What lies in store for you two in the future?
I don’t really think much about Nigel and my different backgrounds. I believe we “met” when I wrote a review of one of his stories a couple of years ago. We have a similar sense of humor and like the same brand of stories, so he let me ride his coattails, which was cool of him. We exchanged emails, talked about doing a project, then we got this weird idea for an anthology based on the soundtrack from Pulp Fiction. It’s called Pulp Ink and it turned out surprisingly well, and if you don’t believe me, you can click here. And if you do believe me, you can click here.
Nigel’s a phenomenal dude and really easy to work with. He did a bang-up job with the cover art and promotion and the editing and all that other shit that needs to get done. Our skill sets complement each other well—I tend to see the details and he sees the big picture.
That’s why we decided to do a second anthology together, creatively titled Pulp Ink 2, this time with crime and horror stories. That should be coming out in the near future. Believe me when I tell you that it will kick ass.
Or don’t.
But it will.

4. Ah . . . staying in the American/British writing scene what are the strengths and the weaknesses observed in each nationality's take on crime/noir? Is there a difference? A different personality?
I like the Brits more. I mean, there are a lot of amazing American crime writers (Jake Hinkson, Katherine Tomlinson, Kieran Shea, Kent Gowran, Patti Abbott, do I need to go on?) but, on the whole, what I like about the Brits is that they’re funnier. They also have a more creative vernacular and are more willing to delve into the absurd (say, Paul D. Brazill or Ian Ayris). And there’s a stable of British writers who really excel at getting straight to the point—Julie Morrigan and Fiona Johnson come to mind.

The greatest noir/hard boiled writer you've come across so far in your career is . . . ? Care to bite on this one? Or would you prefer listing a few writers that have truly impressed you.
Pablo D’Stair.
Anyone who hasn’t read his Trevor English series needs to right away. They’re all free on Smashwords because he’s a fucking mad man. It's about a small-time con man's various exploits.
D'Stair calls what he writes existential noir. I’m still not quite clear on what that means. I don’t care though. His characters wage these petty wars against each other and it’s delightful to watch. He makes banality fascinating.
I don’t know what to say about him. Just read his stuff.

6. As a writer, what do think is the single most important component in a story? Now compare that as an editor. Can a writer and an editor agree? Can this single most important concept slide, say, from one viewpoint to another? (for instance, one writer might suggest the story line is the most important item, while another might emphasis character development)
Good question. Well, as a writer I’m going for atmosphere. I have a collection of short stories, Watch You Drown, and I think I created an interesting world—the world is like a character who keeps popping up in every story. I’m also pretty careful with the writing. I want the writing to pop, to seem effortless.
So both of those things are important to me as an editor, too. However, especially when I’m editing All Due Respect, plot is somewhat more important to me. That’s in part because I’ve stayed true to founding editor Alec Cizak’s vision for the publication. The stories he published tended to have very sound plots. I don’t want to fuck with the existing readership of All Due Respect.
On the other hand, there’s no set formula for this shit. I don’t know, most stories just work or they don’t work, they resonate with me or they don’t, and then I search for reasons why I feel the way I do.

7. What are the strengths and weaknesses found with epublising over traditional publishing? Do you think these two venues will learn how to co-exist with each other eventually? Will the writer be able to co-exist with this duality?
I don’t have a lot of experience with traditional publishing. What I like about epublishing, from a reader’s perspective, is that I have easy access to my favorite independent authors (aka my favorite authors), many of who I never would have known about if traditional publishing was the only ballgame. Plus we get all of these interesting formats of books—short story collections, flash fiction, novellas—as opposed to before, when novels made up 90 percent (I’m totally just making up that number) of the fiction in a bookstore.
Where all this going, I have no idea. I’m sure traditional publishing will find a way to eat independent publishing if it cuts into their profits. But I’m just pulling shit out of the old ass. I’m not a business person.

8. What are you writing on today? Short stories? Novels? Do you have a novel in you demanding to get out? A series perhaps? Ever thought about writing for the movies?
I’m writing a novella, tentatively titled The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other. It’s about these dudes who are out bowling and all confess to awful crimes. Then they get suspicious of one another and paranoid and their heads collapse.
It’s my first real attempt at writing longer work. I’ve published a lot of short fiction and thought it was time to try something else. But I keep going back, writing short stories and flash because it’s in my blood. And then I put that blood in the stories.
Chris Rhatigan is the editor of the zine All Due Respect and the co-editor of the Spinetingler Award-nominated anthology Pulp Ink. Pulp Metal Fiction recently published a collection of his short stories, Watch You Drown. He talks short fiction at his blog, Death by Killing.