Friday, September 11, 2015

WRITER 2 WRITER: An interview with author Mike Chinn

Mike Chinn is my kind of writer—whimsical and fearless. He wants to try everything, and pretty much has, if you look over all the types of tales he's written. He's totally at ease with himself and charmingly self-deprecating; admitting to having old manuscripts composting in drawers that had to be tossed out, and being not terribly liable to get much writing done before afternoon. He also is finding it hard to read as much as he used to, and freely admits to having a Facebook addiction. Plus he is a snack slave to guinea pigs—how can you not love that?

What makes interviewing other authors fun for me is finding those common threads amongst us that people outside the business would have trouble understanding. Most of us work from some sort of home space, and it's very easy to blow off an entire day's worth of writing because of a lengthy telephone call, some cat puke on the new carpet, or a new kitchen gadget offer that came in the mail. We've all crammed for deadlines after taking on more projects than we could ever hope to finish in one lifetime. Not one of us hasn't pulled out an old manuscript, turned the pages, and cringed at how badly written it was. Yet somehow, things do get done.

His words to the wise dealing with what you will learn about critiquing your own writing after editing a few books by others are spot-on.

You have to enjoy what you're doing to be a regular writer, because it requires that you give up a lot of time while pursuing that next great tale. Read on then, and see exactly what makes Mike Chinn's heart go pit-a-pat, because it isn't only guinea pig antics and the endless carnival world of social networking. There might even be a certain submarine or a tottering stack of unread books about to go into landslide mode lurking in there...
~NANCY

WRITER 2 WRITER
An interview with author
MIKE CHINN



  • Welcome Mike, would you please tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?


I was born and raised in Smethwick: a liminal zone between Birmingham and the Black Country and considers itself in neither—though in all honesty, you can’t see the joins. In 1981 I married Caroline and moved to Birmingham proper, so after 34 years (as opposed to 27 in Smethwick) I can probably consider myself a Brummie. In those three and a half decades there have always been a number of guinea pigs about the house: cuter than kids, but maybe a tad more destructive (though it’s a close thing). In 2012, after 38 years working as a technician at the University of Birmingham Medical School the chance came for early retirement—and I grabbed it! Now a gentleman of leisure, I can indulge myself with no financial risk whatsoever. The easy option. And I passed one of those Big 0 birthdays earlier this year.

Like all authors, I suspect, I’ve been writing ever since I was a child—though I alternated between stories and comic strips. It started off with science fiction and superheroes, but eventually I discovered horror and fantasy—the latter an easy transition since I’d long been fascinated by mythology, sparked off by a mixture of Greco-Roman and Norse legends that I struggled through in a huge book from my father’s childhood. I think it was called 'A Child’s Everything Within', or something similar. I suspect the artwork may have had something to do with my late-blossoming love of Art Deco, too. Because I was the kid who always wrote fiction instead of essays whenever I could, it was inevitable that, come the Sixth Form, I was badgered for contributions to the school magazine. New Wave SF was big at the time, so some of the stuff I submitted was a little crazy, but I imagine they thought I was being arty, and published it anyway. They even let me illustrate them.

Joining the British Fantasy Society in the mid-1970s was a turning point. I’d been aware of comic fandom for some time, contributing to fanzines and even starting my own, short-lived title (two issues, before the money ran out), but the BFS was more literary—with artists in the membership who were so much better than me. I stuck to writing. I made new friends, discovered other writers, got the chance to hone my talents, and suddenly writing fiction was no longer just an odd pastime but something more serious. 


Some years ago I read that a good writer should be able to write anything. It’s a doctrine I’ve tried to live by and had a go at just about everything – with varying degrees of success. Crime, horror, fantasy, SF, How To books—even women’s magazines (a complete failure, I should add; take from that what you will). I’ve had around 40 short stories published and I was really proud when British Fantasy Award winning The Alchemy Press produced Give Me These Moments Back—a collection of 18 short stories, two of them originals—early in 2015. In keeping with the publisher’s ‘not just horror’ ethos and my own eclectic tastes, it’s a jumble of genres and sub-genres. From SF to ghost fiction, sword & planet to sword & sorcery, Westerns to Crime, and I’m really proud of it. Even the cover image is mine: I Photoshopped a rough for Peter Coleborn—we were batting ideas back and forth at the time—and he asked me to clean it up for use. Naturally, I’ve thought of a hundred ways it could have been done better ever since.


  • You seem to wear a lot of hats Mike: author, editor, graphic novelist, to name a few. How did you get involved in so many different projects? And what’s the issue with these ‘novels that never get published’?


You mean everyone doesn’t have a pile of dodgy manuscripts slowly composting somewhere? Funnily enough I came across some of my earliest attempts a few weeks ago when going through old, non-electronic folders. One hand written in exercise books, the other—a two-thirds completed fantasy trilogy—as typed-up second drafts. I binned the lot, wondering why on earth I’d hung onto them for so long. They were … not good. To date I’ve written, let’s see … nine novels. Only one of which has seen print—the Sherlock Holmes Steampunk Vallis Timoris from Fringeworks. Of the rest, I can honestly say only three might be worth another look. But for some reason, when I’ve finished a novel it’s almost as though part of me says: “Okay. You’ve done it. Now move on.” As though completing it is an end in itself (or that’s total self-justifying bullshit, and I’m not confident enough/too lazy to go the next step).


As for getting involved in so many projects—remember what I said about having a go at everything? Never say no. I started editing for the BFS: first the journal Dark Horizons, then what was meant to be a one-shot, Mystique, Tales of Wonder but which went on for several issues. Then I had a go at a real book, for The Alchemy Press: the heroic fantasy anthology Swords Against the Millennium. In the fullness of time I also edited three volumes of The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes—by which time I’d fully learned editorial ruthlessness. I recommend all writers should have a go at editing: it’s an eye-opener. You can always spot others’ mistakes, but your own not so much. Yet, after editing hundreds of thousands of other writer’s words, the ability to spot your own errors is heightened; that, coupled with your newly-found ruthlessness, eventually helps make a better writer. In my humble opinion, anyway.

Graphic novelist might be a bit of a stretch: I scripted around twenty issues of DC Thomson’s Starblazer digest comic back in the day. Admittedly each issue was a complete 40 odd page story (roughly 140 panels of artwork) but I’m not sure anyone would call them graphic novels. I was put onto it by Adrian Cole, who rang me up and told me about this forthcoming SF comic. I contacted them and editor Bill McLoughlin sent me a copy of the first issue of Starblazer, a sample script and the kind of thing they were looking for (Star Wars was big news, so initially that was the kind of SF they wanted). It took many attempts before I had a synopsis they liked and the script I submitted was completely overwritten (which I realized when I received my con copy) but Bill was good enough never to mention it. Although it was a considerable time before I sold them a second story, eventually I found my own furrows to plough: first the comic expanded to include heroic fantasy, and I created the d’Annemarc family saga; then I was asked to write a comedy SF Western involving a crazy robot. In fact the Robot Kid ended up in three issues (with two more sold that never saw print). I got on really well with the guys (they were good enough to recommend me to the editor of the Beano when he wanted to bring back the Billy the Cat strip several years ago) and I was sad when the title was cancelled.


  • As most writers are, I suspect you’re an avid reader. What sort of books do you go for? Any favorite authors?


When I packed in the full-time job I thought I’d have plenty of time for reading, but I seem to do less than ever! I don’t have a bus ride to and from work, and lunchtimes I’d rather switch off the brain and watch old episodes of Big Bang Theory as I eat my sandwiches. That doesn’t mean I’m not still buying books, though. Piles of unread material are steadily growing in my already cramped office. One day Caroline is going to come home and find me entombed under a mountain of horror paperbacks and Howard Chaykin graphic novels.

Over the years my reading tastes have changed and I rarely pick up most types of fantasy. I became disillusioned by what felt like countless multi-volume sagas, each book the size of a breeze block. I’m sure I’m doing many fine authors a disservice, and I’m the only one losing out, but I’ll stick to watching Game of Thrones on TV for now. I still buy horror, although I’ve outgrown the more visceral form, zombies bore me rigid (so overused) and the way vampires and werewolves have been turned into sexual fantasies for adolescent girls annoys me no end. I enjoy the occasional crime novel and Western (a weird one, normally, like Joe R Lansdale) and comics, of course—one-off graphic novels or collections, buying titles on a monthly basis is ridiculously expensive these days.
I have quite a list of favorites. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Alistair MacLean, Ross MacDonald, Michael Moorcock (of course), Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Ramsey Campbell, Graham Joyce and Joel Lane (both of whom were friends and great losses to the world) and Joe Lansdale. I will buy anything written/drawn by Howard Chaykin and although they’re better known as artists rather than authors, I still love the work of Gil Kane, Barry Windsor Smith, Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, sometimes imagining a scene I’m writing as though it was drawn by one of them.


  • So what is a typical Mike Chinn writing session like?


I wish I could say it was organized and productive, but the truth is it’s normally random and chaotic. I allow myself to be distracted too easily (Facebook, I am looking at you); I lack self-discipline and put stuff off; I’m a born dissembler. I love approaching deadlines since they force me to focus.

Ideally, I’d start the day showering and feeding myself (not at the same time, obviously), talking to the guinea pigs and caving in to their begging for treats, then check my emails and log onto the dreaded Facebook – just long enough to see what’s new, honest. After that, getting on with it.

And pigs will fly out of my butt.

However, I do tend to be more of an afternoon person. Writing in the morning doesn’t come naturally, but if I must, I does. To be frank, it’s a miracle I ever get anything done.


  • If you aren’t writing today, what else would we likely find you up to? Any hobbies or other creative pursuits?


I keep buying kits that I know I’ll never assemble (and even if I did, there’d be nowhere to put them). I have a great model of the TV version of the submarine Seaview from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but that’s only because I bought it already assembled and painted. I wish there was a pre-assembled model of the Flying Sub available…


  • So what’s new in your lineup? Any coming attractions you can talk about? This is your spot to promote whatever you’d care to, and tease us with all the goodies on the horizon.


I have short stories in two recently published anthologies from Emby Press: “Deck the Halls”—a Christmas-themed Damian Paladin ghost story in A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests: Occult Detective Monster Hunter and a superhero short, “Chasing the Dragon”, in Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight. Always wanted to write a superhero story. 


The Steampunk Holmes book, Vallis Timoris, is to be officially launched in September. It’s based on Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, but in this version the dreaded Scowrers operate on the Moon rather than the United States, and I’ve added a third act in which the Great Detective visits the British Empire’s burgeoning lunar colony, Moonbase Archie.

In 2016, Pro Se Productions are to publish a second volume of Damian Paladin adventures: Walkers in Shadow. We get to meet the occult detective’s father, shape-shifting demons, a very non-sparkly vampire and proper zombies, find the treasure of the Templars and visit a parallel world of bizarre, monstrous creatures. 


I’m also writing a post-Civil War Western for the same publishers: Revenge Is a Cold Pistol, also due for 2016. It’s inspired by both Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (of course; what else?) and Italian Westerns.


  • Anything else the world should know about Mike Chinn?


I collect replica 19th century revolvers, I love steam trains (who doesn’t?), I may have mild fixations on submarines and early 20th century biplanes, and at night I fight crime as masked avenger The Black Tarot.


  • Mike, where can we find your work, or follow along with your writing life?


I have Author’s Pages on Amazon UK HERE and Amazon US HERE which are as inclusive as it’s possible to be within that organization’s peculiar and every-changing rules.

And I also have a blog, Displacement Activity, which I add to erratically. If you’ve read this far, you’ll know why it’s called that...


Mike thanks so much for sharing your work with my audience!

Thanks for having me. Hope they’re all still awake. 



Sunday, September 6, 2015

WRITER 2 WRITER: An interview with author Adrian Cole

As I progress through this interview series, I've continued to meet a bunch of really fascinating and talented folks. There's plenty of camaraderie amongst people in the publishing field, at least down here in the workaday trenches, well below the mainstream glamour and glitz. With few exceptions, I've found today's self published and small press authors as well as artists and other creators that put books together, to be amiable, articulate, and supportive of one another. Their willingness to talk about themselves and their writing as well as share war stories from the field and tips for newbies, really comes through in the answers I get. I look forward to reading each of these interviews because this is also my chance to get to know my peers a bit better. And honestly, there's some amazing fiction out there just waiting to be discovered!

Adrian Cole is a prolific author who understands what it means to have to delay doing what you truly love in order to deal with the pressures of day-to-day life. I struggled for years with little to no time to write while I was raising my sons, and so I can relate to having to set aside writing to focus on something else entirely. We both reentered the author game later in life, and then had to embrace a flurry of rapid changes in the publishing field. Both of us approached social media as a necessary evil, but have found it a very useful tool, as well as a place where you can hobnob with family, friends, fans, and peers all at once. So for two people who live across the Atlantic Ocean from each other, with disparate lives that should have insured we'd never actually meet, we now have a virtual friendship. The love of books and writing brought us together, aided by the magic of the internet and a small chain of mutual friends. I'd say that's pretty remarkable, but it's not the first time that's happened to me since I started sharing my writing life with others online.

Oh, and we both count Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as sort of a seminal influence and all time favorite read. I strive to surround myself with folks who still look back on that fondly. Frodo lives, at least in our hearts.

But don't let me hog the limelight, let's see what Adrian himself has to say...

~NANCY

WRITER 2 WRITER
An interview with author
ADRIAN COLE

  • Hello Adrian! Would you please tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?


I was born in the city of Plymouth in beautiful Devonshire, England, on 22nd July 1949 and I’ve been a published writer now for over 40 years. My dad was in the Army, so I travelled about a bit as a kid and when he retired the family settled in Birmingham, where I first began to write, met many good friends in the writing game and more importantly where I met my wife, Judy, who still looks after me now. We live in Bideford in Devon, where we’ve been for 30 years. I worked as a Business Manager in a large secondary school until I retired (hooray!) over 3 years ago.

I have had some 2 dozen novels published (sf, fantasy, sword & sorcery, horror, etc) and many short stories. Pressure of work in my ‘day-job’ kept me away from writing for almost 10 years, but as I came up to retirement I got back into writing and am now very busy and write most days. I’m very pleased to say that I’ve been able to re-establish links with old friends and make new ones and am currently having my 'new wave' of stuff published in various places. I’m enjoying writing now as much as, if not more than, ever, and it’s particularly gratifying not to be distracted by what was a very pressured job.


  • It's no big surprise that most writers are also avid readers. It's why we get into the business in the first place. So tell us, what kind of books do you relish most? Any favorite authors? Are you as eclectic a reader as you are a writer?


I have always been a big fan of fantastic literature, whether it’s sf, horror, fantasy. I don’t read as much fantasy these days – LOTR is my all-time favorite, probably because I was quite young when I first read it and it had such an impact on me – in fact, it was the final touchstone that got me writing. I also love Jack Vance, Michael O’Shea, Fritz Leiber and grand oldies like REH, HRH and ERB.

SF – favorite book is DUNE, but I also love Sturgeon, Walter Miller and the slightly daft British stuff by John Lymington. There are lots of others.
Horror – HPL of course, and also a big fan of Dennis Wheatley’s black magic stuff, but also love Jonathan Carroll and Dan Simmons (whose sf is also great!)

Apart from the genre stuff, I also like the James Bond books (not films) and all the spin-off series from the 60s and 70s, like Modesty Blaise and Quiller, etc. Also like pulp detective stuff, esp Mickey Spillane, Peter Cheyney and such stalwarts. And John LeCarre, as a contrast.

Also love dark age historical stuff – Bernard Cornwell stands out, and anything about the Celts and Romans – factual stuff as well.

Then there’s all the comics…


  • You have a pretty substantial bibliography, with published works that go back to the 1970s. That's something to admired because many of us dream of writing, but few actually sit down to do it, let alone finish anything. What is a typical writing session for you like? Have you incorporated some little tricks-of-the-trade over the intervening years?


I do work to a sort of routine, now that I’ve settled to it. I like to spend a bit of time in bed before I get up, thinking through the next section of what I’m writing. Then after I’ve had my morning pills (I have Angina) and porridge, I go to the machine and begin. I make a point of writing at least a page, but usually do up to 2,500 words. Even on the (rare) days that I don’t feel like working, I make myself write at least one paragraph and it invariably leads to another…and then I’m settled and get on! I probably spend three times as much time thinking about a story than actually writing it, so if I’m gardening, decorating, swimming, I’m usually piecing something together mentally. I also tend to wake up around 4 am and often think through stuff for the morning before going back to sleep.
Ideas for works in progress and totally unrelated works come unbidden at any time, so I make a point of jotting them down in an ideas folder on the machine. May only be a title, but I don’t lose it.
I only write in the mornings – I find that by midday I’m not so fresh – that’s not my age, it’s how I’ve always been. I sometimes revise stuff later in the day, but usually I do my mail and so on after lunch/evenings. Of course, if the weather’s good, I bugger off to the beach!


  • Many of us writerly types have other hobbies and areas of interest we pursue. Is there anything creative you do outside of writing? Does some of it somehow weave itself into the books and stories?


I love Devon and the area in which I live. I swim a lot off the nearby beach, which is one of the best in the country. I cycle up into the heart of the county along a converted railway track, and like walking. So I do get ideas from my surroundings, many of which can be easily recognized in my stories and novels – my recent sf novel THE SHADOW ACADEMY (Edge, Canada) is set in an alternative Devon/London and I’ve tried to capture something of the atmosphere and mystique of this part of the world.


  • One of the toughest things for those of us with as yet unknown names in this field is getting the word out about our books. It's something I struggle with all the time, because marketing takes a lot of time away from actually writing; yet it's become a necessary evil in this age of small publishers and endless online promotions. Frankly I detest it—I feel like a door-to-door shoe salesman. Any tips or ideas you can share for making the most of an opportunity to spread the word?


Since returning to writing I’ve found things to be exactly as you say. For the most part I don’t want to have to spend ages promoting my stuff, I just want to write it! BUT it is important to get your face out there. I wasn’t on Facebook, but I have to say, I have found it a real blessing. Not only from the professional point of view (keeping apace of markets, etc) but being able to share information with fellow scribes, editors, etc. We all talk gibberish, too, but it’s great fun…I’m just amazed no one has un-friended me yet, given my rather dark sense of humour!


I also find it very useful to go out and attend certain functions – formal and informal. I’ve started going to Fantasycon (which I used to attend every year for its first 10 years or so) and I also go to signing sessions and do an occasional talk to a group. Sharing ideas, moans and so on, is vital. And I LOVE the writing community. They are wonderful people and have welcomed me and encouraged me, which makes a huge difference to me.
If I have one simple thing to say to writers, it’s simply this – DO IT.


  • So Adrian, what's new or about to be released for you? Here's your chance to trot them out and show them off before the bidding starts.


It’s been a hugely exciting year for me. NICK NIGHTMARE INVESTIGATES, my first collection of stories about my eponymous occult detective was released in a beautiful special edition hardback in September 2014, and I’m hoping to have it published in paperback before too long. As added spice to that, the book has been short-listed for the British Fantasy Award for best collection of 2014, which I consider to be a real honour, given the amount of wonderful books that are out there.


There are several brand new Nick Nightmare stories coming out in various anthologies and magazines, notably In the 'Court of the Pumpkin King', a novella in NOT YOUR AVERAGE MONSTER (Bloodshot Books, US) and 'Give me the Daggers' in the revived WEIRDBOOK Magazine, no 31 (Wildside Press, US). I am in the process of completing the last story in the 2nd volume, NIGHTMARE COCKTAILS. Watch this space on that one!


Other stories just out or about to come out:

'The Frankenstein Legacy'
in MAMMOTH BOOK OF FRANKENSTEIN (Robinson, UK) – a reprint from the 90s;
'Late Shift' in KITCHEN SINK GOTHIC (Paranormal Press, UK) – new horror  story, now out;
'The Shadow Navigator'  in THE HYBORIAN GAZETTE (UK), no 1, a sword and sorcery reprint, due out any day;
'Demon Driver' in DEMONOLOGY (Lycopolis  Press, UK) – new horror story, out any day now;
'His Last Portrait' in MASKS (Knightwatch Press, UK) – new horror story, will be launched at FCon;
'Running with the Tide' in CREEPING CRAWLERS (Shadow Press, UK)– new horror story, will also be launched at FCon;
'A Girl and Her Dolls' in SPECTRAL PRESS BOOK OF HORROR, 2, (Spectral Press, UK) - new horror, also to be launched at FCon;
'In the Wake of the Autumn Storm' in MAMMOTH BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER (Robinson, UK) a new horror story, out in Oct/Nov.

There are three more short stories due out next year:

'The Third Movement'
in TALES FROM THE MISKATONIC LIBRARY (PS Publishing, UK) – a new Mythos-related story
'In Blackwalk Wood' in WEIRDBOOK Magazine, no 32 - a new horror story;
A Beast by any other Name' in TERROR TALES OF CORNWALL (UK) a new horror story.

I am also working on a long term project, a trilogy of historical fantasy novels, set in an alternative Romano-Celtic Europe. The first volume, ARMINIUS, is finished, its fate as yet undecided.

  • Where can we find your books and other writing?


I try to keep my website updated, so for full information on all my novels, eBooks and audio books, go to adriancscole.com 
I ought to add that I have been known, from time to time, to deliver an extract or two from a “magnum opus” – readings given at various conventions. I ought to warn people that I will be performing one such deathless classic at this year’s Fantasycon in Nottingham. If you have tears, prepare to shed them then.



Adrian thank you so much for taking the time to share your work with us!

Thank you for your interest!

[NANCY'S NOTE:] You can find Adrian Cole's Amazon US author page HERE, his Amazon UK author page is HERE, and his author website is HERE.




Saturday, September 5, 2015

My writing—now with pirates!


Go get yourself some refreshments and a few snacks, and pull up a seat. This is going to take a while to read, because it's been a long road from idea to completion. This rather lengthy bit of navel (naval?) examining was brought to you by the recent publication of my first pirate novel, JEZEBEL JOHNSTON: DEVIL'S HANDMAID. So if you have any curiosity about how an author pursues writing, or you just want to know where book ideas come from, you're going to find this interesting.

If you've read this blog before, you know that I started out as a stay-at-home mom who never went back to the workday world, and that now I write almost daily. Well, I also read a lot too. Plus I enjoy a good movie or TV program with some kind of drama and excitement going on, and characters I can relate to. A little humor to spice it up always helps, like sugar or salt on food. I have my preferences. 



One of the things that will get me glued to the screen is a pirate flick. Even an old one, or a basically silly one, like the current Disney offerings. I admit I've seen all the Jack Sparrow movies to date, and yes; they're far from representative of the actual historical world of pirating. Yet it's fun to watch Johnny Depp swaggering around in a wig with beads and lots of eye liner, and all Keith Richards has to do is dress up and stand there mumbling, and he's convincing. I love my mythology and magic, so mermaids and cursed lost ships, skeletal buccaneers and monsters of the deep... how can you go wrong? They are fun romps, but sometimes you want something with a bit more meat to it.

I've seen a lot of the swashbuckling old movies too, with Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, and Burt Lancaster, and I love those. Wallace Beery will always be Long John Silver in my mind. You all know I'm a Sinbad fan as well. But... what about a drama that is more contemporary in the making? Pirates—except for the Disney version—seem to have fallen out of favor, just like Westerns. 

Yes, I know about Black Sails, and that's on my must-see-someday list, but I don't have premium cable channels because it's not in the budget. There's a lot of things on premium cable I would watch, and probably get a whole lot less writing done too. At some point I will catch up with it.

There are certainly plenty of pirate novels out there, and they run the gamut from page turner, to stomach turner, to total turn off. Rafael Sabatini's CAPTAIN BLOOD is my hands down favorite so far. I've read a couple of contemporary authors' tales, but never felt quite satisfied with them. Something was always lacking. I just couldn't get involved with the characters, or I had no idea what was going on and where. In a few, the jargon was overwhelmingly hard to understand. Others were basically a romance novel that just happened to have a pirate in there ripping a bodice or three. There was sometimes more gratuitous gore than substance. In other instances, the plot was so thin you could see Jamaica from Hispaniola through it. I'm not one to trash another hard working writer's books, but I stopped looking at pirate novels for that reason. I was tired of spending money on things that disappointed me.
One story that didn't disappoint was a short piece by the amazing Josh Reynolds that ran in the oldest incarnations of the Pro Se Magazines, PECULIAR ADVENTURES, in which I was fumbling around as editor at the time. 'Razor Eater and the Rattle Bones' was a fantastic tale, and hard to get out of my mind. Not understanding at the time just how busy a writer Josh is, I implored the boss that Master Reynolds be chained to a desk to write more of those as a regular series, since his steel-toothed pirate was such a unforgettable character. 

Josh, if you're reading this, I'd be first in line to pick up a pirate novel with your name on the cover.

A year or so later, I did stumble across one other little tome that showed a lot of promise, had it been bigger and more developed. Barry Reese, who at the time was already (and still is) one of the premiere New Pulp writers, had penned an intriguing novella about a female pirate and her rather mystical adventures. This one didn't quite work out well for Barry, who is otherwise a fantastic talent, but the good bones of a story worth telling were there, and I hated to see it die out. For a while I considered asking to be allowed to revive it (and Barry, gracious as always, gave me the nod), but I changed my mind. It's not that it couldn't be done, because he had a fantastic premise in Gaun-Yin, but in the end, I wanted a story that was 100% my own creation.

So I sat on that idea for a few years while I was writing other stuff, and waited for it to hatch.

I used to tell people I write sword & sorcery and epic/heroic fantasy, but that's only one aspect of what I'm pushing out of the keyboard these days. My writing has branched out quite a bit, because I've tackled Private Eye tales, a western, contemporary and post apocalyptic dark fantasy, historical fiction, and even a bit of superhero stuff. What is consistent is the pacing, which draws a lot from the pulp tales of yore, so I now say I write action/adventure fiction of all genres. So adding a pirate yarn to that other stuff lurking in my writing resume seemed like a great idea for expanding my readership. The problem was, I didn't know diddly-squat about how to tell a seafaring tale.

That's where the magic of the internet comes into play...

I am a rabid researcher for just about any story I write. I always have Dictionary.com and Google up when I'm working, in case there's something I need to know or someone posted a picture that might help me envision what I'm trying to describe in a scene. I probably have a few hundred sites bookmarked in my writing files alone, and I have been known to go to Youtube and watch videos on anything from sword fights to hunting elephants and building emergency shelters in arctic conditions. 

Back when I was working on my Pulp Obscura story for Senorita Scorpion, based on the western character created by old school pulp author Les Savage, I had to do a ton of research just to understand what was being said in the original tales. I'd never even read a western before, and now I was writing one. Google was my closest friend throughout the entire project. Though I sweated blood and tears to make the deadline, and wondered often if I would be able to pull it off, the story eventually got told. After that hit print, I figured I was about ready for another challenge. Well, I got a bunch of them!

In the intervening years since my first short story was published by Pro Se Press, I had not only learned a lot about writing, but about myself too. For one thing, I love writing no matter how tough it gets, and I thoroughly dread packing and moving. But move I did; out of the rambling house where my kids and I grew up together, to a old, overgrown farm with a far smaller house built in 1770. I moved here in June of 2011 and lived all by myself initially, with just one little dog to keep me company. You'll see Ariel's picture over on the right. I got a ton of writing done before the menfolk moved in. I still did pretty good after their arrival, because men tend to get busy with other things when you're not paying much attention to them...

So in January of 2014, I decided that since I basically had an empty nest, was caught up on most of my writing deadline projects, and had plenty of unstructured time on my hands, it was a good opportunity to get going on that pirate novel. I knew I wanted a rather strong-willed and stubborn, unconventional, heroic, and canny female protagonist, because that has sort of become my trademark. It was right after the winter holidays when the name 'Jezebel Johnston' came to mind, and I began ruminating on what her life would be like.



Right away I decided she had to be at least mixed-race, because the Caribbean area was a perfect melting pot for that sort of liaison, and far too many of my primary characters have been Caucasian. No longer did I wonder if I could effectively create a story about a woman of color, because I've learned to trust my writing instincts. I'm not a flying horse, or an Elf, a monster hunter from the 1940s, or a gun-toting private eye who just happens to look like Errol Flynn; but I've written about them. If I couldn't pull this off too, I'd hang up my keyboard and go get a day job.

I also decided right away that this wasn't going to be a fantasy pirate adventure. Those sort of stories have their place, but I wanted something more on the lines of historical fiction, with a backdrop that reflected whichever part of the buccaneer era I settled on.

I had no idea what I was getting into of course.
I started the book on February 7th 2014, and barely made it past the prologue before I was up to my ears in doubt. I knew nothing at all about writing a seafaring tale, I had no idea what sort of mundane things happened aboard pirate ships, or what to call anything on any sailing vessel. The easy way out was just to say it's a boat and the ocean is wet and full of salt, fish, and dangerous things; and believe me, I've seen books like that. While I knew how to get good characters interacting, I had no idea how to get them off on a pirating adventure. I couldn't even imagine how to move the ship away from the dock. I was in trouble!

I was ready to call it quits and write something about dragons and wizards to make me feel all safe again. But I'm basically stubborn, and I don't like the sense of defeat I get when I abandon a project. Believe me, I have a science fiction story that has been sitting in a file since sometime in 2010 that is eating my soul a atom at a time. I have tiny little piercings all over my aura that you can see daylight through.

Since a bunch of buccaneers without a yarn to call home could do a lot more damage if neglected, I decided to at least tough it out. I could learn a few pirating things, along with some seafaring terms, and sprinkle them in like chocolate chips to at least give it an authentic feel. That's sort of disingenuous of me, but I was overwhelmed and intimidated by what I didn't know—which was an awful lot! It's one thing to make things up, as I do in my fantasy writing, because there the world is mine to build and set the rules for. You simply must have rules! Any tale worth telling has some parameters, any world it's set in has structure and laws. Otherwise the action is dull, because you've lost that gnawing tension when a character bumps her or his nose up against a brick wall. In fantasy, I just needed to invent stumbling-block rules that could be limiting, but when you're muddling around in a historical backdrop that a certain percentage of the population has some notion about, and a small portion know intimately, you have to know what you're talking about.

I was clueless. 



So I started reading anything about pirates and sailing ships that I could get my hands on. It took me into a whole other world of story-telling. If I got paid by the hour for the research I've done (and am still doing) for this series (oh yes, this is not just a standalone book, but the first of a series) I could retire in comfort. No one could afford to pay me what that time was worth. It was like cramming for a final exam after missing most of the classes for the past four years. I felt like I was reading something written in a foreign language by Martian anthropologists. I looked at a lot of pictures to try and unravel what the text was going on and on about. I wrote down terms to research, and many sites had links that led to others that were equally as involved. It was fascinating and maddening all at once.



There is an interesting early scene in the movie THE 13TH WARRIOR (which is based on the Michael Crichton book, EATERS OF THE DEAD) that I thought of often while I was learning the jargon of the seafarer. Antonio Banderas' Arab scribe character (Ahmad Ibn Fadlan) is traveling with Vikings and during the sea voyage, he gradually picks up their language. It was a plot point that many critics pooh-poohed as hokey, but it makes perfectly good sense to me now. The man was a court poet and presumably wrote often, so he dealt with language, perhaps even translations. A trained ear and willing mind can tend to pick things by rote learning. Which is what has been happening to me...

As I studied, eventually, bits and pieces of this seafaring lore of the days of sail started making sense, because I had come across some terms so often, I knew what they meant on sight. As I began to absorb the information, ideas were forming about how to use that knowledge in the story, and so I'd write something down about it. In dribs and drabs, the book began to take shape, both in my mind, and then on the page. And lo and behold, as it always happens, the characters not only came to life as their backdrop inked itself on the back of my brain, but they started talking to me. They began telling me their stories, and I feverishly banged them onto the screen.

Writing is about the only thing you can do in life where having voices in your head is actually helpful. 



There's a lot to learn with writing maritime tales. Those who go to sea for a living are practicing a trade that almost becomes a separate world away from our own. I had narrowed down the era by then to the middle 1600s, and the setting for the first novel primarily in the Caribbean Sea. I learned very quickly that there was a whole lot more than just memorizing the kind of ships that were commonly used and where the port towns were.                                

That area was a hotbed of competitive colonialism, and islands and even mainland areas were changing hands all the time between Spanish and Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch concerns. The ships themselves were incredibly specialized, and the equipment and rigging they carried that sailors aboard worked with all had specific names—from the biggest wooden features to the smallest bits of cordage. There were all sorts of very definitive terms for what you were doing with or to the ship, how it was moving, what masts and sails it carried under certain conditions, how to handle it in battles and storms... I went to bed at night with terms like careening, warping, ketch anchor, windward, lee side, and port vs larboard bouncing around in my dreams. And that's just the ships!

There was also the international backdrop. I found out quickly that it was vitally important to know what was going on in Europe at the time, because that had a direct influence on whether your colonies thrived or failed, or how people interacted and why they attacked one another. The indigenous native people of the Caribbean islands and many mainland areas had all but been wiped out by imported diseases brought in by their enslaving masters, most of who were Spanish.



And while it seems that I'm picking on the Spanish, I'm just reporting what I've learned. Their militaristic expansionism into the Americas made them a great target of enmity for a couple of centuries. They were particularly difficult to deal with in that richly endowed Caribbean area. It's not that the other countries with vested interests were far more tractable; because they weren't. Spain just had a huge presence there, and as a nation with a expansionist agenda, the government at home was determined to be the sole owner of most if not all of the prime real estate in the Caribbean area. That idea was backed up by a strong military presence, which didn't set well with the colonies of other nations. Spanish ships became everyone's preferred target, because if they weren't filled with easily salable goods and high-ranking people who could be ransomed, they were bristling with armaments and soldiers prepared to fight and drive off competitors. Or so it's said...



Spain was one of the richest European countries and also had some of the biggest debts, because she kept declaring war on someone else in a big way, and then robbing the coffers to pay for it. Her economy was wracked with inflation from all that gold and silver coming in but nothing too much being done domestically with it. Sound familiar my fellow Americans? Anyway, Spain was a pain because she had the Main, and made it plain that she disdained anyone else's claim to fame in the entire domain of the Caribbean colonies. (Say that 3 times fast). Spain was sometimes allied with this or that country and other times they fought, and sometimes treaties were violated within the colonies while there was peace at home. Whew, that's a lot to learn, and both boundaries and alliances were as fluid as any politician's promises.



So I learned about sailing ships and what made them work, I learned about the Caribbean area colonies and their mother countries, but that still didn't cover pirating. There's a lot of repetitive info about the most famous pirate captains and their more colorful companions, but very little about the everyday Jack Tars that made up the crew. Hollywood has been a big influence on how we picture those swashbuckling days, but it's not exactly a reliable source of historical fact. I doubt there were too many pirates that looked like dashing and handsome Errol Flynn, considering what we know of clothing, lifestyle, medical knowledge, and hygiene of the time. Still, as a fiction writer, you have to walk a line between what your research and instincts tell you, and what you know your readers expect. So as I was writing this book, I kept all that in mind.



I'd expect most pirates were dirty and ragged men with plenty of injuries and missing teeth, lice, fleas, venereal disease. pox scars, and a body odor that would make a skunk retch. I'd bet a certain small portion of them were women, in disguise or not, because there have always been gals who are daring enough to take on what's considered a man's position. Anne Bonney, Mary Read, GrĂ¡inne O'Malley and their ilk aside, there had to be some less famous wenches who willingly went 'on account' to live and die by the pirate code. Certainly the Celtic music I tend to listen to when I'm writing has been sprinkled with songs about ladies who went to war or to sea when their lover heeded the call to arms or the siren song of the waves. That these hoydens were so easily able to hide their obvious female charms and pass themselves off as men was the reason they got accepted in the first place. Their willingness to pitch in and do the same hard and dangerous work as the male sailors, to fight alongside their brethren in arms, or to drink and brawl like one of the fellas, was how they earned respect, and claimed their own niche in history.

That's the kind of stuff I live to write. It's also exactly what I had in mind for Jezebel Johnston from the outset. This was a slender and boyish-looking young mixed-race woman barely past girlhood, who had fallen head over heels in love with a man who happened to be a pirate. So when he left her to go back to his ship, she followed him and passed herself off as a lad. The rest... is in the book. And I won't spoil it for you.

Now while all this research and pirate writing was going on, I had other books and short stories to work on as well. Occasional short editing pleas came and went, and I'd been writing a monthly column for our town newsletter. I had a grandson born the fall before (he just turned 2) and wonder of wonders, my dear daughter-in-law announced sometime after the turn of the year that she was pregnant again with what turned out to be my first granddaughter (who will be 1 year old in November). Mommy was working the graveyard shift for the first few months, and with a baby at home and one in the processing unit, she wasn't getting a lot of rest. She got a chance to take a day shift job, but would need my help with babysitting. I said go for it, and by April of 2014, my empty-nest gained a little bird for several hours every weekday.
 


My writing time was halved, but my happy little grandboy was such a joy, I sucked it up and wrote around his schedule or whenever he napped. His snowbird grandparents were here for the good weather months, so we shared responsibilities, and I still had days here and there all to myself. Unless I had an appointment and needed to go out, on those days off I wrote all day long. 



Now weekends were already devoted to family and projects around the house, so only on rare occasions did I get to write on Saturdays and Sundays. The pirate novel was the most worrisome thing for me, because I had giddily pitched it as a series to publisher Ron Fortier of Airship 27, and he was incredibly enthusiastic about the entire project. As summer went on, the writing was going so slowly I was having a good day if I managed over 350 words. I had one day I recall where 93 words took me several hours because I was trying to find out what some obscure term meant. I was frustrated and depressed, because I was somewhere near the middle of the book, and it wasn't coming together. Good thing I'm as stubborn as I am, or I would have chucked it and pulled out some crochet hooks and yarn.

As fall drew on, and the girl baby's due date grew closer, I kept watching the calendar with concern. The snowbird grands eventually winged their way back home, and I was now the full time sitter. It seemed like the new baby and the book were in a dead heat for who was going to be born first. As it turned out, the book popped out about a week ahead of the granddaughter, but that was only because mom had to take maternity leave a bit early for health reasons. While she was home, she could watch the other little dude, and so I had free weekdays again. I finally finished the tale, gave it a week or so to marinate, and started my second pass.

It had been just five days short of 9 months to the day I started it back in February when I wrote those last two words, THE END. Oh what a relief that was! Still, it had been dragged out so long, I wasn't sure how well it would read. I was afraid it would be choppy and need a tremendous amount of rework, but I was pleasantly surprised once I began going through it. It wasn't half bad. In fact, it was a pretty decent read.

Every writer has a work style. If you're just starting out, you'll discover yours as you get more involved in the craft. Don't ever let anyone tell you that there's a right and wrong way to write. Do what works for you; what makes the words flow and the pages fill up. There are hints and tips you can pick up along the way, but the bottom line is be comfortable and you'll write often and much.

I am fidgety writer. I can't leave a scene along until I'm satisfied I've wrung the most I can get out of it. So rather that just write straight through from beginning to end on the first draft, I keep going over stuff from the last few sessions before moving forward. It's what works for me. By rereading what I previously wrote, I refresh my memory, and spot problem areas that need TLC. Sometimes I change a lot of what's there, as a new avenue opens up; other times I just tweak a few words, eliminate some typos, and keep moving on. When I'm done for the day, I set a bookmark to where I want to pick up again next session, take a word count, and save. Now and then, I'll leave myself a little note, or begin the next scene with a sentence or two. But I always try and quit with something new in mind. It's the carrot on the stick for me to work forward towards. 

That is exactly how this book got written, and it's the way I've worked for years. I'm not the fastest writer out there, but I'm far from he slowest either. The fact that I seldom experience what others call 'writer's block' tells me that what I'm doing works well. Sure—I have times when the words don't come easily or when I'm lost for where to go with a plot, but they're short and don't stop me from writing. Generally I just need a breather.



I write every chance I get, and I always look forward to writing. If I'm getting stuck and frustrated on a project, and it doesn't have a screaming deadline, I set it aside, and work on some other piece of fiction. If I'm really struggling and starting to feel aggravated because I'm making no headway, it's time to discuss the scene with someone else. Usually by the time I've laid it out via email or in a conversation, I've solved the problem myself. If it's just a sentence or three that aren't working, I read them aloud. You can usually hear the rough parts easier that way.
So that's why when I got to the second pass on the book, it went fairly smoothly. Oh, I found the usual sorts of typos, misspellings, bad punctuation, and orphan bits that got left behind when I moved text around. I know missed some too, because I'm human and I'd been staring at this thing for 9 friggin' months! But the second pass went by relatively fast, and I was satisfied. Time to turn it in.

My granddaughter was born the week of Thanksgiving, and I turned in the manuscript right around the same time. I was thrilled that it was over, and even more so that Ron Fortier loved it. I never take anything for granted in this business, because the publishers know what they can sell. So we were off to the races!
 


Basically the book goes into editing and then cover art and back cover copy gets done. Airship 27 does interior illustrations for their books as well, and so an artist had to be chosen for that. Rob Davis (AKA, 'He who never sleeps...') does their formatting, and he also provided 9 delicious interior illustrations. After all is said and done, it gets a final galley pass by the author, corrections are made if needed, and then... off to the printer, in this case, Amazon's CreateSpace.

By the way, half the credit for the title goes to Ron Fortier, because I hadn't gotten beyond Jezebel Johnston. It was Ron who suggested that we title each book with the ship Jez serves on. Devil's Handmaid just happened to be the first one, and it's almost a double-entendre. In the course of the story, she goes from being a somewhat innocent dreamer caught up in the romance of pirating to a bonafide freebooter who can shoot and swing a cutlass to do her share of the blood letting. It was a brilliant idea, and I thank Ron for his foresight on that one. I'll admit to doing some heavy thinking now about how the names of ships in future releases need to reflect on whatever lessons in life and piracy Jez will be learning at the time.

Those last few days before publication were like a whirlwind; but the previous months between turning it in and seeing it go up for sale moved pretty rapidly too. After I turned in JJ#1 last fall, I had other writing to catch up on, a new grandbaby to get to know, and we were smack-dab in the midst of the end-of-year holiday season. Mommy went back to work in mid-January, and I became an all day sitter, this time commuting to their house 4 days a week, since you don't want to force newborn infants and toddlers to go out in the cold winter air twice a day if you can avoid it. I love them too much for that.

Exactly one week later, we got a blizzard that dropped about 30 inches of snow on us, and the winter went downhill from there. Frequent snowstorms and sub-zero temps became the norm. My morning started at 5:30 AM for the first time in 10 years, so that I could be on site by 7:30 AM; and I dragged home sometime between 3:45 and 5:30 PM, depending on the work schedule. Everyone tried very hard to make things as easy as they could for me, but at 58 I am no spring chicken. I love them to pieces, but the kids wore me out, and I have a bad back and arthritis in most joints. Well, I lived through it. LOL!

I wasn't getting much writing done, but I kept picking away at it. I managed to turn in several pieces early in the year, including a novella-length Sinbad tale. By late March, I had started the sequel to the first Jezebel Johnston book, and kept trading off between than and an anthology for my Pro Se imprint. I was also planning a garden. About midsummer, my dear daughter-in-law changed shifts again, and so my hours were cut down significantly, from 2PM to 5:45 most days. She even finagled something on Wednesdays so that I would still have a day off. If my family didn't take my writing seriously, and all pitch in to help so that I have time to sit here and pound on the keyboard, I wouldn't have 1/3 of the work in print that I do. They have always come first to me, but it's wonderful not to be taken for granted. Love you guys!

Well, the garden didn't turn out too well but we've been eating out of it, the anthology rough draft is completed and awaiting its second pass, and as of today I am well over 45,000 words (at least 3/4 completed) with JEZEBEL; JOHNSTON: QUEEN OF ANARCHYI still have a big learning curve to surmount when it comes to detailing a sailing life, and I'm regularly researching new things, but this book is coming far easier. I know the characters, I know where I want to go with it, it's just a matter of getting it fixed in my head and on the page in a way that makes sense, satisfies the historical period, and jives with things I introduced in the first book. I've continued reading all I can get my hands on that pertains to the age of sail and pirate history, and I still do a lot of fact checking. Overall... I'm glad I stuck with it. Looking at that cover online (my copy is on the way) gives me a great sense of satisfaction. 

Aye, I tole ya I'd be scribin' me a bold and bawdy book 'bout a band 'o buccaneer buckos some foin day; 'n now I done the deed! Indeed I done it, I tells ya! Now part with some coin, an' git yerself a copy, and we won't have to keelhaul ye. Arrrr...