I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
I get them from the Ether. Once a year in the spring, the Ether Bunny comes hopping along with his basket, and brings me a new batch…
Seriously, they come from all around me. I see things in the news, or read something online, maybe overhear a conversation, and it sparks an idea. Since I write a lot of series characters, both in short stories and novel length work, I know those people pretty well. So it’s just a matter of finding a situation for Character X to be in, and getting her or him out of it. The adventure is in the getting from beginning to conclusion.
What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Depends on what I’m working on. Generally speaking, I’m a fly-by-the-britches type of writer as long as I am doing something original. I’ll get an idea—and in my head that looks like a movie trailer scene—and then think of how I’m going to use it and with whom. Now and then, I’ll just sit down and start typing something that sounds interesting and take it from there, because a story started randomly is better than no story at all. When I’m working with someone else’s intellectual property, then I will tend to plot it out ahead of time.
I get stuck now and then, but I’ve learned not to fight it. I always have multiple projects going, so I can just boot up something else and get my mind off it. If I don’t get any ideas after a day or so off, I’ll email or chat with a writing pal, and see what input I can get. Oftentimes I solve the issue as I’m explaining it.
After you’ve written long enough, you get a feel for the rhythm of a piece. You know when to insert something exciting, or wind it down and have an introspective moment. In pulp, you don’t want to slow the pace too often or for too long, so I tend to straddle the line between that frantic linear plot of a true pulp story and the kind of writing I’m used to doing.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
I used to do a ton of world building, because I had to know everything about the characters and where they live before I started something new. These days, I tend to forge right ahead with the writing, and do the research as I go along. The exception might be when I’m working on something that has a specific region or era involved, because I need a strong sense of when and where this is taking place, and what kind of language or backdrop will make the story sound genuine. If I’m writing in something like an anthology that has had other contributors in the past, I’m going to want to read as much of what’s been done as I can manage to get a feel for how others handled the character(s) and setting. Continuity is important in group work.
What is your daily writing like?
What I do really varies because I have other things going on in my life, but I do try and get something accomplished early in the day whenever I can. I feel a lot more enthusiastic about sitting down at the keyboard if I’m not all burned out by other tasks. Unless I’m starting a brand new project, each session starts with a reread of whatever material I might have worked on last time, and I’ll do some tweaking as I go along. When I get past that, most times I’ll have an idea of what kind of scene I need next. I tend to work my way through in scenes, knowing basically where the entire piece is going but not how I’m getting there. I always try and quit while I still have something left, even on the days when the juices are flowing well.
One thing I can’t stress enough in this digitally connected age is to focus on the writing while you’re doing it. It’s so easy to get caught up in playing with the phone and other gadgets, checking email and social networking sites, texting, etc. When I am writing, that’s where my mind needs to be, so I stay offline except for having Dictionary.com and Google up for help and research reasons. I still get off on a tangent now and then, but I’m far less distracted than I would be if I was chatting on Facebook or reading newsletters. I’ve switched my day around lately so that I get to the writing first and then go online. I’ve had to convince myself I don’t need to read every urgent email and cute meme poster that comes across my screen.
For all it is an art, you have to approach writing time with some self-discipline if you expect to get anything done. It’s like any other job; you go to your station and do what’s required of you at some appointed time. It’s just a darn lot more interesting!
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
Yes I am, in the respect that I’m not otherwise working outside the home. I was a stay-at-home mom when I started to noodle around with the idea of writing, and of all the things I tried to do in those years, it worked best with my home life. I love being creative, but not having to drag myself and my wares all over the place. Back when my kids were young, that was strictly out of the question. Now that I’m an empty nester, I can concentrate on getting work done, and no one in this older adult household freaks out if the laundry and dishes pile up a bit and dinner is fix-it-yourself. Writing is also very flexible because there is no set hour of the day when you have to do it. So if I have a morning appointment I can write in the afternoon, if someone stops by, I can set it aside for a bit.
Eventually I hope to get to the point where I can somewhat support myself via writing. That’s been my biggest complaint, that the royalty checks down at this level are very small and infrequent. So the focus for now has been on building a readership for my work.
I’ve been with Pro Se Press since their inception back in 2010, as both a staff writer and an editor. I had over 20 years worth of material in mothballs, including a huge fantasy novel I’d been shopping around to the mainstream publishers with no luck, and so I was thrilled to finally have an outlet for all that work. I auditioned with a couple of short stories that wound up in the magazines and we were off and running without looking back. I think I overwhelmed poor Tommy Hancock’s inbox that year and the next with a perfect storm of short stories that just kept trickling in as I opened up old files and finished pieces that had been languishing for years. Many of them were set in the same world, which eventually led to my getting my own imprint, Hansen’s Way. I still have other, non-related series that appear in the Pro Se Presents digests that we do now, and you will see my name popping up in various other Pro Se projects, such as the Pulp Obscura line and some of the open anthologies. I’ve watched Pro Se go from a tiny little indie publishing house to a windmill of offerings in mixed media. It’s a bit overwhelming, and I kind of feel lost in there somewhere.
I have done both magazine and book editing for Pro Se too. My ability to shift my focus from a mainstream POV to that of what a pulp book needs to be has helped immensely while working with authors who have come in from the outside with a great concept but a treatment that needs paring down. I had to take an 850 page fantasy doorstop of my own and turn it into a three book series that lost the plodding plot and focused more on action and adventure. It’s been a task, but so far FORTUNE’S PAWN and PROPHECY’S GAMBIT have done quite well. Having mastered that sort of conversion, I find it interesting to work with other authors struggling to rein in a piece that has the same kind of pulp appeal but it too unwieldy for Pro Se to print as is.
In the New Pulp world, you wind up working alongside other people with ties to different companies, and so you hear about projects that interest you. I’ve done an anthology story each for Airship 27 (Sinbad-The New Voyages Volume 1) and Mechanoid Press (Monster Earth), and I’ve been invited into yet another antho with a steampunk backdrop. So opportunities have been coming, and I will take on outside projects that interest me.
Self-publishing is something I’ve been looking into for a while now, and once we get caught up financially around here, it’s a definite route I’ll take. The big advantage is having complete creative control, but it does have a learning curve and takes some cash input, and that’s a sore spot right now.
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
Oh… this is going to be hard to do! The latest novel length release was PROPHECY’S GAMBIT back in January, and the latest short piece was my story The Bells of Saint Ferdinand in THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SENORITA SCORPION which came out in March. Both of those are Pro Se books.
PROPHECY’S GAMBIT is another Terran World adventure in the northern frontier of a land of magick and intrigue, where swordplay and wizardry vie with mistrust, soothsaying, and malevolence from all directions. This is the sequel to FORTUNE’S PAWN and it was released under my Hansen’s Way imprint. It’s the middle book in this opening series, and continues the story of red haired, blue eyed Callie; the orphan girl with the streak of stubborn independence who still has no idea she is destined to give birth to a savior. As a young adult now, and a mother-to-be, she still gets herself in plenty of trouble! The world around her is seething with unrest. Friends and foes come from all directions and are sometimes hard to distinguish. Fate plays its own games, and sometimes people die…
Senorita Scorpion was a classic pulp character written by Les Savage, and the Pro Se continuing adventures version was released through the Pulp Obscura line. This was the first western I had ever read as well as the first I’ve ever written, so it was quite a challenge. It appealed to me because she’s one of the few female lead characters I’ve seen in the classic pulp era, and promoting strong and independent women is something I do a lot of in my own tales. Once I had the background research done, the story came together for me, and it’s been well received.
I will have other Pro Se work coming out this year. I have a tale in another Pulp Obscura anthology as well as one each in the first Tall Pulp anthology and the second Pulptress collection. I should have a story or two in Pro Se Presents as well; they have a couple of my SILVER PENTACLE offerings, a third SONG OF HEROES tale, and I just started a third KEENER EYE story as well.
THE SILVER PENTACLE series is a sort of post apocalyptic mash-up where nuclear and mechanized warfare over dwindling petroleum supplies have destroyed the environment and killed off much of the population. The rapture is over, and it created rifts in time and space, letting creatures and beings from history and mythology bleed back through to earth. The older, less influential deities have come back to vie for whomever is left—including some rather malevolent beings looking to build an army of minions. Insert in there the assembling of a quartet of elemental super beings led by an androgynous minor deity bent on saving earth from itself. Add in a global treasure hunt to find artifacts of power, and you’ll have the weirdest storyline I’ve conceived to date.
THE SONG OF HEROES takes place in a modern day setting. The series chronicles the exploits of a scum busting immortal with a quartet of half-life helpers that can be summoned by a bracelet she wears and can never remove. Lorelei the Siren is paying for her past sins of luring sailors to her death via her enchanting voice. She is now condemned to a rather dreary continual reappearance somewhere on earth, ridding the world of evil doers both mortal and immortal. Her ‘heroes’ are far from exemplary either, for they’ve all been killers in their own right at some point in their pasts. One of my audition pieces for Pro Se was Lori’s Lament, the first Song of Heroes tale that introduced her and the hero Sir Reginald the paladin from the Crusades era.
As for my imprint, I have another new anthology done that has been turned in. It’s in the same Terran World the rest of the imprint books are set in, but a different area and group of characters. So while my sword & sorcery fantasy backdrop material will be familiar to those who have read FORTUNE’S PAWN, PROPHECY’S GAMBIT, TALES OF THE VAGABOND BARDS, and/or THE HUNTRESS OF GREENWOOD, the one coming up is filled with brand new tales within which the characters and setting are unique. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that if you had a chance to start your own flying cavalry, wouldn’t you consider abdicating the throne to do so? Someone did, and the five stories in this anthology will take us from the beginning of THE WINDRIDERS OF EVERICE until they establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. This one is fairly kid friendly too, as there are children involved in the action, so I kept the violence and the adult situations as PG 13 as possible. I’m hoping we’ll see it debut sometime before summer’s end, but I honestly have no idea when.
I’m also working on another novel, which was supposed to be the seminal, stage-setting short story of another anthology for the imprint, before it took on a life of its own. Yet another Terran World setting, with a quartet of remarkable youngsters who become heroes in their own right. You will find at least one beloved character from FORTUNE’S PAWN and PROPHECY’S GAMBIT crossing over into this one. I’m just writing the big climatic scene, so I hope to have this SUDARNIAN CHRONICLES novel edited, turned in, and in print by the end of the year. I haven’t chosen a definite title for this one, but this will also be appropriate for all but the youngest readers.
The final sequel in the trilogy that started with FORTUNE’S PAWN and PROPHECY’S GAMBIT will be titled MASTER’S ENDGAME, and it will sew up all the plot lines I’ve been interweaving in the two books. Since Prophecy’s Gambit was late being published and didn’t come out last fall as I’d hoped, I’m putting this one on the back burner for now and hoping to have it ready for sometime early next year. Most of MASTER’S ENDGAME is previously written material, I just need to update and organize it. Another novel series following Callie and her little one is planned for 2015 and beyond. That also has been started and I do know where it’s going.
I have at least one more brand new anthology series to introduce in 2014 as well, a spin off from the VAGABOND BARDS called BY THE WAYSIDE TALES.
I should have some other things for Pro Se as well, there is a children’s adventure series with some interesting companion creatures where I’ve partnered with two other writers. Look for my name with other publishers too, because if a concept interests me and I have the time, I will tackle just about anything. I’ve been privileged to be invited in on some very interesting projects!
Can you tell us about some of your other writing and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
Writing and editing takes up a lot of my time, and finances have been a bit tight these last couple years. I had hoped to make it to Pulp Ark 2013, but for both health and monetary reasons was forced to cancel. Conventions are just too expensive for me to travel to right now, so I’m altering my focus toward trying to build a local following while continuing to network and promote my work online. Certainly having material in print with multiple publishers has helped spread the word. Readers who pick up a book with one of my stories and enjoy it will tend to go looking for more by me. One thing I will say for the New Pulp publishers is they are generous in allowing me to cross-promote my established work published by their indie peers.
I should mention here that I have been writing a biweekly column called “SO, WHY PULP?” for the New Pulp blog at http://www.newpulpfiction.com/ since December 1, 2011. I just hit the 41st column this past Thursday. I was asked to get involved, and I have yet to miss a deadline.
Right now there is a lot of competition in the New Pulp field, let alone indie publishing as a whole. Books are coming out fast and furiously—many of which are advertised and promoted on social and other online networking sites, as independent publishers don’t have much if any budget for advertising. I’m finding my offerings get lost in the crowd, and my inability to attend conventions is not helping. While I can’t afford to travel a lot, what I can do is start a grass-roots following here in New England that will hopefully spread over time and gain new readers. Fellow author/editor Lee Houston Jr. and I have been putting our heads together trying to line up more local appearances and get the word out that way. We have some things in the works that I can’t go into right now…
I’ve also just volunteered myself to write a monthly column about rural country life for my town’s newsletter. This gives me a chance to introduce myself to a brand new audience who might just be interested enough to go look for my books once they’ve read some of my nonfiction work. My proposal was snapped up with profuse thanks for volunteering my time and expertise, and my first column, an introductory autobiographical piece mentioning among other things that I am a published author, should be in the June issue along with a picture of me. It’s a different kind of writing and that’s good because it’s important to stretch your talent like that. I’ll owe them another, more topical piece by the 15th of this month, and I just finished writing the first draft of that. I’m expecting that to lead to a book signing at the local library, which I’d share with Lee, as we both hope to fill a table and bring folks in. We’re also hoping to get one scheduled at R.J Julia independent book store in Madison Connecticut, which does like to promote local authors—and they also have an Espresso book printing machine and offer self-publishing advice. Hopefully one appearance will lead to another and we can kind of snowball what we are doing into some additional sales.
Besides interviews like this, I have done panels and Skyped podcasts, and appeared on a local radio morning program with Lee to promote our writing as well as New Pulp as a whole. I’m always willing to do more of those, and I never run out of things to talk about, so if someone wants me on their program anytime in the future, contact me via Facebook or G+.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
I’m full of advice, I’ve made every mistake in the book and some nobody had thought of yet. Writing is a skill, getting published is magic, and being read and enjoyed is when it becomes an art.
So stick with it! Never give up, no matter how tough it gets. Learn to write to an audience as well as from your heart, and don’t be so wrapped up in your work that you can’t cannibalize and rewrite something to a changing standard. Do keep writing, even if it just sits in files for now. It took me over 20 years to get published, and then they expect something from you on a regular basis. I am drawing upon my old inventory now to flesh out anthologies and fill pages of novels. I go through my notes and work out stories based on a few lines I scribbled down way back when I had no idea if anyone but me would ever read them. So if all you have is a few finished pieces and a backlog of notes and starts, you’re ahead of most people sitting down to stare at a blinking cursor. The more you write, the better you get, and more the habit of writing becomes ingrained.
Always handle yourself like a professional—that was the hardest lesson for me to learn. If you do, it will open doors for you. Don’t be so devastated by sharp criticism or a bad review that you give up or retort publically, even if that’s how the news came to you. It’s painful; but hold your nose and thank the person for their input, then go have a good cry/kick an inanimate object/drown it in adult beverages. Eventually you will get something out of it because each flop is a learning experience, though you have to get a distance from it to see that. I’ve certainly had my share of those! Treat your fellow writers, editors, publishers, readers, and reviewers like human beings, and expect there will be delays, missed opportunities, and other disappointments. Give a newbie a hand up or some helpful advice, and support your peers as much as possible—don’t view everybody as cutthroat competition that has to be beaten to get ahead. Cheer them on or at least sit by quietly and let them have their day without trying to steal some of their thunder. Remember, a rising tide lifts all ships. Don’t expect the public to fall at your feet; it takes time to catch on. Certainly celebrate the triumphs and handle the defeats with grace, but get back to work.
Never let a lack of education or experience sway you from writing. I am a two time high school dropout with no college whatsoever, and I do just fine. That’s what they make dictionaries and thesauruses for, so that we can understand words and find interesting ways of expressing ourselves. When it gets too crazy, and you feel like you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, that’s the time to look back and realize how far you’ve already come.
The switch from hobbyist writer to published author comes with varying amounts of hard work, chances taken, and plain old dumb luck. The friends you make along the way might just be the ones who leave the door open far enough so you can get a toe in too. That’s what happened to me!
Who is your favorite author, and can you recommend a book or series by that author?
I have to pick just one? LOL! I have several favorites to read, but I’m open to a lot of ideas. It’s important to be well read within the genre(s) you want to write in, but also outside of them as well. You can learn a lot from writing well outside your own chosen genre or style, so do be a diverse reader.
I’d have to cite J.R.R. Tolkien as my all time favorite, because I’ve read THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy five times, the last time to my sons when they were old enough to appreciate it. We savored them slowly over the course of a year, a chapter or so a night. They were so taken with the books, they both insisted on writing papers about Tolkien for school—for the same teacher no less, albeit two years apart. If you have never read Tolkien, start with THE HOBBIT and then move on to the trilogy. It’ll make more sense that way. For your fantasy fix, I’d also recommend just about anything by Andre Norton, CJ Cherryr, and David Eddings. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, and Fantasy/Sci Fi writer Joel Rosenberg’s (not Joel C. Rosenberg) Guardian of the Flames and Keepers of the Hidden Ways series were things I devoured. Those authors and works were foundations for me in learning to craft a tale. I’ve read a few Terry Pratchett Discworld and Piers Anthony Xanth novels and I’d highly recommend those for a good take on how fantasy can be hilarious. Humor is something pulp never seems to quite get…
I’ve read Robert E. Howard’s pulp work to get that breathless pacing down, Hemingway to learn how to say a lot with few words, and John Steinbeck to bring pathos and humanity to the forefront against a big background. Even William Shakespeare, if you can get past the archaic language, could tell a rousing good story cobbled together from history and make it appeal to the masses.
My latest discovery is a Jim Butcher Dresden Files book, which I’m picking away at, and want to read more of that series. Ohhh, is that ever good! Such wry humor, and so engaging. I also have some Patrick O’Brian seafaring tales I am dying to get into. I don’t read as much as I used to, because my eyesight is bad, and there are not enough hours in a day.
Read often, and widely, and the whole world will open up to you.