Thursday, December 18, 2014

Janet Kay Jensen, Gabriels' Daughters, and The Danites

Janet Kay Jensen
Author Janet Kay Jensen is from Utah which means that like the rest of the denizens of that odd state, she knows about polygamy. It’s a dirty little secret in this neck of the woods, a taboo subject in many places. I was excited to talk to Janet about her new book Gabriel’s Daughters that deals with this sensitive subject in an adult and tender manner.

Johnny: Are you completely mental?

Janet: What do you mean?

Johnny: This is Utah, you don’t talk about this stuff. It’s like fight club. What’s the first rule of Fight Club?

Janet: Don’t talk about Fight Club.

Summer in Utah
Johnny: What’s the first rule of living in Utah?

Janet: It’s hard to get a drink? It’s a great place for orthopedic surgeons because we have fabulous mountains for skiing?  Or there are beehives on our state flag and the seagull is our state bird, even though we’re landlocked?  That if out-of-shape grown men participate in Church basketball and try moves they haven’t made since high school, they’ll end up in the ER? Stay off I-15 unless it’s noon-2 p.m. Utah has two seasons; winter and construction. There are many rules here. Many are unwritten.

Johnny: Well, yes that’s right, especially the one about the seasons, but there’s a rule somewhere about not bringing up Utah’s ugly history. Like the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Just mentioning it on a blog will bring Danites to you door.

Janet: I don’t think it’s that bad. We make the New York Times with some regularity. It’s out there. The good stuff and the not-so-good. Utah and the LDS church are beginning to acknowledge and own the not-so-good history, which is great progress. But everywhere I’ve lived, the locals cringe about anything that makes them look less than stellar in the national news. Personally, I squirm when someone from Utah does something idiotic that makes the national news. I won’t name names. But there are idiots in every state of this great nation. So you have to get a perspective. And, seriously, if there are stories about our people to be written, it’s not a bad idea to write them ourselves. We often have an emotional connection.

Johnny: Did you hear that?

Janet: The doorbell?

Johnny: Yes.

Johnny: A Danite.

Janet: He looks like a missionary.

Man at door: Would you like to know more about our church?

Janet: See.

Johnny: Don’t you believe it. Are you a Danite?

Man at the Door: Yes sir, I am.

Johnny: Wait outside, I’ll be with you in a minute.

Danite: Our spies say you mentioned the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Can you confirm this? What exactly did you say? Who’d you blame for it?

Johnny slamming door: Later. Now out.

Janet: How’d you know?

Johnny: He’s alone. Missionaries travel in pairs.

Janet: Right. He also looks hungry.

Johnny: So we don’t have much time. They’ll come back in greater numbers. Tell me about Gabriel’s Daughters.

Janet: Gabriel’s Daughters continues the story lines of my first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. There is one daughter, Zina, who has disappeared in the first book. The second book is about her decision to flee the family she loves rather than marry into polygamy. As she’s only 16, she has a lot to learn about the world, and the book takes us on her journey. But no matter what she accomplishes or where she goes, she can’t break the longing for family, and she has to recognize that before she can completely become the person she wants to be. She has to make peace with her history and find a way to relate to the people she loves.

Johnny: What personal experience do you have with polygamy?

Janet:  None. My husband has one wife and that’s me. He says that’s more than enough. It’s in my genealogy, though. His, too. Also, years after high school, I realized that one of my classmates—a bright, well-mannered, quiet boy, had been raised in polygamy. But when I knew him, I had no clue. Throughout the years I followed him and his family through occasional newspaper stories and read two books his sister wrote. The more I learned, the more I was intrigued, and the more books I read on the subject.

Johnny: I understand you walk a fine line on the subject not wholly condoning and not wholly condemning. Do you do this because you’re afraid of the Danites?

Janet: I suppose it can be a choice of consenting adults to practice polygamy. But children who grow up in the culture lack education and skills to function in the world of the “Gentiles,” and they don’t know all the choices they really have in the outside world. Girls, especially, often don’t think they have any option but to marry young and become entrenched in the lifestyle. That’s where my concerns lie.

Johnny: It’s a timely book. The horrors of the FLDS still make the news pretty regularly. Do you have a character like Warren Jeffs in Gabriel’s Daughters?

Janet: Nope. I have a Council of Brothers who govern all manners temporal and religious. They’re also related to each other through numerous marriages. In Gabriel’s Landing there are trees that don’t fork. They’re very serious, well-acquainted with their scriptures, and lack any sense of humor… But have I told you about my grandchildren?

Johnny: How do you approach the religious element of polygamy in your book?

Janet: It is explained as a choice made by some LDS (Mormons) around 1890, when Utah attained statehood by renouncing polygamy. Some formed splinter groups that still exist today, and that is Zina’s heritage. They feel it is a fundamental doctrine that the mainstream church abandoned.

Johnny: Oh, there it is. There’s a pack of them now.

Janet: They’re so young. Are you sure they’re not missionaries?

Johnny: It’s still an odd number, but I admit the white short-sleeve shirts are a little disconcerting.

Janet: Lots of acne too. Eager looks on their faces.

Johnny: But I bet they’re armed to the teeth.

Janet: You’re paranoid. But I have a Border/Beagle named Gus who could be a diversion. Give those guys a few tennis balls and Gus will wear them out playing fetch. Well, actually, he keeps and guards all the balls he catches…...

Johnny at the window: Hey Danites! Are you armed to the teeth?

Danites: Yes.

Johnny: Told you. So Janet, I’m always curious how authors got to be where they are. How’d you go from a scribbler to a published author?

Janet: I grew up in family where reading was important. My parents went back to school when my older sisters started college, to finish their own educations. Eventually they both got master’s degrees: my father’s was in history and political science and my mother’s was in library science (now called instructional technology). My training and career were in Speech-Language Pathology but I always felt a creative need was being suppressed. I’d occasionally read a book and say “I could have written that better,” so one day I sat down and tried.

Then I was approached by another writer in my chapter of the League of Utah Writers, Shaunda Wenger, who is a voracious reader and a fabulous cook. I am one of the above. Her concept was a co-authored literary cookbook, and millions of books and hours in the kitchen later, The Book Lover’s Cookbook came to be. It’s a lovely book. Lovely to read, as it contains passages from famous literature, and great for cooking, as the original recipes match the food mentioned in the books. It’s like cooking with your favorite authors and characters. By the way, funeral potatoes snuck in there. Astute cooks will recognize them another name. No green jello, though. And no fry sauce. We did have our standards.

When The Book Lover’s Cookbook was published, I went back to working on Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. It became unmanageable because I was trying to tell two stories at one time, and they involved two different characters, 10 years apart in chronology. So I had to kick Zina out of the book and promise that she’d get her own. That’s how Gabriel’s Daughters came to be. I think Zina has forgiven me.

Johnny: They’ve started to sing hymns. We haven’t much time.

Janet: Why are there so many? Pus, they’re singing out of tune.

Johnny: Well beside my mention of Mountain Meadow, your book not only deals with polygamy and Mormonism and modernity, but also touches upon homosexuality. Such things attract Danites like a magnet. How do you deal with homosexuality in your book?

Janet: There is a character, Simon, who’s a great guy. He’s also gay and in need of a roommate. Zina, he thinks, would be perfect. He senses she has trust issues with men, and he’s nonthreatening. He’s also a great mentor for Zina, and has a fabulous art collection. He’s been kicked out of his family, so he knows what it’s like to feel like an orphan.

Johnny: Powerful social commentary. I can’t wait to see it. I hope you’re around to reap all your accolades.

Janet: Why wouldn’t I be?

Johnny: Danites.

Janet: Oh right.

Johnny: In case you don’t make it, where on the internets can my readers find out more about you and your book?

Barnes & Noble 

Johnny: They’ve got a battering ram.

Janet: What are we going to do?

Johnny: Hide in the Blog Mansion and hope they don’t find us. Wait for them to leave.

Janet: What if they find us? What will they do to us?

Johnny: It’s terrible. you don’t want to know. That last time they got in…

Janet: What?

Johnny: It’s too horrible to tell.

Janet: What…? Listen, I’ve been a soccer mom and a PTA president and even a Cub Scout Leader. My parents met at a debate meet. My partner took state in debate my senior year. I met my future husband when we were both members of Utah State University’s debate team. I am fierce.

Johnny: They made me eat funeral potatoes and green jell-o with carrots!

Janet: Oh my god. The horror! You see, green jell-o should also be made with crushed pineapple and maybe even bananas. Cool Whip on the top. Listen, grab a copy of The Book Lover’s Cookbook and hold it up. That might frighten them off. By the way, did you know there are more than a dozen variations of funeral potatoes? The perfect fast comfort food for the masses.

Johnny: Yeah, I know. Hide!

Side note from Janet: One of my sons lives in Finland. It’s a tradition to bring a cake to work on your own birthday. So he called me for help. He was standing in the American section of a supermarket and wanted to make sure he had all the ingredients. I haven’t heard how Grandma Ann’s 7-Up Salad was received by his co-workers yet, but I can guarantee it was their first experience with it. The Finns are so advanced, they don’t even have Jell-o. Although I have tasted a dish similar to funeral potatoes in Finland. I was too polite to tell them what we called it. Plus, you never know how American English is going to translate into Finnish. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Searching for je ne sais quoi with Joseph Nassise

Joseph Nassise has a certain
je ne sais quoi
Today at the Blog Mansion we have Joseph Nassise steampunk alternative history horror zombie war novelist. Yeah, I know, another one of those. But what can I do? I owed his publicist a favor. I was going to send him to clean the garage when I pulled up his Amazon page and shit a little lizard named Ralph.

Johnny: I can’t promise this isn’t going to hurt. Actually, I’m pretty sure it will. Scratch that. I’ll make sure it does.

Joe: What, why?

Johnny: First we’ll take an X-ray. A typical does would be from 4-8 krads, that’s kilorads. The Wood River Junction critical accident had 10. We’ll start you with 250.

Joe: Let me out of these straps.

Johnny: Your reaction to this is important. Are you really upset?

Joe: I show up at your mansion and get dragged down here by injured Star Trek cosplayers and strapped to a gurney. You’re damn right I’m upset.

Johnny: This will help.

Joe: What a shot?

Johnny: No a slap. Get ahold of yourself man. This is for science!

Joe: You’re going to have to explain.

Johnny: You are were where I want to be. Big publishers, many titles. I need to know how you did it. I’m looking for that je ne sais quoi that got you there.

Joe: Je ne sais quoi? I don’t know what that is?

Johnny: Ah - I get it! Good one. We’ll do a blood test now. While we’re sharpening this drainpipe tell me where you come from.

Joe:  I was born and raised in Boston.  I spent my college years and a few thereafter in New York City and then I moved west in the mid-nineties.  I make my home in Phoenix now.

Johnny: We’re going to need a mallet for this needle here.

Joe: Maybe you should just take a sample from my bloody nose.

Johnny: Contaminated. We’ll use the sewage pipe regulator pipe as I devised.

Joe: Could you wash it first?

Johnny: Shhhh, your distracting my aim. This mallet is heavy.

Joe: Ouch!

Johnny: That’s more than I expected. Must have hit a vein.

Joe: Or an artery.

Johnny: And the the gurney.

Joe: I’m feeling light headed.

Johnny: Okay, I’ll ask the question. How did you get where you are? I’m envious and since it’s my patented question, walk me through the steps that took you from scribbler to best-seller.

Joe:  It’s been a bit of a long strange trip, actually.  I wrote my first novel – my first anything, really – in college over a bet for a case of beer.  400 pages scribbled out long-hand on legal pads.  After winning the bet (and drinking the beer!) the book went into a box for the next eleven years, until my wife found it one day while we were moving.  She convinced me to type it out and submit it.

A small press publisher bought it, the resulting trade paperback edition was nominated for both the International Horror Guild Award and the Bram Stoker Award (horror fiction’s two highest honors at the time) and shortly thereafter Pocket Books came calling, looking to buy the mass market rights. That was my first professionally published work.

Fourteen years and 26 novels later, here I am.

Johnny: Tell me about your German connection while we prep you for a body scan.

Joe: My second novel for Pocket was The Heretic, the first book in what would become my bestselling series to date, the Templar Chronicles.  A major German publisher, Droemer Knaur, bought German language rights to that and two more books (A Scream of Angels and A Tear in the Sky.)  The Heretic was published in Germany in 2007 as Der Ketzer and debuted on the Der Spiegel bestseller list.  Books two and three followed in 2008 and 2009.

That same publisher went on to buy several other books from me, including the first book in my Jeremiah Hunt series, Eyes to See.

Johnny: Templar Chronicles. I see you have a boxed set of those. This is really going to hurt. Talk about those. It’ll keep your mind off the duct tape.

Joe: The Templar Chronicles are an urban fantasy series in which the Templar knights have been resurrected in the modern era as a secret combat arm of the Vatican, tasked with defending mankind from supernatural threats and enemies.  There are currently five full-length novels and two novellas in the series, with more to come.

Johnny: Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles now. And don’t move. Keep perfectly still.

Joe: Jeremiah Hunt is a man who makes a Faustian bargain to give up his eyesight in order to see “that which is unseen.”  He’s trying to find the daughter that vanished from his house several years before but gets far more than he bargained for when the bargain results in him being able to see the supernatural entities that surround us on a daily basis.  He has two ghostly companions, Whisper and Scream, who has had picked up along the way.

Book one, Eyes to See, is set in Boston and focuses on the search for his missing daughter.  Book two, King of the Dead, takes the action to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where he helps his friend, Denise Clearwater, a hedge witch, deal with a mystical threat to the city.  Book three, Watcher of the Dark, puts Jeremiah in Los Angeles, where he falls into trouble with a certain high-powered sorcerer.

All three books were published in hardcover by Tor Books and audio and ebook editions followed.  I hope to write a fourth Jeremiah Hunt book in 2015.

Johnny: Chronicles everywhere. Some people write trilogies, others series. You, you write Chronicles. Is that your secret? Wait don’t tell me the scans are here.

Joe: You can see Chronicles in a CT scan?

Johnny: Never know if you don’t look. Looks like you got a lot of blobbly chunks inside you. You might want to have them removed.

Joe: I think I need those.

Johnny: Really? Very interesting.

Joe: Can I get out off the gurney now.

Johnny: yes. We must shave you now. Head to toe. All we have are straightrazors and axel grease, so again I’ll caution you. My cosplayer servants are a little jumpy. We had an incident.

Joe: Let’s talk about Steam punk.

Johnny: Sure, go ahead. Tell me the attraction. Why do you think it’s popular? Is it popular?

Joe: I don’t honestly know.  There is a certain subset of readers out there who highly enjoy it and I happen to be one, which is why I decided to play in that kind of setting for the Great Undead War series.

Johnny: I can see one possible reason for your success. Blatant genre crossover. 2012 you released By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I. You’re taking fans of a different genres and melding them into a venn diagram of potential audience. War, World War 1, to be precise, Zombies, steampunk, alternate history. You have any young adult erotica in there too? What? couldn’t fit any furry fan fiction in there?

Joe: I wanted to write a book that I would like to read and my tastes tend to be a mish-mash of genres, so voila!

Johnny: Now you have On Her Majesty's Behalf: The Great Undead War: Book II. Talk about that.

Joe: On Her Majesty’s Behalf picks up almost directly at the end of By the Blood of Heroes, which is the first book in the Great Undead War.  London and New York have been bombed by German forces carrying a new strain of corpse gas.  Rather than resurrecting the dead, which was the purpose of the original strain, this one turned the living into super fast flesh eating creatures known as shredders.  When the story opens, Major Michael “Madman” Burke and his team of Marauders have just been ordered into the devastated city of London to try and determine what happened to the royal family.

Johnny: How do you find an audience? What’s your marketing like?

Joe: How do I find an audience?  How does an elephant fit through the eye of a needle?  If I could answer that one succinctly I think I’d be a very rich man.

Johnny: Oh, right. You’ve got an agent, you bastard, sorry about the nipple. It’ll grow back. How has that been, having an agent? Tell me about your adventures in agentland. Are you still with Bob Diforio at D4EO or is Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky Literary now your guy?

Joe:  Actually, I don’t have an agent.  I’ve been with a couple over the years but I prefer to handle my work myself now.  I like the level of control it affords me.

Johnny: Now I feel bad about the nipple. Oh, wait. No. You have a boxed set out.

Joe: It was deliberate?

Johnny: No no. But you did have an agent once. How. How do I get into them? Can you put in a good word? I’ll remind you I have a bloody straight razor near your lower extremities.

Joe: Want to know how to get an agent?  I’ll tell you the same thing I tell all of my writing students. First, write a damn good book. (That part should go without saying, but anyway...) Get yourself a subscription to and read their weekly newsletter that lists all of the reported sales that went down in publishingville that week.  Find books that are of a similar genre to your own – note who bought the books and who repped the book.  Make a list.  Then start contacting the people on your list.  That’s it.  No secret passwords, no magic rituals.  Just write a good book and put it into the hands of those who read that genre.  Keep doing that over and over again until some shows an interest. Oh, and in the meantime, keep writing.

Johnny: Easier said than done. It’s time for the invasive brain scan.

Joe: What was with all the shaving?

Johnny: I don’t know.

Joe: I sense a theme.

Johnny: Lie still again. I’ll get a the drill and silly putty.

Joe: Have you discovered anything useful yet?

Johnny: Actually I have. I’ve learned that successful writers have a very high threshold for pain. It’s a theory I’ve been working on for years. Your bloody chest supports it.

Joe: Of course we have a high threshold for pain.  You don’t think we could bear all those rejection letters without one, do you?

Johnny: Before I search the inner recesses of your medulla oblongata for that je ne sais quoi, you better tell my fans where they can find you on the net. You might not remember later.


Johnny: What’s your typical day like?

Joe: Inventing creatures and scenes like this here.

Johnny: Hold, on. A couple more brain scans and we can begin with the fire ants. What’s that noise?

Joe: You don’t think I came alone do you? A big successful author like me?

Johnny: You don’t mean?

Joe: But I do. Captain Michael "Madman" Burke to the rescue. He sent a crack squad of World War One Steampunk Zombie Dough Boys!

Johnny: Ha! A little late. I’ve finished my tests. Besides, your zombie storm troopers will never get past my door.

Joe: Why?

Johnny: It’s a little trick I learned from Sergeant Moore. Its shut.

Joe: Balls.

Johnny: If that doesn’t work, we have phasers.

Joe: Aren’t cosplayers great?

Johnny: Gotta love em. But, wait! The test results are back. We've founds something!

Joe: My je ne sais quo?

Johnny: Yes.

Joe: So what is it?

Johnny: I don't know what.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On the bridge with Warren Hammond, Sci-Fi author

Warren Hammond
Today at The Blog Mansion I have Warren Hammond a science fiction writer with a new book out: TIDES OF MARITINIA just released on December 2nd.

Johnny: Warren, welcome to The Blog Mansion.

Warren: Thanks, it’s great to be here. This is quite the media room.

J: I based it on Star Trek. I pay people to wear uniforms and wander around. Really fun.

W: Is it expensive?

J: Not really. Pizza and snacks mostly. Cos-players don’t have a lot to do between conventions.

W: I hadn’t thought of that.

J: Here put this uniform on. You’ll feel more at home.

W: Hey, you gave me a red shirt. You know what they say about red shirts, right? Only the crew members wearing red shirts ever get killed.

J: I take it you're not a subscriber to the Blog, but no worries. Uhm, yeah, whatever. Now put it on.

W: Sure. Thanks, I guess.

J: First let’s talk about KOP. I see on Amazon that you have three books about this controversial subject. How active are you in the anti-police militarization movement? The brutality is getting out of control wouldn’t you agree?

W: That’s not what the books are about.

J: Oh. Uhm. My cosplayers are rather shoddy researchers. Tell me about the series.

W: The KOP novels are part science fiction and part hardboiled noir. Juno Mozambe is a dirty cop on a backwater world, and in each book, Juno has a mystery to solve, but the big overarching story running through the series focuses on Juno’s battle against corruption both in his personal life as well as in his society.

J: Shocking. Hold on. This is going to get rough.

W: Make it stop. I'm dizzy. What the hell was that?

J: Turbulence. Duh. So a dark dystopia for adults. How’d that go over?

W: The reaction so far has been very positive. The most recent book in the series (KOP Killer) won the Colorado Book Award for best mystery. However, the books have struggled to attract mystery readers. In my experience, most mystery readers are reluctant to read science fiction. I didn’t realize going in how a tough sell it would be for that audience. The good news is science fiction readers really enjoy the books as do the mystery readers who can be convinced to give them a shot.

Dystopias are really resonating with readers right now. I’m not sure I can completely explain it, but I think we live in a cynical age with a less-than-promising future. It seems a lot of people feel like they already live in a well-disguised dystopia, so pulling the curtain aside and presenting a dystopian world without pretense somehow feels authentic.

J: I’m envious of your publishing connections. Tor and now Harper Collins. How’d you do that? My patented question, how’d you go from writer to author? Describe your path to getting published.

W: When it comes to my publishing connections, my agent, Richard Curtis, gets all the credit. I’ve been fortunate to find an agent who both likes my work and has the connections to play matchmaker.

My publishing story is a pretty common one, although my first big break came in the form of rejection. I’d sent my first novel to Richard’s office in hopes he might be willing to represent me. He called me one Friday, and we spoke for probably 20 minutes, and he told he thought KOP had flaws and therefore he was not willing to represent me or the book. I was, of course, crushed, but by the end of the weekend I realized that I’d just caught a huge break. He hadn’t sent me a form letter. He called me.

So I took his advice and did a major rewrite of the novel. When I’d finished, I sent it back to him, and this time he called with an offer of representation. He then hooked me up with Tor for the KOP novels, and now HarperCollins for Tides of Maritinia.

J: You have an agent! That's nice. Hold on!

W: Ouch. It looked like you hit that asteroid on purpose. What do you have this room on, hydraulics?

J: Something like that. But don’t change the subject.

W: I’ve changed uniforms…

J: The transporter has many uses. But back to publishers. Did you living in New York play into it?

W: Not at all. I moved to Colorado in 1990, which was long before I wrote KOP.

J: You live in Denver now. Did you move to get away from the New York drug scene or did you move to get into the Denver one?

W: I’m too big a square to fit in either scene. However, Denver is a GREAT city for beer. We have brewpubs all over the city, and Colorado produces more beer than any other state in the nation. We host the Great American Beer Festival, and our governor was even a brewer prior to becoming a politician!

W: That one hurt.

J: Might be the bullshit detector malfunctioning. Or it’s a Romulan attack.

W: Romulans aren’t real, you know that right?

J: So you were lying?

W: Are those the only options?

J: Well, we might be near a worm hole or the dilithium crystals might be misaligned.

W: For hell sake! That guy broke his arm.

J: We better stay together. Tell me about the Tides of Maritinia. Based on your assumed drug history, I thought at first it was a planet with an ocean of gin and olives, but my researchers say that isn’t the case.

W: Correct. I’ve been calling this book a science fiction/spy novel. Here’s the setup: Jakob Bryce is a spy and an assassin. He works for a vast empire of 10,000 worlds, but one of those worlds, Maritinia, has rebelled. His mission is to infiltrate the government of Maritinia and sabotage its defenses for the empire’s invasion force. The good soldier, he does as ordered, but soon discovers that most is not what it seemed.

I’m really excited to get this book out to the market. The setup may sound pretty simple, but I think you’ll find that this story quickly gets much more complex than it sounds. I truly believe it’s my best book so far.

J: I see it available now as an ebook. Will it come in paper too?

W: Yes, the paperback will arrive on January, 20th of 2015. The book is being published by a new imprint of HarperCollins called Voyager Impulse. As everybody already knows, the publishing industry is in flux right now, and Voyager Impulse is an attempt to get ahead of the curve by first releasing the book in ebook format only with a print release to follow. We’ll see how it goes.

J: The new paradigm. Oh, you might now want to stand there. That’s a conduit.

W: A what?

W: Ouch! That was close. Am I on fire?

J: Just flash burns. The new paradigm. What are you doing to promote Tides of Maritinia?

W: I’ll be doing some book signings in Denver, as well as a few science fiction conventions (dates to be announced). Westword magazine did a great cover story on Carrie Vaughn and me. I’ll also be doing several other blogs, although I hope none of them require skin grafts like this one.

J: Do you make your students read your books? Do you want to borrow my Agonizer?

W: No, I don’t make them read my books, but I do make them buy them.

J: Clever.

W: I think this is getting a little too dangerous. Maybe we should wrap this up.

J: We’re still at warp. You can’t leave.

W: You’re nuts.

J: Don’t underestimate the creativity of cosplayers. This room is really in space.

W: Right. I get it.

W: Jesus Christ! That guy got sucked into space!

J: The final frontier. Told you. That’s Carl over there. His cosplayers built him a Romulan Bird of Prey.

W: There are Romulans?

J: Romulan cosplayers, but they count. Glad we got the forcefields working this morning. We’d all be dead otherwise.

W: Otherwise….

J: Attack vector Johnny Alpha boogaloo. Arm photon torpedoes!

W: You’ve got photon torpedoes?

J: Of course.

W: Cosplayers…

J: Yep. You should go to more cons. Salt Lake Fan-X is coming up in January. You should come.

W: If I live through this.

J: Good point. Just in case, where on the internets can my people find out more about you and your science fiction?


J: Okay, we’ve fought them off. They’re gone. We’ll head home so you can continue your Tides of Maritinia tour.

W: Gone? You mean you blew them up?

J: No they’re just gone.

W: Wait. They were Romulans, right?

J: Yeah, so?

W: Don’t they have a cloaking device?

J: Damn you Carl!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I always blog on Thursdays. You know what else is always on a Thursday? Thanksgiving. This little known American Holiday falling between Armistice Day and New Year Eve offers a chance for contemplative people to reflect on just how much food they can shovel into their gob while listening to a crazy relative make racist jokes on the couch. It’s a chance to display cooking prowess and cleaning panic. A time to reflect on aggressive colonization and genocide. Disease, famine and fluid injected poultry. It’s a time to wish you’d done a better job raking the leaves in the back yard and remembering that you don’t actually own a gravy boat and will have to use the Pyrex measuring cup. Again.

What am I sitting on?
But let’s take it at face value. Thanksgiving. If we dissect the word, we can discern a deeper meaning in the holiday, one lost on many on the day before Black Friday consumerism. I mean of course “Than Ksiv Ing” the Toltec phrase for plumbing repair. Literally, “there’s a badger in my colon,” the word for pipes never being invented. The holiday reminds us of the convenience of having flushing toilets and hot water on demand.

So, take a moment this holiday and be thankful that there is no badger in your colon.

I’ve had a stellar year! Thanks everyone.

Go read a good book. I write good books :-)

Peace out.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

April Hawks and Short Horror

April Hawks & Short Horror
I’m seriously distracted with November stuff so I had short horror author April Hawks come by the Blog Mansion for a short interview.

Johnny: You were born and live in Maine?

April: Yes. Yes I was.

J: God, how terrible.

A: No, it’s really nice. I love the seasons here.

J: No it it isn’t. It’s horrible.

A: We have a saying, here "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."

J: It breeds horror writers. The nightmares it must feed you. Isn’t Stephen King up there? You guys pals?

A: His house is about two hours north of my house. I've seen his house before. From the outside. Not in a creepy, stalkerish way.  (nervous laugh) I plan to get my husband and four boys up there some day to see his house. It is amazing.  Mr King and I have never actually met, but I know people that know him. Kind of the story of my life.

J: Maine is the scariest place planet. Good luck with that.

Mr. King and a typical Maine home
A: Just because there are a shit ton of old cemeteries and haunted houses and lots of wooded, unpopulated areas doesn't mean...yeah. I see your point. So far, so good!

J: In honor of having you here, as a short horror writer, I’ve pulled together some short horror to make you feel at home. You remember Chucky?

A: Of course. His wife is great!

J: And the Gremlins. They’re short and horror, though for some reason people think they’re adorable. Can’t figure that. Wait - don’t feed them!

A: Shit! I forgot that with the LAST three mogwai I had, too.

J: Tell me about the story you have out now. What’s it about? Where can we find it?

A: I wrote a story about bugs. Creepy, crawly bugs. And so did several other authors. A whole group of stories about creepy crawlies. It is available on Amazon. At Bugs: Tales that Slither, Creep, and Crawl.

J: How’d you get into writing?

A: I have always written since I learned how to. My first story was "Just me and my mom" in the style of Mercer Mayer. I stopped writing for a VERY long time because an ex had boundary issues and violated my work or made it disappear when he didn't like it. But I was able to participate in a Wounded Warrior caregiver Writing retreat and the flame was rekindled. I was never going to write Horror, though. I never even read it, really. My friend, Peter Dudar was the horror writer and I was going to just leave the genre to him. But then, the horrific happened to me. My son was diagnosed in 2012 with ALL Leukemia. He was three days shy of his third birthday on the day he was diagnosed. When the call came out for Bleed, from which the proceeds benefit the National Children's Cancer Society, I knew I had to try to get something in it. So I submitted Slippery Love, a personal essay about life in the hospital and an autoimmune suppressed child who loves worms, and worked on a short story as well. The story sucked. But it got me hooked on writing and writing in the horror genre specifically. And now, with more experience writing stories, I'll probably go back and look at Dark Fevers again and see what I can do with it.

J: How’d you get picked up for the anthology?

A: I was eavesdropping. (laughs) I was at Anthocon in Portsmouth, NH in 2013 and overheard a couple of people talking about an anthology about bugs that was coming out and I had been trying to find a home for this particular piece. I sent it in and the publisher accepted it. It was actually my first paid publication, and my second publication ever.

Short Horror
J: Short fiction is hard for me. I can barely write my name in under a page. What tricks do you have? Any advice?

A: I used to think that I would never write short stories. Ever. I had novels that I wanted to write and I was going to focus on those. But at the writing retreat I mentioned, I was assigned to write a short story because I had explained that I had a hard time making a short piece. I could never end them. And then they got really, really long. So, I tried. And it sucked. But I was then assigned to write a piece in the style of the Modern Love section of the New York Times. That was the first piece I ever got published. It was rejected by the Times, but published in Bleed edited by Lori Michelle.  And I caught on that it was something I could do and that I got a much more immediate sense of satisfaction from starting and ending a story sooner.  So my advice is, first, don't rule out writing short stories. Second, they, like novels, take work and effort to get them the way you want them. And third, pick a small scenario. The bigger you make the situation, the harder it is to fit into the confines of a short story.

J: What are your plans? Moving to novels or staying short horror?

A: I have several novels in the works (most of them for a few years.) I've not given up on them, at all. But while I write them, I am also working on submitting short stories. I want to get my name out there a bit. So, my plans are chaos.

J: Speaking of short, you were bald last time I saw you. What was that about?

A: (Sighs) my hair is growing back, now. My clippers broke. But I am buying new ones soon. The plan is to stay bald until the end of December. I was lucky enough to be part of the 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave national headshaving event in Boston, Mass in July of this year. There is not enough funding to research pediatric cancer the way it needs to be researched. It is not rare. It is not uncommon. And it is killing children. I am blessed that Spencer is in remission as of October in 2012, one month after his diagnosis. The cure rate for his age range and standard risk level of ALL Leukemia is over 90%. But that is not the only cancer out there in children. And the ALL cure rate got there because of research. We made two friends at the hospital with other types of cancers that had passed away within nine months of Spencer's Diagnosis. They were both two or younger. And so my bald head is support, fundraising, awareness and just a way to gain some bit of control back that Cancer steals away. Hair grows back. Children don't. Sorry, I got all soapbox.

J: Where on the internet can short horror fans find out more about you?
St. Baldrick's Donation page for myself and Spencer


Personal Page
Author's Page
Writing Group
Spencer's Page




J: You’ve been such a doll to come by on such short notice. Here’s a present for you.

A: What is it?

J: It’s a classic.

A: Oh I remember these. It’s the Zuni Fetish Warrior from Trilogy of Terror!

J: The epitome of Short Horror don't you think? The very symbol of it. Plus I’m a big Karen Black fan and that movie scared me half to death. I hope you like it.

A: I love it.

J: Here’s the gold chain that goes with it.

A: You took it off?

J: Just for a second. So I could put the steak knife in.

A: The box is empty.

J: I’ll get you another steak knife.

A: No. The box is empty. No steak knife. No spear. No Zuni Fetish Warrior.

J: Oops.

A: (Screams fading in the background)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 Tony Hillerman Writing Conference

Note: The Tony Hillerman Writing Conference is also called “Wordharvest."

Three years running I’ve climbed into the car over my birthday and driven across the desert to Santa Fe to hang out with authors. It’s an expensive trip but one that I dearly love. Returning now is like a reunion.

For me The Tony Hillerman conference is one my favorite getaways. I love the drive across the desert. I love taking an annual pilgrimage with my wife. I love the desert. I love my wife. I love writing. I love the Tony Hillerman Conference.

Thanking David Morrell
There are always new folks to meet, new classes to take, new info to absorb and always new celebration as the Tony Hillerman Writing Prize is announced and some lucky sucker gets their first book published by St. Martin’s Press. It’s always a soup of envy and pride. There are writers of all levels from Sena, who’s not started (though I don’t believe her), to David Morrell who walks the halls with a veteran confidence of a long esteemed career. You meet and talk to them all. Writers are good people.

Every year I take away new insight into the craft and business of being an author. This year’s primary lesson caught me early and made me smile. It is this: the people who keep coming to these things, who I recognize every year, are really making progress in their careers.

Selfie with Steve Havill
I’m the poster child perhaps. My first Wordharvest saw me arrive hopeful, fall into utter “I’m quitting this stupid writing idea” despair halfway through but then get excited and ultimately returned me home rejuvenated with a plan. Year two, I had a book out, BEATRYSEL. Year three I could call myself a best-selling author thanks to ELEANOR. That’s me. Wordharvest is a lap pole for me, a pit stop to refuel and realign. Good stuff.

But I’m not the only one who has this. Anne Hillerman herself, lovely Anne, was just starting her fiction career when I first met her. Last year she had her launch and this year she has three more signed and one on the way. She’s rocking it.

Goofing with Anne Hillerman
There are dozens of others, Betsy and John, Mike and Steve all great folks working their dreams, sharpening their saws and having drinks and dinner in the desert for art’s sake. Each one is improving and growing. And each one has new achievements each year to share.

Cause and effect. Chicken and egg. Wordharvest and writing success. It’s a loop. Those people who are serious about the craft will have success and attend conferences like Wordharvest. People who come to Wordharvest learn how to be successful and serious about their craft. It’s a wonderful cycle.

I look forward to returning and if you're in the area next November drop by and meet the gang. Big shout out to Jean Schaumberg who I didn't get a picture with this year. She makes the conference great!

Here are some pics from this year's trip.

Betsy Randolph and I

Hugging an agent - Liz Trupin-Pulli

Chillin' with John Sandford