Month: January 2017

Interview with Richard Bamberg, author of Wanderers: Ragnarök

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Welcome to fellow author and former long-term critique partner Richard Bamberg, author of the Wanderers urban fantasy series and other novels.  Previous interviews with Rob Chansky, P.R. Adams, and Megan Rutter are also available.

1. You and I were in a critique group together when this book was first being developed.  (Full disclosure to the audience: I finally read the final-final version only recently because I’m a terrible person.)  One of the things that stuck with me was that said a few times that you didn’t know where a certain scene was going and just wanted to see how your early readers would react before writing the next scene.  What benefits did you get out of doing that, besides leaving your early readers hanging on the edge of a cliff?  And has your pantsing vs. plotting quotient changed or have you always been that crazy?

Yeah, sometimes I have no idea what happens next. When I was still having early readers tolerate my horrible early drafts, I’d get some great ideas from their feedback on what directions a novel would take. Sometimes they’d come up with something so surprising that I had to change where my overarching plot line was headed. I’ve always been a chronological thinker. I come up with a scene that would make a good opening for a novel. Once I’ve written that scene, I step back and consider just what would make sense for that scene to become a story. I’ve tried plotting an entire novel and did so only once. I found it tedious and trying to stick to the outline kept spontaneity out of my plot. Granted, some of the best novels ever written were done by plotting the story out before the first word was written, but that’s not me.

My limit of plotting these days, after that opening scene is finished, is to come up with a vague ending. For instance, in Wanderers: Ragnarök, I had the meet-cute scene of Raphael riding into town on his manticore possessed Harley and saving Cynthia from a nasty little demon. Of course, nothing can be straightforward so I had to throw a twist into the opening. From that opening, I sat back with a glass of…well; it had alcohol in it, bourbon? Probably, or maybe scotch on the rocks. Anyway, while sipping whiskey, I decided that any good story needs a big finish. From that proven concept, I decided what the climax would need. Then it was just a matter of connecting the opening to the ending.

Granted, there’s no such thing as a straight line in writing, but in an effort to make the characters come alive, I give them a lot of leeway to surprise me. In each scene, I find good characters saying and doing things that were not in my head when I started the scene. It keeps the story interesting for me and hopefully for the reader. It’s doesn’t all lead to hugs and puppies–Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling, so many times I have to throw out my character’s great idea and substitute a more mundane one of my own.

I still preferring flying by the seat of my pants, but I have a couple of dependable first readers who get to tell me whether said seat is becoming thread bare. I’ve had to change more than one ending after letting someone give me “constructive criticism.”

2. What brought you to write this particular book and series?  I seem to recall that you might be a wee bit of a slight fan of Supernatural and The Dresden Files, but what brought you to write this particular story (rather than something else in the urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy genre)?  What’s driving you to finish a huge series like this?

I actually started this series about the time Supernatural first aired on television. It may have been the WB back then, but now it’s the CW (where do they get their names?). I’d been a huge fan of Buffy and all things Josh Whedonish. Buffy had a great run. When Supernatural came out, I have to admit that I watched the first two episodes and then stopped watching it. A year later, one of my oldest and dearest friends and fellow writer, Del Stone Jr. sent me the first season of Supernatural on DVD. Well, I couldn’t tell him that I hadn’t been watching it. (In my defense, the Supernatural team rates that second episode “Wendigo” as their worst episode in 12 seasons.) I now have the first 11 seasons of Supernatural and never get tired of the Winchester boys and Babe–for the uneducated, that’s their 1967 Chevy Impala. Anyway, I’d found a real fondness for contemporary fantasy and I thought I’d give it a try.

The concept of Wanderers and Raphael A. Semmes in particular, is based on the thought of someone who has found a calling, a reluctant calling, but heroes seem to me to be more a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time. Wanderers are longed lived powerful magic wielders who are reaped from the battlefield by Valkyries. They serve Verðandi, one of the Norn sisters of Norse mythology. Raphael, Rafe to his friends, didn’t volunteer for the job, in fact; he’s always been under the impression that Fate has placed a geas on him that he cannot escape.
It’s the idea that the hero doesn’t really have a choice in the matter that appealed to me at first. The Wanderer is a lonely soul, roving from place to place, fixing problems that Fate has identified as needing his particular form of attention. He develops few friends, has no home, and doesn’t control his own destiny. I guess it was the idea that so few of us can really chose our own fate that sent me into this series.

3. Your hero is a Vietnam vet with a Harley and a smartass, yet practical, attitude.  What, if anything, do you admit to having in common with him?  (Note:  If I don’t get a story out of this question, I’ll know for a fact you’re lying.)  Also, do you feel like the character comes mostly out of yourself as far as an attitude toward life goes–and does that make him more fun to write?  Do you make anything over the top out of wish fulfillment?

Story? That’s what I put in novels.

In common with my protagonist? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that all of my protagonists have some part of me at their core. Rafe could be what I’d be, if God had asked me what I wanted to be in life. He’s handsome, smart, sometimes amusing, and a bit of a ladies man…if that’s still a thing. He’s a free spirit that answers to no one (if you don’t count Fate) and travels the roads that lead to that next adventure, just over the rise, where the grass is always greener, the ladies friendlier, and death is just a slipup away.

I’d like to say that I have his devil-may-care attitude toward life and danger, but that’s where I depart from my protagonist. I could say that I have his situational morality, but I’ve never considered my morality to be truly situational. Sure, I believe bad guys should always get their comeuppance whether a government’s legal system plays into that or not is immaterial to Rafe and mostly to me. Our justice system is a misnomer just as calling our government a democracy is an error. Our justice system is a system of laws and justice has little to do with our lawyers and judges. Our republic has never been a democracy.

What Rafe gets from me is belief that I’d call libertarian, the lower case “l” being deliberate as it has nothing to do with the Libertarian Party in this country. It’s more like Stan Lee’s Spiderman’s saying: “with great power comes great responsibility.” In Rafe’s case, he has the power, answers to almost no one, but doesn’t abuse his power. He does, however, set himself apart as judge, jury, and executioner when necessary.

There was a time, long ago, when I considered–briefly–casting my responsibilities aside and riding off into the sunset on my motorcycle (no, it wasn’t a Harley). But like so many dreamers–what writer isn’t a dreamer–I held onto my life of responsibilities, of putting family ahead of dreams.

It’s been said that writers write of things that they know they’ll never do. I’ve had my share of little adventures over the years, my first being a tour of Vietnam that, regardless of what I say to family and friends, did affect my life every day since my return.

4. I know that some of your earlier work was released on audio first (although I can’t remember what the name of the company was).  Do you have any plans to do audio on any of these books?

I am planning to submit a few of my newer books to Books in Motion and see where that leads. It’s a nice market that originally catered to having displays in truck stops across the west. You could pick up a title in Washington state, drive for 15-20 hours, and then exchange the title for another at one of their many locations. These days I believe you can download the titles from anywhere and then exchange it later.

Having a novel on audio is a bit of a kick, assuming you have a good reader. I was lucky with the first three novels they released and all three had decent readers who brought along their own followers.

For those interested, Books in Motion can be found at: https://www.booksinmotion.com/. If you’re an author, they have simple guidelines for submitting published work to them.

5. This is the first book in what you’ve said is going to be a longer series, but one of a definite length (I forget how many books, like twelve?) and an overarching plot, and you’re working on book 4 now.  Geeky writer question, what techniques are working for you in opening the various books to keep your readers grounded?  Are you trying to leave room for new readers to pick up books in the series as they come out (then hopefully double back to the beginning), or do you just write the opening as it comes to you?  I may or may not be struggling with this at the moment myself–I mean, inquiring readers want to know.

Your memory is better than mine. When I started Wanderers I really hadn’t expected it to be a series, but favorable feedback on the protagonist–and that it was a fun story to write–led me to concluding the first story with a setup for a sequel. By then I’d decided that I enjoyed writing about Raphael and Beast and thought I could make a nice series out of it. The length of the series is not firm in my head right now. I’m enjoying writing book four and I bring in new and some old characters that should make sure Rafe and his Apprentice, Therese, have plenty to keep them busy for years to come. As for a definitely series length, well round numbers are nice, but so is a dozen. I guess that will remain a mystery for now.

On a favorable note, I’ve recently turned to full time writing and I’m intending to complete a novel every six months or so. They won’t all be in the Wanderer series, but a minimum of one per year will be.

and last but not least, the bonus question:

6.  Is there any note that you’d like to leave your readers on?  (Hint:  the additional promo question.)

Ha, I would like to say that I always welcome comments from my audience. While my website has crashed, I have someone feverishly trying to get it back on line and as soon as it’s up I’m going to start giving away copies of some of my eBooks to people who are interested in following my work.

I’m going to be at GalaxyFest (http://www.galaxyfest.org/) February 24-26,2017 at The Antlers Wyndham Hotel in beautiful Downtown Colorado Springs, CO. Stop by and see me, I’ll have hard copies of most of my novels available and everyone who gives me some kind of contact information (email address) will be entered in a giveaway of autographed novels. I’ll give one of each of the non-Wanderer series books (5 currently available) to five different winners and then give the complete (so far) set of the Wanderer series to one lucky winner. As an added bonus (this is starting to sound like an infomercial about Ginsu knives) I’ll throw in a signed copy of Wanderers 4, when it is released later this year.

Richard Bamberg was born in Alabama, to middle-class working parents. After high school, he enlisted in the USAF. He later earned a degree in engineering from Texas Tech and went on to work for Boeing and the Missile Defense Agency. He sold his first novel, Emerald Eyes, to Books in Motion in 1994. Since then he’s published ten novels and numerous short stories.

His work has appeared internationally in print and on-line in science fiction magazines as far away as Poland. His short stories have also appeared in USA publications, including the award-winning anthology Bending the Landscape.

His works have ranged across thrillers, horror, and science fiction; lately his focus is on urban or contemporary fantasy and has two on-going series: The Wanderers and The Hunters.

His hobbies, when not writing, have included fencing, shooting, fishing, RPGs, computer games, and reading.

He’s an avid fan of SpaceX and their goal for occupying Mars.

 

New release (mystery/crime): When Pigs Fly

I have a new release out.  It’s 10,000 words about two con men at war with each other over a millionaire with a pig, about the same time frame as feel as The Sting.  $1.99.

Or you could pick up a free copy by signing up for my newsletter via Instafreebie.  (If you sign up the regular way, you just get a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Underland.)  The freebie is to drive reviews of the book on Amazon (and Goodreads, once the page is generated) and will only last to the end of February.

When Pigs Fly - DeAnna Knippling

When Pigs Fly (Mystery/Crime)

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A novelette of swindlers, dames, and a millionaire with a pig.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1925. Right before New Year’s Day.

Genevra Valentine is a roper, someone who brings in marks for a team of con artists working in the basement of a soda fountain-come-speakeasy. The mark she just brought in has a story she can’t believe: he’s a millionaire cattleman from Chicago who wants to race his famous racing pig, Zeus, against the fastest runner anyone can produce.

It sounds like a con. And she should know.

But the chance to fleece a millionaire isn’t something that Genevra or her boss can pass up.

(Adult mystery/crime in the tradition of The Sting – no strong language or violence)

When Pigs Fly

So in Cedar Rapids Iowa at the end of 1925, which if I may remind you was in the middle of the Prohibition, there were two competing wire stores. A wire store is a place where you can set up a con job involving a so-called telegraph operator, a guy who thinks he’s betting on horses without the inconvenience of losing money at it, and someone to bring those two people together—a roper. Also there are a number of side characters, the kind that flesh out the crowd so a guy doesn’t feel so lonely while he’s getting fleeced.

The general idea is that your “telegraph operator” gets the race results from Western Union, calls them over to the guy who doesn’t like to lose money—the mark, that is—so he can put a bet in, and then, like two minutes later, sends the results to everybody else. The mark, no dummy, can put a last-second bet on the race winner before everyone else finds out about it.

So it doesn’t look like he’s getting something for nothing, the mark has to agree to give the telegraph operator a cut of the winnings.

A big one.

This works out great for the mark the first time around. First you gotta give him a taste of winning if you want him to come back for more. After that it’s up to the team of cons to take as much money off the guy as possible, sometimes more than once. A real good wire store can leave it so the mark thinks that it was all just stinking bad luck that the deal didn’t go through. Leaving him literally begging for another chance to get ripped off again.

A couple of rules of thumb here.

First, don’t have two wire stores in one town.

One of the things you gotta do with any kind of store, be it a wire or payoff store, or even one of the old fight and foot-race stores, is put the fix in—that is, to pay off the cops. If you got two stores in the same town (aside from big places like New York or Chicago), that means that the price of the fix goes up. And not just a little bit, either—you never know when the other guys are going to screw you over and hire the cops to bust you. So you’re constantly outbidding each other, which means you gotta take bigger risks during the cons. People get real emotional. People who get real emotional take stupid risks. Everything spirals outta control. It’s no good.

Second, don’t take a mark from his own hometown.

That one should be self-explanatory. When you’re outta town and somewhere new, it kinda feels like you’re in a foreign country. If you see something strange, you chalk it up to local customs. Which makes it easier for the cons to cover if somebody makes a mistake.

And nobody wants a sucker hanging around after the game is over. Some people fool so hard you couldn’t scrape ’em off with a stick…

Kobo 30% off Sale including Alice’s Adventures in Underland

Kobo is holding a 30% off sale on selected titles, including Alice’s Adventures in Underland:  The Queen of Stilled Hearts, through January 23.  The sales code is 30JAN–enter it at checkout.

Alice's Adventures in Underland Book 1

Alice’s Adventures in Underland Book 1

 

 

Interview with Rob Chansky, Author of Hundred Ghost Soup

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Welcome to author Rob Chansky, who recently published Hundred Ghost Soup.  I received a copy from his publisher in exchange for a fair review; you can find the review here.  I liked it so much that I decided to beg for an interview.  You can also read previous interviews with Megan Rutter and Philip Adams.

1.  When I first saw Hundred Ghost Soup  come out, the first thing I thought was, “Okay, is this book going to be a superficial treatment of China?  Is it going to feel thin and fake?  Should I be scared?”  Fortunately it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t the case.  My question is this:  the world of Hundred Ghost Soup is rich enough to point almost toward obsession.  What drove you to build it?  

I think there are three reasons, and they all boil down to luck, both good and bad.

Foremost (of the good fortune) is my daughter Sophia, who we adopted from China in 2005. The adoption process was a bit like entering (the movie) Spirited Away for real. Then came the part where you’re living with a being new to both the world and this country. A tiny girl, feeling so lost, who smelled like coal smoke for weeks. At that point I was happily writing a book about a mechanical elephant made by an ancient alien Mughal and I didn’t want to be bothered by this young man with the big square glasses who sprang fully formed into my creative life. But as our daughter grew, the urge also grew to tell a story just to her (and whoever else might want to read it). Eventually the desire to do this overtopped the current project, and at some point I couldn’t resist it anymore. Stepping back from a book was a bad writing-career decision, yet one I don’t regret. So I began the Meiren saga—at its end. Not Hundred Ghost Soup, but the last book in this series, although I didn’t know it at the time.

Sadly that story (the last day of Meiren’s career) got bogged down and I decided I needed to answer the question of Meiren’s origin, so I thought I’d start with how he got his name. Just a short story, something to settle those nagging questions so I can get back to it. And that short story became Hundred Ghost Soup. Stepping back from that other book should have been a bad writing-career decision, too, and I don’t regret it either.

So you can see that planning and foresight really aren’t my copilots here. I expect to do better in the future.

My third bit of fortune (a mix of good and bad) was a complete lack of confidence in writing about China. The Chinese say no illness, short life; one illness, long life. Knowing the lack I started reading. When I had a shelf of books read I felt competent to portray someone who lives there. I was writing the book the whole time, though, and had to revise it as I learned. Do I know enough about China now to live there? Not a chance; I only picked up a few things. China is far more complicated than I can imagine. I’ve explored a couple of alleys and talked to some wise people; I don’t live there.

Along the way the wise ones were: Lin Yutang, whose sharp and happy writing voice (particularly in The Importance of Living) was the inspiration for Meiren’s; Barry Hughart whose Bridge of Birds and sequels inspired my writing; and Earnest Bramah’s Kai Lung character.

Now my daughter’s just old enough for me to pester her to read it. “It’s weird,” she’s said. I guess that’s all I’ll get for a while. But she’s got a long life ahead of her. One day I’ll be gone and she’ll have that to read.

2.  I’m struggling for a way to phrase this.  On the one hand, the story feels very ancient with a modern, somewhat surreal skin slapped over it (I kept getting startled when people sent emails, for example).  And yet on the other hand, it seems very postmodern in its sense of uncertainty, more like something Kafka would have written or a Chinese version of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  There are so many quick twists and turns that it seems impossible to read this book without an eye to modern thrillers, too.  Your approach works–but why was this the approach that you took?

So there are three Chinas: the Old China, traditional with Confucian values and Taoist superstitions; the New China, Byzantine in its entrenched communist bureaucracy; and what’s called the New New China, a strange capitalist (except in name) wild west with the trappings of money, greed and lust for power that call to mind the USA’s rail baron age. Many Chinese live in one or two of these Chinas, and Meiren has to navigate the tension among all three. The environment for telling a good story is richer than any other I’ve touched.

Maybe for the next interview, if there is one, I’ll try to pretend I planned it all. The fact is I let the thing grow and took opportunities as they came. I didn’t direct or plan the book. Perhaps I was just portraying the busy conflict going on in myself (my traditional spirit, bureaucratic heart, and modern mind) and I lucked out that it happened to correspond well enough with actual China that the story clicked together there.

And the way it all wrapped up rather neatly at the end? How the hell did that happen? Until I wrote the scene, I had no idea how Meiren got his name. I’m still not sure how I deserve to have finished a book so tidily, considering my appalling lack of foresight and planning. But it worked, and I’m going to pray a lot more and then do it again.

Maybe the upshot answer to your question is simply: my mind’s a mess but it arrived at some complex equilibrium and from that came a book. Uh. Next?

3.  Normally I hate first person present tense writing.  You pulled it off.  Why use it, and how do you make it work?

Early inspiration for this work came from Stross’ Laundry novels, also written in first-person present. There Stross uses a neat trick to get around the limitation of first-person present: he presents it as a journal, and points out that some of it’s been filled in later to complete the story. That worked for me but not everyone.

I began the Bureau world back when first-person present was a bit of a fad. I don’t normally follow fads, because I knew even back then what happens to them. (Hundred Ghost Soup was finished just as rumors flew that editors were refusing first-person present stories point blank.)

I’d love to say that I did it because Meiren is the most human character I’ve ever written and I wanted him to experience life like we all do, and first-person present is the most like all our moment-to-moment experience.

The fact is, I’ve regretted this decision many times, specifically whenever I wanted to do foreshadowing. I love foreshadowing. I feel like my whole life is foreshadowing. I’m in the grocery store and I reach for the peanut butter and the foreshadowing voice says he did not know that overnight his body chemistry had reorganized its allergies and he held his death in his hands. I’d be in the dentist’s chair and get little did he realize she was no cheerful dental hygenist; this was the serial murderess the papers had already dubbed ‘the perky killer.’ The phrase this tastes suspiciously like human flesh occurs whenever I eat beef stroganoff. So yeah, I like foreshadowing. And I can’t do it here. At least not directly.

But I get over my regret, because there’s so much immediacy that first-person present gives you even as it takes away your ability to easily show what happened when your main character isn’t around. As for showing what’s going on when he isn’t around, something’s always come to me, and making up an excuse for why he finds it out has driven the plot handily, so that has always worked out for me. So far.

Those all sound again like pre-planned reasons. But the fact is I felt my way along as I worked on his voice, telling stories and having him talk to me, and he talked in first-person present. He didn’t seem comfortable in any other narrative type.

4.  Please answer this as best you can without spoilers.  The main character is an orphan.  He has an older brother who is minutes older than he is, and yet is an arrogant bastard.  It’s almost like Elder Brother is yet another level of bureaucracy that the main character has to face.  I have to ask:  What is Elder Brother’s problem?

Ha! That’s a fun observation.

When Elder Brother first started out he was a simple foil for Meiren: yang to his yin, the guy who won’t let Meiren stay in his box out of trouble. Meiren can blame Yang for whatever goes wrong in his life. Now that I’ve had years to think on him, I know that this is a two-way street. Meiren had the chance to call Elder Brother on his crap and never did. He had the chance to teach him what Meiren seemed to come out of the womb knowing. Elder Brother might have listened. As a team they might have been far more than they were separately. Instead, Meiren found it too easy to look down his nose at his brother. When Meiren will realize this, he will be heartbroken.

And while Meiren is going through all this agony, Elder Brother is just having fun and enjoying what he can take from life.

Elder Brother is one of those immovable objects that we all have to deal with. It was once a cliché that he’d never change. Then the cliché became that his type of character would reveal sudden, hidden depth and leave you on that note. I’m wondering what the current cliché is.

But mostly this is about Meiren. He’s Tolkien’s hobbit. He’s a Charlie Brown and a Don Quixote and Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin. He can do no martial arts, he commands no one beneath him, he can do no magic of his own. Even his name shows you the lack of regard the world has for him. He has only his wit and a certain worldly earnestness to get him out of bad situations. He is all of us: keeping the world working every day in little and big ways that no one notices.

This series springs from a set of feelings I’ve grown up with. That there is hidden power in quietness. That there’s a foundation beneath the world that we can sense and interact with, and it interacts with us. I can’t tell you its nature. I get the idea it’s different for everyone. It may exist only in our minds. Even if so, it works better to deal with it as if its origin is outside.

And this: few of us get superpowers. Almost none of us command armies or magic. And yet we have to deal with a large and complex and powerful world, and try to get what we want, and failing that, what we need. And yet each of us has something unique we bring to the table.

Meiren’s story is there to help out with that.

5.  What’s the plan for sequels?  Are there any, if so when, and what kind of stories will they tell?

My upcoming book is The Manchegan Candidate, a Don Quixote in space SF. I’ve just done the first draft and expect to get that out next year. After this I will continue the Bureau series. Hundred Ghost Soup was Meiren’s origin story; next come his career and life:

In Thousand Dream Thief, Meiren now works for Uncle and the shadowy Bureau for Eternal Prosperity. He hopes to take the university entrance exam at last. But someone is stealing the dreams of the politburo. Chasing the Dream Thief through the dreams of the world reveals a hidden war and a pending revolution, and Meiren must assemble a dream army, and lead it, to deal with the threat. But first he’s got to choose a side.

In Tea of the Ten Thousand Things, Meiren embarks on what seems a routine mission to get a magic tea leaf, and incidentally find a home for an orphan girl. But demons of all stripes are after him, and the girl is more than she seems.

6.  Is there any note that you’d like to leave your readers on?  (Hint:  the additional promo question.)

The sequels will have Meiren negotiating the problems of adulthood as he also wrestles with demons, ghosts and more human sorts of corruption. He won’t triumph. But there are more ways to victory than that.

Mr. Chansky was born in the US, attended college at UC Santa Cruz and Edinburgh University, and now makes his home beneath the shadow of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, CO. As his day job he works at modeling and simulation for the Naval War College. He can often be found writing in one of many fine cafes in the Springs.
He and his wife adopted their daughter from China, and from that emotional center comes this work.

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