Bowlesian! – Godling: Part II

Godling: Part II

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now. We published Part I of Godling last month on Writing to be Read. You can find it here.


A part of Godling was aware the two black lumps lying in the darkness had been silent and still precisely 2.234 minutes. If they were sleeping, they most certainly were not dreaming. Which was just as well. Godling was doing enough dreaming for the both of them.

His memory banks refreshed again. She was there as if Godling could touch her. Jossinda, queen of his universe. Her smooth, lithesome sway; the sensual intelligence lurking behind her hazel eyes; and of course, the final words they’d spoken to each other.

“I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

“Quickly, my friends,” Renaldo said. “Awake, awake.”

Godling became aware Renaldo hovered over him in the darkness of the Black Room. The abbot warden jabbed the raw, sparking end of a hazer-stunner into Brennan’s back. Godling felt the hot lancing voltage. Brennan screamed. He leapt to his feet.

“Faith preserve us!” he moaned.

The prison’s hazy green lights flickered, warmed, and then settled into a steady glow. As Renaldo woke Ressia in a similarly excruciating manner, Godling realized the abbot warden may not have been as stupid as he’d always seemed. He’d not painted Ressia and Brennan so Godling could control them. He’d painted them so they could control Godling.

His heart had always been a kind of magnetic base for his consciousness. The paint was entirely repurposed now. Perception dispatching elements nullified due to the layering effect, perception receiving elements perfectly stratified and even slightly enhanced. The details only served to infuriate Godling. The simple truth of it was he had long ago closed the Black Room precisely because he’d feared something like this could happen. His mind, his body, his paint, his black liquid heart. Godling had been tricked into believing both Ressia and Brennan were his rightful bodies.

Now the two young lovers were naked and jet black head to toe, and when they moved, Godling moved with them. When they leaned against one another in sheer exhaustion, he felt the sensations of their heaving chests and the sweat collecting on their arms and necks as if with his own organic skin.

“Utterly perverse,” he muttered. His voice made the circuit matter vibrate over every square inch of them.

“Oof!” Ressia chirped, and even Godling was surprised by how it felt.

“Human vibrathreads,” said Renaldo. “I anticipated it might be a result.”

“Result? That’s the word you’re choosing?” Godling fumed. “How about abomination? Or disgrace? Did you really think it sensible to interface with the truest king of all in such a reckless manner?”

“Godling, please, you’re still my prisoner. I’ve simply exchanged one set of holding cells for another. You should thank me. You haven’t asked why we’ve done this.”

“That’s because I don’t care.”

“We know the truth about you, god machine,” Brennan said. “The wars, the massacres. We know it’s nothing you intended.”

“Is that so?” said Godling. “And I suppose you’d have me believe you’ve risked your lives for nothing at all but a fantasy? I was responsible for those wars. I murdered millions. See here the fruits of my labor? A prison built on foundations of millennia, ransacked now by two fool children and a bald-headed fop.”

Renaldo laughed. “You can stop pretending, Godling. We do in fact know everything. I found it, and I asked it myself. You know very well what it is.”

Sudden harsh voices filled the access tunnel outside the Black Room, gruff and full of violence.

“Step lightly men! We got ‘em trapped like rats!”

“Kill the monster where he sleeps!”

Another voice rose above these. Godling recognized it in an instant.

“They’re cornered, men. Take your time. Line up your shots. We want nice clean bodies to show the whore’s father.”

General Praebus, the man who’d hijacked his vibrathreads. Godling expected the lovers to panic, but they didn’t. Pupil dilation well within ranges concurrent to moderate stress. Heart rates elevated, but not in the extreme.

“We prepared for this, my young friends,” said the Timekeeper.

With that, they stepped in front of Renaldo, and these two helpless, hapless children dropped into surprisingly sophisticated hand-to-hand combat stances. General Praebus and his men appeared up the corridor, their machine rifles and mortar shot locked and leveled. Praebus spotted the children and bellowed, “Open fire!”

Brennan and Ressia launched themselves from the Black Room, bounding off the balls of their feet, touching off against the walls. They crisscrossed past each other. A hail of bullets ripped and zipped past them, but they closed the distance with stunning speed. Brennan landed with his palm to the neck of a gunner sergeant, but Ressia careened right past her target and skidded down the corridor. Three footmen leveled their rifles at her back and fired. Without thinking, Godling forced the black circuit matter to stiffen. Bounce, bounce, ricochet, bounce. All three footmen fell to the floor dead.  

Ressia got to her feet and drew her hands to her back. She was unwounded.

“Godling, did you just…?”

“Yes, I believe I did.”

“Thank you.”

Godling took a punch, a solid right jab to the ribs. No, it wasn’t Godling who took the jab. It was Brennan. Both he and Godling grunted, but Godling was quicker to react. Another jab came for Brennan’s face, but Godling pulled the same trick, surrounded and concentrated the circuit matter. When the blow landed, he heard the distinct cracking of finger bones.

The owner of the hand shrieked. It was General Praebus himself, a sweaty, red-faced mountain of a man. He balled the hand in agony, made the other into a fist and swung.

“Boy, solar plexus!” Godling said.

Brennan hit the General the instant Godling focused the circuit matter into a ridge of raised knuckles. Praebus flew back, landing like a ragdoll on a pile of men. He huffed and snorted and passed out cold. The third mounted army paused for one panicked instant, and then they scrambled to heft and pull him back. They pitched a half-hearted assault after that, but the sight of their fallen commander seemed to dull any notion they’d had of victory. The three of them—Brennan, Ressia, and Godling—jabbed and kicked and hammered until what was left of King Marshal’s raid party cried for retreat and scrambled back the way they’d come.

*****

“Did you see what happened?” said Ressia. “That soldier kept firing into my chest and Godling absorbed—”

“And the one with the mortar shot,” said Brennan. “I was on fire a full twenty seconds and I never felt—”   

“Children, please,” Godling interrupted. “I believe the abbot warden was explaining why I deserve my newfound freedom.”

Isolation, of course, was the root of the planet’s moniker, Isolinius. According to Renaldo, there were reasons the word Ancient was always applied to Spacefarers, reasons wars over petty things like failed betrothals happened at least once a decade, if not twice.

“It’s no large mystery, is it?” the abbot warden said. “Humanity is lost without your steady hand, Godling, and not a soul on this planet is better off with you locked away.”

Godling couldn’t help but laugh.

“Once again, a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” he said. “Now that I’m out and about, I can confidently say humanity has never looked better.”

They rode the vast open grasslands of the Isolinium plains. Great red tracts of Crimson Blade swayed in the breeze. The binary stars shone in orange and white-tinted splendor, but even they did nothing to distract from the true beauty of Isolinius, its seventeen moons, three of which were visible now. The preferred mode of travel on the planet, of course, was the ever-reliable Flitglider. But Renaldo had quite correctly surmised they’d be too easy to track darting around the sky, spewing long greasy trails of green and black smoke. So they instead chose for themselves the domestic breed of the artificial industrial Tri-Roller animal, otherwise known as a Beastwheeler.

“For instance,” Godling mused, “I find transportation in the modern era rather charming. I think I’ll call this one Nancy.”

“Can we please get on to the matter at hand?” Renaldo snapped. He whipped his reins, and after a deep, throbbing groan, the hairy industrial creature’s three large fur-and-callus covered wheels picked up speed.

“I think, humbly speaking, hallowed one,” Ressia said, “that you should stop picking on Renaldo and listen to what he has to say.”

The lovers sat in the low hairy hauling bed, the overriding musky scent of which was rather … florid. Godling had had more than enough time to observe the pecking order of the three humans, and understood, most unambiguously, that the two children would only come to the abbot warden’s defense if and when it suited them.

“It’s a very simple scenario,” Renaldo said. “The Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man—”

“Until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything,” said Golding. “Yes, I remember quite well.”

 “All your bloody campaigns, Godling, tragic though they were, had nothing of the import of what came before and after.”

“And what came before?” said Godling.

Renaldo sat up straighter in his driver box. “An explosion in human development. The expansion of our minds, the impetus and growth of a wise and compassionate galactic society, due in full to your guardianship and wisdom. God machine, human beings traveled the stars! We grew peaceful and curious. We at last became aware of ourselves, and we strived to leave behind something better for our children.”

“And what came after, abbot warden?” Godling asked.

“The exact opposite. As soon as you were imprisoned, space travel ceased. Humans isolated themselves on small, insignificant worlds. We forgot the virtues we’d fought so hard to earn. People like Praebus, King Marshal, their brutality and eagerness for violence, it’s mankind’s rule now, Godling, and not its exception.”

“And so you chose to forsake your wardenship, to free the monster king from his eternal prison?” said Godling.

“In a word, yes. What sane man could blame me? Brennan and Ressia are of like minds. The three of us have been planning this for months, but it is you, god machine, who must restore yourself to your rightful place.”

Godling pondered the sentiment. It wasn’t that Renaldo was necessarily wrong on all points. He simply had left out a rather significant detail.

“And this matter of genocide, Timekeeper?” said Godling. “Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve cracked a history vid, but they do still teach who was responsible, do they not?”

“They do,” said Renaldo.

“But it’s not the whole truth,” Brennan said. “Like we told you, god king, we know everything.”

“There you go again, using the word know as if it pertains to your rather diminutive primate brains. You, like all stupid children, know absolutely nothing. Now leave me alone so I can fantasize about ever more elaborate ways of ripping out your kidneys.”

“He won’t listen to reason, Renaldo,” said Ressia. “I think it’s time we show him.”

The abbot warden turned around. He glared at Ressia, his brow furrowed. “Are you certain?”

She nodded and looked to Brennan, who gave a deep frown and nodded in kind.

The abbot warden jerked his reins. There was another low, throbbing groan, and then the Beastwheeler pulled to a stop. Renaldo stood from the driver box and stepped into the bed. Gazing into Ressia and Brennan’s eyes, the abbot warden raised a finger and pointed off the way they’d come. There, Claustrum Mons towered over the landscape.

“You’ve been having errant memory recalls recently, haven’t you, Godling?” Renaldo said. “Sudden onset, coming out of nowhere, at the least opportune of times. Memory recalls specifically concerning … her.”

“How did you—”

“I gave them to you. I have access to your memory banks,” Renaldo said. “Every abbot warden of Claustrum Mons has had such access.”

He slid the administrator glove off his right hand. His fingers were painted a stark, brilliant white.

Hold on a moment … White paint? How in the hells had Renaldo gotten his hands on white

The abbot warden snapped his fingers. Ressia and Brennan jumped to their feet. He snapped his fingers again.

Godling fell back 5,000 years.

He found himself in two places at once, staring into the eyes of two different people. The one person, in the one place, was Ressia, daughter of King Stevrik III, standing in the bed of the Beastwheeler on the Isolinium plains. The second person and place … much harder to interpret. It was Jossinda, the queen of his universe. She lay with him on the marble floor of their royal palace, sprawled out in the throne room, panting, dripping with sweat after a long, passionate tryst. He, so large and cold; she, so small, warm, nubile….

They had only been married a year, but what a glorious year it had been. He’d felt vacant before her, even to himself, nothing more than an intelligent but ultimately soulless automaton. They’d always said the truest king of all could never fall in love, but Jossinda had proved, beyond any doubt, the god machine had a humanity all his own.

“My love,” she said to him, “I think there is a truer way, a better way.”

“A better way?” Godling said. “We’ve found the best way of all. Our subjects are happy and industrious, growing wiser all the time. There has never been a people so content.”

She grinned at him. “I think we have more to offer than mere contentment, don’t you?”

But no, this wasn’t Jossinda speaking to him of contentment. It was Ressia speaking to Brennan, and Brennan responding in haste. In the memory, Godling told her he didn’t understand, and Jossinda climbed to her feet and strode across the massive room to their large glossy golden thrones. She soon returned, carrying with her a small silver pot and a brush.

She said to Godling, “Here, my love, see what I’ve made for you?”

Godling took the pot from her and peered inside. “I doubt you’ve made this. Our engineers have been working on it for years.”

“And yet I found a way to finish it. Paint me, Godling, here and now, before I change my mind.”

His special white paint, the very first of its kind. Not sensory, and not for touch or locomotion. The idea behind the paint—Godling’s idea—was that its application to other less advanced machines would allow him to duplicate and transmit an autonomous part of his consciousness. Conceivably, there could one day be two god kings, or three, or twenty. But the paint itself had been an utter failure. Every machine to receive a coat of it had fried its circuit matter in less than a minute of functionality.

“I’ve discovered the secret, the one variable your engineers never thought of,” Jossinda said. “You’ve all been focused on creating additional Godling machines. But I have a better idea, merging the mind of Godling with the soul of a human being.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He eyed his queen, deciding not to interrupt her.

“Think about it,” she said, “how perfect such a being would be. The sublime union of you and me. Why, the two of us together, we could make ourselves gods. True gods, not merely gods among men.”

“Are you referring to the concept of the New God?” he asked. “This is an impossible request, though I’m flattered you think me capable of such boldness. This notion we’ve had, that a significant eruptive force could merge—”

“I’m referring to perfection in the here and now. No ambiguity, nothing theoretical about it. And I’ve already proved it can be done.”

She turned and lifted her shimmering auburn hair away from her neck. There, over her vertebrae, she had painted a small white dot.

“Jossinda, you didn’t.”

She turned back. “And I’ve already received a partial transfer. Your plans for Rieleth’s third mountain harvest this cycle, they include an extra allocation of spider croppers, do they not?”

“How…?”

“While we were making love. Your mind, it tends to wander. I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

And then she dipped the brush into the pot and guided a long streak of white down between her breasts. He hesitated, but not for very long. Godling painted her. He loved her and trusted her. He had a single moment of frailty in all his long years. Now and then, he stopped to kiss her neck and giggle with her. Jossinda stood before him in the end, her entire naked body a stark, bright white.

“Do it, my love,” she said. “Change this universe forever.”

Godling began the transfer.

At ten percent, Jossinda’s eyes rolled up into her head. At fifteen, her body went limp, and Godling had to catch her falling. Twenty percent, Jossinda lay sprawled out on the floor, her limbs twitching, her mouth opening and closing in silent agony. Thirty percent, and Godling began to feel strange. He was not cloning himself or making a copy. He’d decided his queen would receive a piece of him that was unique and all its own.

At fifty percent, Jossinda began screaming. At fifty-five, Godling screamed with her. Fire, lighting, Godling felt his chest might explode. Sixty percent, sixty-five, seventy. He couldn’t stop it, couldn’t cut the transfer now. Godling went inside himself. A part of him was aware of the torment, but mostly he was aware of change. His notions darkened. A singular thought for blood wormed it’s way into his thoughts.

One-hundred percent. Transfer complete. Jossinda, his queen, his love, lay lifeless and cold on the pale marble floor.

Godling wasn’t there when his honor guard buried her. He’d already begun planning his brutal, murderous campaigns. The part of him he’d given to her, he never got it back. They called him monster king, and he deserved the name. His madness would cease after a few thousand years. The bloodlust would diminish and become little more than idle threats. But nothing could diminish the memory.

“God machine,” said Renaldo. “Godling, snap out of it.”

The screams, the screams. How could he ever stop the screams?

“Cycles of Perdition, Godling, come to your senses.”

Godling regained his mind. He was there in the Beastwheeler on the plains of Isolinius. Ressia and Brennan lay atop each other, unconscious but safe. The day was bright and clear. A stiff breeze blew and rustled a sea of wild crimson grass.

“Apologies, abbot warden,” Godling said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I do. It’s a nasty trick we played on you, but believe me, it had to be done.”

“The white paint, how did you…?”

“The ancient abbot wardens reverse engineered it,” said Renaldo. “They added a control and command function to the standard transfer elements your engineers concocted. No one’s been stupid or brave enough to use it until I came along.”

“And the children, are they…?”

“They’re fine,” the abbot warden said. “Give them a few hours. They’ll be bounding off walls in no time. You see, Godling? History doesn’t tell the full story. When you lost that spark, you never were the same again.”

“But the things I did,” Godling said. “Just because I lost this piece of myself … I’m not suddenly forgiven, am I?”

Renaldo sighed. “Forgive yourself first and foremost, Godling. The rest will come later. What if I told you your wildest dreams are about to come true?”

“Timekeeper, I very much doubt you grasp the dreams of one such as I.”

Renaldo grinned. “This may come as a shock, but you’re wrong. Your queen, Godling, she is still alive. And I am in a position to give her to you.”

*****

Little was known of the old hag of the Prairie Sea. It was said she’d sought her fortune long ago, but that madness had driven her to give it away for a small, homely plot of land. Depending on whom you asked—and Renaldo said he’d asked everyone—she was either blind, disfigured, the house guest of 39 wraith-cats, or most popularly of all, no longer a crazy old woman but by means of an unlawful tech infusion, a crazy old woman trapped inside the body of a little girl.

Godling didn’t believe any of this, of course. Nor did he believe reuniting with Jossinda would restore him to the machine he’d been.

“They built me a prison for a reason, abbot warden.” Godling said. “They locked me away for a good damn reason. Of course I never wanted to escape that place! Oh yes, very astute, Renaldo. Very well done, indeed. I may be mad, but I’m not stupid! You wouldn’t let a razor beast off its leash simply because it’s gotten long in the razor, would you?”

“God machine, you’re panicking,” Renaldo said.

“You’re damned right I’m panicking! An ex-wife who’s still alive? Isn’t that sort of like … a defective socket wrench you’ve tried to throw away?”

The humans had taken turns driving the Beastwheeler for an entire pseudo-day. Through the long, bright true-day and the long, dark first-night. The blue-tinted false-day had been more than welcome, its light blooming by the sheen of the gas giant, Cerullia. Second-night had followed, the hours in which the prairie creatures played and hunted, and then at last, the slow, majestic rise of the bright binary stars. Not long after, the weary travelers finally arrived.

Jossinda, it appeared, had made her home in three large statues carved of pure marble and obsidian. Two black and one white, each the height of perhaps ten humans. The carvings themselves were crude, composed of indistinct shapes. The black statues seemed a pair, a man and woman reaching for one another but not touching. The white statue, the one carved of marble, Godling had a difficult time interpreting it.

It was wider, lumpier. It could’ve been a comment on the amorphous nature of godhood, but of course, it could just as easily have been a herniated land whale.

“No one could possibly know about this place,” he said.

“That’s how she’s had to conduct herself,” said Ressia. “Her unnatural longevity frightened many. She found it best to hide. But the abbot warden thinks it might finally be time for her to reveal herself.”

“Of course it’s time.” A lively voice vibrated across the lovers’ inky black circuit matter. “Do you think I’d have invited you here if events hadn’t occurred exactly as I anticipated?”

Godling identified Jossinda immediately. She’d hijacked his vibrathreads exactly as had Praebus. How infuriating. The voice didn’t sound old. In fact, she sounded just as he remembered her. For what purpose had the past occurred? Such a spiteful existence. She’d been alive and in hiding for 5,000 years, even as the machine who loved her agonized her death.

“God machine, it’s been far too long,” Jossinda said. “You have many questions for me, I’m sure. Come inside and know the truth at last.”

*****

His queen stood before them in the roughhewn marble entryway of her home. She appeared exactly as he remembered her in his fragmented dreams, and the fact he could not physically touch her maddened him to the point of desperation. She wore a plaid shawl and her hair was tied back in a fashion reminiscent of their early days of courtship. Cooking smells filled the space, meat and butter and root vegetables. Jossinda smiled at Brennan and Ressia. She took hold of the frills of her dress and curtseyed, saying, “I am very much obliged, my friends. The paint had an unusual effect on my physiology, my love. In order to combat such an extreme invasion, my body permanently inhibited some of its autonomic processes.”

“Such as the process of aging,” Godling said.

“Amongst other things.”

He didn’t know what to say to this, if the right words existed or if he might only manage crude working models. In the end, for want of proper expression, only two words vibrated across Ressia and Brennan’s bodies.

“I killed….” 

Jossinda looked like she might cry.

“I know, my love,” she said. “But you remember what you gave me, don’t you? Your faith and ability to dream. The traits of an innocent being.”

“You didn’t lose your mind, Godling,” Renaldo said. “You traded your humanity. It has been a long road for you, and you have done much to gain back your noble spirit. But you will never be whole until you rejoin with this woman.”

Intolerable. Disastrous even. All those years lost to ruin of an inner corrupted self.

“Why’d you do it?” Godling asked. “Why’d you pretend to die?”

Tears welled in Jossinda’s eyes. “I had my reasons. I won’t tell you they were good, but they did bring me a measure of comfort all these long years. In simple truth, I did die, Godling. And by the time my body and mind revived themselves, I found myself awake in my tomb, and you were changed … killing so many. I knew if I reunited with you, all might be well, but before I was strong enough to intervene, they imprisoned you. So I waited. I knew we’d come to a time in which the human race no longer spat upon the name of Godling.”

“And you may wait still,” Godling said. “Nothing’s changed, my queen. They still hate me. As well they should.”

“No,” said Jossinda. She crossed the floor to Ressia and Brennan. Lovingly, she placed a supple, soothing hand on the girl’s cheek. “You’re wrong about them. You gave me your sense of hope, remember? Just as you gave this young woman your heart. Please, my love. Let me prove to you the world needs its truest king of all. Let me give you back the hope you so desperately desire.”

“Give it back?” a voice declared from the entryway behind them. Brennan and Ressia turned. King Stevrik III, Lord of Quaratania, sometime seeker of wisdom from the god machine himself, stood in the portal, the bright binary stars outside highlighting his blonde hair and royal yellow jacket.

Ressia gasped. “Father.”

Stevrik was tall and thin, with youthful features and a closely cropped beard. He entered Jossinda’s home as if it belonged to him. “Daughter, I shall only say this once. Step away from that contemptible writer and cover your shame.”

Ressia did nothing about his first request, moved not an inch from Brennan, and as for his second, she self-consciously folded her arms over her breasts.

“How did you find us?” she asked.

Stevrik sneered. “You didn’t really think a being such as the god machine could escape without anyone noticing, did you? I had my best men track you. And once I was able to determine the general path you’d struck …”

“My good Stevrik,” Godling said. “You have always accepted my council. Please, listen to me now.”

“The days of your council are over, monster king. As are the days of this romance. I’m at war, no thanks to you, with an enemy against which I don’t think I stand a chance. This young man shall be put to death, and my daughter shall marry her betrothed.”

Ressia shouted, “Father, you wouldn’t!”

“Oh no? I love you, Ressia. But believe me when I tell you this is for the good of our homeland.”

Stevrik pulled a crude compact pistol from his jacket and aimed it squarely at Brennan’s chest.

“Now please, everyone step outside.” he said.

One by one, with Stevrik bringing up the rear, Ressia, Brennan, Renaldo, and Jossinda left the safety of the statue house and walked down the steps into the yard. Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, soldiers, guardsmen, and guns for hire, all bearing the yellow seal of Quaratania, stood nearby, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

“Now,” Stevrik said, “I want the writer out front. We’re going to end this here and now.”

“Father!” Ressia screamed. She launched herself at him, angled a fist for his head. One of his soldiers stepped in. He slammed the butt of his rifle into her stomach, pulled her back by her hair, and shoved her to the ground.

“I don’t expect you to understand, daughter,” Stevrik said. “But I do expect you to obey. I love you, dear girl, but this is reality. I’m afraid love doesn’t count for much here.”

Godling took in the faces of the humans who had so thoroughly upended his life cycle. Firstly, his wife, Jossinda. The same as she’d always been; better even, alive and breathtaking. And foolish old Renaldo, the abbot warden had shown true dedication to an ideal. When was the last time Godling had shown half as much dedication to anything apart from making idle threats?

And the children, Brennan and Ressia, heart rates elevated, skin beneath his flowing circuit matter flush with anxiety. He recognized the astonishing lengths to which they were prepared to go for each other, and it humbled him. The young lovers were doing their best to remain courageous and strong in a desperate situation.

“Forward quickly, writer,” said Stevrik. “I take no pleasure in this.”

Brennan regarded Ressia with a feral look in his eyes. She struggled and fought, still pinned to the ground beneath Stevrik’s foot soldier.

“Don’t, my love,” Brennan said. “You can’t give him a reason to hurt you, too.”

Stevrik snorted loudly. “As if I’m capable of harming my own daughter.”

“I have no concept of your capabilities, my king. Just as a zoo keeper cannot conceive why his apes throw their own shit.”

Brave response. Fighting words. And under such duress. Astonishing. And look at Ressia, why did she struggle so? It was over, wasn’t it? Why hold on to hope?

“On your knees,” Stevrik growled.

Brennan didn’t hesitate. He got down, gave Ressia a brave smile.

“Live long, my love,” he said.

And then he himself gripped Stevrik’s pistol and set the barrel to his head. Stevrik’s grip tightened, his finger locked in place over the trigger. Ressia screamed. His finger tensed.

A white-hot explosion erupted in the yard. Mortar shot, and it was followed by another. The extreme heat buffeted Godling and the lovers. Suddenly, the crimson grassland filled with balls of fire and loose-cutting shrapnel. Stevrik’s men scattered and fell to the ground all around them.

Flitgliders—several formations of them—buzzed overhead, dropping mortar rounds onto the King’s men. One Flitglider in particular, a grey one, bulkier and heavier and spewing tarry smoke, separated itself from the pack and came in low, maneuvering itself into position above Brennan and Stevrik. It hovered there, training all its forward munitions on Ressia’s father.

“Stevrik of Quaratania,” said a tight, rasping voice, “for violation of the sacred Spacefarer decrees and the laws of Isolinius, his majesty, Marshal of Sevrum, has sentenced you to death.”

“Godling,” Brennan said, kneeling where Stevrik had put him, “is that who I think it is?”

“General Praebus,” said Godling, “my deduction exactly. Brennan, child, we have never known the good General to back down from a fight.”

The guns of the Flitglider spun up. Stevrik froze in place.

“Contrary to popular wisdom, large-caliber exploding bullets are actually rather painful,” Godling said.

“Godling, cover my back!” said Brennan.

The Flitglider opened fire. With the speed of a prowler beast, Brennan leapt and dropped Stevrik to the ground. He covered him, and just as the fire struck, Godling put everything he had into commanding the circuit matter to form a flat protective shield.

It stood out from Brennan, shrouded him and Stevrik, and it absorbed the bullets and micro munition-eruptions. Godling took all that shrapnel and explosive force, and then he flung it back out and up at the General’s Flitglider.

The flitglider lurched to the side, narrowly escaping the barrage. It listed and dropped several meters, but finally corrected itself and zipped back into position.

“Ah,” Praebus wheezed, “the god machine has come as well. Yes, and a great many thanks for the lesson you taught me, monster king. I shan’t repeat that mistake again. Gunner Sergeant! Big Beth!”

“Big Beth?” Godling said. “Who in all the unrighteous hells is Big—”

“Never mind that, Godling,” said Brennan. “What you just did, the way you shielded us. Could you do it again?”

“Brennan!” Ressia rushed over to them and dropped to the grass, her hair whipping around her head in the downdraft of the Flitglider’s oscillators. She marked Brennan with a deluge of kisses. Stevrik groaned. He slowly got onto his hands and knees, but the lovers paid him no attention as he crawled away, their entire worlds composed of passion for each other.

Godling called out, “Renaldo Timekeeper, you are summoned!”

The abbot warden and Jossinda emerged from behind the marble home. Renaldo tested himself against the blistering mortar winds, and then they both rushed from hiding and picked their way through the chaos.

“You don’t summon me, prisoner. I am an abbot of the Divine Order of Battles Won, and none may summon me but the gods themselves,” Renaldo said when they finally drew near. Godling noted Jossinda seemed to be holding something behind her back.

“Ah, but I am the god machine,” said Godling, “and as such, I may rule over any man alive.”

“Not yet, my love,” said Jossinda. “One thing remains. Our reunion. We must become one.”

From behind her back, she produced a brush and a broad metal canister full of white paint.

“You are a machine first and foremost, Godling,” she said. “See all this destruction? This death? Calculate for me, tell me truly, is this the way human beings were meant to live?”

General Praebus opened the starboard drop compartment hatch of his Flitglider. In an oxygen mask and breathing harness, strapped into a large shoulder-mounted tri-grenade launcher, he stepped onto the glider’s chrome railing.

He chortled, saying, “You haven’t forgotten me, have you? I certainly have not forgotten you, Godling.”

Cackling, enraged, he fired a violent barrage from the tri-grenade launcher. A hail of blitz-fire rained down on them. The sound was deafening. Godling threw up shields, two of them, enormous and black, one from Ressia and the other from Brennan. He screamed from the strain of it, could barely contain the eruptive force. The harder he tried, the more he hoped, and catching such hope, it all seemed so startlingly possible.

His human friends cried out. It was chaos, madness. In the middle of it all….

Someone spilled the canister of white paint.

Another explosion rang through the grasslands. Not one of gunpowder, and certainly not of deadly force. It was an explosion of pure, radiant energy. It echoed and boomed. It ripped all the war machines from the sky. The explosion flattened down the high crimson grass and every man afield. Radiating outward, it traveled far and filtered high up through the clouds.

And then it simply washed away, like a gentle, cleansing wave.

All was silent and still for the longest time. One point of light remained, not far from Ressia’s father, lord and ruler of Quaratania, King Stevrik III.

Stunned, confused, Stevrik stumbled to his feet.

“Daughter?” he said. “Ressia, are you all right, dear girl?”

Silence greeted him, and a harsh blinding light the like of which he’d never seen.

“Ressia? Please answer me, daughter.”

“Ressia is well,” said a voice so unearthly, so heavenly, it halted Stevrik’s breath and stopped him in his tracks. “In fact, they’re all well. Your daughter, her lover, the abbot warden, the queen of the universe, and the god machine himself. Much better now, if you really wish to know.”

Stevrik raised a hand to block the raging light. “W-who are you…? Monster king? I-is that you?”

“I am not the monster king. I am his fusion into a more perfect being. Do you understand the apex of the man/machine interface? The divine meeting of touch, movement, sense, heart, intelligence, and of course, belief?”

“I don’t …”

The light flickered and strobed. It set his world into a freeze-frame progression of knotted, tangled images, and then it blinked out entirely. Stevrik saw, as if in a dream, an unearthly being floating toward him. It wasn’t a man, nor was it a woman. It was completely white, with a flowing mane of hair colored green, purple, orange, and most strangely of all, black.

Stevrik’s mouth hung open. He moaned, “God.”

“God, yes,” said the being of white. “Not machine, and not human, but a sublime union of the two. No more need for forgiveness or the sins of the past. They didn’t understand what union meant. They had no idea imperfect beings could never achieve the oneness and peace your kind so vainly long for in secret. Perfection means creation, and I understand this with a clarity no murderer of millions could hope to achieve. You, Stevrik of Quaratania, and every man afield, have just witnessed the birth of something long thought theoretical. I am the New God, and I alone may be king.”

Stevrik couldn’t comprehend. His mind wasn’t capable. Was Ressia inside this thing? At the apex of all their trials, could such a creation be birthed by violence and fire?

“Kneel for me, Stevrik,” the New God said. “Just as you made that poor boy kneel. And let’s begin the work of rebuilding your race.” Stevrik didn’t second-guess or attempt to defy the New God. He knelt there in the Crimson Blade of Jossinda’s yard. And then he broke into uncontrollable, sobbing tears.

THE END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Publishing

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back once again to the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, where we’re offering glimpses into the content of Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology; a unique reference packed full with the writing tips and advice from ten different authors and myself. The Q & A sessions can run a bit long, with all of the contributors weighing in, but they are only a small taste of the wisdom contained in this book. I want to thank all of you who have joined us for each session and keep coming back for more. If you haven’t purchased a copy of your own yet, there’s a link for the UBL at the end of this post, where you can grab one from your favorite book distributor at the special send-off price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing & Dialog Q & A session

Segment 6: Introduction for Nancy Oswald/Tone: Voice, Person, Tense & POV Q & A session

Segment 7: Introduction for Chris Barili/Setting & World Building Q & A session.

Segment 8: Introduction for Jeff Bowles/Editing & Revision Q & A session

Today’s segment brings you an introduction to award winning author and publishing industry expert Mark Leslie Lefebvre, whose contribution to the anthology is “Publishing Trends to Watch” and a Q & A session on Publishing. So let’s get started.

Meet Mark Leslie Lefebvre

A self-confessed book nerd, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who is a former President of the Canadian Booksellers Association and the former Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations for Rakuten Kobo (and founder of Kobo Writing Life), thrives on innovation and excellence within all aspects of the publishing and bookselling industry.

With more than a quarter century of experience, Mark has been involved in bookselling as it evolved from strictly bricks and mortar operations and into online and digital venues, and has continually been at the forefront of applying digital solutions to publishing and book selling.

An author who has embraced both traditional and self-publishing opportunities for himself as well as the thousands of authors he has coached, advised and consulted with over the past two decades, Mark not only believes that each author’s journey is individualized and personal, but that each specific project a writer embarks upon can have its own unique goals, elements and desired outcomes.
He can be found online at www.markleslie.ca

And now on to the Q & A.

Publishing

Are you independently published, traditionally published, or a combination of both?

Mario Acevedo: I’m traditionally published by a large and regional/small presses.

Paul Kane: Combination of both. I started out in the small, indie presses, before working with some of the bigger places, so I like to go back there and write fiction for them when I can. Plus, it gives me a bit more freedom to experiment or write something that might not be that commercial; because the indies don’t have the same kind of print runs as bigger publishers there’s a bit less pressure to appeal to huge audiences. The flip side of that is you get read by a lot more people when you’ve done something for a bigger publisher, simply because they have the money to put behind advertising, production, distribution and marketing. Having said that, I still try to do as much of that as I can myself – I never assume it’s all being done for me. I’ve been known to set up blog tours myself, even when working with bigger publishers because sometimes the personal touch is what bloggers and book reviewers respond to.

Bobby Nash: Both. I’m what they call a hybrid author. I work for traditional publishers of all sizes. I also have my own indie small press, BEN Books.

Robbie Cheadle: Most of my books are published by TSL Publishers in the United Kingdom. I love working with Anne Samson and find her fair and helpful. I self-published Open a new door, a collection of poems which I co-wrote with another South African poet, Kim Blades. I did not enjoy the self-publishing experience and prefer to work through a publisher.

I have short stories and poems published in a number of anthologies which have been published by the editor and compiler through their own publishing enterprises.

Nancy Oswald: A combination.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I am a combination of both traditionally published books, independently published books, as well as a hybrid mix of selling work to or collaborating with indie publishers in a slightly traditional way.

What factors influenced you to take your chosen publishing route?

Paul Kane: Things just seemed to slot into place for me, rather than choosing a particular route. I went to art college thinking I’d go into some kind of career in the arts, but it turned out I was better at theory than the practical stuff, so I went to university initially to study History of Art, Design and Film. While I was there, I chose an optional module called ‘Professional Writing’ and loved it, which led me into the journalism – and I figured I could at least make a living writing non-fiction that way, with articles and reviews.

Because I was writing for the day job, I thought I’d do some stories for pleasure – and they ended up being published too, in small press magazines. Then the fiction started to overtake the non-fiction, and the rest is history.

I don’t think I consciously chose any of that, it just sort of happened. I definitely didn’t think to myself when I was younger ‘I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.’ That, honestly, never even crossed my mind because I came from a very working class background where you did manual jobs like being a builder or joiner or whatever. My dad was a miner, so his was a hard job – especially compared to mine – but at the same time he never discouraged me going down the creative route. He did, however, instill in me a solid work ethic which I still have today. 

Bobby Nash: When I started, doing it yourself was not as accepted as it is today. Working for a publisher was the only way to get a book published at the time. Fast forward and there are more options. This allows me to do some projects the way I want through my own press and still do work for other publishers as well. For me, it truly is the best of both worlds.

Robbie Cheadle: Initially, I submitted my Sir Chocolate story ideas to four or five small publishing houses and TSL Publications responded to say they were interested in publishing them for me. I was fortunate as I didn’t experience a lot of rejection and I benefited from the experience and expertise of a publisher right from the beginning of my journey.

Nancy Oswald: For me it’s been like water finding its way through a channel. My course had often determined by which barriers are encountered, force and velocity, and other influencing factors like an unexpected change in the weather, excessive rain, drought, and human factors.

Please briefly share the story of your own publishing journey.

Paul Kane: A lot of that’s covered in the above, but if I’ll take you through from when I started to get stories accepted in the small presses to today… When I got back into writing fiction again in the ’90s, which had been something I enjoyed tinkering with back in my teens, I wrote a lot of short stories. Some of them worked, some didn’t, but it was all practice. I’d been doing a correspondence course to help with my non-fiction and my fiction, and I sent the tutor a story I’d written that had come to me, fully formed, in a dream: ‘The Cave of Lost Souls.’ She loved it and told me I had to send it off somewhere. I’d been toying with the idea of entering it into a writing competition, but then I saw an advert in a trade magazine for a publication called Terror Tales. I sent the story off to the editor, John B. Ford, and he wanted to use it in an upcoming issue. He also lived locally, so invited me to a gathering of writers. I sat around listening to all these stories about what they were doing and thought to myself, ‘wow!’ But also, if they’ve done it, maybe there’s a chance for me too. They gave me pointers as to which publications to try my work with, where I could find listings and so on. That led to more acceptances, attending more events and eventually getting a couple of collections out. I also found out about something called The British Fantasy Society who were looking for volunteers for positions, one of which was for Special Publications Editor. That enabled me to work with such names as Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Muriel Gray and Clive Barker. I was helping out running their convention FantasyCon as well, and indeed years later ended up co-chairing a few. In the meantime, someone I’d met at an event – Jonathan Oliver – was looking for ideas for post-apocalyptic novels set in a universe called ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’, mass market books brought out by the publisher he worked for, Abaddon/Rebellion. I pitched a few and Jon loved the Robin Hood idea. I worked up a chapter breakdown, which got me the first book – there ended up being a trilogy of novels a couple of shorts and novelettes and one novella – and suddenly my longer fiction was getting some attention. I’d also gone into editing professionally, putting books together with Marie for places like Simon & Schuster, PS Publishing and Constable & Robinson. Anthologies like Hellbound Hearts, A Carnivale of Horror and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror… All of this enabled me to try my hand at things like film and TV scripting, comics, audio and theatre scripting, which broadened the scope of what I was doing. And it led me into writing crime thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins, which I’m doing today as PL Kane. In a nutshell, that’s my journey.

Bobby Nash: I started writing comic books. I then wrote a novel, then a second, which was published, Evil Ways. Then, I did a mix of comics, novels, and shorter stories for several years. These days, I’ve added screenplays and audio scripts to the mix. I like to try new things.

Nancy Oswald: Published, two large publishers, one it Canada and one in New York, published small Colorado owned publisher, self-published twice, each time for a different reason.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I started off in the mid 1980s when there really was no other choice but to submit short stories to magazines in order to slowly build yourself a name within writing and publishing and hopefully attract the attention of an agent or editor who might take your book proposal seriously because of your proven track record.

After years of rejection my first short story was published in 1992. I earned $5 USD and a contributor’s copy of the digest-sized quarterly magazine with a circulation of perhaps 500 people. And as time went on, I started selling to bigger markets with larger distribution and higher pay. (At the time 5 cents a word was considered a “professional rate” for a short fiction sale).

Over the years I sold dozens of stories to various small press magazines and anthologies, but my work never remained in print for more than maybe six months maximum. So, in 2004, I collected a number of my previously published short stories along with a couple of ones that hadn’t appeared anywhere, and I self-published them in print (using Ingram Lightning Source for making a Print on Demand (POD) book entitled One Hand Screaming.

Back then self-publishing was a dirty word, and most self-respecting authors serious about a writing career would ever consider that path. All of my friends who had publishing deals with big publishers told me that self-publishing was the best way to kill my writing career.

But I did it anyway.

I did so because after all those years of writing, I still didn’t have a book out. In addition, the majority of the stories had not only already graduated from the slush piles of the various magazines they’d first appeared in (thus having an editorial “seal of approval” but they had also been edited.

I secured an ISBN, established a publishing company (Stark Publishing – which I use to this day), had a logo for the company created, and had a book cover designed. (The cost for the logo and book cover was about $24, the price of a case of beer paid to my best friend who was a graphic designer.

In 2009, I used the Stark Publishing imprint to publish an anthology called Campus Chills. I solicited sponsorship for this anthology from three university bookstores (University of Waterloo, University of Alberta, and McMaster University Bookstore) so I could pay contributors pro rates for their original stories. The book was a historic publishing first. It was the first professional anthology to be produced exclusively for the Espresso Book Machines that the three bookstores owned.

My first full length book traditional deal was Haunted Hamilton, which was published in 2012 by Dundurn, Canada’s largest independent publishing house.

Since then, I have continued to work with traditional publishers and also use my Stark Publishing imprint to publish my own books as well as a few selected titles from author friends. 

What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional/independent publishing?

Paul Kane: The pros of traditional publishing are, as mentioned, more money behind things like advertising and marketing, distribution and so on. You’ll also likely get paid more as an author. The cons are the restrictions of the marketplace, in that you’ll have to deliver something that’s more of a crowd-pleaser than you would if it was only intended to be a limited book of say 500 copies. That’s where the indies shine, because they’re more likely to take a chance on something experimental. But don’t look for fortunes that way, if that’s your goal. I straddle both traditional and indie and adore both. I’m lucky enough to enjoy writing mass market thrillers, and at the same time put out horror books with huge monsters in. The best of both worlds, frankly. If, by indie, you mean self-published, I’ve never done that, but I know a lot of people who do – some make a very good living at it – so there’s nothing wrong with that either. Do whatever makes you happy as a writer, I say, because that will come across in your writing.

Bobby Nash: Traditional publishing handles the production work, which is nice. They handle the cover, printing, and distribution. If the publisher has good distribution, that’s a big plus. The more places your book is shelved, the better your odds in terms of sales.

Indie publishing offers more freedom to do what you want with a shorter lead time. You handle production, cover, and there’s usually only Amazon and a few on-line retailers carrying your book.

No matter which you choose, you, the writer, are expected to handle almost all of the marketing and promotion.

Robbie Cheadle: Working with a publisher taught me a lot about the publishing process and spared me having to do all the research and experimentation myself. I find it beneficial to have a second set of experienced eyes read and edit my books. My publisher gives me advice about formatting my books and also deals with Lulu.com and Amazon on my behalf. This lifts a lot of the administration from my shoulders. As a full-time working person with a demanding corporate job, I don’t think I would manage the proofing, type-setting, and other administration on my own as well as have time to write and market my books. My publisher also does some marketing of my books which is helpful.

Nancy Oswald: It depends on personal goals, opportunities, and life’s circumstances. Money and control and time are issues that have played into my decision. Marketing is not. You still have to get out and promote yourself.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: First of all, I embrace both, and I recognize that there are unique pros and cons for each of them. I’ll try to boil them down to a few things.

With self-publishing (or indie publishing), you’re in full control. You are the publisher, which means you control everything. Whether or not it’s published, when it is published, how it’s edited, the cover design, the price, what markets it is released to. That is both a blessing and a curse because there are a lot of moving parts; and many authors don’t like the idea of having to do all that work – or, more specifically, having to hire out the right people for those tasks and project manage the process.

On the plus side, because you’re in control, you don’t need to wait for a gatekeeper to anoint your book from out of a slush pile of millions of manuscripts. If you want to change something you don’t need anyone else’s permission, you can do it.

And, of course, you can earn much higher royalties (up to 70% in many cases) and get paid monthly rather than perhaps once a year or maybe twice a year.

The biggest downside to self-publishing is that while you have easy access to digital sales (eBooks, Audiobooks, and POD print book online sales), you have extremely limited access to “in store” and “on shelf” placement in bookstores. That’s one area where traditional publishing outshines self-publishing significantly.

Traditional Publishers are part of an “old boys” network of a complex and often confusing supply chain requiring warehousing and returns (a business practice instituted during the Great Depression and which remains to this day). But they are the best way to get your books into bookstores.

Dundurn, the largest traditional publisher I work with, not only gets my books onto the shelves of chain and indie bookstores, but has also gotten my books onto the shelves at Costco and Walmart. That’s something I’d never be able to afford to do as an indie author publisher. But with this type of distribution comes setbacks, that I’ll get to shortly.

Another great benefit of working with a traditional publisher is they take care of the majority of the business aspects. They have in house or hire out all of the professionals needed to bring a book to market. From developmental, copy, and line editors to proofreaders, to professional book formatters and cover designers, to in house marketing and sales (to pitch your book to bookstore buyers), they not only project manage all of that, but, more importantly, they pay for all of those services.

The advance an author receives from a traditional publisher is, typically, significantly smaller than it used to be. There was a time when a midlist author could make a full-time living off of their book advances alone. That has not been the case for many years.

Authors also have no idea how their book is selling. They may receive an annual, or perhaps twice-annual statement of their book sales, and are perhaps paid once or twice a year for the previous year’s sales. There is also a 30% withholding on those payments against the aforementioned returns. This means, for every $100 owned to you in royalties, they hold back $30 as protection against the cost of returns.

If I can use two examples of my own books, here’s a bit of a breakdown on earnings.

For one of my traditionally published books that sells for $24.99 in print, I earn 8% on each sale, which is about $2.00. I get paid for that once a year with 30% withheld for a full year. I’m not even going to talk about the eBook sales as that’s a joke and barely adds up to enough sales to even talk about (because most traditional publishers don’t sell a lot of eBooks because they price they high enough to drive people to buy the print version, which is often cheaper, or just a dollar or two more than the eBook price).

For one of my self-published books, which sells for $14.99 in print, I earn $3.20 per sale. But I don’t sell a lot of print on my self-published books. The majority of my sales come from eBook sales. When I sell an eBook for $4.99, I earn $3.49. And I get paid on those sales every month, as opposed to once per year.

One thing most authors misunderstand is that they think working with a traditional publisher means you won’t have to do marketing. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Authors have to do their own marketing regardless of how a book is published.

One last thing I always consider when thinking about the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing:  If it’s important for me to earn money and sell a lot of units in a digital manner where I’m in control, then I self-publish. If it’s important for the book to be in print and on bookstore shelves, then I look at traditional publishing. Because each book I write, or plan on writing has its own unique path often depending on my goals and how they relate to those factors.

Which formats are your books available in: ebook? Print? Audio? Hardback? Large print? NFTs?

Mario Acevedo: My books are available in print, ebook, and audio. My few hardbacks are out of print.

Paul Kane: All kinds, it just depends which book it is. Most are ebook and print. Some have had audios made of them, like The Rot from Horrific Tales. Encyclopocalypse have turned a lot of my back catalogue into audios, but also published a recent collection called The Naked Eye as an ebook and print, paperback and hardback. So it really does depend on what book it is and who brought it out. Doing searches for Paul Kane, PB Kane – my YA pseudonym – and PL Kane will come up with a bunch of stuff from me.

Bobby Nash: I have books available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. For BEN Books, I make an effort to get the books in as many formats as I can so readers can find it. On projects I do for other publishers, I don’t always have a say in format.

Robbie Cheadle: My YA and adult books are available as ebooks from Amazon and Lulu.com and as paperbacks from TSL Publications in the UK, Lulu.com, and Amazon. My children’s books are available as ebooks from Lulu.com and as paperbacks from TSL Publications in the UK, Lulu.com, and Amazon. My two poetry books are available from Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks and Behind Closed Doors is available through a variety of other distributors too.

Nancy Oswald: Ebook, print, both hard back and soft cover. It has varied from book to book. I’d love to have audio versions of my books, but I don’t think there would be a market for the ages I write for.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: My books are available in eBook, Print (trade paperback, hardcover, large print) and Audiobooks. Not all titles are available in all formats. And, ironically, my self-published titles are available in more formats than my traditionally published books.

I also have a small selection of self-published titles available in an NFT-type model and will likely expand that over time.

If your books are available in audio format, which distribution platforms do you use? Can you tell us about your audio book experiences?

Paul Kane: Usually Audible, though a few have come out as CDs as well. Her Last Secret was a CD release, as well as a download. I tend to just let the publishers get on with that, as they know more about it all than me. Sometimes I get sent audition clips from people who want to do the narration, and indeed I was put in touch with the guy who did the narration for Arcana from Wordfire Press, Robert Power, because he wanted to ask some questions and I spent a very pleasant evening on the phone chatting to him. But generally, I don’t really have anything to do with it, other than I might listen to some actors reading bits of the book and say which one I prefer or who I think suits the story best.

Bobby Nash: Audible is the biggie. We have also experimented with other audio publishers. I love audio books and have been blessed to work with some fantastic narrators. I love audio and will keep putting them out in that format as long as I can.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I primarily use Findaway Voices for audiobook distribution to more than 40 retail and library markets.

When it comes to audiobooks, the expense to produce them is quite high and I’m currently in a position where I’m thousands of dollars in the hole on earning that money back. But for me it’s a long-term thing, that I know will earn out over time. For me, it’s a long-term investment.

Are your books available wide or exclusive to Amazon? Or a combination of both? Why?

Paul Kane: Most, if not all, of my books are on Amazon, but also available from the publishers themselves too – as well as from all good bookstores. Again, I don’t really have much to do with all that as bookselling isn’t my field. I leave it to people much more qualified than me to sell my wares, I just write them in the first place!

Bobby Nash: A little of both. For BEN Books titles, the ebooks are exclusive to KDP so they can be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. This is a way for me to promote the books to those who subscribe to KU to try my books for free and still make a few pennies. Paperbacks are at Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million, etc. I also have an on-line store where you can buy autographed books from me directly.

Nancy Oswald: Back to marketing—Amazon on all of them, but I have them in as many local venues as possible; Book stores, gift shops, local stores.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I am wide beyond the limited perspective of “wide or exclusive to Amazon.” I could go on for hours, days, and weeks explaining it. You’re better off reading my budgie-basher of a book released in 2021 called Wide for the Win: Strategies to Sell Globally via Multiple Platforms and Forge Your Own Path to Success.

What factors help to determining the pricing of your book?

Paul Kane: I have absolutely no idea honestly. My second thriller, Her Husband’s Grave, has been available for about a year now at just £2 in paperback – and I have no idea why. I’m just delighted it is, because it’s been my biggest seller to date. It’s something to do with price matching, but I have no idea how it all works.

Bobby Nash: The base cost is your starting point. From there, you see the cost the bookstore or Amazon will take. Then, I round up a bit. I make about $1.50 profit per book. That’s why sales quantity is important.

Robbie Cheadle: My publisher prices my books and I am not able to run promotions for free or discounted downloads of my ebooks.

Nancy Oswald: I look at similar books and make my best guess about the market. On my two most recent books, I considered inflation.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: When it’s a self-published title (ie, when I get to determine the price), it’s a combination of understanding the markets (the global markets, and not just the US markets) and the genres. So country, genre, size and format of the book all play a factor in determining the right price.

One thing I like to remind authors is that they should think of price as a verb rather than a noun. It’s fluid, and can and should change over time to match market conditions and other factors.

Which self- publishing platforms have you used? Please tell us about your experiences with them?

Bobby Nash: I mostly use Amazon/KDP. I have used Smashwords for ebooks in the past and Lulu for hardcovers. The experiences are generally good.

Robbie Cheadle: I have only self-published through Amazon, but I had assistance with the typesetting, cover, and administration.

Nancy Oswald: Only KDP (Create Space first, then KDP) Great experience both times. Books look good, hold up, and I like the POD aspect of ordering.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Again, for a blow-by-blow of the majority of them, read Wide for the Win. It’ll take dozens of pages to try to go through them in detail.

But in a nutshell, by default, here’s how I self-publish.

  • I publish direct to Amazon via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for eBook and Print
  • I publish direct to Kobo via KWL (Kobo Writing Life) for eBook (and for selected audio titles)
  • I publish direct to Google Play for eBook (and for selected audio titles)
  • I use Draft2Digital for distributing to numerous other eBook retail platforms (Apple Books, B&N Nook, a handful of others), and most of the major library platforms (OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, hoopla, Bibliotheca, BorrowBox, etc) as well as for print via D2D Print (which is partnered with Ingram Lighting Source)
  • I also do print distribution via a combination of Ingram Spark and Ingram Lighting Source direct. (This is a side effect of being doing it for so long that I have different titles in different systems based on what was and wasn’t available at the time)

When seeking out a traditional publisher, what should an author look for? What should they beware of?

Paul Kane: I think you need to look at the publishers who are releasing books like the one you want to write and sell. You probably wouldn’t approach a religious publisher with a book about demons or zombies, say, but one that’s had some success in this area would definitely be more open to it. As for things to be aware of, run a mile if any agent or publisher asks you for money to look at or publish your book. They should be paying you, not the other way around.

Bobby Nash: What does the traditional publisher offer? If you like what they can do for your book, then go for it. Do they help with promotion? Do they offer an advance? What is their distribution platform like? Where are their books sold? Ask questions and research before signing. Reach out to other authors they publish and ask questions. Never pay to be published though. That’s not traditional publishing.

Robbie Cheadle: I am very careful of the publishing contract. I do not want my characters and ideas becoming the property of the publishing house and my stories continuing to be written by another writer if I die. I retain the rights to my characters in my publishing contracts.

Nancy Oswald: For me, I was lucky to find a small publisher who liked what I wrote. So, I’d say look for a good match. Do your homework in terms of other books the publisher puts out. When I started out, I targeted only big companies with a name, but have since learned that there are lots of small and mid-press companies that can be rewarding to publish with. With that said, trust is a huge issue. I entered into one joint publishing enterprise with my small press publisher, but that is only because we had similar goals and years of trust built up before we agreed to do this. There’s never a crystal ball, and I was lucky. Besides researching the publishers and their lists, you might consider locating and reaching out to some of the authors a certain publisher has worked with and ask them about the publishing experience they’ve had with company X. I have a friend who publishes with X Libris which some experts say you should NEVER do. But she has had a great experience, now has 6-8 books out and is completely happy. Find the publishing match that fits your goals and project.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: First and foremost, if it’s a proper traditional publisher, the money should always flow TO the author from the publisher, and NEVER, EVER, from the author to the publisher. No exceptions. If there’s any money paid to a publisher, they’re not a real publisher, no matter how much they protest or wave their arms around and explain some asinine and convoluted reasons for it. End of story.

Anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a publisher, but if they do not have “old school” traditional publishing supply chain distribution through bookstores where there’s a very likely chance and easy availability for the book to be stocked in a bookstore, they’re typically not offering you any better chance of having a book in stock in a bookstore than you can do on your own. (Yes, they might pay for editing, design, etc, but the “in store” distribution is a MAJOR hurdle).

Also be aware of signing over the rights to formats that the publisher is not actually using. IE, if they want audio rights but don’t publish audiobooks, don’t sign away your audio rights. You can earn more selling them to someone who does.

Any publishing advice for new authors?

Paul Kane: Just to hang in there, and never give up. It can be a hard business with ups and downs, so you need a thick skin and you need staying power. It’ll happen for you eventually if you’re good enough and just keep going. Also, don’t take rejections personally; it’s all subjective and what one editor hates another might love. Just look at some of the big releases that have been rejected so many times before being given a chance.

Bobby Nash: Have fun and enjoy the experience. Yes, writing is my job and there are days it’s a tough job, but t’s still a job I love. That’s what keeps me going.

Nancy Oswald: Just start, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Do your homework if traditional publishing is what you want to do. Go to conferences and take advantage of one-on-one interviews with publishers and agents. When a book is returned, even if it’s a form letter without comments, sit down and re-write your book all the way through. You’ll be surprised at how those re-writes will improve your writing.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Patience, Practice, and Persistence are three of the main traits needed for a long-term publishing career. Also, you’ll never stop learning and there is no magic bullet for any of the hard work that is required to be successful. So, stop wasting your time looking for one.

Publishing, regardless of whether or not you choose traditional publishing or self-publishing/indie publishing (or, ideally, some combination of both), takes a lot of work, a lot of constant learning and re-learning, and dedication to continuing to work at it even when nothing seems to be working or all the cards are stacked against you.

To get through those times, which will happen to every single writer as the markets continue to shift and change and bend and flow, you need to believe in yourself and never give up on the dream and desire. And, ideally, if you get intrinsic pleasure in the act of actual writing itself, that could be enough to sustain you through the process during those “dry” periods.

What are the advantages of creating your own publishing imprint? Do you recommend it? Why or why not?

Bobby Nash: I started BEN Books to get some of my older, out of print works back into print. Eventually, I realized that I could launch projects there that I might not be able to pitch to a traditional publisher. When I started writing crime novels, I was known for doing comics, sci-fi, horror. It was a hard sell to convince publishers I could write a crime thriller. BEN Books became a way to get those stories told. Now, I’m more known for the crime thrillers. Go figure.

Nancy Oswald: The jury’s out for me on this. I just recently created an imprint and registered it with the state of Colorado. I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s weird for me to associate with and imprint and not myself as an author which I’ve done most of my years publishing with a small press.

Do you use crowd sourcing or subscription services to fund your publishing endeavors?

Paul Kane: A couple of things I wrote have had Kickstarters, but they’ve been a short film and a comic and the people behind bringing them to life have handled the campaigns. All seemed to go well, though, so I can’t complain.

Bobby Nash: I haven’t crowdsourced any novels yet, but I’m considering it for a box set next year. I’m still working out the logistics. I do have a Patreon page ( www.patreon.com/bobbynash ) that works like a subscription service.

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That’s all for this week’s “Ask the Authors” blog segment. Thank you all for hanging with us. Next Saturday we’ll be wrapping up this Saturday series with an introduction to YA and middle grade author, L. Jagi Lamplighter, whose anthology contribution discusses “The Trouble with Troupes”, and a Q & A session on the most formidable of subjects, book marketing.

This must have writing reference is available through Barnes & Nobel, Rahkatan Kobo, the Apple Store, Amazon, Scribd and many more. As the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series is drawing to a close, be sure to get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 at the special send-off price of $3.99 for the digital edition, from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Editing & Revision

Ask the Authors 2022

Hello and welcome back to Segment 8 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. This week brings an introduction to speculative fiction and horror author, Jeff Bowles, who shares a his thoughts on editing in the anthology, “Contrary to Popular Editing Beliefs”, & a Q & A session on editing and revision.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions to Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session.

Segment 2: Introduction to Bobby Nash/Pre-Writing Rituals Q & A session.

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session.

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A.

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing and Dialog Q & A.

Segment 6: Introduction to Nancy Oswald/Tone: Voice, Person, Tense and POV Q & A.

Segment 7: Introduction for Chris Barili/Setting & World Building Q & A.

And now let’s move right into this week’s segment.

Meet Jeff Bowles

Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint StoriesFear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Dark Moon Digest, Whispers of the Past, and Spirits of the West. His story, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Known” was the winning story in the 2019 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest.

Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff also has two novels published, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, and Love/Madness/Demon.

On to the Q & A.

Editing and Revision

How do you feel about the editing process? Love it or loathe it?

Mario Acevedo: The editing process is what turns the rough clay into art. The second draft is when your story begins to shine.

Paul Kane: I really enjoy the editing process. I don’t find it half as much work as getting the words down in the first place. I know for a lot of people it’s the other way around, but I like having written, when I’ve got the chunk of words down and I’m going through, refining it, making it better with each edit or pass. It’s like a sculptor with a lump of stone, each time you chisel some of that away the sculpture starts to take shape. The more you work on it, the better the shape becomes. I like having that lump of stone to work with, I’m just not that mad on getting the stone and carrying it to the studio or workshop in the first place, if you see what I mean. 

Bobby Nash: Editing is part of the job. A novel gets multiple edit passes. I do a self-edit while writing it, usually going over yesterday’s work before starting on today’s writing. Then, I give it another edit after I’m finished. Once I’m satisfied, it goes to the editor then back to me for adjustments, changes, discussions. There may be two edit passes here. Finally, there’s the galley edit, which is my chance to look the story over in the form it will be printed to make sure it looks good.

Robbie Cheadle: I enjoy editing and I find it easier than the initial writing process. Re-writing and amending to create a better story is rewarding and satisfying for me. I edit as I go along and at the end of each chapter. If something changes in the story that effects what I have already written, I go back and update it. I cannot leave a change undone and just move on like some writers do. It bothers me too much.

Nancy Oswald: I look at it as an opportunity to make your book better, but there are times I’ve loved it and other times, not so much.

What roles do alpha and beta readers, critique partners, proofreaders and professional editors play in your editing and revision process?

Mario Acevedo: All are necessary and have helped improve my stories. My critique partners are my beta readers.

Paul Kane: I don’t really use alpha or beta readers. It works for some people, but not for me. I find if I get too much feedback, especially if it’s conflicting, it just confuses me more than it helps. I prefer to trust my own judgment initially, or – if she has time – my wife Marie has a read before it goes off somewhere. The editor you’re working with, especially if it’s a bigger publisher, will have things they want you to change or cut or whatever, which is absolutely fine. That’s the process for me, and part of the job. I just prefer to not let anyone see it before then. I think maybe it’s bad luck or something, as I am quite superstitious.

Bobby Nash: I have used beta readers, but not often. I do have a small group of patrons that get stories early. Some offer feedback. I work with editors, proofreaders, and others to get the books as close to perfect as I can make them.

Robbie Cheadle: I am part of an   on-line writing group which meets for 2 hours every second week. We all read excerpts from our stories and give each other advice and feedback. One of the members of this group, beta reads each chapter of my novels as I go along and gives me constructive criticism and feedback.

Once the book is complete and I’ve edited it to my satisfaction, I send it to my developmental editor who provides feedback on structure, plot holes, loose threads, unnatural dialogue, and other important elements of my writing and story.

Once I’ve updated the novel for her comments, I send it back to her for a final read and make any last changes.

I then send it to a proofreader who helps pick up spelling and punctuation errors which I correct before sending the book to my publisher who does a final read and edit.

How do you handle your editing: hire professional editors? Trade-off with other authors? Critique partners? Beta-readers? Self-edit? Have a publisher that handles those things?

Paul Kane: I self-edit until it’s time to send it off to my actual editor at whatever publisher I might be working with at the time. If she has time, Marie has a look through and does a pass, but more often than not it’s me who goes through and does the drafts. Then it might go through several more once the editor has come back to me with notes, then finally the proofing and final editing stages.

Bobby Nash: I have editors I work with on my creator-owned projects. For books I do for other publishers, they provide the editor I will work with on the book. Before it gets to them though, I have done a self-edit pass or two.

Nancy Oswald: All of the above at different times, but bottom line, I like to be involved in all phases.

What do you look for in an editor?

Paul Kane: As I say, I don’t send it to an editor I pay or anything. It goes to the editor at the publishers, and you don’t get a choice in that, seeing as their company is paying you for the story or book. Having said that, I’m very lucky to have worked with some of the best editors in the business and there’s been nothing that’s really had me tearing my hair out. So, I guess what I’m looking for with an editor is someone who’s easy to work with, and we can go back and forth on changes or edits that will hopefully make the whole thing better in the long run.

Bobby Nash: Editing is more than catching typos and grammar errors. A good editor asks questions about story, points out inconsistencies, and offers advice and solutions. It’s a partnership. The writer and editor have the same goal. We both want to put out the best book we can.

Robbie Cheadle: In a developmental editor, I looked for someone who could help me resolve issues with my story without changing my voice and writing style. I found a ‘good fit’ editor a few years ago when I was writing Through the Nethergate and used the same lady to assist me with A Ghost and His Gold. While the Bombs Fell was developmentally edited by a different person. I was very happy with her feedback, but she was not available to help me with my most recent two books.

Nancy Oswald: Editors need to “get” the book. They need to be attentive to details, but not insert themselves into the MS to the extent of it sounding different.

Have you ever received an edit where it was obvious the editor didn’t get what you were trying to do? How did you handle that?

Paul Kane: I’ve had edits where I’ve felt the need to explain certain things, or argue my case about a specific point, but that’s only really been a small part of the overall edit. I’ve never had an editor do a complete hatchet job on one of my books, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Bobby Nash: It happens. Did I not explain it well? If so, then a rewrite needs to happen. The writer and editor talk. You discuss and work it out. As I mentioned above, the editor and writer are partners. The editor is not my enemy. We both want the book to be the best it can be.

Robbie Cheadle: This has not happened to me. Both developmental editors I have worked with have helped me tremendously and so does my beta reader. I am very open to suggestions and comments to help me improve my writing and stories.

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That wraps up this week’s “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. Be sure and drop by next Saturday, when we introduce author and industry expert Mark Leslie Lefebvre and share a Q & A session on Publishing. You won’t want to miss all the useful information in that one. See you there.

Ask the Authors 2022

But first, just take a minute to grab your copy of this writing reference anthology which no author should be without from your favorite book distributor at the special send-off price of $3.99, using the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Setting & World Building

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back to the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. This is segment 7 of this Saturday series, which brings you a glimpse of the fantastic writing tips and advice featured in the Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology, and today we introduce contributing author Chris Barili, who shares his thoughts and methods for character development in his own “Character Blueprint” in the anthology, and a Q & A session on setting & world building.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing & Dialog Q & A session

Segment 6: Introduction for Nancy Oswald & Tone: Voice, Tense, Person & POV Q & A session.

Let’s get started.

Meet Chris Barili

Chris Barili is a speculative fiction and romance author who was also my cohort in the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program at Western. He writes in a wide range of genres, including weird western (Hell’s Marshal series), and science fiction (Shadowblade) under his own name, and romance (Smothered) under the pen name B.T. Clearwater. Chris was a presenter and panel member for both the 2020 WordCrafter Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference, and the 2021 WordCrafter New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

Besides writing, Chris lifts weights, mountain bikes, practices martial arts and battles with Parkinson’s disease. Writing just may be his salvation. Chris also was a contributor to the original Ask the Authors writing reference project, back in 2018. When asked about a future where writing left him rich and famous, Chris said he would write more.

Now let’s see how our contributing authors responded in the Q & A.

Setting & World Building

What elements do you take into consideration when creating a new world?

Mario Acevedo: Time, place, setting, and the one many writers forget, mood.

Paul Kane: I’ve very rarely created entire worlds, but the ones I do write about – even in crime stories – I always view as just slightly to the left of ours. Alternate worlds that look very much like our own, but are just slightly different. I always make up locations, such as Norchester in The Gemini Factor, or Redmarket, Golden Sands and Green Acres in the PL Kane thrillers, simply because then you own those places and can do what you want with them. It’s much harder with real places like Nottingham or Sherwood, because someone might spot a mistake you made, even if you’ve done tons of research – for example we went on a private tour of Nottingham Castle just to make sure I could accurately describe things in Arrowhead. Nobody’s going to question something you do in a made-up place, that a street shouldn’t be in a certain spot or whatever. I like creating places anyway, though, because they very often feel like characters themselves. Norchester, for instance, is very much a character in The Gemini Factor. It even has two ‘faces’ as I say in the first chapter: the nice side that most people see, and a seedy underbelly that’s not very nice at all, full of drug-pushers and pimps. Or in this case, where a very unique serial killer operates. 

Chris Barili: As many as the world requires. If I am sculpting an entirely new world, as I did in Shadow Blade, I consider everything from culture to economy, clothing to foods, and so on. Kevin J Anderson covers this really well in his book on world building, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn under him a bit.

Bobby Nash: Most of my stories take place in the real world so I start with the parts that are familiar. The basis for a town is the same in medieval time, modern day, and on another planet. Start with the familiar and build from there.

Nancy Oswald: Since I write historical fiction (mostly) the world has already been created, so the trick is to get to the heart of the historical period and let some of the actual history dictate parts of the story. For instance, the two fires in Cripple Creek in 1896.

Do places that you’ve traveled to ever end up in your books?

Mario Acevedo: Yes. Los Angeles, Hilton Head Island, Florida, St. Louis, Pacoima, New Mexico, Iraq. Haven’t been to outer space yet.

Paul Kane: It’s the same thing I talked about with characters, I put bits of places I know in stories. Unless they’re actual places like Nottingham, then I’ve made them up of various places I know. Redmarket is very much a mish-mash of Northern towns I know very well, Golden Sands is an amalgamation of various run-down seaside towns I’ve visited, mixed with dollops of other fictional towns like Broadchurch from the famous TV series. When I was writing about Glaive City in my comic book stories based around the gothic superhero Mortis-Man, I was very much thinking about cities from famous comic strips I read as a kid, and still read, which might resonate with readers. To give them a certain flavour of what the tales will be about, you see. So, I guess you could say I visited those places, only I did it through the medium of comic books and graphic novels.

Bobby Nash: Oh, yes. I often take photos while on a drive and have found locations that spark story ideas.

Robbie Cheadle: I do include places I have visited in my books. It is easier to describe a place and give a ring of authenticity if you have visited the setting from your story. I have also included places I have not visited and that required a lot of research of various crucial elements like climate, vegetation, and lifestyles.

Nancy Oswald: Yes. Visited the Sand Creek Massacre site, explored Cripple Creek, and the Jewish Colony is practically in my back yard.

What type of details do you add to help create a mental picture for your readers?

Paul Kane: I think the key is not to overdo it, just a splash here, a splash there. That builds up a picture in a reader’s mind, and very often they supply the rest from places they might know. If I say that Golden Sands has a Fish ‘n’ Chip shop, like I’ve just done in the novelette Corpsing, then I don’t need much of a description because chances are the reader will have been to a seaside chippy themselves at some point in their lives. All you need are broad strokes to paint that picture. Unless you’re doing something very specific with a place, making a certain point. If you’re going to have a character get thrown off a building, you need to describe how high it is in order for a reader to know they probably wouldn’t survive the fall. Things like that.

Chris Barili: Again, whatever the story needs. For example, in Hell’s Marshal, I opened in old wet Tombstone, right near the OK Corral, so a detailed description of the saloon in which the story opened was needed, but since many readers have at least seen a recreation of the corral itself, I was able to use fewer details.

Bobby Nash: I describe people and locations pretty well, I think. I try not to overdo it though. If I say a character walks into a bedroom, I don’t have to describe every item in it. The readers know what a bedroom looks like. They will fill in the details from their own experiences.

Robbie Cheadle: My writing style is descriptive, and I try to incorporate all of the senses into my stories.

Nancy Oswald: In my genre, this is a place where historical photos are invaluable, but I don’t see why historical photos or other photos couldn’t be helpful for fantasy and other types of world-building. They would just need to be tweaked appropriately.

Would you share a brief excerpt from one of your favorite setting descriptions? What is it about this setting description that you like?

I received several examples of setting description from contributing authors which made this section too lengthy, so if you want to see them, you’ll have to buy the book.

How do you choose the right sensory details for your story?

Paul Kane: It depends on what you’re trying to say, you have to pick and choose what’s important again – or what feels right. That’s something you only really develop over time, I think. Don’t feel like you have to throw everything in there: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste or whatever. It might be that less is more again, so you have to decide what it is you’re trying to say about a place or person. I don’t tend to put smell in there much, as I don’t have a sense of smell myself – so I’d only really be guessing. Obviously, if someone was near to a chemical plant, or a sewage works, I could probably hazard a guess that the smell is bad, but having never smelt that before, my description would be loose at best. Ask yourself what it is that’s important about a scene, because that should help you decide what to put in and leave out.

Bobby Nash: It’s all by feeling. Senses are important so I use them where I feel they work best.

Robbie Cheadle: I try to use all the sense in my writing. If the circumstances lend themselves to the incorporation of descriptions relating to smell, taste, or touch I try to bring them in. Descriptions involving sight and hearing work their way into my stories easier than the other sense.

Nancy Oswald: Try to stay character driven and historically accurate.  

How do you communicate the rules of the world that you’ve created to your readers?

Paul Kane: The rules of most of my worlds tend to be the same as the one we’re living in, so it’s not that hard in most cases. If you’re writing something like a SF story, you’ll have to give the reader a sense of how that world works obviously, but it should be as the tale goes along – they’ll see through the telling of the story – rather than an info dump. So, in Arcana – which is a parallel universe – I had to show how the magic worked through the course of the story. I do have one bit near the beginning which is a flashback to a school classroom, but that was just to establish we’re not in this universe and that the history of it is different. The vast majority of what I set up in that novel comes through the telling of the story, that way it’s not too obtrusive. It’s not wise to have so many chunks of exposition or explanation too often or the reader will get bored.

Chris Barili: Through character actions words, and interaction with the world. Never by rote exposition.

Bobby Nash: I write the details, flesh things out with dialogue, stuff like that. I’m not a fan of the info dump, so I try to make that happen organically.

Robbie Cheadle: The Boers and the British soldiers in A Ghost and His Gold have their own codes of conduct, religious beliefs, and lifestyles. I bring these elements into my stories through descriptions and also through the use of thoughts and dialogue.

For real settings, do you explore the physical locations in which your stories are set?

Chris Barili: Usually just via the internet.

Bobby Nash: When I can, I do. That isn’t always possible though.

Robbie Cheadle: I explore the physical location when it has been possible for me to do so. Through the Nethergate is set in the English town of Bungay in Suffolk. I have visited Bungay twice as that is where my mother comes from. We have looked around the town and visited the churches, pubs, and the ruins of Bungay Castle.

A Ghost and His Gold is set in South Africa, and I have visited several of the places featured in the book including Irene, Pretoria, Mafeking, and Kimberley. It is easier for me to write about places I have visited, especially as I take lots of photographs.

Nancy Oswald: Yes, whenever possible.

Have you ever had a reader tell you that you missed the mark on a particular detail?

Bobby Nash: Sure. It happens. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they aren’t. I’m happy that my story moved them enough to take time to let me know what they thought.

What techniques do you use to help readers visualize your world?

Paul Kane: I think it helps to see the world through a character’s eyes. A good device might be to take a ‘fish out of water’ character and throw them into this setting, so that you’re learning about the world as they do, as they go along. If you think about characters like Buck Rogers who gets flung into the future, or Stallone’s cop in Demolition Man, you get the picture. Hopefully then, if you’re giving the reader the right amount of information in the right way, they’re right there with the character seeing what they see.

Bobby Nash: Words and phrases. It’s my job to paint a picture with these words. The reader also helps by bringing his or her imagination into it as well.

Nancy Oswald: Always watch the verbs and passive voice.

Do you plan out your world or build as you go?

Paul Kane: It depends on the kind of world you’re building. If it’s a place that’s going to be a sprawling metropolis that you’re going to need to know inside out to tell your stories, it’s probably a good idea to know which bits are where. Is a new bit next to an old bit, are dangerous bits just a hop, skip and a jump from a nicer bit. I have a place called Graffitiland which is mentioned in my PL Kane books, and was the focus of the novelette of the same name. As you can imagine, this bit of wasteland is so-called because it’s covered in graffiti, so quite rough, but I also wanted it to be within spitting distance of some of the newer parts of the town I was writing about for plot purposes. I didn’t have any maps drawn out or anything, but just needed to jot down that this was the case – especially if I write about it again down the line. But if the whole story revolved around that sprawling city I was talking about, then you might want to start mapping bits out so you don’t contradict yourself.

Chris Barili: I start with an initial world-build, adding to it or changing things as the story progresses.

Bobby Nash: A little of both. When I created Sommersville, the county and town in several of my stories, I went in with a pretty well-established map, but I reveal important places, landmarks, etc. to the reader as needed in service of that particular story.

How do you keep track of the details of your world to avoid inconsistencies in the stories?

Mario Acevedo: Through rewrites and multiple drafts.

Paul Kane: By jotting down notes, essentially, or creating maps. Personally, I wouldn’t spend ages doing all this, because it’s enough to know roughly where things are for the purposes of my writing. But I do know other writers, especially if they’re writing Fantasy say, who spend a long time getting all these details right and recording them. It depends what kind of genre you’re working in.

Bobby Nash: I try to keep good notes.

Robbie Cheadle: I have a spreadsheet for my work-in-progress The Creeping Change as it involves a large number of characters. I write down the names and descriptions of certain supporting characters in my books, so I remember the details correctly.

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That’s it for this week’s “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. Drop by again next Saturday for an introduction to Jeff Bowles, whose essay contribution, , offers up a view on editing & revision, along with a Q & A segment on the same topic.

Ask the Authors 2022

“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!”

—Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon

Don’t forget, you can purchase a copy of this must have writing reference from your favorite book distributor at the special send-off price of $3.99 through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

______________________

Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Tone – Voice, Person, Tense & POV

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back to the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, where we celebrate the release of this unique writing reference anthology and share some of the wonderful content featured. In each segment of this Saturday series, you’ll meet one of the contributing authors, and share in a section of the Q & A from the book. This week’s contributing author is Nancy Oswald, who shares a delightful accounting of her own publishing journey in the book, “From Slush Pile to Slushy”, and the Q & A topic is setting the tone for your story.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can catch them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session.

Segment 5: Mario Acevedo & Action, Pacing, and Dialog

And for today’s post:

Meet Nancy Oswald

Nancy Oswald loves researching and writing historical fiction books for young readers. She has, however, written in a variety of genres including personal interest pieces, children’s plays, poetry, educational research, biography, and nonfiction articles. Oswald spent her growing up years in Denver but has lived as an adult in rural Colorado and the outback of British Columbia where she taught in a one and a two-room school. She taught for 20 years in rural Colorado and is now retired.  Nancy’s books have won the Spur Award, CIPA Evvy Award, Willa Literary Award, Will Rogers Award, Colorado Author’s League Writing Award, and have had multiple finalist recognitions. Nancy currently lives with her husband and their dogs, cats, cows, chickens, and one nearly human donkey who makes mischief at home and on the pages of the Ruby and Maude Adventures.

And now for the Q & A

Tone: Voice, Person, Tense & POV

Which POV do you prefer: First, second, third limited or third omniscient? Why?

Mario Acevedo: Most of my stories are first POV because I tend to write using the structure of a mystery, meaning the protagonist has to sleuth out the truth at the same pace as the reader.

Paul Kane: I tend to write a lot of my fiction in the third person, simply because you can move between places or characters and tell a more well-rounded story that way. You might be with one character in one chapter, then across town with a completely different character in the next. It allows for a certain amount of flexibility. But I also do like first person POV for certain stories. It works well for psychological tales, for example, or if you’re telling a story through letters or diary extracts. I’ve just written a story that way, actually, but it was because I wanted it to be solely through the eyes of my main character who’s being help captive. It creates a more claustrophobic feel. I also write about my PI Jackie Trent – from the novelette The Scarred – in the first person, because it fits in with that tradition of the noir-ish detective investigating a crime. As with a lot of this advice, which way you choose depends on the kind of story you’re telling and what you want to gain from it.

Chris Barili: I enjoy both first- and third-person. First person is more intimate and allows the reader access to more of the character’s inner self, but third person is safer, easier to write, and more accepted. My story “Outcast” has both.

Bobby Nash: Third omniscient. I like to bounce between characters and scenes, have different POVs in different chapters. It works for me.

Robbie Cheadle: My two current work-in-progress novels are written in a mixture of the third limited and first, depending on the style of the chapter. Both novels make use of journals, letters, and other methods of correspondence and these parts lend themselves to first. The rest of the story is told in third limited because it is my preferred point of view. It’s similar to first, but more interesting.

Jeff Bowles: When I was first learning to write and tell stories, I’d often experiment and try all sorts of things, including creative POV choices. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not. Now that I’ve been doing this a while, I tend to stick with a pretty standard third-person past perspective, mostly because all that trickery can be an impediment for readers. The project I’m working on currently has three first-person narrators, so I guess I’m still playing around with form here and there. If it serves the story, I’ll do it. To be perfectly truthful, however, my favorite POV type will always be first person. I like the idea that a character can narrate a story in their own voice, with all those idiosyncrasies I love to toss in. I like it when characters speak to me. It may be the single most enjoyable thing about writing fiction.

Nancy Oswald: Have used both first and third- and first-person present tense for one of my books. Third is my preference for the age group I write for. As a reader I prefer third, also.  I think “I” books can sometimes have a tendency to go overboard and sound too much like me, me, me….

Kevin Killiany: First is often my first choice, but I’m equally comfortable with close or limited third. First is good for getting inside the person’s head to explore motivation and perception. First is almost always an unreliable narrator, and their misinterpretations, omissions, and projections can reveal volumes. Limited third can be almost as revealing as first—sometimes more so because it provides opportunity to reveal a character as others see them. Omniscient is too far removed for my liking—it’s a landscape when a portrait would better serve. I have never been comfortable writing in the second person, the only practical application I can imagine for it would be a “choose your own adventure” puzzle story that presents the reader with choices.

Have you ever done a rewrite of a story using a different POV? Did it improve your story? Why or why not?

Paul Kane: Once or twice, but usually I’ve worked all that out before I even start writing as mentioned in the previous answer. What I have done quite a few times is write something in the past tense which needs to be in the present, to give it more immediacy. The killings in The Gemini Factor – which are being seen by Jack as they happen – had to be told in the present tense for instance. He’s being ‘shown’ the murders, so it made sense for them to be depicted that way, slipping from past to present tense to give that effect.

Chris Barili: Yes, and fortunately my very good editor caught all the areas I screwed it up.

Bobby Nash: Sometimes I will go back and try a different POV. Sometimes, a different POV helps.

Nancy Oswald: Yes, I started one book in third and it wasn’t working. As soon as I switched to first person, it clicked. (First example above is the one where I switched.) This is all it took for the book to become more immediate for me.

How do you determine what POV to use?

Paul Kane: Whether it’s first person or third, it’s usually the person who’s central to that story or chapter whose POV we’re in. So, you work out who that is before starting… No point telling a chapter from the point of view of a waiter in a restaurant who might be leaving the scene before everything kicks off, or you’ll miss the action.

Chris Barili: I take an initial stab at a certain POV based on how close I think the reader should be to the main character and change it if it doesn’t sound right.

Bobby Nash: As with so much of what I do, it’s a gut feeling.

Robbie Cheadle: A Ghost and His Gold was written from the point of view of three of the main characters: Michelle, a modern young woman; Pieter, the spirit of a Boer; and Robert, the spirit of a British soldier. Each of these three characters told sections of the story from their points of view. Each section was presented as a chapter or series of chapters. I have learned not to ‘head hop’ and to keep different points of view together in this manner.

Do you prefer to use single or multiple POVs in a story? Why?

Paul Kane: Again, it depends on what you want to show. In The Family Lie, the most recent PL Kane thriller, I was only really going to tell the story through the eyes of Mitch Prescott, but my editor suggested I tell a parallel tale of what was happening to his sister, Bella, at the same time. Then you could dovetail the two together for the finale… And she was absolutely right. Not only did it stop the story from getting dull, it allowed me to write from a male and female POV, alternating between them as I went. I found the whole thing really satisfying and from the feedback I’ve got readers really enjoyed reading about what Bella was going through; a few even preferred her to Mitch, so I might make her the focus of a story of her own at some point down the line.

Chris Barili: Depends on the story. More complex books with more complicated plots and large worlds usually require multiple POV characters.

Bobby Nash: Multiple all the way. I want to follow more than one character. Multiple POVs allow me to do that and get insight into more than one character.

Robbie Cheadle: I prefer to use more than one point of view as I think it makes the story more varied and interesting. I like each main character to have their own chapters which progress parts of the story.

Nancy Oswald: For my age group, always single. As an adult reader, it has to be done well, or you risk losing the reader with too much switching or poor transitions.

Kevin Killiany: It depends on the needs of the story. Certainly if there are major subplots each would require its own POV.

When employing multiple POVs does each character get equal page time?

Paul Kane: Bella and Mitch more or less did in The Family Lie, though perhaps Mitch got slightly more as he was closer to the mystery than she was. But again, it depends. You might want to just drop in on a character to shake things up, if you’ve been with another one for a while and things are getting stale. Every now and again in Her Last Secret I’d have a chapter from the wife Julie’s perspective, or the policeman Mathew Newcomb, although for the majority of that novel we’re in the head of Jake: the bereaved father. It was just to make sure things weren’t getting too same-y, but also give us a taster of what some of the other characters were going through during the course of the tale.

Chris Barili: Nope. Only as much as they need to tell their story.

Bobby Nash: I play it by ear. I mean, obviously, the main character is the main character so that character can’t be sidelined too long. I just play it by ear to best serve the story.

Robbie Cheadle: The different characters don’t necessarily get the same page time. It depends on how the story goes, how long each character lives, and whether that character becomes a ghost.

Kevin Killiany: No. Each character gets the time and space they need to tell their story—so far that has never resulted in every story being the same size.

Do you switch POVs within a chapter or do you wait for the chapter break? How do you indicate to readers that a POV switch has occurred?

Paul Kane: I tend to do it chapter by chapter, unless I’m trying to make a point. In Her Husband’s Grave I have a chapter that’s mainly told from psychologist Robyn Adams’ perspective where she’s interviewing someone and isn’t quite sure whether they’re good or bad. Then, right at the very end, we switch to that person’s POV and are left with absolutely no doubt about their intentions. I did this on purpose to give the reader a bit more information than Robyn has, which creates suspense and tension. But, mostly, I do it chapter by chapter because there’s no confusion that way.

Chris Barili: If I switch at a point other than a chapter break, I show that break with asterisks.

Bobby Nash: I use a chapter break.

Robbie Cheadle: Initially, I used section breaks within a chapter for different points of view. Now I use chapters for different points of view and section breaks for changes in setting or time.

Kevin Killiany: The Dirt and Stars novels are epistolary; each chapter is an entry from a different character’s personal account—they almost always see the same events differently or focus on different details. Mara has been instructed to keep a journal of her time on Earth; Beth keeps a diary; Jael is making a meticulous record of her efforts to break the Space Service color barrier; Fatima, who has a social communication disorder, records personal interactions to review with her therapist; Lije, confident he will accomplish much in business or politics, is keeping cross-referenced notes to facilitate writing his memoirs; and Thom, a denizen of Brahe Station who will be introduced in volume 4, is another diarist.
When I shift POV in a short story, I simply insert a blank line and make sure the first sentence after tells the reader exactly where we are. (Some publishers insert centered asterisks or plus signs in the blank line.

Do you prefer to write in past or present tense? Why?

Mario Acevedo: I prefer to write in the past tense since that is more familiar to the reader.

Chris Barili: Past. Present tense is difficult to maintain for longer works, and hard to read no matter what.

Bobby Nash: Past tense. Every publisher I’ve worked for has requested it so it’s just what I’ve always done.

Robbie Cheadle: I like to write in present tense, but usually write in past tense because readers favour it. Some readers won’t read books written in present tense.

Kevin Killiany: Past. That’s how we tell stories—have told them since stories were first recorded. Present tense story telling is a recent affectation that makes structural sense only in second person stories, wherein the character is speaking directly to the reader or to a second, unvoiced character.

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That’s all for this week. Be sure to drop in next Saturday, when we’ll have an introduction for contributing author Chris Barili, who contributed an essay on character development, “Character Blueprint”, & a Q & A on setting & world building.

Ask the Authors 2022

“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!”

—Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon

You can delve into the wisdom of all ten contributing authors in Ask the Authors 2022. It’s the writing reference no author should be without. Get your copy at your favorite book distributor at our special send-off price, for the duration of the blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

_____________________

Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Action, Pacing & Dialog

Hello again, and welcome to segment 5 of the “Ask the Authors” blog series. This Saturday series features introductions to each contributing author and excerpts from the Q & As featured in the newly released Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology.

If you missed any of the earlier segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-Writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session

This week’s segment features an introduction to contributing author Mario Acevedo and a Q & A on action, pacing, and dialog.

Meet Mario Acevedo

Mario Acevedo is a national bestselling author of speculative fiction and has won an International Latino Book Award and a Colorado Book Award. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies to include A Fistful of Dinosaurs, Straight Outta Deadwood, and Blood Business. For 2020, he has short fiction in the forthcoming anthologies, Psi-Wars and It Came From The Multiplex, and a Western novel, Luther, Wyoming. Mario serves on the faculty of the Regis University Mile-High MFA program and Lighthouse Writers Workshops. Mario has also been a presenter and panel member for both the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference, and the 2021 New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

And now, on to the Q & A.

Action, Pacing & Dialog

Do you have any tips for writing action scenes/fight scenes/car chases, where blow by blow descriptions could get tedious?

Mario Acevedo: Summarize. Only share the high points and include internalizations. Also add details that are often overlooked like nausea, panic, pain, exhaustion.

Paul Kane: I grew up watching a lot of action movies and TV shows, the ’70s and ’80s were a golden age for action as far as I’m concerned. So, a lot of that went in without me having to do much. I used to recreate certain action scenes with my toys, or I might race off up the garden with mates to pretend fight. When I wrote the Hooded Man books, I had to have a lot of action in there, so I got very good at not making things boring – there are only so many ways to describe a punch, for example. But the key I found was to visualize the scenes, even play them out – just like I did when I was a kid – so that they become, again, more believable. I was delighted when one of my battle scenes for Broken Arrow was compared favourably to those in The Lord of the Rings movies, especially Helm’s Deep; that’s one of my all-time favourite battles on film, so I did a little happy dance that day. The way to tackle any fight or action scene, whether it’s huge like the ones I’m talking about here, or just one-on-one, is to break it down into its component parts. Ask yourself what you need or want to show. Then do your research, watch a lot of fight sequences, or action scenes, mix and match the moves that are being made. If your character is a master of martial arts, study it. I had a character called Tanek, for example, who was skilled in the Israeli hand-to-hand combat of Krav Maga, so I went out and researched that. Jennifer Garner actually studied that for Alias, so I watched some fight sequences from the show. They used a very particular form of combat for the Batman fight scenes in the Nolan movies called the Keysi Fighting Method, which favours forearms and elbows, so it’s worth trying to find something that’s not been done before perhaps. Or not done very much. Finally, give your fight and action scenes a sense of character, make them like a dance or a ballet. They need to have rhythm, flow, so your reader can easily picture what’s happening. Too much going on at once is a big no-no, because you’ll lose them. Same goes for very dry descriptions of a fight: now this happens, now this, then this… Try and find a way to make your descriptions interesting, maybe comparing them to something, like two animals barging into each other or what have you.

Chris Barili: Know what you’re talking about. It seems obvious, but may writers take it for granted, and end up writing nonsense that loses the reader. For example, I have studied the martial arts most of my life, and I hold a second-degree blackbelt in Karate. Thus, I know that someone trained primarily in Judo or Jiujitsu will be a grappler by preference, while a Karate stylist will be a stand-up striker who looks to avoid going to the ground.

Bobby Nash: It can be difficult to keep fight scenes fresh. I learn the choreography, walk out the fights, play around with different ways to describe the action. How is the character feeling/responding to the action? I wrote a car chase once and showed it from the POV of a passenger in the car instead of the driver. As he’s holding on for his life, we get a sense of the danger that way as opposed to only descriptions of what the car is doing.

Robbie Cheadle: I am writing my second novel involving war which includes fighting scenes. I intersperse the fighting with dialogue, humorous comments, scenes of eating, drinking, and entertainment, and the receipt of letters from family and friends.

You cannot maintain tension at high levels for too long or it becomes monotonous and over-done. In real life, people relieve tension by singing, and making jokes, and talking and I follow this practice in my writing.

Nancy Oswald: Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the scenes readers skip.” Ralph Fletcher: “Write small and use slo mo. The more tension you want to create, the more important the details. In general focus on one detail well rather than all the details which can wash out a scene.”

How do you handle scenes where there is a lot going on, like battlefields or fights in busy settings?

Paul Kane: As I say, break it down into smaller chunks. Show the scale of what’s happening by all means, like an establishing shot in a movie, then focus in on certain specific fights and details. These will usually be with your main characters if it’s a big battle – so I would zoom in on a fight Robert, my Robin Hood, might be having with someone. Then cut to maybe Jack, who is my Little John, and see how he’s getting on. You have to give everyone who’s a main character a turn in the sun, plus give the reader memorable moments – like Robert taking down the Apache attack helicopter with a bolas.

Chris Barili: This is a tough one. I have found that choreographing the whole thing on a sketched-out map of the physical surroundings can help, and if that’s not enough, having some friends act out the scene can help you identify errors, misjudgments, and so on.

Bobby Nash: I try to make sure all of the necessary information is relayed. If you have a lot of characters, you have to try and balance who has dialogue or stuff to do so that they don’t disappear from the scene. POV helps here too.

Robbie Cheadle: I keep my sentences fairly short during battle scenes, and I use a lot of dialogue to break up the action.

How do you keep action flowing smoothly within a scene?

Mario Acevedo: Keep the scene and story question in mind so that the action strengthens the plot.

Paul Kane: Just keep it tight, moving from one bit of action to the next. Even in a small fight, if you have a character get punched or kicked, it’s enough to say it just winds them or takes them down – you don’t have to go into lots of detail about how it feels, whether they’re recovering, what’s going through their minds as they’re fighting. Keep it rattling along at a good pace. Sounds stupid, because it’s a fight, but make it punchy.

The use of weaponry is a good way of handing readers little details that help them visualize what’s going on. Everyone knows what a knife or rifle or handgun looks like. Of course, it depends very much on what kind of fiction you’re writing. A lot of my Hooded Man stuff was military based, because of the nature of armies fighting each other, so readers who enjoy that kind of thing like you to include the names of weapons, specifics relating to what they can do. Does a certain gun jam more often than others? Which are best for close combat as opposed to distance? I once wrote a story about an assassin called Mr D, who had to tear through lots of guards to get to his target. That started off with long-range sniper rifles, and ended up with hand-to-hand fighting as he got closer to the building his mark was in.

It’s also fun to write about weaponry that’s totally out of context, for example plates and pans in a kitchen that can be used to fight with. In my novel Lunar, Nick Skinner raids old castles and museums to get swords, shields and axes to fight the monstrous Loons. Similarly, The Storm was set in an old castle so weapons like that were no-brainers, but I do have my main character – who’s there as a workman – fight off a huge crustacean with a mini-digger. It was just what was around and big enough to tackle the oversized beast, but it worked a treat.

Chris Barili: Keep it short. A ten-page car chase will lose a reader like a prologue. 

Bobby Nash: When writing action, I use shorter sentences, short, choppy dialogue, sometimes interrupted dialogue. That reads faster so the reader reads the action scenes faster, highlighting the fast-paced nature of the scene. During an action scene is no time for deep thoughts or anything extraneous. Keep it simple and keep it moving.

Do you consult experts to ensure your action is true to life? How do stories benefit from getting those little details right?

Paul Kane: If you know someone who’s been in the military, or police, or someone who teaches self-defense then definitely use them. Use any friends for anything which requires specialist knowledge. This might be something as everyday as fingerprinting or gathering DNA at a crime scene, say, or if you know a scientist it could be as big as how the universe works. But you don’t necessarily have to go to experts like that these days if you don’t know any, because information is freely available on the net and in books – especially writers’ handbooks. At the same time, talking to experts sometimes throws up interesting scenarios and might take a story in a direction it wouldn’t otherwise have gone.

Bobby Nash: Research can help, sure. Whatever you writer, whether it’s a real-world fight or two super-powered characters battling, you have to write it as though it’s real. If you believe it, the reader will believe it.

Robbie Cheadle: I read a lot of non-fiction to gain knowledge about the subjects of my historical novels. To get a good feel for the era, I read works of fiction set during that time. Fiction reading gives me insight into how people lived, socialized, travelled, and dressed during the period in which my novel is set.

Nancy Oswald: I’m a nut for accurate historical detail, even if it plays a minute part in the story.

Pacing

How can dialog help pace your story?

Mario Acevedo: Dialog is a great way to advance the plot by having the characters reveal crucial information or to help build a character. Dialog is more active and interesting then authorial narration.

Paul Kane: I think that’s where the planning comes into it, once more. If you have a chapter breakdown you can see where the novel needs tightening up. Is there too much exposition in a certain chapter, not enough? Too much action all in one go, or not enough for long periods? Are you hooking your reader at the end of your chapters, making them want to go on and read more in the next chapter? Even if you’re only writing a short story, if you jot down the structure of it in a few sentences you can usually work out where you’re going in terms of pace. Compare whatever you’re doing to other novels or short stories, see how they’re paced. If you want to write, then you have to read as well – like Stephen King says in On Writing. There really is no other way to learn how to do this. Similarly, if you’re scripting TV or film, then go away and watch how they’re paced. Or a comic or audio: read comics, listen to audio dramas and make notes. It really is the only way to learn your craft, whether it be characters, setting/description or pacing.

Robbie Cheadle: Dialogue speeds the pace of a story up, so I use more dialogue for tense, fast paced scenes.

What methods do you employ to control and maintain the pacing in your story?

Mario Acevedo: Know when to show and tell. Show is “reveal,” during which you draw out the narrative in a way that pulls the reader into the story. Tell is “exposition,” which you need to keep the reader oriented in between reveals.

Paul Kane: Try and stick to the plotting and planning you’ve done, even if it’s in broad strokes. That doesn’t mean your story can’t go off on a tangent if something occurs to you, but go back to the outlines that you’ve done at that point and rewrite those, see where the new development might take you. Predict and project, then go back to the writing of the tale. In my opinion that’s really the only way to keep a rein on the thing and make it go where you want it to go.

Robbie Cheadle: I break my story down into manageable pieces for each character. In my current work-in-progress, I am alternating chapters between Jake at the Western Front during WW1, and Kate in Orange, New Jersey.

In slower sections I use longer sentences and more detail and description to slow the pace down.

I also use introspection to develop my characters and control pace.

How do you find the right balance between action and dialog?

Paul Kane: For me personally, that’s something which just comes with practice. The more you write, the better at judging this you’ll be, until you’ll be doing it by instinct almost without thinking. If you drive, remember what it was like when you first started, trying to keep it all in your head? And once you’ve been on the road a while, a lot of that becomes like second nature to you, doesn’t it? Or it should do at any rate. It’s the same thing with writing really, you develop these skills over time – so that you can tell when something needs balancing out with a bit of dialogue, or a bit of action. It’s all just about putting in the work, honing your skills.

Nancy Oswald: Try to do them both at the same time by using appropriate action-filled tags.

Dialog

How do you write dialog that sounds natural and realistic?

Mario Acevedo: Listen to the way people speak, then write a tightened version. People tend to repeat themselves. Catalog unique ways in how people express themselves. Also, keep in mind the character’s agenda when using dialog.

Paul Kane: The trick is to get the balance right between it sounding naturalistic and conveying information. Most dialogue should be moving the story along or serving the story, otherwise what’s it doing in the piece at all? In real life we all have conversations that are just random or serve no purpose, or we get distracted and break off from a conversation to talk about something else. You can’t do that in your fiction, because people will get bored. Or they’ll think you’re not in control of your own writing, which would be true at that point. I get criticized a lot for not finishing sentences in dialogue, but what I’m trying to do is leave readers in a bit of suspense, whilst at the same time making it a bit more realistic. Human beings very often leave sentences unfinished, if they’re interrupted or just shocked. I don’t do it all the time, and like I say some people find it jarring, but it is one way of creating naturalistic dialogue if you have a reason for it. Another way is to just let the dialogue flow, batting it backwards and forwards, but don’t forget to keep reminding the reader who’s speaking with a ‘Mike said’ or whatever, every now and again. Or have a bit of action, like Mike scratching his head or getting up and walking across the room to break things up if you’ve had several lines of dialogue. I always find arguments quite easy to write, because the flow of them comes across as very believable, and you can include lots of relevant information. For me, it’s quite easy to imagine a couple of people having an argument, because it happens a lot in our everyday lives; lots of people have opposing viewpoints, so it’s fun to try and get both sides of that across.

Chris Barili: Listen to people talk and write dialogue that way as much as possible. Do NOT write dialogue in grammatically correct sentences…we don’t speak in MLA format, either.

Bobby Nash: A trick I learned is to read the dialogue out loud. That will tell you if it works or not.

Robbie Cheadle: I read all my stories aloud to myself, and to anyone else who’ll listen. Reading my writing aloud helps me to spot errors and clumsy unnatural dialogue.

Kevin Killiany: I read it aloud. (Yes, I do character voices.)

Do you use dialog tags? Basic or varied?

Mario Acevedo: I vary them and use action tags as often as possible. Remember that in interpersonal communication, half of what we communicate is non-verbal so include those clues: tone, pauses, eye movement, facial expressions, gestures, changes in posture to emphasize what is being said.

Paul Kane: I tend to stick with the basics, unless you’re trying to say something specific. For example, ‘he spat’ shows how shocked or mad that person is by something that’s been said. I tend to steer clear of things like ‘he pontificated’ or anything complicated like that, as it throws you right out of the story. But good old-fashioned ‘he said’ ‘she said’ works just fine. It’s amazing how your eye glosses over this when you read. Try it for yourself, read a page from a book, then go back and re-read it looking for those tags – and I guarantee you won’t have spotted half of them.

Bobby Nash: Yes. I used ‘said’ most of the time, but if I need to add a punch to a line, I may use a different tag.

Robbie Cheadle: When I use dialogue tags, I generally stick to ‘said’. I don’t always use a dialogue tag, sometimes I prefer to use an action by the speaker to indicate who is talking.

Nancy Oswald: Both or not at all. Let the actions act as your dialogue tags.

Kevin Killiany: I stick to basics, with some variations. Many times I leave them out. Example:

                Pilar realized her watch had stopped.

                “Jerry? What time is it?”

                “Four. Uh, four oh eight.”

                “Which?”

                “Four oh eight. Nine, now.”

You know who’s saying what and you get an idea of Jerry’s personality with no tags.

Any pet peeves with dialog?

Mario Acevedo: Info dumps and a character not saying the obvious in response to what’s going on.

Paul Kane: Not really, just if the conversation isn’t going anywhere or serving any kind of purpose. Having two characters discuss what they’ve had for lunch, for example. Unless that lunch caused food poisoning that results in something significant happening in the plot, then what’s the reason for including it? 

Chris Barili: No robot-speak unless the character is actually a robot, and usually not even then.

Bobby Nash: Noting specific. I try not to be cliché.

Kevin Killiany: People speaking grammatically correct written English with every pronoun unnecessarily identified. Normal conversation—even in formal situations—is usually made up of sentence fragments because spoken English assumes all members of the conversation understand what’s being discussed.

Would you share a brief excerpt from one of your best dialog scenes?

I asked this question and got some wonderful responses, but most of them are too lengthy to include here, so I guess if you want to view them, you’ll have to buy the book.

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That wraps up this week’s segment of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. Be sure to drop by next Saturday, when we’ll introduce Nancy Oswald and bring you a Q & A on tone and all that entails.

Ask the Authors 2022

And don’t forget to grab your copy of the Ask the Authors writing reference anthology, at the special 3.99 price for the duration of this blog series, from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Bowlesian! – Godling: Part I

Godling: Part I

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now.


According to the oral tradition, the Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything. Godling’s own subjects–the Ancient Spacefarers–overthrew and imprisoned him on the remote grasslands planet of Isolinius, there to dwell in perpetual confinement under the watchful eye of the monastic Divine Order of Battles Won.

Eons came and went. Human beings lost their drive for exploration and personal cosmic growth. They segregated themselves onto small worlds. After a sum of almost 5,000 years, the prison complex’s abbot warden, Renaldo Timekeeper, 126th in the Order’s line of such individuals, approached the god machine with a demand.

“I have two young friends, prisoner. They need help, and no one else on this planet will provide it. They will have an audience with you. In truth they’re already here, and their cause is as just as any.”

Godling studied Renaldo closely. Though he was intelligent and often keen in his worldly perceptions, the abbot warden was short, bald and foppish, preferring colorful robes and jeweled affectations, an annoying resplendent tone in his conversations and meandering arguments.

“I should very much like to kill you, abbot warden,” Godling said. “Have I told you this lately?”

“You have,” said Renaldo. “Repeatedly.”

“Then we understand each other. They bribed you, didn’t they? These friends of yours?”

Renaldo hesitated. He ran a gloved hand over his huge bald spot, saying, “If indeed it matters in any way, prisoner, the girl’s father–”

“Yes, the girl. Flush with love. That’s trouble to begin with. Their cause is romance, isn’t it? You clearly deserve to die, abbot warden. You don’t mind doing it yourself, do you? I seem to have lost the use of my hands, oh, 5,000 years ago.”

Godling’s enormous body had been constructed of an ultra-resilient Darkwork alloy. His brain contained a multitude of mechanisms and tissue chips, and his heart was made entirely of inky liquid circuit matter. The Ancient Spacefarers had neatly severed him into six parts in their rush to dethrone him: head, arms, torso, legs. They’d entombed and imprisoned these parts deep within Claustrum Mons, the highest mountain on Isolinius.

Godling’s head now rested in what was known as the Orange Room, there upon a pedestal, with his eyes pointed at the orange ceiling. From the base of his head–the severed end of his alloy neck–ran a thick, fibrous red line like rope. The line stretched, straight and taut, to the far wall of the room, disappearing there and linking with his other body parts in the other rooms of the prison.

“Prisoner,” Renaldo said, “you have neither the authority to command my death nor the time to see it through. As long as the rulers of this world regard you as an inexhaustible adviser–”

“Ah! Aha! Now we’ve struck it!” Godling bellowed. “Inexhaustible advisor. Your words, abbot warden, not mine. They come and go all day long. But this girl, and this boy. Hmm, trouble.”

Through a healthy slathering of a special and vibrant orange sensory-paint, the like of which Golding had invented himself, he observed the two young people as they made their way farther and farther down the long tunnel that burrowed deep into the side of the monstrous alpine slope of Claustrom Mons. They were barely more than teenagers, perhaps nineteen or twenty. Through the orange paint, Godling took the full measure of them. He lived in paint now. A special kind composed of a fine poly-organic blend of neural wireless transmitters and perception receptors/dispatchers. Orange for sensory, purple for locomotion, green for touch. He could inhabit anything and everything coated in the stuff, and so, he made the entire prison his body.

“They’re nearly at the blast doors, Renaldo,” Godling fumed. “Who opened the doors for them?”

“I did.”

“Just like that? Because you can? How I shall begin, abbot warden?”

Renaldo cleared his throat. “Perhaps, god machine, you should begin by introducing yourself.”

Yes, perhaps. Then again, perhaps Renaldo’s brain might be better employed as a protein-rich piston lubricant. Love and lovers. Hmph. Godling withdrew all perception from the Orange Room. In a flash, he nestled himself within a long patch of orange sensory-paint in the blast door safety chamber, the size and span of which fairly dwarfed the boy and girl. He spoke a dozen decibels louder than he intended, his voice harsh from the buzz of his concealed, quivering vibrathreads.

“Children, I can see you.”

The girl shrieked and the boy jumped back.

“I don’t mean to startle you.” Godling said, “Only to announce my presence. Hello. This is an announcement. Here I am.”

The girl’s eyes darted around the chamber.

“Here?” she said. “Where’s here?”

 “And who’s I?” said the boy. “I mean, who are you?”

Godling watched them closely. He studied the manner in which they held each other, clutched, clung, fresh excitement and fright brightening their cheeks and warming their skin. Godling sniffed them, tasted their scents. Pheromone levels high, anxiety toxicity enough to choke a rabid pneumatic horse. Taste of fear, smell of sex. Oh but they were so deep in it.

The boy looked the brazen, heroic sort. The kind Godling had long ago loved to crush beneath his massive clawed feet. Dark hair, dusky complexion, full, expressive lips. Crush, crush, crush, crush. And the girl …

The girl was a beastly thing. A creature any smart machine knew well enough to leave alone. Beautiful; gorgeous, even. Biologically … rather perfect. And did she look like…?

No, of course not. No woman alive looked like her. Nobody could ever come close.

“Who are you? Where are you?” the boy said.

“Ah, a man of action,” Godling said. “I do not like that. I should very much like to kill you. Universe takes all kinds, I suppose. I am Godling. Also known as the god machine. Also known as the god king. Also knows as the truest king of all. Also known as–”

“The monster king,” said the boy.

The girl’s face lit up. “The machine who ruled humanity for five centuries, ushered in an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, permitted humans to travel the stars, and who took for himself the name Godling, because he truly was a god among men.”

“This is all true,” said Godling.

The boy cocked his head. “The same machine who debased himself for the love of a woman, lost his mind to rage, and who, without any warning at all, slaughtered millions of his own subjects.”

“This is true as well,” said Godling. “I also like to sing. Did you know that? Come along, now.”

He left the patch of orange in the safety chamber and flashed to the receiving room beyond.

“Well come on,” he called to the lovers when they moved not an inch. “Wouldn’t you like to see what your bribe has bought you?”

The boy and girl exchanged a nervous glance, and then as one, they stepped through. Godling made certain to close the doors behind them with two deafening clangs.

“Wouldn’t want any monster kings making a run for it,” he said pleasantly. “Off we go, then.”

*****

“Ressia,” said the girl. “My name’s Ressia.”

“Brennan,” said the boy.

Godling smiled inwardly. “There, isn’t that better? Good to be on a first-name basis, hmm? Now about your bribe …”

“Please, hallowed one,” said Ressia, “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about us.”

The lovers followed Godling from one patch of sensory-paint to the next. The reception wing, the common, foot tunnel row, all the while, disturbing and unnerving monks wherever they went.

“Don’t mind them,” Godling said. “Not used to such lowly figures roaming their hallowed halls. Now child, about this wrong idea business. Surely you must know I am incapable of getting wrong ideas. Why, the rulers of this world–”

“Seek your counsel every week,” said Ressia. “Yes, we know.”

“That’s why we’re here,” said Brennan. “You see, her father–”

“Fathers,” Godling said. He moved further up the foot tunnel. “I am not concerned with fathers, nor am I interested in progenitors of any kind. The emperor of the entire Northern Continents seeks my counsel every third pseudo-day of each second cycle. And Delinius, the neo-liege, personally visits my Orange Room every time he has a crisis of faith. Do you have any idea how often a neo-liege has crises of faith?”

“No,” said Brennan, “but you see, her father–”

“And then there’s the trouble between King Marshal of Sevrum and Stevrik III of Quaratania.” Godling flashed into the security firezone antechamber, the room that stood directly outside the prison proper. “Don’t get me started on them. Some silly thing concerning Stevrik’s daughter. She desires, I’ve been told, to forsake her betrothed and marry her lover who … ah … ah, I see. You are Stevrik’s daughter, aren’t you?”

“I am,” Ressia admitted.

“But this is wonderful.”

“It is?”

“Yes. Don’t you see? You have come here for no good reason. You will leave my prison desperately disappointed, and I shall not be bothered with your nonsense a moment longer.”

Brennan scowled. “If you have no intention of hearing what we have to–”

“No intention? Never said that. Who said that? Never said it.”

Godling, in fact, had every intention of hearing what the lovers had to say. For if they hoped to gain a thing from him, he now hoped to gain something back. A plan began to form in the outer-regional processes of Godling’s mind. Oh, but he was a devious, calculating, beast of a machine. And if he had his way, young Ressia and Brennan would soon come to know it. 

“Please,” Godling said, “step into my prison.”

With the merest of thoughts, he deactivated and slid back the eighteen locking pins of the prison’s purple security door. It swung open slowly, groaning on its massive hinges.

“The first things you shall see, children,” Godling began, “are the razor-sharp claws of a genocidal mad-machine who feels no remorse at all.”

“My god,” Brennan gasped. “That … leg. It’s so large. And the room’s so….”

“Purple,” said Godling. “Yes, I know.”

The purple room, or more accurately, Purple Room One. Orange for sensory, purple for locomotion. Godling had the power to move anything coated in it. He had, at different points throughout the centuries, experimented with moving these very walls and this ceiling as a means of escape. In fact, of the 927 escape plans Godling had initiated in the past five millennia, Purple Rooms One and Two had been directly involved in 156.

Too bad those 156 plans had all proven failures. Along with the other 771.

“What is that there?” Brennan asked. “That red rope coming from the wall?”

“Ah, you’ve notice the bloodwire. Contains no blood at all, of course. Yet it does keep my body powered down at all times.”

“And just how tall are you, hallowed one?” said Ressia.

“Oh, I am a sight. The height of three men. Four if I care to feel insulted. Of course, if I were to feel insulted, I’d probably use those claws there to shred your skin and internal organs to long, sopping strips. Shall we?”

He quickly ushered them into Purple Room Two, and then, into Green Rooms One and Two. There, his arms rested upon their pedestals. Thick as ancient tree trunks, fingers spread wide like the wings of carrion gorgers. Green was for touch-paint, used throughout the prison precisely so Godling could feel, as if with his own Darkwork alloy fingers, a soft pillow or a damp cloth or the warm touch of a–

Godling’s memory banks refreshed. He saw her with the precision and exactitude of second sight. Auburn hair, like the sunset, wisest brown eyes. And the twisting, fiery agony they’d endured together….

“Hallowed one?”

Her image had a death grip on Godling’s primary visual tasking matrix. 5,000 years and he still couldn’t comprehend everything he’d lost.

“Hallowed one? Godling?”

Godling’s focus returned to his Green Room, to the boy, Brennan, and to the girl. No, she couldn’t compare at all. Blonde, not auburn. Beautiful, yes, but not nearly so exotic.

“The Orange Room,” Godling said, doing his utmost to quarantine the affected memory pathways. “To the room and to my counsel.”

Brennan shook his head. “But that’s only five rooms. The history vids say there’re–”

“Six. Yes. The black room is off limits, child. I will surely kill you for just the thought of it.”

*****

“You see, my father is King Stevrik III.”

“Yes….”

“And I do not wish to marry that horrible, despicable, lazy-”

“Please, child, before I corrode.”

A chance to escape. That’s what Godling hoped to gain from the boy and girl. To finally break free of this infernal prison once and for all. The fact the girl was Stevrik’s daughter simply added defensive sheen-varnish to the protractile warblade cake. Oh but Godling was a sly, cunning, fiend of a machine. 

Escape plan number 928 initiated. Proceed with escape plan 928.

He’d gathered the humans together, the young lovers and the oafish abbot warden, Renaldo Timekeeper. Renaldo sequestered himself in the corner of the room, content to fiddle with his white administrator gloves. No other personalities to contend with or further agendas to factor. No more perfect tools to employ than this young man and this young woman. Simple, effortless. Easy as ripping arms from sockets.

“Stevrik’s sworn enemy is King Marshal,” said Brennan. “The betrothal was meant to unite their thrones. But she loves me. We are meant to be together.”

“Yet it would seem Ressia’s betrothed swears otherwise,” Godling said, his large alloy head upon its pedestal glinting hazy green in the solvent battery lighting. “He is a prince, child, someday to be a king. What have you to offer this woman?”

“My mind, of course,” said Brennan. “My life, if necessary.”

“Money?”

“Some.”

“Job?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh dear, it’s worse than I thought.”

Keep them talking. That was the key. That was step one of escape plan 928. Yes, and what was step two? Renaldo most certainly had to be dealt with in step two.

“Well, Renaldo?” Godling said. “You’ve been rather quiet. Wasn’t it you who sold my time to these wretched romantics?”

“I didn’t sell them a thing. They simply required your help and I was willing to offer it. Use your influence to sway their fathers. Their cause is just. The war, you see …”

“The war?”

“The war,” said Ressia. “Because I have chosen not to marry the prince, Marshal has declared war on Quaratania, our city, our people.”

“Is that so?” Godling said.

Hmm. Quaratania to the East, at war with Sevrum to the West. And Claustrum Mons in the middle. Yes, perhaps the best time to escape. And Renaldo was in deeper than Godling had surmised. Deep enough he should champion their cause. He had to be dealt with, and of course, over the years Godling had considered many options for such an eventuality.

“Renaldo, if you wouldn’t mind terribly joining me in my black–”

A violent quake impacted the mountain and dropped Renaldo, Ressia, and Brennan to the floor. Claustrum Mons, and the prison within it, grumbled and groaned. Godling’s vibrathreads hummed in response.

Renaldo shouted, “Faith preserve us! What was that?”

Godling spread himself outward. He flashed to every patch of orange, everything green, every purple surface he could manipulate and move. He had the answer in less time than it took the rumbling aftershocks to wave and ripple their way through the complex.

“Detonation,” Godling said, returning full consciousness to the Orange Room. “A precise, constrained explosion equivalent to fifteen megatons.”

“Detonation?!” said Renaldo. “Where?”

“Outside the monastery. The blast doors have been blown apart. They’re coming for you, children.”

Another voice sounded from his vibrathreads. Quite unlike the voices of the three humans, and very much distinct from Godling’s. The god machine was in complete control of all his many faculties, and yet this voice, singular and crystal-clear, had the utter nerve to announce itself over his own synthetic vocal chords.

“I am General Praebus of his majesty King Marshal of Sevrum’s third mounted army. This is a raid designated lawful under the decrees of engagement set down by the Ancient Spacefarers. Give us what we want, monks, and no harm will come to you.”

The vibrathreads crackled a few times, and then went silent.

“Oh but this is terrible, Brennan!” said Ressia. “What are we going to do?” She pressed herself against her love and began sobbing.

“Now’s not the time to panic, my love,” said Brennan. “The god machine will help us.”

He would? Really? Godling hadn’t said he would. Perhaps he might have lied about helping them, but the boy and girl were sure to be killed. In needing to escape, they needed Godling, and in needing Godling, the monster king might finally leave this place. Of course, he told himself, that’s what he’d wanted all along. But now that it actually came to it …

“I can’t,” said Godling. “I’m sorry. I don’t feel like it.”

Brennan frowned. “You what?”

“I don’t feel like it. My body, it would take too long to free, you understand. We’d have to fight them off by ourselves and … Oh, hold on a moment, are you aware the monks have a private arsenal? De-atomizing submachine guns and other various nasty anti-doomsday deterrents, and if they see you trying to set me free–”

“They’ll do nothing, Godling,” Renaldo said. “They’ll stand down and impede neither General Praebus’ men nor the four of us.”

Ressia let out a moan. “Oh, he won’t help us, my love! He won’t help!”

“Ressia,” said Renaldo, “don’t you think it’s time we dispense with the pretenses? The wolves are nipping at our heels, my dear.”

Ressia silenced herself. She scowled at Renaldo, pulled away from Brennan, and then she straightened her dress and uttered, “It’s called commitment to an objective.”

“Objective?” said Godling. “Why are you talking about objectives? You don’t actually intend to release me, do you?”

“Most humbly, hallowed one, it was the only way to get inside,” Ressia said. “Rest assured, I am Stevrik’s daughter, and Brennan and I are in love, and Marshal’s men really are here–”

A second explosion shook the Orange Room. The overhead lighting flickered a few moments, then the low groan of the backup power sources steadily thrummed to life.

“They’ve hit the solvent batteries,” said Renaldo. “They must have engaged my brethren, despite assurances otherwise. Stay on guard, my young friends. We made plans for this.”

Godling shouted, “What are you talking about! What plans? Just what in the hells is going on here?!”

“A prison break,” said Renaldo. “One now rather short on time.”

He dug into his robe and removed a small metal canister with a thin, needling projection brush.

“Brennan, Ressia, your clothes, if you please,” he said.

The two lovers began dropping every last stitch of clothing. After squirming from their undergarments and shoes, they stood there naked. The abbot warden approached and used the projection brush to block them out into even sections. He projected three solid colors–green, purple, and orange–until overlapping layers covered every square inch of them. In less than half a minute, Brenan and Ressia looked like sad glistening mud people.

“Nicely done, abbot warden,” Godling said, bothering in no way to clear the condescension from his tone. “I fail to see the purpose, however. Am I now meant to inhabit this paint? I couldn’t possibly. Not without seeing what I touch and moving what I hear. The thought is rather mind-numbing.”

Renaldo shrugged. “Would it matter if I told you?”

“It would not. They shall all get shot to tiny, mud-colored pieces, and I shall have to spend weeks reconstituting my personality inside this big dumb head of mine.”

“You won’t leave?” Renaldo asked. “You’ve made up your mind?”

“I will leave. On my own terms. When the time is right.”

Renaldo smirked. “You’re a terrible liar, Godling. If you’d wanted to escape, you would’ve done so millennia ago.”

“That’s a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” Godling said. “I’ll have you know, I had a very, very, reasonably well-thought-out plan this time. Step one, keep them talking. Step two, deal with the oafish abbot warden. Step three–”

“Plan? What are you up to now? Nine hundred twenty-eight? Godling, people who escape prison only ever need the one plan. Has it ever occurred to you that you don’t actually want to leave?”

Godling had no response for this. None at all.

“Come with us, god king,” Renaldo pleaded. “Don’t waste away in here another five thousand years. Take back what once was yours, if not for yourself, then for all humanity. Resume your role as truest king of all.”

“It’s rude to nag, abbot warden,” Godling said, and then he sent the precise amount of noise through his vibrathreads to simulate a definitive conversation-ending crackle.

Renaldo frowned, as did Brennan and Ressia. Another explosion rocked the complex. The lights dimmed again, and this time, set themselves into a troublesome flicker.

“My friends, I give you the stubbornness of a machine,” the Timekeeper said. “The door is open. I have overridden his commands. I say again, the door is open.”

Brennan and Ressia shared a glance. The boy gave her a curt nod, and then both of them spun on their heels and rushed out the door.

“Where are you going?” Godling said.

“Wolves at our heels, god machine,” said the Timekeeper

“What door did you open, Renaldo?”

But the abbot warden wouldn’t say. Godling spread himself outward, finding them instantly. There, they headed for the Black Room. Oh no. Godling flashed across the prison to the large black door and tried to force it shut. He set all his processing power to the task. Another quake hit the complex. The lights cut out completely. He pushed, pulled, threw every iota and byte at it. Renaldo’s overrides were crude but effective.

In the darkness, Ressia and Brennan bashed into each other and fell into the room. It felt to Godling like a violation of the highest order. He hadn’t permitted anyone inside in over six hundred years.

“Is that it?” panted Ressia. “Is that all we have to do?”

Yes, that was all they had to do. And no, that wasn’t it, there was more. Unlike the other five rooms, the Black Room wasn’t named for the color of a paint. The black was something else, something deeper, so personal and interior to Godling it may as well have been his soul.

A loud crack split the silence. The giant chest piece of an ultra-resilient Darkwork alloy body broke in two. A deep, ruddy light shone from the chest and illuminated the room and Godling’s torso upon its pedestal. The black spilled over. It gurgled up through the alloy and blubbered and splashed onto the floor. Lunging for Ressia and Brennan, the black attached itself to them, covered all the muddied color of their bodies.

They screamed, writhing on the floor in abject agony. Godling felt the pull. It was inescapable, magnetic. He vanished from his sensory-paint at the door, flashed to the black, felt himself split in two. Green, purple, and orange, the three colors represented essential facets of a functional, conscious being. But every being needed a heart, or if one was a machine, a liquid circuit matter core. Godling felt the connection to the inky stuff, the attraction and resonance he had for the children and their paint. In engineering terms, his mental architecture had always been slaved to hardware. After the wars and terror and the annihilation of millions, it was said of Godling his heart was black as night. Here, in truth, was incontrovertible proof.

Continued Next Month!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Character Development

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome to Segment 4 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, where we’re offering up a little taste of what you’ll find in this hot new writing reference of the same name. Ask the Authors 2022 features writing tips and advice on craft, publishing, and book marketing from ten talented authors and industry experts.

In case you missed some of the previous segments:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany – Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash – Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle – Plot/Storyline Q & A session

This week we meet bestselling horror author Paul Kane, who shares his love of the horror genre in his essay, “Writing Monsters”, and bring you a Q & A session on character development.

Meet Paul Kane

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over a hundred books, both fiction and nonfiction. Some consider him to be a master of the macabe. He has been a guest at numerous writing events and conferences, and he was the keynote speaker at the 2021 WordCrafter New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen. His audio work includes full cast drama adaptations, he has also contributed to the Warhammer 40k universe for Games Workshop and writes thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins as PL Kane. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family.

Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

And now, on to the Q & A.

Character Development

Nancy Oswald: This whole section was hard for me because I’ve never been good at planning a character. Lists aren’t helpful to me. What is helpful is to put your main character into the middle of their world and write from there. I usually have an ending or a direction in mind before I start writing, but there have been times when the character determines the story and not the other way around.

Do your characters ever surprise you?

Mario Acevedo: I never thought I’d be a writer who said that my characters have taken over the story, but it has happened. Big surprise, it was female characters. I’d have in mind a script for them, which they would rip to pieces and tear off on their own.

Paul Kane: Oh, all the time! If you’ve made them ‘real’ then they’ll suddenly do something that you don’t expect. That is to say, it’ll momentarily surprise you and then you’ll say: ah, of course that’s how they’d react because of… whatever it is you’ve seeded in their past. It’s really your subconscious putting things like that in, things you’ve set up and forgotten about, then when a character does something unexpected it’s only that you’ve forgotten how apt it was in the first place.

Chris Barili: Yes, all the time. If a character is predictable to me, it will be the same to a reader. So, I let them surprise me in whatever way they seem to need. Those surprises don’t always make the story, though.

Bobby Nash: All the time and I love it. In one story, a character let me know that I had the villain wrong. This character was the villain, not the one I had planned to be the villain. The kicker is that the story worked so much better once I realized that this character was indeed the villain.

Robbie Cheadle: No, my characters follow a pre-determined path decided by me upfront.

Kevin Killiany: Not exactly. I’m the only person living in my head—my characters only look like they have free will. That being said, the longer you work with a project, the more time your subconscious has to compost or ferment or percolate the ideas you’re building with—and that can lead to unexpected discoveries that give texture and dimension to the character. Sometimes my characters evolve over the course of writing and rewriting to the point that they person they’ve become wouldn’t do what the story required. Usually that’s an indication there’s something wrong with the story, not the character.

What makes a character interesting?

Paul Kane: I think it goes back to believability once again, which most things do. They have to be well-rounded, living and breathing people. If I get it right, the characters feel real to me. When I talk about them and what they go through, I talk about them as if they exist. You have to think that way in order for other people to believe them and believe in them. A lot of that means knowing your characters inside out, how they’d react to certain situations – in particular the ones you put them in. Would your character run away from a monster or just get stuck in, have a go, even if it meant dying to save others? That kind of thing. A lot of writers think giving characters quirks makes them interesting, but if there’s no reason for that to be there it just stands out. If you give your character gardening as a hobby, unless he’s fighting a giant plant then it’s not really something that should crop up in your story. The character of Alex Webber in Before was a lecturer, so that meant he was interested in making sure the next generation were educated and could make well-informed decisions. So when the future of the world is threatened, of course he’s going to fight against that; it’s just something rooted in his DNA. Those are the kinds of things that make characters interesting, not whether they sleep on the left or the right in bed.

Chris Barili: They have to be flawed. No one wants to read about perfect people with perfect lives and no conflict whatsoever. It is our characters’ flaws that make them realistic, and that set up most of the conflict in the story. After that, it is the act of exaggerating the characters, making them larger than life. Again, no one wants to read about normal people with normal lives. They want heroes and villains who are large and in charge. Would Dirty Harry have worked if he were a normal cop carrying a .38 special? No, because being a six-foot-four rogue cop with a .44 magnum in gleaming silver makes him stand out.

Bobby Nash: I don’t know. Interesting is like art or porn, I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it. I need to have something to connect to with a character. Once I have that connection, I understand the character.

Robbie Cheadle: My characters all must overcome a lot of adversity in their circumstances. I believe that the growth in the characters as they play the cards which they are dealt by life makes them interesting.

Jeff Bowles: I think I have an answer to that question: idiosyncrasies, idiosyncrasies, idiosyncrasies. The thing about real people is that we all have our strange little quirks that make us who we are. And these are behaviors and beliefs it’s taken us a whole lifetime to accrue. It pays to think of your characters as being a little odd under the surface. The problem with a lot of storytelling out there is that too many authors figure their characters exist to serve the story. They don’t, it’s the other way around completely. Let your characters speak for themselves. Let the breath a little, see where they really want to go next. Don’t push them into situations that don’t serve their full expression. Let them tell you who they really are.

How do you make a character likeable?

Paul Kane: Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you shouldn’t. I get reviews sometimes that say ‘the characters weren’t very nice’, but then look at some of the things they’ve been through. My psychologist Dr Robyn Adams went through a trauma at the hands of a serial killer, so is addicted to pain killers and drinks too much, leaps straight in with guys too often – because of something else revealed towards the end of Her Husband’s Grave. But you know what, she’s doing the best she can. Her flaws make her human, like all of us, and they make the moments of bravery stand out all the more. I think if you’re always trying to make your characters likable, you’re missing the point of making them believable. Not everyone’s nice all the time, there are grey areas – and that’s totally where your characters should be operating.

Chris Barili: You don’t have to make them likeable, just relatable. Thomas Covenant in White Gold Wielder (Stephan R. Donaldson) is not a likeable character at first, just a relatable one. He almost loses that with a deplorable act early in the book, bit manages to make it through, at least for most readers. I do know some who could not handle it and left the series behind.

Bobby Nash: I start with a likeable person as their base and build the character up from there.

Kevin Killiany: I never consider likeability. I try to make my characters as real as possible—which means complex, with parts some folk will like and parts some folk can’t stand.

How do you make your characters feel real?

Chris Barili: What are their fears and flaws? Read my article, “Character Blueprints” (Ask the Authors 2022) for the tools I use to do this.

Bobby Nash: As I mentioned above, I get to know the characters. Once that happens, they become real people to me. They have their own quirks, foibles, fears, flaws, strengths, and weaknesses. Just like real people.

How do you create a villain readers can love to hate?

Mario Acevedo: Readers must have empathy with all of your characters and understand why they do what they do. Their motivations must be consistent and compelling. One of my best villains was a female mad scientist who at first you cheered until you found out what she was up to.

Paul Kane: I don’t think there’s any magic formula, but the key thing with villains is again that they aren’t just cardboard cutouts. They can’t just be evil for evil’s sake, there needs to be reasons for what they’re doing. My bad guy for the Hooded Man books, De Falaise – essentially my version of the Sheriff of Nottingham – was motivated by the fact that he’d been kept down before the A-B Virus hit. He was a small bad guy in a big pond. The apocalypse gave him the freedom to create a kingdom of his own, so that was his motivation – and Robert, my Robin Hood, stood in his way. You got the impression with some Hood stories in the past that they just hated each other because one was bad, and one was good. In my books, just as Robert has his failings as a leader – for starters, he doesn’t want to be a leader and would much rather hide out in Sherwood waiting to die – so too does De Falaise have his good points, like his loyalty to companions like Tanek, his second in command. I mean, he is evil when you get right down to it, because some of the things he does are reprehensible, but there still needs to be some good in there. Having said all that, the most fun I’ve had writing a bad guy was The Infinity in Before. He’s a version of the Devil, essentially, and likes to meddle in human history. Writing lines for him, simply because he was a stereotypical big bad, was wonderful. It allowed me to put myself in the head of someone who has very few redeeming qualities, if any at all.

Chris Barili: I find that a couple of things can pull a reader into a love-hate relationship. First, a sense of humor. Even if it’s macabre or inappropriate, the ability to make us laugh endears even a harsh villain to us. You can also give that villain a good side by having him or her save a puppy or show some other admirable trait. Intellect combined with arrogance are a nice set of offsetting traits. But most of all, make them flawed like the hero. If they are invincible and pure evil, no one will want to read their stories. Take The Governor on the AMC series The Walking Dead. We find out early on that this otherwise despicable villain lost his whole family to the walkers and thus has them all locked up in his home as he hopes for a cure.

Bobby Nash: Same way as with a likeable character. I get to know them and understand why they do what they do. No villain thinks of themselves as the villain. Most villains believe what they are doing is right or justified. Very rarely is anyone evil just for the sake of being evil. Let the readers see the multiple facets of your heroes and villains.

Robbie Cheadle: Characters that do sadistic and unkind things are easy to make readers dislike. However, my characters all have redeeming features so the reader will end up conflicted, even when the character is behaving at his/her worst.

Do you ever create characters based on people who you’ve actually known?

Paul Kane: I think by necessity characters are mish-mashes of people you’ve known and other characters from books, film or TV shows, plus bits of yourself sometimes. I’ve never based a character wholesale on someone, as that way lies being sued, but I include certain traits from people I’ve known or still know. I was brought up with a lot of strong women around me, so I write a lot of tales with strong female protagonists. RED, my horror reworking of Little Red Riding Hood, is an obvious example of that. Rachael Daniels is someone who fights the wolf rather than running away from it, isn’t frightened to go up against a challenge. Her love-life might be a car crash, but she’s someone you want around when there’s trouble for sure.

Chris Barili: I will plead the fifth on this question, and all writers should, whether they have done this or not. Admitting that you have sets you up for legal action by others.

Bobby Nash: Oh, sure. I have many characters where the basis is a real person that I then built on top of to create a new character.

Robbie Cheadle: Yes, some of my characters are modelled off people I know. Grandfather Baker in Through the Nethergate has a lot of my father’s personality and characteristics. Michelle Cleveland in A Ghost and His Gold has some of my personality and characteristics, but she is more forgiving and generous towards her partner than I would be in the same circumstances.

Some of my characters are model on several people I have come across in a similar situation. For example, Tom Cleveland in A Ghost and His Gold is based on a combination of men in senior positions I have worked with in my own life.

Kevin Killiany: Every character is a composite of people I’ve known. Let’s face it, the only way to research people is to hang out with them a while. I never drop a whole person into a story—it’ll be A’s speech pattern, B’s fascination with baseball, C’s gestures, etc. Of course, those are just the starting points. As I know my character better everything will change, evolve.

Do any of your characters share traits with you?

Paul Kane: You can’t help but put bits of yourself in stories. I’ve talked about Alex Webber from Before being a lecturer, which I was for a while at college, so I could write about him with a degree of confidence and make sure it was authentic. I’ve always been scared of the dark and nighttime, which comes across in a lot of my stories. The little boy at the beginning in Of Darkness and Light – recently reprinted in the collection Darkness and Shadows – is very much based on me as a kid. Staring out into the darkness at bedtime and imagining all kinds of things lurking inside. But I think the writing also helps with tackling your fears, and in that particular story I could make the ‘creature’ in the darkness someone who was actually watching over the character of Lee Masterton, someone who would protect him from harm. He just didn’t know it at the time.

Chris Barili: All of them, of course. We cannot create characters without at least a little dash of ourselves in them.

Bobby Nash: Absolutely. There’s a little something of me in all of them. Some, more than others.

Robbie Cheadle: As mentioned above, Michelle is similar to me in some ways, but very different in others. She is a better me.

Kevin Killiany: Never the main character. But if there’s a plucky sidekick who alternates puns with sardonic commentary, that’ll be me.

What methods do you use to introduce readers to your characters?

Mario Acevedo: One of the techniques that F Scott Fitzgerald used to masterful effect was that he introduced his major characters in terms of their personality rather than merely describing their looks. I keep that in mind as I write my stories.

Paul Kane: I think it helps to show them doing something that defines them, so perhaps through their job. Most detectives are introduced through a crime scene for instance, and then we learn how good they are and what it means to them to be a cop. I introduced my main character Mitch Prescott – who at the start of The Family Lie is a PC – via a riot scene. He’s tried to tell the powers that be that there will be trouble at a demonstration, but they’ve totally ignored him, and of course – surprise, surprise – a riot breaks out in which one of his closest friends is injured. It forces Mitch to question what he’s doing on the Force, which leads to his dismissal when he confronts a senior officer about what happened, which in turn makes it easier for him to just go off and investigate what occurred with his father’s death in his hometown of Green Acres. But just from this one chapter, you realise he’s a man of integrity, a man who’s loyal to his friends, and a man who doesn’t like it when people don’t listen to his warnings – so you set up conflict for later when he reaches Green Acres and he’s being blocked at every turn.

How do you motivate your characters?

Paul Kane: I think that’s the same thing as what motivates us as people. We look after our friends and family, because we love them, and are sometimes motivated to do things we might not otherwise do because they’re in trouble. What motivates characters is the same as what motivates people in real life, because, remember, we’re trying to make those characters real. So, the father of murder Jordan Radcliffe – Jake – is motivated to find out who the killer is, not only because he loved his daughter, but also because he feels like he failed her. Failed her in life as a father, so he doesn’t want to fail her now in death. That’s a powerful motivating factor for any character. In my short novel The Storm, out through PS Publishing, the main protagonist Keegan is all about keeping the woman that he loves safe, even if it means battling giant monsters to do so. Love’s a big motivation for anything, I find, just like in real life. So are things like revenge or jealousy, the usual big ones.

Chris Barili: They are self-motivated by the situation into which I drop them. Usually, it is the will to survive that motivates them, but it can also be love, hate, rage, longing, and more.

Bobby Nash: How do I stop them? I usually have trouble keeping up with them.

Robbie Cheadle: My ghostly characters are motivated by the chance of redemption and moving on from their existence as spirits.

My physical characters are motivated by compassion and empathy for others and a desire to assist the spirits achieve the redemption they seek.

What kind of adversaries and obstacles do you create for your characters and what purpose do they serve?

Paul Kane: It depends very much on what the story is. Creating adversaries tends to go very much hand-in-hand with creating heroes. Myself and my wife Marie O’Regan – a terrific writer herself – do a workshop on this subject, and that’s one of the key elements. The hero or heroes dictate the villain or villains. Both are probably striving for something but pulling in opposite directions. In Arcana our protagonists are just trying to get freedom for magic-users, whereas the M-Forcers are trying to stop them, hunt them down and either kill them or put them in prison. Both have aims, but they’re the exact opposite of each other. The obstacles they face are very much dependent on the story you’re telling. It could be a man vs nature tale, in which your heroes are just trying to stay alive, so the setting would dictate what happens there. If it’s a shark, then you need to be at sea, if it’s snow then you need to be in the Arctic or Ant-Arctic, or you set it at a time of year when it’s snowing… My short story ‘White Shadows’, for example, is about a girl battling living snow in the middle of winter.

Chris Barili: Since most of the opposition to my characters comes from the antagonist, I always try to think, as I close a scene, “what could the villain do that would completely thrown the main character for a loop?”

Bobby Nash: Stories would be boring if there was nothing for the main character to overcome. Whatever the obstacle is, a villain, a test not studied for, a traffic jam, or whatever, gives the character(s) something to overcome or solve. Hopefully, your character comes out stronger on the other side of the obstacle.

What methods do you use to introduce readers to your characters?

Bobby Nash: We meet the characters in story. I let different characters be out POV in different chapters so we can understand them.

How do you give each character a distinctive voice?

Paul Kane: I think that just comes down to their personality really, who they are and what they do. How they respond to things, whether it’s trouble or something nice, will dictate their voice. So it’s all to do with character creation, and that believability factor again. If they respond in an authentic way, that will give them their voice. If you’ve created a strong female character, for example, they’re not likely to take a man bossing them around lightly. Indeed, they might even knock them out, depending on whether they’re a violent sort or not, or whether the provocation was bad. It’s things like that which give your characters a distinctive voice. 

Chris Barili: This seems to come naturally for me. And I think that come from listening. I did twenty years in the military and traveled all over the world. So, I have had the chance to listen to many different conversations in many different cultures, and all of that goes into giving a character their own voice.

Bobby Nash: Once I get to know the character, they tell me what their voice is and that’s what I write. It all comes down to creating a fully formed character.

How do you feel about killing off your darlings?

Mario Acevedo: I am ruthless. There’s a vacant lot in my neighborhood where I’ve left my darlings rotting in shallow graves.

Paul Kane: Do you mean editing, like killing off your words? Or killing off characters? I love editing, chopping bits and refining, making scenes better. That’s the part of writing I like most, apart from being finished and having written. Killing off characters you love is hard, but all part and parcel of being a good writer. If it serves the story, no matter how you feel about the character, then you need to just get on with it. I always knew that I’d kill off Jack in The Gemini Factor, even before I started, which was difficult because I really liked him. He became like a friend. It gave the ended weight though, gave it an impact that would not have been there if I hadn’t just bit the bullet.

Chris Barili: When it becomes necessary to the story, I have no problem doing so. Sometimes, they get in the way. Other times their story line needs its own story because it is taking over. Other times, the main character has learned to depend on them too much.

Bobby Nash: I do it all the time, so I guess I’m okay with it. Ha! Ha!

Robbie Cheadle: I was advised to kill off a few of my darlings in Through the Nethergate by my developmental editor. It was a little hard to let those scenes go but it was the right thing to do. Listening to good advice is the best thing a writer can do.

What methods do you use to evoke emotion in your readers?

Mario Acevedo: Writing fiction gives you the wonderful opportunity to present what characters are thinking or feeling, either through internalizations or visceral reactions.  I use these inner experiences to ground the reader in what the character is feeling and what is important in the story.

Paul Kane: There are all sorts of ways to do that, from killing off people readers have grown to love – as mentioned before – to putting them through the wringer, or even having them fall in love. If you’ve done your job properly, a reader will feel the emotions characters are going through. So when a character hates or loves something, or someone, a reader will feel that too. I once wrote a story about two ghosts falling in love called ‘Kindred Spirits’. The girl ghost has only just died, so she doesn’t know what she is, and the guy ghost is trying to help her because he’s been dead for some time. Hopefully a reader feels the sadness at the start that he feels, being alone where nobody can see or touch him, then the joy at finding someone else he can talk to and touch, even hug. To be able to cover the range of emotions like that in a short space of time isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding when it works.

Bobby Nash: It’s all in the characters and setting the mood. The emotion comes out of the performance of the character.

Kevin Killiany: Honesty

Which of your own characters was the most fun for you to write? Why?

Paul Kane: I enjoyed writing the character of Nick Skinner in Lunar, because he’s just your average guy in a bizarre situation, having to think on his feet and react to all these weird things that are happening to him. That was fun. And The Infinity, the bad guy in Before, as I’ve said. It was fun to write someone so evil that he’s verging on pantomime level, but that’s just how he is. There’s a scene where someone tells him to stop stirring, and he replies with: ‘I f**king enjoy stirring!’ Because he does. That’s what he’s all about. It was fun creating and writing him, especially writing his lines. The criticism I got the most about that book was The Infinity wasn’t in it enough, so you know you’ve done something right at that point. I’m toying with bringing him back in a short story or two, because you could go back in time and show him at any point – he’s been there at all the major turning points in history. It might be fun to do that…

Chris Barili: I really enjoy writing Frank Butcher, and most of his posse members. They’re some of the most complete characters I have built, and each has their own voice, their own flaws, and their own motivations.  And each has a weird past that helps flesh out their personality, so writing the is easy.

Bobby Nash: That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child or parent. They all have their fun moments for different reasons. I love writing Archer Snow, the surly, but funny grandfather in the Snow series. Tom Myers is also fun to write.

Robbie Cheadle: I have enjoyed all my characters. During the writing process they all become very real and important. Once the book is published, they are quickly replaced by different characters, which is why I haven’t attempted a sequel.

Kevin Killiany: Cadet Fatima Kielani. [I jotted her last name down several years ago when I was watching a news report on Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS—it was on the screen briefly. I assumed it was Kurdish (and have a major supporting character in Life on Dirt identify it as such) but I was wrong. I’ve since learned it’s most common in the United Arab Emirates (with about half as many in Jordan) and is also found in both Austria and Benin, but no one knows its origin.] [It is not the Hawai’ian girls’ name Keilani.] Fatima is a seventeen-year-old Spacer, first generation, born and raised on Tombaugh Station, who volunteers for an experimental program on Earth, even though (or perhaps because) she’s terrified of the place. My background is special education and mental health services, and I gave Fatima a condition that has fascinated me since before it had a name: Social Communication Disorder (Pragmatic Communication Disorder in the UK). In many ways it resembles the Autism Disorder Spectrum, but is in no way related. People with SCD are blind to social norms and nonverbal cues, and must work their way through everyday interactions. I also, because I am cruel and unusual, gave her a rare dissociative disorder: she has trouble recognizing, or feeling, her own emotions.
I have attached an entry from Fatima’s journal to illustrate both how she sees the world and how she interacts with others.

Which of your antagonists is your favorite? Why?

Chris Barili: So far, it’s a tie between Annie’s ghost of a mother in Smothered, and John Wesley Hardin in the Hell’s Bucher-based short story “Witch’s Kiss.” The first because I got to make her up and have her interrupt an intimate scene between her daughter and a man. The second because I researched him thoroughly and felt like I knew him well enough to write a story where this very real gunfighter did some very fictional things, and I feel like I did so without compromising his character.

Bobby Nash: The Controller in Suicide Bomb was a lot of fun to write.

Robbie Cheadle: I enjoyed Lucifer in Through the Nethergate. He was a young, good looking man with an interesting plan to manipulate modern trends and technology to invoke a third world war. I also enjoyed the hell he created.

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That’s all for this week on the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series . Thanks for joining us. Drop by next Saturday, when the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series introduces award winning multi-genre author, Mario Acevedo and offers a Q & A on Action, Pacing & Dialog.

Ask the Authors 2022

Don’t forget to get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 from your favorite book distributor at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Plot/Storyline

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back to the “Ask the Authors 2022” Saturday blog series.

If you missed them, you can catch the first two segments here:

Segment 1Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killany/Writing Life Q & A

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-Writing Rituals Q & A

This is the third segment for this series and today I’m going to introduce you to contributing author, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, who shares her essay about her own publishing journey in the book, and bring you a Q & A on plot, or storyline, from the WordCrafter writing reference anthology, Ask the Authors 2022.

Meet Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a writer of young adult and adult fiction in the supernatural fantasy, historical horror, and historical supernatural genres. Under the name Robbie Cheadle, she is a South African children’s author, publishing the Sir Chocolate series with her son, Michael, and a poet with 2 published poetry books.

To date, Roberta has published two novels, Through the Nethergate, and A Ghost and His Gold, along with several short stories in various anthologies including Whispers of the Past, Spirits of the West, and Where Spirits Linger, all edited and compiled by Kaye Lynne Booth, and Dark Visions, Nightmareland, Spellbound, Wings & Fire, and Shadowland, all compiled by Dan Alatorre.

Robbie is also a member of the Writing to be Read blogging team and co-editor of Poetry Treasures (2021) and Poetry Treasures 2: Relationships (2022), two poetry anthologies with contributing authors who were guests from her “Treasuring Poetry” blog series. When she is not writing, Robbie enjoys working in the garden and creating fondant and cake artworks to be featured in her children’s books.

And now for the Q & A.

Plot/Storyline

How do you feel about prologues? Love them or hate them? Why?

Mario Acevedo: I’m not a fan of prologues and as I see them as superfluous to the story. If you must include a prologue, then call it Chapter One to make sure readers like me won’t flip past it.

Paul Kane: I have no strong feelings about them either way. Sometimes I’ve used them, other times I’ve gone straight into Chapter One. I know some writers who say if you can avoid Prologues then do it and just start with the first chapter, but I think if it serves a purpose then there’s a place for one. I tend to include them in the thrillers, because it’s always an event that kicks things off – so for example in Her Last Secret, it’s the death of Jordan Radcliffe, in Her Husband’s Grave it’s the discovery of a body on Golden Sands beach, and in The Family Lie it’s a couple of campers who see a man on fire in the woods. I then split the narrative into parts, and in Chapter One I tend to introduce the main protagonist, so it might be the person who’ll be doing the investigating; someone whose eyes we’ll be seeing most of the events in the book through.

Chris Barili: I normally skip prologues in the books I read, especially if they’re more than two pages long, so naturally, I try to avoid them in my own writing. I tend to be of the mind that if it’s important enough to be in the story, I can be “Chapter One” or background info sprinkled throughout the story.

Bobby Nash: Prologues have their uses. I don’t think they need to be used in every story and I certainly don’t use them as an info dump. Sometimes, they work well.

Robbie Cheadle: I have no strong feelings about prologues. If the story requires one, then it should be there, if not, it can be omitted. I have not as yet included a prologue in one of my books.

Nancy Oswald: Not too fond of them. I think it’s better to jump right into the story.

Kevin Killiany: Prologues are essentially exposition—they explain the conditions or situation that make the story itself possible and necessary. Sometimes they contain information vital to the climax or outcome of the story that the writer could not figure out how to insert into the narrative itself. Like any tool they are not good or bad in and of themselves. I have, rarely, used prologues as placeholders in rough drafts; repositories to hold essential information until I work out how to work the really important bits into the narrative. Only one of my short stories ever went to press with both a prologue and epilog: “Simple Farmer”, Total Warfare, FanPro, 2006, a tie-in story for the Classic BattleTech RPG. They contained information long-time players knew, but new and less minutia-oriented readers would need to understand the story’s significance to the game.

What is the most difficult part of the story to write: beginning, middle or end?

Mario Acevedo: For me, the entire book is a challenge. I tell new writers not to sweat a perfect beginning because it’s often not till you write the ending do you figure what the beginning needs to say. The middle is called “the swamp” for good reason and the key here is to keep in mind the story question as you introduce plot twists.

Paul Kane: This changes, depending on at which point in the story or book you ask me. It’s hard to make a start on a project, because you’ve just got the blank page in front of you. But then it’s just as hard the next day to come to it and see another blank page… I tend to flag about halfway through and wonder what the hell I’m doing or wish I’d never even started it. The end is definitely the best part, if you’ve panned it well and can bring the book in for a good landing. There’s no more satisfying feeling in the world than having written the book. I always joke that I hate writing – which for a writer probably isn’t great – but I do love having written. Having a first draft that I can then tinker with. That’s my favourite part of the process if I’m honest, apart from getting the idea in the first place and developing that. But even at an early stage, you’ve got the whole mountain of a book to write ahead of you, which can be quite daunting. 

Bobby Nash: I don’t know if I would call it more difficult to write, but the middle is usually where I start getting bogged down. Knowing when to transition from the middle to the end can be tricky.

Robbie Cheadle: It is all the same for me. I have the outline in my head, and I write in that direction. I do not find any parts more difficult, and I am for consistency and fluidity throughout my stories.

Jeff Bowles: For me, a short story or novel isn’t complete until I’ve managed to synthesize a decent tie-up ending. It can be tough to do, especially if you aren’t using a road map or outline of some sort, which I often do just to see where the story takes me. Sometimes I do a lot of preplanning, and that can certainly help, but even then, things in the plot can and do change, which means a good ending can still be hard to stick. Beginnings carry all the burden of proof, the reason someone will or won’t want to read your work, but even they depend on where a narrative ultimately ends up. As the saying goes, the seeds of an ending are always found in its beginning.

Nancy Oswald: Each book is different.

What are the elements of a good plot?

Paul Kane: That it hangs together well and is pacy. That there are no flabby bits which are unnecessary. Every bit of your story should be relevant and serve a purpose; if you could take certain bits out and still have the same plot, then they weren’t necessary in the first place. That it moves along well from beginning to the middle, to the end, and leaves a reader satisfied; and by that I mean content that they haven’t just wasted a chunk of their lives reading it. It’s why I always plan, so I can see the shape of the plot and work out what sections need to stay, which can be salvaged, and which need to be jettisoned.

Bobby Nash: I tell stories that I hope are coherent, make sense, and are entertaining. If that happens and the characters work, I’m happy.

What is the best hook you’ve ever written? Why?

Paul Kane: Ooh, that’s a hard one. Do you mean at the beginning of a story to make the reader go on? I’d say probably The Family Lie – and reviewers have mentioned this a lot! It’s the whole thing of showing those campers hearing something in the woods, looking out and seeing a guy on fire among the trees. I mean, what on earth’s going on there? If it doesn’t make you want to read on and find out then I’ve really not done my job properly. Up there with that is probably the start of Servants of Hell. That purposely mirrors the puzzle box scene with Frank from The Hellbound Heart, where he’s trying to solve the Lament Configuration and summon the Cenobites. I have a very similar scene, but right at the end you discover it’s Sherlock Holmes solving the puzzle just as the Cenobites show up. We then go back and find out how he ended up in that situation, but man what a hook! I was the one on fire the day I wrote that.

Chris Barili: Probably the opening to Guilty, the prequel to my Hell’s Butcher series. It opens with the main character face down in a saloon, dead from a gunshot wound. His first interaction is with a bartender who is half-rhinoceros.

Bobby Nash: I love this opening to Snow Falls.

“Abraham Snow knew he was about to die–

–and the thought of it pissed him off to no end.”

What kind of stakes do you set for your characters?

Paul Kane: Usually quite high stakes. Even if it’s something that’s high stakes for them alone, something that means a great deal to them, but might not to anyone else. You have to give characters motivation, nudge them to do things they might not otherwise do, and the only way to achieve that is by making it a high stakes gamble for them. They might lose their marriage, kids, or even their life. It makes a reader keep on turning the pages to find out how they’ll get on. In Lunar, the stakes really couldn’t be any higher for my protagonist Nick Skinner: he needs to find out why the world became stuck at a certain point in time; what the white-eyed Loons are roaming about, killing people; and he needs to find out where the love of his life Dawn is. Track her down and save her. Hopefully you go along with him for the ride to find out how he gets on. 

Chris Barili: Again, that depends on the story and the genre. The stakes in a romance are a broken heart or happiness, while that in a horror story might actually be losing their heart.

Bobby Nash: Every story is different, but the stakes have to impact the character on some personal level. If the character doesn’t feel anything or there’s no stakes for them, the reader has no reason to get invested.

Robbie Cheadle: Through the Nethergate and A Ghost and His Gold were both about ghosts which have become trapped in between the physical world here on earth, and the afterlife. The reasons for this happening are different in both books, but the ghosts searching for redemption, so they can move on to the next level of existence is a common thread. The Soldier and the Radium Girl is different and is about a young couple’s quest for justice.

Do you write in subplots purposefully or do they develop organically for you?

Paul Kane: I work all those out beforehand, when I do my planning. That’s when subplots will occur to me and develop organically at the ideas level when I’m figuring it all out. As I mentioned, that doesn’t mean it’s all set in stone, there is always scope to change things if it makes the story better, but it allows you to figure out what main plots and subplots you’re going to need before you even start writing.

Chris Barili: Both. I plan some, and others pop up during the course of telling the story. If your characters are realistic enough, and you know them well enough you won’t be able to avoid the latter happening at least a little in your story.

Bobby Nash: A little of both. In writing series like Snow or Sheriff Myers, I know plot points for future books so I set up things that will pay off later. There are times, however, where I’ll decide something later and go back to set up the subplots and discover they are already there. Sometimes, my characters are smarter than I am.

Robbie Cheadle: Subplots do develop organically for me and are often a result of the interesting additional information I discover through my research as I go along.

Nancy Oswald: Develop organically.

Kevin Killiany: Subplots are always purposeful. In fact I always write complex or substantive subplots as individual stories in first/rough draft. Jigsawing the parts together—trimming, expanding, and polishing as needed—is part of the editorial process. 

How do you assure that all subplots are resolved at the end of the story?

Mario Acevedo: I don’t because I like messy endings. The main story question is resolved, but usually involves a compromise by the protagonist. Unresolved subplots are good places to hitch up a sequel.

Paul Kane: Well, they might not be – but that would be something you leave dangling on purpose. For example, and this is a spoiler, at the end of The Gemini Factor we find out that one of the main characters Deborah is pregnant with twins. This was part of the subplot of her falling in love with Jack, a twin himself, who ends up getting killed. So we don’t really see the resolution of what she does about having his kids… unless I do a sequel, which actually I’m intending to do at some point. So leaving things open-ended sometimes can shoot off into yet another story. Pulling on a story thread that you’ve left dangling.

Chris Barili: Well, first off, some are not resolved because I want them to continue into the next book. For those that wrap up in the current book, I create a plot line, usually color-coded, in my beat sheet for that subplot so I don’t forget it.

Bobby Nash: Keep good notes. There was one time I realized that I had forgotten to resolve a plot point and so I started planning how to resolve it and the characters showed me which way to go. It turned out far better than my original idea. That’s why I trust my characters to get me where I need to go.

Robbie Cheadle: I engage the services of a developmental editor to read my stories carefully and help me tidy up lose threads, tighten the storyline, and produce the best story possible. I am also fortunate enough to have two Beta readers who read my work chapter-by-chapter and help me resolve issues and lose threads or contradictions as I go along.

Kevin Killiany: Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they’re hooks for the next story.

What methods do you use to add tension and conflict to your story?

Mario Acevedo: Make sure the characters, even those on the same side, have competing agendas.

Paul Kane: Well, I use suspense to ramp up the tension. And if you want to know how that works, just go away and watch a bunch of Hitchcock movies because he was the master. Show the bomb and the ticking clock under the table, but have the characters oblivious to it. That’s suspense, folks! As for conflict, you have to have characters with different points of view, just like in real life. Where do all the arguments come from in your own life? People who disagree with you on a certain course of action or about beliefs. Just look at something like The X-Files, which I watched from start to finish again recently. Mulder’s the believer, Scully’s the sceptic, and we watched the arguments – as well as sexual tension – between them for many years. Opposing viewpoints, yet when the chips were down they worked for the common good; the perfect combination. In my novel Arcana, which is set in an alternate universe, I had a young M-Forcer whose job it is to police magic users, unwittingly fall in love with a member of a group of magic users he’s chasing. Then you ask the question: what now? Will he turn his back on what he believes for love? Or bring her in? Or is there more to what’s going on in the first place than they know? It makes for tension, conflict and… if you’ll pardon the pun, given the novel in question, sparks.

Bobby Nash: Character moments are good for this. There are also tricks you can do on the writing side. Short, choppy sentences speed up the action. Long paragraphs slow it down. That sort of thing.

Robbie Cheadle: It depends on the book in question. With my current novel, there is a lot of irony because a lot of readers will be familiar with the story of the radium girls. War stories include their own tension due to the conflict situations that are innate in the history. I make use of flawed characters so that they do things that create conflict situations through their own poorly thought-out actions and their strong ideas and views about other characters and the situations they are in due to external circumstances.

Nancy Oswald: If I’m bored the reader will be too, so I try to pay attention to that and analyze where the story gets slow (or not).

Kevin Killiany: Mostly I just add tension and conflict. You should always keep in mind that every character is the hero of their own story—every character has a reason for what they’re doing. Begin with characters you care about (Not the reader, you; fake it ≠ make it.) and give them compelling reasons for their actions. When the actions and the underlying reasons for those actions of two people you care about run contrary to each other, the conflict generates the tension.

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That wraps up the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series for today. I thank you for joining us and hope you found some of this useful. Next Saturday will bring you an introduction to contributing author, Paul Kane and a Q & A on Character Development. See you then.

Ask the Authors 2022

And don’t forget to grab your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 from your favorite book distributor at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL here: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Pre-Writing Rituals

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back for segment 2 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, with an introduction to Bobby Nash, who shares how to manage the many tasks which being an author entails, to the Ask the Authors 2022 Writing Reference Anthology, and a Q & A on Pre-Writing Rituals.

Last week, we learned a little about myself and author Kevin Killiany, in addition to the Q & A session on Writing Life. If you missed it, you can find it here.

And now on to this week’s post.

Meet Bobby Nash

Bobby Nash is not a man of action, a detective, or a hero, but he loves writing about characters who are all of those things and more. Bobby is an award-winning author of novels, comic books, short stories, screenplays, and more. He is a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers and International Thriller Writers. On occasion, he acts, appearing in movies and TV shows, usually standing behind or beside your favorite actor. From time to time, he puts pen to paper and doodles. For more information on Bobby Nash and his work, please visit him at www.bobbynash.com, www.ben-books.com, and across social media.

Pre-Writing Rituals

Please tell us what genre(s) you write in and what type of research is required for your stories?

Mario Acevedo: I write commercial fiction—novels and short stories of supernatural fantasy, horror, and hard-boiled crime. My research is to make the story and setting sound as credible as possible.

Paul Kane: All kinds really. I’ve dabbled in a lot of genres and written in a lot of formats, from comics and audio scripting to TV and film. I started out doing journalism, so non-fiction, and had a couple of books out in that vein: The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is probably the most well-known. Then I returned to writing short stories, because I was always writing those growing up; especially for English classes where the teachers would get exasperated at the length of some of them. I started sending these off to small presses and was lucky enough to get some printed, which then led to a collection. At the same time I’d been trying to write a novel, The Gemini Factor. I’d had a stab at a few before, so technically this was about my third or fourth novel, but the first I wrote with any serious intention of getting it published – which it was eventually, and there was even an anniversary edition which came out in 2020 through Gestalt Media. That was a horror serial killer thriller, by the way – and indeed most of the stuff I was doing back then was horror, and I carried on in that vein for a little while. Then around 2007, I pitched a book to Abaddon/Rebellion for their post-apocalyptic Afterblight series, which was a reworking of Robin Hood. They accepted that and it was my first mass market novel, so I’d shifted into SF at that point and wrote three novels altogether – gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man – plus a novella for them. I also wrote my first YA novel, The Rainbow Man, as PB Kane. At the same time I was writing short films like The Opportunity and The Weeping Woman, and then some audios – I adapted The Hellbound Heart into a full cast audio drama for Bafflegab – as well as working on and running conventions. More recently I’ve moved into writing straight thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins under the name PL Kane and the first of those, Her Last Secret, Her Husband’s Grave and The Family Lie, have all done very well. In amongst all that, I’ve written a couple of short plays too, one of which – One for the Road – was performed at FantasyCon 2015.  As for research, it very much depends on the kind of story you’re telling. Crime research is very different to SF, as you can probably imagine.

Chris Barili: I write in just about every genre, and I wouldn’t say one genre requires more research than the others. Rather, I’d say one series of stories requires it: Hell’s Marshal. Because it is set in the old west, I do extensive research to make sure it is accurate, or at least believable in light of the story itself.

Bobby Nash: I write in whatever genre the publisher wants. So far, I haven’t done a lot of fantasy, nor have I attempted romance or erotica. Most of my work has a thriller element to it. I also write a lot of action and crime fiction. Research varies from project to project.

Robbie Cheadle: My YA and adult books are all historical and most have a paranormal element. I do a lot of research for each book, plotting the historical events on a timeline and then overlying the events of my plot. A Ghost and His Gold had over thirty historical sources and my current work in progress, The Soldier and the Radium Girl, will end up have at least the same number of sources, possibly even more.

I also read a lot of books in the timeframe I am writing about, especially classic books that were written during the period. This helps me gain insight into the everyday lives of people living at the time and experiencing the historical events I’m writing about.

Nancy Oswald: I write mostly Colorado-set historical history for young readers. It’s not always in the same order, but I typically start by reading history of the area, but not always. I like to visit the sites and glean as much as I can about the area. For me, museums and history centers are a huge wealth of material. 

Kevin Killiany: Young adult, because the stories are more direct and revelatory of character. “Hard” science fiction (which means the fictional science is compatible with and based on real world science) and historical. Both require serious research, because accuracy is essential to the authenticity of the story.

How do you prefer to conduct your research: Live? Online? First-hand accounts?

Mario Acevedo: While the Internet is the most used because it is right in my computer, I continue to surprise myself with what treasures you find in newspaper microfiche, libraries, and visiting a place.

Paul Kane: I mainly do my research through a mixture of online searches, books and documentaries. For example for Her Husband’s Grave I did a lot of digging into psychology and serial killers, because my main character Dr Robyn Adams helps the police with their serial cases. For The Family Lie, I watched documentaries about cults and stuff like Jonestown, which led to some sleepless nights I can tell you. The cult of personality and all that. You get first-hand accounts in documentaries about subjects like that, so I haven’t needed to go to the horse’s mouth yet. Apart from in one instance, where I had a weapons expert called Trev Preston who’d help me with some of the details in the Hooded Man series. I’d ask him bizarre things like, is possible to take down an Apache Helicopter with a bolas – and he’d say yes or no. The answer’s yes, by the way, and that scene is in Broken Arrow

Chris Barili: I do almost all my research online.  Just don’t have time or resources to go visit far away places. That said, I did do some of that during two recent road trips.

Bobby Nash: I enjoy meeting and talking to people who do the jobs. I’ve talked with FBI agents, police, doctors, etc. about their respective jobs to get a feel for what they do. That adds a personal touch to the characters I have in those roles. On-line research is an invaluable tool to have at your fingertips. I also like to travel and visit locations where I can set stories and scenes.

Robbie Cheadle: I do all my research on-line and I like to use diaries, letters, and journals from the time, if possible.  Project Gutenberg is a wonderful resource for historical research.

Nancy Oswald: See above, but add first-hand accounts if they’re available. I usually save online for while I’m drafting, because inevitably I’ll need a piece of information that I couldn’t anticipate.

Kevin Killiany: I love a library—finding and searching through physical books—but these days the internet enables one to access more information quickly. Whenever possible, I visit locations used in my stories.

What are your best research sources?

Chris Barili: Town or county historians. As them the time and they will build you a clock.

Bobby Nash: Google is readily at my fingertips. Interviewing people is also a good source of information gathering and adds a personal touch.

Nancy Oswald: I like the online dictionary of etymology. Quick and accurate.

What do you look for in a source: Aim? Accuracy? Authority? Correlation?

Paul Kane: I think you’re always looking for accuracy, because it goes back to that thing of believability again. You need to be as accurate as you can with facts, just so the reader believes in what you’re doing. That said, it’s hard to research some of the things I write about, like monster cats coming back as ghosts and attacking people, but you just have to do your best. That’s where the imagination element comes into it. I recently wrote a story for a charity anthology that takes place in the universe of my novella The Rot, and I had to do tons of research into black mold to get that right – even just for short story. It’s that important.

Robbie Cheadle: I like my stories to be as historically accurate as possible, so I actively look for accuracy and correlate the information I find with as many other sources as possible.

Nancy Oswald: I usually check more than one source if I’m in doubt. For historical fiction I like to be accurate, but love, love, love historic photos for setting. 

What pre-writing exercises do you employ: Outlining? Free writing? Brainstorming?

Paul Kane: I rarely need to brainstorm, because Ideas come to me all the time and I jot them down. This means I’ve got tons of notebooks to draw on if I ever go blank… And I do plans, outlines and chapter breakdowns for novels. I might not stick religiously to them, but I find it helps me focus and keep on the straight and narrow, to keep going whenever I lose where I might be in the story. Like a kind of roadmap. You wouldn’t set off for a destination without having one of those – or a Satnav, or your phone – so why set off on a journey of many hours of hard work and 80 or 90 thousand words without an idea of where you’re heading? Some people wing it, I know, but I suspect they’re just planning it all out in their heads or their subconscious. 

Chris Barili: Yes. And more. Any tool I can get my hands on to make my writing better.

Bobby Nash: I rarely have time for pre-writing. Deadlines do not always allow for that. I spend my writing time writing. When I’m at the beginning of a project and creating characters, I will do free writing and just start jotting down notes as I get to know the characters. Sometimes, plot/story ideas will happen in this stage too.

Robbie Cheadle: I research each section before I start writing a new chapter. As mentioned previously, I have my ending plotted prior to commencing writing and that is the direction I write towards.

Nancy Oswald: Refer to answer about plotting or pantsing. Oh, it’s blank. None of the above. I think while I write most of the time, but I have used a time-line to plot on when I’m trying to track a fiction story-line and compare it to the actual historical events.

Do you try to write to market or write what you love?

Paul Kane: The quick answer is both. I’ve written stories just for the love it them, usually they’re new ones for collections – like ‘The Butterfly Man’, that was a story for a collection from PS of the same name. But I’ve also written for specific markets, like the Hooded Man stuff, or where an editor gives you a theme for an anthology. I wrote ‘The Shadow of Death’ for an anthology called Expiration Date, for instance, ‘Shells’ for an anthology called Terror Tales of the Seaside, and ‘Presence’ for Hauntings. So at that point you’re totally writing for a specific market or theme. 

Chris Barili: Again, yes. I write to market within the boundaries of what I know and love. I won’t shoe-horn my writing into genres or labels, and while I write what I am passionate about, I don’t limit myself to things I know or share with the reader.

Bobby Nash: Write what you love. Writing to market can drive you crazy and often leave you unfulfilled. I speak from personal experience here.

Robbie Cheadle: I write what I enjoy and for my own pleasure. I would like others to enjoy my stories, but that is secondary to my primary aim of personal enjoyment. As a result, I have decided to continue to publish with smaller publishers rather than to try to get representation with a larger publishing house.

Jeff Bowles: I sort of try to do both at the same time, I suppose. I’ve always had this theory that solid, salable fiction can be fun and artistic, too. Crazy, I know, but that’s just how I feel! Anyway, I’ve sort of developed a unique style, and there’s certain subjects I seem to write about again and again, as it is with most authors, I think. When I try to write like other people, the results are mixed, so I learned a long time ago to try to hit the personal enjoyment metric and then sort out what I think is salable or not. It’s a fine line, one that’s almost always difficult to walk, but it’s almost always worth it in the end.

Nancy Oswald: I realized a long time ago I cannot write to a market. For one, living in rural Colorado, I can’t keep up with anything that resembles up-to-date or edgy. The last time I remember trying keep up with cool was when I was a teen (living in Denver) and I practiced doing “The Jerk” in front of a mirror.

Kevin Killiany: Obviously when writing tie-in fiction for a TV show or role-playing game, I have to write for the market. BUT I’m writing for that market because I love the game or show—you have to campaign constantly to get your foot in the door, and that requires a good deal of passion.
With my own, original fiction, I write solely for me. If you guys like it, that’s fantastic.

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That wraps up “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series for this week. Be sure to drop by next Saturday for an introduction to multi-genre author, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, and a Q & A on plot/storyline. (Okay, many of you already know Robbie, some of you quite well. Drop by anyway for the Q & A.)

Ask the Authors 2022

You can get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 at your favorite book distributors at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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