The Next Big Thing

blog hopTag, I’m it, for a round of “The Next Big Thing” blog hop.

A blog hop is essentially a game of tag. In this hop, an author answers ten questions about his/her work in progress, and then tags five authors to do the same thing the following week, and so on and so on, like a Faberge Organics Shampoo commercial. The idea is that readers learn about an author’s current project, as well as discover other writers or books that may end up being the next big thing.

Much thanks to Sarah Hans for tagging me in her blog. Sarah and I were introduced to one another’s work in the Crimson Pact anthologies, and I’ve avidly followed her “Ideal Vessel” tales. She has established herself as an author of steampunk, a genre mash-up of Victorian-inspired science fiction with steam-powered machinery.  Sarah is now editing Sidekicks!, an anthology of short stories about the loyal characters who buttress the heroes, because “the best stories aren’t about the people in the limelight, but rather those standing just behind them in the shadows.”

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Right now, I’m juggling the writing of three articles, two short stories, and continuing education courses (for my employer), along with two longer projects. My Q&A addresses one of the latter.

My Work in Progress

What is the working title of your book?

Scabbies

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I initially started writing horror to deal with a nightmare. This serio-comic apocalyptic novella too began as a scene in a dream, then fleshed out in the ensuing insomnia.

What genre does your book fall under?

Horror

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

If I had my druthers, Brad Pitt would portray the central character, who’s in his late 30s. (Of course, even if there weren’t a character handy, I’d embed one to have Pitt on set.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Dealing with the end of the world is hard enough, but dealing with heartbreak might be the death of Jim whose ex-girlfriend has set her sights and dinner plans on him.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Not sure. Agency representation would be nice…

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One week

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Most Dangerous Game meets 28 Days with brains, not just a hankering for them

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Inspired by a nightmare, the best sort of incentive to get out of bed and start writing.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Scabbies are the next evolutionary step for zombies. Zombies are scary in mass or when creeping up with an overlay of foreboding music.  What is more frightening? A cognizant, strong monster who used to be your friend, your brother, or your lover. A monster with an appetite for human flesh, and he’ll tell you all about it…unless you’ve gotten a head start.

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spotlightAuthor Spotlights

Now, my turn to tag five authors. I’d like to spotlight some fellow Utah writers whose work I admire, in hopes you too will discover them:

Steven L. Peck

This year, I read The Scholar of Moab and A Short Stay in Hell, two literary novels by Steven Peck, and was bowled over.  I only closed the books to eat. The man is genius.  Scholar brings together conjoined twins, a mad poetess, aliens, and more amidst the red rocks of southern Utah.  It’s fascinating, with brilliant characters, and often a deep read interwoven with philosophical insights. A Short Stay is a thought-provoking story set in one of the most interesting takes on Hell. So much for my hopes of ending up in a library in the afterlife.

Patrick M. Tracy

For a wicked good short story, you can’t go wrong with a piece by Patrick Tracy. His prose is tight, vivid, and often spiced with a touch of humor, reminiscent of Jeff Strand.  He seems to write across genres with ease. He’s also an accomplished poet.  I’m hoping he’ll publish a collection of his short stories for a nice long read. (Hint, hint.)

Paul Genesse

Paul Genesse is the literary equivalent of James Brown: the hardest working man in the book business. He is a dynamo.  In the last year, Paul published the third YA novel in his Iron Dragon fantasy series, edited volumes 3 & 4 of The Crimson Pact anthologies, and finished the first draft of Medusa’s Daughter, a novel I had the honor of reviewing as an alpha reader and expect to see in print soon.  He has the page-turning formula down to a science.

Justin Swapp

I feel a definite simpatico with Justin Swapp. We both threw our lot into the fiction market around the same time. He now has a handful of great reads on Amazon, and the artwork of his book covers just make me drool.  His short stories are crisp with twists. I look forward to reading his YA novel, The Magic Shop, this year.

Matt Bailey

While my friend and fellow critique group member, Matt Bailey, doesn’t yet have his novel in print, let me just give heads up that it will be.  His prose is poetry. Plus he does a hell of a job creating his world and writing an epic adventure that leaves you begging for more. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a personal blog yet for linking.)

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Q & A: In Case You’re Curious

I recently did a Q&A with Alliteration Ink, the publisher of the Crimson Pact series,  Spec the Halls, and Eighth Day Genesis: A Worldbuilding Codex, in which I’ve been published. Here’s the write-up from that virtual round table.

Q ~ How do you cope with writer’s block?

A ~ Staring at my computer rarely cures my moments of writer’s block. I become frustrated or bored, then wander off and do laundry. The best way for me to break through and brainstorm is to go on a hike by myself or to walk my dogs in the neighborhood. I hit on an idea and – by the time I return home – I have a scene practically written. Once I walk in the door, watch out: I’m hell-bent on getting those ideas on paper before they flutter away.

Q ~  Do you have any formal training? Did you ever take courses in writing? Did they help?

A ~Yes, yes, and yes. While you don’t need to study English to be a writer, I went that path. My bachelor’s and master’s degrees strengthened my understanding of the language and grammar, taught me to think analytically and synthesize information, and exposed me to the classics and the works of great writers. Equally important, those programs gave me an opportunity to meet others passionate about the craft, and those interactions strengthened my resolve to pursue writing as a career.

Yet, the best training has been just putting pen to paper over and over again. I’ve been writing since grammar school, tackling poems, short stories, newspaper articles, and then onward to corporate documents to pay the bills.  No one needs to have a bachelor’s, let alone a master’s, to be a writer. They only need the drive and the willingness to learn about the craft (including grammar!!).

Q ~ What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

A ~I’ll go with a broad interpretation of this question, and list the most common “demeaning” responses to my being a writer. In fact, on account of these responses, I’m generally reluctant to tell strangers that write for a living because they invariably say/ask:

1) “Written anything I’ve read?” As in, it must not be terribly good or important, if they haven’t. Besides, how would I know what they’ve read? This question also assumes that writers only write fiction. I write for the corporate world, producing technical documents, marketing copy, web content, etc.: writing I’m certain they haven’t read.

2) “Oh, you should write my life story!” or “I have a story you should write.” Then, more often than not, they follow up with said story without preamble. Really? No payment is ever offered. Perhaps they worry I don’t have good enough ideas of my own.

3) “Yeah? I’m going to write a novel too.” I believe we all have stories to tell, and I salute anyone who takes on the task and sees it to completion. But, when I get this response, it seems to be dismissive of the time, effort, and skill involved, like any monkey can do it.  In fact, these same folks are generally not interested in discussing what I write. In sum, their response is like saying, “whatever.”

Q ~ Are the names of your characters important? How?

A ~Names are important because of associations. As a reader, I try to understand why a writer chooses a character’s name. What does that name say about the character? Is it appropriate to the time and setting? Is there some underlying etymology that’s important in the story? Is it a word play? But, more often than not, I think the choice should be subtle and not beat the reader over the head.

Q ~ Do you worry about writing “genre” fiction as opposed to “literature”?

A ~No, I don’t worry because each has its benefits and attractions. They also overlap.

Genre fiction (fantasy, horror, crime, etc.) is also known as popular fiction because it has a wider audience. Thus, more publishers are interested in putting out genre fiction. As a writer, I’d be foolish to snub it in lieu of “serious” fiction that isn’t so easily categorized. Besides, genre fiction is a lot of fun to write, and good writing isn’t limited to critically acclaimed literary fiction.

My First Interview!

Featuring "Inside Monastic Walls," by Chanté McCoy*****"After years of tranquility, Phideas’ life is disrupted when an odd-acting monk visits the monastery. Soon, others are acting strangely, including the donkey which tries to strangle the young servant. But a miracle has also occurred…or has it?"

Featuring “Inside Monastic Walls,” by Chanté McCoy
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“After years of tranquility, Phideas’ life is disrupted when an odd-acting monk visits the monastery. Soon, others are acting strangely, including the donkey which tries to strangle the young servant. But a miracle has also occurred…or has it?”

I feel so grown-up. Recently, Justin Swapp interviewed me about “Inside Monastic Walls” and some of my works in progress.

Check it out: Interview for “Inside Monastic Walls” — A Crimson Pact Short Story

Word on the street: the sequel will be in the next volume.

Interview with Justin Swapp

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing fellow Crimson Pact author, Justin Swapp, about “The Transition,” a story featured in the anthology. As a writer, I’m often intrigued by the process of other authors and the mysterious wellspring of ideas that feed us with so many possibilities. “The Transition” is one of those stories that make you wonder. It sets up an interesting premise…but you’ll have to read it to find out more. Not going to give any spoilers here.

The Crimson Pact is a collection of short stories and flash that build on the introductory tale about demons loosed upon the universe and the people who’ve banded together to fight them. Like me, Justin has a flash piece in the anthology.

Flash fiction is a short short story told in a thousand words or less. Like poetry, its forced brevity compels for a tighter presentation, while still having all the classic story elements of a protagonist, conflict, obstacles, and resolution. However, some of these may be hinted at on account of the limited word count. It’s a challenging literary format.

So, with that preface, let me introduce you to Justin Swapp:

Well, let’s start with a synopsis of your story.

“The Transition” is a flash fiction story about a twenty-year-old man named Sloan who is visiting Spain as an exchange student. One moment he is studying at a café like normal, and the next he finds himself in a really strange encounter with an old, eccentric man. And the conversation quickly turns into a tragedy with a very interesting twist at the end that, I believe, leaves the reader wanting to continue with the story.

That’s the short it.

Okay. I think that still leaves some mystery for those who haven’t yet read “The Transition.” Let me ask, because often when I read, I try to read between the lines in terms of what the author brings to the story. Have you spent time in Spain? Were you an exchange student?

I was born in Spain, and I later served an LDS mission there. So, I have quite bit of time and experience with Spain and its culture. It’s a beautiful place to be, and the café is the center of social life.

For example, it’s very common for total strangers to just walk up to you and try to have a full-blown conversation, almost as if you were old friends, just because you are a foreigner.

That’s interesting. Looks like your life came full circle with the mission.

Yes, it did.

You’ve partially answered this, but where did the idea for “The Transition come from?

It was kind of serendipitous. Before I learned about the opportunity to write for The Crimson Pact anthology, I was coming home from work, and I had this interesting idea surface in my mind about somebody sitting in a café, having an odd conversation. Initially, I was going to have a couple of immortal people have a rendezvous of sorts after many, many years of being apart. The conversation would be mysterious, and curious, and lead to some kind of throw down. Originally I envisioned this as the start to a novel.

When I read the submission guidelines, I found out that it was not only okay, but also encouraged to leverage any existing stories or characters that we had created. So, I started considering different ideas I’d written down. Once I had remembered this idea, I thought that it might be an interesting piece for the anthology. Of course, the immortal idea was probably too big for the flash story, so I modified that into the twist at the end.

I actually have an interesting idea for the continuation story. It’s similar, perhaps, to how you approached your story. It would seem that you wrote your anthology story thinking that there would be a next story. I did the same thing. With “The Transition,” it reads like a first chapter to a novel. There’s definitely a hook at the end, and there’s a lot more of it to come.

I do like that ending. I want to stay away from spoilers, but “The Transition” is really fascinating in what you propose, how that’s conveyed. With your follow-up, can you share a teaser with us?

I was just going back and forth with Paul, the anthology’s editor, about that today. The hero learns that the transfer was a broader event than he knew. He deals with the ramifications of the event, and eventually has to come to terms with his role in everything as it all comes to a head.

How long have you been writing?

Oh, I’ve probably been at it for four or five years is all. When I put a number out there, my wife always corrects me. She says it’s been much longer (making sure I acknowledge her patience with me). I’m going to say about five years.

Tell us some about the projects you’re working on.

I’m currently focused on a young adult fantasy novel called The Magic Shop. Here’s a little blurb I wrote on the story line:

Troubled Marcus and Ellie think all is normal in the world until they are left to tend their grandparents’ Magic Shop.

Here’s the synopsis:

Marcus is a troubled youth. When his grandparents decide it would be good for him to tend the family business, a Magic Shop, Marcus is thrown into a world that he never knew existed. Not only is the family business a front, but Marcus learns that he has been marked as a dead man from the time he was born.

Marcus tries to learn to develop his powers before the Dun-Bahr find him and assimilate the magic he was born with, but can’t use. Will he survive? Will he find his parents? First he must discover the secret his grandparents have been keeping from him all these years. It all comes down to the Magic Shop.

I like that.

Thanks. So there is that book. I’m probably only a few chapters away from finishing the first draft. Kind of exciting. Kind of scary. Not sure how I’m going to end it. It’s one of those kinds of books I could just keep coming up with ways to keep it going. Kind of weird to be about done with the novel you have spent some much time with, you know?

Looks like you have a lot of questions to answer there.

Yeah. [laughs] I also have another novel that I started before The Magic Shop called The Cross Chronicles. It’s about an orphaned boy with magic origins that has been hidden away in a secret safe house for magic kids. Eventually, the bad guys come calling, and the main character has to discover his past before he can move forward.

Is that one finished?

Not quite, but it’s about three-quarters done.

So, you’re also juggling a few.

Yeah, a few novels, plus a bunch of short stories.

That sounds all interesting. I’m especially looking forward to the short story follow-up to see what happens with Sloan since I’ve read “The Transition.” Best of luck with your writing. 

Thank you. You too.

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To learn more about Justin, be sure to visit his website, http://www.justinswapp.com.