The Throes of Crime with Erik Arneson

I'm thrilled for my good friend and all around great writer/editor/comic writer/boardgamer/dude, Erik Arneson, and the recent release of his debut short story collection, THE THROES OF CRIME. the-throes-of-crime-finalCalculating hitmen. Corrupt politicians. Sociopathic rock singers. Incompetent private investigators. Sword-wielding orangutans. You'll find them all in THE THROES OF CRIME, a collection of 26 short stories and six true-crime essays by Derringer Award finalist Erik Arneson.

Arneson's stories, which flow effortlessly from dark noir to wicked humor, have been published by Thuglit, Needle, Otto Penzler's Kwik Krimes, Akashic Books' Mondays Are Murder, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, and more. THE THROES OF CRIME also features seven brand-new short stories, never before published anywhere.

All proceeds from THE THROES OF CRIME benefit the James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to graduates of Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota, who display an aptitude in creative writing by authoring a short story. The goal of the scholarship is to encourage students from Wilmot to continue writing fiction well beyond high school, to tell the stories that only they can tell. Powerful stories and funny stories and magical stories - stories the world is waiting for, even if it doesn't realize it just yet.

THE THROES OF CRIME is your debut collection. Congrats! Give me the quick pitch!

Thanks! The Throes of Crime is a collection of 26 short stories and six true-crime essays. Some of the stories are brand-new; others were previously published by Thuglit, Needle, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, and more. The essays were first published in Duane Swierczynski’s great comic book The Black Hood.

All proceeds from the book go to a scholarship fund set up in memory of my parents to benefit graduates of Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota.

Did you notice any themes emerge over the course of putting the book together?

Some themes definitely emerged even though the stories cover a variety of times, from the mid-19th century to the present, and locations, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Superior, Wisconsin. The table of contents is split into categories like crimes of vengeance, crime in the workplace, and partners in crime.

There’s also -- despite there being some pretty dark, noirish stories in the collection -- a good amount of humor to be found in the book.

Given your background in government, have you worked politics into your fiction?

How could I not? One of my favorites (“Twitter and Coke”) is a story written entirely in the form of tweets about a politician who really, really should not be allowed to use Twitter unsupervised.

Another (“All Alone”) is set in 1951 Philadelphia, a time when the city was embroiled in a vast web of corruption by public officials. It was so bad that at least six city employees wound up committing suicide.

What draws you to writing crime?

The fact that the stakes are so high for everyone involved. And it usually doesn’t matter if the crime seems silly on the surface, like stealing used french fry grease. If someone commits a crime, there’s probably something going on that’s worth exploring. Desperation, jealousy, greed, fear -- those are powerful things and endlessly interesting to write about.

I especially enjoy stories that touch on how the human spirit can continue to shine in life’s darkest moments.

Favorite Shotgun Honey memory?

Shotgun Honey is an amazing website. As editors, we received so many great submissions. I always loved opening a story from an author I’d never heard of before and being blown away. But my favorite memory is easy: Hanging out with you, Jen Conley, and our fearless leader Ron Earl Phillips at Bouchercon in Albany, New York.

If you could turn one of your stories into a board game, which would it be? Why?

I love this question. I’m going with “Dairy of Destruction” because the idea of a board game about a gang of barnyard animals plotting to take over the world delights me.

Top 5 board games?

My list of favorite games is always changing because there are so many great games available today. It’s a fantastic time to be a board gamer!

Pandemic Legacy is at the top of the list. Brilliant and compelling. The gameplay is superb, and the storyline that evolves over the course of repeated plays is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in a board game.

Other current favorites include Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania (building train routes in my home state -- hard to get better than that!), Codenames (a truly genius party/word game), and America (an excellent party/trivia game). Finally, it’s been far too long since I’ve played Betrayal at House on the Hill; there’s a new expansion called Widow’s Walk that I’m looking forward to playing.

Thanks, Erik! Check out THE THROES OF CRIME on Amazon.

Erik Arneson lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and editor, Elizabeth. His first book, THE THROES OF CRIME, is available now. He hosts the Title 18:Word Crimes podcast. His comic book FORTUNE is available from Comixology, Indy Planet, and NoiseTrade. Find him at ErikArneson.com.

Why I'm Pulling WRESTLETOWN From Inkshares

I'm pulling WRESTLETOWN from Inkshares this week. Last night I sent the following to supporters on Inkshares:

Dear supporters,

I’m reaching out with some unfortunate news. I will be pulling WRESTLETOWN from Inkshares this week and discontinuing the campaign. All of you will receive refunds at that time.

Why?

This past Thursday I was made aware through a friend that Inkshares went through a major restructuring in July. As part of the restructuring, the new CEO revised the publishing agreement, changing the royalties from 50% gross to 35% net. He wrote a column on Medium.com explaining this, and emailed authors who had successfully funded a book, or had a book in production. However, he/Inkshares neglected to directly notify any of the authors with projects in progress on Inkshares. In a phone call with the CEO on Friday, I was told this was done because it would have been too much work/overwhelmed the company to handle the potential traffic from notifying that many people.

This is both unprofessional and unacceptable.

According to the CEO’s column, this change was done to save the company, as it was bleeding money. Great. I spent an extra month spending time and money promoting WRESTLETOWN because my publisher did not value updating me on a change in our agreement. Beyond that, I spent months pouring hours into a book only to find the terms changed to ones I never would have agreed to in the first place.

I was told by the CEO that the vast majority of authors found this change in terms to be acceptable. Many Inkshares authors are receiving this email tonight as supporters of WRESTLETOWN. I appreciate your support, but you should not find this change acceptable. Not only is it a decrease in percentage, but a change from GROSS to NET – a NET that is only approximately defined. There is no guarantee that Inkshares won’t change the terms again, as they operate with a take-it or leave-it policy.

On a positive note, I so appreciate all of your support over the past few months. From pre-orders, kind words and spreading the word, I can’t tell you enough how much it means to me. I’ve spoken with Andrew and we’ll work to bring WRESTLETOWN to life through another means, but for now I’m going to put the project on hold for a month and regroup.

Until next time…

Let’s kick this pig!

Chris

 

 

Guest Editor at Smokelong Quarterly

smokelong I'm honored to be this week's guest editor for Smokelong Quarterly. Check out the guidelines (1000 words max), and submit! All submissions are blind to avoid any bias/conflict of interest. I'll be reading all of the stories submitted during this week and selecting one for publication - AND giving away a signed copy of Safe Inside the Violence.

There's also a new interview with me up at the site that will give you an idea of the kind of stories I'm most interested in. Check it!

Necon Bound, Wrestletown

All packed and ready to head down to Necon this afternoon. To celebrate the 'original' launch date for the WRESTLETOWN crowdfunding campaign (you know, before I threw caution to the wind and jumped in with both feet a month ago) I have a little deal for anyone who pre-orders the book at the con. So hit me up! I'll have copies of Safe Inside the Violence, What Happened Here, Burn Cards, and Charred Kraken as well. In other thrilling news - I've joined LitReactor as a contributor! In addition to the local Grubstreet, LitReactor has been a major boon to my writing over the past several years. It's a favorite of mine for columns and reviews, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to get a monthly column off and running (more on that next month.)

But until then, please check out Wrestletown, Publishing, and Doing It By Myself - my column on Inkshares, Papercuts J.P., and the decision to crowdfund my debut novel.

Thanks again for all of the support - closing in on halfway to publication at our initial goal of 250 pre-orders!

Wrestletown_inspiration_shelf

Inkshares Interview - Joseph Asphahani & THE ANIMAL IN MAN

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An artifact of immense power puts Maxan in the middle of a secret war between mighty guilds. To overcome the resourceful and sinister masters who would use him, use everyone, as puppets, he must decide which nature defines him. Animal, or man?

Who is Joseph Asphahani and what's THE ANIMAL IN MAN all about?

Legends say that Asphahani was a high school English teacher [turned corporate stiff], and that he cut his literary teeth by helping his students analyze the techniques of effective rhetoric and then refine their own writing. Nowadays (referring to that jab about being a corporate stiff), he helps a multi-million dollar logistics software corporation with their online marketing. By day, not so creative, perhaps, but it pays the bills. By night, he's a proud father of two rambunctious daughters, showing them the wisdom of Samurai Jack and Powerpuff Girls, and he's a sci-fi-fantasy writer into the wee hours of the morn. "The Animal in Man" is a fictional exploration of some questions that have come to bother him for decades. Are we addicted to violence? Is being violent part of our nature? Do we have to be violent to release something worse from our souls, and if so, what? The story of The Animal in Man takes a shot at answering these by following a fox-man named Maxan as he's pulled into an ancient conflict between two powerful, secretive groups. He gets his paws on a weapon that could turn the tide of that shadow war - a mind-altering device capable of turning everyone around him into ravaging beasts - and must ultimately decide what to do with it. A decision that defines who he truly is. ......The story is so complex and epic, to this day its author struggles with summarizing it. Forgive him.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

(Switching to first person now...) Almost all the stories I've ever conceived or written have focused on just one theme in some form or another. Deception. Lies. Manipulation. Whether we lie to others to gain control over them, or we lie to ourselves to pretend we're happy... I often wonder what is the deeper reason for telling lies. Why do we want that control? Why do we seek false happiness? For my own part, I was once lied to by someone very dear to me, and it destroyed me utterly. And yet, finding the truth ultimately set me free. It's very much like the age-old allegory of Plato's Cave. The idea of "The Animal in Man" was born from this need to explore how lies can control individuals, groups, entire nations. What if their innate desire to harm one another turned out to be part of some malicious plan? Would they keep fighting, since it's all they've ever known? Or would they at least try to lay down their arms and find peace? ............Oh, and the book is also very much about anthropomorphic animals. There's an important reason for that. Like how - in this world - we may call someone crazy, and we say "he's an animal!" Is he though? Isn't he still human? What is a human? And is a human really any better than an animal? These kinds of questions fascinate me, and I believe writing this book is my attempt at answering them.

Why Inkshares?

Just look at this place! The website is clean and user-friendly. My book stands shoulder to shoulder with some other really fascinating books on this platform. Self-publishing on Amazon, to me, is like trying to launch a ship into the ocean, only the ship is made from duct tape and cardboard. Inkshares provides the author/boat-builder with better materials to make it, a better pier to launch it from, and a network of support from other builders to keep you going. Your ship is much more likely to sail (and sail in style!) when it sets out from Inkshares.

What books have captured your attention lately?

I'm following so many books, it can be hard to explore all of them. (That would be like a full time job!) But there are definitely some that rise to the top. Honestly, taking a closer look at YOUR book "Wrestletown" is what got me in touch with you to begin with! I would probably not be here answering these questions if I hadn't been mesmerized by the amazing cover-art. The synopsis hooked me, and the first couple chapters reeled me in, man. Besides that, Peter Ryan's novel "Sync City" grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. (Like, seriously, I can feel it's meaty grip pulling my neck around by the ear right now; if you read the first chapter you'll understand what I mean.) Peter's a talented author and worth paying attention to. His second book "Destiny Imperfect" is one I'm closely following. Outside of Inkshares....... There's this one book called "The Buildiers" by Daniel Polansky that was absolutely thrilling. It's a quick read. You can finish it in 2-3 hours. It comes with my highest recommendation. It's also about animals killing eachother: A salamander with knives, a badger with a gatling gun, and a stoat (NOT a skunk!) with a French accent. And so much more.

Who are your greatest influences?

Hmmm... Influences on my writing style are constantly shifting. I'd say that right now, it's Joe Abercrombie. I read "The Blade Itself" a while back, and have just begun the second book in his First Law trilogy, "Before They are Hanged." If you're an author who's heavy on writing an action scene (like me), you can learn A LOT from a scene out of Abercrombie's work. I also like how he handles weaving a character's thoughts into a scene - something that's crucial to how I'm telling the story of "The Animal in Man." Besides Abercrombie, I've carried a copy of Gary Whitta's "Abomination" in my laptop bag since I first started writing (after publishing via inkshares became a reality). I knew who Whitta was, having been a super-fan of The Book of Eli, and I found his writing style in the novel to be really crisp. I am constantly re-reading scenes from Abomination to study how I can keep moving plot, speaking dialogue, relaying thoughts, and describing action, all on the same page, all as engaging as possible. (Also, I'm a huge fan of Dark Souls - the video game franchise - and I found "Abomination" was hitting all those dark-grotesque-monstrosity notes for me.)

What's next for you as a writer?

I have about eight projects that are always kicking around in my mind. I wrote a pretty heavy Game Design Document as my Master's Thesis for Full Sail University - called "The White Shadow." It's pretty frikkin' rad. I'd like very much to shop that around to game development studios and see if a team of creative designers, artists, and programmers would be willing to help me make the damn thing. Other than that, I have an idea for a Y.A. novel in which a young, orphan girl wonders why real life can't be like the life she sees in movies and games, and soon begins to see the lines between them blur thereafter. Finally, I'd really like to tell a branching narrative story I'm calling "Curses and Mists" in a choose-your-own-adventure format. I grew up on those books! I'd really like to see them make a comeback, and Curses' particular story of darkness and insanity would really lend itself well to the genre. Stay tuned, I'm always working on something.

You can read a sample & pre-order THE ANIMAL IN MAN on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview - Matthew Poat & SQUIDS IN

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When the world’s best online gamer turns out to be an octopus, it’s not long before he goes missing...

Who is Matthew Poat and what's SQUIDS IN all about?

Squids In is an adult oriented story about a guy called Toby and an octopus which gets stolen from a military animal testing lab by activists and dumped into Toby’s pool. It turns out that the octopus is a demon at playing video-games and so Toby creates an online account for the creature, who he calls Hendrix and they take part in an assortment of player versus player death matches for cash prizes, with Toby amassing quite a wealth and becoming an online gaming celebrity. This all comes back to bite him however when Hendrix gets stolen from him AND the military animal testing lab pull him in for intense interrogation over the animal lab break in. The last portion of the book revolves around Toby’s search to get Hendrix back. It’s very much written in a “Pineapple Express” style so if you like that kind of thing, this is definitely the book for you.

From my side, I’m a qualified Motorsport Engineer who currently works as Technical Sales and Marketing Manager at a company called Race-Keeper and is based at Silverstone race circuit in the UK. I write as a means to switch off my race car brain and can generally find solace in the weird and wonderful stories I frequently come up with. Everyone needs a form of stress relief and this is mine.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

My seven month old son was given a “Hank” cuddly orange octopus that stars in the upcoming Finding Nemo sequel “Finding Dory”. When the topic for the Nerdist June writing competition was announced on Inkshares as being video-game related, I just sat on my sofa looking around for inspiration and Hank caught my eye. It was as simple as that. I drafted my idea really early after the contest was announced and it started gaining traction with people. At this time I began thinking that I had a pretty unique story concept compared to the other entrants and this I believe is the books greatest strength. That and of course the wonderful illustrations and front cover created by Eugene Karasz over on DeviantArt.

Why Inkshares?

I was first introduced to Inkshares via the Geek and Sundry website, when they announced they were running a writing competition for hard sci-fi novels. I don’t write hard sci-fi and rarely read anything that fits into that genre but I followed the link anyway and discovered this wonderful community of writers who were helping each other to achieve their goals, offered support and motivation. I think that was something I needed in order to get on and write and probably the reason I stuck around. There are some truly great people on Inkshares. I may have underestimated the shear amount of time and effort it requires to have a truly successful crowdfunding campaign, but if I finish in the contests top 3, it will all have been worth it. If I don’t, its great experience for next time.

What books have captured your attention lately?

Wow, there are so many but I will list a few from Inkshares that have really captured my attention. First it is my fellow Nerdist contest entrant Regina McMenomy and her book “Mothering: The Game”. Just like Squids In, it is such a different take on the whole “write a book around the theme of video games” and it is all the more awesome for it. Second it would have to be “Monkey Business” by Landon Crutcher, a book that is now in full publication. It’s an absolute riot to read and if you like a book with a good injection of comedy, you should pick up a copy of this one. Finally “Tantalus Depths” by Evan Graham caught my attention enough to place an order, even though it is in the hard sci-fi genre and I mentioned before that this isn’t something I’m all that in to. The thing “Tantalus Depths” has going for it is an extremely engaging tale told by a highly skilled writer.

Who are your greatest influences?

I guess the biggest influences on both my writing style and choice of topics have got to be Hunter S. Thompson, Walter Moers and Ben Aaronovitch, however I must say that I am an extremely avid audiobook fan. Since I do a lot of travelling, for long flights or car journeys, there is nothing better than putting on a good audiobook and listening to a great story. I actually created a list of my favourite Audiobooks and posted it on my LinkedIn profile. Feel free to go check it out - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/audiobookbook-recommendations-those-long-journeys-we-all-matthew-poat?trk=hp-feed-article-title-publish

What's next for you as a writer?

My ultimate short-term goal is to finish in the top 3 in the Nerdist video-game contest with Squids In, which would guarantee publication. If the book does not finish that high, I’m not sure if I really want to limp on to quill. That’s something I need to figure out in a few weeks depending on how things go. I would love to publish the book properly however, just so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy this silly story and the wonderful illustrations by Eugene. I have also been toying around with writing something about a guy who comes to consciousness on the floor of a music festival tent. A series of flashbacks would propel the tale forward and explain who he was and why he passed out. Some of the story will be autobiographical, like the bit where he takes magic mushrooms, gets tangled up in the ropes of someone’s tent and then when that person pops out to see what’s going on, he hallucinates a spider coming to eat him after trapping him in its web. That’s something that actually happened to me a number of years ago at the Reading music festival. We will see if that tale ever makes it onto the page. Maybe some things are better left to memory.

You can read a sample & pre-order SQUIDS IN on Inkshares.

Happy Pub Day to Papercuts J.P. + Giveaway!

Happy Pub Day to Papercuts J.P. and The Papercuts Anthology: What Happened Here, Volume 1! I'm honored to have a piece featured in such a wonderful collection alongside the likes of Randy Susan Meyers, Paul Tremblay, Jennifer Tseng, and more.

AND to celebrate, I'm giving away copies to two lucky WRESTLETOWN supporters. Thought about tagging in but have yet to make the jump? Pre-order by midnight this Friday (7/15) for a chance to win!

Giveaway (2)

Inkshares Interview - G.A. Finocchiaro & THE KNIGHTMARES

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9 geek-culture loving, bantering punk kids are pitted against an evil, sexy succubus from another dimension and her demented plans for revenge. There are ghosts and pirate treasure and alien gods and alchemy and exorcisms and lots of weird stuff too.

Who is G.A. Finocchiaro and what's THE KNIGHTMARES all about?

G.A. Finocchiaro is a single 37 year old Creative Director and writer living in Philadelphia, PA. Born to be a storyteller and never one to pass up a fun analogy, G writes through the lens of the strange, like Joe Dante and John Landis had a brainchild nine months after they invited Don Coscarelli over for a threesome (yeah, he went there). An oddball lover of all things geek, G hopes to inspire as he was inspired for the next generation of genre fans to come.

THE KNIGHTMARES is about 9 geek-culture loving, bantering punk kids that are pitted against an evil, sexy succubus from another dimension and her demented plans for resurrecting her long lost warlord lover. At its heart, The Knightmares is a story about loyalty and friendship, and the kind of crazy inside jokes that develop within those kinds of close knit circles. There just happens to be this crazy villainess named Nexus who comes in and ruins the party, along with her cloaked acolyte minions, a horde of mercenary werewolves, and a lunatic with a possessed stuffed toy elephant.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

I was inspired by my friends back in college, and the crazy things that we experienced together. Each character was loosely based on someone I know. I’ve always felt that writers and artists should create things they themselves would enjoy, and so THE KNIGHTMARES grew from there. I am a huge fan of the supernatural and supernatural fiction, and what better way for me to create and write than to take the things I love and put my own spin on it.

I have always wanted to be published, but to be published and inspire others to do the same is really the full dream. To me, that is what makes it worth developing.

Why Inkshares?

I submitted many queries to traditional literary agents and many times received rejections less than 15 minutes after I submitted. I realized that many of these agents weren’t even reading my pitch, and those that did gave me feedback to keep trying as the industry is very subjective. Inkshares gave me a destination, a benchmark to hit rather than an unending amount of research and hoping that one of those agents will pay attention and appreciate the first paragraph enough to want to read more. Crowdfunding is difficult, but it’s more tangible and you are more in control of your fate by finding potential fans than by emailing agents that may never even respond.

What books have captured your attention lately?

I recently finished The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, which was excellent. I also finished David Wong’s Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, which was another great novel by someone I hold up as one of my largest influences.

I also recently started Monkey Business, an Inkshares book by Landon Crutcher. I’m about halfway through and thoroughly enjoying it. I’m looking forward to more from him, but also I was pleasantly reassured that Inkshares has some great writers on board. It’s a professional reassurance that we belong on bookshelves.

Who are your greatest influences?

My influences are very wide ranging and not limited to books and authors. I am a huge John Carpenter fan. His work, like Big Trouble in Little China and Prince of Darkness, have really been the backbone of my inspiration.

David Wong has had a huge influence on me. His ability to write comedy and scare at the same time is excellent, and I can’t wait for more work from him. Neil Gaiman and his wide ranging books of fantasy have inspired me more than any other author.

Everything from Doctor Who to Monster Squad, to John Cusack classics like Say Anything and One Crazy Summer, to Joe Hill’s book Horns and Dan Harmon’s TV show Community, all have inspired me greatly. I could go on and on...

What's next for you as a writer?

Well, first I want to make sure I concentrate on THE KNIGHTMARES and pushing it through crowdfunding to Quill. I am about three-quarters of the way done on my own third round of edits on the manuscript, and will be finishing that up as well.

After that, I want to do my due diligence and continue to promote THE KNIGHTMARES by going on the convention circuit and hitting up as much of the potential fan base as I can, and try to get the word out there.

And while I’m working on that, I have several more books I am either wanting to write or currently writing, including my next book, VEXED, which is currently up on Inkshares as a draft. It still has a ways to go, and lots of editing to be done, but the tone and the subject is vastly different than THE KNIGHTMARES. I think it’ll be a hit in its own right.

 

You can read a sample & pre-order THE KNIGHTMARES on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview - Evan Graham & TANTALUS DEPTHS

Tantalus Depths

The Diamelen’s survey mission to Tantalus 13 takes an unexpected turn when the entire planet turns out to be an ancient artificial structure. What lies in the heart of Tantalus? And why is the crew’s AI, SCARAB, willing to kill to keep its secret?

Who is Evan Graham and what’s TANTALUS DEPTHS all about?

It’d be great if there was an easy answer to “who is Evan Graham.” That’d be awesome. Alas, I’ve been asking that question for almost three decades now and I can’t say I’ve come anywhere near a satisfactory answer.

I have a Bachelors in Education Studies from Kent State University, along with the triple minor of reading, writing, and theatre. It took me ages to graduate, since I changed my majors and minors no less than four times, and ultimately I’m not even really using the degree I have. I never felt drawn down any specific career path. Mainly, this was because I couldn’t muster up much interest in the comings and goings of the world I live in. I always had my attention on better things.

By that token, call me a dreamer. I’ve always had my head in one fantasy world or another. I refused to grow out of my childhood obsession with fictional worlds and universes. I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, creating and sharing my own fictional universes with family and friends. Though I’ve dreamed of publishing a story since my youth, I never dared to try until this year, with Tantalus Depths.

Tantalus Depths is the first story I’ve written that I felt was truly ready for prime time. It’s a solid sci-fi thriller with a complex world, multi-layered characters, a dark mystery, and gripping action. It arose out of my love for classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and carries the same kind of theme of humanity’s desire to explore the stars despite its childlike lack of perspective for its own cosmic importance.

As the Crew of The Diamelen arrives on Tantalus 13, they find themselves immersed in an ancient celestial mystery. Tantalus 13 isn’t a planet after all, but a planet-sized artificial construct of unknown purpose. What does it do? What was it for? What happened to its creators? Why did they go to such lengths to camouflage Tantalus 13 from the rest of the universe?

If it wasn’t enough that the crew of The Diamelen had these answers to seek, they must also contend with the will of SCARAB: their artificially intelligent base of operations. Despite being programmed to serve and defend its human masters at all costs, SCARAB seems to hold its own agenda: an agenda it will kill to pursue.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

Aspects of Tantalus Depths had been tumbling around in my imagination for quite some time, but they didn’t congeal into one single story until one of my advanced creative writing classes in college. I was given an assignment to write a story from the perspective of a person unlike myself. I’d been thinking of writing a story with a female protagonist for some time, as sort of an homage to Ripley from the Alien franchise, so I elected to put some of those ideas onto paper for the class assignment. Originally, it was only to have been a short story, between 15 and 25 pages long. Once I got into it, though, the pieces really began to fall together. I saw huge potential, and started drawing from even more influences, fleshing out the world-building, developing the characters. It wasn’t long before I realized I had way too much content for just a short story, and what had originally been a 15 page short-story assignment eventually evolved into a 50-60 page final project. I wrote the first three or four chapters in that class, then picked at the story for a while until I finally finished it in a different creative writing class with the same professor.

As much as I love writing, I don’t do it unless I have something really worth writing about. Tantalus Depths is important to me in many ways. I wanted to give the world another solid female protagonist (far, far too uncommon in this genre). I wanted to give the world a new take on the classic “evil AI” antagonist. I wanted to instill readers with an existential dread while also stimulating that wonder of discovery that Sci-Fi does so well. Above all else, though, I just wanted to tell a good story. So I did.

Why Inkshares?

I’ve dipped my toes into the world of publishing several times over the years, but always yanked them back out again immediately afterwards and ran off back into the house to cry in the corner. I looked into self-publishing once or twice, but realized pretty quickly that it was no place for someone as socially anxious as I am to find any kind of success. I looked into traditional publishing, then went onto a literary agent’s website and say the foreboding words “Just so you know, we get about 500 submissions a week, so we probably won’t pay much attention to your five-page excerpt at all. Nothing personal.” Well, it was something like that. Again, I was discouraged, and gave up before I even tried writing a good query letter. This year, I made exactly one New Years resolution for the entire year: I would get Tantalus Depths published somewhere, somehow. A couple months into the year, though, and I still hadn’t made any progress.

Then Inkshares all but literally fell into my lap. I follow several shows on Geek and Sundry, so I visit their site often. Then one day, I popped in and saw an announcement about a hard sci-fi competition, the winner to receive full publication and distribution. I stared blankly at the announcement before reality finally set in: here it is. This is how Tantalus Depths gets published.

I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to win the contest. I didn’t find out about it until it was almost a month in, but as I familiarized myself with Inkshares, I came to realize that it is a place where you can really see results if you try hard enough. With self-publishing, you are on your own with the editing process, and you’ll only sell as many copies as you’re able to personally convince people to buy. With traditional publishing, the odds of any publication house even noticing you are slim, much less picking you up for a contract. Inkshares meets you halfway. It takes a huge amount of work to reach those publishing goals, but when you do, your efforts are rewarded with  a real, honest-to-goodness publication deal. I honestly think services like Inkshares are the future of publication, and I kind of feel like I’m getting in on the ground floor of something big. Assuming I do make it, that is.

What books have captured your attention lately?

One unfortunate side effect of running a campaign like this is the way it just about consumes 100% of your free time. I’m typically a compulsive consumer of all kinds of media: books, comics, video games, movies, new media, etc. But right now, when I get home from work, when I get up in the morning, and from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m working on getting new readers for my book. This hasn’t left me much time to check out other books. On the other hand, I’ve become aware of many new authors also funding on Inkshares. So far the only actual book I’ve been able to pick up from an Inkshares author has been Abomination by Gary Whitta (which, from the first two chapters, is quite good), but there are several other books I’m looking forward to getting a hold of that are either currently in the production process or still funding. And the Wolf Shall Dwell, by Joni Dee, Capes’ Side Bay by James Rasile, and Rune of the Apprentice by Jamison Stone are my top 3 right now. I eagerly look forward to getting my hands on copies of all three, but I’m also going to need to look into getting a new bookshelf for all the other books I’m going to be getting from Inkshares once they get through the production process. The place is an absolute literary goldmine.

Who are your greatest influences?

In the scientific community, scientists and theoreticians build upon the discoveries and research of each other. It’s a free exchange of knowledge, and no one could be where they are if not for those who came before. With science fiction writing, it’s much the same. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve taken notes from virtually every sci-fi writer that I’ve encountered, on some level.

Tantalus Depths takes most of its influence from three separate inspirations: 2001: a Space Odyssey, The Forbidden Planet, and Alien. I could write an essay on how those stories have influenced this one, but that would be shockingly dull to read. Suffice it to say, those are the big ones, and anyone who’s familiar with them will undoubtedly sense some familiar flavors when they pick up Tantalus Depths.

There are other influencers that are less obvious or direct. Most notably, I’ve made use of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, with some modifications of my own. Inspiration has come from everything from the Mass Effect video game series, to Stephen King, to ancient Greek mythology. Though it doubtless sounds like a jumbled grab-bag of influences, I assure you they fit together surprisingly well.

What’s next for you as a writer?

What’s next? Finishing my campaign. Getting Tantalus Depths through the production process. Putting it on shelves and in e-readers. Sharing it with the world. That’s the hook.

Once Tantalus Depths is out, I can properly begin to share my stories with the world. Tantalus Depths will have two sequels, for one. Beyond that, though, I have many other stories to tell. Tantalus Depths and its sequels will exist in a sort of anthology universe, where I will tell other stories set in different times and places with different casts of characters, united with the common theme of dark cosmic mystery. One story I know I will tell at some point is Proteus: a sci-fi adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III set on a multi-generational deep-space colony ship. Outside that anthology universe I have dozens of other stories to tell, ranging from gritty action-heavy space operas to tongue-in-cheek sci-fi comedies, to high fantasy epics. I’m placing no limits on myself. Once Tantalus Depths gets the ball rolling, it’s not going to stop. This is where my writing career launches.

You can read a sample & pre-order TANTALUS DEPTHS on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview - Tony Valdez & DAX HARRISON

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In a space-faring future, an alien war criminal seeks vengeance on humanity, and a celebrated-but-bumbling hero is forced back into action... whether he likes it or not.

Who is Tony Valdez and what's DAX HARRISON all about?

Tony Valdez is a fledgling author who has decided to write silly stories, and he also feels equally silly talking about himself in the 3rd person. :) I'm also a big nerd, a mediocre podcast host, an occasional musician, and full-time maker of funny faces in the bathroom mirror.

DAX HARRISON is a fast-paced, action/comedy novel set in a spacefaring Star Trek-like future. The story focuses on Commander Harrison, widely known as a legendary soldier and hero, a Captain America for the space age if you will. Dax made his claim to fame a decade ago, winning a key victory in an alien invasion war which threatened to wipe out humanity as we spread out into space. ...Or so we've been led to believe...

Since then, Dax's career has faded into obscurity. However, the legend of the commander has grown immensely in the public eye through pulp stories and media based on exceedingly embellished versions of his exploits. Dax has not-so-humbly allowed himself to enjoy a bit of that fame (and a few royalty checks) while coasting into retirement on cushy assignments. But as he counts the days until he can disappear on a beach somewhere, naturally, fate has other plans.

A dangerous shadow from the past puts a wrench in Dax's easygoing existence, and he is forced to finally live up to his grandiose legends, whether he likes it or not.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

Dax began as a humble idea for a low budget comedic sci-fi short film about a bumbling space captain, who drunkenly falls asleep at the wheel and nearly crashes his ship. A simple one-off scene (which remains one of the first scenes in the book) that I planned to film with friends and post online for fun. Unfortunately, I fell hopelessly in love with the characters, kept writing, and ended up with a feature film script. While proud, I quickly realized I had absolutely no budget, resources, or Hollywood contacts to possibly make the giant spectacle come to life.

Eventually, I decided this was a good thing. As much as I adore movies, I didn't want to spend years pushing, wheeling and dealing, and/or begging for my story to see the light of day. I just wanted to tell it. So I set my mind to adapt the script to a novel and self-publish via Amazon.

Why Inkshares?

Inkshares provided a number of opportunities that self-publishing didn't. Were I to secure enough pre-orders, Inkshares would fund the publishing run, including physical and ebook copies, provide full editing services, cover design, and marketing. Furthermore, I discovered the company via an announcement of a joint contest with Nerdist Industries, offering guaranteed publishing at a lower pre-order total, so long as I managed to be in the top 3 against the other competing authors.

I didn't win the competition, but I eventually secured the standard number of orders necessary for a "light publishing", which Inkshares now markets under their Quill imprint. I'll still be doing a bit of heavy lifting, but Inkshares will take care of copy edits, get physical copies into the hands of my backers, and continue offering physical and ebook copies through their site and the other major online retailers. The team is currently patiently waiting for me to finish editing the manuscript (which I aim to complete this weekend - 6/25 - 6/26) and hand it in to continue the production.

The process of campaigning on Inkshares also granted a major and unexpected benefit: Connecting with an amazing community of fellow authors. As the resident goofball who originally "just wanted to make movies", I was touched by the unbelievable support by other campaigning writers, working together to encourage, offer guidance, and help each other build reader bases. It's been incredibly humbling, and I couldn't have done it without them.

What books have captured your attention lately?

Too many. This might sound like a pandering answer (I swear it's not). I'm mostly looking forward to a few books from my fellow Inkshares authors. I just started diving into my copy of Monkey Business by Landon Crutcher (You can find my endorsement on the cover). I'm itching to start my ebook copies of The Life Engineered by JF Dubeau and Ageless by Paul Inman. She Is The End by A.C. Weston (once it publishes) is also at the top of my list. Basically, I have a massive backlog thanks to being fully engrossed in putting the final touches on Dax. ...I also have a very fancy edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes sitting on my bookshelf. Shhh, don't tell my mother-in-law I haven't read it yet. She bought it for me several Christmases ago.

Who are your greatest influences?

For Dax in particular, it's an unusual answer. As I said, it was intended as a big Hollywood movie, so my immediate influences are more cinema-minded rather than traditional authors and books. Dax comes from my love of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and other classic Spielberg and Lucas adventures. The hero is also a rogue and somewhat of a selfish cad. A blend of Ash Williams from Evil Dead/Army of Darkness and Zapp Brannigan from Futurama.

In general, I just love good stories in any form. Adventures in particular. Grand stories from books, movies, TV shows, comics, videogames and so on. Anything that makes me laugh, cry, cheer and/or leaves me in awestruck wonder. I eat that stuff up.

What's next for you as a writer?

DAX 2 is the obvious answer. Haha! I have the beginnings of an outline, and I'm excited where it's headed. But first I may run to the hills, live in a cave for awhile, tackle my backlog of books and videogames, and come back with my creative batteries recharged. I'll invite my wife to the cave too. She's missed her husband dearly while he's been glued to the computer over the past year. :)

You can read a sample & pre-order DAX HARRISON on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview - Stephen Carignan & THE SLEEPING MAN

NYC (1)

The last of the dreamwalkers seeks for answers in the long lost Compendium, but the greatest mystery lies within his own past.

Who is Stephen Carignan  and what's THE SLEEPING MAN all about?

Well, at least we didn’t waste any time with simple questions, as not only what one uses to define themselves indicates quite a lot, but how they prioritize what they use to create said definition. In essence, I’m just a man. Most of my choices center around my daughter and my ability to provide for her and my ex-wife. I was doing stand-up and acting in Chicago when we split and had no way to move to LA, provide, and be there for those all important moments, so I joined the Navy. My test scores were very good, and I became an IT Technician. The Sleeping Man is the confluence of inspiration and discipline. I have always been writing something, it was something my mother taught me to combat severe dyslexia. I was in second grade and unable to read because of what they wanted to call ADHD and my mom called just being a kid. She sat with me and read and reread Stuart Little  until I could read. Then I was doing homework before class ended because everyone was moving just so damn slow. The idea for this work came to me when I was sixteen, among many others, but I couldn’t flush it out. Well, years later the Navy is paying for me to get my Masters degree in writing and the discipline provided allowed me to revisit some ideas, and in this case, finish this actual book.

The book itself is about the last of the Dreamwalkers known only as The Sleeping Man, a nomadic people characterized by their striking violet eyes, and his quest to find any means of stopping the Volto Empire. He is capable of seeing and entering the Dreamscape, a collection of projected dreams from the conscious world around him, and uses this ability to read a person’s intentions, emotions, and secret desires. Along the way he discovers secrets about his own past, abilities, and finds the long lost Compendium. The lattermost is said to be the seat of all knowledge and guarding by ferocious creatures, but The Sleeping Man has one thing the Volto Empire does not, a clue.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

This idea, like all great ideas, didn’t come from anywhere, but rather a piece of a lot of different things gets locked in my brain and I don’t know if it was in the shower or waking from a dream, but the first sentence popped into my head. A featureless desert, grey and devoid of landmarks. I knew this guy was crossing it, which is supposed to be impossible, and I knew he would do anything to accomplish this.

The reason I’m pursuing this, is simply because I believe in it. When I was acting and doing stand-up, there are times when you have to audition. In these times, you are physically putting yourself out there, and whether or not you are feeling confident, you have to project confidence. As I was writing The Sleeping Man, I kept plodding through because I had a word goal and now the Naval discipline and Masters training to keep going rather than let the idea die off and wait for inspiration. Now that it’s done, I don’t remember which parts frustrated me, I just see parts I need to fix.

Why Inkshares?

I chose Inkshares initially because of a contest hosted by The Nerdist. I felt that I would be able to finish the first draft and if it sold and published I would have to finish. If it didn’t, then I would move on to another idea because people weren’t having it. Well, I didn’t win the contest. Afterwards the CEO called me and talked about my project. He said there was definitely something there and he felt there were some things I could have done marketing-wise to help myself. That was what kept The Sleeping Man alive, because I wasn’t going to try again. Instead, I took what he said and felt if I focused more on a few keys elements: larger reader base, more social networking, etc, I would be able to publish. Then the Quill goal was introduced and I thought to myself, if I have enough readers to hit the Quill goal, I will be published. I can do that. Once I hit enough readers, I opened up the pre-orders again, and in just over a month, I’m sitting at 202 pre-orders and there’s still just under three months left. I’m confident The Sleeping Man will be published. In essence, writers oftentimes don’t know if they’re heading in the right direction, and you can ask people you know, but it’s better to have support in the form of constructive criticism, recommendations, and commenting on excerpts.

What books have captured your attention lately?

Most recently I’ve read Sapiens, Trekonomics (An Inkshares success!), On Basilisk Station, and An Unattractive Vampire (Inkshares again!). Things like The Martian, Ready Player One, The Time of Discontent, and others were all within the past three months or so. I alternate between audiobooks and physical/digital copies.

As far as Inkshares is concerned, one of the ways I’ve increased my reader base is by reviewing every single book that is recommended to me. Perhaps my ADHD and overcoming my dyslexia have somehow combined into my ability to read exceptionally fast. I also sometimes use speed reading apps to flash text in a more efficient way then reading left to right. It’s hard to pick out, but I’m fairly excited about Too Many Controllers which is an anthology of some of Inkshares best, Deus Hex Machina because of the amazingly imaginative world, and These Are My Friends on Politics makes me laugh.

Who are your greatest influences?

Aside from the obvious influence my mother had on my ability to read, once that gate was unlocked I devoured books. The Redwall  series as a kid, then later Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth, and Lord of the Rings. These are all amazing series, but once I deviated off the beaten path there H.P. Lovecraft blew my tiny mind out of my head. When Stephen King deviated off his won beaten path with the Dark Tower series, I was equally amazed. Paulo Cohelo also was an influence, and then I began to gravitate to these works that are set in no where worlds, complete with their own rules and laws. Most recently I’ve been finding self-published authors like Hugh Howey, and then now finding Inkshares writers.

What's next for you as a writer?

Since I have no doubt The Sleeping Man will be published because this go round I’ve had blog posts like this one and interviews which have brought in so many readers, my next step will be to finish the second draft of The Sleeping Man. The third pass should be faster, and then it’s off to editing (knock on wood). I don’t have the idea for a sequel at this exact moment, but one idea I made as a joke which might come to fruition is Zombie Pirates v. Vampire Ninjas. This is a tongue in cheek poke at cashing in on genres popularity that is partly inspired by Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space, an independent comic written by Jave Galt-Miller.

I don’t know what will be next for me as a writer. I just know I started writing at a very young age and just have never managed to stop.

You can read a sample & pre-order THE SLEEPING MAN on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview - Prescott Harvey & In Beta

When two friends realize they’re NPCs in a video game,  they hack reality to make their lives awesome and wind up targeted for deletion.

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Prescott Harvey's IN BETA is one of my favorite books currently funding on Inkshares. Harvey's the author of The World of Warcraft’s Guide to Winning at Life, and creator of the viral video/open letter telling JJ Abrams how to make Star Wars great again, which Abrams incorporated into The Force Awakens. All in all Harvey sounds like a pretty cool dude, and I'm digging what I've read of IN BETA.

Elon Musk thinks we’re living inside a video game, and this novel is primed to run with that notion and then some. This is an awesome high concept paired with a brilliant proven quantity in Prescott Harvey — dude, sign me up as an IN BETA-tester! - Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of ROBOPOCALYPSE

Who is Prescott Harvey and what's IN BETA all about?

I tend to think about my life like this: My 20's were about expanding my universe, and my 30's are about shrinking it back down.

My 20s were for adventure. Traveling abroad, trips to Burning Man, living a feral existence out in the woods, sailing the Pacific Coast. Etc.

Now, in my 30s, it's about living in a neighborhood, biking to work, getting to know a community, giving back, establishing roots. It's about depth over breadth.

So that's a narrow overview of me. IN BETA is a book about two lazy high schoolers who realize they live inside a simulated reality. Instead of trying to escape, they hack reality to make their lives awesome. And then they get targeted for deletion by a systems admin.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

It's been years in the making. I don't say that to imply that it's some sort of masterpiece; more that it's been a very difficult story to develop.

I'm a fan of bad movies, and a friend recommended I watch "The Miami Connection." I did, and was blown away. The movie is not nearly as good / bad as the trailer makes it seem, but it's still amazing how quintessentially 80's the movie manages to be. If you haven't seen it, it's about a group of friends who are in a rock and roll band, and they're also all blackbelts in karate, and of course an evil ninja clan threatens one of their girlfriends. It has kung fu, (surprisingly good) music, machine guns, motorcycles... basically, everything you'd want in an 80's movie. And I started thinking "God, wouldn't it be amazing to push this even further?"

So I started by researching all my favorite 80's cliches. From lightsabers, to time machines, to hoverboards, to Nazi's, to rock and roll, to video games. Even cliche 80's phrases like "lock and load", "let's roll", "let's ride" etc. I don't even remember what was on the list, but it was long. The working title was "Awesome Movie." (and yes, it was originally going to be a movie).

But I needed some sort of device to tie it all together and make it work. How can you effectively have every awesome thing in a story, without it all falling apart? The device I came up with was a magical VHS tape that got struck by lightning to release a Jumanji-style 80's experience. But even that was still a little too loosey goosey, and I was having a hard time staying invested in the story. Which, when you're whole premise is one schlocky joke, that's of course going to be an issue.

Around this point, the trailer for Kung Fury came out. Not only did it beat me to the punch, but it did an awesome job of it. And then Lego Movie came out, and I started realizing I wasn't the only one pondering a 'more-is-more' approach, where everything and the kitchen sink could be refreshing and fun.

Long story short, I got to rethinking my premise. I finally struck upon a device I enjoyed (The Matrix as a comedy) that allowed me to do the things I wanted, but could still ground the characters and give them depth. I personally am already starting to tire of the "more is more" approach. And if I am, I'm willing to bet others are, too.

So I started thinking that if I wrote it as a book, I'd get to spend more time with the characters, not focus as much on gags, and could explore interesting existential tangents without sticking so purely to genre conventions like a movie would require me to do. A book sounded more and more appealing, and here we are.

Why Inkshares?

I'd been aware of Inkshares for a bit. I even had a different novel that I was planning to crowd fund, maybe next year. Then they announced their videogame competition with Nerdist, and suddenly it was (to quote another 80's cliche) "go time."

What books have captured your attention lately?

I'm going to be honest, at the risk of alienating people. I don't read a lot of new books. I mean "new" in the sense of recently published, and also just books that I am unfamiliar with.

When I tell colleagues and coworkers this, they always look at me like I'm some elitist snob. Which, you know, I hope I'm not, but I've heard the accusation enough (mostly from my wife) that I'm willing to consider the possibility.

Here's my rationale:

Reading books takes time. Just like watching a movie or a TV show (which I'm also careful about). When I do venture out and read a new book, I am nine times out of ten disappointed. It's probably because I'm older now, and have less free time, but I have no stomach for mediocrity in storytelling. I have my selection of favorite books. When I re-read them, they move me. I laugh. I cry. I put them down and regard life. There is so much in each of them, so much to be gained on every re-read, it saddens me to think I will probably only read them a dozen times before I die.

Here are some of the books on this list: Lord of the Rings, Sometimes A Great Notion, Watership Down, Confederacy of Dunces, Wind in the Willows.

I just finished The Once and Future King for the second time, and it's going on the list. I'm about to start The Fountainhead for the 3rd time.

Now there is a tremendous and obvious downside to only rereading your favorite books, and that is you don't get exposed to new things. I'm very aware of this, and try to rectify it as best I can. I do take recommendations from trusted sources. Two years ago I read House of Leaves on a friend's recommendation, and absolutely loved it.

But yeah, I'm actively working to not be such a snob.

Who are your greatest influences?

The Simpsons, Michael Crichton, Ken Kesey, and Disney's Beauty and the Beast. A random list I know. For better or worse The Simpsons have shaped my sense of humor. I started watching in 2nd grade. Now I can trace the rhythm and meter of my every joke back to a classic Simpsons line.

Michael Crichton because, as a kid, I read him more than anyone else. I still study his books to find how he keeps his readers hooked. Other authors (Stephen King) are arguably better writers, and I enjoy King, but I love that Crichton re-inventing and re-popularized the victorian adventure novel. Genius.

Ken Kesey nailed (perhaps formed?) my worldview. Especially in Sometimes A Great Notion, his melancholy world tinged with awe and beauty, and the mixture of defiance and despair his character's grapple with... he more than anyone is responsible for showing me the themes I want to explore.

And lastly: Beauty and the Beast. A good friend once tried to tell me that Jame Cameron's AVATAR was the pinnacle of human artistic achievement. What, he argued, was more aesthetically amazing than that movie? The Mona Lisa? The Sistine Chapel? I thought for a moment and then responded BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. With the exception of one gratuitous and superfluous song ("Be Our Guest"), this movie is the pinnacle of storytelling. Every story beat has a purpose, serves multiple functions, and flows together beautifully. And while the orchestral score is not as iconic as other movies, I would challenge anyone to find a score that better serves its purpose.

What's next for you as a writer?

Get better!

I'm lucky enough to write for a living, working as an advertising copywriter. Writing in different brand voices, writing headlines with only have 3 - 5 words... this has helped me immensely. My goal, for the rest of my life, is to continually get better. I want to be a great writer. There. I said it. Gauntlet thrown.

But that's not a very tangible goal, so: There's a book after IN BETA. It's not as lighthearted or "fun" as IN BETA. It's a Crichton-esque book that (hopefully) has a little more depth. It's a Western that takes place in the last remaining slice of American wilderness, and it's inspired by "Heart of Darkness." And that's all I'll say.

You can read a sample & pre-order IN BETA on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview - Rick Heinz & The Seventh Age: Dawn

As part of the campaign for WRESTLETOWN I'm featuring weekly interviews with other Inkshares authors whose work I think you might enjoy. First up - Rick Heinz & THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN.

Before the age of reason and science, magic ruled the world. Now, it’s coming back and if most of humanity gets wiped out in the process....well, sometimes you have to break a few eggs.

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THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN has already been successfully funded through Inkshares (though you can still pre-order), hitting the stands this November. It also received a great mention from Publishers Weekly yesterday.

Who is Rick Heinz and what's THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN all about?

Rick Heinz is just some bloke with an overactive imagination who sleeps a lot despite drinking copious amounts of coffee. By day, I’m a electrician who crawls around in the bowels of Chicago, but by night: I’m a hardcore storyteller and gamer. Constantly with my nose in some book or running an event.

The Seventh Age is my first novel. Set in the modern age, it follows a global conspiracy as heretics work in the shadows to tear down the barrier that keeps humanity ignorant of demons, forgotten myths, and magic.

Inspired by works such as Neverwhere and American Gods. This tale explores the ramifications of ancient creatures waging war in the shadows - and specifically, what happens when that war spreads into public view.

A world of moral grey areas, ancient myths, and Illuminati-style conspiracy with powerful beings who blithely step into the most mundane circumstances of everyday life. Where your favorite street-taco vendor could at any moment have his sales interrupted by a scuttling imp, and where being a multi-century-old warlock with a grand agenda doesn’t help you file building permits.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

Ever crawl through hidden railways under Chicago? Since I work in construction I’ve come to learn that all cities have - hidden just out of sight - an amazing labyrinth of architecture that has a story. For a decade I’ve been crafting the setting of The Seventh Age by studying secret societies and urban legends. The more time I spent wandering around near-empty buildings at 4 A.M. the more inspired I got.

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Why Inkshares?

So… it’s 9 A.M. and I’m trying to avoid the giant flaming ball of death that sits in our sky by hiding within my air-conditioned sanctuary. My wife sends me a text message telling me I should enter this contest with The Nerdist that’s hosted on Inkshares. She found out about it by listening to the podcast. So, I entered. Out of 300+ entries I ended up in the top 5 after a grueling contest. Since that time the platform has grown on me, but my entry into picking Inkshares was really random.

What books have captured your attention lately?

I’ve got two actually. One is Scorch: A graphic novel by Ashley Witter. It’s about a demon living an immortal life as a young teen in suburban America. To keep this, she’s gotta cough up 10,000 souls as payment. Plus interest. It comes to print in July and I backed the kickstarter for it.

The other is Scott Kenemore’s zombie collection. I mean collection as well. I just found out about all these things: The code of the Zombie Pirate, Zombies vs Nazis, the Zen of Zombie (Even) better living through the undead. So on and so forth.

Akira

Who are your greatest influences?

In the writing world, Chuck Wendig, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Jordan. Writers who have influenced many, for we all stand on the shoulders of giants. In life however, there are countless historical figures that I draw inspiration from. I’m extremely politically active and particular time periods in history like the Chicago riots or the Pullman Strike are things I draw a lot from. For the past decade, I’ve been engrossed into biographies of Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison.

What's next for you as a writer?

Seventh Age: Dystopia the sequel is what’s next. I’ll be sticking with Inkshares as a platform. They have a lot of fantastic ideas and a great direction planned ahead. All I need to do is tackle a few taco-vendors, stock up on some crappy coffee, and then chain myself to a desk next month to start writing.

Which probably won’t happen because The Seventh Age: Dawn comes out on November 1st and I’m going to end up pacing in circles as reviews come in. But after that for sure. Start the next book. Always. Keep. Writing.

You can read a sample & pre-order THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN on Inkshares.

Wrestletown is Go!

Wrestletown is go! Temp Cover

Officially announcing the launch of my debut novel, WRESTLETOWN, on Inkshares! WRESTLETOWN is an illustrated novel featuring cover and 10-15 illustrations by the incredible Andrew MacLean (Head Lopper, Image Comics).

Inkshares is a publisher that functions similar to Kickstarter (crowdfunded) except it is by copy and not dollar amount (therefore pursuing a goal of reaching readers and avoiding vanity press issues, etc). My local bookshop, Papercuts J.P., published their debut anthology with them, and I've been very impressed with the quality of books I've seen them put out. Wrestletown is a success at 250 copies (POD) pre-ordered, upgrading to an offset printing at 750 copies. Inkshares provides editing, marketing and distribution (functioning like any other publisher). The campaign runs through October 30th, with publication in 2017.

You can read the first five chapters of WRESTLETOWN on Inkshares, and each week I'll be sending out updates to backers on inspiration and story. An official cover reveal is set for late July/early August with interior illustrations to follow.

I hope you'll give the book a shot and consider supporting the campaign. WRESTLETOWN is my favorite work to date and the most fun I've had writing.

Let's kick this pig!

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Safe Inside the Violence nominated for an Anthony Award

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In a bit of belated blogging news...SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE has been nominated for an Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection! Couldn't be more thrilled, humbled and honored to see it listed alongside such a fantastic line up of nominees - especially Protectors 2, which features my short story, "Snapshots."

BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION Safe Inside the Violence - Christopher Irvin [280 Steps] Protectors 2: Heroes-Stories to Benefit PROTECT - Thomas Pluck, editor [Goombah Gumbo] Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule: Holiday Tales of Crime for People on the Naughty List - Todd Robinson, editor [CreateSpace] Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015 - Art Taylor, editor [Down & Out] Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds - Kenneth Wishnia, editor [PM]

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Check out Bouchercon 2016 for the full list of Awards.

Art Taylor quickly pulled us together last week for a little chat on short fiction. Check it out at SleuthSayers and give these books a look!

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See you in New Orleans!

CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS with Jen Conley

I've gotten to know Jen Conley over the past few years through conventions and working alongside her at Shotgun Honey, and as a big fan of her work, I'm very excited to see her debut collection, CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS, hitting shelves this May. It was a pleasure catching up with Jen and discussing the book. Check out the pre-order via the stellar cover image below. Jen Conley_Can

Chris: You are well known in the short crime fiction world, but for those who don't know, who is Jen Conley and what's CANNIBALS all about?

Jen: I write crime fiction, usually peppered with a bit of horror. Most of my fiction takes place in the Ocean County area of New Jersey, where I grew up and still live. For a few years I’ve been one of the editors of Shotgun Honey, a flash fiction site that publishes crime fiction. In my other life, I have a fourteen-year-old son and I teach seventh grade Literacy, otherwise known as English.

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Chris: Many of your stories are set in or around the Pine Barrens. I don't know too much about New Jersey and its geography, but I found this setting to be fascinating. Can you talk a bit about it? What draws you to it? What does it mean to you?

Jen: The Pine Barrens is a large region of forested land in central and southern New Jersey. Because of the sandy soil, or “sugar sand”, it wasn’t great for farming so it’s been pretty much been left undisturbed. It became protected land in 1978 under the Pinelands National Reserve, which also protects the watershed areas. (Although, sadly, a gas line was just approved to run through part of it.) Anyhow, in the 1700s and 1800s, there was some industry--sawmills and iron--but it was a difficult place to live, so towns would pop up and go abandoned. Today, it’s the largest body of protected area in the mid-Atlantic states. The trees are scrub pines, which are pygmy pines, and that, with the sugar sand and the lack of development, give the area a ghostly, desolate feel. Especially at night, when you can hear all sorts of wildlife--several types of frogs, toads, insects, owls. It’s really a great place to visit, just bring your bug spray. The mosquitoes and pine flies, especially the pine flies, are downright relentless. Those things hurt.

I guess I’m drawn to it because of the spookiness--lots of “ghost” towns of abandoned settlements. This area used to have a pretty strong iron industry until it moved to western Pennsylvania, so, like I said, it’s pretty desolate. I’m also attracted to the drabness, too, because it’s not pretty forest at all, but it makes for a wonderful setting for crime fiction. The people who live in this area are usually not wealthy, it’s pretty middle class and working-class, and for someone who likes to write about ghosts and working-class people, it’s perfect for me. Plus, it’s where I grew up, so I tend to be sentimental even if it doesn’t come completely across in my stories.

Oh, one more thing--the famous Sopranos episode, “The Pine Barrens,” that wasn’t filmed in the Pine Barrens. It was filmed in upstate New York. It’s a fantastic episode but the first time I saw it, I was really pissed. I could tell it wasn’t filmed in the Pinelands because the trees were wrong, and when the camera panned out, there were large hills in the background. There are no large hills in the Pine Barrens. It’s mostly flat.

Chris: Your stories featuring your character Officer Vogel are some of my favorites. In the past we've talked about you doing more with her. Any plans?

Jen: I’d like to because I love her character but I don’t have any definite plans yet. She’s a very reticent person, compassionate on the inside, but cold and tough on the outside. It’s a good mix for a character of a crime novel but I need a plot and I haven’t wrapped my head around an idea yet. I’m working on it.

Chris: I love how you tackle trust/mistrust in your stories featuring Vogel, and even more so in "Pipe" and "June." What draws you to these stories?

Jen: I’m a big fan the theme of betrayal. I guess that’s why I love The Godfather I and II, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos. Even my all-time favorite, Mad Men, works on this theme because Don Draper spends his entire adult life betraying himself.

But in both “Pipe” and “June,” we’re dealing with kids, kids who are betrayed by adults. There is another level of tragedy in that and I think it breaks my heart--I like to write stories that break my heart on some level, even if I’m ending it on an upswing. I also like writing about kids but I’m aware that creating sympathy for them is an easy gig, because everyone feels bad for a kid in trouble. So I have to tone down my kid story ideas, not write so many.

Chris: Talk about the process of forming the collection, the selection of stories, etc. Any must-haves? Anything not make the cut?

Jen: It took me a long time to put a collection together. I tried before but I found I was writing stories to fill the collection and they weren’t all up to par, so it’s almost as if I had to wait until they all came to me. Until I was happy with each and every single one.

As for selecting stories, I wanted to pick the stories that actually took place in the area I was writing about. I have stories that take place in London, in New York City too, and those didn’t make the cut because they didn’t take place in Ocean County, NJ, which is part of the collection’s signature. In addition, some of my Pine Barrens stories didn’t make the cut because their themes were too close to something I’d already chosen.

I also made a point to bookend the collection with two stories: “Home Invasion” and “Angels.” In my first story, “Home Invasion,” the main character is haunted by a devil. In the last story, “Angels,” the main character is haunted by angels. So those two were definite picks. I suppose I was going for the classic ying/yang idea.

Chris: "Pipe" might be my favorite of the collection. How did this story come about?

Jen: Back when I was in high school, there was a small skinny kid who was bullied by some of the older boys. One of the older boys told the kid he was going to beat the shit out of him the following day. So the kid came to school with a pipe and hid out in the bathroom. I think he was caught before anything went down. I don’t remember much else about the incident, none of the names, etc., which is good because then I could write the story as fiction. Yes, there was a movie from ‘87 called “Three O’Clock High” with a similar premise, but that was comedy, and bad comedy at that because it wasn’t a good film. The real story from my school was very sad, and this sad, desperate image of going to school with a pipe to defend yourself against boys who were the size of fully-grown men just hung out in my head for years.

Chris: "Home Invasion" is another favorite, in which I get a strong "A Good Man is Hard to Find" vibe. Who/what do you see as your influences?

Jen: Definitely Flannery O’Connor. That has to be one of the best stories ever written, by the way.

I’m a big fan of the short stories by Annie Proulx. I also love the short stories by Edward P. Jones and Ron Rash. I think those three writers are my biggest influences, none of which are actually “crime” but there’s a sense of place and people who struggle constantly, which is what crime fiction should encompass, or at least, I think so.

But as for writers, or collections of stories that made an impression on me when I was young, I’d have to say the stories by Langston Hughes. One of my college professors had us read them and I remember I enjoyed the tales everyday people just trying to get by but more so, I was influenced by his style. His characters jump off the page, as do his descriptions. But his descriptions aren’t overblown, just very simple. One sentence and you can see everything. That’s what I like.

One collection that has stayed with me over the years is Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. She’s a beautiful writer but boy, does she hit you in the gut and that collection is relentless. I haven’t read everything she’s written although I read Veronica a few years ago. It’s gorgeously written (and I took some notes on her style) but that book depressed me for weeks. Hell, I think it stayed on my mind for almost a year. There are so many painfully beautiful images on those pages that to this day are forever planted in my brain. But the bottom line is that I was bugged out by that book. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe I’m just impressed by her power and as a writer, that’s a bar I’d like to reach.

One other thing--although I love my mob movies and TV shows, I’m not a fan of too much blood. I like stories about people’s lives, about what’s going on inside and around them, about how they got to the violence. Not so much the violence itself.

Chris: How has your work with Shotgun Honey influenced your writing?

Jen: I think so. Not everything that comes through the submissions process is successful and I think that’s what really hits home with me--sometimes I’ll read a story and start reworking it in my head and then I realize I can’t do that for every writer. What Shotgun Honey has also taught me is draw it tight. One or two scenes, one to three characters, one problem. And because we only accept 700 words per story, it’s very, very important to make sure every single word counts. Leave out the backstory--and I love backstory-- but you can’t do that in flash. So your backstory has to be a sentence or two and then your character in action has to show the rest.

Chris: Any plans for a book launch or readings around release this year?

Jen: June 3rd, I’m having a book event at Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. Hopefully I’ll have more events. I’m new at this promotional stuff.

Chris: What's next?

Jen: I’ve decided to take a break from short stories. They’re my great love but I’m never going to get anywhere if I just write short stories. So I’m working on a thriller/horror book. It’s about a woman who gets involved with a bad guy--I know that’s vague--but she’s in transitional point in her life, she’s restless and also desperate to have a family, and he’s good-looking, cool, and all that good stuff. It’s got a horror touch so there’s more to it but I guess I’m going for a thread of reality--what happens when you land a guy who seems perfect for you, accepts you as you are (my main character has some horrible scars from a dog attack) but as the relationship evolves, he becomes darker, almost abusive, then abusive, and you have come to the realization that you have extricate yourself from it all. Of course, it takes place in Ocean County and I’ve got the “first draft” written but I’m in the process of slowly and methodically going through each chapter, rearranging, cutting, expanding, rewriting. My writing MO is this: blow through the first draft, then go back and do the “decorating” as I like to call it. This method works for me only because of computers--you never really have to write new drafts, do you? You just improve on the first. I have no idea how anyone wrote in the old days, before computers, before you could cut and paste and then cut and rewrite… what a pain in the neck.

Thanks for having me Chris! It’s been a lot of fun.

DOWN THE DARKEST STREET with Alex Segura

The past couple of months have brought a double dose of multi-talented author Alex Segura in the form of Polis Books re-issuing SILENT CITY, his first novel featuring Pete Fernandez, along with a new book - the follow-up - DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. I really enjoy Alex's take on the PI, and it's a pleasure to have him stop by and answer a few questions regarding his latest releases. Here we go! DTDS-e1458140880212

Chris: The PI story is classic - one that countless authors take on each year. With SILENT CITY and now DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, you've received high praise from the likes of Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Brad Meltzer, Reed Farrel Coleman, and more. Who's this Pete Fernandez? What's drawing readers to his story?

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Alex: When we meet Pete in SILENT CITY, he's hit bottom. He's lost his father, his fiance has left him, he's moved back to his hometown of Miami in shame, he's working a dead-end job and he's basically fallen from grace, career-wise. He's gone from being an on-the-rise sports reporter to being a mediocre copy editor. He's also drinking himself to death. He's got only a few friends left and is floundering. But then he gets pulled into a missing persons case and finds that spark again - and as he pulls and tugs at the thread, he finds it leads to a bigger, more dangerous mystery. Unfortunately, being inspired or motivated doesn't solve our problems, so he's still kind of a fuck up. His story isn't just about solving the crime - it's about fixing himself, and that's something I think anyone can relate to.

We see him fail and stumble, but we also see him use his smarts and experience to help others. He's a flawed person and a conflicted hero, and I think  that's part of the appeal. He's not your polished PI with a stack of cases and the office. Hell, you should see where he ends up by the middle of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. These are the formative moments for Pete - we're not meeting him in the middle, we're starting at ground zero with him.

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Chris: You mention the setting of Miami and Pete's job as a reporter - two of my favorite aspects of the first book as both are foreign to me and I found your take to be very engrossing. How did these pieces find their way into the story? Have you set stories in Miami, or featured reporters as characters before? If so, how has the place/person evolved in your writing?

Alex: First off, I'm glad you liked the setting and Pete's job. I really wanted to showcase the Miami I remember and know, as opposed to some commercialized version. Whenever I see Miami portrayed on TV or in movies, I tense up - because I've had so many experiences where the Miami I see on the screen just doesn't ring true. I wanted to show Miami as a sprawling, complex, dangerous and off-the-rails place. Not a tropical getaway, even though it can be that to some people. I wanted to show the Miami residents see, as opposed to the one tourists see. I worked in newspapers for a big part of my early professional life, so I knew that world, and I love newsrooms - the sense of urgency, the workmanlike vibe, the flow of information. It struck me as the perfect place for someone who would eventually evolve into being a private eye of sorts. I toyed with having Pete be a reporter at first, but realized that someone like him - basically destroying himself slowly - wouldn't be able to hack it. That's why I set him up as a kind of fallen star: a former reporter relegated to desk duty and hating every second of it. This opened the door to him tapping into his inquisitive skills to do other stuff, like investigating a murder mystery, for starters. Most of my crime fiction is set in Miami, including a few short stories - the bulk of it comes via the Pete books, though. But my interpretation of the city evolves because Miami itself is always changing. I live in New York now, and while I come home to Miami 2-3 times a year, I'm always amazed at how much it's changed. I try to be as true as I can when researching stuff, and usually take time out of trips back home for fun to do some legwork for the next book - but I also want to preserve Miami as I remember it, too, so the Miami of the Pete books may not be identical to Miami as it is now, but it's my riff on it. (I hope that makes sense!)

Chris: Totally. Do you think it has gotten harder or easier to write about Miami since you left? Does your ability to see the city as an 'outsider' give you more insight or flexibility than if you were still in the weeds?

Alex: Different. I mean, I started SILENT CITY after I'd left, but Miami was fresh in my mind. Now I've lived in NY for over a decade. But I go back to Miami pretty regularly. But it means more research - more keeping up with the news and trying to keep up with how the city's changed or evolved. That said, I write fiction, so there's some wiggle room. I can keep a bar or restaurant open longer in Pete's Miami, even if it's closed in real life. I can tweak things as long as I'm in the ballpark. But it is a bit trickier to write about Miami now, so it's something I'm very mindful of and work hard to stay true to

Chris: Let's talk crime fiction for a moment. With your day job at Archie Comics you are exposed to slice-of-life, horror, super heroes, high school intrigue - you name it. What draws you back to crime, again and again? Feeling the itch to tackle another genre?

Alex: I have a few comic book ideas I want to explore, but they're in the very early stages. I've always had a soft spot for sci-fi, and I've written a few things in that genre. I would love to do a Star Trek novel or comic, if that ever comes to pass. I'm a sucker for that universe. But crime fiction is my main wheelhouse. I don't see it as a limiting genre - there's so much ground you can cover, you know? Hardboiled to cozy, noir to humor. It really allows you to explore the human condition and showcase the stuff people are dealing with through the prism of a crime. At its best, crime fiction rises above just a caper or a whodunnit - it gives you a sense of the struggles people are experiencing, of place and how everything fits together. I'm hesitant to even minimize it by trying to keep it in one big crime fiction box, but yeah, it's the most liberating kind of story to write.

Chris: Speaking of outside the genre - any writers/creators outside the genre who influence or inspire your work?

Alex: Great question. I love Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Cristina Garcia, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Kelly Braffet, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Marisha Pessl, Chuck Wendig...those are just a few off the top of my head!

Chris: If Pete Fernandez had to leave Miami today and go elsewhere for your next book, where would he go?

Alex: He ends up going somewhere in Book 3, but it's still a Miami book. I've toyed with New York or Vegas for certain stories, but I think Miami has to always be an element. It's too big a part of him.

Chris: Any readings/convention appearances scheduled for 2016?

Alex: Yup! I'll be kicking the Down the Darkest Street tour at The Mysterious Bookshop on 4/12, which is also release day. After that I'll be doing appearances around New York, like Word Brooklyn and The Astoria Bookshop. I'm doing a few events in Florida, one at Books & Books and another at Murder on the Beach in Delray, in early May and I'll be at Bouchercon and Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee, to name a few. The full list is at my site, alexsegura.com.

Chris: What's next for Alex Segura?

Alex: Finishing up revisions on the third Pete book, Dangerous Ends, and powering through the first draft of the fourth, untitled Pete book. And ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES! That's hitting later this year, with art by Gisele and co-written by Matthew Rosenberg.

DON'T GET CAUGHT with Kurt Dinan

Annnnnd we're back! It's been difficult to keep up with the blog as of late, but I have some plans to keep it going, beginning with a series of interviews of some friends and colleagues with books coming out this spring. We're kicking things off with KURT DINAN and his YA debut novel, DON'T GET CAUGHT, which hits the stands on April 1st - tomorrow! Nice marketing trick for a book about pranks, eh? Well played, SourceBooks.

Kurt Dinan

You may recall Kurt giving me the third degree on his blog a few months ago. Here I return the favor, though I gotta tell you - it's tough when a book is so great. Yes, Kurt is a fantastic writer and a good friend of mine, so I'm biased...BUT prior to cracking DON'T GET CAUGHT I hadn't read much (if any) YA and just a few of Kurt's short stories, so I felt pretty good going in blind. Kurt kills it in his debut. You should grab this book because it's a ton of fun, but also for Kurt's use of voice, handling of an ensemble/team and tight plotting. Early reviews are excellent (especially over on Goodreads, where the book has been on fire for months.) But enough of this sweet praise. Read on!

Don't Get Caught

Chris: YA fans are over-the-moon for DON'T GET CAUGHT. What's going on here? Give a quick pitch and sell the rest of us on this big debut.

Kurt: The quick pitch: DON'T GET CAUGHT is a fast-paced, funny, and prank-filled caper novel about a group of outcasts out for revenge.  Or if you want the Hollywood elevator pitch, it's Ocean's 11 meets The Breakfast Club, but with a lot more dick jokes.  At least that was my intention when I wrote it.

Chris: Mmmmm, I smell a movie. Speaking of which, the voice of the narrator, Max Cobb, (my favorite aspect of the book) screamed film voice-over in the best way, taking me back to movies like The Sandlot and Stand By Me, among others. How did you go about developing it? Balancing the innocence and teenager hijinx. Did it naturally roll off onto the page?

Kurt: Oh man, I'm glad to hear that because I struggle with voice so much.  I honestly don't think it was until the 4th or 5th draft where I finally heard his voice and could write it.  If I remember correctly, I think it was writing, "This is a terrible idea.  It's stupid, irresponsible, and borderline suicidal.  But I'm going anyway"  as my opening lines where everything clicked.  Now, those lines don't start the novel in the final draft, but something in there made Max come to life.  After that, I had to go rewrite the whole novel to fit that voice, but it was fun work because I finally had it.

Chris: That's some serious persistence! Was fine tuning the voice part of the process of finding your footing writing YA fiction? What was it like moving from Horror to YA? Or were you always writing both?

Kurt: The move from horror to YA was easy because if I'm being honest, horror wasn't a good fit for me.  Like a lot of people I know, I spent my high school years reading Stephen King.  So when I started writing I wrote what I knew best.  I had some success with a few horror stories, yeah, but I learned that I'm not really that dark of a guy by nature, and it's hard for me to get myself in the right place to write that way.  YA though?  Writing smart-assed, euphemism-slinging, antiauthoritarian teenagers?  That's much more natural for me.

Chris: Speaking of smart-assed, euphemism-slinging, antiauthoritarian teenagers - you feature quite a few pranks in this book. What was the process like inventing them? Any you had to scrap during the editorial process?

Kurt: I did a lot of research on pranks, and then steroided them out to make them bigger and better.  The fun part was figuring out how to make a team pull the prank off, and then write it in such a way that the reader doesn't know exactly what's being done until the very end of the chapter.  I like to think of myself as a problem solver, so it was a fun exercise with each prank, thinking, "Okay, how exactly would you make such and such happen?"  I did scrap one prank from an early draft in which the Chaos Club had turned around the first ten rows of seats in the auditorium so that everyone faced each other like in a subway car.  I ditched that scene just to get the novel moving faster.  And at one point Wheeler had a different prank than the one he pulls in the novel, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was.  I do know that I wrote the prank he pulls on the football practice field on the writers' retreat where you and I met.  My only goal that weekend was to write that chapter, and I was worried I wouldn't get it finished.  I was in such a prank planning mode though that I knocked it out in a few hours, a first for me.

Chris: That was a great writers' retreat! I'm glad to hear you got some serious work done...unlike myself. It's all about the social interaction though, right? I'll keep telling myself that. Any retreats/conventions/tours lined up for this year? I saw you hit the big time at the American Bookseller Association's Winter Institute in Denver back in January.

Kurt: I just found out my book release party is on April 6th here in Cincinnati, so I'm looking forward to that.  I'm also a guest at the Ohioana Book Festival in April, and the Pickerington Teen Book Festival in June.  There are a couple of others in Ohio I'm hoping to attend as well.  But yeah, the ABA Winter Institute was big time, and I spent most of my time looking over my shoulder worried that the book police were going to arrest me for slumming.  I know you're supposed to "act like you've been there" and all of that, but putting me in a signing room with Richard Russo and Kwame Alexander is a bit ridiculous.

Chris: Getting back to the kids for a moment - I was on a panel the other day at Boskone and we were discussing the idea that every character in a story is a hero, that they have their own story where they are they hero, even if it isn't the main narrative. I think this idea applies to DON'T GET CAUGHT in how you really developed the whole cast. They have their own struggles, problems at school/home in addition to the group's goal/conflict throughout the book. How did you go about developing each story? Do you have a favorite?

Kurt: It's funny you brought this up because I gave each of the five characters an arc thinking I had to.  It wasn't until I got into revising that my agent and editor both told me I didn't have to go to that length.  But I love ensemble casts and used The Breakfast Club as a template.  By the end of that film you know a good amount of each of those characters.  I wanted each member of the Water Tower 5, the kids looking for revenge in the novel, to each have his/her motivation for doing what they do.  Of those five, I think I like Wheeler's arc the most.  I like the idea of the classic screw-up deciding to turn things around while still not changing who he is at his core.  Like Wheeler says, he upgrades who he is, but doesn't do a new install.  So he can be more responsible without being completely responsible, which no one would like.

Chris: I love that line about upgrading versus a new install.

It wasn't until I got into revising that my agent and editor both told me I didn't have to go to that length.

I find this statement fascinating as it reads to me like they said the book was good enough as is and that you didn't need to go the extra mile. Could this be attributed to the YA market/readership? Can you expand on this a little? Terrible plans, eh? Keeping them in high school? Do you envision ever taking these characters post high school?

Kurt: In an early revision note, I'd been asked to make Stranko, the vice principal, and sort-of-antagonist in the novel, a little less moustache-twirly.  I humanized him some, and then wondered if I needed to do the same with the other four characters in Max's crew.  I'd given them all arcs on purpose, but wasn't sure if I'd gone far enough.  I was told, yep, you're fine.  Actually, giving those characters arcs is what helped me figure out the pranks.  Adleta, the lacrosse player with the terrible father, had to have a sports-related prank, and Malone, with her sexting scandal, had to get revenge on the girl who sent her picture around.  It really was pretty helpful.

Keeping anyone in high school is torture, for sure, but as much as I dig these characters, I'm not planning to write about their post-high school lives.  I would at least like to mess around with them during the senior year though.

Chris: You know every interview is going to bring up the sequel(s). Anything outlined/planned out? What's next?

Kurt: I have the basic idea for a sequel, and know a few of the pranks that will be pulled and why.  I've started an outline and even some of the writing, which is a fun task because I like these characters so much.  Hopefully I get approached to write a sequel soon because I have terrible plans for all of these characters.  I mean, there have to be repercussions for the pranks they pulled, right?  Do any of us really ever truly get away with anything?

Chris: Do any of us really ever truly get away with anything? - now that's a hell of tag line for a sequel. I'll let you have the final word!

Kurt: The last word?  Okay, I can do that.  Look, reader of Chris' blog, I get it, you read a lot of crime, and, like Chris, maybe you don't read a lot of YA.  But here's the thing, I read a lot of crime, too.  In fact, I pretty much bow at the altar of Donald Westlake, the master of the comic caper novel.  DON'T GET CAUGHT is in that vain, just with high school kids and a lot more dick jokes.  If you happen to read the novel and not like it, Chris promises he'll refund your money.  What a good guy he is!

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