Category: Guest Post


Guest Post Ian Jones

Alright, last stop on the North of the Rock blog tour. Here’s Ian Jones’ top five things about being an author. Enjoy!

North of the Rock cover

Top Five Things About Being An Author

  1. Give yourself a chance. If you have an idea, no matter how vague or incomplete make a note of it as soon as you can or it will be forgotten. I learned this the hard way. Once it is there in black and white, even if there are only a few lines it will always get you back into thinking about it again.
  2. Be confident, don’t let self-doubt get in the way. This happens to absolutely everyone and it has been a major factor in me never going into the public domain in the past. I believed that I was writing for myself, because I enjoy doing it. But then a couple of people read what I had written and I got good feedback, and I started to believe in myself more.
  3. I can write whatever I want. I can change completely whole areas of a city if I feel like it and nobody can criticize me for doing it, and this is a great thing about being an author. Anyone can come up with an idea and just write, real life facts become unimportant. My only exception to this is when I am writing about an action that is taking place, possibly the police or similar then I do try to be as correct as I can be. I really don’t want to upset anyone especially those who have difficult jobs to do!
  4. Try to write when you can. This is important as lots of great books get started and never finished, and it is often difficult to find enough time. I do have a ‘real’ job, which does make it difficult but I do work at finding time, even if it just an hour or so to write. Of course, there are times when I sit down and the words just flood out, then others when I struggle for a paragraph. But I think that is the nature of it. If I could have this as my sole profession I believe I could probably complete two books a year.
  5. Enjoy it. I have never wished to be a millionaire, or for fame. In fact I hope to spend my entire life in happy anonymity. So for me I am just happy to write and to eventually see it printed. Of course it could well turn out that ultimately In have sold very few books, well at the very least at least I have had a really good time doing it.

Ian Jones author picture

Author Information

Residing in London, Ian Jones lives with his wife and daughter, a cat Gloria, tortoise Gary and three fish; Daphne, Velma and Scooby. He currently works at a Taiwanese hardware company, looking after Europe and works as an Electrician in his spare time. Ian Jones has been writing since he was twenty years old, though he mostly wrote black comedies and seemed unable to finish a complete novel. Fortunately, ten years ago, Ian Jones tried his hand at writing thrillers and published his very first novel, The Handsome Man. Since then he has had many other books published via Kindle Direct. Lost in Vegas is actually the second book that he wrote.

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Hey all, as promised, I’ve got a guest post for you all from Nick Lovelock. He’s talking about his favorite parts about being an author. Enjoy!

Gemenicia

My Favourite Things About Being An Author

I’ve always been a very imaginative and creative person, which more often than not has caused problems especially in school when at which time I was supposed to be studying American Political Change after the Civil War. However my margins were full of doodles of steam tanks, Gatling guns and l sorts of Steampunk ideas that started my journey of bringing it all to life. These doodles the prologue of the illustrations that appear throughout Gemenicia, and so far I have worked through over thirty A5 notebooks that are filled with ideas and practice pictures. I love the idea that I can be working non-stop on every different aspect that makes up one of my novels, or in this case the fifteen novels I have planned for the future.

Being an Author was something that I never envisaged myself doing from an early age, as I went through a few phases that began with wanting to be a lepidopterist, then an Archaeologist, and finally a musician. However nothing has come so naturally to me than writing, it’s something that I find incredibly easy, to come up with an idea from simply thinking or looking at something new. Filling up one of my notebooks which I carry around with me at all times with notes that will come up with or doodles that will one day become the illustrations that feature throughout my future novels.

The influences I have for the most part seem to be relatively obscure to others of my generation, and I love the fact that I am able to bring new life to them through homage’s and parodies, giving them a chance to reach a wider audience. World building has always been a major passion of mine, beginning with sand castles and moving to Lego Kingdoms. I loved to mix medieval with futuristic and build extremely complex models that would remain as they were for about a week, then another influence would come along and I would start trying to imitate that. However building with Lego has its limitations, and now that I have the chance to build an infinite world through being an Author, and that is a feat only possible through such a creative outlet, that and being an artist or film maker.

Being an Author gives me the opportunity to create characters that are given much more opportunity to grow and mature than others are with an hour and a half of screen time. It’s a challenge to give them a multi-coloured personality through the media of writing, but it’s a challenge that I find very fun to attempt. My first major change in the way I approached Steampunk fiction came when I was exposed to David Lynch’s masterpiece Twin Peaks, and it gave me the idea for which the following three novels after Gemenicia will feature. The idea of a great fantasy world having real people that have real life problems, that a small amount of fantasy that they can’t really comprehend will give all the story I need. This opportunity to put my theory into action is what I find to be the best part of being an Author.

Seeing the final product for which I have worked so hard on a feeling that doesn’t come around very often, and holding the first produced copy of Discoucia and then Gemenicia is what the magic of being an Author is all about.

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Nicholas Lovelock lives in a small village in Oxfordshire and has already published Discoucia, the first part of the Alavonia Series which spans multiple novels set to be released in the future. He enjoys riding around the countryside as well as illustrating his own works, as can be seen in his second novel Gemenicia. These Illustrations in stark black and white provide a glimpse into the world of Alavonia and how he sees it, as well as showcasing the different locations and characters that make up the Alavonia series universe.

He is a keen musician capable of playing the electric guitar as well as the acoustic and the piano, often trying to play like his musical heroes David Gilmour, Jimmy Page and Jeff Lynne. His coin collection has transformed from a hobby to a passion and obsession as he attempts to collect one of every issued coin in Great Britain. He is over halfway in that respect collecting such treasures as a 1675 Charles the Second Crown and an extremely rare Edward the Seventh Half Crown of 1905, and has begun metal detecting in an effort to tick some boxes in the Hammered Coinage section.

His love of Steampunk literature and cinema has been with him from a young age when he first saw the film ‘Wild Wild West’, sought out the original series and discovered a world of fantasy that he has painstakingly tried to pay homage to in his novels, to bring the wild west to an English setting and to create something that has never been done before.

History has always been a major passion of his as he makes many references in his literature, from characters whose personalities resemble those of eccentric historical characters or monarchs. The ability to change history through literature was one of the things that attracted him to become an author in the first place, to create similar timelines and put a unique spin on the mundane.

Nicholas Lovelock

Hey all, check it out, guest post! So, tropes are an interesting thing, sort of common details that pop up in a lot of stories with regularity. They aren’t bad on their own but, just like anything else, using them badly can ruin a work of fiction. Courtesy of Reedsy’s Desiree Villena, here’s five she’d happily be rid of.

5 Terrible Tropes That Need to Die in 2019

Since the dawn of storytelling, we have read… and read… and read the same tropes: popular characters, plot devices, and even whole storylines that are used repeatedly in literature. Whether it’s the accidental meet-cute or the “chosen one,” we all have those tropes that make us good-humoredly roll our eyes a bit whenever we see them.

But sometimes tropes aren’t just silly and fun, but distractingly unrealistic. Worse yet, they can be unrealistic and problematic — especially in genres like science fiction and fantasy, which are traditionally dominated by white men. Luckily, this trend seems to be changing… but that doesn’t mean these often-harmful tropes aren’t still pervasive.

Which is why I’m here to shed light on five terrible tropes that need to die in 2019. You’ve likely seen all of these at some point, but I’ll provide examples from both books and media so you can identify them in other works. I’ll also link to the original TV Tropes pages, so you can read up on them further if you like — and to give credit where credit is due for their amazing trope titles. Now, are you ready to learn the (t)ropes?

1. Instant Expert

Ever read or seen a battle scene where someone drops a gun, and the protagonist — despite never having used a gun before — picks it up and uses it perfectly to defend themselves? That’s the essence of Instant Expert: someone who has no prior experience with a particular tool/skill is somehow able to utilize it instantly and easily, usually to dramatic effect.

To be fair, this trope is more impractical than outright harmful. But it can definitely sidetrack the reader, even if it’s flimsily “explained,” such as in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. In the second book, Stone of Tears, Richard Cypher expertly wields the eponymous sword on his first try — supposedly because it encompasses all the skills of its previous owners. Cue eyeroll.

This trope also tends to be a hallmark of, shall we say, less sophisticated literature. The notorious Twilight saga employs Instant Expert in Breaking Dawn, the installment in which Bella Swan finally becomes a vampire… and immediately masters all the skills that the other centuries-old vamps have been perfecting for, well, centuries. And while it’s not like any of us expected a great deal of consistency after four books of supernatural madness, couldn’t Stephenie Meyer have thrown in a time jump or something?

Needless to say, Instant Expert is mostly employed for convenience’s sake and I understand the inclination to use it, especially in fast-paced narratives. However, I also feel that one of the most satisfying things for a reader is seeing how the protagonist actually learns to master something unfamiliar. So a word of advice to writers: don’t disregard the context for expertise, because context makes heroic moments that much more fulfilling to the audience.

2. Black Dude Dies First

Ah, Black Dude Dies First: the signature move of countless horror, drama, and even science fiction works. As you can probably surmise, this trope is another not-so-realistic one. It also presents a real challenge in terms of diverse representation. After all, if the only person of color gets killed right at the beginning of the story, the boat has pretty much sailed on diversity for its remainder.

Black Dude Dies First tends to be more of an onscreen phenomenon, but it’s critical for authors to avoid as well — especially since it won’t look great if they ever adapt your book into a show or movie. And even the most experienced writers can sometimes fall victim to this one, such as Nora Roberts in her paranormal romance novel Morrigan’s Cross. This book follows a gang of immortal sorcerers, warriors, and other such entities, and is pretty epic in scale… but its tired depiction of a black guy being the first to kick the bucket detracts from the story, and makes the reader wary of other overused tropes and odd character/plot choices.

Another particularly egregious example of Black Dude Dies First occurs in the second Alien movie, Aliens. Though the series gets points for a heroine as badass as Ellen Ripley, the first character to die at the hands (tentacles?) of aliens in this particular movie is Private Frost, a black man — and another black man, Sergeant Apone, quickly follows. Yes, we all know that someone has to die in order to keep the stakes high…. but would’ve been nice if it weren’t these guys in particular. In any case, it’s high time for the trope itself to die, in literary, cinematic, and every other form.

3. Stuffed Into the Fridge

Also referred to as “fridging,” getting Stuffed Into the Fridge is another unfortunate fate that typically befalls female and/or minority characters. Of course, they don’t have to literally be stuffed into a fridge (the trope takes its name from an infamous scene in the Green Lantern comics), but they do have to be killed and then presented in a threatening way to another character. This character is almost always a male hero, and often the family, close friend, or significant other of the dead character, so they’re incited to take revenge on the killer.

In theory, this trope is merely gross, but given that it overwhelmingly affects female characters, it also seems pretty sexist — and even when it’s not happening to a woman, it’s almost always a minority character of some sort. Predictably, it’s used mostly by male authors, such as Scott Lynch in The Lies of Locke Lamora and Glen Duncan in The Last Werewolf. In the former, a man’s daughter is killed and delivered to him in a barrel of horse urine; in the latter, the main character’s gay companion is decapitated and his head left in the trunk of the MC’s car. (Perhaps the decapitation aspect and the equine aspect are both subtle references to The Godfather?) But cultural references aside, I think we can all agree this trope is prejudicial, gratuitous, and should be eliminated for the sake of readers and viewers everywhere.

 

  1. Beauty Is Never Tarnished

And in a similar vein to Stuffed Into the Fridge, we have Beauty Is Never Tarnished, another ridiculous (though less macabre) trope involving female characters. The premise of Beauty Is Never Tarnished is what it sounds like: no matter how much action or duress a female character experiences, she will still emerge looking aesthetically pleasing.

Like Black Dude Dies First, Beauty Is Never Tarnished is another trope that’s more common in movies than books, but can still come into play with on-page female characters. Phèdre, the protagonist of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, is one such object of this trope. Regardless of fairly severe physical injuries, Phèdre’s scars are rarely mentioned, and her lovers (Kushiel’s Dart is an erotic fantasy novel) don’t ever seem to comment on them. Perhaps this is merely a function of the “erotic” angle — people’s lovers never really care about their imperfections, after all — but it’s definitely unrealistic for Phèdre’s scars to not even come up in conversation.

Another, perhaps better-known example: as much as I love the Star Wars movies, they almost unfailingly keep Princess Leia’s beauty weirdly untarnished. She has super-elaborate hairstyles that never seem to come undone, and her clothes and makeup are always, as the kids say, on fleek. I look worse after walking down the street on a windy day than Leia does after being dumped in a literal trash compactor. So while those cinnamon buns are undoubtedly iconic, writers and on-set stylists alike should take more reality into account when formulating their female characters’ “looks.”

 

  1. Black and White Morality

Finally, let’s talk about Black and White Morality — a trope that anyone who’s ever read classic fantasy will no doubt recognize. Again, this one is pretty much what it sounds like: the idea that morality can be broken down into two distinct camps of good and evil, directly opposing each other and usually involving a Good Guy and Bad Guy who must fight to the death (spoiler: the Good Guy almost always wins).

I’m not saying that every single novel needs to be grimdark, but works that operate under strict Black and White Morality tend not be very believable… especially when they don’t give any particular reason for the bad guys to be bad. This is particularly prevalent in children’s books, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — a fantastic story, don’t get me wrong, but one that’s predicated on the White Witch wanting to kill Aslan and rule Narnia simply because she’s a wicked person. (She gets a bit more backstory in The Magician’s Nephew, but it still doesn’t explain her motivations in much depth.) Yes, C.S. Lewis was probably just trying to make his themes more palatable for the younger set… but we should also remember that children understand more nuances than grown-ups tend to think.

Of course, some of these tropes are more pernicious than others. At best, they distract and diminish the reader’s engagement with the story; at worst, they perpetuate stereotypes and poor praxis for storytelling. Luckily, just being aware of them should make you much less likely to use them in your own writing.

Comment below with your least favorite tropes and why you dislike them!

 

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She tries her best to avoid using terrible tropes.

You can check Reedsy out here!

As ever, I really enjoy it when I get the chance to host a guest post from an author. Even more so when they’re interested in coming back later with another one. Damien’s previous guest post can be found here and, notably, Big Red has released just this week. Definitely worth checking out, links for that are down below. Enjoy!

A few years ago, I decided to become an app developer as a bit of a side project. I was already busy with looking after my two young children full-time – while working a part-time job – so that didn’t leave a lot of spare time. Despite the time constraints, I was driven.

More than anything, I wanted to grow this side-project from something that earned me some pocket money into something that could provide for myself and my family. One of the goals that spurred me on was the idea that once I achieved this, I could then focus my time on what I really wanted to do: write novels.

With the odds stacked against me, I landed several contracts and for a while, it really felt that my goals would come through. And then… everything fell apart.

Three projects crashed and burned in epic fashion. Months of hard work went up in flames, forcing me to re-evaluate my priorities. I spent an entire day soul-searching, really trying to peel back the layers and asking myself what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My thoughts drifted back to my list of goals and as I thought about those fantasies of becoming a writer, it struck me like a lightning bolt.

If I had all this time to focus on app development, wouldn’t that mean I had plenty of time to write too?

Without hesitation, I cut my losses and dug out a few pages of a story I had started two years previously. Based on a dream, this story followed a bunch of teenage cadets trapped in a vicious and brutal war while their country collapsed around them. With renewed determination, I picked up where I left off and had just over one hundred thousand words done within three months.

I spent another six weeks with edits and rewrites before I began submitting to agents and publishers. Within three months, it had been rejected upwards of thirty times. Unfazed, I decided to self-publish and after a surprisingly good start, book sales inevitably waned until they became practically non-existent.

I remember having another heart-to-heart with myself and asking if I really wanted to keep going with this. Unlike with app development, I had finally found something I was passionate about, so I dusted myself off and dived back in again.

Spurred on by another vivid dream, I set about writing what would become Big Red. Again, the standard rejection template emails came flooding through my inbox. Gritting my teeth, I prepared to self-publish again when something happened.

In a Twitter pitch-war, several different publishers liked my tweet about Big Red! Out of those, I got my first request for a full manuscript followed by an offer of a publishing deal. To this day, it still feels like a dream come true.

I wanted to share this because I’ve failed at a lot of things in my life. It can be painful and raw, but I’m a firm believer in taking the positive (as much as possible) out of everything that happens in life. If I hadn’t failed with my app development venture, I would have missed knowing this feeling. I’m doing something I’m passionate about and watching a story I crafted come to life in book-form. It’s amazing!

Whatever it is that you want to do; whatever your passion is, go for it. Yes, it will be hard and there’ll be plenty of times when you’ll want to give up but push yourself to keep going. Failure is good – it’s not taking action on your dreams that is the real enemy.

Big Red cover

Big Red

By Damien Larkin

We have always been here…

Traumatized by the effects of Compression travel, soldier Darren Loughlin holds the key to the fate of Earth’s Martian colonies. With his Battalion decimated, his fractured memory holds the only clues to the colony-wide communications blackout.

With time running out, Darren pieces together his year-long tour of duty with the Mars Occupation Force. Stationed in the Nazi-founded New Berlin colony, ruled by the brutal MARSCORP, he recounts his part in the vicious, genocidal war against the hostile alien natives and all who question Terran supremacy.

But as his memories return, Darren suspects he is at the centre of a plot spanning forty years. He has one last mission to carry out. And his alien enemies may be more human than he is…

https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/

Damien Larkin is a part-time Planning Analyst and a full-time stay-at-home father of two young children. He enjoys turning terrifying nightmares into novels and currently resides in Dublin, Ireland.

Links:
Barnes & Noble  Kobo  Amazon ITunes

Hank Quense Guest Post

Hey all! We’ve got a returning author with a guest post for you today, Hank Quense. It’s a nice interview with the super patient and deeply professional Faux News Network reporter Marcia Hammerhead regarding his new novel, The King Who Disappeared. Enjoy!

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Author Interview:

This is Marcia Hammerhead.  I’m the cultural reporter for Faux News Network.  I love literary fiction and I love going to symphonies and ballets. My boss knows this, so what does he tell me to do?  Every time Hank Quense, an unknown scribbler of genre fiction, comes out with a new book, I have to interview him, but at least I don’t have to read and review the books.  Let’s get started.

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Marcia Hammerhead: Mr. Quense.  What is your latest atrocity?

Hank Quense: It’s a fantasy novel called The King Who Disappeared.  The main character is a king who spends two hundred years under a sleep spell.  When he awakens, he finds his nemesis is still alive and the king wants revenge. The book has a lot of political satire in it.

MH: It sounds just as dreadful as all your previous books.  I suppose it’s filled with silly fantasy creatures.

HQ: It is.  Besides humans, there are elves dwarfs, half-pints —

MH: Half-pints?  What’s a half-pint?

HQ: They are also called halflings.  Hobbits in other words, but I can’t use the word ‘hobbit’ because Tolkien’s estate trademarked the word.

MH: Why don’t you invent your own creatures instead of stealing other authors’ work?

HQ: I do.  The novel has dwelfs.  They’re half elf and half dwarf.  They tend to have all the bad features of both races and none of the good traits.  The story also has yuks in it.  Yuks are like orcs but aren’t as friendly.

MH: I’m getting a headache just thinking about these matters.  How many books have you foisted on the unsuspecting reading public?

HQ: I have 23 books on Amazon right now, both fiction and non-fiction.

MH: Good heavens!  You’re like a plague.  Fortunately, you’re almost completely unknown.  Otherwise civilization would be in a crisis mode from reading all your drivel.  Have you considered retiring from writing to do something useful?  Like delivering newspapers or pumping gas?

HQ: Nope.  I’m almost finished with the first book of a scifi series of three novellas.  I’m also writing a non-fiction book that integrates self-publishing and book marketing into a single project.

MH: I can’t stand the thought of interviewing you several more times. Maybe I should retire.  Well, I can’t go on.  That’s it for this interview.

HQ: Thanks for having me on again, Marcia.

M: Why is that whenever I interview you I have an urge to go out and buy a large bottle of wine?

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Hank Quense writes satirical fantasy and sci-fi. Early in his writing career, he was strongly influenced by two authors: Douglas Adams and his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Happily, Hank has never quite recovered from those experiences.

He lives with his wife in northern New Jersey, a mere 20 miles from Manhattan, the center of the galaxy (according to those who live in Manhattan). They have two daughters and five grandchildren all of whom live nearby.

For vacations, Hank and Pat usually visit distant parts of the galaxy. Occasionally, they also time-travel.

Besides writing novels, Hank lectures on fiction writing, publishing and book marketing. He is most proud of his talk showing grammar school kids how to create a short story. He used these lectures to create an advanced ebook with embedded videos to coach the students on how to create characters, plots and setting. The target audience is 4th to 7th graders. The book’s title is Fiction Writing Workshop for Kids.

All right, guest post time! Today we’ve got a list of five reasons why you should read Armour Piercing, right from the author! Enjoy!

  1. Timing! The number of us that lived through the first Cold War, or at least a good part of it will remember The Cuban Crisis and how close that brought us to the brink of a Third World War…. We are nowhere near that at the moment, hopefully, but the sabre rattling has started. Alleged interference in Western elections by Russia, the assassination (and attempts) of ex-Russian defectors et, US v North Korea relations, all are raising the temperature of International East-West politics… This book gives a hint of what a return to those days could bring.
  1. If you like the genre, then it ticks the boxes. Lots of action, twists and turns. It switches from hunted to hunter and back again. You will want to keep going … you won’t find an easy place to put it down…
  1. Locality features – If you know East Warwickshire, Northampton, Rugby, Oxfordshire, Rutland or Stamford and parts of Lincolnshire, you will be able to follow the action closely with local knowledge. A reader will feel a part of the action. I also draw heavily on my experience in the newspaper industry, which I know a lot of ex-colleagues will find interesting.
  1. There’s a very special connection, a person known to you all, that I won’t reveal who it is to non-readers of the book… Intrigued, you will be!
  1. It’s a damn good read!!!

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A defecting Russian space scientist, awaiting debrief, is in a Warwickshire safe house that comes under attack by an assassination squad. He escapes with plans for a conspiracy involving key members of secret services across the Western world. The only person he knows in the UK, or could possibly trust, is Pete Armour, the man who was to be his de-briefer. Killed before he can reach safety, he has hidden the secret papers where only Armour could ever find them. Armour becomes the target when he and a female newspaper reporter find themselves thrust together and on the run from at least two secret service agencies and British Intelligence, who seem more hell bent on killing him than helping him. And there is a price to pay. There’s always a price to pay. This is the first of the Armour trilogy. A gripping read. Fast-paced, a thriller packed with action, twists and turns.

Find it at: Goodreads   Amazon

 

Author Information

Peter Aengenheister was born in Amersham, Bucks. At the age of 18, Peter became a trainee reporter at weekly The Bucks Herald in Aylesbury and the Buckingham Advertiser. Over the next three decades, Peter worked as a reporter, News Editor, Sub Editor and Editor. He worked at The Chronicle and Echo for nine years, and edited the Daventry Express and Rugby Advertiser for nine years a piece.

He then left journalism to work as a fully trained clinical hypno-therapist. Since then, with one of his colleagues, he set up a business selling LED lighting to the industrial and commercial sector. Despite writing stories on a daily basis during his 36 years in journalism, ARMOUR PIERCING is his debut novel.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PeterAengenheis

Guest Post: Damien Larkin

I meant to have this up yesterday but then time escaped me badly. Badly. I’ve actually been really excited for this one too, so it’s going to be fun to see what you all think. If you like what you read here, Big Red is available this coming May and you can pre-order it from the author’s website. Big thanks to Mr. Larkin and Dancing Lemur Press. Enjoy!

When I first started writing Big Red, I had the plot clearly worked out. I knew the exact story I wanted to tell. Like most plans, it didn’t work out the way I originally intended. New ideas formed, characters changed, even some of the pivotal scenes adapted to serve a newer story. The original idea involved the soldiers in Big Red being closer to super-human Rambo types. After thinking about it and drawing on my own experiences, I rewrote it from the perspective of an average person, with an ordinary, average life pulled into an extraordinary situation.

When I was seventeen, I joined the Irish Reserve Defence Forces which ranks as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Even today, I look back fondly at the camaraderie, life lessons and practical skills I learned. The one thing I remember more than anything though; the monotony.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Redoing foot and weapon drills on a daily basis was part of the role. Still, moving from a sudden burst of excitement (during simulated attacks on “enemy” positions in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains) to something mundane like map reading could wear out even the most enthusiastic of us.

As I rewrote Big Red, I found myself thinking more and more about those days. I wanted to capture what it was like being on the bottom rung, the lowest of the low. Set against the backdrop of a vicious war between the Mars Occupation Force, the human colonists and an aggressive indigenous alien species, the protagonist and the rest of the 2nd Battalion are mere observers at the start. Relegated to guard duty, they watch from the sidelines as the “real” soldiers do the fighting. Many are even grateful for the opportunity to sit the conflict out.

But as events unfold closer to home, average, normal everyday people have to make a choice. Will they rise to the occasion or run away from it?

I drew inspiration for Big Red from Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” and Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War. Both are excellent reads with some fascinating points, philosophies and outlooks. I enjoyed them both greatly, but rather than espousing an ideal or political message, I wanted to focus on how the lines between good and evil can very easily be blurred in wartime.

These average, ordinary people become products of their environment. They soak up the prejudices of their fellow soldiers against the colonists, in some cases viewing them as on par with the enemy. In their simulated training environments, they begin to not only learn how to kill their enemy effectively, they learn how to loathe and despise them too.

Without making any judgements, I let the protagonist and his friends tell this story. It was a unique opportunity to explore if doing good can cancel out an evil act and vice versa. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to share this story with (hopefully) plenty more to follow soon.

Big Red cover

Damien Larkin is a full-time stay-at-home father of two loud (but happy) young children. When not tinkering with apps as a side project, you can find him reading everything and anything to do with psychology, history and science fiction. He enjoys turning terrifying nightmares into novels and currently resides in Dublin, Ireland.

https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/

And I’m back with another guest post for you all. This one’s an excerpt, but I’m going to leave the framing up to the author. It’s actually a really interesting thing that I’m going to have to check out the next time I’m book shopping. Enjoy!

arasmith certainty principle cover

Excerpt from The Arasmith Certainty Principle

Thank you, Lauren, for the invitation to share a bit of my new science fiction adventure, The Arasmith Certainty Principle with your readers.  Like many of the adventure stories that I most like to read, The Arasmith Certainty Principle is about ordinary people coming face to face with extraordinary events.  As the book begins, three young scientists early in their careers are trying to piece together an explanation for a series of unexpected observations.  However, they soon find themselves caught up in the extraordinary implications of their observations and have to choose whether to put their lives and loves at risk to save the world from the disrupted reality that their discovery unleashes.

It’s always hard for an author to get a ‘feel’ for his or her own writing, so, in an effort to measure my own story, I recently played the Marshall McLuhan Page 69 game.  Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian intellectual who supposedly said that if you want to find out what a book is like before you read it, turn to page 69 and read that page.  I was somewhat surprised to find that page 69 (from the print version of The Arasmith Certainty Principle) faithfully captures some of the story’s juxtaposition of ordinary and extraordinary.  Check out the excerpt below and see if you agree!

Page 69 (Print Version)

Susan enjoyed her monthly bowling outing with Cynthia and Mike more than she had for a long time.  Perhaps her frequent and pleasant outings with Jonathan the past couple of weeks had mellowed her.  The kids were absent today, and so she couldn’t hide from Mike by talking to them.  As a consequence, she and Mike even enjoyed a short chat, without much disagreement.

Tonight, Susan found the familiar sights and sounds of the bowling alley particularly enjoyable.  She liked the clattering noise of falling pins and the shouts of patrons elated or disappointed with their bowling.  And she enjoyed the companionship without expectation.

A perfect evening.

Susan watched as Cynthia rose to pick her ball from the return rack, a light-weight purple one.  Cynthia glanced over her shoulder to the horseshoe benches that wrapped around the end of their lane where Susan and Mike sat.  Cynthia’s eyes went first to Susan, a faint smile warming her lips, no doubt pleased that she and Mike were getting along so well.  Susan returned the smile.  When Cynthia’s eyes went to Mike they warmed a bit more, and her smile changed, almost as if to say to Mike, “See, I told you she’d do ok in the end.”

Cynthia stepped to her spot in the lane and began her throw, but another motion caught Susan’s attention, two lanes over, half-way down toward the pins.  At first it was just a hint of moving color, shimmering in the empty lane, a few feet above the polished hardwood.  It flickered like an image from an old, failing film projector, blinking in and out as though not quite sure whether to exist or not.  As she watched, the image began to resolve into something like the shape of a person.

Susan might have wondered if she were seeing things, an hallucination, except she noticed that everyone else was watching too, eyes riveted on the shimmering being now hovering in mid-air.

russ colson author pic

Russ Colson is a scientist, teacher, author, gardener, and grandfather living in northwest Minnesota, far enough from city lights to see the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis. During the dark northern winters, he teaches planetary science, meteorology, and geology at Minnesota State University Moorhead. In summers, he writes, gardens, and collaborates with undergraduate students on research projects in experimental planetary geochemistry. In 2010, he was selected by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation as US Professor of the Year.

Before coming to Minnesota, he worked at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and at Washington University in St. Louis where, among other things, he studied how a lunar colony might mine oxygen from the local rock. He has published a variety of technical papers, science-fiction stories, and essays on earth science education. His non-fiction science book Learning to Read the Earth and Sky, published by NSTA Press, offers a story-filled exploration of the nature of scientific investigation and how that investigation can be brought into the classroom. His sequel to The Arasmith Certainty Principle, A Light in the Sky, will be coming out in . He is currently working on a new trilogy (The Kilns of Jupiter, A People Joined Asunder, and Ancient and Future Gods) about a self-taught planetary scientist who finds herself caught up in an inter-planetary mystery and war after her best friend tries to blow her up with a car bomb.

You can find his author website here as well as Double Dragon Publishing’s listing for The Arasmith Certainty Principle here.

Guest Post: Robert Gryn

Here’s to returning to the internet and a nifty guest post from Robert Gryn. Not much in the way of wording just now. So, enjoy!
In a city that crosses all realities, everything is possible, and everything is complicated. A murder of two lovers seems simple, but when the man is from Above and the woman from Below it’s anything but.
Detective Lang hunts for the killer. The chase takes him from the decrepit neighborhoods of Below to the highest towers of Above. And somewhere in between, he finds himself in a game between ambition and betrayal, whose stakes are not life or death, but only his soul.
two-skies-before-night cover

The Love and Hate Framework for the People in My Head

When I first began studying fiction writing, I remember reading that you have to both love and hate the characters you create. I didn’t understand this at first. Why would you write about characters you hate? How do you show fictional characters that only exist in your head love and hate in the first place? And how can you do both? This aphorism seemed a little too simple to the younger me. But over the years I’ve come back to it time and again, using it as a framework for thinking about the treatment of characters in fiction. Inventing people with real feelings is not an easy thing, after all, and being mindful of how we can fully engage with the characters we write can make them seem more present and more true to life.

Let’s begin with examining the most obvious question: why would you write about characters you hate? I’ve come to think of this in two ways. First, and this may seem obvious, but every hero needs a villain. We are all just as fascinated by psychopaths as we are by saints and so, as writers, we must learn to write them well. There’s something intriguing about people who act against one moral code or another. Maybe we wish we could have the freedom these characters seem to have or maybe we’re just drawn to something we can’t imagine ourselves doing. Whatever the reason, we love to read about characters we hate.

Second, as writers, we have to learn to “hate” the characters we love. It’s not that we have to hate the protagonists of our stories but sometimes we have to act as if we do. It’s an easy impulse to spare our cherished protagonists “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” But without the suffering, like that of the poor prince who spoke the words above, our stories would hardly be interesting.

I like to think that the drive to see characters suffer has more to do with our capacity for empathy than from some sadistic impulse. Then again, perhaps seeing characters suffer fits into our subconscious understanding of a reality that lies somewhere past the borders of optimism. There’s a certain comfort in seeing fiction fall in line with the unfair ways we expect life to treat us. A third possibility is our innate understanding of delayed gratification. We are willing to experience the “slings and arrows” because somewhere in the back our minds we expect some sort of relief or resolution.

But stories can’t be all about the trials we put our characters through. At some point, we have to show them some love. I’ve come to think of this in two ways as well. First, and perhaps the easier of the two, we should bask in the love we show the characters for whom we genuinely care. One of my favorite things to write is a scene in which a beloved character wins out. This could be a small personal victory, something as simple as a shared smile or one-upping a bully, and is especially meaningful if the character had little chance to succeed.

There’s something affirming about the underdog beating the odds that makes me hopeful for the human spirit. As I stated above, we naturally expect the world to be unfair and look for fiction to match that reality. But we also want the characters we care about to succeed regardless of those poor odds, and when they happen to fail, we feel their fall all the more keenly. Our capacity for empathy is so deep it seems to shape the narrative structures of all our stories.

And empathy is key for us as writers. This brings me to my second point about love. In order to portray the characters we write as people and not just narrative devices, we need to show them a level of empathy we might not be comfortable with if they were real people, especially if we present them as immoral or as performing “evil” acts. This is not to say that we shouldn’t write pure villains for whom we feel nothing and disavow their choices whether explicitly or implicitly. But rather, it’s that we experience more as readers when we see things from many perspectives. It’s one thing to see the faceless monster chase the protagonist. But it can be much more interesting to see the story from the monster’s point of view. Why do they act this way? What brought them to this place where they feel they must play such an awful part? And perhaps, in the process of giving insight into the villains in our stories, we learn to enhance our own general empathy for real people.

So do I finally understand what it means to both love and hate the characters I write? To sum up, my framework for love and hate as it relates to the people I write is as follows:

To love the people I write means to be present in the moment with them, especially if I genuinely love them as characters. It also means to see what they see in the way they see it, especially if I hate them as characters. This expressed empathy is crucial not only to make stories more well-rounded but to give us broader perspectives on our world in general.

Likewise, to hate the people I write means to use their sometimes immoral natures and acts to evoke curiosity and emotion from readers, especially if I hate them as characters. It also means that however much I may love certain characters, I must expose them to the pitfalls of our imperfect and often unfair existence. I must step back far enough to show them how cruel and uncaring life is.

This is by no means a complete formula for the treatment of characters in fiction. Whether these ideas sharpen my writing and make it more interesting is up to readers to decide. What I get from this framework is a path that helps me transition from inventing characters to realizing them as people, at least as people who only live in my head.

robert-gryn author pic

Robert Gryn was born in Poland during the latter years of the communist regime. His parents recognized that the socialist experiment was doomed to fail and set out for the more hopeful shores of America. Robert spent his youth moving from one school to another, winding up in one of the worst high schools in New Jersey. After graduating, Robert spent years working odd jobs in warehouses and construction sites. Like his parents before him, Robert soon realized that the personal experiment of his own life was doomed to fail.
Determined to find a better path, Robert decided to attend Columbia University where he studied everything from Psychology to Japanese, as well as Creative Writing. Unfortunately, even graduating with highest honors didn’t put him on a path that spoke to him. He drifted again, and accidentally wound up becoming a successful technology consultant, primarily because he knew how to turn on a computer.
It was a beach vacation to St. Martin that changed his life once again. Bored with the bright sunlight and the pristine beaches he sat down to begin writing the books that had always been in the back of his mind. He soon found that he was not so much a writer but a chronicler, as if the words had drifted into his mind from all those future centuries. What could he do but tell the stories of all those people who may never exist?
Robert has written a number of novels of impossible futures and unbelievable dreams. And as long as he knows how to turn on a computer, or how to commune with the thinking machines of tomorrow, he will continue to do so.
To learn more about Robert and his books, visit www.robertgrynbooks.com
You can also find Two Skies Before Night here.

Occupational Hazard Excerpt

And we are back with an excerpt from Occupational Hazard. This one is from chapter 18, so it’s a taste from a little further into the book than we usually get. It’s pretty cool to jump right in though. Enjoy!

OccupationalHazard-Cover

CHAPTER 18

“Here’s JBJ.”

 

Mick is already there when I arrive at the Giambini residence.

“Al, thanks for joinin’ us. I know you know Mrs. Giambini here. And this here’s JBJ.”

Slouching on a dining room chair is this skinny fellow with a blank, sullen stare and bored and distracted look. This is the person that earlier in the day Mick spent considerable time describing to me. I think to myself, “This is going to be mighty interesting.”

We know that the less JBJ knows about our situation the better, so Mick and I simply tell JBJ that in order to help someone from the neighborhood we need him to get us certain information about Gilbert.

We ask JBJ what his daily duties are.

JBJ says, “I ain’t tellin’ youse fuckin’ shit until youse tell me what the fuck’s in it for me.”

Mrs. Giambini gets up from her chair, dashes across the room to JBJ and gives him the traditional Italian mother’s smack to the back of his head, causing his head to almost hit the table in front of him.

“Heh, ma, what the fu—!”

Mrs. Giambini screams, “Scustamad e merd!” Loosely translated, “You selfish shit!” but the way Italian mothers typically shout it makes one feel deeply ashamed and miniscule.

“Junior! When this man (pointing to Mick) says jump, you jump. When he says crawl, you crawl. And when he says nothing, you go to him and ask, ‘What can I do for you to repay you for all the things you done for me and my family?’ And besides the help he gave your father, your uncle, your aunt, don’t forget who got you that lawyer when you got caught selling drugs in high school. He also stopped that facimm who let you buy liquor when you were only 15.

“And we don’t even know all the people he talked to for you, for them to give you another chance even after all the bad stuff you done.

“‘What’s in it for me?’ you ask. Oo gotz! You got the nerve to ask. Mick over here never asked that disgraziada question when we needed help. He did not have to lift a finger, but he did and he did and he did and he did. NOW, he asks for a little help and you act like he’s asking you to sacrifice your life. Va fa gool!”

JBJ says, “Okay, okay, Ma, sorry, but I’m worried about this job. What if I get fired ‘cause of what these guys want me to do?”

Mick jumps in, “JBJ, you got the job ‘cause of Carlo. Carlo is term limited out at the end of next year. So, ain’t no way you gonna be there long anyways. And I ain’t never gonna ask you for help if I ain’t gonna have your back if helpin’ me hurts you. Gabbish?”

JBJ seems to get what Mick’s saying and nods to show his assent.

“Now you’re gonna tell us whatcha normally do at the office and we’ll tell you how you can help. And during the time that we need your help, which’ll be for a month or so and maybe longer, you ain’t doin’ nuttin’ that’ll get you fired and you ain’t gonna quit either. Gabbish?”

Again, JBJ nods his head.

We learn that JBJ was basically a gofer for Gilbert. He would run both business and personal errands for him. His duties include reminding Gilbert of appointments on his calendar and keeping Gilbert’s cell phone charged. His desk is located right outside Gilbert’s office and the door to Gilbert’s office is generally kept open, except for certain calls, when Gilbert would order JBJ to close the door. That demand is always given when Gilbert got calls from the mayor or Stillman, whom JBJ said is a “fuckin’ snob.”

The initial assignment we give JBJ is to make a note of any contacts or calls with the 312 area code on Gilbert’s cell phone log. For the time being, we assume and hope that Gilbert would not use his work phone for his dirty tricks involving Mary.

We ask JBJ what would happen if someone noticed his looking closely at Gilbert’s phone while it iss being charged. He says, “They ain’t gonna say shit, ‘cause Gilbert has me programmin’ his phone to add different apps and shit. And if he’s got his door closed or is outa the office, I play all sorts of games and do other crap with his phone and everyone sees me do it and ain’t gonna think nuttin’ of it.”

JBJ did tell us the night we met that Gilbert was in Philadelphia the day of the call to the reporter, but that his train would have been in New Jersey at the time that call was made from downtown Philly. This meant that if Gilbert was truly on that train, Gilbert could not have made the call to the reporter, but we already assumed that Gilbert would have had one of his cronies make the call.

Mick would tell me later, “Jimmy Cavello’s brother-in-law, Max, works for Amtrak. I’ll get the ticket info from JBJ and have Max check to see if it was scanned by the conductor, so we know whether Gilbert was on that train. I once saved Max from gettin’ his throat slit. He was in a bar he had no business bein’ in. Lucky for him, I was walkin’ by or it wudda been bye-bye for Maxie. The guy who was gonna cut Max is still singin’ ’em high notes.”

JBJ also told us that Gilbert was in Philadelphia supposedly to attend some conference. However, as JBJ overheard Gilbert tell some colleague over the phone, Gilbert had no intention to attend any of the conference. Instead, JBJ reported that Gilbert said, “In the immoral words of Mick Jagger, I am going there to ‘make some girl.’” Apparently, Gilbert’s ulterior motive in being in Philly was to seduce some woman who was attending the conference. …

We instructed JBJ to see what he can learn about that lady. He told us that night that he was sure that Gilbert had gotten “lucky” with her, because on the Monday morning after the conference Gilbert came in, uncharacteristically, grinning from ear to ear.

JBJ said, “He’s mad always. He ain’t nuttin’ but a mean prick.”

Then added, “I know her name’s Margaret.”

I said, “Wait! That’s his wife’s name.”

JBJ responded, “No! His wife’s Margie and from the way he talks on the phone with this Margaret, ain’t no fuckin’ way in hell could she be his wife, ‘cause he’s always real nasty to his wife.”

As we left this initial meeting with JBJ, I asked Mick what he had done for the Giambini family other than what Mrs. Giambini said about how he had helped JBJ.

Mick says, “JBJ’s dad’s name is John Giambini Senior, but for some reason everybody calls him Frank. Anyways, I helped the old man when he got sick. Had my guys get him to and from his doctors’ appointments. When this one doctor wasn’t payin’ proper attention to him, I had a conversation with the doctor and adjusted his attitude toward Frank. And when I found out a male nurse mistreated Frank, Pedro had one of his guys make sure the nurse never made that mistake again.

“Then there’s the uncle, one of ‘em degenerate gamblers. Died without two pennies to his name. I made sure he had a proper wake and burial. His poor widow was left destitute. Rather than have her go to the poor house, I put her in one of my apartments and she’s never been happier.

“Al, hear me out, ‘cause this here too is a lesson for you, though I gotta say you already know this, proof bein’ how you helpin’ Mary and little Roger. Who knows, maybe this runs in our family? Anyways, if somebody needs help and I can help, I help ‘em. If I need help and someone can help me, like JBJ now, I expect that they will help me. It ain’t in any way even Stevens, ‘cause that ain’t how I like to be, but this is the way things is: We help each other anyways we can. Nobody keeps count who’s done more for who. You never know whatcha’ll need, when you’ll need it, so it ain’t the kinda thing you cudda keep track of anyways.”

As we both go our separate ways, we both agree that this twerp JBJ just may turn out to be an ace up our sleeve.