September 26, 2016

Why Writing Fantasy Books is like Cricket: a guest post by AJ Smith, author of "The Black Guard (The Long War)"

Why Writing Fantasy Books is like Cricket: Writing the Long War, Part Four.
by AJ Smith

Being a lover of English cricket, I have spent much of my young life in various states of extreme disappointment. It’s something I’m used to, something I even enjoy, for the endless disappointment makes the moments of elation all the more acute. That is what it means to be a lover of English cricket - constantly hoping for the best, against history and cynicism. We were always the underdog, the underachiever, the plucky long-shot. But, somehow, over the last few years, this has changed. We’re actually quite good.
I started writing fantasy on a whim. My writing CV up to that point was a varied mix of journalism and pitch-black comedy. Nothing to suggest I could produce a four-book series of somewhat epic fantasy. I was the underdog, the underachiever, the plucky long-shot. Granted, I didn’t have a cut-shot like Alistair Cook or an in-swinger like Jimmy Anderson, but I had some ability. I had a world, given life by thousands of hours of role-playing games, and I had a stubborn confidence that I could actually do this.
My first book appeared out of nowhere, after a few months of cloistered inspiration. I read it through, chopped it up a bit, bought a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and sent The Black Guard to an agent. I had a sense of inevitable disappointment all ready to go when I got my first rejection. But I’d weathered worse, the English cricket team of the mid-nineties for example. When my second submission got accepted, I genuinely thought it was an elaborate practical joke. I’d somehow wormed my way onto an agent’s client list. My disbelief continued as I got a publishing deal and saw my first novel in print. It was a surge of elation, sudden, but not entirely trusted, very much like the 2005 Ashes (the biennial cricket series between Australia and England). Something was bound to go wrong.
I didn’t quite screw everything up straightaway like the England cricket team. But I certainly didn’t get comfortable. I carried-on writing, trying to stay in the same bubble that had produced my first book, but I never lost the sense that it was all somewhat unreal, like Paul Collingwood’s England team winning the world cup in 2010. Both myself and Mr Collingwood had done well, but the world still seemed to sneer, as if nothing had changed. We were still the underdog, the underachiever, the plucky long-shot. It was a good start, but little else.
The next year or so was a blur. My second book was finished, edited and published in a bizarre whirlwind of imminent cynicism. I preferred The Dark Blood (my second book) to The Black Guard - but still wasn’t comfortable. It still felt like an elaborate practical joke, and I feared I’d be found out any minute. When I exited my writing-bubble and surveyed the reaction, I found something that scared me – people liked my stuff. I’ve never been comfortable with compliments, but this was new. This mattered. One book could be a fluke, but two... Beating Australia for the Ashes happened occasionally, but to win three in a row spoke of consistency. I hung on to this belief as my third book, The Red Prince was wrestled into shape.
When Australia visited England in 2013, the home side were the favourites. They’d won the previous two Ashes, home and away, but every true English cricket fan thought something was bound to go wrong. It didn’t, we won easily. The Red Prince was my home series against Australia; I was convinced it would be rubbish, eclipsing any goodwill I’d built-up with the first two. Then something strange happened – it received close to universal praise. It was good, probably my best work, and began to speak of consistency.
The only way to conclude this tenuous analogy is to say that, with the publication of my fourth book, The World Raven, I’m finally starting to believe that I’m quite good at writing; and with the English cricket team winning against every other team, I’m finally beginning to accept that we’re good at cricket. However, both situations are ongoing.


By A.J. Smith, author of The Black Guard (October 1, 2016) and The Dark Blood (December 1, 2016) from Head of Zeus, distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing,

The first in a major new fantasy series set in the lands of Ro, an epic landscape of mountain fortresses, vast grasslands, roiling ocean and slumbering gods. The city of Ro Canarn burns. With their father's blood fresh upon the headsman's sword, Lord Bromvy and Lady Bronwyn, the last scions of the house of Canarn, face fugitive exile or death. In the court of Ro Tiris, men fear to speak their minds. The Army of the Red marches upon the North. Strange accidents befall those who dare question the King's new advisors. Those foolish enough to speak their names call them the Seven Sisters: witches of the fire god; each as beautiful and as dangerous as a flame. And, called from the long ages of deep time by war and sacrifice, the children of a dead god are waking with a pitiless cry. All that was dead will rise. All that now lives will fall.

September 22, 2016

Keeling Me Softly With His Words: an interview with Ian Donald Keeling, author of "The Skids"

They're called the Skids. They've got three eyes, tank treads, and a bucket-full of attitude. They play the games and the few that don't get vaped in the first weeks still die at five years old. Game over, thanks for playing. Johnny Drop's the best skid the Skidsphere's seen in generations, but he won't get to enjoy it. Because his world is going to die.

Gef: What was the impetus behind The Skids?

Ian: This is going to sound ridiculous, but…it came to me in a dream. No really. About 20 years ago, I woke up and wrote down what I identified at the time as the first chapter of the weirdest novel I was never going to write. Sometime not long after that, I added a second chapter on a whim. Those two pieces are the bones of the first two chapters.

Then I didn't even think about it for a decade, until I hit a period where I didn't have any new short stories to send out for submission. I dug through my files, found The Skids and realized that the first chapter was actually self-contained and just needed a little world-building to make it a decent short-story. And while I was doing that world-building, I realized that I kinda liked the world I'd built. So that sat for a while, I wrote couple of other novels, and then one day—again between projects—I realized I wanted to actually write the novel. So I did…and here we are.

Gef: With a debut novel under your belt now, how would you gauge your progression as a writer thus far?

Ian: Ha. Well, I started pursuing this dream when I was 12 and now I'm 45 and I'm finally releasing my first novel, so, uh…slow? ☺ No, really, I'm thrilled to finally hit this milestone. It's been a long road—I wish I'd worked harder when I was younger. If I had any advice to young writers, it's this: work hard, then work harder. This isn't an easy career, but it's worth it.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Ian: Whew…lots of people? My first was Gordon Korman (there's a bit about that in the acknowledgements of the book). Douglas Adams was a huge influence when I was younger—my first novel is basically a Hitchhiker rip-off. Guy Gavriel Kay is my favourite author and a big influence, but really, it comes from all kinds of places. Authors from Neil Gaiman to Robert Charles Wilson; screen-writers like William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, or Charlie Kaufman. A lot of graphic novelists: Alan Moore, Frank Millar, Brian Michael Bendis. Heck, video games. I hope someday I write something as funny as Borderlands 2.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Ian: I tend not to think of setting that way, although I think setting is huge and influences everything. I like to give the reader enough to inspire their imagination, but that's it, especially when it comes to world-description. Still, with The Skids, the setting often drives the narrative, and yeah, you could argue it's a character.

By the way, you asked about influences in the previous question: I gotta give a nod to Tron, new and old. It was a big influence on how I perceived the setting.

Gef: Is theme something you have in mind when your writing the story, or is that something that kinds of reveals itself later in the process?

Ian: I usually don't have any idea of theme for the first draft, I'm just trying to tell a story. During the second draft, I start to get a feel for themes that might be present and then I might start trying to make some connections here and there. I try not to be heavy-handed when it comes to message, I really am just trying to tell a kick-ass story, first and foremost.

Gef: What do you consider to be the biggest misconception of YA fiction?

Ian: That it exists? That probably seems weird given the novel I'm putting out, but I'm a bit old-school, so I remember when The Hunger Games would've just been a great science fiction novel. I get that labels help the market and also can help readers find books they might like, but sometimes I feel that it can also get in the way of a book and a reader finding each other. In YA, the misconception is that the writing is only for teens, and I think that's so wrong.

Gef: What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Ian: That there are ways you shouldn't write. I hear it a lot at conventions; the one that's affected me the most is that you're only supposed to write in the 3rd person, past tense. Don't use 1st person, and don't even think about writing in the present tense—which I like to do sometimes in my short fiction.

To me, there are only two rules with regards to what style you want to use in your writing. 1) Be aware of the current trends and respect them: if you're going to write outside the norm, you better get darn good at it. Also don't think you're re-inventing the wheel if you do, everyone thinks they're a genius when they discover something for the first time. 2) If you do know of a particular editor or publisher who hates a particular style, then respect that. Don't try to change their mind. Send them your best thing, great, take the shot. After that, respect their choice.

But however you want to write, give'r. You can write a novel in the 2nd person, past-future tense if you want, with every character named Stanley The Firth. Just make sure it's a really good book.

Gef: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Ian: Craptacular movies. If a movie establishes early on that it's just going to take the rules and say screw it—especially if it does it with verve—I'm in. Armageddon, Reign of Fire, Road House…so good.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Ian: I'm working on the 2nd draft of the sequel to The Skids now (the third book terrifies me), so that's the big thing. I'm terrible with social media, but I'm working on it. You can follow me on Twitter at @KeelingIan. My website is a work in progress, but it's at,

Thanks so much for having me here, super-fun.

September 21, 2016

The Hills Have Tentacles: an interview with Nathan Shumate, editor of "Redneck Eldritch"

Gef: How did you come about on creating an anthology of Appalachian-themed Lovecraft stories??

Nathan: Well, I had previously spearheaded the anthology Space Eldritch, and then its follow-up Space Eldritch II... and while I enjoyed working with all of the contributors to those two volumes, I think that we were pretty much done with the space-opera-crossed-with-Lovecraft flavor of those stories. So I tried to find a theme that could still play off the “Eldritch” brand, but was pretty much the opposite... and I realized that, because we had concentrated on the cosmic scope of Lovecraft’s stories, we had pretty much ignored one of his other themes: that of the human propensity for superstition and social regression. So Redneck Eldritch would allow us to play with ideas that intersected with Lovecraft’s suspicion of “degenerate” people.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous anthologies?

Nathan: When doing the first Space Eldritch anthology, I found that even though we had literally the breadth and depth of the interstellar cosmos to inspire us, Brad Torgersen and I almost wrote the same story. With Redneck Eldritch, I realized that the same ideas and themes would occur to multiple contributors, so I structured the project for communication to head that problem off: I put all of the invited contributors in a single Google Group, I asked them to PLEASE broadcast their story ideas before writing, and I posted their drafts, once I had seen them, back to the group with the plea to keep abreast of what their co-contributors were doing. I think doing this allowed the stories to each stake out their own territory under the umbrella theme; it also spared me from having to say, “Great submission, but I’ve already got this story.”

Gef: When going through the submissions for something like this, what is the biggest stumbling block you see for writers when tackling Lovecraftian/cosmic short fiction?

Nathan: Well, here’s the thing: A good Lovecraft-inspired story can be exquisite, but there’s nothing worse than bad Lovecraft pastiches. I had done several open-submission anthologies prior to this, so I had dealt with a slush pile full of writers at all levels of craft, and there was no way I was going to subject myself to Lovecraftian slush! That’s why all of the Eldritch anthologies have been by invitation only — I’ve come to know several writers whose skill set is adequate to the task, so if they agree to be in the anthology, I know something of publishable quality will be the result.

But more than that, none of the writers in these anthologies are primarily writers known for their Lovecraftian output — a few of them had never attempted anything with a conscious Lovecraftian bent, and one of them even had to go out and “cram” to feel he was up to the task. Too many beginning writers who love Lovecraft love only Lovecraft — they bring nothing to their stories save their retreads of what they learned from the Old Gentleman himself, and the result is that their stories are simply more of the same. (I did the same thing in high school, so I know whereof I speak.) The world doesn’t need another writer generating inferior copies of Lovecraft stories — we’ve already had one August Derleth, and we don’t need another.

Gef: How have you found your progression as an editor thus far?

Nathan: I’m pretty awesome. :) Seriously, though, I’ve grown quite confident in my ability to recognize a good story, and also to act as a second set of eyes to point out an early draft’s weaknesses so that they can be shored up. And the fact that I’m getting more and more experience doing that with other people’s output means that I can bring the same skills to bear on my own

Gef: What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader?

Nathan: What really grabs me first and foremost is storytelling ability: confidence with using the language and stringing together a narrative. A good storyteller can hold my attention for forty-five minutes recount his trip to the supermarket to buy green olives. If the story is engaging right in the here and now — if what I’m reading from page one is interesting in its own right, not just something I need to know so that the later scenes will make sense — then you can probably slip all sorts of plot holes past me.

Gef: Horror can get a bad rap a lot of times, so what do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre? For someone not reading it, what are they missing out on?

Nathan: I’ve been thinking a lot about what the definition of “horror” is, aside from a category under which things can be shelved at Barnes & Noble. I think that a big clue to what it actually is, at least as far as I define it when I write it and I publish it, is the fact that many people instinctively lump it in with the other “speculative fiction” genres of science fiction and fantasy, without being able to articulate why.

What I see is that “horror” is the flip side of the “sense of wonder” that results from good SF and fantasy. It’s not just being scared — you can get that from a realistic novel about struggling with cancer or with marital betrayal, neither of which I want to see shelved under “horror” — it’s being scared in a way that cracks and expands your paradigm. It can be, very literally, consciousness-expanding; and, as my friend Michaelbrent Collings points out often, it can possibly lead to the most uplifting, goodness-affirming catharses in fiction, as characters are pushed to discover just who they really are when everything around them has been taken away.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Nathan: I’m busy enough that I don’t have time to read “guiltily” anymore (I recently sent my gargantuan collection of Mack Bolan paperbacks to the thrift store) but I’ll often indulge in a SyFy-style creature feature — “Enigmasaur vs. Tentilicus” or whatever — if only because I’m interested to see just how far a high concept title can carry an otherwise lackluster production.

Gef: When you read outside your chosen genre, what kinds of books do you gravitate towards?

Nathan: Hm... I don’t know that there’s one thing that ties together any disparate reading I do, aside from research. I guess what hooks me about the out-of-the-ordinary reads is the same thing that grabs other readers when they read outside their familiar genres: There was something in the back cover blurb or in the first page that was so intriguing, so captivating, that you can’t help but keep turning pages.

Gef: What other projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Nathan: Let’s see. I’ve been doing some woodcut art prints on Lovecraftian themes which are visible on my personal site, — I’ll have an Etsy store set up once I’m stocked on shipping supplies — and I’m working on a second edition of The Golden Age of Crap, a cross-section survey of VHS-era B-movies (now with full-color posters!). My next fiction project is a post-apocalyptic adventure with Lovecraftian overtones. Everything I’ve shepherded to publication through my publishing company Cold Fusion Media is at And I’ll probably be distracted by another shiny thing soon enough.

September 20, 2016

All Things Chizine: an interview with Sandra Kasturi, co-publisher for Chizine Publications

CZP publishes the same kind of weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark fiction and fantasy that ChiZine has become known for since 1997, only in longer form—novels, novellas, and short story collections. -

Gef: So ChiZine has been at it for some years now and just seems to build up steam each year. Has there been much time for you or Brett to reflect on the progress and growth you've accomplished with ChiZine, or is it constantly an "on to the next one" attitude?

Sandra: Honestly, we barely have time to eat or sleep, so, not much time left for reflection! But once in awhile we get a great moment of "Hey... I think we really did something..." That happened a few months ago when we moved to a new city--our cover artist Erik Mohr gave us this great housewarming present--it was a framed poster of the covers of the first 100 ChiZine books we published... we hit that benchmark last year. Seeing all the covers laid out like that in (literally) one big picture--kind of made us a little verklempt. Oh, and I guess winning the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and HWA Specialty Press Awards didn't hurt either! But then, yeah, it was "on to the next one...holy shit, that has to get to press, like now."

Gef: Looking back, how big of a learning curve was there for you in terms of starting and running and growing a small press into what it is now?

Sandra: Oh, had we but known!!! Well, Brett had worked in publishing, and we'd both been through it from the author side--we knew it would be a lot of work, but really, the day to day grind and work poor publishers do... Like I said, had we but known. Well, okay, yeah, if we'd known, we'd still have done it, but maybe we'd have been a little more organized about it, especially as the press took off. Feels like a constant game of catch-up. But every publisher I've talked to feels the same way, so I guess this constant hysteria is normal? Heh.

Gef: Over the years you've published some greats like Tom Piccirilli and Steve Rasnic Tem, as well as featuring some bright up-and-coming talent like Gemma Files and most recently Ed Kurtz. When it comes to featuring established authors and newer authors, does either get you fired up more than the other as a publisher, or is that too much of a Sophie's choice?

Sandra: Well, it's quite something when you get to publish an established author. We were so honoured that people like Steve Tem and the late Melanie Tem and Tom Piccirilli, and other folks with such great pedigrees took a chance on us. I mean, who the hell are we, anyway? Some Canadian upstarts or something. But they couldn't have been nicer, and it was such a pleasure to work with them. Melanie and Tom and Phil Nutman are greatly missed. That's a whole heartbreak in publishing you're not really prepared for--when your authors, who have become your friends, or were your friends to start with, pass away. To witness those lights being extinguished and to know there won't be any more words coming from them--that's an awful sorrow.

Gef: What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader?

Sandra: Brett likes weird, allegorical SF and horror, stories with ambiguous endings, that sort of thing. He's not really much of a fantasy reader. Whereas I read SF, fantasy, horror, magic realism, fairy tales. I'm much more in favour of narrative and story arc with definite beginnings, middles and endings, though. But we both like strange things, and weird storytelling and fucked-up ideas. We both just like to read. I love that moment when you've found something extraordinary. Better than heroin. (Oooh! A heroine is better than heroin! See what I did there? See? : ) )

Gef: How much of a role do you see Canada playing these days in speculative fiction at large? Are we holding our own, need to do more to make our voices heard? How instrumental has the ChiSeries played in this regard?

Sandra: I think we've got a whole bonanza of weird writers coming from Canada whose voices are being heard outside our borders. I think David Nickle, Gemma Files, Ian Rogers, Michael Rowe and Helen Marshall are great examples of that happening. I think we're holding our own, but hey--it'd be nice to have all the Canuckites get 6-figure movie deals from Spielberg, no?

As for the ChiSeries--and I should be very clear here that CZP is a sponsor of the ChiSeries across Canada, but the two are separate organizations; the ChiSeries (Chiaroscuro Reading Series) is publisher-neutral--I think ChiSeries helped create a community of genre folks that was already coalescing or waiting to happen. I mean, there's been a strong genre community in cities all over Canada for decades--but I think the ChiSeries, particularly in Toronto, ended up becoming a sort of monthly hub for a lot of folks--writers, artists, readers, publishers, agents, you name it. Drinkers! Madeline Ashby described it as being akin to the Paris salons in the 1920s. Well, maybe with less absinthe. And ChiSeries is now in six cities: Toronto, Peterborough, Guelph, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Calgary. 7 if you count Vancouver, but that's on hiatus for the time being. Hoping to launch Edmonton and Montreal and maybe Halifax in the next year or so. Coast to coast! I mean, why not? Writers reading their work and hanging out in bars... what could be more fun?

Gef: What was the draw in starting up ChiGraphic? Were there existing graphic novels or artists out there that prompted you to think ChiZine could offer a platform?

Sandra: I've always loved comics, especially those Boris Karloff horror ones from the 1970s. Just adored those. Scared the living shit out of me as a kid, but there you go: that stuff stays with you. So we always thought we'd like to get into that area. And weird stories and weird art together seem like a natural fit for ChiZine, so why not? I'm not sure how it all came together, but our first graphic novel was Infinitum by Greg Chomichuk...whom we met at...Fan Expo? TCAF? Maybe our managing editor, Sam Beiko met him as they're both from Winnipeg? I honestly can't remember. Sometimes it seems like we've all known each other forever. And maybe we have? Greg has time travel in that book... And after we published one graphic novel, we now get regular queries from comic writers/artists, so... it's quite exciting! My early love, come to fruition.

Gef: Along with ChiGraphic, there's also ChiTeen and its lineup of titles, one in particular catching my eye from the titles coming out this fall called Parasite Life by Victoria Dalpe. What can you tell us about that title and delving into YA fiction? What would you say is thebiggest misconception of YA?

Sandra: Parasite Life is a YA vampire novel, but for those who are turned off by that--this isn't Twilight, folks. It's a strange, elegaic novel that feels like... The Moth Diaries meets The Radleys. With maybe a seasoning of Twin Peaks for atmosphere and flavour.

I read kids books when I was a kid (duh), and this was before there was such a thing as YA--so again, this is kind of harkening back to an early love of mine. And I still read YA, so we thought, hell, why not publish it? Biggest misconception...hmm... Oh, I know! That you have to dumb things down for kids/teens. They're not stupid. They get it. Even when it's complicated, they get it. I mean, I was reading Lord of the Rings and adult SF when I was 11. So that's our audience--kids/teens who are doing that.

We're thinking of venturing into the middle-grade book market too. Still hammering out some details, but... I think it's gonna happen!

Gef: How much of a difference have you seen in ChiZine 's productivity since bringing on Samantha Beiko as your managing editor, taking over for you and Brett? I imagine the team growth has given you some semblance of breathing space as far as the day-to-day goes.

Sandra: Well, Brett and I cry a lot less. And my wine and Cheeto intake has gone down. Heh. Seriously, I don't know how we survived before Sam. She makes the ship go. If we could get one more person like her, then I could swan around in my garden drinking gin & tonics all day.

Gef: The news recently came out that ChiZine will be publishing Brian Hodge's next collection of stories in early 2018, so it looks like there's little chance of ChiZine slowing down anytime soon. Is there anything in particular that you are keen on readers discovering from ChiZine in the years ahead?

Sandra: I'm hoping our poetry imprint, KQP does well. I'm a poet myself, but I also hate a lot of poetry. I'm sure it's very annoying for people who want to submit, but basically, I like what I like. Terrible, isn't it? So maybe those books will resonate with other cranky readers of verse like myself. We've got Jason Taniguchi'sVery Sensible Stories and Poems for Grown Persons coming out this fall. As well as David Clink's The Role of Lightning in Evolution and Courtney Bates-Hardy's House of Mystery. They're all genre collections, and odd little books... but hey, that's what we do. Really, it's a very selfish imprint to run--I'm just publishing the stuff I like to read. Hell, ChiZine itself is pretty selfish--it's books we feel like reading, and we're forcing them onto you, the poor unsuspecting public. Oh dear!

September 19, 2016

Pulped Fiction: a guest post by K.H. Koehler, author of "Dinosaur Valley"

Lady Anna Rutherford, scholar and intrepid archaeologist, has crossed the Atlantic to launch an expedition into the Sonora Desert to find her missing twin brother, Edmond. But the unforgiving Sonora is only the beginning of their troubles, because soon enough, the search party encounters an ancient, forgotten valley full of primeval creatures with the power to rend grown men in half. Before long, their hunt for Edmond becomes a tooth-and-nail fight for survival when the ancient, man-eating creatures of the valley begin hunting them. It will take their combined knowledge, courage and survival skills if they are to escape Dinosaur Valley.

Pulped Fiction
a guest post by KH Koehler

There was an interesting discussion on Facebook the other day—where all the most interesting discussions take place. To paraphrase, fellow pulp writer William Meikle stated that he was frustrated by how easily some people dismissed his work, which made me think how, yes, pulp writers have often had a long, hard time of it in the past.

The consensus seems to be that unless you’re an author of literary fiction—that is, works that hold high literary merit in society, whether it touches on social commentary, political criticism, or a focus on the human condition—that somehow you are a substandard writer, a hack, a purveyor of what was commonly known as “pulps” in the not-too-distant past, and, going even further back in history, “bloods,” or “penny dreadfuls.”

Pulps and penny dreadful have long been the literature of the “common people,” and many writers like H. Rider Haggard and Robert E. Howard (and, more recently, James Patterson) have built long-lasting careers—and even legacies—on them. But, let me tell you, they are hardly common pieces of work. Anyone who insists that such literature is unworthy of accolades or, god help us, is easy to write, is plain wrong and has never written a pulp in their life.

First of all, the vast majority of pulp fiction is written in some kind of series format. It can be a format that is created by the author in the form of a commissioned original series, by the company or publisher of the books themselves, or even by a large corporation. Commissioned original pulps are the kind of series where the publisher, be in small press, mid-sized or large, requests a series from an author and the author maintains the full Copyright and some control over the direction of the series. Essentially, the author creates the series for the publisher but continues to own it. Then there are publishers who offer work-for-hire to authors who want to write in already long-established, open-ended series where the author does not hold Copyright or other control over the project. These would include novelizations for movies, TV series, and the like.

There is a long, historical precedent for this style of mass-production literature. Going back to the nineteenth century, Street & Smith Publications, the publishers of such popular pulps as The Shadow and Doc Savage, specialized in inexpensive magazines and dime novels—often printed on “pulp” paper, which is how such publications came by their name. Their series could run for hundreds of volumes, written by dozens of different writers, which may sound easy in theory, but creating and establishing a series—and successfully continuing it for years or even decades—requires an inordinate amount of work. World-building can be vast and complicated, and trying to keep one or more (or even many) authors onboard with the way the world works takes effort. Plus, different writers have different styles, thus, over time, the tone of a series can change drastically.

Even if a series only has one author, that author has to maintain continuity over what may come to be dozens of books. Books, by their very nature, progress over a series of obstacles toward a climax and denouement, imitating the way real life works. And yet the author has to maintain a certain amount of inertia in order to maintain the interests of his or her readers. At the same time, original ideas and interesting new twists are expected to crop up organically and at almost every turn. In other words, series need to progress, but not end. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Modern day pulps—and I’m including series fiction like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Supernatural tie-in novels—operate pretty much the same way as they did decades ago, establishing new stories, characters and ideas, but without tipping the giant, top-heavy boat in any way.

Now, aside from that challenge, there are others in writing in this format. If an author is writing their pulp series in any kind of semi-traditional way, there’s a good chance they may wind up writing about a different time period than their own. Many modern pulps are set in Victorian England, or the Wild West, or any number of different, colorful historical periods. Writing in historical periods requires its own ziggurat of research just to get the period technicalities right. There is no room in writing for sloppy research, and if you think you can “fake it until you make it” in historical fiction, then you are sadly mistaken, because I guarantee you that no matter how well you think you know a time period, there will be at least one reader out there who knows it better than you, has a Ph.D. in it, and can point out all your errors, probably in a spotlight review that’ll be seen around the web.

Most pulps also deal with esoteric subjects: science fiction, firearms, crime, historical locales and conflicts, and the social issues of the time period they are written in—all subjects that require additional research to pull off effectively. Even if a writer’s pulp consists of some form of magic realism, it still requires that the author create guidelines for magic usage, or a theological belief system, or any number of complicated world-building blocks to create a fictional reality that doesn’t feel sloppily cobbled together. Many writers even extend themselves to real-world research in order to make their writing more authentic, including speaking to law enforcement, firearms expert, historians, language experts, librarians, and the list goes on.

There really is no such thing as a thrown-together book, and pulp novels, though they may appear “easy” to write, are hardly the exception. In many ways, because the subjects of pulps are so diverse and colorful, it requires an exceptional amount of effort to pull together a series that readers are willing to come back to and read again and again. Yet pulp writers are often given tight deadlines, and their books experience fast turnarounds, meaning that for a writer to make a proper living by writing pulps, they need to be churning out an extraordinary number of words.

Contrary to what some people believe, pulp writers don’t usually have the advantage of going to writers’ retreats, or escaping to lakeside homes to tap away at their next work in the comfort and silence of a controlled environment. Since they are responsible for writing quick, punchy books in relatively short periods of time—sometimes only a few months, and sometimes only a few weeks—they have to produce a plethora of wordage and still manage to maintain the quality that their reader’s have come to expect.

No matter how fast a read or seemingly simple a concept, I promise the next pulp novel you read, whether it’s an old-time mystery novel, or the latest release from your favorite modern pulp wordsmith, represents only the smallest percentage of the time, effort and research the writer put into it. But I hope you will read the next one, and the one after that, and come to appreciate it for the dedicated art form it is.

And who knows…you may be inspired to write your own someday.

K.H. Koehler is the author of various novels and novellas in the genres of horror, SF, dark fantasy, steampunk and young and new adult. She is the owner of KH Koehler Books and KH Koehler Design, which specializes in graphic design and professional copy-editing. Her books are widely available at all major online distributors and her covers have appeared on numerous books in many different genres. Her short work has appeared in various anthologies, and her novel series include The Kaiju Hunter, The Mrs. McGillicuddy Mysteries, Anti-Heroes, Planet of Dinosaurs, the Nick Englebrecht Mysteries, and The Archaeologists. Visit her website at

Purchase Dinosaur Valley (The Archaeologists #1) the latest pulp adventure from K.H. Koehler, at Severed Press and Amazon:

September 15, 2016

Water Monsters and Twisted Childhood Memories: an interview with Kelli Owen, author of "Floaters"

Detective Carly Greene was only eleven when she learned Lake Superior was a brutal beast, capable of bringing up long forgotten memories of pain and death, by occasionally releasing the bodies of those trapped beneath her waves. 

As an adult, Carly still despises the bodies occasionally coughed up, and the high water eroding the edge of the graveyard this year gave "floaters" a new meaning. But she could never have prepared for what else broke free to swim with those long dead. 

Part myth. Part monster. Older than time. 

Carly, along with the medical examiner and a local reporter, must find and destroy a forgotten legend in the waters at the edge of Lake Superior. Before it decides it's time to feed. And breed ...


Gef: What was the spark behind Floaters?

Kelli: It’s almost “where do your stories comes from” but not quite, which is usually very difficult to explain because it’s like asking a crazy person what’s wrong—but this time, I can actually answer that. The “spark” for Floaters came directly from a twisted childhood memory of the local graveyard floating away in the high waters of a spring thaw. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as that, but when you’re a kid, you imagine this crazy visual. I wrote that visual, and asked the question, what else was buried in there. And then I broke the riverbank free and let it all float out into the general public and cause havoc.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous titles?

Kelli: For starters, it’s closer to horror than some of my other works. Not quite the redshirt bloodbath of Live Specimens, but definitely more than White Picket Prisons or Six Days, which are often called and generally considered thrillers with horrific elements, rather than horror. This is a monster, with tentacles, there’s no sugar coating that—it’s horror. Also, because it was based on a real graveyard with a twist on some real history, I had google maps printed and bodies plotted and my table looked a bit like a strategic war room.

Other than that, I knew from the very beginning that I never hated the monster. I loved it. I loved what it was, what it stood for, the pain and suffering it had gone through, and the general agony of its history and current situation. This monster was my nod to Frankenstein, and *spoiler alert* I didn’t want it to die but knew it had to, or I’d get yelled at for open endings and setting up sequels, neither of which this story needed.

Gef: What was the allure to Lake Superior as your setting?

Kelli: I grew up on Lake Superior. I’m intimately familiar with her temperament, cold weather, bad attitude, and ability to change moods like a hormonally raging teenager. And yes, she does occasionally cough up her dead. Dotted along her shores are remnants of Indian settlements, mostly relocated by will or force to large reservations and other communal gatherings, but I know they’re there. In my wanderings, I’ve stumbled across the old foundations and forgotten grave markers. My bloodline includes Ojibwe Chippewa from the Bad River Tribe thick enough that I’ve had relatives on the council, and been to a powwow or three. Between the lake, the Indians, and the topography, there’s a rich history in that area just waiting to be tapped and given some monster to come crawling up from the depths.

Gef: I can't say there's been any "floating" mishaps with the graveyards in my neck of the woods. Well, there is the legend of Charles Coghlan's coffin getting washed out to sea by a hurricane that hit Galveston, which floated all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico to his home of Prince Edward Island. So the story goes. Any odd local legends that compare in your stomping grounds?

Kelli: No legend, there really were bones poking out of the ground at that mass grave on the hillside. They were still disrespectfully left exposed last time I was there doing research with my mom and taking pictures for the book, long before it even had a title. I’ve heard they’re planning on transporting them back to Wisconsin Point and I hope that actually happens.

Other crazy things? Well, I grew up being told horrible campfire tales my mother later pulled me aside to explain were real and based on Ed Gein, so there’s that. The lake has sunk a damn lot of ships, boats, and small craft other than the famed Edmund Fitzgerald and there was always the panic of something touching your foot in the water being not a fish. And then we had the Fairlawn Mansion (which is supposedly haunted), and the abandoned orphanage (haunted) I spent way too much time at as a teen that has now been torn down, and many tales of “bad things” in graveyards. Creepy area, deeply supernatural people, lovely fodder for a young overactive imagination.

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you on a story like this? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Kelli: Each project requires a different kind of research. If it’s completely fictional, fantastical, then you can just make up whatever you want. But if it’s specific, or touches on reality, then it’s a different story. Then it needs to read like reality. It may be location, it may be a people, tribe, or nationality you’re unfamiliar with, or it may be historical information to twist into a legend of your creation. Trick-wise, I try to do the research I think I’ll need before I even start, but there are times when you’re happily typing along and all of sudden you need a three hour lesson on Blah. Off to the internet you go, careful of rabbit holes and unnecessary side visits to social media, and you get through your on the spot research. It’s quicker than the days of stopping everything, packing up, going to the library, digging through the aisles and tomes, and then going back home—but there was something romantic about the library that the internet lacks.

With this one I did a bit of google image mapping for the area so I could logically plot out the creature’s feeding grounds and radius of travel, as well as have a visual for the line between the mass grave and Wisconsin Point, and know Granny’s house and trek to the cavern. There was a lot of research into the truth of that mass grave, rather than relying on my childhood memories. And there was a ton of fun research into Indian mythologies, because I had a monster I needed to be able to slip into that mythology logically and smoothly. Floaters, overall, probably had more research into different things than most. In comparison, my next project will have no research, as it can be located anywhere and relies on the people rather than the environment.

Gef: What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Kelli: Kill your babies. Meaning, if you’re writing and you find you really love a turn of phrase, or a sentence strikes you as poetic and beautiful, you should immediately rewrite it because if you feel that way you’re not being objective and there’s something wrong with it. No. There’s more to it than that, but I wasn’t told that and it wasn’t explained to me properly, and there was no google way back when.

Horribly, I listened to that incorrectly and followed it for years, but it’s wrong when explained as just that. I think when it comes to the overly pretty turns of phrase, sentences, etc., if anything you should notice them and question what about it is so pretty, and why isn’t the rest of the work as attractive. What makes it stand out. It’s not an automatic death sentence, but rather a call to examine it. If it’s purple upon closer inspection, kill it, but if it’s not, then appreciate it came from somewhere inside and keep going. I have a couple I like. Not many, but a couple.

The phrase is talking about killing off prose that will improve your story. Not killing of a sentence here or there that you are fond of, but rather, overall improvements and admitting and willingly axing those things that drag the storyline, slow an arc, or otherwise do not further the story on a whole—even when you really like the sidebar, random character, offshoot, or whatever it is that requires a literary guillotine. Take it out. And for those new writers who don’t fully understand this phrase, please research it and get a full idea of what it means before you start randomly rewriting sentences just because they’re pretty.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Kelli: I’m actually technically influenced by what works for me, what scares me, because I wanted the ability to do that to others. So I would actually try and figure out why one thing scared me but another didn’t, and sometimes from the same author. But if I looked at what did work for me over the years, at what things I was drawn to, or authors I continued to return to, well then it becomes the broader definition.

And in that case, my influences go way back to kindergarten and Mary Shelley, then they bounce around my dad’s bookshelf full of HP Lovecraft and Dean R Koontz (note there’s still an R in there when I think of that time). Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickenson were discovered on my own and requested for Christmas and birthdays. I’m fairly certain I had the complete set of Nancy Drew at one point. A countless number of school bookclub purchases, including one I remembered only the cover for and spent twenty years tracking it down. And then there were the horror paperbacks of the 80s, my teen years and a time when my tender sensibilities didn’t always appreciate my horrific imagination, especially after sundown.

I remember some very specific books to this day, which can only mean they had an impact on me and influenced something: The Amulet (omg the laundry scene!), Baal, Howling 2 (which is completely not what the second movie was, so if you didn’t read the books, go do that), The Keep, Nathanial, Pet Sematary, Mirror, Phantoms, and probably more if I thought about it. Oh and the novelization of Halloween—that messed me up for a bit and led to a whole month at the library learning everything I could about the Celts.

When I started making friends with my mentors and becoming colleague to my influences, the lines began to blur, and my adult influences are mostly found on my friends list at this point.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Kelli: Cooking? Projects? Well… I am currently working on Forgotten, a wonderful little tale about a young woman found with no memory and an empty car seat, but I have to finish it to know how much I can say after that without spoiling it. That will be the next thing out, and should be released in time for Christmas. After that, in no particular order because they’re all currently battling for alone time with the muse, are: The Man in the Moon (my coming of age tale), Magic Man (yeah supernatural ghouls), and a sequel to Wilted Lilies with the current working title Passages. We’ll see who wins…

My shenanigans are everywhere! is a good place to start. From there you can reference any and all of my books and where to find them, as well as get to my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, find info about the podcast Buttercup of Doom, and for those paying attention, now there’s Wattpad as well.

Thanks for having me!

September 14, 2016

Titan Comics offers a lot of eye candy with their upcoming first issues of "Peepland" and "Triggerman"

courtesy of Titan Comics ...

Peepland #1 is a punky, semi-autobiographical neo-noir from critically acclaimed novelists Christa Faust (Money Shot, Nightmare on Elm Street) & Gary Phillips (The Underbelly, The Rinse). Peepland is Taxi Driver meets Goodfellas, and has incredible art from rising star Andrea Camerini (Il Troio). 

Triggerman #1 is a Prohibition era epic from visionary director of The WarriorsWalter HillLawless meets Bonnie & ClydeTriggerman #1 features phenomenal art from Hill's trusted collaborator Jef

These two explosive new titles debut with a range of variant covers to collect by top industry artists including Fay Dalton (Judge Dredd Magazine), Mack Chater (In the Dark), Alex Ronald (Doctor Who), Caitlin Yarsky (The Changeable Harper Finn), Andrea Camerini,Robert Hack (Sabrina), Dennis Calero (Assassin’s Creed), and Francisco Paronzini (Iron Fist).

See below for more details about Peepland #1 & Triggerman #1. Attached are all of the issue #1 variant covers, and interior art from the series. These are available to use on your site immediately.

Writers: Christa Faust, Gary Phillips 
Artist: Andrea Camerini
FC - 32pp - $3.99 - On sale: October 12

Times Square, 1986: the home of New York’s red light district where strip clubs, porno theatres and petty crime prevails. 

When a chance encounter for Peepbooth worker Roxy Bell leads to the brutal murder of a public access pornographer, the erotic performer and her punk rock ex-partner Nick Zero soon find themselves under fire from criminals, cops, and the city elite, as they begin to untangle a complex web of corruption leading right to city hall.

Like The Naked City, there are eight million stories in The Deuce. This is one of them.

COVER A – Fay Dalton

COVER B – Mack Chater 

COVER C – Ben Oliver 

COVER D – Alex Ronald

COVER E – Dennis Calero 

WRITER: Walter Hill, Matz
FC - 32pp - $3.99 - On sale: October 5

Locked up for a life of murder, Roy Nash never thought he’d walk the mean streets of Chicago again… let alone rescue his beloved, Lena. But when the city’s Mafia elite spring the notorious gun-for-hire to handle one last assignment, Roy once again finds himself thrown headfirst into a life of bloodshed and bullets as he sprints a breathless race to save the girl he left behind.

From legendary screenwriter and director Walter Hill (The Warriors, Red Heat, Last Man Standing) and French comics Matz, comes this hardboiled crime thriller set in the bullet-ridden streets of 1930s Chicago.

COVER A – Jef 

COVER B – Dennis Calero

COVER C – Fay Dalton

COVER D – Robert Hack

COVER E – Francisco Paronzini


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