Author Interview – William D. Richards

For the final interview of this year we’re off to New England to talk with sci-fi and fantasy writer William D. Richards.

 Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I am William D. Richards, a powerful being who has command over multiple universes!  At least that’s what my characters think. Otherwise, I’m just an average guy with a strange vocation who mows the lawn every once in a while and enjoys a dram of fine scotch.

I’ve lived in New England all my life, living in various parts of it at one time or another.

I write whatever strikes me as interesting. Mostly fiction, on occasion I dust off my old journalistic credentials and write something non-fiction and informative.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I just released my newest book, Aggadeh Chronicles Book 2: Dragon, two months ago.

The first book, Nobody, introduced us to the protagonist, Nem Aster. Nem is a person who finds himself way over his head in the events going on in the Aggadeh Empire and the world around it.

The reader doesn’t get a really good feel for who Nem is. I did this on purpose. The reader gets to know Nem at the same time the other characters in the story get to know Nem. Like getting to know a new friend, you only get a little bit here and there. Over time, you start to collect enough of these pieces to put together a more complete picture of who this person really is.

Since that’s the plan with Nem, how much does the narrative of the series revolve around unlocking his character?

The narrative of the series is focused on the story that is happening, of which Nem is at the center. Unlocking just who this nobody is, is just a part of that story. But it does help drive the plot. As other characters begin to discover the truth about Nem, the story begins to drive to the conclusion.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Mainly science fiction and fantasy. It was science fiction that got me interested in reading and that’s what I grew up with. I preferred it because it really pushed my imagination beyond the envelope.

From the moment I discovered writing, my stories focused on life with the elements of the fantastic. Exploring other worlds, meeting beings that were different than we are, having adventures that went beyond the mundane.

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Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

Briefly’? You realize you are asking this of a writer?

When I get an idea, it is usually a scene of some sort connected to a bigger story. I write out this scene. Often this scene is dialogue between a couple of characters. It might be just one quote from a character. Or it could be something far more complex like an entire chapter. One thing in particular is that there is a specific emotion that the character is feeling.

The idea is a small thing, like a singularity. The story simply explodes out of it. When I’m ready to write it out as a story. I try to figure out what happened to get to that scene and then what happens after the scene. That becomes the story.

If I’m feeling really strong about the story, then I’ll just start writing it. The narrative, dialogue, and plot just come out as I start writing. This is the seat-of-the-pants style of writing. However, as I write, I will add notes about the various characters I create on the fly so I have those references.

If I don’t have a strong feeling for the story, I’ll describe it to myself. I’ll just tell myself what this scene is, what happens here, what is driving the characters. It’s so passive it’s pathetic. But this is more like writing notes and outline than actually writing the story. The manuscript for Music on the Wind is written like this. It’s all descriptive and filled with tangents and dead ends. When I’m ready to write it, I’ll read through these notes and then choose the best parts and start writing them as active narrative.

For Aggadeh Chronicles, I actually wrote articles about the various locations of the world of Aggadeh and the various people. It reads more like a social studies book than anything. I even wrote out one of two books that appear within the series. One, Tales of the South Seas, is one of the books that Ophelia steals during the course of the story. Tales of the South Seas as a book about the sexual practices of the Islanders of the Southern Archipelago in Aggadeh. It turns out that Ophelia has a habit for stealing x-rated books from the various libraries when she goes on state visits. Each character has a story. The notes are over 100,000 words long. All that before I even began to write the story in earnest.

Where do those initial idea scenes tend to wind up in the final story? Beginning? Ending? Some major turning point?

Those scenes appear where they need to be in the story. Oddly, the very scene that I imagined when I first came up with the idea of the story might not ever appear in the story because I can’t see where it would fit. It doesn’t mean that I’ve completely thrown it away, but that the story has evolved from the initial concept enough that the original scene lost its place in the narrative.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Nem is the second oldest character I have in my repertoire. I first created him when I was in junior high as part of a much darker story that eventually evolved into Aggadeh Chronicles. There are a number of images from that original idea that are still in Aggadeh Chronicles. I may write that story as a bonus when I’m finished with Aggadeh Chronicles, just so fans of the series can see what its origin looked like.

Nem is an outsider. His name literally means “nobody.” Nem is short for nemo, which is the Latin word for nobody. He doesn’t really fit in or belong, a feeling a lot of creative people deal with in their lives. And it is a feeling that a lot of teenagers struggle with as they try to figure out who they are and how to fit in with the society around them. The fact he’s lasted this long in my imagination should be a pretty good indicator.

Ophelia is another favorite of mine. She is a lady just waiting for the opportunity to break out and be herself.

I initially created her just to be a romantic interest for Nem in Aggadeh Chronicles, but as I wrote out my notes about her—writing her backstory—she became a much more interesting character.

For one thing, she has a cache of dirty books that she has stolen from various private libraries she has visited. Someone of her social standing steals dirty books! The moment that came out, she went from being a side story to a main part of the story.

We get glimpses of Ophelia here and there in Nobody and Dragon. But we finally get to meet her for real in the third book of the Aggadeh Chronicles series, Oracle.

How long had Nem hung around in your head before you began writing a book about him? In that time how had your conception of his character change?

Nem has been bouncing around in my mind as a character since I was in my early teens. I only really started writing him into a story six years ago, so that’s a lot of time.

Nem as a person hasn’t changed too much. But his circumstances have. Originally Gahvel Nem, he was a street rat turning to thievery to survive. The street children in Balon are a homage to Nem’s original character. The Nem Aster that appears in Aggadeh Chronicles had an easier early life with a loving family and a home. But both are outcasts from society for various reasons. Gahvel because he was a thief, Nem because of his interactions with dragons. Both are the key to the survival of their worlds.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

There are so many, I don’t know where to begin! I’ve had to research so many oddball, weird, unsettling, creepy, and illegal things, I am sure the FBI has an extensive file on me. One that sticks out in my mind: codpieces.

Yes, the humble codpiece. The willy wallet, peter pouch, schamkapsul, etc. No, I do not have one nor do I ever intend to try one on, thank you. But it does make for a humorous scene…

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

I already knew how the industry worked when I decided to step up and write full time. My first career out of school was as a journalist. Because I always daydreamed about writing a book, I kept researching different publishers and the industry in general. So I was all over the publishing industry from one end to the other. I knew how things worked and what to expect.

My big mistake? I didn’t actually write that story.

I saw how the industry worked and how difficult it was to get something published. I also knew how long it would take me to write something. The investment in time was just something I couldn’t do. I had to write articles, find work, and try and earn money so I could just survive. There was no time for creative writing.

I struggled, getting nowhere, until I finally left the writing industry. Only then, unhappy in the last job I landed, did I actually start writing again.

It felt SOOOOOO good to finally open my mind and let all this stuff come flowing out! Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. Story after story began to dump out as I wrote everything down. At lunch on my Palm Pilot, on the train using my laptop, I just wrote and wrote. What amazed me was how little spare time I dedicated to writing and just how much I actually wrote! The notes for roughly five different stories totaling over 400,000 words.

At this point, I knew I was going to write a book.

The issue again became, “When?”

I left my last job and then spent all my time looking for a new job—there were none to be had. A friend popped up with a business opportunity and I jumped at it. There was no time for writing. We got off to a good start, but the economy pulled the rug out from under our feet.

As it came crashing down around me, I had no prospects for the future. It was only then that I came to the realization that the only thing I had left was to actually sit down and do what I had always dreamed about doing: actually write a book.

My advice to others:

Just WRITE!

Set aside some time for yourself for each day so you can just sit down and write a story without feeling guilty about not doing other things. Write because you enjoy writing the story, not because you have to. Don’t set a deadline by which you have to finish writing. That kind of pressure can kill off your creative urge. Instead, treat the writing sessions as a reward for getting other things done during the day. Enjoy the sensation of your fingers dancing on the keyboard as you watch the words appear on the screen.

Don’t worry if your writing is good or not. Just enjoy the story that is coming out of you and follow it to the end. You can fix the rough parts and the passive parts after you have finished the story. (It’s called editing!)

Just write!

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

It would affect my writing life immensely: I would build a house that is optimized for writing. I have a number of ideas for that, including outdoor writing places. Little nooks and crannies where you can have quiet conversations, share some tea or fine scotch with friends. Space enough to entertain friends and family for the holidays.

Whatever is left over I would invest in a dividend producing portfolio to generate income to pay the bills between books. (This is a whole other subject for new writers, delving into the business of being a writer, especially if you are self-published.)

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

This question would have been a lot easier had you asked what was my favorite book or what books influenced my own writing.

At the moment, I am reading Hunt’s Elements of the Mind and I am quite enjoying it. I really liked Hunt’s Dark Wing series and I am looking forward to the next installment in that series that he is working on right now. Hunt is a historian and his attention to the connections and details really weaves his stories together.

I am also reading Donna L. Armillei’s Shock of Fate. It’s her first book and that is always the toughest for a writer, especially when that first book is the first book in a series. Readers just don’t want to touch it until the whole story is complete. Donna has a great story idea aimed at the Young Adult audience, but I think readers of any age will enjoy it. You want to discover a new author? Buy Donna’s book and discover her for yourself!

What do you think you’re next project will be?

Oh, I don’t have to guess at the next project. I know what my next projects are.

At the moment, my primary focus is on the Aggadeh Chronicles series. I am now working on Oracle, the third book in the series and I’m pretty far along with the manuscript now. With the arrival of a new computer, I am aiming to have the manuscript finished by spring so we can finish the editing for a summer release. Much, much faster than the four-year wait readers had between books 1 and 2. (The delay the result of my earlier computer being destroyed in an accident. I had to borrow time on someone else’s computer to finish the manuscript. Four years! UGH!)

Another project I have is a science fiction under the working title of Privateer. The protagonist, shipwrecked in space by pirates, comes across a derelict ship in an uncharted star system in the far reaches of space. While the derelict has enough supplies that he could live out his lifespan, that is not what he intends to do. Can he repair the ship enough to get it moving again?

Another project I have is a fantasy titled The Science of Magic. It looks at magic in the modern age as a young man unexpectedly finds himself in the profession of magic.

Learn more about William on his web site.

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Weekly Read: Station Eleven

Usually when a book is set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s telling one of two stories. Either it’s the story of the fall – how did society get into this fucking mess? – or it’s the story of the gritty challenge to survive just after the fall. Few stories contemplate what might happen a decade or two later, once basic survival is figured out. What then?

That’s the brilliant conceit of Station Eleven.

Sometime in the near future a global pandemic called the Georgia Flu (named after the country, not the state) roars across the planet killing off 99 percent of humanity. Using a time skipping narrative worth of an early (aka “good”) Atom Egoyan flick, Station Eleven tells the interlocked stories of several survivors trying to make sense of an empty world about twenty years in the future.

Note the word “survivors.” These aren’t just people lucky enough to be immune or otherwise avoid the flu. These characters have made it a couple of decades in this new world and have become competent at getting by. If they hadn’t, they’d be dead. Instead, they’re able to devote themselves to larger questions. How important is art and culture in a post-apocalyptic world? Pretty damned important is the answer, one I’m not compelled to argue with. It would have been nice if “art” meant something beyond Shakespeare and classical music, but it is a limited sample, after all. If there’s a Travelling Symphony out there in a wastelands doing King Lear and playing Mozart, I’d like to think there’s a band knocking around playing King Crimson and Zappa, too.

The other big question that rears its head over and over again is how much these people should remember the world as it was and try to pass along information about that world. Two decades on there are adults, either born shortly after the flu or who were young children when it happened, who know nothing of electricity and the Internet and flying aircraft. Is telling them about what they’re missing inspirational, something to make them rebuild? Or is it calcifying nostalgia, dragging them down? Theories are floated and arguments are made, but nothing’s decided. How could it be?

The time-skipping structure works really effectively. The goal isn’t to reveal some big secret, to build to a Shamalan-style “a ha!” moment. Instead it’s a way of drawing connections between characters, even as they become spread around the modern world. It leads to some disjointed spots – there’s one character in particular, front and center in the beginning just before the flu hits, whose story doesn’t really seem a part of the rest – but otherwise it’s a treat.

Where the book falls down a bit is in the overall arc of the story. As I said, there are no big moments and the closest thing to a bad guy is dispatched cleverly, but without it feeling like it’s the moment it should be. That and one section set among survivors at an airport (later turned into a “museum of civilization”) that drags on too long keeps Station Eleven from being knock out of the park great.

This isn’t a gritty survival story. It’s not a whodunit about why the world came to an end. It’s a lyrical, atmospheric, meditation on what it means to be alive in a world where so many others aren’t. Big thoughts, ones worth pondering for a bit.

Also, it led to perhaps the greatest Goodreads Q&A I’ve ever seen:

Station11Q

Needless to say, that’s not at all what this book is about. Good thing, too.

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Author Interview – Jeffrey Bardwell

For the penultimate interview of this year we’re back in the USA with epic fantasy & steampunkist Jeffrey Bardwell.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

My name is Jeffrey Bardwell and I write under that name. I was born in Virginia, but have bounced around the USA in the last decade or so. I write speculative fiction.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My most recent project is developing my own secondary fantasy world: geography, cultures, history, the works. I call it the ‘Metal vs. Magic Universe’ and primarily focus on the conflicts between those who cast steel and those who cast spells. The latest book in one of the current ongoing series set in this universe is Hidden Revolt.

Broken Wizards cover

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I mostly write epic fantasy steampunk. I love the wide breath of options, from the brimstone dragon reek to the shrill whistle of science.

I was in a discussion recently about what “steampunk” really means as a genre – what does it mean to you? What’s the difference between steampunk and fantasy (or even alternate history) set in a late 19th-century type environment?

Steampunk probably means something different to me than most authors. The genre classically hearkens to the Victorian Era, but my fictional evil steampunk empire is more Late Medieval Era. It’s second world fantasy, but a good analogue from our own history would be to ask what if the Dark Ages never happened and Rome just kept going and innovating machines and technology? There’s also a strong whiff of magic in the world in other countries, so gas lamp fantasy might be more accurate to denote a story that combines magic and metal. However, each element is championed by separate societies: the one character who combines an affinity for both in one person is condemned and outcast.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

First, I file the idea away for later. I typically have a backlog portfolio overflowing with ideas and after I select one, I try and get a feel for the main characters’ interweaving arcs. This builds into an outline ranging from minor notes to entire scenes. Then I write the first draft, intently micro revising the previous day’s work as I go.

Soon, latent themes begin to emerge. Often inspiration strikes at random and new, minor developments push off the beaten path as I’m writing. Despite all the exploration and improvisation, the overall map and the destination remain the same.

Once the initial draft is done, I send it to an editor and/or several beta readers. Editing is a two pass system: first, the story is examined for large-scale flaws such as narrative flow, character motivation, internal consistency, and tone. Once every scene is polished and every characterization nailed down, the second pass examines small-scale issues like spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favorite character is Styx, a tall automaton made from wood with brass fittings. His life truly begins when a young wizard finds his puppet body abandoned in the woods and accidentally-on-purpose gives him a soul. Styx has the innocent wonder of a child, but the down-to-earth nature of a wise, old man. He’s seen it all . . . he just wasn’t cognizant at the time.

First, is Styx named after the band or the river? Second, was he one of those ideas around which other things were built or was he a “minor note” that grew into something larger?

Styx is certainly undergoing a rite of passage throughout the series, so the allusion to the river from Greek mythology is appropriate. However, the true root of his name is just a childish misspelling of “Sticks,” the epithet after which the large wooden automaton names himself when he learns to think and speak. He is definitely a minor note whose gentle leitmotif is slowly rising with a strong crescendo.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

The weirdest subject was looking up the original programmable clockwork automata build by Heron of Alexandria, Jacques de Vaucanson, and Henri Maillardet. This research helped me to ground Styx’s designs and the hypothesize the functionality of mechanized armor. Though, to be fair, I would have looked in them eventually regardless. Clockwork robots are cool.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t neglect the actual time for writing among all the other trappings of a modern indie career. Outsource what you can when you can however often you can.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I would use some of that money to buy ads for my series loss leaders and boxed sets, run those ads, and then take a vacation overseas, which would use up more of the money. Then, when I got home, I’d use a little more to hire a personal assistant. The rest I would invest in mutual funds, bonds, and real estate.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Anything by Terry Pratchett.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

My next project will be taking my epic fantasy steampunk universe into space after fast forwarding the clock a millennium or two.

Check out Jeffrey on Amazon, Facebook, or at his website

Genre Bias Rears Its Ugly Head – It’s Science!

While I was of NaNoing last month an interesting bit of news came out with regards to science fiction and other types of fantastic literature. Put simply – people don’t put as much effort into reading those stories as other types.

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The study went like this:

Their study, detailed in the paper The Genre Effect, saw the academics work with around 150 participants who were given a text of 1,000 words to read. In each version of the text, a character enters a public eating area and interacts with the people there, after his negative opinion of the community has been made public. In the ‘literary’ version of the text, the character enters a diner after his letter to the editor has been published in the town newspaper. In the science fiction version, he enters a galley in a space station inhabited by aliens and androids as well as humans.

After they read the text, participants were asked how much they agreed with statements such as ‘I felt like I could put myself in the shoes of the character in the story’, and how much effort they spent trying to work out what characters were feeling.

The results were, on the face, disappointing:

‘Converting the text’s world to science fiction dramatically reduced perceptions of literary quality, despite the fact participants were reading the same story in terms of plot and character relationships,’ they write. ‘In comparison to narrative realism readers, science fiction readers reported lower transportation, experience taking, and empathy. Science fiction readers also reported exerting greater effort to understand the world of the story, but less effort to understand the minds of the characters. Science fiction readers scored lower in comprehension, generally, and in the subcategories of theory of mind, world, and plot.’

Readers of the science fiction story ‘appear to have expected an overall simpler story to comprehend, an expectation that overrode the actual qualities of the story itself’, so ‘the science fiction setting triggered poorer overall reading’.

In spite of some of the breathless comments I saw online the study does not, as someone points out, imply that reading sci-fi makes you dumber, but implies that people who don’t like sci-fi won’t give it its full attention. It’s nice to have some science to back this up, I guess, but is that any surprise?

That’s the whole reason literary writers, whom I’ve complained about before, don’t like admitting that they write sci-fi or fantasy. This came up against just recently after I finished Emily St. John Mandel’s really excellent Station Eleven (Weekly review forthcoming). It’s a story about survivors of a global pandemic striving to maintain a life that’s something beyond mere survival. It’s a quintessential piece of sci-fi (or, more broadly, speculative fiction), although the author is having none of it:

Thus when Station Eleven was nominated for the National Book Award – it also won the Arthur C. Clarke awards, so take that! – some eyebrows were raised. But when something that is “literary” is it prevented from being something else? I tend to agreed with this:

And yet confusion reigns in this debate, which feels strangely vague and misformulated. It remains unclear exactly what the terms ‘literary fiction’ and ‘genre fiction’ mean. A book like ‘Station Eleven’ is both a literary novel and a genre novel; the same goes for ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Crime and Punishment.’ How can two contrasting categories overlap so much? Genres themselves fall into genres: there are period genres (Victorian literature), subject genres (detective fiction), form genres (the short story), style genres (minimalism), market genres (“chick-lit”), mode genres (satire), and so on. How are different kinds of genres supposed to be compared? (‘Literary fiction’ and ‘genre fiction,’ one senses, aren’t really comparable categories.) What is it, exactly, about genre that is unliterary—and what is it in “the literary” that resists genre? The debate goes round and round, magnetic and circular—a lovers’ quarrel among literati.

Listen, I get the concern of writers like Mandel – slap a “sci-fi” or “detective” genre label on a book a certain group of people won’t take it as seriously. But rather than run away from the tag and deny the reality of what you’re writing, why not embrace it? Doing so would help smash conceptions about what genre fiction is and can be. Stand up for the slighted genre kids, rather than lean into the bully who just wants to put them down.

Does The Room Piss You Off, Too?

If you’re any kind of movie nut you’ve heard of, if not seen, The Room. Released in 2003 it was written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, who also played the leading role. It is famously bad. I’ve seen it referred to as the “Citizen Cain of bad movies.” Its badness is so noteworthy that it’s the subject of a new (much better, by all accounts) movie, The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring James Franco as Wiseau.

I’ve seen The Room and it’s as bad as advertised. In spite of that, or really because of it, it’s become a cult favorite, so much so that it’s actually made back the initial money spent on it (north of $6 million, all from Wiseau). Not because people actually like it, but because they revel in its awfulness. Wiseau seems to have made his peace with this, but it kind of pisses me off.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve said over and over again that a person’s response to art, what they like and don’t like, is deeply personal. In addition, I’m fond of enjoying stuff that consensus suggests sucks, what generally get called guilty pleasures (I hate the term). I, for example, have a deep affection for lots of movies people consider lousy that tend, for some reason, to involve Max Von Sydow (Victory, Dune, Flash Gordon). I like them because I like them, in spite of the fact that most people don’t. I’m cool with that kind of thing.

But from what I’ve read from people who have made The Room a cult favorite it’s not because they see it as an undervalued gem. Nor does it appear to fall into the “so bad its good” category, as everybody involved takes the thing completely seriously. No, it seems that people just really enjoy watching an artist fail, enjoy watching a horrible product because it’s horrible.

There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s dentist (a very pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) converts to Judaism and proceeds to tell lots of jokes of Jewish people. Jerry seeks out a priest to tell him of his problems with this.

As a mere consumer of pop culture I’ve got no problem with people interacting with The Room in any way they want. As a producer of it, as a writer, it kind of pisses me off that people take such enjoyment in something they know, and will admit, sucks. I know so many people – musicians, authors, visual artists – who put their heart and soul into their work and make good, but completely overlooked, stuff that it honks me off to see something celebrated because it’s bad.

My plea, I suppose, is this. If you love The Room because you really like it – which is a perfectly valid way to feel – then, by all means, go ahead and love it. But if you’re interest in it is merely to be part of the cool crowd that knows all about it because it’s horrible, spent your energies elsewhere. Try a new writer, stream a new musician, go to a local gallery. There’s good – even great – stuff out there waiting for you if you’re willing to look for it.

Weekly Read: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

On September 9, 1971, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York (not too far from Buffalo) took control of part of the prison. For the next four days they negotiated with authorities over a list of grievances, at times with the help of notable civilians such as attorneys and journalists. After reaching an impasse, authorities stormed the prison on September 13, killing 43 people – including 10 correctional officers who had been taken hostage. It’s no wonder that the events at Attica galvanized the nation and quickly worked their way into pop culture:

What’s interesting is how different people refer to those events. Some call them a riot, with all the connotations that word brings – senseless violence, brute force, unfocused rage. Others, such as historian Heather Ann Thompson in her Pulitzer-winning book, Blood in the Water, refers to the events as an uprising – an event where a repressed group of men sought change in the only manner available to them. Which camp you fall into probably says a lot about your politics in general.

Which is appropriate because politics is a driving force in Thompson’s book, beginning with the political aspirations of New York’s governor at the time of the uprising, Nelson Rockefeller. He wanted to be president and couldn’t afford to be seen as “soft” on crime or criminals (it’s no surprise that Nixon backed his play at Attica). In addition, he viewed the uprising as the tail end of leftist activism from the 1960s and worried that if the Attica uprising wasn’t suppressed it could spawn an actual revolution.

The inmates didn’t do the most they could to dissuade Rockefeller from this position. Although their long list of demands dealt mostly with conditions at Attica or within the criminal justice system in general, there were (at least at some points) demands for a plan to take anyone who wanted to go to Africa and other broadly political requests.

Having said that, the negotiations made progress. The sticking point turned out to be amnesty for those involved in the uprising. Rockefeller insisted he didn’t have the power to do it (doubtful) and all rested with the local prosecutor. The inmates, for their part, didn’t seem to realize that once one of the correctional officers who had been attacked in the early stage of the uprising had died there was little chance of a blanket amnesty, anyway.

That authorities eventually stormed the prison to regain control wasn’t a surprise. What was surprising was how it was done, with a collection of state troopers, correctional officers, and National Guard troops armed to the teeth. Similar, if smaller, uprisings in other New York facilities (including New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail) had been put down without the use of firearms and the associated loss of life. Authorities went into Attica with guns blazing, however, and left a horrific toll in their wake.

Thompson’s great achievement in Blood in the Water is taking those four days of the uprising and laying out what happened in serious detail. She also provides a great deal of context for the uprising, placing it as one of a series of such things around the country, not just a sudden, confusing spasm of violence. It’s an important portrait of a watershed event in American history painstakingly pieced together.

Once the uprising is put down, however, the book begins to lag. Initially the response of the state is familiar to anyone in 2017 watching the news when an unarmed black man is gunned down by police. First, authorities lie – in this case, by claiming that the 10 hostages who died during the retaking where killed by inmates, often in ways that involved mutilation. Second, authorities dehumanize the inmates – everyone involved at Attica was a murderer or rapist or similar kind of thug. In truth, many were there for minor parole violations and other non-violent offenses. Third, when the truth comes out – medical examiners refused to be silenced about what actually killed the hostages – the authorities downplay, obfuscate, and at no point apologize or formally correct the record.

It’s no surprise, then, that litigation about Attica – criminal and civil – dragged out for decades. Thompson deploys the same attention to detail to that litigation, but to less effect. There are so many trials with so many different players that the narrative becomes scattered. Also, there are things that jumped out to my lawyer eye that deserved further detail. For example, there were mutual defense groups set up to help defend the Attica inmates during their criminal trials. Such a setup is rife with ethical issues (conflicts of interest, primarily), but Thompson never addresses them. Another example is when there’s a ruling by the judge in one inmate’s case that, we’re told, profoundly impacted several others, but there’s no discussion of the ruling itself.

What Thompson’s exhaustive stroll through the litigation does is drive home just how much the apparatus of the “state” – meaning both the New York and federal governments – were determined not to really find out what went down at Attica. Most obviously that’s borne out by how the New York players obfuscated when it came to the facts, but it’s smaller things, too. There’s the fact about how the state tried to lock the families of the guards who had been injured and held hostage into taking small workers’ compensation payouts rather than actually suing anybody. Or there’s the ultimate brush off – the federal judge handling one of the civil cases went on vacation while the jury was deliberating. It doesn’t paint a good picture of a society coming to grips with a horrific event.

For all its cachet as a touchstone in the culture, it’s amazing that it took until last year for a definitive history of the Attica uprising to be written. For that Thompson deserves all the praise she’s gotten. That the entire story isn’t as gripping as those four days in September of 1991 isn’t her fault. For that part alone, I highly recommend Blood in the Water.

Attica

Author Interview – Holly Evans

This time we head to the Emerald Isle for some words with fantasist Holly Evans.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

 I’m Holly Evans, an English expat with a love of blades, fae, and predators that hide in the shadows. I’m currently living in the Republic of Ireland. I write Urban Fantasy, mostly with LGBT+ casts, and mostly set in a huge fantasy kitchen sink world that I refer to as my Ink World.

Do your Ink World books tell an ongoing story or is it a shared universe with lots of separate stories going on?

I’m careful to keep the Ink World series separate so none of them spoil any of the others. If you look closely and read all of the books you’ll see there’s a larger arc there, but it’s kept far in the background. So really it’s more the latter, a shared universe with some overlapping locales and characters.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

Seers Stone is book one in a new series. It follows treasure-hunting alchemist Kaitlyn Felis. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for years. It’s a quick-paced, adventure-focused Urban Fantasy set in my Ink World. Kaitlyn’s a vibrant character who has such a lust for life, she’s amazing fun to play with.

In Seers Stone she takes a new job in Prague and is sent to retrieve the mythical Seers Stone for her new boss. That takes her across Europe and sees her in a lot of fun situations along the way.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

 Urban Fantasy. It’s what I naturally write, I can’t imagine writing anything else. I love the mix of myth, magic, and mayhem, all set in the modern world. The idea that magic and adventure could be hiding just around the corner is too good to ignore. If you know which shadow to slip into, or which door to knock on, you can be transported into this amazing new world. How can I not love that?

 Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

 I don’t really have a set process. The idea gets written in my planning book. I’ll jot down broad strokes, scenes that pop into my head, and everything I can about the protagonist. That will involve lots of colour, my brain loves colour. That will sit and percolate in the back of my mind for a while, while I work on other things. When it’s time to write it I’ll return to my planning book and make more notes. They’re not usually too organized at that point, it’s lots of colour and notes on scenes that call to me. From there I’ll start pulling together an outline and then writing.

I tend to write roughly the first 10k pretty quickly, then I’ll pause, update my outline, and carry on. Once I hit the 20k mark I start wailing about how much I hate writing middles. I’ve started writing the endings before the middles as my ADD means I get bored and frustrated which leads to rushing the ending. So I’ll write the opening as much as I can, then the ending, then go back and gnash my teeth through writing the middle!

From there it goes over to my editor. I have a language-based learning disability, so my books require *a lot* of copy editing. My editor gives the draft a copy editing pass then a developmental pass. It’s rare that the developmental will call for anything more than tweaking a few sentences and expanding on a couple of scenes. Once I’ve done that (usually that takes me about 48 hours) it’ll go back to my editor for two more copy editing passes. I’ll then format it, and it goes on Amazon.

Have you ever had a situation where you wrote the beginning, wrote the ending, then in filling in the middle part decide that the ending you wrote doesn’t work anymore?

I came really close to needing to rewrite the end of one of my Infernal Hunt books. I wrote the book completely out of order from four different points. Fortunately the end only needed tweaking not a complete rewrite but it was a close call for a moment.

What’s your strategy for publishing a series (i.e., do you release each book as it comes, hold them all until the series is done, etc.)?

I release each book as they come in a series. I held onto the first three books of my first series so I could release them quickly, but after that I just release them when they’re done. I’d rather have regular releases than hold books back.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

 I’m so hopeless about picking favourites! I think that’s a tossup between Tyn and Kaitlyn. Tyn’s a secondary character in both my Ink Born and Hidden Alchemy series. He’s my broken little kitten. He’s a Cait Sidhe (a fae cat) with a really tragic backstory, he’s so snarky, and broken, but also sweet, fierce, and incredibly loyal.

Kaitlyn’s amazing fun. She has such a lust for life. She lives to have adventures, and she’s just so vibrant, so incredibly alive.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

 I don’t do much research for my writing. I have a pretty good knowledge-base of myths and such from spending my childhood and teenage years devouring everything I could find on that. I can’t think of anything to be honest.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

 If you want to make readers happy, you have to keep them in mind. I wrote some books that were for me under another name, and they didn’t make readers happy. Looking back, I can absolutely see why. It’s so easy to go, ‘well I’m an avid reader, of course I know what readers want!’ and then it turns out that well, actually…

I suppose that really comes down to why you write. I’m a storyteller, I write for my readers, so I want to make sure that I write books readers love. If you’re writing more for the pure love of writing, then do what makes you happy.

What’s the best way to find out what makes readers happy?

Ask them 😛 I survey my newsletter subscribers on a semi-regular basis and ask what they enjoy, what they want, etc. I try to offer as many methods for engagement and reader feedback as I can. Reading reviews, your own and those of bestsellers also helps a lot. You can look down the top 100 in your genre and read the reviews, positive and negative. You’ll see some trends.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

 My husband and I want to become digital nomads, if I won that money we’d pack our bags and start travelling the next day. I’d visit all these wonderful places I want to visit, and I’d put them all in my books.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

 I’m not normally an eRom reader, but a friend had a new book out that people were raving about so I picked up a copy. It was fantastic. Finn by Liz Meldon is exquisitely put together. I’m really impressed with how much character development she managed to pack into a little space.

What do you think your next project will be?

 I’m bouncing back and forth between the Ink Born series and the Hidden Alchemy series, so it’ll be whatever sequel is due along those lines. Right this very second that’s Ritual Ink (Ink Born 4). That being said I’m really tempted to start a third series in my Ink world, I’m weighing up the pros and cons right now.

Check out Holly’s blog here.

All 99-cents All Month!

To celebrate the successful end of NaNoWriMo, and in an attempt to spread a little bit of holiday cheer, I’ve lowered prices on all my books to 99 cents across all platorms for the entire month of December!

That includes Moore Hollow, the entire The Water Road trilogy, and even my short story collection, The Last Ereph and Other Stories.

Get ‘em for a friend, get ‘em for yourself!

Thoughts From an Experimental NaNoWriMo

Right – so where were we?

Oh, yeah, National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Did I have a good month? I’d say I did.

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The book I started for NaNo, The Messenger, is different for me in a lot of ways. For one thing, it’s pure space-based science fiction. While I’ve written some near-future sci-fi short stories, I’ve not done anything this long or, well, spacey. For another, I started the project having done very little prep work. So to be past 50k words and looking at another month’s writing (at least) to finish it is making me a little giddy.

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Not an actual picture of the author. Think metaphorically, people!

Let me explain why.

Writers generally like to divide themselves into two groups – plotters and pantsers (putting to one side the ones who don’t accept either label). Plotters, as you might imagine, are people who do a lot of work before they actually start writing a first draft. They outline, develop characters, build worlds and all that kind of stuff before ever sitting down to write “it was a dark and stormy night.” (LINK). Pantsers are the complete opposite – they do little prep before writing and are, as the name implies, flying by the seat of their pants. In truth, I think most people are a little of both. Anybody who writes exactly the same book they planned to write or really sits down with a completely empty noggin and pours out a book are few and far between.

I tend to be a plotter. Lots of that is down to writing fantasy and the heavy lifting of world building. I like to get that stuff out of the way so I can let the story develop against a fairly fixed backdrop. Still, things never go precisely as planned, even when (as with The Bay of Sins, my last NaNo project) you lay out all the chapters you think you’ll need from the beginning. I suspect it’s something like attorneys say about oral arguments – there’s the one you plan to make, the one you actually make, and the one you wished you’d made after the fact.

So The Messenger was a very different experience for me. I had about a page of notes, compiled from thinking about the story over the years, but it was lacking lots of important things. Like, for instance, the names of the main characters or any of the names of the planets or alien races they’d encounter along their way. As for the way? I had an idea of how things began, but after that? I decided to let it see where it went. I’m glad I did, because I don’t think I would have come up with some of these things ahead of time.

It’s particularly interesting to do this one right after finishing the first draft of The Orb of Triska. That has a lot of work done on it before I started writing and I always felt like I knew where I was going. I think that first draft is a much better, more coherent final product, but, of course, neither one of them are “finished” after a first draft. It will be interesting to see how the final products compare once they’ve been polished up.

So that’s how I spent my November.

Also, we got new puppies:

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Zaria (L) and Kalindi (R) are ready for their album cover.

How you all been?