Author Interview – Timothy G. Huguenin

This time we talk things that go bump in the night, Bigfoot, and . . . greeting cards?

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

My name is Timothy G. Huguenin, I’m a horror writer living in Bartow, West Virginia.

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

My most recent published book is a ghost story called Little One. Kelsea Stone lives in Los Angeles and gets a call one day from a lawyer telling her that her birth parents have passed away (she was sent to a foster home at a young age and never knew them) and have left her their house in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. She flies over there to check it out, clean it up, and probably sell it or rent it out—and subconsciously, she deeply desires to know her parents and figure out why they sent her away. While she is there, she finds out that hers isn’t the only soul dwelling in the house.

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

I write horror, usually set in the Appalachians (primarily West Virginia, because I grew up there). I don’t know why I like horror more than the other genres, but I do, so that’s usually what I write. I tend to shy away from slasher-type horror, and gravitate more toward gothic and/or weird styles, depending on my mood. I take a cue from Stephen King and try to focus heavily on characterization, especially in my novels, but I’m not nearly as good at that as he is. Early on in my life as a reader, before I really was serious about writing, Poe heavily influenced my tastes, and I’ve been drawn toward Lovecraft and Ligotti these days.

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

I usually get an idea for a villain, or a monster, or some kind of creepy or disturbing situation, without even a skeleton of story. It’s just kind of a seed in my head. I’ll leave it in there for a while and see if it sticks around. If I keep thinking about it, usually that means it’s a pretty good idea, and it will start to germinate. I’ll try to come up with some characters, if I haven’t already, and figure out a conflict that the story could center around.

So there’s some time between when I get the first idea to when I actually get something on paper—though this process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months. When I think I have a seed that has sprouted enough (I can think of at least one or two characters and the conflict, with a general idea of where the story might go), I can start writing. Once that happens, I start typing and see what happens. Usually the beginning is hard, since the characters aren’t quite established yet.

But once I get through that, the story kind of lives its own life. Sometimes it goes where I was expecting; most other times I’m surprised by it. After I have a first draft, I’ll take a break from the book. Then I’ll print it out. I always print out hard copies for editing. Always, always, always print out your story at least once before you decide you’re done. You miss so much on a computer screen. (I splurged a little last year and bought a Brother HL-L2340D, a black and white laser printer that prints on both sides of the paper, and I would highly recommend that little workhorse to any writers who can afford it. And really, I make it sound like some big extravagance, but really, it is relatively inexpensive as far as laser printers go. I’m just an old cheapo by nature.) Anyways, I’ll run through the paper copy for initial edits, put my changes back into the computer, then I’ll email what follows from that to my wife, Emily. After I consider her comments and apply changes based on that, it will go to my other beta readers, if I have any.

My last two novels were improved immensely because of pre-publication beta reader feedback. If it’s a short story, usually Emily is the only person other than myself to read it before I submit it somewhere. After her comments, I might even go over it one more time on my own. For short fiction, that’s about it. I might revisit a short story every few months, but generally speaking that’s all I do. For my first two novels, I’ve hired a professional copy editor to help clean up my prose and mistakes after the beta reader stage. With something of that length, even the best self-editing writers cannot get by without a good, unbiased line editor. Also, I go through the novel again once or twice after editing. Even then, mistakes and typos can slip through the cracks. I am very particular about that kind of thing, and errors in a finished product really get me upset.

Why do you think it’s so important to edit on paper copies? Did you have an experience where you missed something editing on screen?

No specific editing disasters come to mind immediately, but I’ve always felt more comfortable reading from paper, so that naturally led to me editing from paper copies. Some studies have shown that reading from a screen decreases reading comprehension compared with reading from paper. How accurate those studies are in general I haven’t looked into, but I know in my own experience, I do not read as well from a computer, so it is easier for me to miss mistakes that way.

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

I am currently trying to find an agent for a novel I wrote about a boy and his friends trying to stop an evil hypnotist from taking over their town. It is my favorite thing I’ve written so far, and I reckon that my favorite character probably comes from that book. However, there are quite a few really good characters in there, and it would be hard for me to choose just one. I think I’ll go with the villain, Dr. Wolfgang M. Schafer (as he is called right now, and I don’t see myself changing his name before publication, but you never know for sure until it’s settled in print). He’s tall and lanky, with silver eyes and greasy black hair. He wears a top hat and a ratty black suit with a tie the color of dark blood. A barn owl named Trilby rides around on his shoulder and is known to attack meddling kids every now and again.

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

I know I’ve Googled some weird stuff while I’m writing, but for some reason I’m drawing a blank (maybe my subconscious doesn’t want to share! lol). Hmm. I’ve been reading a lot about Bigfoot recently, but that’s not really that weird. One of my questions I had a hard time figuring out (and still never found a good, detailed answer to) was how long it takes for a body to decompose without being embalmed. After death, bodies these days are pumped full of chemicals. I had trouble finding info about what happens if you don’t do that, specifically a timeline of decay stages. I even tried emailing some police and professors at a school that runs a lab on that kind of stuff for people studying to be forensic investigators, or whatever they call those CSI guys. But nobody would email me back.

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

There are some great short fiction magazines out there—some print and more online—and there even more bad ones. Now, I’m not talking about paying vs. nonpaying vs. token markets here. People have their own opinions on what their stuff is worth, and I’m not saying that all nonpaying markets are bad. I’m saying, there are some places that you might be tempted to submit to in desperation, then later regret it if you get accepted because it is presented in an embarrassingly unprofessional manner, and you will have doubly harder time selling it to a magazine with a greater readership. It is hard to get short fiction published by the good ones, so you might be tempted to just send your story anywhere at all, even if it’s a website with only tiny handful of viewers (most of which are the contributing authors), without a competent editor, and looks like some teenager’s Geocities project from the dial-up era. But it is better to hold on to a short story that isn’t getting accepted, keep tinkering with it every now and then as you improve as a writer. Eventually you will start writing better stuff, and new good markets do open up, giving you more options.

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

I’m not sure. I reckon I would buy a house with better insulation, and I wouldn’t ration my heat as much. That would make it a lot easier to sit down and write in the winter. My electricity bills get pretty high in the winter, and I try not to turn my thermostat up past 60 in most rooms—and when I’m not in the room, I keep it turned down to 50. So when I sit down to write, I sometimes get really shivery. Also—and I don’t know if other people are like this, or if it’s just me—being cold makes me have to pee a lot. So in the winter I get up to pee quite often. I keep telling my wife if I ever make it big, I’m going to have someone build me a tiny house in our back yard that could be my lonely little writing shack. If I ever do that, I’ll make sure it stays warm when I’m in there.

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

Well, I’m usually late to the game with any kind of trend, including literary stuff, even in my own genre. Only last year I discovered Thomas Ligotti’s Grimscribe, which is from the early 1990s.Like almost everyone else who has read it, I was super impressed. I ended up buying Songs of a Dead Dreamer after that, and then Teatro Grottesco, which I haven’t read much of yet. I later found out he holds a very pessimistic, frankly depressing and disturbing philosophy that I don’t personally subscribe to, but he sure knows how to write some very unique stuff, with a prose style that hearkens back to Poe and Lovecraft in some ways, though not as verbose. More lately, I’ve also been enjoying Michael Wehunt’s work. He also writes in the weird vein of horror, though from what I have read so far, his stories tend to read more like Robert Aickman than Ligotti. I enjoyed his novella The Tired Sounds, A Wake, which was published by Dim Shores Publishing in a limited print run, so that one, unfortunately, isn’t easily available now. However, a few of his short stories can be read for free online (there are links on his website), and Apex published a book of his short fiction called Greener Pastures, which you can find on Amazon. Actually, Shock Totem originally published it, but they went out of business, or got bought or something, and Apex is the publisher who has it now. I know he’s currently working on a novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

What do you think your next project will be?

I’ve started a Bigfoot novel set here in West Virginia. I’ve been kind of stuck on it recently, though. I have a few paragraphs down and a few character sketches, but it’s not really wanting to take off for some reason. One of my other goals for this year is to write more short fiction, so I’ve been trying not to worry about the novel as much this month and get some words down on shorter stuff. Also, you might find this kind of funny—I do—just yesterday I decided to try and break into the world of writing for greeting cards. I’m sending a few little verses to some companies. We’ll see where that goes. I had forgotten until recently that I used to write little poems for my friends all the time in high school, so it makes sense to try this out. I don’t really think I’ll get very serious about it, but if someone ends up wanting to pay me for something that took me fifteen minutes to write, I won’t feel bad about that.

What is it about Bigfoot that made you want to write a story about it?

For all the television attention Bigfoot has gotten due to recently made Bigfoot hunting reality type shows, I haven’t come across very many Bigfoot novels—and not any that I considered very good, either, based on reading some excerpts or reading reviews (if you have any suggestions, point me to them, I’d love to find some good ones). Though generally speaking Bigfoot has been associated with the Pacific Northwest, there have been multiple reported sightings here in West Virginia. Russell L. Jones, a Bigfoot believer, has written a book specifically on Bigfoot in WV called Tracking the Stone Man, which I found very interesting. In fact, Pocahontas County (where I live) and two neighboring counties, Pendleton and Randolph, have the highest reported numbers of sightings according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO). The Monongahela National Forest is huge, over nine hundred thousand acres. Plenty of room for Ol’ Squatch to hide, if he exists. I was looking for a good monster in WV, and heard people have claimed to see Bigfoot activity in the area. Sounded like a good story to me!

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Did you sit down and decide to write greeting card verse, or did you come up with a verse and think “this might work . . ..”?

I saw somewhere on the internet that you could submit stuff to a few greeting card companies who would pay for work. Figured it was worth a shot. So far I haven’t gotten any interest in mine.

For more check out Timothy on the web, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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Another ROSFest Down, Many More to Go

This year marked the 15th anniversary of ROSFest – the annual Rites of Spring Festival of progressive rock. Born near Philadelphia, it’s called the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg home since I’ve been going in 2011. The fest this year was as smoothly run as ever, with a lineup that wound up being one of the best I’ve seen. So what about those bands?

First up on Friday night was District 97, a band from Chicago who, it happens, were also at ROSFest for the first time in 2011. They went over really well, but their brand of heavy modern prog didn’t connect with me very much. So my expectations for this set was low, but I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the new material (from a forthcoming album they’re currently crowd funding) better than the old, so I’ll keep an ear on them going forward.

Headlining Friday was legendary fusion band Brand X, complete with original members Percy Jones (bass) and John Goodsall (guitar), who were joined by a drummer, keyboard player, and percussionist. They were, to be blunt, blazing. Any thought that a band that’s been around since the mid 1970s might be mellowing in their old age was put to bed early. All their stuff started to sound a bit samey after two hours, but it was an impressive kind of consistency.

Saturday began with a semi-local band, Cell 15, which at least has the most interesting origin story for ROSFest this year. The lead guy/drummer/keyboard player explained that he got out of prison in 1992 and that the first Cell 15 album was largely written while he was incarcerated. Good on him for getting out and turning his life around (from someone who sees people try, and fail, to do the same thing every day). The music itself was fairly standard Americanized symphonic prog (think Kansas and Spock’s Beard), which I enjoyed. However, the band relied way too heavily on canned music, particularly for very important and obvious synth leads. The reliance on the canned stuff is all the weirder given that they had a second drummer join them for a few tunes and, based on their new CD that I got, the main guy isn’t even the drummer on the album! Frustrating.

Up next was another American band, LA’s Perfect Beings. They were invited to ROSFest a couple of years ago, but two band members leaving put the kibosh on that. However, in prepping for that year’s fest I got their second album, which was pretty good, but nothing special. Their set this year focused on their new album, Vier, and was exceptional. In a weekend that sometimes tends to the showy and ostentatious, they made great use of quiet passages and empty space (somewhat like Marillion does, although they don’t sound a thing like them). My favorite surprise set of the weekend.

Italy’s Barock Project was the first band announced for this year’s festival, to a lot of enthusiasm. It’s easy to see why. This group of young guys (after one particular catchy tune the band leader declared “sometimes we’re a boy band!”) belts out a brand of what I’m going to start calling “up tempo party prog.” It’s kind of the same vibe as Moon Safari, although the two bands sound nothing alike. The result was a fun show, with lots of energy, but the music didn’t really stick with me. The highlight was a brief instrumental workout where the keyboard player channeled the spirit of Keith Emerson. They, too, appeared to have some canned stuff, but at least it was mostly in the background.

Years ago I was pawing through CDs in my local borders and came across an album from a band called Threshold. Somewhere in my mind I associated he name with a Celtic-influence prog band from Ohio, so I snatched it up. It seemed like a rare find. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized Threshold was actually a British prog metal band. It was not at all what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. When they were announced as the Saturday headliner I was interested to see if that album (Critical Mass, if you’re scoring at home) was representative of their stuff. Turns out it was, although they didn’t play anything from that album at ROSFest. They play melody proggy metal that doesn’t dip into the “balls ‘n’ chunk” aspects of metal too much. I enjoyed it. Tip to the lead singer though – don’t demand the audience sing along unless you’re sure they know the words!

Sunday morning, the “Church of Prog” slot, brought not one but two bands, playing short sets with a quick turnover. First up was Valdez, the current project of British ex-pat Simon Godfrey (who was also at ROSFest 2011 with Tinyfish – maybe he came and never left?). I was pleasantly surprised to see the band also included Tom Hyatt (of echolyn fame) on bass. Being completely unfamiliar with their stuff I was pleased with the set – melodic, proggy in spots, anthemic in others. Plus, Godfrey is a great front man (when one person in the crowd responded to a song announcement, he waited just a sec, then deadpanned, “thanks, Mum”). A highlight.

The other Church of Prog band was Lines in the Sky from Tennessee. Unfortunately for them, my brain had reached music saturation at that point, and I left after a few tunes.

Have you ever heard prog from Peru? In the flesh? I have! Flor de Loto took the stage Sunday afternoon and put on another high energy set full of riffy (a little too riffy, in spots) heavy prog. The most notable aspects of their set for me were the Spanish vocals and the presence in the band of a dedicated flautist, who mostly used native Andean instruments (he was introduced both as “the last Inca” and the “Ian Anderson of the Andes”). Also, their keyboard player fired back at the guy from Barock Project with a solo that owed a serious debt to Rick Wakeman. Fun stuff.

The first note I wrote about Special Providence (from Hungary) was “holy shit that’s a lot of notes.” If jazz metal is a thing, this band is the gold standard. They played really dense, seriously complex instrumental music that got all weird with rhythms and such. Sometimes I wasn’t convinced that the band seemed to be on the same page, but it all tended to work out. I preferred the tunes that leaned more heavily on the fusion side of things than the metal. An impressive set that grew on me the further it went on (which rarely happens).

Wrapping up things this year was Premiata Forneria Marconi – PFM. If you read my post about 10 influential albums, you’ll know that PFM is an important band to me. I was stoked to see them live, even if there’s very little of the original band left. No matter. This wasn’t the same guys who did Storia di un Minuto or Per Un Amico, but they played that material with a lot of heart, soul, and magic. The newer stuff wasn’t bad, either, but it pales in comparison to the classics. To have heard them played live to their fullest extent (like Brand X, these guys aren’t slowing down) was awesome and a great way to end the weekend.

My one beef, which is really minor, involves encores. We’ve all grown used to the “obligatory” encore, where the band leaves the stage with everyone in the building knowing they’re coming back for more. It’s a dumb ritual, but at least it seems somewhat organic. For at least a couple of sets at ROSFest this year, somebody (organizer George, I think) off stage took to the mic to urge the crowd on to “bring them back” to the stage. That, to me, is a bridge too far. We’re already passed the point where the encores are really genuine; stage managing them just seems tacky.

Will that keep me from coming back in 2019, with already announced headliners Riverside? Not on your life.

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UPDATE: Or, it appears, probably not. Shortly after this post went live the organizer of ROSFest announced that the festival was moving to Sarasota, Florida. A pleasant drive of a few hours turned into an epic road trip, or (even worse) flying. So it looks like this was my last ROSFest, after all. Fuck.

Weekly Read: Head On

One of the cool things about writing speculative fiction is building a world out of a neat “what if?” idea and playing around in it. John Scalzi did that with Lock In. Set in a world where a chunk of the population has succumb to Haden’s Syndrome – a disease that leaves them “locked in” their body, unable to move but with functional brains – Lock In used a fairly standard buddy cop storyline to play out the ramifications. The story was secondary to learning how the main character, FBI agent (and intentionally ungendered) Chris Shane, and their fellow Hadens interacted with each other and the rest of the world. I couldn’t even tell you what the central mystery was and still really liked it.

Head On is a sequel to Lock In, but it’s dubbed a “standalone followup.” Having read Lock In certainly helps understand the background of the story, but newbies should be able to jump right in, and maybe they should. With my feet firmly on the ground in the world of Head On right from the jump the story came to the fore and, sadly, it wasn’t that interesting.

The milieu for it is, though. Head On revolves around an ultraviolent sport called hilketa (SP?), in which specially crafted versions of the threeps (aka “3P0” – get it?) batter each other with the objective of ripping a particular player’s head off and using it to score a goal. It’s like rugby or gridiron football without any of the problems with head injuries, since there aren’t actual humans on the field playing the game.

Nonetheless, when one hilketa player dies during a preseason game, it swings Shane and his (non-Haden) partner into action to untangle a convoluted web of deceit and murder. Diving into that mystery allows Scalzi to explore some interesting things. The most mundane may be the impact of big money and expansion in sports, but there’s also more world-specific questions like what “performance enhancing” drugs mean for people who play a sport without their body. Most compelling is how all this is impacted by the United States government’s withdrawal of financial support for Hadens (helped, it’s more than implied, by corporations pushing the edges of the law too far). Also, there’s a cat with an interesting bauble on its collar.

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Sort of like this one, but a different color. And friendlier. And without a galaxy ’round its neck. But otherwise . . .

But I find these background things, or sideways highlights of the Hadens world, much more interesting than the actual detective story. Shane and their partner are your typical fictional cops – always pushing boundaries, but always getting the bad person, so it’s OK. This time, particularly, that none of the several lawyers in the book are even decent people, much less competent. I was particularly disappointed that Scalzi reuses the stereotype of the public defender as an out of their depth idiot, rather than a dedicated, smart, hard working advocate stuck in a system that criminal underfunds them. To his credit, the actual solution to the mystery of the hilketa player’s death is sadly plausible for 21st Century America.

Oddly, part of what I think kept me from fully engaging with Head On is that it’s so short. The version I listened to (in keeping with the ungendered main character, there are separate audiobook versions read by Will Wheaton and Amber Benson – I listened to Wheaton’s) was barely seven-and-a-half hours long. The book moves at a brisk pace – the trademark Scalzi smart assess are present in all their glory (a good thing!) – and doesn’t really make room for anything that doesn’t drive the plot along. The decision to “lock in” the point of view on Chris, I think, limits things a bit too much. I think if I’d known more about the other people in this world I’d have cared more about the mystery in which they were wrapped up.

If that sounds negative, I don’t really mean it to be. Head On is a quick, interesting, fun read, but I don’t think it does much to improve on its predecessor. My hope is that in a future book Scalzi breaks from the crime story mold and tells some other stories about Hadens. He could bring Shane along for the ride, although it would probably help if they were knocked down a few pegs (in addition to being an FBI agent Shane is the son of a fabulously wealthy ex-NBA superstar – he’s got power and money, in other words). Regardless, I’ll probably check that one out, too.

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Author Interview – Eric Douglas

For this interview we go under the sea with diver and author Eric Douglas.

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

My name is Eric Douglas. I was born and raised in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. Attended Nitro High School and got a degree in Journalism from Marshall University. As a newspaper reporter, I learned I was pretty good at telling human interest stories. Fiction didn’t come along until much later, though. In 1998, I got a job working in the recreational scuba diving industry, editing a magazine and working as a technical writer in California. That led to another position that gave me the opportunity to travel all over the world. Much of that travel became the inspiration for my books. I still write some nonfiction, but all of my fiction work has a scuba diving/ocean/environmental aspect. My main character in my series of novels is Mike Scott, a photojournalist who travels the world and gets involved in stories – many of which involve diving.

Were you a diver first who got involved in the industry, or was it a job that became a passion?

I was first certified to dive in 1990, just after I graduated from Marshall. I didn’t go to work full-time in the industry until 1998. One of my original motivators for learning to dive, aside from the legacy of Jacques Cousteau, was I thought it would add something interesting to my resume. My dream job then, and now, is to work for National Geographic. I thought being a diver might make me more interesting to them. Still working on that one.  My first job in the dive industry was as a technical writer and editor. So, my writing fueled my opening into diving as a profession.

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

I published four books last year, but one came in November and the other in late December. The November book is called Dive-abled: The Leo Morales Story. It is a biography about a young man who lost his leg to cancer and then used diving to regain his life. He has set two world records as a disabled diver.

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The December book is called Turks and Chaos: Hostile Waters. It is a novella in my long-standing series. It is set entirely onboard a liveaboard dive boat near the Turks and Caicos islands. For the last few years, I have been attempting to release a novel and a novella in that series.

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

Most of my books are thrillers. I’ve always loved action stories with real heroes. I cut my teeth on James Bond movies and loved the Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy books as a teen/20-something. I’m a big fan of Clive Cussler as well and get a lot of comparisons to his Dirk Pitt books.

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

I will often start with a dry erase board by my desk. I will plot out the basic story there. Not a true outline, but the major plot point. I’ll stare at that for a week or so to make sure I am comfortable with it and to see if I come up with anything else. From there, I use Scrivener for my first couple drafts. I set up chapters with major plot points and then start writing.  I am often surprised where the story goes. Once I get a complete draft down, I will export it to my tablet and read it/mark it up there. From there, second round of revisions. After that, I usually send it to a group of Beta readers and editors. In all, I got through five or six rounds of revisions before it is done. The last couple rounds, once I get input from others, is all done in Word.

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

My main character is a tribute to a friend. One of my best friends from high school and college is Mike Burnsworth. He died from cancer my senior year at Marshall. His middle name was Scott, so that’s where Mike Scott comes from. I do it in memory of him.

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

For my last full-length novel, I sent a note to a friend who is a Ph.D. chemist. I asked him about a poison that could kill by aerosol and was available in the 60s. He came back with “Why would I know something like that?” Once I told him it was for a book, he understood and we concluded that Sarin gas had just been created a couple years before. That shows up in The 3rd Key.

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

It is a grind. I do it because I love it, but writing is a lot of work. Especially about 2/3rds of the way through a project. That is when you really hate it and want to quit. That’s probably why so many books go unfinished.

When you get to that point where it seems like things are falling apart and it’s not worth finishing, how do you push through? Is there a book that was particularly difficult in that respect that turned out really well?

I’ve never been a big believer in writer’s block, but there are definitely times I get stuck. When that happens, I always turn aside to a new project. I was having a lot of trouble getting started on my latest novel. I just couldn’t find the mojo. So, I gave myself a new assignment. I ended up writing a short story set in Charleston in 1855. It was something  completely different and totally removed from anything I had  done in a while. As a further challenge, I wrote the first  draft entirely on a tablet instead of on my computer. That did  the trick. I am now cranking out the new novel and the block is gone.

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

I would travel more and do more “location research.” I need to get back to the islands. Its been a couple years and I have the itch.

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

I’ve recently read a couple books by Wayne Stinnett. He writes in my genre and I enjoy them, although I tend to break out of reader mode with him and think “I wouldn’t have written it like that.” Which is why I don’t read a lot of people who write similar stories to mine. I love thrillers, but I try to avoid those with an ocean/diving theme. A favorite of mine as well is Huntington author Sheila Redling. I love her Dani Britton books and hope she releases another one soon. In fact, she agreed to do a cross-over with me and I used Dani in The 3rd Key.

What do you think your next project will be?

I just fired up Scrivener for the next full-length Mike Scott novel. The dry erase board stage was a couple weeks ago. I expect this one is going to involve Russian hackers, undersea mining and all sorts of intrigue. Hold on to your hats!

Is there an end in sight for Mike Scott? Or will his adventures go on so long as you keep getting good ideas of how to get him into trouble?

I’m working on the 10th Mike Scott story right now, not counting a couple short stories he is in. After this one, I plan to write a novel completely separate from Mike and diving. It’ll still be a thriller/mystery, but I want to branch out into something else. That said, I’m sure I will come back to Mike Scott afterward. Like with the short story, I think I need to refresh and stretch my wings a bit.

Or, Just Be a Fan of the Game

The old saw goes that things that matter little lead to the deepest, angriest arguments. If nothing else, sports proves that over and over. Let’s be honest – unless you’re actually on a professional team or work for the organization, whether one group of super wealthy athletes beat another on the field/court/pitch/track doesn’t really change your life.

To be clear – I’m not shitting on sports in general. I’m a big sports fan, although my tastes tend to run more toward niche sports (hello soccer and non-NASCAR auto racing!) than the American big three. Does it give me a little thrill when DC United wins a game or my alma mater makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament? Of course! Does it ruin my day if they don’t? Of course not! Did I mention DC United? If their success was really tied to my mental health I’d offed myself years ago.

One of the things that most riles up sports fan – even more than the evergreen battle of artificial turf versus natural grass – is when people who haven’t “paid their dues” with a particular team jump on the bandwagon when they do well. They’re usually called “fair weather” fans, since they flee the team when they have a downturn. It’s the sports equivalent of a person with loose sexual morals – you’ll root for just about anyone, won’t you?

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Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues in favor of this kind of sports libidinous. He’s a sports slut and is proud of it:

But I’m done apologizing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’m right and everybody else is wrong. Rooting for winners is more than acceptable—it’s commendable. Fans shouldn’t put up with awfully managed teams for decades just because their parents liked those teams, as if sports were governed by the same rules and customs as medieval inheritance. Fans should feel free to shop for teams the way they do for any other product.

What I’m proposing here is a theory of fluid fandom that would encourage, as opposed to stigmatize, promiscuous sports allegiances. By permanently anchoring themselves to teams from their hometown or even an adopted town, sports fans consign themselves to needless misery. They also distort the marketplace by sending a signal to team owners that winning is orthogonal to fans’ long-term interests. Fluid fandom, I submit, is the emotionally, civically, and maybe even morally superior way to consume sports.

I kind of like that approach and, if done openly, I don’t think most sports fans would have a real problem with it. I think most fans have problems with bandwagon jumpers not because they’re there, but because they sometimes imply that they’re enjoying a team’s success as much as someone who’s suffered through years of defeat and disaster. Honesty can go a long way.

Along that like I’d like to lay out a third course, one that I frequently follow, particular when it comes to racing. It’s simple – be a fan of the sport, not a fan of a particular team. In other words, don’t turn yourself into a Cavs fan as a reason to watch the NBA Playoffs; watch the playoffs because you’re a fan of basketball (or the NBA’s version of it, at least) itself.

I’ve done that with racing for years. I’ve never really had a favorite driver and, beyond a nominal attachment to Ferrari in Formula 1, never really had a favorite team. I tend to root for underdogs, but that naturally changes from year to year (and even race to race). I’d like to see Haas do well, since it’s been so long since there was an American presence in F1, but my life doesn’t rise and fall on their exploits. For everything else – Indy cars, sports cars, touring cars – I just want to see good racing.

Same goes for soccer, largely. I do have favorites – DC United for the US, Leeds United for the rest of the world (like literary rights) – and, of course, I pull for the United States national teams (men’s, women’s, and youth). But that only takes in a tiny fraction of the amount of soccer out there. Truth is, I’ll watch damned near any soccer game I can find. Do I care who wins the Champions’ League semi between Roma and Liverpool? Not really, but I’m damned sure going to watch it. Same with this summer’s World Cup, since, sadly, there’s no American rooting interest. Even if not rooting for either team might make law enforcement suspicious. See, US v. Manzo-Jurado, 547 F.3d 928 (9th Cir. 2006)(among the factors cited by cops to justify stop of defendant was that he and his friend were at a high school football game but were not rooting for either team).

What I’d say to Thompson, then, is that you’re not doing anything wrong, but you could do it better. Unless you have a genuine interest in a particular team or player, just give yourself over to the pleasure of the game. It’s what you’re most interested in, anyway. And you won’t piss off those losers for whom this stuff is life and death.

Besides, it frees your mind to ponder other things:

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Author Interview – S.G. Redling

This time we head to Huntington, West Virginia to talk to the genre hopping S.G. Redling.

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

I’m Sheila Redling, writing as S.G. Redling. I live in my hometown, Huntington WV. I write all kinds of stuff but I make my living writing thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi, and urban fantasy.

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

I’m making my first foray into self-publishing this spring. Wow, that is a LOT  of work. I’m putting out the next two books in urban fantasy Nahan series. Book One was Ourselves; Book Two is The Reaches; Book Three is Empire. Book Four is just a twinkle in my eye.

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What made you decide to self publish your latest books? What one thing about it surprised you in terms of being more work that you expected?

I’ve been sitting on Books 2 and 3 of the Nahan series for some time. It’s a strange series (like most of the stuff I write.) The relationship with the original publisher didn’t quite go the way I liked so we parted ways after Book 1. I decided that I missed the characters and I might as well put them out into the world. As for the difficulty, honestly, I was surprised at how easy it is to get a book online. I was expecting to be exasperated at every turn but I found a great cover designer and formatter. KDP and Create Space made the launch incredibly easy. Now SELLING the books may be a different matter.

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

Genre definition has been a big problem for me. I like weird, not-entirely reality-based thrillers. That’s what I like to read, that’s what I like to write. However, most of my thrillers are traditional and reality based. As for why I chose what I chose, I wish I knew. The stories choose me.

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

Man, I wish I could. I have completed over a dozen full-length manuscripts, seven of them sold to publishers, three are in the pipe for release on my own time, and the rest will probably never see the light of day. Every single time I start a book, I feel like I’m starting at the very beginning of my career and skill set. Every book is different; every story has new and aggravating challenges. It often feels like I don’t even know how to type.

The consistent parts of my process are showing up, making notes, daydreaming a lot during long walks, and easing myself into a writing schedule. I base my schedule on word count – daily, weekly, monthly. At the beginning of a book, I’ll keep the count low – 500 words a day X 5 days a week. Usually that’s enough to get a story to catch on fire. From there, I average 2500 words a day, seven days a week. I write quickly and forward, with only the slightest edits as I go. Once the manuscript is done, I read through, make changes, and then share it with some trusted readers. I enjoy rewrites; I feel they are the do-overs we don’t get anywhere else in our lives.

Are there stories that have chosen you that have been more difficult to write than others? What made them difficult?

(Sobs into hands) Uh, yeah. I have a thriller I’ve been working on for months that is going to be the death of me. I love puzzlers and twisty stories and unfortunately am writing one that is outwitting me at every turn. While it’s terrifying and frustrating and often demoralizing, I think it’s important to always write at the very edge of your ability level. You should always be writing a book that you’re not sure you can handle. It makes you a better writer.

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

That’s a tough question. I do really love my characters, with all their triggers and questionable hygiene. At the risk of sounding precious, they have broken my  heart more than once. The one I’m fondest of as a human being is Loul Pell, the comic book nerd from the planet Didet in Damocles. Of all the characters who have walked in my head, he had the largest heart and the greatest faith in humanity. He is the only character I’ve ever written that I miss the way one misses a dear friend.

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

You should probably ask my sister, Monica, this question. As a nurse, she is my go-to for all questions about medical issues. (How long can you hide a body in a wall before it smells? How quickly does an adult male bleed out?” How much pressure would it take to nail a foot to the floor?)

But my favorite research adventure was the discovery of a highly flammable epoxy. My friend (and fellow WV writer) Lynne Squires recommended the epoxy when I knocked my side mirror off. When I looked at the box, the directions were basically just “Squirt and stick.” The rest of the packaging was covered in tiny print with the pages of warnings of flammability. I had to know just how flammable. So I sat in my driveway with a steel bowl, a box of matches, paper and cardboard, a bucket of dirt, a bucket of water, and a fire extinguisher. Long story short – the epoxy was insanely flammable and proceeded to play an important role in the finale of my latest thriller, At Risk. My neighbor deserves a medal for all the foolishness she puts up with sharing a fence with me.

JD – This is definitely the “winner” so far of this question!

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

Writing is too much work to do for anyone but yourself. Be careful to the point of paranoia about whom you let in your head. Trust your gut. Write what you love and remember that even when you hate it, you love writing. If you don’t love it, don’t do it.

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

I guess there’s only one way to find out. *watches for check in the mail*

Until then, I suppose it would greatly improve my technological landscape which is currently like an outtake from the original Mad Max.

Who am I kidding? It would all go to wine and cat food.

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

I recently asked the Facebook Hive Mind for recommendations for alien invasion stories and was not disappointed. One of the happiest takeaways for me was the discovery of Wil McIntosh, whose books Defenders and Faller were two big highlights of my reading list.

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

Right now I’m focused on this new territory of self-publishing the next two Nahan books. I’m writing the next Dani Britton book and there has to be at least one more after that because I owe Eric Douglas a crossover with his Mike Scott character. I’ve got the first of a new mystery series waiting in the wings and most of a completely insane thriller finished. As it stands now, my immediate future holds gallons of coffee and wine, barrels of chocolate, miles to walk, and enough typing to break my shoulders. It’s a good plan.

Have you found it difficult to find an audience that will follow you from genre to genre?

Did my agent ask you to ask me that?

It has been challenging. One of my biggest setbacks is that I don’t effectively brand myself. At least not in an easily commercialized way. I think I have a type – mind-bending, usually violent, with complex female leads – but unfortunately there’s no section in the bookstore with that title. All I can hope is that readers will keep taking a chance on me, that I’ve earned their trust in delivering a quality story.

Keep up with S.G. at her Amazon author page and click here to find out more about The Reaches.

My Ten Albums

There’s been a thing going around Facebook for the past few weeks where, for ten days, people posted cover from a different album that made an impact on them and they’re still listening to. The whole point was to not explain the choices – but there’s too much blog fodder here to pass up. So here are my ten, in the order they went up – which is to say, pretty much randomly as pulled from my brain. I should point out these aren’t necessarily favorites or “best” albums by these artists, although they’re all pretty great (your mileage may vary, of course).

Genesis – Selling England By the Pound (1973)

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 I can’t say that this is the first Gabriel-era Genesis album I heard (my brother, Todd, had most, if not all, of them), but it is the one I first fell in love with. It was, to use an analogy I’ll come back to later, my gateway drug for progressive rock. Swelling mellotrons, soaring guitars, lyrics that were completely beyond comprehension to a grade schooler living in 1980s West Virginia – how could I resist?

Yes – Yessongs (1973)

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Growing up when I did my music delivery vehicle of choice was (and still is) the CD, but I was just old enough to catch the end of the (first) age of vinyl. I actually bought a few LPs, this being the one that stood out. Not only because it’s 3 albums full of Yes in its prime, but because of that amazing Roger Dean gatefold sleeve. Appreciating album art is one of the great lost joys of the modern streaming generation.

Rush – Grace Under Pressure (1984)

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This definitely falls into the “not my favorite” category (although I like it just fine), but this album makes the list because it was the first “new” album by a favorite band I ever bought. On cassette, no less. Sitting down to digest any album that’s new to you is fun, but digging into a completely new one by a favorite artist is a real treat, particularly back in the pre-Internet days when you might have little idea of what it actually sounded like!

IQ – Tales From the Lush Attic (1983)

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 It’s no shock to say that progressive rock is a niche genre, at least since the heydays of the mid 1970s. That means that finding albums for me has rarely been as simple as heading down to the record store and hunting for something interest. Mail order catalogs and web retailers are a must. This album makes the list because it was in the first order I ever made from a mail order catalog (along with Camel’s Mirage and Gentle Giant’s Octopus) – not even over the Internet! There are better IQ albums, but it’s a landmark for my exploration of prog. And the cover’s cool.

echolyn – as the world (1995)

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Mail order aside, sometimes you stumble across something that seems interesting and you take a chance. When I found as the world in the bin at the mighty Discount Den in Morgantown back in my college days I knew, vaguely, that they were a prog band. And I saw that this album released on a major label and had a big suite in the middle of it, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Took it home and was hooked on this band from the first track (which is all vocal harmonies and strings). Sometimes you get lucky, so it’s worth playing the game now and then.

Marillion – Afraid of Sunlight (1995)

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You’re rarely lucky enough to discover a favorite band when their brand new. Usually, you come in somewhere in the middle of things, where a band’s heady back catalog can make the prospect of new music from them both tantalizing and a little worrying. Will the new stuff measure up to the old? Afraid of Sunlight was my first “new” Marillion album and, at the time, I didn’t care for much of it. It’s since gone on to be one of my favorite Marillion albums (favorites period, really), but the experience of being uneasy with it to begin with it something I’ve repeated many times over the years.

Radiohead – Kid A (2000)

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I didn’t know I needed Kid A until I saw Radiohead perform “Idioteque” on Saturday Night Live. I’d come late to OK Computer and knew their new album wasn’t supposed to be anything like it, so I wasn’t all that interested. That performance changed my mind, in more ways than one. Not only did it cause me to buy the album, it caused me to open up an entirely different area of music to check out. Kid A was, for lack of a better word, my gateway drug to electronic music. I wouldn’t make the conscious choice to explore Kraftwerk or OMD or The Orb for another couple years, but this planted the seeds.

Spock’s Beard – The Light (1995)

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These days we take for granted the ability to sample music on the internet and buy with a press of a button. It was not always so. The Light was my first experience with internet commerce and it was a little rocky. I took an hour or so to download a few 30-second clips from songs (it was the guitar break in “Go the Way You Go” that sold me), then had to actually mail a check to California. It came back – twice – requiring a phone call from guitarist Alan Morse. When he found out I was at WVU he sang me a chorus of “Country Roads.” We got things straightened out and I became a Beard fan for life.

Sanguine Hum – Diving Bell (2010)

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One of the great things about going to prog festivals is that I get exposed to lots of new bands. I’ve bought a lot of albums over the years because of that, but this one is special. Going into Sanguine Hum’s 2012 performance at ROSFest I knew nothing about them. I went in as cold as could be, completely ignorant. I didn’t just like what I heard – I was completely blown away. Ironically, I wound up getting this, the band’s only album at the time, from Amazon because the vendors had sold out and the band’s stash didn’t make it from the UK (I wound up snagging a couple EPs from the band’s prior incarnation, the wonderfully monikered Antique Seeking Nuns). Fresh, exciting, powerful new music is out there, even in the 2010s.

Premiata Forneria Marconi – Storia di un Minuto (1972)

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Progressive rock is an outgrowth of a particular time in the UK, but it spread across the globe and resulted in some really rich regional scenes. Italy, in particular, was an early hotbed (Genesis and Van der Graff Generator both hit it big there first). This was the first album I got that was really “foreign,” without any English to be found, either in the lyrics or the liner notes (two times over – it’s a Japanese pressing!) and it convinced me that wasn’t going to be a stumbling block to discovering some wonderful music.

Why You Should Be Reading Saga

I didn’t grow up reading comic books. I can’t say why. They weren’t verboten in our house and their residence in the same ghetto as science fiction and fantasy, but for some reason I never really dove in. Maybe it was because I perceived comics as being about super heroes and they never interested me much. It wasn’t until I got to college and my roommate corrupted me with some Batman did I get a chance to read them.

Even then, I didn’t really get into comics or graphic novels (I prefer waiting for a bunch of issues to get collected – makes for a more satisfying reading experience) until I got exposed to a pair of the traditional gateway drugs for the genre – in other words, stuff so good that even people who don’t read comics read them. One was Alan Moore’s Watchmen, a deconstruction of the entire superhero genre; the other, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which follows the exploits of Morpheus, the god of dreams, and his extended family.

While both of those are great ways for readers not familiar with comics to dip their toes into the graphic waters, they’re both “classics” by this point, held in such reverence that people might risk approaching them like you would Homer or Hemingway – things you should read because they’re important and exemplars of the form, but maybe not just for the enjoyment of it.

Thus, allow me to suggest another gateway, one that’s fresh, ongoing, and just released its 50th issue – Saga.

Created by Bryan K. Vaughn (words) and Fiona Staples (images), it’s a sprawling science fantasy saga with a heavy helping of just plain weirdness. Vaughn and Staples take full advantage of their chosen format to give the story a scope and a visual sense that would be impossible to pull off in another format. In the same way that 2001 epitomizes what a motion picture can be (an completely immersive audio-visual experience), Saga is the apex of what comics can be.

As amazing as Staples’s art is, Saga wouldn’t be worth reading without a compelling story and characters we care about. The basic setup is simple – a world, Landfall, has been at war with its moon, Wreath, for years. In the middle of the war, Alana (from Landfall) and Marko (from Wreath) fall in love and produce a kid, Hazel (who is the narrator), who really shouldn’t have been able to happen. They try and survive in a world where damned near everyone wants to hunt them down, from soldiers to bounty hunters with sentient lie-detecting cats.

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Along the way, as they blast from world to world in a spaceship that is also a tree (did I mention this is science Fantasy? Definitely a capital “F”), collecting other outcasts to form a very bizarre, very fractured, but very sweet extended family (as this article points out, Saga is almost impossibly diverse in its characters). Vaughn has said that’s what Saga is really about:

I now have two kids. I first starting thinking about this while waiting for our first kid. And I always used writing as an outlet to talk about my fears, concerns, and passions. I really wanted to talk about creating new life. And I found talking to my friends who are strangers to the fatherhood experience—I would watch them start yawning or looking at their watch–difficult. If you’re outside of that world you don’t really give a shit. When you’re living in it, it’s really exciting. So I wanted to find a way to make people who don’t have kids or who never intend to have kids feel what it’s like to be a parent.

That’s where Saga was born.

Not having kids I can’t say whether having them makes Saga more meaningful, but it does emphasize the foundation of the story. All the amazing art and “holy shit” concepts don’t add up to much if the characters aren’t ones we care about in the first place. That’s true of good fiction in general, but particularly good speculative fiction. At bottom, it’s a story about love, fear, and survival. The tree ships and arachnid bounty hunters are just gravy.

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What I’m trying say is that Saga isn’t something I recommend to comic newbies because it’s a classic (although it’s on its way to becoming that) or because it’s something, to channel one of my high school English teachers, “that well read people know.” It’s because it’s a great story, involving people you will care deeply about, told across a stunningly inventive backdrop. I mean, really, what else do you need?

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At Long Last, the Entire Saga of The Water Road In One Handy Package

Very happy to announce that how, instead of buying three separate books to digest the entire story of Antrey, Strefer, and The Water Road, you can now get them in one convenient package. Presenting The Complete Water Road Trilogy box set:

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This is the series readers have called “magnificent,” “excellent,” “exciting,” and “engrossing.”

This version is only available in eBook format. And for April, it’s on sale for just 99 cents! Get one in your preferred format at the links below.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Scribd

Weekly Read: Children of Time

One of the great things about speculative fiction is that you get to write about characters who aren’t human. One of the hard things, as a result, can be making readers care about characters who, at least on the surface, aren’t anything like them. To be able to pull that off is something special.

Children of Time starts off with human characters who seem all to relatable. A ship is in orbit around a planet that’s been freshly terraformed. A scientist is making ready to start a bold experiment – seeding the planet with a group of monkeys, followed by a spiffy nanovirus that will help jumpstart and guide their evolution. To “uplift” them, in the David Brin sense of the word.

Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. The experiment is disrupted before it’s really begun by a quasi-Luddite faction that things humanity going to the stars was a mistake. The monkeys burn up over the planet. The nanovirus . . . well, what becomes of the nanovirus is what Children of Time is all about.

You see, just because the monkeys didn’t make it to the planet doesn’t mean other life didn’t. Instead of finding its intended host, the nanovirus finds a species of spiders into which it can insert itself. It does and, for half the ensuing chapters in Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky puts us in the brains of various spiders as their society develops over thousands of years. That society itself is a supreme feat of imagination on Tchaikovsky ‘s part, but what really matters is that you come to care for these non-human beings, creatures that are more likely to conjure nightmares than sympathy.

That’s certainly true for the crew of Gilgamesh, the humans who make up the other half of the chapters. After the experiment at the beginning of the book goes awry humanity itself follows suit. Eventually, the only humans left alive are the crew of Gilgamesh and its “cargo” – hundreds of thousands of people in suspended animation.

It’s no spoiler to say that the humans and spiders have a coming together (two of them, sort of) and while the ultimate confrontation is wonderfully done, the paths they take getting there are equally fascinating. While the spiders slowly develop a technologically advanced society (the things they do with webs), humanity on board Gilgamesh is slowly falling apart. As seen through the eyes of a “classicist,” who gets woken up every so often to observe another crisis, it’s like the entire universe is falling apart at the seams. By the time the end comes the desperation among the humans is palpable.

Along the way, Tchaikovsky uses his characters to explore lots of big issues in a classic sci-fi way – religion, politics, and the like. More than anything, however, it shows how two intelligent groups can nearly destroy each other based mostly on the fact that they don’t have accurate information about the other group. The ending keeps this from being completely depressing, but it is kind of bleak. The day is saved by something the real world doesn’t have, after all.

There’s a lot to unpack in Children of Time. It doesn’t shy away from the fairly bleak state of the human condition, while suggesting that it’s not something specific to humans. And it does offer some hope, for while the source of the ending isn’t real, the effects could be. Either way, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while (and I don’t see any way to adapt it to film). I was completely blown away. Highest recommendation, of course.

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