Cover Stories Author Interview: Dan Foley

Author Dan FoleyIt seems self evident that anyone who calls their business “Corvid” must have a thing about crows and ravens.  So naturally, when I discovered one of the small presses I art direct for (Necon Ebooks) had a book in their catalog titled The Whispers of Crows, I had to check it out.  Obsession has it’s price, of course; if you insist on reading anything & everything about a particular subject, you’re going to read a lot of dreck.  In this case, I was lucky.  Dan Foley’s The Whispers of Crows was a collection of horror and dark fantasy stories that was a real delight, one of the gems that stood out from the crowd.

Flash forward a year or so, and I’ve got Dan’s novel Death’s Companion to create a cover for.  I’ve mentioned before how much I admired that book, and creating the cover was great fun.  Then this summer, I got a chance to illustrate another of Dan’s books, Wolf’s Tale.  I’ve written about the process of making that cover elsewhere on this blog.

In the meantime, Dan had retired from his consulting work, to give his time over to writing.  And he certainly hasn’t wasted that time – he’s already got three new books out, a fourth (Wolf’s Tale) in production, and a new one in process.  With all that going on, we’re glad he could take the time out to talk to us…

 


 

Corvid Design:  There have been a number of fantasy, horror, and even comedy works that involve “reapers” – supernatural characters who collect the dead.  In Death’s Companion your supernatural character isn’t a collector, they’re just literally a companion to the person through their death.  What inspired that twist?

 

Death's Companion by Dan FoleyDan Foley:  I wanted to explore the stages of grief a dying person would experience without that person actually dying. They are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. Jerry, the protagonist, goes through each stage in that order. Even though Jerry can’t die, he has, in a way, died. Life as he knew it is over and the life stretching before him is pretty hopeless. With all that said, I wanted to show that human nature resists despair. After becoming death’s companion Jerry still strives to make things better for himself, the family he left behind and those whose deaths he has to share

 

CD:  Death’s Companion has a pretty grimdark cosmology underpinning it – when we die, we have a 50/50 chance of going on to the next stage (heaven, reincarnation, or whatever – it isn’t specified), OR of being eaten, and ending our existence in what will feel like an eternity of pain.  And it’s random – there’s no figure with a scale who passes judgement, no giant book of records listing our good and bad acts, it’s just random chance if an Eater is nearby when you pass over.  Nothing depends on merit or worth, it’s all luck of the draw.  Is that your personal philosophy?  That whether we go on after death or are snuffed out is random chance?

 

DF:  I don’t believe in either. What I believe in is nature. Nature isn’t fair, it isn’t cruel, it is what it is. As I said in the prologue, the living, the souls and the eaters are in balance, as is all of nature. The eaters aren’t evil, they’re predators. In the void, souls are the prey. And, in turn, the eaters are also prey for the hunters. This is nature in action.
I also slipped a little nuclear physics in there for those who might recognize it. Eaters reproduce by collecting enough souls that they contain too much energy. When that happens they split into hundreds of little eaters. That is basically nuclear fission. Souls evolve into hunters by joining together into a perfect soul. This is basically nuclear fusion.

 

CD:  Death’s Companion is a long, dense novel, with multiple story threads following Jerry, your main protagonist, along with the girl Carrie, the mysterious old man Sam, the Soul Eater and its Hunters, and a number of asides that glance into other lives and deaths along the way.  You cover a lot of geographic territory, as well, from Rhode Island to California, and lots of places in between.  By contrast, Intruder is a short, sharp shock.  It has a small cast, a single stage set – they’re jammed into the pressure cooker of a submarine. The action starts almost at once, and is pretty constant right up to the denouement.  Having done both, which approach do you find yourself most comfortable with, and why?

 

DF: I don’t think I favor either approach. I let the story dictate how involved it becomes and its length. Intruder had to be a novella because life on a submarine is, for the most part, boring. There’s only so much you can convey about everyday life. The other thing about life on a submarine is that even though every man knows every other man, they are pretty much encapsulated by their ratings. Engineers associate with other engineers, not torpedo men or radiomen.
In Death’s Companion, I had to allow Gerry to be dragged all over the country by the link he experiences with his “clients.” It provided depth to the world he lived in. I also had to spend more time developing the characters in this story to make the reader empathize with them.

 

CD:   Intruder is full of meticulous detail about the sub, and an abundance of acronyms and slang that are common among the submariners in the story. The proliferation of convincing naval and submarine descriptions and jargon definitely adds a sense of authenticity to the tale.  It’s pretty clear from this that you were once a submariner yourself, and those experiences inform Intruder.  Assuming you never ran into any Nazi ghosts down there, what was your most terrifying undersea experience?

 

Intruder by Dan FoleyDF: There were two. One of them is in the book. We were on sea trials and the ship yard had installed a piece of equipment incorrectly. When we did our deep dive to test depth, the hydraulic system had been contaminated with sea water. As a result we were unable to stop our dive and would up exceeding our test depth. There were others, but that was the scariest because there was nothing I could do but go along for the ride.

The other occurred on my first patrol. Again, we were on sea trials. We were doing “angles and dangles,” where the captain puts the boat through various maneuvers to make sure it performs like it should. Since it was my first patrol, I wasn’t assigned to a watch station. Instead, I was part of the aft damage control party which meant I just had to keep out of the way unless something happened. As it turned out, something did happen. A valve on top of a tank was left open by mistake and several hundred gallons of water overflowed from the tank into the lower level engine room. The watch stander there reported flooding in the LLER. At the same time, there was an actual grease fire in the galley. Both were announced over the subs communication system followed by “Emergency Blow, Emergency Blow.” When the blow valves were opened I was sitting just inboard of the relief valves on the blow lines. We were at test depth when the incidents occurred and the pressure in the ballast tanks was high enough to cause the relief valves, which were right behind me, to lift. They sounded like shotguns going off and scared the hell out of me.

 

CD:  Some people might argue that you made being on board a submarine scary enough without any ghosts or monsters.  But a supernatural threat at sea could have been anything – sea serpents, mermaids, giant squids, ghost pirates, Atlanteans, Bermuda Triangle aliens, or even Cthulu.  Why the ghost of a Nazi submariner?

 

DF:  The ghost was a metaphor for the ocean. It’s cold, it always wants to get into the boat, and if it does it will kill you. A leak at depth would be a cold, white spray of death. It’s the elephant in the room we never talk about, but everyone knows it’s always there. The ghost was my way of introducing that aspect of being constantly submerged in a steel cylinder with the very real threat of death all around you.

 

CD:  Wolf is more of a supporting character in Intruder (though he provides the key to defeating the monster).  And the ghost story he tells in Intruder is repeated at more length and in more detail at the start of Wolf’s Tale.  When you had Wolf tell about his background in Intruder, did you already know you wanted to expand on that, give Wolf his own book?  Or was that an afterthought, based on reader reaction?

 

Wolf's Tale by Dan FoleyDF: Wolf was a character that always intrigued me. I hinted about the possibility of a story about Wolf’s return to the bayou but had no idea at the time if I would ever write one. Then, I wrote two novels between Intruder and Wolf’s Tale (Abandoned & Reunion) but always found myself wondering what happened to Wolf when he returned home. That’s why I wrote the story. I wanted to see where Wolf’s life went after he left the Navy.

 

CD:  Wolf’s Tale is set in the Cajun bayou of Louisiana.  Every region has its own folk tales and ghost stories, its peculiar magic and witchcraft. Why the bayou?  What is it about Cajun magic and folklore?

 

DF:  I’ve been in every state except Alaska and North Dakota (which made Jerry’s  travels in Death’s Companion easier to write). I lived in Mississippi for seven months and did some fishing in the bayous there. Later, I spent a lot of time in New Orleans when I was working as an instructor at the Waterford 3 nuclear power plant. In my mind, New Orleans and the Louisiana bayous present the perfect atmosphere for a ghost story.
In Wolf’s Tale I also resurrected another character from one of my short stories, Old Mose, or just Mose, as he’s known in Wolf’s Tale. Mose was perfect for the story.
As for folklore, the region is steeped in it and I played on that.

 

CD:  The monster in Reunion is a creature called the On51ip0f3dwoliare, an Iroquois snake monster haunting the depths of a lake in Vermont.  Does Iroquois lore and magic figure as largely in Reunion as Cajun lore does in Wolf’s Tale?

 

DF: Not really. I drew the Oniare from the Iroquois legend, but, except for Chuck Turcott, the story takes place in a post-native American environment. The Oniare was a nod to the idea that there may be a grain of truth in all myths.

 

CD:   You do seem to have a predilection for watery threats.  You’ve taken us fathoms deep into the North Atlantic, and into the swamps and the bayou, and now with Reunion we’ve got this lake monster.  Is there something you find intrinsically scary about water?  Or are you just attracted to such settings for some other reason?

 

DF:  Water has always been a part of my life and it seeps (pun intended) into a lot of the things I write. The river in Reunion was a recreation of the river that played a large part of my adolescence. As a teen I lived on a lake for one year and spent a lot of time there even after I moved back into town. My summers were also filled with trips to the Jersey Shore. And, when I vacation, it’s always to a lake or Caribbean island. So yes, I’m partial to water settings.

 

51ftdzgvgtlCD:  The write-up on Abandoned makes James Sutton almost like the victim, rather than a villain. Is James closer to, say, Dexter than Hannibal Lecter?

 

DF:  James is a psychopath, but I wanted to show that, except for his little “problem” that he was no different than any of us. He wants to be accepted. He wants to be loved. He elicits sympathy from the reader and that makes him scarier than if he was just a non-feeling Hannibal Lector type. I wanted the reader to like James and root for him even though he does horrible things.

 

CD:  Sutton’s issues go back to his experiences as an orphan and an adopted child.  What inspired that?  Do you have some personal connection to this issue?  Have you adopted, or were you adopted yourself, or have some close connection to someone who was?

 

DF:  The answer there is yes, and no. At the time I wrote Abandoned, I had no close experience with adoption. I did, however, have a lot of experience with loss—loss of a pet, loss of a friend, loss of a parent. I wanted to examine what would happen to someone (James) who suffered these losses but who was incapable of dealing with them.

After I signed the contract for Abandoned, my daughter and son-in-law decided to adopt. The applied to an agency that specializes in open adoptions. It took almost a year, but they were chosen to be the adoptive parents of a wonderful baby boy. Both the adoptive parents and their families remain a part of his life, so he loved by two sets of parents, and multiple families. He will never have to feel that he was abandoned.

 

CD:  What’s your next project?  Can you tell us a little about it?

DF: After a few false starts I’m well into my next novel. It was inspired by the reality television show Alone. The story, working title Alone?, deals with a 22 year old recent college graduate who attempts to duplicate the challenge of living alone in the wild with no contact with the outside world.

 

CD: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions

 

DF: You’re welcome.  From the depth of the questions it’s obvious you read each of the books you’re asking about. I appreciate that.

 

In closing, as usual, we’ll pose the famous ten questions from Bernard Pivot:

What is your favorite word?
Can’t think of one.

What is your least favorite word?
Two really—“you can’t”

– What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Being with other creative people.

– What turns you off?
Ignorant, prejudiced people.

– What is your favorite curse word?
“Jesus flip.”  Something I must have made up because I’ve never heard anyone else say it.

– What sound or noise do you love?
Rain.

– What sound or noise do you hate?
A car with the stereo cranked up so loud it could shake the fillings out of your teeth.

– What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
None. I’m retired. I went back to work for two months to help out someone who asked. I realized then I really don’t want another job.

– What profession would you not like to do?
Accounting.

– If an afterworld exists, what would you like to hear the deity of your choice say when you arrive there?
“Buckle up, Dan. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.”

 


Look for Wolf’s Tale coming in October from Necon Ebooks.

Find Dan Foley on the web:

Dan’s Website  – Facebook

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Cover Stories Author Interview: Ash Krafton

Bleeding Hearts by Ash Krafton

20+ Questions:  Ash Krafton

AshKraftonI first encountered Ash Krafton on Querytracker.net, which is pretty much what it sounds like – a site that provides a great resource for authors querying agents and publishers to keep track their various queries and exchange information about agents, publishers and markets.  As we were both interested in Urban Fantasy, Ash and I exchanged a few chatty emails, and then proceeded to lose track of each other.  A year or two later, I was working for Pink Narcissus as their art director and occasional editor, and the Editor-In-Cheif sent me a manuscript she was considering accepting.  Knowing I was more into Urban Fantasy than she was, she wanted my opinion.  Once I read through Bleeding Hearts (Book One of the Demimonde), I wasted no time adding my vote to the “yes” column.

bleedingIt was a real pleasure to be able to create covers for the three books of the series.  Incidentally, the cover for the first book, Bleeding Hearts, was the first cover collaboration with my Corvid partner, Moira Ashleigh, who took the photograph of the flowers of the bleeding heart plant (Lamprocapnos spectabilis).

 


 

CORVID DESIGN:  You’re known, among other things, for your vampire trilogy, but one of your most recent is a sort of sideways take on the vampire concept, under the byline AJ Krafton. In The Heartbeat Thief, Senza takes not blood from her victims, but life energy in the form of heartbeats. What was it that you were able to explore with this approach to supernatural parasitism that you couldn’t do using a more traditional vampire mythology?

ASH KRAFTON:  The concept was born entirely out of the setting of the story. Victorian England had strict rules on morality and modesty and personal interactions. Everything was measured on the Almighty Scale of Propriety.

Senza couldn’t be a vampire in the traditional sense. Biting someone would have broken every rule there was and she would have been exiled from society. Her existence revolved around her place in society so she couldn’t very well go skulking about at midnight, stealing blood from her sleeping contemporaries.

Besides, there is something innocent and romantic and seductive about the notion, that kind of pilferage she does in plain view of everyone. A touch, a smile, and she has a piece of you—but you just feel a little off-balanced. Perhaps it was her smile that staggered you so. Who is that girl that all faces turn to follow? What is the spell she cast?

CD: What made you decide The Heartbeat Thief needed a different byline?Heartbeat

AK: As Ash Krafton, I generally write for adult audiences. Like most writers, I keep a perpetual story file in my head, ideas and plots and characters that I keep tucked away, waiting for a break between projects.

Several story ideas, however, featured younger protagonists and would be suitable for not-quite-yet-adult readers. I decided a pen name would be best to limit genre-confusion.
I am not convinced at this point if it was necessary, after all; mature teens 16 and up usually have no problems reading my stories (as well as inspire me to push my own limits in writing.) And the business aspects of a pen name are quite possibly a nightmare…but, anyhoo.

Because The Heartbeat Thief deals with violence, death, and the consequences of sexual activity, I decided to label it New Adult and use the pen name to establish the audience base. I have been told that it’s still YA friendly so…I guess it depends on the person reading it. In the end, the author picks the label…but once the book is in the hands of the reader, it goes where the audiences take it.

And I don’t think there is anyone who actually believes AJ is a different person. It was never a secret identity, after all.

CD: Thief takes place largely in the Victorian period, which I think is a departure for you. Were you already well versed in Victoriana, and only had to look up a few details, or was this huge research project? Tell us a little about your process with a period piece.

AK: This book was a joy to write because I’ve loved the time period from childhood. If I’m ever brave enough, I’m going to do a little bit of past life regression just to see where my past actually lived. I’ve had a crush on Poe since I was in high school so, ultimately, writing this book was a selfish indulgence.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t spend hours reading and researching, however. I think the only place where I dropped the ball was in two spots referring to horses, once literally and once metaphorically, for a total of maybe eight entire words. A reviewer who knows all there is to know about Horsedom was kind enough point out my incorrect wording. (By kind, I mean not kind. Doesn’t matter.) I accepted the criticism with a red face and a grateful heart and made immediate edits so the world would be safe once more from glaring inaccuracy in literature.

I think the biggest challenge came in the structure of the story itself. The plot followed the structure of “The Masque of the Red Death”, particularly the passage through the seven apartments. Senza, too, passed through seven “apartments” during her own long life. Each apartment had its own characteristics and colors and literary symbolism. The biggest challenge came in coordinating the historic timeline itself—years and events had to fall into place if I wanted the story to be believable.

Blood RushCD: Every author who deals with vampires seems to come up with their own unique take on the creatures, and have their own variations on the rules: Can they be out in sunlight? Do they react to crosses?  Other holy symbols? Silver? Supernatural, or natural – are they actually risen dead, or humans with some sort of condition, or another race entirely? In the Demimonde books, your vampires are divided into the full vampires and the demi-vamps, hence the title of the series. Can you tell us a little about how that works, and where did you come up with the idea of the demivamps?

AK: “The Books of the Demimonde” series focuses on a woman named Sophie, an advice columnist-turned-oracle whose destiny is to be the redemption of the Demivampire. Since she actually has to redeem them, I had to create a mythos in which being vampire wasn’t necessarily a death sentence. (Hmm. That was a little punny. Won’t happen again.)

CD:  Won’t happen again?  I find that hard to believe…

AK: …I also wanted a hero that had a pulse, a normal body temperature, a man who wouldn’t feel like laying on a chilly waterbed. Vampires, I imagine, have no regulated body temp and would be cold-blooded. (Could have been punny, but wasn’t. This time.)

The most enjoyable part of creating the demivampire mythos was writing the origin story itself—which I happily rooted in Ancient Egypt. In Bleeding Hearts, Marek, a Demivampire, has a keen interest in Ancient Egypt. In fact, our heroine Sophie first meets him in a museum exhibit of an Old Kingdom temple.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped many gods, each of whom had many qualities. People related to their strengths and flaws, and devoted themselves to the divinity of the gods. I myself believe we are made in the image of the Divine—and that reflection of Divinity within myself endears me to God, whoever he or she or they are. I suppose the Egyptians felt the same way, since their gods were depicted with human bodies. The animal heads were indicative of their divine aspect.

Horus is the son of Osirus and Isis and is one of my favorites. Horus is depicted as having the head of a falcon, usually a peregrine. Very appropriate for the God of the Sky.TalesDemi

In my research, I came across the description of Horus’ eyes. That caught my interest, because the power of a demivamp had a great deal to do eyes and their color. The ancients said that, as God of the Sky, one eye of Horus was the sun and the other was the moon.

Hmm…sun and moon…vamps and werewolves…of course!

So, long story short, this story was pretty much all laid out about four thousand years ago. I’m just the one who put all the ancient clues together.

CD: Thief seems like a very stand-alone novel.  Yet I couldn’t help wondering, is there a “Krafton Universe?”  Could Senza or Tam Kerish run into Sophie if they happened to be in the right place and time? Or do you think of those each as self-contained works?

AK: I don’t see so much a Krafton Universe as I do a Krafton Theme Park. (That was wretchedly punny.) A few themes reappear in just about everything I write.
Death. Life. Magic. Redemption. Darkness and Light.

I don’t think characters can cross over because each book or series is meant to explore these themes through the lives and stories of different individuals. I want to capture unique experiences that, ultimately, are relatable to everyone, no matter the setting, the culture, or the approach of each story’s individual cast.

CD: So far, all your published works seem to be urban fantasy or paranormal romance.  What about other genres?  Do you plan to branch out?  Is there a genre you’ve been jonesing to get around to trying?  Or, conversely, is there one you’d never want to write in?

AK: When I daydream, I daydream about magic in the real world. A basis of actual realism makes me appreciate the unreal all the more. My first (unfinished) novel project was more fantasy-land fantasy, that generic kingdom-far-away kind of place. I liked the story, but I just wasn’t in it into it, if that makes sense.

Bleeding Hearts pulled me into its world because I based it near Philly, my old home. I wrote it because I wanted to walk down near the harbor and sneak looks at people and wonder if I saw their eyes flash. With The Heartbeat Thief, I imagine readers brushing against someone’s skin and thinking “Ooh…I nicked a beat!” I love the thought of real magic in the real world.

Urban fantasy lets me do that—make stuff up I can semi-convince myself is real so the books don’t end with the words THE END.

CD:  You’ve published with small presses, and have self-published as well. What, for you, have been the major advantages and disadvantages of each?

AK: I like the validation of small press publishing, the senses of quality and solidarity. I like the artisanal aesthetic many small presses put out. I like the feeling of craft vs. mass production.  But I also like self-producing my work because I enjoy the creative control. I’m not locked in a room, solitary and cut-off from the world, tossing out a story without having it vetted. Self-pubbing authors have access to a vast wealth of professionals they can contract in for services…editors, artists, formatters…kind of like a small press with a staff of one. Me 🙂

I also respect the balance of hybrid authors, who use elements of both traditional and self-publishing to ultimately market and present their brand. While I consider myself an indie author, I value the services of literary agents because they are experts in areas I myself am not and have connections and insights to parts of the business that I’d love to explore but know I can’t accomplish on my own.

CD:  You’ve recently begun publishing a new series (“The Demon Whisperer”) on Wattpad.  How has that worked out?  Would you recommend Wattpad to other writers?CharmCity

AK:  I LOVE Wattpad.com. Up until recently, I used it to put up short stories just to see if anyone would read them. I love the forums because it’s a global community of novice and working writers. It’s nice to be “around” people who write because they are passionate about the essence of writing.

When I decided to put up Charm City (The Demon Whisperer #1), I had a specific goal: I wanted to shoot for a spot on the Featured Story list. To my delight, it was picked up and went Featured at the end of April. Since then, it’s been read about 17,000 times and has really sparked interesting responses from readers. My favorite comments are from people who are reading and thinking “out loud” as they go. The excitement is contagious!

As a Featured Story, it must stay on the site for a minimum of six months. I don’t foresee myself taking it down after that, even after I release the ebook. Wattpad is a great discoverability site and hopefully it will lead new readers to my other work.

Here’s a link to Charm City…have a look!

CD:  You’ve said you’ll never leave the coal region “because coal is just another example of a spectacular ending waiting for a brilliant beginning. (It’s kinda fitting.)”  For those of us who aren’t from coal country, would you mind explaining that?

AK: Coal is a black rock formed from prehistoric ooze and organic material that lies buried beneath tons of rock. The muck gets condensed into a hard, brittle layer that can be dug up and used for fuel because it burns with a semi-sustainable pace.

Coal forms because long ago, things died and ended. Yet, today, we still scratch the Earth and plow up mountains of the black diamonds. That coal will wait for someone to strike a light, so it can come blazing back in a whole new way.

The imagery is sooty, yet powerful and very inspiring. Who looks at a dirty rock and thinks, this is worth something…this will burn and create tons of energy?
But that’s what coal does. That’s what we all should do: use our experience and our past to illuminate and fuel the future.

CD:  According to Amazon, “The second bravest thing she’s ever done was volunteering to go first when her Girl Scout troop visited a High Ropes challenge course somewhere back in the eighties.”  Did you go on to become an avid high ropes fanatic, or was that your one and only encounter with it?

AK: Avid? Ha, ha, ha, NO. Terrified and point-of-no-return are better terms. I haven’t been on a ropes course since that day.Wolfsbane

I have, however, bottled that feeling and kept it with me. The terror that couldn’t hurt me because I was harnessed and tied six ways to Sunday… The point of no return that made me step out, step forward, into what looked like empty air, to take a chance and challenge myself and not fall…

These days, I’m too old for rope courses. I’m more like a two-feet-on-the-ground and no-sudden-movements kind of girl. But every now and then I do something that makes me feel that way, all over again. It’s good to keep the blood thumping.

CD: Your website lists your next projects as Takin’ it Back and Face of the Enemy – are those period pieces, also?  Can you tell us anything about them?

AK: These are two AJ Krafton titles. Takin’ it Back is an urban fantasy/ magic realism story about a girl who’s a Repo Guy for a magical artifact shop. Face of the Enemy is a dystopian magic realism about politics and illegal magicians and the effects both have on society in general and a young woman in particular. Both are in progress.

CD: To wrap up, we’re going to steal an idea from Inside the Actor’s Studio (who in turn stole it from the French TV series, Bouillon de Culture, so we don’t feel too bad about that), and pose the famous ten questions from Bernard Pivot:

– What is your favorite word?

A vulgar one. Can’t help it. I’m a goon.

– What is your least favorite word?

“Decimate”. Really, people, stop saying it. Most of you use it wrong and it drives me out of my fricken gourd.

– What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Music. It’s my muse, my inspiration.

I even did a recent stint on Sirius XM Radio’s Ozzy’s Boneyard as their Ultimate Sinner. One day I’ll edit up some video and post the show on YouTube. I had such a fricken blast doing that show. How many people get to say I’M LOCAL AUTHOR ASH KRAFTON AND, THIS WEEK, I’M THE ULTIMATE SINNER! Specifically, just me, I guess, but you know what I mean.

– What turns you off?

Racist jokes and prejudiced comments.

– What is your favorite curse word?

You mean, a vulgar word? *rubs hands together with sinister glee* And besides all of them? I have a mouth like a longshoreman.

If I have to pick one, it’s “Scheiße”.

Curse words, by comparison, actually curse people. I try not to do that in real life. Even if I’d like to tell a few of my dayjob retail customers to kiss my ass and go to Hell, I’d really hesitate before doing that. Scheiße like that can come back on you.

– What sound or noise do you love?

Music. Machine-gun guitars from Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell. Or that lolloping bass you hear in a lot of Iron Maiden songs. Or Geddy Lee singing. #iheartgeddy
Oh, and of course, the voices of my husband and children. Duh. I meant to say that first. *weak chuckle*

– What sound or noise do you hate?

Tinnitus. I have permanent ringing in my ears so it really messes with me. I used to think it was cool but then it didn’t go away. Now, it’s annoying and I really would rather it just shuts up.

– What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I wanted to say something like: a whorehouse madam, where the whores are actually all novelists and people come and give them quickie writing jobs to do. I think part of me wishes for a world where writers can make money doing free-lance work outside of their craft’s passion and not feel dirty about it or hate themselves in the morning for doing what they had to do for the sake of earning a buck.

But then I realized that it’s a pretty harsh thing to say, so instead I’ll pick… espionage. I want to be a spy like Melissa McCarthy’s character. LOVE. THAT. WOMAN.

– What profession would you not like to do?

Anything that requires physical grace or hand-eye coordination. Like I said, too old for that Scheiße. (Wow. I really got some great usage of my favorite vulgar word today. Yay me!)

– If an afterworld exists, what would you like to hear the deity of your choice say when you arrive there?

Nothing but the slap of a high five.

That’s my endgame—to live my life in such a way that, when I die, I can congratulate myself on a job well done. (And maybe spend eternity in a beer garden in Munich.)

CD: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

AK:  That was seriously fun…

Much joy and cheers and thanks!

 


Find Ash Krafton on the web:

Website   Blog   Facebook   Google+   Twitter   Amazon   Goodreads

 

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Cover Stories Author Interview: Richard Levesque

The Girl at the End of the World

20 Questions: Richard Levesque

 

Levesque_author-photoI first encountered Richard Levesque when my friend Steven Jay Cohen, who narrates audio books, mentioned a client of his was looking for a cover designer.  Richard Levesque was reissuing Take Back Tomorrow, and wanted a new cover for it.  As I always prefer to do, I read the book before beginning the cover, and was immediately captivated by Richard’s tale of 1940s pulp science fiction writer who gets caught up in a real-life science fiction story.  Making the cover resemble an actual pulp magazine seemed like a no-brainer, and Richard seemed quite happy with it.

 

TakeBackTomorrow_frontTake Back Tomorrow was good enough that I’d have sought out Richard’s other works even if he hadn’t continued to commission covers for them.  I’m a sucker for noir, and Richard handles noir as skillfully as anyone, whether it’s in a classic 40s setting, or future noir settings reminiscent of William Gibson or Phillip K. Dick.

According to his bio, Richard Levesque has spent most of his life in Southern California. For the last several years he has taught composition and literature, including science fiction, as part of the English Department at Fullerton College. His first book, Take Back Tomorrow, was published in 2012, and he has followed it with other science fiction and urban fantasy novels, novellas, and short stories. When not writing or grading papers, he works on his collection of old science fiction pulps and spends time with his wife and daughter.

Richard graciously took time out of his busy schedule recently to answer a few questions for our blog.

 


 

Corvid Design:  I think most people who have read your work would agree that it’s on a par with most of what the big New York publishers put out, and better than many.  Did you try shopping your work to agents, or to the few big companies who still accept unagented submissions?  Or did you intend to self publish from the start?

Richard Levesque: First of all, thank you for the compliment. I did start out shopping Take Back Tomorrow to agents and then a different (more science fiction, less paranormal) version of The Devil You Know. I was lucky enough to find an agent who believed in me after about a year of trying and she shopped both of those books to publishers big and small. Many praised the books but the answer was always “just not right for us” and so they passed. Around the same time, my agent decided that she was stronger in the non-fiction market and we parted ways. I independently published Take Back Tomorrow about four months later, realizing that the publishers were all looking (at the time) for the next Twilight or its equivalent, which wasn’t something I had written, nor did I plan to write.

CD: Your most recent book, The Somniscient, is gathering a lot of praise these days.  It’s been compared to early William Gibson or Neil Stephenson.  It seems strange to hear a reviewer refer to “some good old-fashioned cyberpunk,” but it is true that cyberpunk has now been around for more than 30 years.  Today we’ve got steampunk, and deiselpunk, and all sorts of other “punks,” and from the nature of the stories they tend to tell, it seems like most have forgotten the subversive aspects the suffix “punk” was intended to convey.  Does The Somniscient have a subversive element?  Thirty years later, can cyberpunk even be subversive?

Somniscient_thRL: The Somniscient has dystopian elements that, if you think about them, mirror some things going on today with technology and corporate culture. And there are people within the story hoping to bring down the power structure; one of the main characters gets pulled into that fight through no will of is own, but once he’s in it, he has no choice but to finish it. So, yes, I’d say that’s a bit subversive. It’s not the “high tech and low lifes” that we find in early Gibson, but there’s a bit of that. It’s the early cyberpunk that really appeals to me, which was why I set it up this way. And I would definitely say that cyberpunk still can be subversive; part of the reason that’s slipped away may be that so many of us have become seduced by the technology, even the punks.

CD: What set you off on telling this particular story?  What was the idea that made you think “Yeah, I could build a whole novel around that.”  And was it necessarily cyberpunk from the get-go?

RL: There were a few kernels. One was a bout of insomnia that I went through a couple of years ago and the thought (it probably occurred to me in the middle of the night) of being paid in sleep rather than currency. Another was an offhand comment my wife made to my daughter–“In the future, no one will have time to watch movies. They’ll just download the memory having watched them.” That struck me as brilliant, and that little piece of the future gets tossed into Chapter One, just a bit of the atmosphere that’s created. Knowing that the only way those two things could happen–the commonplace downloading of things into our brains and not being allowed to sleep until it’s earned–would be if people had chips in their brains, going the cyberpunk route seemed like a natural fit.

CD: Several of your tales take place in the 1940s, which is clearly a period you have great affection for, and have researched thoroughly.  Tim Powers has talked in several interviews about how for him, research comes first, and that a certain point these interesting questions come up, and as he looks further, a story starts to practically tell itself.  Do you research first?  Or do you come up with a plot or a rough story idea, and then do the research to support it?  If you plot first and then research, does research ever inspire or convince you to change your plans in major ways?

RL: I would have to say it’s plot first. I mean, I’ve done a lot of research into that period in the first place having focused on Hollywood writers of the 20s-40s while working on my Ph.D. dissertation. So I had a lot of background and a real affection for the period before I started setting plots in that time frame. Now that I’m grounded there, though, when a plot idea comes to me and seems like a good fit to set it in that era, I just do minimal research to flesh things out. I had to look up a few things about currency and whether certain historic buildings were or weren’t there during the time I’ve set the plot.

For Foundlings, I had to do a lot more research. I had a basic understanding of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, and I knew that the old California State Hospital for the mentally ill had been converted into a university, but I didn’t know anything about the Japanese settlement in Los Angeles that was razed after Pearl Harbor or the specifics of the hospital/campus. There was a lot I had to look into to make that book read as accurate, and I think it came out nicely. The things I discovered while researching that book definitely changed the plot, but I’m not sure that’s happened so profoundly with my other books.

CD: Aside from the obvious case of demons impersonating movie stars, are any of the characters in your period pieces based on actual people?  The publisher in Take Back Tomorrow, for instance, or the rich boy’s deceased father in Devil You Know?

DevilYouKnow_frontRL: Those characters are just types, not based on anyone specific. There were elements of Chester Blackwood’s past (one of the characters in Take Back Tomorrow) that I lifted from my earlier research on Hollywood writers in the 1920s. One of my favorites was a guy named Don Ryan whose 1927 novel Angel’s Flight has a protagonist whose background has elements similar to Blackwood’s, and Ryan’s early career as a Los Angeles journalist also worked its way into Blackwood’s backstory; the hero of Angel’s Flight is named Will Pence, and I used that name for one of the characters in Take Back Tomorrow as a bit of homage to Ryan, whose work is largely forgotten.

CD:  Tell us a little about your process.  Do you outline?  Use character sheets?

RL: I get an idea and I let it sit. If it won’t leave me alone, keeps coming back into my mind for months on end, I decide to let that one come to the head of the class. Because of the schedule with my day job (college professor) there are huge blocks out of the year when I can’t write fiction and huge blocks where I can. I also have a commute that’s roughly one hour each way. So when I’m getting close to having time off, I shut the radio off in the car and spend my 2 hours a day in the car working through the plot. It gets kind of obsessive. There are usually one or two things that I can’t quite figure out, so the plotting and planning works its way into the rest of my day for those few weeks. Then I get it and as soon as the last grade is submitted, I start writing.

I don’t do a formal outline but usually have the whole thing plotted out in my head. I write a thousand words a day until the first draft is done. Then I go back through and do a first read-through, plugging holes as I go, adding in things that only occurred to me as part of the process. Then I send it off to beta readers and wait for feedback before I jump back in and start revising.

GirlAtTheEnd_frontrCD: I don’t recall where I read this, so it could be an interwebz factoid, but I recall reading that China Mieville had an ambition to write one book in each major F&SF subgenre.  And he certainly seems off to a good start, whether that plan is conscious or not.  You also have written in a variety of these subgenres – future noir, period SF, historical supernatural thriller, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic…   Have you considered doing sequels, or creating a series, or are you more like Mieville, wanting to do something new and different each time?

RL: This is where I must confess to the lousy nature of my marketing plan. When I was writing to try to win over agents, I wrote books that I thought would be appealing with no thought to establishing myself as a writer of this or that kind of book. I was just casting my line and hoping for nibbles.

When I moved on to indie publishing, I stuck to the same plan (which was to not plan). Because I’d already written a noir time travel story, a future noir cyberpunk mystery, and a noirish paranormal fantasy, my first publications didn’t have a clear niche.

I proceeded to write things I found interesting–more paranormal noir, a YA post-apocalypse, a literary-historical mystery, and then back to cyberpunk.

I have had a blast following my muse, but I think I may have hurt myself from a marketing standpoint as readers who love Strictly Analog don’t necessary want to follow me to The Girl at the End of the World or Foundlings.

My plan for now is to stop jumping around and stick to science fiction. The next one will probably be set in the 1920s, and I have an idea for a dieselpunk series that I might launch into later in the year.

CD:  When you’re writing in a particular genre, do you read within that genre while you’re writing?  Or do you avoid that, and read something else entirely?

RL:  I tend to avoid it. I don’t want any undue influence.

CD:  William Gibson has said that when he wrote his seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, he didn’t even own a computer, and typed the manuscript on an IBM selectric.  In Strictly Analog, your hero, Ted Lomax, as the title suggests, is an analog guy in a wired and uplinked world.  As a private eye, he exploits the peculiar advantages of being unplugged as he is.  Though you’re clearly comfortable moving in the digital world now, you’re also old enough to remember a strictly analog world.  Was Ted Lomax you at some point?  Were you a late adopter of this technology?

RL: I did use a typewriter when I started writing, but that’s only because the idea of personal computer was still a ways off. The first story I really felt good about was typed on a 1923 Underwood in a Los Angeles apartment I lived in that was the model for Eddie Royce’s building in Take Back Tomorrow.

I was always kind of a lousy (self-taught) typist, so when I figured out that I could write something on a word processor and fix my mistakes without having to re-type the whole damned thing, I jumped into using a computer (around 1990) and never looked back.

CD:  You’re also a teacher… have your students, or your interactions with students, influenced your writing? How?

RL: I’m sure it has, but it’s hard to say how. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Keep in mind that I don’t teach creative writing–usually college writing and developmental writing. However, by explaining the writing process and the editing process to others, it has given me a pretty good handle on how best to incorporate those processes into my own work.

CD:  To wrap up, we’re going to steal an idea from Inside the Actor’s Studio (who in turn stole it from the French TV series, Bouillon de Culture, so we don’t feel too bad about that), and pose the famous ten questions from Bernard Pivot:

– What is your favorite word?
Quagmire

– What is your least favorite word?
Pessimism

– What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Free time

– What turns you off?
Bigotry

– What is your favorite curse word?
Kind of boring, but I’d have to go with “goddammit” since that’s usually the first one out of my mouth.

– What sound or noise do you love?
Laughter

– What sound or noise do you hate?
Barking dogs (but only in the middle of the night)

– What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  
Disc jockey

– What profession would you not like to do?  
Funeral director

– If an afterworld exists, what would you like to hear the deity of your choice say when you arrive there?
That I found my happiness without causing anyone else to suffer and that I did all I could to help others find their happiness, too.

Thanks, Richard, we appreciate your taking the time to do this.


Find Richard Levesque on the web:

Richard’s Blog  –   Amazon Author Page  –  Facebook  –  Google+

Cover Design: The Right Look for Your Book

Right Look for Your Book

The Right Look for Your Book

 

There are probably a near infinite number of possible ways to design a book cover, but the basic sorts of approaches fortunately boil down to a few.  At one end of the spectrum is a purely graphic and type oriented design, at the other a photo or illustration dominates.  Most books fall somewhere in between.

Designing a book cover is a juggling act.  On the one hand, you want to be original and different, stand out from the crowd.  On the other, readers have been conditioned to expect certain types of cover designs to signal certain types of books, and while a surprise might delight some, it will disappoint others, and get your client bad reviews.  So it’s wise to to incorporate at least certain genre signifiers, and if possible, give an accurate sense of the flavor of the book.

What follows is my own observational breakdown of some of these basic approaches, and the ways and genres in which they tend to be used.   These are very broad categories, and they’re not all separate and distinct, like there’s a virtual Berlin Wall between them, the Graphic getting all maudlin and crying in its beer that it will never see it’s cousin Illustrative again, because he’s trapped on the other side.  It’s more like a big party where people of like interest tend to gravitate together, but no one’s telling the air conditioning repair gal she can’t hang with the rock musician – or also be a musician herself.  Many covers don’t fit neatly into one or another of these categories.

The examples I’m using below were just grabbed from Amazon, not quite randomly, but more with an eye toward demonstrating a style than finding the most impressive example of that style.  I’m not giving these covers awards (though one or two may deserve it), I’m using them to demonstrate a point.

 

Graphic Looks:
There are books which use nothing but type on the cover, sometimes artfully arranged or unusual type.  You see this on self-help books and books by famous names, where someone figured the name alone was enough to sell the book.  This is probably not the best choice for most self publishers.  Stephen King or J.K. Rowling books would sell if they had nothing on the cover but the author’s name.  Maybe you’ll be there too someday, but to get there, you need to sell a serious buttload of books, and unless you’ve already got a huge fan base, a cover with nothing but type probably isn’t going to help that happen.

Mainstream nonfiction often occupies this spare, more graphic territory, mysteries and thrillers sometimes go there.  Humorous fiction often gets a graphic treatment, too, though its frequently in the form of cartoon-like illustrations in flat colors, like animation cells or vector illustrations.

 

BetweenWorldMe CanNCantanker BreathAir
Above: Pure (okay, almost pure) type.  Coates and Ellison both have fan bases.  Not sure about Kalanithi, but I notice his cover starts to incorporate images with that floating feather.  Sometimes type is arranged with other graphic symbols, or small photographic elements.  As images begin to become as important as the type, the graphic approach begins to shade into the photographic or illustrative.

 

EverythingIdont Zeroes XsForEyes
In these three covers, we see photography being integrated with typography.  Often, this approach can create a sort of double-take.  On Khemiri’s book, you think you’re looking at tape or magic marker blotting out words until you notice those rectangles are actually gaps revealing a photo. The approach on Wendig’s Zeroes does something similar – a photo of a young man’s face is formed out of the ones and zeroes of computer code, and it can take a minute to realize what you’re seeing.  X’s for Eyes shows a graphic style that’s been gaining popularity recently, with its elaborate design and flat vector shapes – in this case, adding in high contrast photographs.

 

PerryMason LovecraftCountry Radience
On the lighter side of integrating illustration with graphics, you get the vector cartoon approach that’s been seen on so many light romances (formerly called “chick lit,” which the “chicks” understandably found demeaning, so now they call it “women’s lit,” I think…) and on humorous paranormals.  This look is demonstrated in Kandel’s I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, above left.  Ruff’s Lovecraft Country is also cartoony – though it gives us a sense that it might be a tiny bit more serious while still keeping it’s tongue in its cheek (or someone’s tongue anyway – it’s a Lovecraftian tale, after all).  With Valente’s book, we see  how the graphic vector look can also serve a somewhat more serious subject.

 

Photographic:

Thanks to the proliferation of stock photo houses and free public domain photo databases on the web, it seems as if photographic covers appear now in every genre.  More and more artists these days are doing photo-manipulations, combining various pictures in Photoshop to create a single image.  This can be a matter of a subtle retouch, a completely collaged scene, or anything in between.  The more manipulating the artist does, the closer it gets, I think, to illustration.  Lots of non-fiction and mainstream fiction use photographic looks.  Romance, and paranormal romance, seem to favor photos and photo-manipulations, as do a certain number of steampunk novels.

 

LoveLossAte BlueEyed Stiletto
Photographic covers.  Black and white photos often seem to carry a greater sense of weight and seriousness, probably because historically, B&W photos have been associated with newspapers and serious journalism (What?  There’s such a thing as serious journalism?  Not any more.  Don’t get me started on that.)  Where was I?  Oh, photos, right.  So while you’ll see B&W photos on fiction now and then, they’re most often used on nonfiction.  Color photos, by contrast, seem to promise something less serious and more fun – an upbeat nonfiction tale or a rousing adventure novel.

 

HaPenny Somniscient_th ColdestWar
Photomanipulations can range from the subtlest retouch to the most elaborate collage.  On the cover of Jo Walton’s Ha’penny, for instance, a period photograph has been used with (as far as I can tell) only the minor retouch of placing “Hamlet” and a couple of the character’s names on the theatre marquee.  My cover for Levesque’s The Somniscient utilizes five different photos and a number of vector graphics. With works like The Coldest War, we’re shading into illustration as the artist takes a photo-collage and starts painting over it to give it that hand-illustrated look.

 

Illustration:

Complex photomanipulations and original paintings tend to be somewhat more expensive than stock photos, because they’re much more labor intensive.  However, they do give a more unique look to your book.  Stock photos are licensed over and over to many clients, so you might see the stock photo from your cover on another book.  With illustrations, photos, or photomanips created custom for your book, you’re usually buying an exclusive book cover license, so that won’t happen.  Custom illustration turns up sometimes on mysteries and westerns, but its real redoubt is in science fiction and fantasy.

 

RiverMarked TimeSalvage KarenMemory
Illustration can range from the highly detailed, almost photographic work of someone like Dan Dos Santos, who did the covers for most of Patricia Briggs’ books, to the very painterly work of Richard Anderson on Chu’s Time Salvager.  Somewhere in between are artists like Cynthia Sheppard, whose cover for Karen Memory walks the line between painterly and realistic, with a touch of the graphic thrown in for good measure.

 

On Tone

As David Farland has observed, regardless of how marketing people categorize genre, readers buy books based not so much on genre, per se, as on feeling and emotional tone.  It’s true that certain genres do tend to evoke certain specific emotions – fantasy novels evoke feelings of wonder, horror novels dread and fear, romance novels the rapture of falling in love.  But there are lots of shades of emotion.  The secondary emotional tone of a book has as profound an effect on a reader’s enjoyment as the primary one.  Is the story idealistic and hopeful?  Dark and cynical?  Nostalgic? Is your protagonist just coming of age, finding their identity? An experienced pro in their field?  A world-weary cynic?  When creating a cover for the book that will speak to the readers who will most enjoy that particular story, getting the tone right may be even more important than any signifiers of genre you could come up with.

I said at the outset that the correlations I’ve made here between types of cover approaches and genres are purely my own observations, and not based on any scientific survey.  Nor are they in any sense rules – no one has a gun to your head telling you “Use an illustration on your SF book, sucker, or else.”  But the reality is that you (and your readers) will be best served by making sure that whatever else the cover does, it accurately reflects the emotional tone of your book.

Cover Design: Decapitation Blues

Enough with the Queen of Hearts routine…

I’m so tired of the beheadings. Book covers these days, particularly in certain genres, have become like the French bloody Revolution. Everywhere I look, there seem to be pathetic bodies splayed across covers, their heads severed by the slice of a printer’s trimming machine, and cast off into the Twilight Zone beyond the Margin. These poor bastards’ true faces will never be seen again, never be known, they are forever condemned to wear the ghost face of some character from the book, a face which only exists in a myriad of subtlety different forms in the minds of a myriad of readers.

ScorchedDarknss DragonStorm SpidersBite

I suspect the trend started in romances, all those buff shirtless male protagonists, their heads chopped off by vicious if well-intentioned cover designers, who wanted to leave the particulars of Lord Hottshtuff’s manly-but-kind visage to the imagination of the reader. Soon, the women on those covers joined them, first turning their backs to the reader, then losing their own heads over the whole thing.

OtherworldSecrets CityofBones MsMarvel

Like a cancer, it has spread. Other genres began to join the melee, lopping off character’s heads on science fiction books, murder mysteries (alright, possibly an appropriate choice there), thrillers, fantasies, even westerns. Now I’m seeing it on mainstream literary fiction and nonfiction.

FirstDaughter Negroland Habits

So now I have hope it will stop. Now, it’s no longer just “business as usual” in the ghettos of genre. Now the hysteria and the beheadings have reached uptown, and now rich white people are being affected by it. And now someone will Do Something to put a stop to this madness. Won’t they?

Maybe not. Maybe a few Someones will make a few speeches about how awful it all is, and how those models who sacrificed their heads will never be forgotten, and we’ll all go back to reading as usual, and forget. And then it will happen again…