Author Spotlight: Mike McPhail

  • a writer of military and science fiction short stories, graphic designer, editor, and publisher!

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Mike McPhail.

Nowadays, Mike McPhail is the graphics designer for eSpec Books and freelance as McP Digital Graphics; he handles cover art/text treatment, interior illustrations, and pre-press layout of covers. He still writes and publishes, but the design work pays the bills.

He’s best known for his military/science fiction short stories, many of which were seen in the early Defending The Future anthologies, of which he’s now the series editor and publisher!

Mike, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Less as a pet, and more as a friend and comrade; in my series we have what are known as Parr (named after the researcher that used them for the animal-testing stage of a mind/machine interface device). So imagine a house cat that can communicate via a wireless computer system. Yes, they are intelligent, but still driven by cat-nature.

That sounds pretty awesome!

What do you write and how did you get started?

I’m known for my military/science fiction short stories, many of which were seen in the early Defending The Future anthologies, of which I’m now the series editor and publisher.

I started as a technical writer as part of my engineering degree in aeronautics and that evolved into game design for FASA and Star Trek back in the 80s. Primarily, it was due to my wife (Danielle) that I became a fiction writer. She wanted to write a story set in my MRPG The Alliance Archives (which ran for about a decade, once again in the 80s). So I wrote a short story that was heavy with technical and terminology points as a reference for her. She read it and proclaimed I was a writer, and that I should do this for myself. My first pro-rated story was sold in 2004.

That’s pretty impressive! You went from the person submitting, to the person making the anthology happen. And you clearly have a supportive and amazing wife. And thank you for sharing a truth about being in the publishing industry — where the writing isn’t always where the steady paycheck is.

What do you like to read?

In the early days it was hard science fiction, with Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven at the top of my reading list. Much later, I was introduced to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I spent two decades tracking down and reading all of the books in the series (I miss Terry).

Clarke and Niven are basically classics. And I think we all miss Terry.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Write until you reach The End – Once you start, just keep going until you get it all in the computer, then come back and make corrects and changes.

That doesn’t work for me. I often have to stop and check facts, both real-world and fictional (I’m still using my MRPG as background for my stories).

I’ve been known to fact-check along the way, but I’m curious if the push for the end is less critical when working on a short story?

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Do Your Research/Check Your Facts.

Verify the details whenever you’re unsure (or even if you aren’t) about any real-world or near-future aspects to your story. Better to check, even if you think you know for sure, than to risk being wrong and ruining the story…and your credibility.

Definitely! I hear a lot of talk about not throwing readers out of the story, and getting your facts wrong is one of the easiest ways to do this.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

I’m not writing much right now (though Danielle keeps bugging me to). Most of my time is focused on graphic design and project editing.

Right now we are working on To Hell and Regroup, the final book in The 18th Race trilogy by David Sherman (author of the Demontech series, coauthor of StarFist, StarFist: Force Recon, and Star Wars: The Jedi Trails).

Devil Dancers, a collect of short stories by Robert E. Waters (author and contributor to Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe).

And In Harm’s Way, book 8 in the Defending The Future anthology series, a collection of combat rescue stories.

Thank you.

Logistics and Tactics: Writing Campaigns

Most writers end up writing fight scenes — be they verbal or physical. But some writers, especially if they’re writing historical novels, epic fantasy, or military fiction are going to be in the fight for the long haul. They’re going to writing a Military Campaign.

At Balticon 53, Eric Hardenbrook, Kim Headlee, John Appel, Mike McPhail, and Charles Gannon sat down to talk about the tricks to handling a campaign.

First off? A battle might be won by numbers or technology, but a campaign is run on logistics and tactics.

What Are Logistics?

Logistics are a way of providing whatever the soldier needs.

Be it physical things like beans, bullets, or boards. Or things like transportation, pay, and sleep.

Whatever it is that a soldier needs to do their job well, it’s up to the support staff to provide it. And? Logistics inform the tactics, just as much as terrain and enemy movement.

5 Ways To Portray The Effect Of Logistics When Writing

This is clearly not a comprehensive list, the panel wasn’t long enough for that. But here are some good concepts to consider when incorporating logistics into your writing.

  1. Living off the land. This is a traditional thing for armies to do. It sounds so hippy-dippy, maybe some hunting and trading. But, in reality? It was mostly stealing from farmers and merchants. Plus, plundering whatever cities and towns they conquered.
  2. Account for travel time. Horses need rest, rivers flow in one direction and oceans have tides. Mis-information can have you take 1 day to travel in the wrong direction, and 3 days to travel back. Plus? You still need to feed your army (and any animals or gas/etc your tanks/trucks)
  3. Scavenging. Just because something is broken beyond repair doesn’t mean it doesn’t have useful parts.
  4. Pay attention to carry weight.
    • With historical inspired writing, armour and gear can weigh a lot.As you get more modern, the gear and protection keep getting lighter — so we keep adding more stuff to keep our troops safer. And more trucks of supplies and gadgets.In modern/futuristic setting, you might just think you can print out what you need on demand. Just know that real-life 3d printers are SLOW. And you still have to carry the component materials.
  5. In The Field. When not in outright battle, securing parameters, calming citizens in your occupied territory, etc — all these things are going to require actual people, on their feet, face-to-face with hopefully non-violent citizens, often mixed with enemies in disguise. No matter how high tech you get, there’s probably going to be people involved on the front lines. Unless you annihilate everything.

Writing Campaigns Versus Battles, 7 Things To Think About.

Once again, this is just a list of suggestions. Things that come up during campaigns that show up less during a battle. There are millions of differences, but here are a few.

  1. Logistics matter. A lot.
  2. Soldiering has a lot of down time. What sort of mischief do the soldiers get into in their off time?
  3. There are more support personnel than front line fighters.
  4. What to do with the ‘problem soldiers’, that haven’t gotten themselves kicked out yet.
    • Great thing to do – if you’re a writer – give them a mission. You either get the mission accomplished, or you’ve got fewer mouths to feed.
  5. The modern Command and Control Center isn’t some guy standing there barking orders (typically). It’s more like 20 people staring at different screens with information coming in, and the guy ‘in charge’ standing around going “hmmmm…” and hopefully listening to his subject matter experts.
  6. Orders aren’t barked out last minute. Any halfway competent military is going to have multiple plans, and contingency plans. When it’s go time? The order’s more like: We’re good to go for Plan B, modification 3.
  7. Reverse engineering. Romans were huge into this! It’s been around for a while. Don’t assume just because one army has the technical advantage that they’re going to keep it for long.
    • In fantasy, if you’ve got magic with verbal and physical components, people are going to be spying.
    • My thought? Add some extra things, and hide some of the real requirements to throw them off!

A Few Closing Thoughts on War

Friendly fire. Is it?
Military intelligence. Is it?
Just-in-time supplies. Are they?

“War is entropy, not order.”

“If you would have peace, prepare for war”


Have you written any campaigns? Any tips that our panelists ran out of time to mention?

Thank you for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips from my over-24-hours-of-Balticon53-programming to share!

Author Spotlight: Keith DeCandido

  • a prolific and award-winning author of fantasy novels and media tie-ins

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Keith DeCandido

Keith DeCandido's profile picture. He's a white male with wavy shoulder-length brown hair, with a neatly trimmed beard and moustache, wearing a red shirt and rectangular glasses.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is celebrating the silver anniversary of his fiction writing career, having sold his first short story in 1994. He has written extensively in the world of media tie-in fiction, having penned tales in the worlds of TV shows (Star Trek, Doctor Who, Farscape, Supernatural), movies (Alien, Cars, Kung Fu Panda, Resident Evil), comic books (Spider-Man, Thor, the X-Men, the Hulk), and games (World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, StarCraft, Summoner’s War).

His original works take place in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End (Dragon Precinct and its sequels) and Super City (The Case of the Claw and several shorter works), as well as the somewhat real locales of Key West (his various tales of Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet) and New York City (his new urban fantasy series which debuted this year with A Furnace Sealed).

Keith is also a critic, writing regularly for the pop-culture site Tor.com, as well as for his own Patreon; a martial artist, having achieved his third-degree black belt in 2017; an editor, having worked for clients both corporate and personal; and a musician, currently playing percussion for the parody band Boogie Knights.

Keith, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

A small dragon, kinda like Lockheed in the X-Men comics.

Classic. Most writers of fantasy prefer dragons, you clearly have good taste.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries, with a bit of horror thrown in. I got started, actually, as an editor. I was one of the SF/F editors for the late Byron Preiss from 1993-1998. During that time, I got lots of writing opportunities, and I took advantage, pitching stories to Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Magic: The Gathering, and Doctor Who anthologies.

Wow! So you learned the market and what to look out for. What a great way to learn the business. And it’s definitely worked out for you.

What do you like to read?

I wish I had more time to read. On those rare occasions when that happens, I tend toward mysteries and books about baseball.

I hear you on the lack of time to read! I can see the influence of the mysteries in your procedurals. And I’ve talked to you for more than five minutes, so I’m REALLY not surprised about the baseball.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

If you are struggling with a scene, skip to the next one and fill the current one in later.

I simply cannot work like that. My first draft has to be linear. There have been times when I’ve realized that a scene needs to be inserted later on, but that’s different—when I’m going through on the draft, I can’t skip ahead, I have to stay on the track I’m on. It’s maddening.

I work the same way. I can do little vignettes that help me world and character build, but I’m not sure how I’m going to get where I’m going and I have to just write through.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

The first draft is allowed to suck.

Just power through and finish it, then you can go back and make it better when it’s a completed work.

If it weren’t for this guidance, I don’t think I’d’ve ever finished a draft. It’s so freeing.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

I have three new novels and five new short stories out in 2019:

A Furnace Sealed, launching my new urban fantasy series set in my home borough of the Bronx, came out in February.

A Furnace Sealed: The Adventures of Bram Gold Book 1 by [DeCandido, Keith R.A.]

Bram Gold is a Courser, a hunter-for-hire who deals with supernatural creatures, mystical happenings, and things that go booga-booga in the night. Under the supervision of the Wardein—his childhood friend Miriam Zerelli, who is in charge of all magical activity in the Bronx, New York—he’s who you hire if you need a crazed unicorn wrangled, some werewolves guarded while they gallivant around under the full moon, or an ill-advised attempt to bind a god stopped.

The Bronx is the home to several immortals, who are notoriously hard to kill—so it comes as rather a surprise when one of them turns up murdered, seemingly by a vampire. In addition, binding spells all across town are either coming undone, failing to work, or are difficult to restore. As Bram investigates, more immortals turn up dead, and a strange woman keeps appearing long enough to give cryptic advice and then disappear. Soon, he uncovers a nasty sequence of events that could lead to the destruction of New York!

The first in a new series of urban fantasy thrillers taking place in the Boogie-Down Bronx from best-selling, award-winning author Keith R.A. DeCandido.

Mermaid Precinct by [DeCandido, Keith R.A.]

And Mermaid Precinct, the latest in my fantasy/police procedural series, came out in June.

Humans and elves, dwarves and gnomes, wizards and warriors all live and do business in the thriving, overcrowded port city of Cliff’s End, to say nothing of the tourists and travelers who arrive by land and sea, passing through the metropolis on matters of business or pleasure—or on quests. The hard-working, under-appreciated officers of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard work day and night to maintain law and order as best they can.

My Alien novel Isolation will be out in July, and is available for preorder. And I’ve got stories in the anthologies Footprints in the Stars, Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals & Gizmos, Unearthed, Thrilling Adventure Yarns, and Release the Virgins!

You can find me online at www.DeCandido.net, which is a handy guide to all my online homes, including my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, plus links to my Patreon, ordering links for my most recent books, and links to my work for Tor.com.

Morgan’s Convention Recap For Balticon 53

After 4 days and over 24 hours of panels, events, and parties, I’m home from Balticon.

I may have overdone it a touch, even though this clearly wasn’t my first time. But! I definitely followed my own rules and didn’t miss more than 1 shower, 1 meal, or one-half of a night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, when you’re going all out like this, it can make you more vulnerable to a thing called “con crud”. Usually, an unpleasant cold, but can be quite dangerous for people with compromised immune systems. I know it stinks, especially after having waited all year and paid your fees but if you’re sick, stay home. Or wear a mask and haul around hand sanitizer.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing my notes from the panels that I can. Some panels make for poor posts, and I don’t blog workshops or lectures as those belong to a certain person or are focused more for participants. But, here’s the high-level overview of the ridiculousity that I got up to over Memorial Day Weekend.

Friday:

I was off to a late start getting to Balticon, including a car fire blocking 2 lanes during errands, before I even managed to head out. I’ve been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago, narrated by Simon Vance — both of whom I was on a voice acting panel with last November. I hadn’t listened to an audiobook in nearly 10 years, but thanks to an extra two hours of traffic, I made significant progress. It definitely kept the traffic from aggravating me.

Once at the hotel, I determined that my roommate’s assessment of “I think I put your name on the room” was mistaken. So, I left my bags with the concierge and went to registration. 10 minutes later, we were well into the 4 o’clock hour, so that helped lower the 65-panels-in-35-time-slots that I’d been eyeing, down to 63 panels in 34 time slots.

I checked out the dealers room, then hit my first panel of 5 for the night. In the midst of those panels, I got my room situation sorted out (“missing” another panel slot).

After a couple panels, I ran into my roommate/dad and he invited me to join him and few friends of his for dinner. By the time we all gathered and seated, there were only 15 minutes before a friend of mine was having a reading. So? I hit the buffet and asked for my check by the time everyone had gotten drinks and were placing their orders.

All-in-all on Friday, I attended “Logistics and Tactics: Writing Campaigns”, “CSI: Fantasy Edition”, an author reading with Doc Coleman, Jamaila Brinkley, and Mike Ventrella, “Writing Motivation for Doomsday Cults”, and a filk tribute to Mars and the Opportunity Rover.

Saturday

My morning started off with “But I’m Not A YA Author: Women in Speculative Fiction”, “How To Be A Good Moderator” (for that eventual day when I’m a longed-for panelist), and “Principles of Roman Hairstyling” Having loved Janet Stephen’s Youtube channel, I was excited to watch her presentation live.

I kept a bit busier on Saturday. My lunch break was carrots, humas, and pita in my room during a reluctant, but necessary break.

Next up were “Practicing Your Pitch”, “Dynamic Voice Acting”, “Improving Your Pitch”, and “Investigating Mysteries: Out-of-the-box thinking that solved strange cases” (by a hoax investigator).

I’d suggested to my dinner compatriots that we ORDER chinese, rather than go out, since so many wanted to be back in time for the Masquerade (or panels, in my case). We ended up letting the organizer know what our orders were at the meet up time, and then they insisted on walking over and ordering the food in person. Um, calling, then walking over could have saved 10 minutes! Ahhh, not everyone is a wiz with logistics, like I am. After a somewhat scattered dinner, I helped carry the cake and snacks up to the room for the DC 2021 party I’d help host later.

I did make it to a reading, featuring Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Keith DeCandido, and Ben Rovik, with a choose-your-own-adventure story, that was directed by audience acclaim. I, and the rest of the audience greatly enjoyed all the readings.

Outside of the convention that evening, there was a bit of concern, where two groups of Baltimore teens apparently crashed? I heard several things, from flash mob that was heavily monitored, to Prom kids hitting other teen clusters and clashing? I do know people were being arrested, and that the hotel closed off the doors on that side of the building, trying to keep us away from the disturbance. :/

Safely inside, I headed off to my rooms to help host the DC WorldCon 2021 “bid party”.

I showed up to the room party just as it started and slipped into my dragon costume. The party was snacks and drinks and letting people sign up for early memberships, if they were interested. And cake!

As no one is running against DC and it would be local for most attendees of Balticon, we had no detractors that I’m aware of.

Sunday

I woke early, with some thoughts on my roommate’s pitch I’d heard the day before in one of the pitch workshops. (You might have noticed that I’m addicted to rewriting queries…) Scribbling frantically on my notepad, I waved a roommate on into the shower, then realized my 1st intended panel was at 10, not 11! And my shoes were in the bathroom! I pulled my hair back, tossed on a dress, and got there just after the intro for the “Architecture and World building Workshop”. After that let out, I headed back to the room to get more properly bathed and dressed. As a button-eyed-doll.

Podcasting 101 was near my room, and I got drawn in, even though the panel was half-done by then…

Morgan, in a red dress, covered by a white apron, dark glasses, with white button eyes. Her brown hair is in pigtails, with yarn hair-falls

My afternoon was, surprise, surprise, full of panels. I hit “Advancing the Story Without Traumatizing Your Characters”, “YouTube Survival Guide”, the artist Guest of Honor’s slide show, discussing his collaboration with the late, great Ursula LeGuin. Then, to make sure I learn to do better “Consent Violation and Bystander Interventions”. After that, with the hope of figuring out the real difference, I attended “Coming-of-Age vs YA”. “Improving Your Readings” was a solid panel (but I thought it was going to be a workshop), and I enjoyed a story hour at the “Myths and Folktales of the Igbo people”.

I may have overdone it. There wasn’t really a lunch break, or even a bio break in there. I darted outside to find quick food. There was a cop car parked on the corner sidewalk with two young officers. I asked where the Subway was. They pointed around the corner, where it lay in plain sight. And one of the officers asked if my costume was from Coraline and smiled when I said “yes”.

The Subway had no line! I did spot another pair of cops patrolling on the backside of the hotel when I returned. Clearly, trying to avoid another evening like Saturday’s.

I scurried back into the hotel and managed to stay for most of the first half of the eBook’s massive launch party event in the Con Suite. (Although, they had food, so maybe I should have scrounged. But, my sub was mostly healthy, so we’ll dub it a decent call.) I got to hear a reading, and joined a few people at their table so I could sit. Excellent conversations! But, of course, I ducked out before the raffle, because there were MORE panels!

Next up was “Sex, Sexuality, and Worldbuilding”. Excellent moderation kept it useful for writing instead of falling down the very easily found rabbit holes. And then, “This Kaiju Life LIVE!” a hilarious podcast about government bureaucracy, with a Dilbert-esque main character and tons of crazy shenanigans.

Then? It was time for the DC 2021 party REDUX, because we had food and drink leftovers to spare. I was in and out a bit. But, got complimented on my vlog by one of the guests, which made my night. Clean-up was smooth.

Monday

Holy bleep, Morgan! There’s MORE?

Not that much.

I woke up in time for “The Future of Podcasting” (when my sniffles started to show up), packed and wandered. Then hit “Mythology, Philosophy, and Video Games” — which was a discussion, not a panel. Because I hadn’t been on the room reservation, I hadn’t gotten my parking validated, so I took care of that and dropped off my bags. I’d intended to hit some more panels, but by then, I was starting to fade. So, I reluctantly skipped “The Good Place as Dystopian Fiction” and headed out.

Morgan, hair pulled back, in a blue t-shirt with white letters: "Writing is my JAM!"

I was blessed with a smooth drive home — 2 hours shorter than the drive up — I finished my audio book 5 minutes after getting home. After messaging my thanks on the Baltimore Science Fiction Society‘s facebook page, my sinus pressure turned into a headache and the cold hit in full force. I’d gotten home just in time. And it was time to nap.


All-in-all? Another excellent convention. Far too many great panels — especially at the same times and/or at meal-times!

Looking forward to overdoing it again, next year.


Have you ever attended a convention? How did YOU fill your time?

Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll be starting on sharing these panel notes next week.

Author Spotlight: Deborah Maroulis

  • an author of contemporary novels

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Deborah Maroulis

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses, outdoor and closeup

Deborah Maroulis is an author of powerful and moving contemporary novels for teenagers. Born and raised in a small town in Northern California, she resides with her husband, two children, and her daughter’s semi-retired service dog.

She also teaches English and mythology at her local community college and studying myth and depth psychology in her Ph.D. program. She is represented by the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York.

Deborah, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Hmmm, any pet I want… honestly, and I know it’s cliche, but I would get a cat. I’ve had at least one cat my entire life except for the last eight years because my husband doesn’t like them. I miss being treated like a second class citizen by something that fits in my lap. What can I say?

Cats are pretty restful. I have allergies, but I’m still wishing I had one again…

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write issue-driven YA contemporary novels loosely based on Greek and Roman myths or mythological archetypes.

One Halloween, roughly three and a half years ago, I made the rash decision to try NaNoWriMo. I’d heard of it from some friends and was completely overwhelmed at the idea of writing 50,000 words in thirty days.

I mean, who does that?

I had to see if I could. After I handed out the last of the candy, I shut off the light and pulled out an old idea I’d been playing with—a story about what happens to the quiet girl when her best friend suddenly isn’t there anymore. That story turned into WITHIN AND WITHOUT!

Ha! I think there’s a lot of us out there who got our starts with NaNoWriMo. It’s a set timeframe and goal that can be the push to finally write that novel you’ve got in there!

What do you like to read?

I love reading historical fiction and YA contemporary most, but I try and read from a lot of different genres and age groups. This year, I’ve delved into gripping middle grade novels and novels in verse. I’ve also read some women’s fiction and noir. And, of course, as a grad student, I have to read a ton of academic books. At least they deal with all kinds of mythologies and psychology.

I try to read historical fiction and YA contemporary, but am mostly into fantasy and science-fiction. When I branch out, though, I find myself devouring them. Yay for getting to study mythologies!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Use beat sheets.

I know they are super valuable for a lot of writers and I get why. My issue is I get so bogged down trying to get everything perfect and in the right spots that I lose the story. It’s better for me to follow my outline and then go back and edit for pacing. (Shout out to my CP, Dante Medena for being the pacing queen!)

I use beat sheets sometimes when doing my super-high-level outline at the start, and after writing my first draft to check my pacing. But, I can understand not using them. They can feel constraining.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Plot using the hero’s journey

It may be my degree talking, but I will always use the hero’s journey to plot my stories. It’s so universal that even the “other” plot maps follow the same structure. Once you get the basics down, it’s easy to vary it a bit to keep people guessing.

Ha! No wonder beat sheets don’t work for you! With the hero’s journey to help with your pacing, you’d be doubling up.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Yay, my favorite part! (Juuuust kidding.) If you’d like to find out more about me or WITHIN AND WITHOUT, you can check out my website at www.deborahmaroulis.com or follow me on Twitter @yaddathree or on Instagram at @deb.maroulis.

Within and Without by [Maroulis, Deborah]

Some people go to great lengths to fit in. But how far is too far?

Described as “unflinching and authentic,” WITHIN AND WITHOUT is a stunning debut that touches on a teenage girl’s emotionally haunting journey to self acceptance “that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.”