Author Spotlight: Mari Tishner

  • Writer * Expat * Pug Owner

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Mari Tishner.

Mari lives in southern Germany with her husband and pug, where she regales others of her adventures as an expat in the Land of Beer and Pretzels on her blog and youtube channel Adventures of La Mari.com. The God Queen is her first novel.

Mari, 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?

Hands down a raccoon. I have wanted one ever since I saw Pocahontas when it came out (I was about 9 at the time). Meeko was the coolest! Although I do own a pug, after falling in love with Percy from the same movie. But my inner nine-year-old still wants a raccoon. They are not native to Germany so you don’t see them often so I have had to resort to following Pumpkin the Raccoon on Instagram

Awww! What a cute choice. I hope they’re as snuggly in person as they are in your dreams.

What do you write and how did you get started?

At the moment, I write sci fi – but I do have plans for a contemporary story based on my experiences as an American living in Germany, which I would like to probably have traditionally published.

I got started very young. I love stories. I have notebooks that I filled with scribbles even before I really knew how to write because I always loved the ideas of having a book filled with my words. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher would bring in 4th graders once a week to help us with writing. It was my favorite thing to do because I had all these stories in my head but I didn’t know how to write it out! I have always had an overactive imagination and being able to write helps me bring these stories and worlds to life. 

While I was still honing my debut novel, I kept my writing up by maintaining my expat blog. It was also a way for my family to keep with up my adventures in Germany, but also forced me to keep a schedule, even if I wasn’t working on my novel – I was always writing!

It seems a lot of writers have been dreaming about it since they were young. It’s great to see your dream coming true! I know from experience that keeping a blog and finishing a novel can be a real struggle. Congrats!

What do you like to read?

Fantasy and Sci Fi all the way! I love one with a good (and healthy) romance. I will literally read anything by Sarah J. Maas and Tamora Pierce. Books that I have reread so many times that I have lost count: A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, The Song of the Lioness Quartet and Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce, The Symphony of Ages of Elizabeth Haydon, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

Oooh! You’re listing a lot of writers on my list, ones that I’d use as near-comps for my own work-in-progress. I’m taking that as an indication that your novel is going to be Right Up My Alley! What a great selection.

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

Write what you know.

I write sci fi and while I do have a science background (biology degree + 9 years as a microbiologist), I can’t tell you the exact reason why faster-than-light is impossible – but I know there are ways around it that can be explained to a non-scientifically inclined person. I don’t what it’s like to fly in a ship and I was never in the military so I am also a bit at a loss when writing about it. So I have to research – thank goodness for the internet!

While I do use this advice where I can, I know it can’t apply to everything. If I did write what I know, I would only write about being Peruvian American living in Germany with her pug….wait I already do that!

So true! Especially for science-fiction and fantasy, we have to think outside the box to write. Luckily, we do know people — we know ourselves. And, I think, the most important part is to have our humanity bleed through into our writing.

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

Keep writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.

Keep writing. Don’t stop. Don’t worry about it being perfect the first time, it won’t be. In the words of Stephen King: “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

Indeed. Persistence is the name of the game, more than anything else in the writing world. And you’ve done it!

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

My debut novel, The God Queen, was released on October 22!

The return of the God Queen is not what everyone hoped…

The God Queen (Rebirth Book 1) by [Tishner, M. L.]

Humans have long since spread their numbers among the stars. Now far, far into the future, war has torn the Tyre Star Cluster into two major political factions. The militant Dominion have gained the upper hand in the last decade when their champion murdered the hope of the progressive Federation: Niklaryn Ettowa. Some considered the war to be almost won.

Yet there are those who claim the war will not be ended by mortals…but by the rebirth of the gods.

Rei lived most of her life bartending on one Earth’s backwater towns. She daydreams of something more, traveling the stars, and destroying the man who murdered her brother Niklaryn. Her dream is within her grasp only if she accepts her fate as the God Queen.

Bronx is disillusioned with being a reincarnated god, let alone a reaper. He pays his penance by keeping people at a distance and taking up the mantle of a combat medic. When the sister of his old mentor Niklaryn storms in to join the cause will he find something worth fighting for?

Together with others, they must help the Federation tip the scales in their favor, but everyone seems to have their own plans for what the gods should do.

Jupiter Ascending meets X-Men in this epic New Adult space opera bursting with star-crossed romance, elemental magic, and an adventure across the star cluster, perfect for fans of A Spark of White Fire.

Here’s a sneak peek!

If you want to read more about TGQ, check out my website: http://mltishner.com

If you want to read about my adventures in Germany, check out: http//adventuresoflamari.com

Author Spotlight: D. W. Welsh

  • a veteran journalist, research editor, writer of both fiction and non-fiction

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to D. W. Welsh.

D. W. Welsh/David W. Wooddell is a veteran journalist, retired from National Geographic magazine in 2009 as a Research Editor. Since that time, he has self published a few non-fiction history books, and two novellas. David served as editor & publisher of his wife’s book about the cleanup in Ellicott City, MD after the 2018 flood, called EC Stories. Under the pen name of D. W. Welsh, he has begun publishing novellas.

David, 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?

I think the genetically engineered living fur pet that appears in one of Lois Bujold’s novels would be lovely. Don’t have to feed it except with cuddles, don’t have to clean up after it, and it is always glad to see you.

My sheltie dogs are like that, and so is my hound named Baby Bel, but of course, I do have to feed and water them, and take them out to do their business, and clean up after them. I love them, but sometimes it would be great to have a less burdensome pet.

The perfect choice to curl up on the couch with — with a good book!

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write a little of everything. I love history, so I wrote a history of a Civil War regiment that was 30 years in research. I was trying to answer my grandfather’s question of what happened to his grandfather in the war – because Warwick Wooddell was mortally wounded on May 19, 1864 while a private in the 31 st Virginia Infantry, and my grandfather never had a chance to meet him.

Coming out of university, I wanted to be a novelist. I was a very bad writer, the stuff was crap on paper. But many of the plots, characters, and settings worked well. I seem to do better at the story aspects, and less well at the actual writing, so I’ve had to work hard on learning to write better. I’ve tried my hand at that a dozen times, but this past summer I finally produced two novellas I felt were good enough to publish.

Wow! What a wide variety. And a great reminder that we’re often our own greatest critiques.

What issues are important to you in your writing?

Human rights and the dignity of all humans is the most important theme for me. For instance, in my novella Argonaut, the main character named Angel is concerned with the disparity of wealth and poverty, and immigrants to America were influenced by poverty in 1897. In the yet-to be named sequel, in 1898, she travels to Jamaica where she encounters the situation of the “coolies” who were the migrant, indentured laborers brought to the Caribbean from India and other parts of Asia to replace the slaves.

Definitely some heavy stuff. It’s easy to tell where your real-world concerns show through in your writing.

What do you like to read?

I love good historical fiction, including Alan Furst’s very atmospheric novels about the resistance and spies in Europe during WW2. I also love science fiction. I’ve read and listened to many audio books, but have almost memorized the Vorkosigan novels of Lois M. Bujold. The Expanse books of James S. A. Carey are absorbing. Jacqueline Carey’s work is a major favorite, I love the novels she writes, and listen often to the audio books of her work. I think her Starless is one of the best fantasies out there.

For suspense and mystery, the Virgil Flower novels of John Sandford; the work of Louise Penny, Jusi Adler-Olsen, and surprising to me, Robert Galbraith’s wonderful detective novels (written, of course by J. K. Rowling under her pen name.) I love the character she created of the one-legged private detective Cormoran Strike. I’m also a great fan of Sarah Waters, and her novel Tipping the Velvet.

You’re taking the advise to be widely read to heart, clearly! What a great selection.

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

Conflict is necessary on every page.

All of them, apparently! I’m not a natural writer, so I have to work hard at writing a legible sentence. I’m not a stylist – I have stacks of books by famous authors on how to improve style. Bah! I place them near the head of my bed so the advice will sink in, but it never does. I was an English major in college – but didn’t graduate because my grades were so bad and I just couldn’t bother to attend classes often enough. I’ve had six years of undergrad and still no degree.

But on a more specific note – the idea that conflict is necessary on every page is vastly overdone.

The theories were the product of the writer’s rooms of television sitcoms. Yes. There must be some sense of tension, but life is not conflict at every turn. Television shows need conflict, but most of us don’t write for TV, nor do we write for half-hour shows that only get 18 minutes of actual screen time because of commercials. I don’t watch TV news, I read the news online from the NY Times, Washington Post, and many other quality journalism organizations.

TV news is so absorbed in reporting conflict that I wonder if their reporters and anchors ever experience long form journalism. Or get out of the studio and experience life. I don’t believe in or agree with the idea that we should be putting a conflict on ever page.

I believe interesting characters and situations make stories worthwhile to read. When I read stories by European writers, in translation, I find a totally different feel of characters, places, and the plots are not all based on bang bang bang, conflict conflict conflict.

I also think too many writers think violence is the centerpiece of conflict. I’ve been trying to write non- violent stories in which interesting things happen. There are conflicts, but there are also mediators, and people who help resolve conflict, or who look for alternative ways around the conflicts. For instance, when violence happens in Argonaut, it is a surprise to the reader, just as most often violence occurs as a surprise in real life.

With your background as a journalist, it’s not surprising that this issue is so heart felt. And I agree, there are plenty of ways to build tension and get the readers emotionally invested without outright conflict. So many writers think that conflict needs to be physical, or the readers will miss it. Readers are more intelligent than some give them credit for.

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

Write every day.

Set aside a time that works for you, and stick to it. Write your journal, if nothing else, even if you were boring and did nothing, you should make it sound like something. When in doubt, describe the room, the art on the walls, the glimpses of nature through the window. Write. Write. Write. And practice interviewing people without them realizing that is what you are doing. Record patterns of speech, and make notes of conversations.

That’s one I have to pass on (unless you count social media), unless I’m actively creating a rough draft. But I do do my best to make sure I’m sitting down several times a week to work on my writing..

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Under my non-de-plume of D. W. Welsh:

Argonaut: An Angel and Gabri Adventure is a historical novella that brings the reader into the high-tension end of 1897 and the belle époque.

Angel and Gabri must put on a brave front in the face of danger and intrigue to succeed and survive in the high-stakes game of international arms. From Paris to New York and Baltimore, two young French researchers move through privileged berths to gritty shipyards in search of the prized submarine secrets of the Argonaut.

But who is really paying them? Are they the natural children of the famous author Monsieur V, or the dupes of secret services across Europe?

Jars is a relatively gentle comedy of manners.

Following a massive population crash, Lem, Jane, and their children, like so many others, turned to farming.

But now, civilization is returning and with progress comes choices. Families can be created in many ways, and so can children. Everyone wants to live happily ever after, including gay curmudgeon farmer ‘Jars’ Wilson, who builds his family of choice with lesbians Liz and Sylvia.

Set largely in rural America, it shines a warm and humorous light on our right to live as we choose.

My stories often have people of alternate sexuality or gender in them. I have many friends who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or some mixture of all or none of above. I don’t look to exploit such themes, but rather include them as I do in real life, as part of the multi-faceted real world.

For my non-fiction:

If you read archives of the National Geographic magazine, you may spot me referenced in the footnotes on many articles, credited as a researcher under David W. Wooddell.

And Books

Hoffman’s Army: The Thirty First Virginia Infantry : A book that has been described as “one of the best narratives of the war fought by the soldiers themselves.”

Steam Locomotives: Nineteenth Century Engineering is a visual catalogue of historic illustrations of steam engines, from the origin of such inventions to the 1870. It’s a book for railroad enthusiasts.

Author Spotlight: Robert E. Waters

  • game designer, game publisher, and writer!

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Robert E. Waters.

Robert E Waters is a game designer/producer by day, and moonlights as an author on nights and weekends. He’s been in the gaming industry since 1994 and currently works for BreakAway Games in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Since 2003, he’s been a published author of over 60 stories seen in print and online magazines and anthologies. He is also a frequent contributor to Eric Flint’s alternate history series, 1632/Ring of Fire, and had just wrapped up a novel (1636: Calabar’s War) set in that universe with Charles E Gannon.

Robert, 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?

The jaguar. Pound for pound, it has the strongest bite of any big cat in the world, and its role in Mayan culture makes it a powerful mythological symbol. For the Maya, the jaguar was the ruler of the Underworld, and a symbol of the night sun. It represents power, aggressiveness. The jaguar gives us the power to face our fears, to confront our enemies. Plus, it has a damn beautiful coat of fur. The jaguar also plays prominently in many stories of one of my favorite science fiction authors: Lucius Shepard (may he rest in peace). I can’t think of a better pet/companion than the Night Sun.

Beautiful and powerful choice!

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write science fiction and fantasy mostly, though I have been known to dabble a bit in straight fiction (“Mekong Ghosts”) and poetry (“The Cassini 500”). To date, I have roughly 60 stories published in various online and print magazines and anthologies. I have more stories published than novels, but I’m working to bring better balance to the Force with at least two novels published later this year (see below). 

I’ve always been interested in writing stories. From the time I was 3-4 years old at least. But I guess the first legitimate try at writing something substantial came in Middle School, after reading The Lord of the Rings. You know you’ve stumbled on something great and rare when you begin to cry at the end, not wanting it to stop. LotRs was a big early influence, and so too the fiction of Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Clifford Simak, Alfred Bester, and the writers at the time publishing in Asimov’s and Analog Science Fiction magazines. I had subscriptions to both, and to this day, maintain my Asimov’s subscription. 

My first legit try at writing was a horrendously bad pastiche of LoTRs. Between seventh and eighth grade, I banged out 50 or so pages (front and pack, single-spaced) of an adventure that, thank the gods, I don’t remember at all today. About ten years ago I stumbled upon my old box of early writings, and that manuscript was still in there. But, praise Jesus, all the ink had faded away, leaving clean, blank pages that I could have used again. The words today would be much better. Small miracles…

My first real publication came in Weird Tales, 2003, with a story about an assassin facing retirement. A few years later, I published another, and then another, and in 2009, I hit the motherlode with three publications. It kind of steamrolled at that point and now I’m writing novels.

Congrats! What a great path, and I’m glad you made it.

What do you like to read?

Pretty much everything. Fiction mostly, though in my research for stories/novels, I read a lot of non-fiction. Most recently, I was reading Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm, which was an all-female concentration camp run by the Nazi’s north of Berlin during WWII. Not a fun read, but necessary for a story I’m considering writing. I’ve also been researching North Vietnamese fighter aces for an alternate history story that I finished recently. So, by virtue of the job, a writer winds up reading everything. I’ve learned more about the world and the human condition being a writer than I ever did in school.

Oh wow. What a powerful story to be working on. It’s always best when you can tell that the writers did their research, and bring their hearts to the subject.

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

Write what you know.

It works for some; not for me. At least not yet. I’ve never been interested in writing mundane stories about my mundane life. Well, perhaps my life isn’t always so mundane, but I don’t need to write that story. I’ll let others write those stories. I need to write stories about people whose lives I want to emulate, even if they are living hundreds of years in the future, or are throwing fireballs at oncoming hordes in epic fantasy battles. Those are the stories I like to read. Those are the one I like to write

Especially in science-fiction and fantasy (and hopefully horror) writing, this is probably the most ignored advice. Of course, filtering it through a lens of your learned experiences gives it a level of realism.

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

Go for the visceral

I ’m not sure I’ve ever heard it pitched as a piece of advice, but I always go for the visceral, as defined “relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.” I like to think that my work has some intelligence about it, but I want you to feel something when you read my stories, good or bad. Sometimes, I’ve succeeded; sometimes, I’ve failed. But I always try.

That’s the ephemeral dream for me, when I write. To make the reader feel what I want them to: nostalgia, fear, excitement — whatever makes the connect and makes the story resonate long after they’ve put down the book.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

On November 1, I have a full collection of my Devil Dancers stories coming from e-Spec Books, DEVIL DANCERS.

I Am the Lightning Flashing and Streaking!

Beneath the stars or flying up among them, the Ga’an dance a deadly dance. Apache Devil Dancers take to the skies to defeat the ruthless Gulo, an alien race bent on the destruction of humanity. Led by Captain Victorio “Tomorrow’s Wind” Nantan, the 3rd Sol fighter Wing follows a long tradition, adapting the dance to make them an ace squadron, but will it be enough?

It is hard to hold faith in the face of a never-ending foe, when life and limb are sacrificed with no end anyone wants to see in sight. But Captain Victory comes from a long line of fierce warriors and he is more than ready to take the fight to the enemy.

Devil Dancers is a collection of seven action-packed tales, the culmination of 10 years of stories. I’m quite excited about this release. Love the cover!


So far this year, I’ve had a story (“Extraction”) published in Charles E Gannon’s LOST SIGNALS anthology, which is set in his very successful Tales of the Terran Republic series.


I’ve also had a story (“Medicine Man”) recently published in IN HARM’S WAY, Book 8 Mike and Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s mil-sf series, Defending the Future

And a little later this year, my story “The Cud Brigade,” will appear in NOT FAR FROM ROSWELL.

I have a couple novels to be released later this year, as well.

First up, THE LAST HURRAH, which is a media tie-in novel set in Mantic Games’ Dreadball Universe. It follows the attempted comeback of a famous Dreadball player who’s fallen on hard times, and the men and women he has to coach to glory… or defeat. It’s currently scheduled for a late September release. 

And finally, book 2 in my City of the Gods trilogy, THE SWORDS OF EL CID, scheduled for a late November release. This novel follows the adventures of Catherine of Aragon and her companion, Fymurip Azat, as they seek El Cid’s famous/infamous swords, Tizona and Colada.

Check him out at http://roberternestwaters.com/

Author Spotlight: Lisanne Norman

  • writer of the 9-book Sholan Alliance series.

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Lisanne Norman!

 
A Scots writer living in California, she just completed a 9 book series for DAW Books Inc. called The Sholan Alliance, where Science Fiction meets Fantasy and Magic!




Lisanne, 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 dragon, I love dragons. Or a tiger. Or both! I’ve loved big cats since I visited a tiger rescue ranch in Berlin and was able to pet one of the tigers there thanks to his owner holding my hand. Tiger noses are dry, not wet like our domestic kitties, and their fur feels like that of a Corgi breed of dog – rough not smooth.

Excellent choices. And wow! I didn’t know that about tiger noses. So sweet.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I began writing at 8 years old because I ran out of books to read.

How difficult could it be, I thought!

My parents encouraged me by buying me a child’s typewriter for Christmas that year. By the time I reached 12 I had graduated to the old fashioned Remington typewriter they bought for me. It was a beast of a machine! You needed a sledgehammer approach to it because of the few sticky keys.

My first job saw me getting a nice portable typewriter which was blissful after the Remington! But it was when I was 36 that the real breakthrough came with my friend Marsha offering to take my book home with her at Christmas to her sister in New York.

Why would your sister be interested in my book, I asked.

“She’s an editor with DAW Books.”

Once I picked myself off the floor where I had fallen in shock, we laid plans for me to send my book to her a chapter at a time so as to get it ready for her sister for Christmas. It was hard work, but we made it!

The rest is history as they say, with DAW buying the book and me learning so very much from my Editor in reworking the novel.

That had to be an amazing experience. Who you know can help, but you clearly still need to put in the work!

What do you like to read?

I love a good Science Fiction Book, but will read Fantasy that is different. I really don’t like books about yet another quest to find the magic sword/cup/lost princess/prince. Favorite authors include Lois McMasters Bujold, Julie Czernada, Gini Koch for her sense of humor. In fact most of my favorite authors are also with DAW I discovered when I examined my bookshelves.

Our tastes heavily overlap — not surprising since I enjoy your writing as well.

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

“If it comes easily to you when you are writing, it can’t be good”

This was told to me by a friend who helped me a lot when I was learning my craft, but he was wrong with this piece of advice. Everyone is different, and once I get into my story or novel, it just flows. Yes, I have the odd hiccup like anyone else, but then out comes my paper and pencil and I get down to writing it longhand.

Oh wow. I’m always a bit jealous of the writers whose stories just flow. 3,000 words in a day is a rare experience for me. But, I’m sure it helps to keep a nice flow to the story’s pacing.

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

Be aware that layout of your book can attract readers as well as put them off.

Don’t make your paragraphs too long, it looks like your book isn’t an easy read.

I knew that tip from all this time blogging, but I didn’t realize it translated so heavily to the novel itself. Although, out of blogging habit, I think I’ve been following your advice without intending to!

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

If you like felines, and stories about telepaths, you will like my books. They have been likened to Babylon 5 for their scope and treatment of the characters.

Sholan Alliance

Book 1:

Cut off from Earth by alien conquerors, the human colony on Keiss was slowly building an underground resistance movement to stand against the Valtegan invaders. But for many of the colonists, it was already too late.

Her twin sister Elise captured by Valtegan soldiers, Carrie telepathically and empathically linked with Elise, experiencing all the pain and terror that her sister was suffering. Only Elise’s death freed Carrie from torment, though it also left her completely alone in her own mind for the first time in her life. 

But this mental void was unexpectedly filled when Kusac, a felinoid crewman of a crashed starship, touched her thoughts. Drawn to him by their shared Talent, Carrie hid the injured Kusac from the Valtegans and in so doing found a friend and an invaluable ally.

The series concluded with its ninth book: Circle’s End.


In Harm's Way (Defending The Future Book 8) by [Sparhawk, Bud, Greenberger, Robert]

As well as my 9 novel Sholan Alliance series, I have some 16 short stories in DAW anthologies. I am proud to say one of those is in Defending the Future: No Man’s Land. And just come out is a 2nd story in Defending the Future: In Harm’s Way – an anthology that looks at rescue and recovery missions.

It’s always nice to have a change of pace and write what I hope is a short story that you will like.

Author Spotlight: Charles E. Gannon

  • Award-winning full time author, occasional defense/intel/space consultant, former professor, and father of 4.

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Chuck Gannon.

Image may contain: Chuck Gannon, smiling, closeup


Dr. Charles E. Gannon‘s award-winning Caine Riordan/Terran Republic hard sf novels have all been national best-sellers, and include 3 finalists for the Nebula, 2 for the Dragon Award, and a Compton Crook winner. The fifth, Marque of Caine, came out in July 2019. His epic fantasy series, The Broken World, is forthcoming from Baen Books, as is At the End of the World, a solo novel set in John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising universe. Gannon collaborates with Eric Flint in the NYT and WSJ best-selling Ring of Fire  series, and has worked in the Starfire, Honorverse, Man-Kzin, and War World universes. His other credits include many short fiction publications,  game design/writing, and scriptwriter/producer in New York City.  

Formerly a Distinguished Professor of English at SBU and recipient of five Fulbright grants, his book Rumors of War & Infernal Machines won the 2006 ALA Choice Award for Outstanding Book. He is a frequent subject matter expert both for national media venues such as NPR and the Discovery Channel, as well as for various intelligence and defense agencies.

Chuck, 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?

Image result for coati

If I stay rooted to the real, probably a coati. They fascinate me in so many ways. Fantasy? Heck, I think it would be great to have a griffon. Famed for intelligence and loyalty—and boy, talk about a home protection bonus!

I had to look up a coati. They look so cute! And a griffon sounds like a fine choice to me!

What do you write and how did you get started?

I ’m probably best known for the Caine Riordan hard SF series (nebula finalist 3x) and my work in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe. I’m about to start on an epic fantasy with some genre-bending and slipstream elements, entitled the Broken World trilogy. I’ve also written straight up space opera in other peoples’ universes (Niven’s Man-Kzin, Pournelle’s War World, Weber’s Honor Harrington, and the Starfire series), and lots of gaming products for GDW (back in the day).

I got started before I knew I was starting. Growing up, I became sequentially enamored of all sorts of cool scientific activities/specialties. Meaning I wanted to be a paleontologist/zoologist/astronomer/astronaut—and then write about it. At about age 12, I realized that a) all these professions are about 95 %+ repetitive, solo, dry work. So, clearly, what I wanted to do was dabble in all of them and write exciting/interesting stories about them. 

Which is exactly what I’m doing today.

It’s awesome that you’re living your dreams. Also, who didn’t want to be a paleontologist/zoologist/astronomer/astronaut growing up? All the cool kids did.

What do you like to read?

I have eclectic and broad tastes. If I had the time to read everything I wanted, I’d be all over the map, although I always gravitate toward fiction—novels in particular.  Right now, when I can, I am trying to catch up on authors and classics of SF and Fantasy that I never got around to reading. For instance, about 8 months ago I had a brief A.E. Van Vogt binge read (well, if you call 30 minutes before bed most every night for two months a “binge”). I see why it was foundational, transformative to the genre and quite popular when it was written. I also see why it has not aged well. On to the next—when I get the time.

The ephemeral ‘they’ always suggest reading broadly. I hear you on the gravitational pull of fiction, but I have to admit, as I get older, I’ve started reading more essays and memoirs.

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

“Always” or “Never” X.

Any piece of advice that begins with or includes the qualifier(s), “never” or “always.” Frankly, IMHO, there are no absolute rules in *the craft* of writing (the only absolute I *do* believe in!). I am not sure the same can be said about the *mechanics* of writing, or the *audience effects* of writing. But if a self-styled expert asserts, “You must never do X,” I’m likely (and probably constitutionally predisposed) to find the exception to that rule.

My reason: because the personal ecology and act of writing is pretty much like our fingerprints. All of us have them, but no two of us have the same ones. What works for one writer is a disaster for another. Furthermore, based on the kind of story you’re trying to tell, you may need to *break* a rule to make a point. In other words, since readers have expectations (because they are shaped by the narrative forms that they encounter repeatedly), BREAKING a given rule can be a profound source of meaning or impact that the author intends to convey. 

So true! The best rule is do what works for you. Of course, it works best if you know the reasons FOR the rules and the breaking is intentional, rather than simply being unaware of the rule.

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

Maintain reader immersion.

That the sine qua non of effective fiction is maintaining reader immersion. I don’t care how it’s done. Immersion to me means that what you have written has transported the reader out of *this* world and into the one you are unfolding in your narrative. This is as true for historical or contemporary/real-world fiction as it is for the speculative genres.

I am aware that certain folks in the domain of belles lettres will turn their noses up at this. Plenty of writers have opined or argued for writing that is non-transparent, for story-telling that purposefully jars a reader out of the narrative so that they get what I will call a cognitive parallax view on the tale being told, with one eye viewing it from within the domain of suspended disbelieve, the other seeing it from without. The purpose: the latter eye sees the artifice, the mechanics whereby immersivity is accomplished. According to some of the writers I was referring to, this is the only way to see narrative responsibly: to be aware of how it inveigles us into feelings or beliefs that can be without actual-world basis, that are conjured by words and words alone.  Brecht, a Marxist playwright, made this the centerpiece of all his work, calling this anti-immersive objective the “alienation effect” (although “estrangement effect” is a less frequently encountered, but arguably more accurate, translation). The raison d’etre of this narrative objective is expressly to elminate “reader gullibility/immersion,” so that narrative will not become a vehicle for reproducing traditional (versus revolutionary) perspective and culture. Ultimately, nihilism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction all arise from this approach to storytelling (and attached belief formation). 

My response to it all is: a fascinating intellectual exercise and experientially bankrupt. Humans read not merely to be diverted, but to consider both commonplace and unique circumstances from a different perspective. You can no more stop them from hungering after those kind of transporting stories than you can get their bodies to renounce all need of water and sustenance. Story is central to human experience; it is how we pass on most of our culture and is a mirror in how we reexamine and rediscover our time, our perspective, our selves.

Who is right? Well, let me ask you a question. When was the last time you, or the NYT bestseller list, or the Pulitzer prize committee, lauded a work for its ability to detach us from the human condition? When was the last time you saw a play, or film/TV adaptation of one of Brecht’s plays?

Yeah: I thought not. So that’s my never-break rule: what makes a narrative work, what makes it memorable, is its ability to immerse us in the world it depicts. However you achieve that is a truly secondary matter (and is yet another explanation for why I do NOT hold with writing rules that start with/contain the qualifiers “never” or “always.”)

An over-long answer. Consider it a sign of my earnestness. 

Such an important facet of writing. I think some writers get too obsessed with things they CAN do with writing, the ART of writing, that they end up taking away from the actual EXPERIENCE.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

The Caine Riordan universe has two new additions on the actual (and electronic) shelves in the past three months.

The fifth book in the series, Marque of Caine, debuted on July 2, and was a first-week national bestseller (making the series five for five, in that category of sales performance).

You can find it here, as well as testimonials by a lot of authors whose names EVERYONE will recognize:

Also, the first anthology set in Caine’s Terran Republic universe—Lost Signals–launched only 45 days earlier.

It was funded by a Kickstarter, which gave me the opportunity to create a fundamentally unique structural conceit with which to organize it.

At the outset, there are a handful of official reports, presented as wirecopy. The fiction reveals the untold truth behind those reports—hence, Lost Signals:



And for those who have yet to give the Caine Riordan series a try, the first book—Fire With Fire—is a permafree ebook here: