Interview: Marcelle Dubé, on “Backli’s Ford”

Find the author at:

Website | Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Marcelle’s novel Backli’s Ford is available in The Aliens Among Us StoryBundle through Thursday, October 12th.

Meet Marcelle!

Marcelle Dubé loves speculative fiction and mysteries. In Backli’s Ford, she has created a fascinating alternate history with strong characters, an unusual situation and an alien species stranded on Earth.

Backli’s Ford

In the early 1700s, an A’lle generation ship crashed in the woods of Lower Canada. Survivors stumbled out of the wreckage to find French settlers working the land. While many of the colonists sheltered the injured A’lle, some reacted with fear and loathing. Two centuries later, nothing much has changed.

This is the world Constance A’lle, first A’lle investigator for Lower Canada, must deal with when she investigates the beating death of an A’lle boy in the small village of Backli’s Ford.

Set in 1911, Backli’s Ford follows Constance as she survives an ambush that would have killed a human, fights prejudice in the constabulary, and discovers a terrible secret that risks destroying the delicate balance that has endured for two centuries between A’lle and humans.

Backli’s Ford is the first book in Marcelle’s A’lle Chronicles Mysteries.

The Interview

The fear and discrimination the A’lle face from the humans in Backli’s Ford has parallels to many situations throughout human history where people are faced with someone or something that is ‘different.’ What inspired you to create a world in which an alien race is forced to live among humans, many of whom are not at all welcoming?

It wasn’t intentional. I’m a premise writer – what would happen if…? That’s what happened here. I found myself wondering what would have happened if aliens had crash-landed in Canada when the settlers were setting up a colony? The rest – the prejudice, fear and hatred… and the understanding, compassion and acceptance – well, they came from knowing human nature.

The A’lle Chronicles begin in the early 1700s in Lower Canada. Why did you choose to set the story in this time and place?

I’ve always been fascinated by the early days of Canada. My own ancestors came to Canada from France in the mid-1660s and had to build a life for themselves from practically nothing. It was brutally hard work and the colonists had to help each other if they were to survive. Additionally, the Catholic Church had an overbearing presence in the colony, a presence that ruled the colonists with an iron fist. So, I found myself wondering what would have happened to the colonists–and the Church – if aliens had suddenly appeared? How would people have reacted? And then I wondered what ongoing effect these aliens would have in a society that had to deal with their arrival – assuming the colonists didn’t kill them on sight… Backli’s Ford is actually set in 1911, two hundred years after the A’lle crash landed – plenty of time for adaptation to occur, and biases to develop.

You’ve written many wonderful mysteries, including the Mendenhall Mystery series. What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries?

Figuring out whodunit and why. I never know the answers when I’m starting out. I write to find out. There’s something satisfying about starting from a point of chaos – the murder or crime – and ending with chaos set right. Or right-er.

When does the next book in the A’lle Chronicles come out, and can you give us a sneak peek as to what it’s about?

Plague Year, Book 2 of the A’lle Chronicles, is due out in spring 2018. In this one, Constance A’lle’s sister Gemma comes to Montreal to study nursing, much to Constance’s dismay. This is a dangerous time for the A’lle, especially in Montreal where A’lle have been disappearing, only to be found later, dead. The conspiracy Constance and Chief Investigator Desautel discovered in Backli’s Ford now takes an even more sinister turn, a situation worsened by the emergence of plague in the city.

“The Man in the Mask” is an A’lle Chronicles short story set in the Klondike area of Yukon territory. How does this story tie in with Backli’s Ford, and what made you decide to set it in the Yukon?

I loved the idea that someone would have come searching for the lost A’lle, only to end up as a refugee, too, but at the other end of the country. I live in the Yukon, so it was natural to choose the territory for a dramatic setting. To my surprise, the story ended up with a steampunk flavor (It has airships! In the Yukon!) and a “pulp” feel.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about writing it/them?

I’ve just finished the fifth in my Mendenhall Mystery series, featuring Mendenhall Chief of Police Kate Williams. I love Kate and her intrepid constables. Kate is smart and capable, and she has a good sense of humor, which helps with some of the situations in which she finds herself. Every novel has a different adventure, of course, but in this one Kate has to deal with the theft of bull semen and vandalism at a construction site. No title yet–I’m hoping inspiration will strike!

I’m also working on Plague Year, which is well underway, and have plans for at least three more in this series, plus at least one more set in the early years, when the A’lle first arrived. I love this whole juxtaposition of the Quebec I know with the Lower Canada of the stories, altered because of the presence of the A’lle.

And then, there are the short stories. I always seem to be working on one…

Marcelle Dubé writes speculative fiction and mysteries. Her novels include the Mendenhall Mystery series as well as fantasy, science fiction and suspense novels. She lives in the Yukon, where people still outnumber the carnivores, but not by much.

Interview: Steve Vernon, on “The Wishing Ring of Old Queen Maab”

Now available via BundleRabbit as part of The Faerie Summer bundle.

Find the author at:

Website | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads

 
Greetings! I am freelance writer, editor, and designer DeAnna Knippling; I am interviewing authors for for Blackbird Publishing because a) thumbscrews and b) bribery.

Today’s author is Steve Vernon, whose story “The Wishing Ring of Old Queen Maab” is available in the Faerie Summer Bundle on BundleRabbit and other sites.

The questions:

While this was a bundle all about faeries (i.e., otherworldly fae creatures), yours was the most fairy-tale (i.e., folk tale) faerie tale of the bunch. Was that deliberate? Faeries and fairy tales don’t always overlap, so this is not an idle question. Faeries don’t always teach us lessons, unless it’s “well, that was random…maybe don’t go looking for the Fae.”

Steve: I guess that I am just plain in love with the old traditional fairy tale, and when Jamie Ferguson (the BundleRabbit curator), asked me for a tale of the Fae, I just went with my strong point and ran straight for a fairy tale. The truth is, I didn’t realize I was being all that different than any of the other contributors. When I put together my next story, for the next collection of Fae stories, I might try to do things a little differently and learn from my mistakes.

Which fairy tales, if any, did you draw from? There were a couple of places where I went, “Arabian Nights? Game of Thrones? Er…R.A. Lafferty? Carnivale?”

Steve: Oh gosh, I don’t have the kind of catalogue in my brain that could tell you exactly which style of fairy tale that I drew from. Or, if I do have that kind of a catalogue in my brain, the pages are most likely water-logged and swollen into oblivion. The “wishing ring” story itself is loosely based upon a tale with both French and Celtic roots, but I tend to throw in whatever I think fits into a story like this. I cook my stories like a good pot of soup, throwing in whatever suits my fancy or happens to be in the refrigerator. My mind is a bit of clutter-box and I tend to hoard folklore and I throw it like fistfuls of steaming wet pasta, at the half-open cupboard doors of my story as I write it.

I occasionally mix metaphors, just as freely and frequently as I feel.

What are your favorite faerie- or fairy-tale retellings? Or do you prefer them to be the kind of stories that head off cackling into new territory?

Steve: I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman. No modern writer that I can think of does a better job of retelling old folklore. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Bill Willingham’s comic book series, Fables. But, if I had to narrow my choice down to a single favorite I would have to lean towards something that certain young readers might find a little bit obscure. I am talking about the 1971 television series, Story Theater, that retold ancient fairy tales and fables with the help of actors such as Alan Alda, Avery Schreiber, Peter Bonerz and Valerie Harper. Their bare-bones adlib homespun storytelling really captured my young imagination.

I wonder if anybody out there remembers that television series. For some reason it has NEVER been collected in DVD format. I have a hunch that the episodes are tied up in some weird ownership dispute.

I know that fairy tales are supposed to be teaching tools, but…they also scratch an itch for the reader. (I mean, they must; they’ve survived over hundreds of years.) What, to you, is the itch that a fairy tale (not necessarily a faery tale) scratches?

Steve: Telling a good fairy tale is like painting with water color. It is a very forgiving medium. A well told fairy tale is a like a spool of fresh cotton candy, all poof and sugar and transient sweetness. I leave the teaching to smarter folk than myself.

Do you feel like you had to adjust your style in order to pull off this book? In other books of yours, you seem to have a more complex style, but I spotted a couple that feel pretty stripped down. Who is your favorite traditional fairy-tale teller?

Steve: I am pretty sure I didn’t adjust too much with this story. I had told it once or twice, and had originally written it down for the second wedding ceremony of an old friend, although the names were changed. It had just been sitting there in the attic of my imagination, just waiting to be written down.

As for my other books, they are all over the map. It is a failing of mine, I am afraid. You pick up a book by Steve Vernon and there is no telling what sort of a style you are going to encounter. Some of that variation is dictated by market. For example, I have seven regional Nova Scotia books, released by a local publisher here in Halifax (Nimbus Publishing), that I have to scrupulously avoid any Americanisms and/or four letter words.

and last but not least, the bonus question: 

Is there any note that you’d like to leave your readers on?

Steve: Well, it is my birthday this month and for the entire month of August 2017 I have marked down all of my independently released Kindle e-books to 99 cents. [Ed. — Some of the books are also free.] So if you were looking to try out any of my indie book releases this is the month to do it!

Steve Vernon has been writing and telling stories for over forty years. If you want to picture him just think of that old dude at the campfire spinning out ghost stories and weird adventures and the grand epic saga of how Thud the Second stepped out of his cave with nothing more than a rock in his fist and slew the saber-toothed tiger. If you want to help Steve Vernon out then go and buy Steve’s books. Buy them quickly. His family is beginning to wonder just when the heck Steve is going to get around to getting himself a REAL job.

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She runs Wonderland Press, a micropublisher of curious fiction and non-fiction for iconoclasts.
 

Interview: Steve Spohn from The AbleGamers Foundation

AbleGamers is a nonprofit charity that aims to improve the overall quality of life for those with disabilities through the power of video games.

The SF&F Binge Reader Bundle gives you the option to donate a percentage of the purchase price to AbleGamers. While that bundle won’t be around forever, future bundles on both StoryBundle and BundleRabbit will offer this option as well – and you can always donate directly to AbleGamers. 🙂

Meet Steve!

Hi! I’m Steve. I’m the COO of AbleGamers, and a 36-year-old from Pennsylvania with SMA, a terminal form of Muscular Dystrophy, which slowly makes you unable to move any muscles. My life experiences are what have guided me to be able to talk to you, and I’m grateful for that.

The Interview

How has the ability to play games improved the lives of the players you’ve helped?

Steve: Video games provide a different form of improvement for everybody that we help. For some, improvement can be defined as the ability to interact with the world – an inaccessible world which has excluded them in some way. By providing a means to interact with their community and loved ones, we’re improving their lives by introducing a new way to feel included, loved, friendship, and to be valued. For others, it’s a way of regaining a sense of independence; being able to completely care for yourself in a virtual environment beyond the likes of anything the real world can provide.

For each person is different; it’s a blend of those improvements and many others. When your mind is willing and your body isn’t able, video games provide a window into an otherwise inaccessible world.

What kinds of technology are used in the customized equipment?

Steve: We have hundreds of different options. There are dozens of controllers, thousands of switches, and a plethora of possible combinations. We have devices that allow someone to play with only one hand, with only their mouth, or even their eyes – combinations of every ability someone possesses.

Do you offer standardized solutions, or tailor each solution to the individual?

Steve: Little bit of both. There are some fantastic controllers on the market made by partners of AbleGamers and allies to help the cause of supporting people with disabilities. And those standardized solutions, or off-the-shelf solutions, as we call them, can be manipulated and adapted to suit many environments and individual situations. Then, if none of the off-the-shelf solutions will work, we get to work designing something custom for that particular individual based on their particular set of challenges.

So, in a way you could say all of our solutions are tailored to the individual. It’s simply a matter of how much customization is needed for each situation. Some people need $10,000 worth of specialized gaming equipment, while others might need a $20 trackball and some Velcro to open up an entire world of gaming.

How much does it cost to create/provide customized equipment?

Steve: The average set up costs approximately $350. That’s taking into account people who need a lot of assistive technology and those who need minimal support. Overall, the average for one controller is around $350.

What types of accessibility issues have you seen, and what should game developers consider in order to make their games playable by everyone?

Steve: Each individual who comes through our doors, physically or virtually, has a unique set of challenges they deal with in everyday life. We have seen people who have trouble reaching a single button, holding a controller, and even a few that need technology more advanced than what is currently available.

That is where software comes into play. Sometimes hardware isn’t enough in and of itself. Game developers have to step up and make their games as accessible as they can so that we can do our jobs and give people the ability to access those games.
There are many things that game developers can do, and that’s why we established our game accessibility guidelines of Includification – a free 50 page guide to game accessibility for developers and anyone who wants to know more about how to develop games that include people with disabilities.

What types of games are the most popular with your players, and why?

Steve: RPGs and MMOs are the easiest to play. They have inherent accessibility in their design. While racing/sport/fighting games are often entirely based on fast reflexes, RPGs are usually more about strategy, allow slower play, and include the ability to group with others. Playing games with others isn’t only a social boost, it’s also a way to conquer many disabilities.

How many people has AbleGamers helped to date?

Steve: We don’t have an actual number of people helped because the number is determined by what metric you use and nearly impossible to pinpoint.

AbleGamers receives approximately 20-50 requests for consultation per week by email and phone. Every Tuesday and Thursday, grant specialists go through 5-20 cases currently waiting in queue to be assisted after the initial consultation. And there are hundreds of cases waiting in queue. Every Thursday, Friday, and some Saturdays the AbleGamers headquarters is open for people to walk in without an appointment and try out accessible equipment.

We answer dozens of questions on social media each day. Plus our articles on our website give insight into how to play games with your disability without contacting us and waiting for help. An untold number of people utilize the changes that we have asked game companies to include in their games. And things like systemwide remapping on consoles, which was a result of the awareness-raising initiatives deployed by AbleGamers and allies, add an extra layer of mystery. If someone was helped by one of the software or hardware changes that we have made in the industry, we may never know that we help them because they are off playing games and not contacting us for help.

Not to mention our expansion packs, which are mobile video game arcades set up with accessible technology and placed into hospitals, long-term living facilities, and rehabilitation centers that may see 1000 people a year.

So, you can say that we’ve helped tens of thousands of people in various ways. Dozens of people every week, and hundreds every year, depending on what the definition of help really is.

How do you find people to help/how do they find you?

Steve: We go to conferences in the video game industry, which allows gamers to see that we exist and spread the word about our services to their friends who may be disabled or who know someone who is who also wants to play video games. We go to disability Expos where people who are disabled come to view technology that can give them a greater quality of life, introducing people to the fact that they can play video games even if they are disabled.

But for the most part, people find us through word-of-mouth or Google. Occasionally people are introduced to us from mainstream places like CNN, or grassroots efforts like book bundles.

We don’t really go searching for people with disabilities. When someone needs us, we’re always available, always ready to help.

Do any of the customized solutions use machine learning to help address the player’s disabilities?

Steve: So far, all of the customized solutions are the result of game accessibility experts taking the time to individually assess someone with a disability who needs help.

How does gaming help people with disabilities connect to other people (with or without disabilities)?

Steve: Something I’ve been fond of saying recently is that video games are the façade AbleGamers uses to help people reconnect to one another. When you have a mind that’s willing and a body that’s unable, video games are a window into an otherwise inaccessible world. In fact, video game researchers have determined through long-term studies that most gamers who play massively multiplayer online games do so for the social aspect. While there certainly is a need for the game to be fun, people will play video games long past the time when they are bored or tired of playing them, if there are people in those games who continue to draw them in.

AbleGamers is a quality-of-life charity. Whether you view what we do as giving people independence, so that they can interact with the world around them through virtual worlds, or as providing a way for people to have a greater slice of the human experience, including love, loss, and a sense of accomplishment, our charity is built from the ground up to give people with disabilities a chance to live life the way they see fit.

Are there disabilities that can’t be addressed by today’s technologies?

Steve: Not enough technology exists to help blind and deaf gamers. There are limited things we can do to help, but the research and development costs of finding these options are expensive. We wish there were more options available.

What types of technological improvements would allow you to help more people, and/or would make the gaming experience even better?

Steve: Virtual reality is a real pickle of an option. For some, it’s a godsend; allowing people with disabilities to enjoy and experience things that they would’ve never been able to do otherwise. But for others, virtual reality is a nightmare; yet another experience where being disabled precludes the enjoyment and fulfillment of participating in a new technology.

We continue to work with virtual reality companies in hopes that the technology will evolve to be more inclusive towards people with disabilities in the very near future.

What do you personally like most about being part of AbleGamers?

Steve: As cliché and cheesy as it sounds, my favorite part is helping people. I used to be a low-level professional gamer, and then when my disease progressed to a point where I needed help, I found AbleGamers. While utilizing the technology available to continue gaming would’ve been an acceptable option, the enjoyment I received from helping others experience the same things that I had already gone through was completely priceless.

How can people help AbleGamers?

Steve: As a charity, we depend on the generosity of amazing people like you. The average cost of helping one of our gamers is only $350. That means we only have to get 350 people to donate one dollar. It’s the small things that add up.

Spreading the word about AbleGamers, telling people who need our help, and even talking about it on social media, are all things that anyone can do for free that help change the world a little bit at a time.

Find The AbleGamers Foundation

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Twitch | LinkedIn | Instagram
 
 

Interview: Rebecca Senese, on “The Haunting of Melsbury Manor”

Now available via Bundle Rabbit as part of the Haunted bundle!

Find the author at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Greetings! I am freelance writer, editor, and designer DeAnna Knippling; I am interviewing authors for for Blackbird publishing because a) Jamie knows me, and b) I love having the chance to ask writers nerdy questions. EEE!

Today’s author is Rebecca Senese, whose story “The Haunting of Melsbury Manor” is available in the Haunted bundle on BundleRabbit and other sites.

The questions:

Is this story really polite enough for a Canadian? I kid, I kid… You’re a Canadian from Toronto with a history of participating in haunted houses. Tell us what it’s like to get involved in a haunted house and scare the crap out of people. I’m assuming that it’s a blast. How did you get involved in the glamorous, high-stakes culture of haunted houses?

Answer: It is a blast to get dressed up in a scary costume and scare the crap out of people! I’ve had people fall over, gangs of boys grab onto each other for dear life, and even a huge, hulking guy who looked like he could squish me with one hand grab his chest like he was going to have a heart attack! Then when I started to follow him, he almost squealed and tried to push past his friends to get away.

Such fun!

I’ve always loved horror and haunted houses. Over ten years ago, some friends of mine were running a haunt north of Toronto and over a period of a few years, I slowly became more involved. After they closed, I’ve volunteered at other haunts in and around Toronto. I’m also involved with the haunt community, helping to run the Canadian Haunters Association (www.CanadianHauntersAssociation.com).

Funny thing, one of the very first stories I remember writing in elementary school was about a haunted house. It was about a group of kids exploring it and had a vampire, a werewolf, a mummy, the Frankenstein monster, and a gorilla in it, because at the time I thought gorillas were scary. Fortunately, that gem is lost in time.

What brought you to write this particular story—other than needing to submit a story for Jamie’s “Haunted” bundle?

Answer: I actually wrote this story a number of years ago. When Jamie mentioned the bundle to me, I immediately thought of this story because it is a different kind of haunting story. What brought me to write it is lost to the mists of my memory, sad to say. I do remember wanting to tell this story from a particular point of view. Saying any more might spoil it.

Your story, “The Haunting of Melsbury Manor,” is full of twists, more twists in one short story than most writers attempt in a novel. I was effusing to you about them. Do you normally think of stories in terms of plot twists? Are those the stories that you love best? I hate to ask you about your favorite plot twist in your own work—who wants a plot twist to be given away?!?—but I do want to hear about what place you feel they have in your stories.

Answer: I don’t usually think about plot twists as such in stories. For me, I’m more concentrated on my character and what’s happening to them and how they react to it. So if a twist does come up, I think about it in terms of its effect on my character. As far as “The Haunting of Melsbury Manor,” some of those twists are more reveals about the character. That sort of thing is very satisfying to me. It makes the plot twist do double work, creating more action or drama and revealing something more about the character. When I can manage that, it’s a double whammy and I like it!

[Innnnnteresting–DeAnna]

I’m struggling to ask this question without giving anything away. “The Haunting of Melsbury Manor” seems to be about building families based on mutual support rather than blood ties. Where do you get your sense of family from? Friends, relatives, both?

Answer: My sense of family is that it is who they are. For some people, they’re born into a family that treats them that way and for others they have to go outside the biological relatives to build their own family. And for others, it’s a combination of the two. In older societies, you had the extended family which included the tribe, not just the parents and siblings. I like that idea a lot because of the idea of defining family as connecting to more people rather than defining family as an exclusion of others, which is how the so-called ‘nuclear’ family appears to me. I much prefer inclusion rather than exclusion.

You have a number of much darker horror books out, as well as science fiction and mystery. Do you mentally sort out what kind of book you’re writing before you write it, or do you just sit down and see what happens? I’ve known you for some time, and it’s always kind of surprising and fun to see you spread further and further into different genres.

Answer: I always pretend to know what I’m writing. 🙂 I often start out assuming I’m writing a certain type of story but then the story will have its own idea of how it’s going to go. Other times it will actually stay the same type that I start out writing. Other times it will morph into something completely different. So you could say I do both! I mentally start with an idea of what the story will be in mind and then I follow where it takes me, wherever that is.

and last but not least, the bonus question:

Is there any note that you’d like to leave your readers on? (Hint: the additional promo question.)

Answer: Check out my website at www.RebeccaSenese.com for more paranormal stories. Two of my other ghostly tales are “Leg Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Snow Bind”, both listed on my site with links to your favourite ebook retailer. Sign up for my newsletter at http://rebeccasenese.com/newsletter/ and receive the “Rebecca M. Senese Sampler” for free, featuring science fiction, mystery, horror, and urban fantasy.

Rebecca M. Senese weaves words of horror, mystery and science fiction in Toronto, Ontario. She garnered an Honorable Mention in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction” and has been nominated for numerous Aurora Awards. Her work has appeared in Fiction River: Visions of the Apocalypse, Fiction River: Sparks, Fiction River: Recycled Pulp, Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound, Imaginarium 2012, Tesseracts 15: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, Ride the Moon, Hungar Magazine, On Spec, TransVersions, Future Syndicate, and Storyteller, amongst others. Find her at http://www.RebeccaSenese.com

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She runs Wonderland Press, a micropublisher of curious fiction and non-fiction for iconoclasts.