Interview: Anthea Sharp on “Once Upon a Quest”

Meet Anthea!

Anthea Sharp writes fairy tale retellings, Victorian steampunk, fantasy romance, and has combined the Realm of Faerie with immersive gaming in her Feyland series. Once Upon a Quest is the third volume in the Once Upon anthology series.

Once Upon a Quest

Once Upon a Quest is a collection of fifteen tales of adventure, all brand new fairytale twists from bestselling and award-winning authors. With inspirations ranging from The Ugly Duckling to Snow White, and everything in between (including trips to Camelot and Oz), these fabulous tales are full of adventure, magic, and a touch of romance.

Elly took me out and set me gently on the floor. The stone was cold beneath my paws. I walked forward until I was a short leap from the throne. The fetid smell of ogre sweat pinched my nose, and I could hear the breath rasping in and out of his throat. One of his hands was big enough to crush me, should he so choose.

“Your eminence.” I made the ogre a bow. “My name is Mistress Bootsi, and I have come to look upon your might.”

“A talking cat?” He laughed, a harsh, nasty sound. “If you thought I’d be impressed, I’m not. I have no use for you.”

The ogre stood and, in a wink, transformed to a huge lion. He roared, and I shivered in fear. My instincts clamored for me to run, run! It took all my courage to stand my ground, and I hoped that Elly had the sense to do the same. Being breakfast for a lion was not part of my plan.

– from “Mistress Bootsi” by Anthea Sharp

The Interview

How did the ‘Once Upon’ anthology series get started?

A group of author friends and I started kicking around the idea of dark fairytale retellings. Everyone got excited to do the project, and I offered to manage the details, since I have experience running multi-author projects and anthologies. The fabulous Christine Pope offered her graphics skills, and Once Upon A Curse was born! It sold very well, and we decided to make this a yearly project. Quest is the third collection, after Curse (2016) and Kiss (2017).

How did you come up with the ‘quest’ theme?

We needed something to match the other titles. Curse (dark tales), Kiss (romantic tales)… and then Quest, featuring adventurous tales. We’re thinking about getting a little wild next year, and doing SF-set stories with Once Upon A Quark

After that, who knows? 🙂

What do you find compelling about fairy tales?

The archetypal plots and characters of fairy tales still resonate today, though all the authors are having fun putting modern twists on the stories!

Your own story in the collection, “Mistress Bootsi,” was inspired by the the fairytale “Puss in Boots” (also known as “The Master Cat”). Why did you pick this particular fairytale as the basis for your story?

When thinking of quests and adventure, “Puss in Boots” just stood out to me as a classic tale full of magic and adventure. Plus, we have a new kitty in the house, so felines are on my mind these days!

Your Feyland series is also based in part on fairy tales. What aspects of fairy folklore have you used in that series, and what inspired you to combine that with gaming?

I grew up on collections of fairy tales and also singing some of the classic old fairy ballads. I’ve always loved the story of “Tam Lin”, where the maiden saves her knight (in fact, we have a “Tam Lin” retelling in Once Upon a Quest).

I’ve also played computer games since, well, Zork, and then more recently lots of MMOs. I got to thinking one day (in 2010) about the parallels between being in-game and the descriptions of humans sucked into the Realm of Faerie: time moves strangely, everything feels intense, you emerge dazed and feeling like you’ve been somewhere magical and not-of-this-world…

And Feyland was the result – a series where a computer game is the gateway to Faerie. It’s not a new idea, and portal fantasy has a long, wonderful tradition (I suppose there’s a bit of my love for Narnia in the books as well) but I think my gaming experience put a new, different twist on the theme. I’m delighted to say that the Feyland books have found a wide audience, and I still have two more books planned in the series! The prequel is free, and the first book, The Dark Realm, is just .99 cents at all ebook retailers, for those who are interested in diving in.

You play the Irish fiddle! Tell us about the kind of music you play – and about your band, Fiddlehead.

I’m classically trained, but discovered Irish music in college, and never looked back. I love playing the fiddle, and my band, Fiddlehead, has three CDs out (find them on cdbaby.com). I also love putting music into my stories, and have released a short story anthology called Tales of Music & Magic that combines my love of magic, music, and short tales.

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

I’m currently working on another fairytale retelling series, complete with a dark, enchanted forest, elves, and two sisters who must fight on opposite sides of an epic battle. Hoping to get those books out in 2019!

Growing up on fairy tales and computer games, Anthea Sharp has melded the two in her award-winning, bestselling Feyland series, which has sold over 150k copies worldwide.

In addition to the fae fantasy/cyberpunk mashup of Feyland, she also writes Victorian Spacepunk, and fantasy romance. Her books have won awards and topped bestseller lists, and garnered over a million reads at Wattpad. She’s frequently found hanging out on Amazon’s Top 100 Fantasy/SF author list. Her short fiction has appeared in Fiction River, DAW anthologies, The Future Chronicles, and Beyond The Stars: At Galaxy’s edge, as well as many other publications.

Anthea lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes, hangs out in virtual worlds, plays the fiddle with her Celtic band Fiddlehead, and spends time with her small-but-good family.

Find Anthea at:

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Interview: Grayson Towler on “The Dragon Waking”

Meet Grayson!

Grayson loves dragons and dinosaurs, and has managed to tie them together in a wonderful, magical story in The Dragon Waking, a middle grade fantasy.

The Dragon Waking

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their enchanted slumber. When Rose and Jade come face-to-face with a rival dragon in a battle over neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, it will take all their courage to avert a catastrophe sixty-five million years in the making!

The dragon raised its head very slightly, watching her intently.

Rose still trembled at the sight of the dragon’s long talons and massive jaws, but she mustered her courage and edged closer. The dragon slowly extended its great head toward her as she approached, a posture that suggested both restraint and intense curiosity.

Rose’s sense of fear melted into wonder. Never had she seen anything lovelier than the tremendous green dragon before her. The elegant shape of its head and neck, the subtle shadings of green on each of its diamond-shaped scales, the delicate patterns on the translucent membrane of its folded wings – every feature of the dragon struck a perfect balance between beauty and power.

– from The Dragon Waking

The Interview

What inspired you to write The Dragon Waking?

It’s the sort of story I wanted to read. That’s usually my starting point… the reader in me wishes a certain kind of book would be waiting for me on the shelves, and then the writer in me decides that I’d better get working to make that happen.

More specifically, I’ve always loved stories of dragons, especially the ones in which dragons and humans are companions. Not that I don’t enjoy a good rampaging monster story with a dragon as the star, but I’m more moved by stories like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books – stories about the friendship between a humans and dragons.

I’ve often found myself spotting dragons in the environment, like clouds or rock formations shaped like dragons. I liked to dream about those formations waking up and becoming actual dragons. From those daydreams, the world of The Dragon Waking crystallized on a particularly productive evening of staring off into space.

Do you have more stories planned in this world?

I’m currently working on the second book in what I intend to be a trilogy. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I think there could be plenty of room for more short or long stories on top of the trilogy I have planned.

What did you find to be challenging with writing this story?

Well, it was my first book that I truly wanted to finish and get published, so there was a huge learning curve. The biggest challenges came from learning the conventions of the middle grade genre, and the first of these challenges was figuring out that the book was actually middle grade! I went in thinking it would be YA, and wrote it with that idea in mind. The resulting story turned out to be a better fit for middle grade, though.

Then the next big challenge was compressing the story down to middle grade length, which is a lot more restricted than YA. This was a crash-course in editing like I’d never experienced it, and I learned a lot.

The audience for The Dragon Waking is middle grade. Do you write stories for other ages?

I’ve got two novel-length manuscripts awaiting a second draft. One is a YA story to start a new series (really YA this time, I think). The second is an adult supernatural thriller. I’m quite excited about both of them, and I’m eager to get them into shape to pitch to publishers… if only pesky things like bills and my full time job didn’t keep getting in the way.

I do write short stories sometimes too, though I tend to focus on novels. I’ve got a sidestory from The Dragon Waking available on my website, and a couple other stories I’m going to try to get published this year if I can. I think my favorite of these is a story called “Crotar” about a 19th century British naval vessel encountering a very strange being in the south Pacific.

What’s important to you about Rose, and why did you give her these characteristics?

Rose has a lot of fine qualities, but I think the two most important ones are imagination and compassion. People tend to think of imagination as the ability to come up with things that don’t exist, which is part of it. But I also think a strong imagination is what allows us to see our world with greater clarity, and perceive truths that exist beyond accepted facts. It’s Rose’s capacity for imagination that allows her to see Jade and connect with her–most people couldn’t deal with the “impossible” appearance of a dragon in their world.

Compassion is just as important for Rose. Her compassion is why she can overcome her fear and connect with Jade, and sympathize with Jade’s mission to awaken the rest of the dragons. Rose is 13, which is a time when we’re still concentrated pretty much on figuring ourselves out, but that inward focus doesn’t mean we can’t expand our perspective and put ourselves in another’s shoes. I think Rose trained her compassion in working with horses, and learning to see the world through the eyes of an animal with a very different perspective than a human.

The Dragon Waking includes both dragons and dinosaurs. Why did you decide to include both? What’s the relationship between dragons and dinosaurs in the story’s world?

Is it not a kind of chocolate and peanut-butter combination? Seems so to me. In any case, I’ve always loved to toy with the idea of what would have happened if an intelligent, civilization-building race had evolved from the dinosaurs instead of mammals. At some point, it clicked that dragons would be a perfect candidate for that race.

In terms of the story, in the first book the main antagonist is a dragon who has disguised himself as a casino mogul named Rex Triumph, and has a dinosaur-themed resort in Las Vegas. When he gets back his full power, he naturally wants to bring back the old world he used to know. So he ends up animating a lot of dinosaurs, which in turn give our protagonists a lot of trouble.

In addition to writing, you also have a web comic. How did that start, and what do you enjoy about the comic that is different from what you enjoy about writing?

That’s Thunderstruck, and I started writing that as a conventional paper comic back in the mid-90s. At the time, I wanted to be an independent comic book artist-writer. Unfortunately, I chose to follow this aspiration right about the time the entire comic industry underwent a massive implosion, so the whole plan stopped being viable as comic stores folded left and right.

But the story stuck around, and when webcomics started to become a legit avenue for self-publishing, I revived Thunderstruck in that form. I wrote for many years, took a hiatus for a while to focus on my fiction career, and then came back and hopefully will be able to follow the whole complex story to the end.

The thing I like most about comics as opposed to straight prose is the ability to use artwork to express a story. Not only can a good picture be worth a thousand words, a visual medium like comics can sometimes express things prose never can. Yet comics still lets you keep many of the advantages of prose. It’s a unique medium and I enjoy exploring the various ways you can use it to tell stories…even though I feel like I’m a pretty limited artist, by comparison to many others out there.

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

Currently it’s the second book in the dragon series that’s getting all my attention, apart from my monthly engagement with writing the webcomic. There’s a lot of fun things about this book. There’s a change of setting, as part of it takes place in Hawaii. It’s also a story where Rose’s friend Clay gets to share the spotlight. He gets to come into his own this story and has to fend for himself when Rose and Jade are engaged elsewhere. We’re also going to get a new villain I’m really looking forward to introducing, and we’ll find out some of the mysteries we haven’t yet touched about dragons.

Grayson Towler has had a lifelong fascination with dragons, dinosaurs, magic, and the mysteries of the natural world. In addition to being a storyteller since he could first string words together, he has been a marketing copy writer, web designer, substitute teacher, comic artist, and small business owner. He and his wife, Candi, and their dog, Luna, live in a house owned by three relatively benevolent cats in Longmont, Colorado.

Find Grayson at:

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Find The Dragon Waking!

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Interview: DeAnna Knippling on being a writing contest judge

Meet DeAnna!

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.

The Interview

You’ve been a judge for multiple writing contests. Give us an example of one type of contest, and what the authors submitted.

The contest that I’ve judged most for is the Zebulon for Pikes Peak Writers, and before it was revamped, the Paul Gillette PPW contest. In general, you end up submitting a query letter, synopsis, and sample first chapter. Just like in submitting something to an agent, the first stage is having someone read the query letter and decide whether the entry deserves more attention.

Let me tell you…I loathe query letters with a passion. It could be the best book in the world, and I would hate the query letter. I feel like authors are getting bad information on how to write query letters and are taking that information the wrong way in order to create the Most Boring Sales Pitches Ever. I don’t have a good system to replace it–learning how to write good advertising material is hard, and I don’t have it mastered yet–but I seriously would just rather burn most query letters, even if I have to print them out myself.

I never volunteer for that part. I would either reject everything or accept everything, nothing in the middle.

I get the submissions in the middle part mostly, where the first pass of readthroughs/judging on the synopsis and sample are done. I’ll give a little bit of feedback on the query letter if I have to, but often I’ll just scan through the query letter to see if I can pick up hints on how experienced the writer is, so I can give better feedback.

I also feel that most writers couldn’t write a synopsis to save their lives, which is unfortunate–if writers spent as much time on a synopsis as they did on their outlines (or just tossed their outlines and wrote a synopsis?), then I feel they’d have a better grasp on the core story they were trying to write. A lot of times I see things like the story not actually having an antagonist, or the writer not really being sure who the story is about, things like that.

In the sample chapters, what you get is the opening of the story, about 2500 words. My biggest pet peeve is people who are writing a prologue and trying to hide it as “Chapter One.” Uh-huh. I don’t mind a good prologue, but I vehemently resent a writer trying to fool me on this. Like it’s not immediately obvious. Sheesh.

What’s it like being a judge?

I’ve been a contest judge for a number of years. I always feel like it’s a nailbiting experience, swinging between the poles of snark and honestly providing feedback? As in, writers have a tendency (I’m no exception) to have a mental running Snark-o-meter whenever they’re reading critically. And yet those comments aren’t helpful, and I usually have to go over my responses several times to make sure I’ve cut most of that out.

I’ve spoken to a number of contest participants, and it seems like the people who are sending in contest entries–especially in contests that don’t lead directly to being published in an anthology–are looking for feedback that they’re not getting from their usual sources. A lot of them are early writers who don’t have a writing community at home to help support them, but it seems like most of the entries that I see are from writers who have been writing for a while and are covering the basics, but not seeing a lot of success in publishing.

The kind of feedback that that second level of writer needs is often hard to get, and I always wonder if I’m saying the right thing, making the right guesses about where the writer is and what they need to move forward. It’s like, sure, on the surface level you’re just trying to answer the questions, but you also have to keep in mind that someone is on the other side of those answers, dying to find out what’s working on the manuscript and what isn’t. So I’m always torn between wearing a kind of editorial hat (snark) and a writer support hat (decent feedback). I try to score like an editor and give feedback like a writer supporter, so that I’m not artificially inflating entries that probably shouldn’t win the contest just to be nice, and yet giving the most supportive (yet honest) feedback I can give.

What are you looking for in submissions?

I’m not an editor, so I don’t approach submissions by going, “What can I publish?” That’s not what a non-publishing contest is for.

Instead I’m looking for what level of writer I’m working with, first and foremost, so I can give feedback. We all have different paths as writers, which complicates things, but in general you can check off things like, “This person is handling beginner’s basics like dialogue and character correctly but not intermediate level things like pacing and opening a scene well” to determine how far along someone is. I’ve also noted a split between two different types of writers–I call them engineer brain and poet brain. Engineers plot well; poets have better style. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but where one’s strengths lie.

Once I can kind of guesstimate how far along a writer is and the general areas of their strengths, I can start thinking in terms of what feedback might be useful.

I generally don’t care who wins a contest 🙂

How is an entry scored? Do you use rubrics of some sort?

There’s generally a checklist of some sort with spaces for feedback. I helped develop a checklist for the Zebulon with Pikes Peak Writers, and that was interesting. What are the main areas of writing? How do you organize all the aspects of writing into a system that makes sense in a contest, to multiple judges who themselves use vastly different organizational/teaching tools in their own writing? I think we did okay, but I always wonder if it could be better.

What do you aim for when you’re asked to write feedback letters?

I always aim to try to give decent advice for the level of writer involved. A lot of times, just because of the type of submissions I see, I end up typing a variation of, “You probably want to know why you’re not published yet, if everyone says you’ve got the basics down pat. Welcome to intermediate writing, where there’s not a lot of advice to be had because 90% of writers have dropped out at this point and it seems like everyone expects you to make the jump from amateur to professional with no extra work. It’s so simple, for someone who’s worked as much as you have…isn’t it? Here’s where you need to start working, though…” And then I try to block out two or three main areas for the writer to start working. I feel like the winners of contests are going to be happy no matter what I write; it’s the people who didn’t win who need to be able to walk out of a contest with a path ahead, arduous but true.

Why do you judge writing contests?

I like being able to dive down into the meat of where someone is in their craft, and find out what strengths and weaknesses they have, and how that affects the work. I’m starting to see how different writers’ points of view really affect what they write, and I find that incredibly interesting. Also, I really hope to be able to pass the education in craft that other people have given me forward, and this is one of the ways that I seem to be able to help.

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

I’m working on a novel in a series I haven’t released yet. It’s the third novel in a near-future thriller series. Murder and tech that’s so close to being real that it’s scary; not quite Blade Runner but in the same spirit.

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She started out as a farm girl in the middle of South Dakota, went to school in Vermillion, SD, then gravitated through Iowa to Colorado, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of putting together haunted houses in the basement of her grandparents’ house with her cousins, and taking flying leaps off haystacks and silage piles in the middle of winter with her brother. She was in charge of coming up with the “let’s pretend” ideas when they were kids, at least in theory. But then no plan survives contact with the enemy. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names.

Find DeAnna at:

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Interview: Thea Hutcheson on “Judging Pashet”


 
“Judging Pashet” is in the Stars in the Darkness anthology, a collection of stories about why being just matters, and what the ramifications are for individuals, groups, towns, countries, or even worlds if justice is not expected, encouraged, or enforced.

Meet Thea!

Thea Hutcheson writes about magic, science, and everything in between. She has a special love for ancient cultures, and captured the essence of ancient Egypt and the impact of flooding – or lack thereof – of the Nile River on people’s lives in “Judging Pashet.”

“Judging Pashet”

In the time of the ancient pharaohs, the great annual flood of the Nile has not come to make the black soil fertile. Princes fight for power after the death of the pharaoh, blockading the boats that carry precious food up and down the river. Starvation faces Mert, her family, and her village unless she finds a way to render judgment on a dead man and make him pay for his crimes.

The stone floor was cool under her bare feet and the breeze from the opening swirled fresh air around her legs. Her heart pounded so loudly she could hear it in her ears. The horror of the crime she was committing made her hands tremble. Her breath harsh and loud in the silence of the tomb. She lifted the lamp and gasped.

The walls sported richly painted scenes of Pashet at his ease, receiving tribute, supping with Osiris.

The conceit of the man went beyond her understanding. She looked among the grave goods. Fine ebon chairs nestled against one another in a corner, ivory bracelets spilled across a carved box, and mounds of sheepskins, stacks of copper ingots, rolls of woven fabric, and tens of bronze oxen leaned against the walls.

And yes, baskets of bread, jars of beer, bags of seeds, pots of dates, honey, and almonds made an open ring around the sarcophagus.

– from “Judging Pashet”

The Interview

What inspired you to write “Judging Pashet?”

I love ancient cultures, especially Middle Eastern cultures. I have a book of Egyptian document translations and a lot of them are judgments of civil disputes. I found that priestesses were often called upon to hear testimony and render judgments, and I wanted to find out what Mert would do in the face of impossible odds and inestimable hubris.

How does “Judging Pashet” fit the Stars in the Darkness anthology?

A small village is suffering as a civil war rages for control of the crown, blockading the Nile river so that supplies have not reached them. The river has also not flooded yet, keeping them from planting. The villagers file a complaint against Pashet, the wealthy man who was responsible for the welfare of the village, who had been abusing them and failing in his responsibilities. As the designated judge in the matter of the villagers’ complaints against him, Mert is charged with finding a resolution. But he dies before she can render judgment, and she must find a way to mete out justice against a dead man and provide restitution to the villagers from his estate. Mert, who also lives in the village and sees her son suffer as a result of this man’s behavior, finds herself in an impossible situation when the needs of the mortal world and the requirements of the spiritual world clash. Her answer shows the selflessness of true justice.

Your protagonist breaks the rules to save people, knowing doing so would have repercussions for her personally. Why did you decide to put this in your story?

Ancient Egyptians had a highly developed sense of right and wrong and balancing the scales in both the mortal world and the hereafter. I wanted to explore mortal needs in direct opposition against spiritual laws.

Why did you set the story in Egypt, and why in this particular time?

I was bitten by the ancient civilization bug at the tender age of seven. I love all those Middle Eastern cultures. Egypt was a highly civilized and structured society, and I loved the idea of working in this part of the world. This particular time in history was very exciting. The death of a beloved ruler led to a dire struggle to fill the vacuum. It was exciting and a wonderful set up for the story’s conflict.

I had to do a diorama in the seventh grade for World History. I chose to do a mummy. I wrapped my Barbie doll in strips of an old sheet, working hard to create the patterns I saw on Victorian photographs. I painted a shoe box for the sarcophagus and several olive and lotion bottle jars for the canopic jars. I placed my pharaoh in the sarcophagus and filled the jars with dry dog food and put water in them (I hadn’t learned they dried the organs) and made a display. I got an A, of course, but my mother made me throw the jars away, unopened.

This was an opportunity to tell a story straight from my heart and the core of my interests. It’s also a bigger, better version of that first diorama, all fleshed out.

Why did ancient Egyptians put food in their tombs?

The Egyptians believed in the “as below, so above” philosophy. In other words, whatever you needed in the mortal world, you would want in the hereafter. So you would need food, plates, pets, servants, a chariot, your boat—all the trappings of a comfortable life. Unfortunately, even with all the elaborate precautions, many tombs were plundered, often almost immediately after they were sealed.

Several goddesses are mentioned in your story. Who are they, and why were they important to your protagonist?

Ipet is the hippo-headed goddess of childbirth. While male hippopotamus are vicious and are symbolic of chaos, females are exceptionally nurturing mothers. They represent the fierce caring required to carry a child to term, deliver the infant successfully, and nurture them in the face of terrible odds at all stages.

Maat represents justice, truth, honesty. She is often depicted with wings and often has an ostrich feather in her headband. That is the feather that is laid on the scale that Anubis, the god of the dead, holds when the soul is called to judgment. If the heart is heavier than the ostrich feather, the person has failed in their moral life, and is eaten by Ammit and can never live again.

Isis is the daughter of heaven and Earth. She is the wife of Osiris, who was killed and dismembered by his brother Set. She is also the mother of Horus.

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

I am working on a time travel series. There is some romance in them as the story unfolds and the characters are brought together, ultimately to be a team. The Bee Lady’s Amulet is the first in the series and follows Melinda, a woman in modern times, who walks through a doorway in an ancient Cretan ruin and finds herself face to face with a goddess who gives her a mission to save people from the destruction of Santorini. The people she meets believe she is the emissary of the goddess and set about planning how to effect the salvation. She thinks that her mission is over when she delivers the message, and is frustrated to find out things are more complicated for her, especially when she finds herself falling into an impossible romance with the earthly husband to Askar, the Cretan goddess. She doesn’t want to stay with him in this ancient culture, but she is heartbroken to know that she will leave and lose him.

The next story features a modern man thrust back into the same time period with instructions from that same goddess to save a witch from the eruption of Santorini. He is young enough to still be discovering who he is, and is thrust into a completely foreign world that he is ill-equipped to navigate. In the course of learning to survive, he meets the woman he is to rescue, and finds that she is not what she thought he was, and all of his beliefs about magic and realism are shifted once again as he falls in love with her.

The third book requires all four of them to work together for the first time on a mission that is endangered by a group committed to anarchy, and which opposes the goddess’ efforts to protect aspects of her creation. In that cauldron the four will face culture shock, the meaning of their relationships, and their commitment to the goddess’ wishes.

Thea Hutcheson explores far away lands full of magic and science with one hand holding hope and the other full of wonder. Lois Tilton of Locus called her work “sensual, fertile, with seed quickening on every page. Well done…” Her work has appeared in such places as Hot Blood, Fatal Attractions, M-Brane, Baen’s Universe, the Beauty and the Beast Issue of The Enchanted Conversation, Realms of Fantasy, and several volumes of the Fiction River anthology series. She lives in an economically depressed, unscenic, nearly historic small city in Colorado with four semi-feral cats, 1000 books, and an understanding partner. She’s a factotum when she’s filling the time between bouts at the computer.

Find Thea at:

Website | Goodreads

Stars in the Darkness is a collection of stories about why being just matters, and what the ramifications are for individuals, groups, towns, countries, or even worlds if justice is not expected, encouraged, or enforced.

All proceeds from this collection will be donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign.

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Interview: Bonnie Elizabeth and the Fantastic Feline Heroes bundle

Meet Bonnie!

Bonnie not only writes fiction, she also blogged as her cat Chey for many years. In addition to cat stories, Bonnie writes fantasy, mystery, Gothic suspense, and occasionally science fiction. She writes books about acupuncture as Bonnie Koenig.

Fantastic Feline Heroes

Who doesn’t love cats? And what cat doesn’t have a great cat story of their heroism, even if it’s only saving their owner from a spider?

From honorable feline assassins to compassionate feline dreamwalkers, these cats are saving the worlds—at least for someone. This multi-author bundle pays tribute to every cat who has ever played hero, from little things to big.

If you purchase the bundle through BundleRabbit, you have the option to donate a percentage of the purchase price to either the Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary or Milo’s Sanctuary & Special Needs Cat Rescue.

Find the bundle at:

Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | BundleRabbit | Facebook | Goodreads

The Interview

What inspired you to create this bundle?

Honestly? I wouldn’t have done if Kris Rusch hadn’t passed me in the hallway at the Master Class and said, “You need to do a bundle on cats.”

She made me feel guilty about not doing a bundle, even though I’m not really a manager sort of person. I like managing my own things, but not when there are other people around. I’d rather just take care of my own stuff and go my own way, so to speak.

Why did you choose the feline hero theme?

The idea of a cat bundle was really broad. There are lots of anthologies that use cats as a theme and I wanted this to stand out. Also, as I grew up reading fantasy and SF, I knew there were a fair number of professional anthologies that wrote about cats in the fantasy realm. I really wanted to do “Cats in Space” but I don’t write enough SF and I wasn’t sure how that would go over with cat people I knew. But cats as heroes? That I could totally see! So Fantastic Feline Heroes.

How do the stories in Fantastic Feline Heroes match up with what you expected? Were you surprised by any of them?

I think they hit the themes that I wanted. I guess my big surprise was that I “found” Matt’s on the BundleRabbit site. I hadn’t even invited him, but the story was such a perfect fit for the theme that it surprised me. But then again, if you’ve read my author interviews (done by my cat Gemini), you’ll notice I knew most of the authors, so the fact that there were really good stories from many different themes wasn’t a surprise.

That said, I was really thrilled that Mollie Hunt was able to participate. She’s an author I don’t know personally and I love that I get to introduce people to someone completely knew. And her story was such a delight!

Purchases of the bundle through the BundleRabbit website provide readers the option of donating a percentage of the purchase price to either the Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary or Milo’s Sanctuary. Why did you choose these two organizations?

As a long time cat blogger, I was familiar with the Blind Cat Rescue. I really thought that the people working with those cats, along with the cats themselves, were pretty heroic, and it seemed like a good fit for a bundle about heroic cats.

Dayle Dermatis suggested Milo’s Sanctuary, and it really fit with heroic cats. Again, it’s a shelter I was familiar with from blogging, so I could feel good about offering it as a charity that people could donate to.

In both cases, I know that other people who blog about cats who are very supportive of these two charities, and I hope that they’re excited enough about a new way to share this information that they’ll go out and tell people!

Tell us about your cats!

I have three cats now, Gemini, Ichiro, and Ham. I started blogging about Gemini but my cat, Cheysuli, who recently died, was the voice of my blog at MySiamese.com. Chey was a chocolate point Siamese and she had attitude. The household isn’t the same without her.

So how to organize this. I’ve always had cats. I got Gemini shortly after I lost my first Siamese, Simone, a lilac point. It seemed it was meant to be. Gemini just showed up at my doorstep, mewing. I took her in, even though I’m not a long-haired cat owner. I like sleek cats that are easy to groom. Gemini was anything but.

She wasn’t very interested in me or in my calico cat Georgia, who was my only surviving cat at the time. Gemini was only about 5 weeks old, give or take but she looked smaller, all short legs and cobby little body.

After a few months, I found Chey, who was a 3-year-old retired breeder queen that I got for the cost of her spay. She was a beautiful chocolate point cat. Chey and Georgia instantly bonded, which surprised me because Georgia had never liked other cats.

When we lost Georgia, I worried that Chey would be lonely as Gemini was never a particularly friendly cat. In fact, it’s only been in the last couple of years that she’s really come out and decided she likes me. She’s 12.

Anyway, we got Ichiro. He was a kitten. I got a boy thinking perhaps he’d be a little more outgoing. He’s sweet and quite a busybody, but he’s still a little hesitant. He’s very sensitive.

Chey hated him on site. In fact, she stopped eating. We force-fed her for days, and she ended up having a surgery before she came back to us. I think she just felt so betrayed that there was another cat in her household.

Once she got through her health issues, she tolerated him and he adored her. I think as time when on she came to accept him and like him as a companion that Gemini never never really was for her.

When we lost her in May of 2017, I knew Ichiro would be lonely without her. He was very clingy. My husband and I had a couple of trips planned in the summer, so we waited until the second trip was finished and then began searching for another cat for Ichiro.

My husband fell in love with this black and white tuxedo boy who was only five months old. We had talked about getting an older cat, but he liked this one. He’s a crazy kid and the name Ham stuck. We do call him Hamlet but it’s not about the Danish prince. It’s because he’s a “little ham”. And he is–always wanting to be the center of attention. Jumping in and not thinking. He’s a wild man. Hence his nicknames, Haminator and Hamnible Lecter…

Why did you decided to start blogging as your cat, and how did your cat feel about this?

I started blogging probably in 2005. It was a way to make myself write daily. It was actually about Gemini and not Chey. Chey came into this when I had this affiliate site called My Siamese, everything for you and your meezer, and I learned that adding blog content could help bring people to the site. Well it did, but I never sold much on the site, so I eventually pulled down the affiliate links and just used the blog as the main part of the site.

When I moved a couple of years ago, I sort of fell out of the habit of updating it. There were so many people out there blogging about their cats, and I didn’t really have anything new to or different to say. It was hard to get people to come read too, and if no one was reading I didn’t feel as if it was worthwhile. Plus, I was starting to write books and stories that did get read.

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

I’m working on a bunch of short stories right now. I did a challenge in the fall to write three novels in three months, which I completed, and those will be coming out this spring or summer. I have a new series that’s sort of a dark fantasy series, and also a gothic ghost story.

The shorts are to give myself a rest and also strengthen my plotting ability. I think I do characters decently, and I’m always working on voice, but plotting can be my downfall. I hate hurting my characters. I hate doing bad things, so I need to work on that!

We’ll see what comes out of these shorts!

Bonnie Elizabeth started writing fiction when she was eight years old. Fortunately, that manuscript has long since been lost. In between a variety of odd jobs, including working as an acupuncturist, Bonnie wrote articles about acupuncture and the business of being an acupuncturist for a variety of acupuncture journals. She also blogged as her cat while transitioning to her real love of fiction writing. She writes the Whisper series, which begins with Whisper Bound, and has a number of other fantasy, urban fantasy, and mystery projects in the works.

Find Bonnie at:

Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Interview: David H. Hendrickson on “How to Get Your Book into Schools”

Meet Dave!

David H. Hendrickson has published well over one thousand works of nonfiction ranging from sports journalism to humor and essays. How to Get Your Book into Schools is his first book for writers.

How to Get Your Book into Schools

David H. Hendrickson leads you through every step of the process of getting your book into schools. He highlights the critical pitfalls to avoid, and points out ways to maximize your profit when a school adopts your book.

Dave has first-hand experience; his novel Offside, a coming-of-age tale of a young country boy from Maine who must adapt to a new life in the city, was adopted as required reading for its entire student body and staff by Lynn English High School, in Lynn, Massachusetts.

How to Get Your Book Into Schools is available in both ebook and print.

The Interview

What does it mean to “get a book into schools?’

There are two ways. First, your book can be one of many titles selected for a Required Reading list, then students pick the books that appeal to them. If your book is one of, say, twenty titles, and students only need to pick one or two, this will be a nice addition to your usual sales, but it won’t be a bonanza.

Alternatively, a school can choose your book for an “all-school read.” This is a very big deal, and there are ways to help make this happen, such as working with the school so the total cost fits their budget or grant.

Which of your books have you gotten into schools, and what sort of results have you seen from them?

I consider Young Adult to be the “sweet spot” for most schools. I’ve published three YA titles, but one is a sequel, so I’ve focused on the other two, Offside and Cracking the Ice.

Offside was adopted by Lynn English High School for an all-school read, which meant the school bought 1750 copies, and over the course of a summer, every student, teacher, and administrator read the book.

Since then, I’ve adopted a marketing campaign to duplicate that success, either with Offside or Cracking the Ice, and both books are now under consideration for use by several high schools.

Are there different techniques for getting your book into different types of schools? How about different grade levels?

In How to Get Your Book Into Schools, I point you to lists of public and private high schools, as well as those for middle grades, so you don’t have to spend hour after hour of researching that information.

Once you’ve selected the schools to target, most of the techniques are the same, but there are differences. For example, faith-based titles will appeal to faith-based private schools, but likely not others. Also, many private schools end their year earlier than public schools, so that has to be factored in.

Do schools tend to prefer different formats (ebook, paperback, hardcover)?

I haven’t seen interest in ebooks yet, but I expect that to change over time, especially in the more expensive private schools where all students may be required to own an e-reader.

For now, though, my focus has been on trade paperbacks, since the economics of hardcovers forces a list price of about twice that of paperback. For an all-school read or a student picking titles off a Required Reading list, that extra cost is prohibitive. On the other hand, if the book is going to become part of the curriculum, used semester after semester, then hardcovers are worth the cost. As a result, I’m now investing in the extra design and layout cost of adding the hardcover option.

What’s the most important lesson you learned that helped you achieve the success you’ve had with schools?

Be aware. Be aware of the opportunities available to you, and of problems as they arise so you can quickly address them. Be aware of hidden costs and the deadlines you need to hit.

And especially, be aware of cash flow. There are ways to address the problem, but if your book is adopted for an all-school read, you will almost certainly pay CreateSpace or IngramSpark up front for the printing, and then have to wait for the school to pay off its Purchase Order months later.

What did you enjoy most out of getting your novel Offside accepted by a high school?

I spoke at the school following the summer in which students read the book, and they treated me like a rock star. Other than family events, it was the greatest day of my life.

The applause was thunderous. A group of boys chanted the name of the book. After the talk, I signed hundreds of books, Post-It notes, journals, backpacks, and over a dozen—I kid you not—outstretched arms.

I’ll never forget that day.

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

I’ll be spending the rest of January on short stories, trying to sell to four anthologies based on an assigned theme. After that, it’s back to writing the third, and final, book in the “Rabbit Labelle” series. (Offside was the first, and Offensive Foul the second, but both stand nicely on their own.)

I love the characters from that series and enjoy the surprises they’ve had for me. Rabbit, his mother, and Anna will always have a special place in my heart. I hope everyone who has read the books feels the same way.

David H. Hendrickson’s first novel, Cracking the Ice, was praised by Booklist as “a gripping account of a courageous young man rising above evil.” He has since published five additional novels, including Offside, which has been adopted for high school student required reading, and its sequel, Offensive Foul.

His short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies, including multiple issues of Fiction Fiver.

Hendrickson has published over fifteen hundred works of nonfiction. He has been honored with the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award and the Murray Kramer Scarlet Quill Award.

Find Dave at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Interview: Mark Fassett and the TrackerBox Mac Kickstarter

What is TrackerBox?

TrackerBox is software for writers that takes all of the reports they get from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and a host of other distributors, and organizes them into a single, manageable set of reports.

TrackerBox is currently only supported on Windows, but there’s a Kickstarter campaign to fund development of TrackerBox Mac!
 


 
The Kickstarter ends on Friday, November 17th 2017, so check it out if you’d like to see a Mac version of this extremely handy tool become reality!

Meet Mark!

Mark is an author, musician, software developer, and the creator of both StoryBox, a tool for writing and publishing, and TrackerBox.

The Interview

What exactly does TrackerBox do, and why does it save authors/publishers so much time?

TrackerBox will take the spreadsheets you download from the various booksellers like Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo, and it will put them into a single database. Then you can use the various reports and filters that TrackerBox provides to look at your sales data almost any way you choose (you can’t look at it upside down, of course). The biggest benefit, I think, is that it usually only takes a minute or so to import all of the sales data from all of your various booksellers. It will take a bit longer if you’ve added new books or a new bookseller as you have to answer a couple questions each time TrackerBox sees anything it doesn’t recognize.

What retailers and distributors does TrackerBox support, and do you have plans to add more?

There’s a long list, and it’s only getting longer. It supports the major players, Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and Nook Press, but it also supports quite a few distributors like Draft2Digital, Smashwords, XinXii, and recently added Pronoun. CreateSpace, Lightning Source, and Lulu are supported if you sell paper books, and ACX for audiobooks. That’s most of them, I think.

What’s involved with adding support for the Mac?

The Windows version was written in a language called C# and I used some software from another company to help me make it all pretty (well, as pretty as I can get it). That software is not available on the Mac (and C# isn’t really available in a way that I like, either), so I have to redo pretty much all of the code from scratch for OS X.

What kinds of reports can be generated? For example, suppose an author wants to drill down into sales of one series, or just look at sales of their stories in bundles.

You can see Net Sales or Net Income overall, or by title, or by title and vendor, and you can filter them pretty much any way you like: by Author, Title, Bookseller, Date, Sales type (Sales, Page Reads, Borrows, or Free), and more.

Also, I recently introduced filter sets into the Windows version, which lets you save a set of filters and recall them by selecting the filterset from a list. You can use this to do things like select all the titles in a series, and then you can recall that set to see just the one series, or to quickly get to the sales of all of your short stories.

Will Kickstarter supporters get a copy of TrackerBox Mac for less than the normal retail price, what will that price be, and what’s the license model?

Yes. The normal price will be $89.99 US, and I rarely do sales (I’ve done them just once before in the entire six years I’ve been selling it), so the Kickstarter pledge of $75 is about $15 off the normal price. This is a one-time fee, and will get you updates to the base software for free. There may be some add-ons at an additional cost at a later date, but they won’t ever be required to run the software. I only mention that because I have talked with some publishers about a publisher version with some additional features, but there aren’t any solid plans as of yet.

The license model is basically one copy per person using it. It’s licensed to an email address, not a machine, so you can use it on as many computers as you own. I make an exception to the one copy per person for a spouse that helps with the business, but I ask that if you hire an assistant (instead of using spouse slave labor), that you purchase a separate copy for the assistant.

Why did you develop TrackerBox in the first place?

Somewhere back in May of 2011, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post about a piece of software he’d like to see, one that could ingest all of his reports and combine them into a single report that he could make sense of. The post seems to be missing now, but a couple of people took him up on it. I didn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon, because other people were already working on it.

But when I saw their solutions, I thought they had some shortcomings. The biggest one is that neither of them thought about what might happen if the writer wrote under multiple pen names. Also, I just didn’t like the UI for either of them.

So I took it upon myself to see what I could do, and twelve long days later, I uploaded version 1.0 of TrackerBox.

When will the next Grim Repo book be out?

I’m going to start writing it November 1st. A couple of writer friends and I agreed to start Dean Wesley Smith’s three novels in three months challenge a month late (and without Dean’s input, of course), and Grim 3 will be the first one. I’m probably going to write four and five for the second and third parts of the challenge. I expect they’ll all be out before the middle of next year.

Mark Fassett writes mostly science fiction and fantasy, but dabbles in other genres when he has no other choice. He lives in western Washington with his wife, children, and cats, and spends free time playing games and making music.

Find Mark at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

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

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.

Find Marcelle at:

Website | Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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.

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