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.

Find The AbleGamers Foundation

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Interview: Rebecca M. 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.