Brother to Brother

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unnamedThis week is an exciting one for me and my brother Paul. We spent a good chunk of the last year working on a novel together and we’re releasing it officially on February 4 (Thursday). That book is called Blink. It is centered around Agent Smith, one of the top investigators for The Utility Company, a government agency that takes on the strange and weird cases. What Smith and his team tumble into is an inter-dimensional conspiracy of sorts.

To get people acquainted with both of us, I decided to solicit questions on Facebook on Monday. What follows is a joint session in Google docs where we answered them live and together. It is fun, crazy at times, and sometimes painfully honest. Oh, and our sister (Betsy Baker) crashes the party. A LOT. Don’t mind her. She means well…

Let’s get cracking!


 

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Us (Will on left, Paul on right)

Jon Frater asks: How about we start with: whose idea was this book, anyway?

W: OK. Ready Paul?

P: Sure. Wait. This is a book? How did that happen?

W: Uh. Not quite sure. It originally just started as a random Facebook post. My forehead was dry, which I guess I found funny or odd or something and I posted about it. I did it the next day and the next day and then they started a life of their own. Like 19 or 20 days later I had a legit story on my hands but it wasn’t right. Then Paul stepped in…(that’s your cue)

P: “You can call me Mr. Smith.” That one little statement sparked something in me. I wanted to know more about Mr. Smith. Where did he come from? How did he come to know about the character Will was writing about? What kind of agency did he represent? Knowing the way Will was approaching things I had an inkling that he didn’t know any of the answers, so I wrote a bunch on my own, submitted to him and…

W: Yeah, you make me sound like a doofus, but that’s cool. No…I really hadn’t even considered much about Agent Smith’s background. To me when I wrote him, he was a cog. A piece of the machine to get my main character to do things. But when Paul presented me with his piece — essentially a parallel story with Smith and his people, it was clear that Smith should be the protagonist. It would have been stupid to keep Smith as the secondary character. And because of that altering of perspective, I believe it made this book what it is, and it will hopefully propel us to write more about Smith and the Utility Company in the future. (It does say Book 1 on the cover after all. No pressure)

That it? We good with that question? yeah.

Bill Matthews asks: I think that you should allow your sister to ask each of you some questions … or tell your tales about both of you growing up.

P: I’m scared.

W: I am really unsure about this. Let’s move on and hope this doesn’t come back to bite us.  

Samuel Peralta asks: Who’s on your dream cast for the movie?

P: Martin Freeman for Nik?

W: oooo…that’s almost eerily perfect. I know he’s been in the new Fargo so he can do an American accent, so I think I would be totally down for that. Agent Smith. I could go with a number of different actors, but let’s go out of the box and say Chiwetel Ejiofor.

P: And…., we’re done folks. Chi. is. awesome.

W: I really didn’t actually include a ton of descriptors for the characters, so there is a lot that can be flexible. Paul’s right. Chi is awesome.

Preston Leigh asks: What was the writing process like? Did one person give plot ideas and the other write the story?

P: One guy goes write, write, write. Other guy eats popcorn and says, “Yay! You’re awesome!” First guy flames out, says, “I’m tired” or “I have no @%$&* clue where this is going.” Other guy takes over.

W: Essentially. But I don’t like popcorn.

P: Or cheese.

W: Oh. I do love cheese. But Paul’s pretty well spot on. We…have a terrible writing process. We could have finished writing this book about 4 or 5 months earlier if we were actually dedicated. We had some basic plot points (usually Paul felt the need to have some kind of outline) and then I usually broke them.

P: yep

Judah Ball asks: Having a little personal insight to your family I know distance between authors was a roadblock. How did you overcome that hurdle?

W: I don’t recall a hurdle. Do you?

P: FaceBook messenger and Google Docs are our friend.

W: Friend is singular. You mentioned two things. That should be friends. Also…where is that hurdle? (But Messenger and Google Docs enabled this when 10 years ago it would have been impossible)

Deirdre Gould asks: Did you give each other Noogies to resolve editing disputes?

P: Can one give a noogie to another person 1500 miles away?

W: Metaphorically. I think. Can you feel that?

P: Ouch.

W: SUCCESS.

Betsy Baker asks: Paul, your birthdays are just eight years and one day apart. How did you feel When he hijacked your party that year?

W: Here we go. Ladies and gentlemen. If you are still reading, I apologize.

P: I’m supposed to remember my 9th birthday? I have enough trouble remembering yesterday.

W: I certainly don’t. Yesterday I mean. And I think she means your 8th birthday. When I was born a day later. She means you had the BEST PRESENT EVAR.

P: I think we had a pretty good tradition of sharing birthdays in our family. We made a pretty big deal about it actually, so it was cool. and EVAR, yep.

Betsy Baker asks: Will, how has your brother influenced your writing style? Do you remember any specific tortures that may have brought you down this path?

W: I guess this is directed at me, so I’ll answer this one. Uh……..Paul was usually pretty cool to me. I don’t know about you, though. But he was 8 years older than me so by the time I got to the point of knowing anything at all, he was already too cool for school, so it wasn’t really until adulthood that we became BFFFFFFFs.

Betsy Baker asks: Paul, younger brothers are notorious pains in the touckus. You’ve suffered this one for well on 36 years now. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from this pain in your butt?

P: Water. It goes under the bridge. Stop taking things so serious.

W: There’s water under your touckus? (and I think the spelling is toochus. maybe touk-us. IDK. Can we not say butt?)

P: I don’t know where you’re taking-us…

W: I don’t think she knows either. 😉

Betsy Baker asks: Will, your handle, has been, in the past, CheeseWill. Please tell us, what is your favorite cheese? The world wants to know!

W: Cheese. There are lesser cheeses or greater cheeses. All the cheeses are wonderful and prized.

Betsy Baker asks:  Paul, knowing how much you love Kraft Velveta, how do you feel about Howard Starks apparent love of processed cheese food?

P: Iron Man’s dad rocks?

W: I think Betsy is confused. I think she’s referring to the part in Captain America when Howard is talking about fondue. Fondue is not a processed cheese food. If I’m incorrect, tell me in the comments cuz I’m confuzzled.

Betsy Baker asks: We grew up with a father who was very much into Science Fiction and Fantasy books. Both of you, which of dad’s favorite authors were also your favorite authors? How did that infuence your current writing style?

P: Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, David Brin, Anne McCaffrey, Alan Dean Foster, Orson Scott Card, Andre Norton, Larry Niven, Tolkein…  endless really. There are so many books I’m thinking of that I can’t place the author at the moment. I think I just have this deep bank of resource inside my head. As to style… that’s still evolving. But, I know when something’s good when I see it.

W: Asimov. Heinlein. So many others. As for current writing style…….hmmm…I don’t know. I mean the last thing I wrote was a robot story that I really wrote as an homage to Asimov. So probably very influential.

W: Okay Betsy. Thanks for hijacking this perfectly good thread. Anyone else?

Betsy Baker asks: Growing up I remember a time in kindergarten when I the school held a haunted house. I became scared and wouldn’t budge. The school had to call Paul out from his 6th grade classroom to pull me out of the haunted house. Will, do you have any similar protective brother memories of Paul?

W: Sorry. My brain isn’t braining right now. I’ll come back to this one if I can think of anything.

Betsy Baker asks: Will was always an advanced child. He was in multiple advanced level classes in school and somehow always managed to place high in the Pinewood Derby competitions. Paul, how do you see Will’s drive and competitiveness coming through now?

P: Hmmm…. I think it shows up in different ways. He’s driven and committed. He grabs on to the thought of what he wants to do and he pursues it. He’s committed to family and he’s great with them.

W: When I see a pizza, I commit. ALL THE WAY.

Betsy Baker asks: Piggy-backing on a question above a little bit, Will, how do you see Paul’s protective older brother nature come in to play now?

W: We’re really getting deep here, aren’t we. Paul is like the older brother I never had. Wait…he IS the older brother I do have. Anyway…I guess if we’re really looking into it that much, he does try to focus me when I’m flying all over the place on a plot point. He was the one who really directed much of the story in Blink and I honestly believe most of the better points of the book are because of him.

Betsy Baker asks:  Paul moved out of the family home far sooner than any of us would have liked. For a time, though, he lived quite close to you, Will. For writing purposes, I imagine that kind of distance would have suited you much better. How has technology helped and hindered your writing process?

W: OK. Background story time! When we lived in Arizona, Paul left to go to college. Because that’s what you do when you graduate high school. A couple years later we left Paul in Arizona because Dad got a new job in the Chicagoland area. YEARS LATER Paul decides the desert is too hot and when I am graudating from college, he takes a job an hour away from me for two years. We did a lot of stuff together like eating pizza and watching Blade II while he lived close by. Technology…we discussed earlier. Read that.

Betsy Baker asks:  Some of us know that your upcoming, highly anticipated, novel Blink involves inter-reality travel. Knowing that sliding is already a commonly accepted form of inter-reality travel, would you rather hurdle through a mirror, or slide like Quinn?

P: What about folding? Or entering new planes of reality by near-death experiences? or being stabbed in the eye? A simple stroll through a mirror sounds great.

W: Glory…who said anything about getting stabbed in the eye??! That sounds horrible. There is a bit of a B-movie horror vibe to the first quarter of Blink, but from then on, there is more of a straight up chase movie theme going on. In a lot of ways, I guess I borrowed from Star Trek’s mirror universe. Or Fringe. Which I didn’t even realize until after I’d written most of the book. Or co-written, as it were.

Betsy Baker asks: You’re both fathers and you’re both teachers. What is the one thing you seem to teach over and over again no matter if it’s your students or your kids? What is the one thing you have to relearn over and over no matter if it’s your students or your kids? How has that affected your writing and how has that made you a better writer?

P: No mixing of day job and whatever this is. No. Nope. Naw…. ok. this might have taught me patience there….

W: I have to tell my kids to put their names on the papers. I don’t know if that helped anything though.

Betsy Baker asks: Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Gate? Why?

W: Why choose? I would like a sci-fi nachos with all three. And extra guac.

P: Stargate Deep Space 9

W: …Episode VII

Rysa Walker asks: Each should ask the other why mom/dad loved him better. It’s a classic. 

W: Easy answer.

P: Matthew.

W: 🙂 (In hindsight, I think both of us read this question as who did Mom/Dad love better. Ooops)

Betsy Baker asks: You’ve both written some pretty fun stuff now. What character that you’ve written would you trade places with and why?

W: There are definitely a few I WOULDN’T trade places with. That’s for sure. Hmm…Maybe Bek from my story The Control? Maybe Franz in Requiem?

P: I wrote a story that I’m hoping Sam Peralta has seen for the Drifting Isles Chronicles. I really love the character I wrote for that one. He’s my take on Indiana Jones.

W: Cool story, Bro.

P: Bek is quality. There’s something to admire about him.

W: Yeah. I might be biased.

Adam Venezia asks: Will – how does co-writing a novel work? I’m real curious about the logistics of it. Who does what?

W: Did we already kinda answer this? Guess we should put out a FAQ.

P: Yeah cool.

W: I will say that I think you have to co-write with the right person. It wouldn’t work with everyone. We have fairly similar temperaments so neither one of us got bent out of shape when we didn’t get done what we said we’d do. We both like to write, but family and careers sometimes have to take priority, so this book wasn’t always Job #1. For us, we both were laid back enough to make it work.

Harlow C. Fallon asks: Here’s a question: If you (Paul and Will) could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be, and why?

W: Letting our sister into this interview. LOL! (just kidding! sorta!)

P: Dang. That’s waaaaaaaaay too loaded of a question. If I had to do it all over again and had to make one choice again, it might be to have gone to Illinois with my family back in 1990. It would have been a different adult life. Totally.

W: Dude. That was a long time ago. You’re old. As for me….I don’t know. I hate to change things because there are so many other things that could change based on that one thing and I think even our failures make us into who were are. I worked for about six years at the local newspaper before I started teaching. I dug a huge hole for myself financially, but I learned so many things that I use as a teacher and a writer today.

P: Sure. I see the point. I wouldn’t want to change the last 13 years, but the 14 years before that….?

W: Tempting. For sure. If you could go and accelerate everything that you did right…that would be ideal.

P: If I only knew then what I know now….

W: Stupid hindsight.

…..

W: Is that it? You got any questions for me?

P: I think the crowd was a better interviewer than I could ever be. Good job crowd. Good job Will.

W: I agree. This was fun. A long thing, but fun. Look for Blink on sale Thursday in your local Kindle store.

Reader Requests #4 — Bilbies, Donuts, and Peeps

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I put out another call for blog ideas from my Facebook friends and family tonight and they did not let me down. Most of those ideas contained a kernel of similarity – food. Let’s kick it off, shall we?


 

Easter Bunnies.

Cute, adorable, giver of chocolate and hard-boiled eggs.

Except…maybe not.

Every year, numerous well-meaning parents in the U.S. adopt rabbits around Easter as gifts for their children. According to an article on Chicago Now:

“Too many families purchase a rabbit on impulse for Easter gifts and they don’t realize how complicated rabbit care can be,” says Marcia Coburn, President of Red Door. “We get so many calls from people that see rabbits running lose that don’t appear to be wild rabbits and we end up going out and rescuing them. Domestic rabbits just aren’t cut out to survive out there.”

These rabbits end up either killed by natural predators or rescued by local humane societies. This problem with bunnies isn’t just an American problem.

Looks like there is way more chocolate to a Bilby than a Bunny.

Looks like there is way more chocolate to a Bilby than a Bunny.

In Australia, rabbits have been a problem for a couple centuries. Rabbits are not native to the continent, but when settlers came from Europe and North America a few hundred years ago, they brought rabbits, foxes, and domesticated cats – all of which are now feral species that have harmed the Australian environment. From an article by Dr. Ian Gunn, an Adjunct Senior Associate at Monash University:

Australia has a sad history of importing European animals — rabbits, foxes and cats, for example — that now pose a great threat to the survival of our native species. Feral rabbits are Australia’s greatest pests, currently costing agriculture, and hence the community, about $200 million annually, in addition to untold costs to the environment.

The article goes on to suggest that instead of Australians going for the traditional Easter Bunny, they should instead an Easter Bilby. What is a bilby? A marsupial, the bilby is a type of bandicoot that lives in the desert of Australia. With large ears that help keep it cool in the hot arid climate of the Australian mid-section, the bilby is the natural replacement to the rabbit in Australian Easter folklore.

Credit to Scott Robert Glazier for the Bunny topic.


 

On other food topics, our friend Michael Bunker had a few food topics to address and I will do so in the following bullet points:

  • Ice Cream Sandwiches. Pro or Con? What? How is this even a question? Pro of course. The sandwich part by itself could be called a cookie. Sesame Street named one of their main characters the COOKIE MONSTER. On the inside is ice cream. Wonderful, amazing, creamy ice cream. How does the saying go? “You scream, I scream, WE ALL SCREAM for Ice Cream!” Put those two together and you have magic. In your mouth.
  • Steak: Pro or Con? Pro. You can’t beat a well-cooked steak. The trick is the well-cooked part, of course and that in itself drives some people away. Even pricey restaurants don’t always cook steaks well. I went to one of those pricey restaurants a few years ago – where their steaks are graded on a separate scale than the USDA – it was heaven.
  • Donuts and donut holes. I’ll just quote the bearded master here: “How do they get away with cutting a part of the middle of your donut away and selling it as a “donut hole” to someone else? If they did that with Pizza, there would be an uprising. And shouldn’t we demand that we get the middle part for free?” Absolutely, Mr. Bunker. The middle part should be our right. This is a food slippery slope. Sometime in our past, there was a pastry. Then someone took out the middle and called it a donut, forgetting that we still deserved that middle deliciousness. That simple act has spawned an entire industry on just donut holes. It’s like when Hitler demanded Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain thought – “we’ll just give it to him and he’ll be OK.” Except he wasn’t. We all know how that ended. We need to demand our holes back. Our HOLES!

Credit to Michael Bunker for the various food topics


 

And to close this one out, here is a brief editorial on Peeps.

Peeps. Peeps. Peeps. Just keep saying it out loud. After a while, you start sounding like 1/3 of a 90’s hip-hop group. At best.

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What do you think this is? Some kind of game?

Peeps, if you are not familiar, are pieces of marshmallow shaped into chick or bunny forms and coated with colored sugar. There is no nutritutional value. There is no spiritual value. There is no redeeming value.

If you’ve had a Peep (and if you have, you may not want to raise your hand), have you ever sat back afterwards and said, “Oh boy self, that sure was a mighty fine decision to eat that sugar-blasted, chick-shaped marshmallow?

You know what Peeps are good for? Dioramas (there are HUNDREDS of them. That is why they sell – so people can make scenes from their favorite movies with Peeps.)

In closing, pitch the Peeps. There is so many better things you could have.

Oh look – a Peep in a donut!

Thanks to Carrie Gillette for the Peeps

 

Reader Requests #3 — Trad-published books, my students, and my writing fears

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Time for another Reader Mailbag! I put out a call for blog ideas on Facebook and got some great ideas. I’ll answer three questions tonight.

#1 – Traditionally published authors who have inspired you to write and/or continue as a reader. You’re full of love for the self-published (a lot of whom are just as good if not better than traditionally published) so who do you love in the traditional published world?

— Carrie Gillette

Great question. Obviously most people grew up on traditionally-published authors. It wasn’t until recent years when independently-published authors could realistically put their book in the hands of the reading public. My biggest influence when I was a teenager was Isaac Asimov. By the time I really got into his work, he’d already passed away, but I can’t deny his Foundation and Robot novels left a huge impression on me. I read about his writing process and how prolific he was and that really started my dream of becoming a writer.

ImageAs for contemporaries, I can’t talk about traditionally-published authors without mentioning Stephen King (although he has also independently-published). If anyone is EVER interested in writing, they should read King’s autobiographical/how-to On Writing. It was probably the first time I realized I actually could be an author. I was already a writer at that point (working in newspaper), but novels was a far cry from high school football articles.

As for authors that I will read no matter what – Lee Child’s Reacher books, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt and NUMA Files books, Dean Koontz, John Scalzi, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, to name a few.

I will never give up traditionally-published books completely. There are dozens of traditionally-published authors I will continue to follow and read, and I doubt I will ever give them up. There is a reason why they were published in the first place, after all.


 

#2 – What you’ve learned from your students.

— Christy Winemiller

As many of you know, I’m also a high school history teacher. This semester I am teaching U.S. Government, Economics, Modern World History, and World Geography.

High school kids are a trip sometimes. I love teaching and being a positive influence on students as they are trying to figure themselves and the world out. One day they will amaze you and the next they will confuse you. Science tells us that the teenage brain is not fully formed. That they can’t make the same logical conclusions that adults do. As teachers we often commiserate that we can see the logical and best answer to a problem but sometimes a kid doesn’t do it, even if it stares them right in the face.

But, what also comes along with that aspect of adolescence is passion. The logic isn’t always there. Their emotions often control their decisions instead. As teachers we see disregard for authority, an irrational sense of invincibility, and unreasonable passion over the silliest things.

Sometimes I’ll read a critique of young adult books by some stuffed shirt in New York and the complaint often is that they are not logical and too emotional. But that’s exactly what teenagers are. They ar passion to the nth degree. There was a girl in one of my classes a few weeks ago after Duke lost their first round basketball game. She was forlorn, in spite of the fact she will never go to school there (she admitted herself), we multiple states away from North Carolina, and she has no ties to the school. But she was just shaken by the loss.

That’s what I’ve learned – that as an adult logic comes back into play, but I can’t forget the emotion and passion that life needs sometimes. We can’t forget the wonder and magnificence of life just because we have a mortgage payment due at the end of the month.


 

#3 – Greatest fear when it comes to writing.

— Stefan Bolz

My greatest fear? Wow…I’m not really sure if this is my greatest, but I’ll share some fears I’ve had while going through this writing process.

Last year about this time I was probably 85-90 percent done with my first novel, Dead Sleep. And then I just sat on it. I made excuse after excuse as to why I couldn’t write that day. Days turned into weeks and eventually I hadn’t written for probably a month.

I was scared to finish. I couldn’t bring myself to let these characters go. Even thinking about it now, I still have a tear that is working its way to my eye. There was a finality to it that I wasn’t ready for. In fact it was earlier question-asker Christy Winemiller who assured me, telling me I would see them again the sequel. Once school ended for the year, I plunged back into the book and finally finished. On one level, it wasn’t hard, but on another, it was some of the most difficult writing I’ve ever done.

And part of it was the characters, but another part was simply finishing the book. There are more than a few projects that I’ve started and not completed in my life. It can be easier that way. You can’t fail if you don’t finish. What if you finish and people hate it? I think I have pretty decent taste and I like my book, but what if the world hates it? What if this book will be your last book?

I suppose there are a lot of fears rolled up into one situation, but there you go.


 

Some serious topics tonight, so I’ll leave you with the creepiest picture of a taco I could find:

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