Author Interview – Chris Pourteau


Yesterday, I had an interview with Apocalypse Weird writer Jennifer Ellis, author of the amazing polar apocalyptic tale, Reversal. Another one of the AW stories to be unleashed next week is Chris Pourteau’s incredible book The Serenity Strain. Just like with Reversal, I felt like I was on the ground with the characters, living their lives with them for better or for worse (usually worse). There are a lot of great things to like about The Serenity Strain. I highly recommend it. To talk about the book and his experience in indie publishing as well as AW, here is Chris Pourteau:

WS: First off, give us a short background about who Chris Pourteau is and your career thus far.

CP: Well, I’ve been a technical writer and editor for the past 20+ years at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). I started working there after I finished my master’s degree in English at Texas A&M and, you know, needed a job. TTI is the dayjob that pays for my fiction writing in my spare time. In Sept. 2013, I indie-published my first novel, Shadows Burned In (SBI). Short of the technical aspects of putting it up on Amazon, I had no idea what I was doing. Like many first-time indie authors, I think I had it in my head: “OK, here’s the opportunity to show the world what the traditional publishing world was too stupid to see.” So I put it out there and waited. And waited. And waited. Lightning did not strike. I was not declared the next Great American Author. What a pisser, right?

But that turned out to be a good thing. The best thing that’s happened to me in the last year and a half is that I got plugged into the independent publishing community and met great folks like Nick Cole, Michael Bunker, Jennifer Ellis, Hank Garner, and yourself, all of whom seem determined to help one another out. What a concept! So, in retrospect, I’m glad SBI didn’t take off. Quick success might’ve robbed me of getting to know, and coming to rely on, my fellow indie authors. Every one I’ve met has been generous and helpful to me in my quest to become a successful fiction writer. And whenever I can, I take the opportunity to pay forward the kindness to others who are just entering the world of independent publishing. I’m a big believer in karma, and that if you put good out into the world, it’ll come back to you.

tssWS: How did your involvement in AW come about?

CP: I met Michael about a year and a half ago via Nick Cole’s Facebook page. Michael’s a fellow Texan and we share the same barbed sense of humor, so we hit it off pretty quickly. I did the standard “new author” thing of “Hey, would you read my book?” So Michael read SBI and liked it, and I wrote some fan fiction in his world of Pennsylvania, and he loved that. So he invited me onboard AW.

WS: What inspired your story The Serenity Strain?

CP: Back in September, Nick asked for a pitch. I gave him one, he liked it, and he assigned me a deadline of mid-December for my novel. I was horrified. I’d written SBI back in 2000 or so, shelved it due to disinterest from the traditional-publishing establishment, picked it back up in 2013, reworked it several times . . . well, as you can see, publishing SBI wasn’t a fast process. So the idea of banging out a full-blown novel in a couple of months was very daunting. (Nick can knock out a Hemingwayesque classic over a weekend in Sausalito… 😉 ) Plus, I was in the middle of producing Tales from Pennsylvania, a short story collection set in Bunker’s world of Pennsylvania, and my second Pennsylvania fanfic novella, Susquehanna. So I didn’t even get started on TSS until mid-October. I even remember PM’ing Nick and telling him, “I’m gonna bust my ass for you, but prepare for me to blow past your deadline, man.” He was totally cool about it, though.

So, I had very little time, in my book (heh), to produce a quality novel. To save time, I decided to go with what I knew (the old writer’s mantra, right?).

  1. I’ve lived on the Gulf Coast all my life, so multiple hurricanes seemed natural apocalyptic fare to use;
  2. I set the novel in North Houston, a region I know very well;
  3. The concept of a demon who unleashes appetite-driven inhibitions was very appealing to me. I’m a licensed professional counselor [LPC], so understanding Freudian psychology is part of my DNA;
  4. The 3-part, 7-chapter organization I’d used in SBI gave me some structural reassurance amidst the “crap! I have to do this in two months!” feeling;
  5. And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been through the pain of divorce, so it wasn’t hard to plug into those feelings for my main characters.

All those elements became my essential equation for TSS. And, by the way, I was only a week off Nick’s schedule in bringing the novel in, so I was kinda proud of (more or less) making his deadline.

WS: Do you think this was easier because you did Pennsylvania fan fiction? Why?

CP: Absolutely. Michael Bunker liked SBI, and that was very gratifying. But he was really enthusiastic about my writing after he read Gettysburg, and he had a similar reaction to Susquehanna, as did Nick to both novellas. I think those two pieces, plus co-helming Tales, showed them both I could write well enough and be organized and reliable about it.

WS: I really liked the nonstop thriller aspect. From what I can tell, you had four distinct storylines that intersected here and there, eventually coalescing in the final scenes of the book. Talk about the challenge of writing a multi-strand book and making sure all the chess pieces end up at the right place.

CP: Thanks! You know, I don’t think a lot about the plotting while I’m writing. For me, the story is all about characters and how the circumstances of the story make them into the people the reader comes to know, if that makes sense. In TSS, a couple of my “heroes” aren’t very likable people at first. But black and white hats bore me. Sometimes life has a way of forcing us to step up, and that’s what I try to remember when writing characters. I want to write about complex people who aren’t perfect but who, at the end of the day, find it within themselves to reach for nobility, usually through an act of self-sacrifice. That appreciation for the journey of self-awareness and self-actualization probably comes from the same place that drove me to become an LPC.

Having said that, I did a lot of outlining for each section of TSS before I started writing. Again, I was writing a lot and fast, so I needed to give myself direction. (I’m pretty anal retentive—if I don’t have a plan, I’ll just stare at a blinking cursory with no idea what to do; I’m not good at improv.) I basically wrote an extended story arc for each of the three sections before I started them, so I could aim at a target. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll keep it general, but I knew the basic plot—family in crisis crosses paths with the evil characters in the book—who the Big Bad Boss was gonna be, and how she’d enlist the lesser bad guys in the novel.

Beyond that, I relied on my section outline to give me general direction, with the actual plot details coming about as I wrote. I guess the (too late) short answer is, for me as a writer, plotting is organic and derives from characters and their motivations. I know it’s not that way for everyone. But a general idea of where I’m going with the story is absolutely necessary to my going anywhere with it. 😉

WS: What other books were influential in what you put into this book?

CP: I tell anyone who will listen—Nick Cole’s The Old Man and the Wasteland is a modern classic of dystopian fiction. Someday (if they aren’t already), people are going to hold that up as one of the turning point works for independent publishing demonstrating how, quality wise, it could compete with traditionally published works. At its heart, Nick’s book is a “journey story” of self-discovery and adventure, like its namesake, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’d also call out King’s The Stand or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain is also an author-hero of mine) as examples of that kind of story. Combine that journey/adventure-of-self-discovery model with the psychological grotesquery in Poe’s tales and the “normal guy next door thrown into a horrific situation” of King, and I think that pretty well defines my approach in TSS.

WS: What’s it been like being a part of the initial AW team?

CP: Awesome! I’d also make this point more generally about the indie-publishing community, but it’s certainly true of AW—we aren’t just a bunch of authors working on a common project. We’re a team—and here’s a quick example. When I was trying to figure out how the Serenity Virus would work, I did what all writers do these days—I Googled. But I couldn’t make heads or tails of some of the research—it’s complex stuff! Then I became Facebook friends with E.E. Giorgi and, within a week, found out she does HIV research. Wow! A real-live scientist! So, via Facebook, I reached out to her (she didn’t really know me from Adam) to help me figure out how Serenity might work, if it were real. She reached right back and was very generous with her time and expertise in doing that.

That’s very indicative of how everyone has worked together in AW. I do the same for the other authors, when they ask. I have over 20 years’ professional editing experience, so while AW has its own awesome in-house editor, Ellen Campbell, she doesn’t have time to answer every grammatical question that pops up. So if someone reaches out for that, I do the best I can for them. AW has been (and continues to be) a wonderful example of—as Nick calls it—a Community Created Bookverse, where authors, graphic designers, marketing experts, and all-around good people come together to help lift one another up and produce excellent works of speculative fiction. I’m honored and damned lucky to be a part of this group. I will now lead you in a chorus of Kumbaya 😉

WS: How about that M.S. Corley cover?

CP: Yeah, how about that!? Mike did a great job of individualizing each cover for the 5 launch books but making them obvious members of a family of AW works. Working with him was awesome. He asked for ideas for important characters/stuff to include, then gave me a sketch (which was pretty much on target). Then we refined the sketch together, and he added color and finalized it. It was seamless, painless, and he was very open to my suggestions as the writer. I recommend Mike very highly. A great guy and a very talented artist!

WS: Any hints on your next book?

CP: I’m actually working on two short stories at the moment—one for David Gatewood’s The Tinfoil Tales, one for Sam Peralta’s Dragon Chronicles—both due around March 1. I’ve outlined my third B Company tale, Columbia, which continues the story begun in Gettysburg and Susquehanna. Writing that will take me through March. After that, we’ll see. I have a futuristic/sci-fi/dystopian story idea about an over-the-hill mob enforcer who becomes the target of his own employer, and I’m anxious to pursue that. And I have a couple of what I think are unique ideas for short story anthologies I’d like to helm. Plus, hopefully TSS will be successful, and Michael and Nick will be knocking on my door to write the sequel. 😉 The immediate future is packed with projects, and that’s a good problem to have.

WS: Last thing…besides your book, what is your favorite AW book?

CP: Oh, besides mine? 😉 I’ll be honest, I’ve only read (to date) The Red King, Reversal, and Immunity. ALL of them are excellent. It’s like asking me: Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, or Bernard Cornwell—which is the better author? Well, they’re all great…but different. And that’s what I’d say about the AW novels. We all have different styles and different approaches to our stories, but each has its strengths and “great moments.” So, I’d say, read ’em for yourself…and you make the call.

Guest blogger: Paul K. Swardstrom


When we create, it has an effect on us, on our friends and family, on our relationships. The impact can be positive, it can be negative, it can even be relatively neutral, but there is an impact nonetheless. I knew this when I began my writing my first novel last year and because of it, I didn’t even tell any of my family for months. When I did, the admission was made with a lot of self-doubt and humility. Not because I was guaranteed success; no — because I was simply fulfilling a dream when some of my friends and family had let their dreams run off long ago. Me as a writer reminded them of the ruts we fall into in life, but even with some, it took some time to really work itself out. 

That impact eventually turned positive. Over the past few months, I’ve really learned to treasure my relationships with my family even more. In doing so, my brother Paul, and my sister, Betsy, have collaborated with me on a short story collection we are calling Baking With Swords, to be released soon. I’m really proud of the work we’ve put together and am excited to see their names on a book for the first time. 

In anticipation of that, I opened my blog up to Paul and Betsy to share some of themselves and their motivations for writing. This is Paul’s entry: 


Choices. We all make them – well, not all. I suppose if you’re in a coma, you’re not making choices, but then you’re not reading this either.

Let’s start over. My name is Paul K. Swardstrom. If that name sounds familiar, then you’re right. I am the son of Paul D. Swardstrom, the son of Paul W. Swardstrom…


Paul told me to just take a picture from his Facebook page, so here is one with a bird on his head.  - Will

Paul told me to just take a picture from his Facebook page, so here is one with a bird on his head. – Will

What? Oh. Will. Yeah, He’s my little taller than me and eight years younger than me brother. Ok, back to the subject at hand….

Choices. They are like rubber bands. When we make them we never know when one will snap us in the katookus. What will we do today? Will we use our time wisely? When confronted with a difficult situation, how will we react? Do I brush my teeth after a meal with lots of garlic and onion?

I’ve made my share of choices – some good, a lot bad.

Excuse me, I have to go brush my teeth…. and, back.

I think that for me I think too much. I always have. I think if I were in the debate club in school I would always have been in last place, but by the next day, I would probably have 5 good zingers. That’s my deal with choices, and life, and my place in the world and well, everything. I analyze, and sort, and reanalyze and try to place meaning, and pray and pray and rail angrily, and …. shrug.

When I was seventeen-nearly eighteen and had to make choices for college, I had no idea what I wanted in life. I decided to take music classes in college and become a music major because I had taken private lessons on my instrument in high school and didn’t want to waste it (the responsible attitude of a first-born child) and since I enjoyed marching band so much as a teenager I thought the best thing I could do with my life would be to associate myself with it by becoming a band director – I suppose that’s a moderately acceptable as a reason for wanting to become a band director.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I wanted to be one of the best band directors in the state – Arizona at the time.

Well, life has a way of going sideways. I was a young man with not a very clear head on my shoulders. I’m a good thinker, but again those in-the-moment things are hard for me. Additionally, I was quite a right-brained thinker back in the early 90’s. Its taken nearly two decades for me to train my left brain to be able to do some heavy lifting.

I was never the success I wanted to be back then – partly because I wasn’t ready for it, partly because I didn’t properly prepare myself for it, and partly because life just went sideways… a couple of times.

Malcolm Gladwell has a theory in one of his books, The Tipping Point that it takes about 10,000 hours working on something before you attain expert status at something. For me, I calculated my hours teaching band a few years ago and it came out somewhere north of 9,000. You could say I was approaching my tipping point, and I knew it. I also felt it. Things I did were making sense, I had quite a few instinctual reactions to situations that I knew were simply because I had been in that role for so long. However, I read The Tipping Point and made this calculation one year after I had been shifted into a different teaching role in my school district. It would be two more years before I would be back in front of a band again. It was the most professionally frustrated as I’ve been, and it has been going on for the last four years.

I’ve had a lot of soul searching in the last few years. Do I try something else? If I do, what would it be? I had an opportunity to go into financial planning, but I know the right brain side of me is too dominant for that to work. Do I go back to school and find something else to do? Do I move to be able to find other opportunities? Whatever I’ve been faced with, it always seemed that the best option was to stay right where I was – which only continued the frustration.

When Will began to write, I didn’t take it very well. I wanted to be supportive, but it hit pretty close to home. My brother. Doing something that he loves. While I felt unable to do the thing I felt I was made for? It was tough for me at the time. Will and I hashed it out some months back, which I think was a major step for me. Strangely enough, I think that was a block in my own head that kept me from being free to explore other ideas. That… well, let’s name it here…. petty jealousy…. kept me locked up and once I was able to let it go I was then able to make something of some ideas that have been floating in my own head for a long long time. By the way, Will was extremely gracious about the whole thing. Another thing he’s good at, hmmm.

Anyway, sometime soon after Will and I had our hashing out, he posted a blog post called I Am Inadequate, where he went and described a lot of inadequacies, hangups, choices, lazinesses (is that a word?) and such that I also struggle with (we are related after all). For some reason, the genesis of an idea popped into my head after reading that, and combined with the struggle you see noted above, a story idea was born.

Concept 3Over the next few days, I popped in on that story every time I had a break and had draft one finished pretty quickly and showed it to my author-brother. With his encouragement, the story expanded, shifted some focuses and refined. What resulted was a story that is called The Price of Greatness, which will be part of the forthcoming collection Baking with Swords.

It feels as if the story of this blog post is unfinished, but I suppose that is as life goes. Life is unfinished, and to borrow a phrase, my story is still unwritten. I found it quite interesting that Twitterverse had two things to say about this today (5/23/2014), which I in turn found inspiring enough to write a blog post about. I will leave you with them.

Oswald Chambers @myutmost ·

“Ambition means a set purpose for the attainment of our own ideal, and as such it is excluded from the Kingdom of Our Lord.” –Chambers


kulturhack ‏@kulturhack

The Odd Wisdom Of Brian Eno: “Craft is what enables you to be successful when you’re not inspired.”


A Year in this Crazy Adventure We Call Publishing


One year ago, I hit publish on a short story, thereby earning myself the title, “Published Author.”

Perfect Game cover (1548x2400)That short story, Perfect Game, has had very impressive staying power, especially considering I don’t promote it at all. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to share the ups and downs of the past year and the experiences I’ve had. This may get a bit lengthy — I’m forewarning you.

May 24, 2013 — Perfect Game is published. It was originally intended to be an experiment before I published Dead Sleep just weeks later. It was one of those stories that gets written when you are stalling other projects and was written and edited in just three days’ time. I worked up my own cover, using a picture I took, and tinkering with it in Picasa. In just a week, it sold remarkably well, but I had a bevy of family and friends who wanted to show a little support on Facebook, so that’s what I chalk those initial numbers to.

July 1, 2013 — Dead Sleep is published. As much as Perfect Game was just an experiment, this was a life-long ambition to finally write and publish my own novel. It was really a perfect storm of conditions that set this up: I finally had just one 40-hour-a-week job, I was reading and following Hugh Howey’s journey, and an idea came to me at just the right time. This first edition of Dead Sleep was riddled with problems, some of which I didn’t find out about for months. It really taught me a lot — to really be meticulous when it comes to your novel. Double, triple, quadruple check everything before you publish. I was thrilled to just have it for sale, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn from the experience.

Veil_Part1July 20, 2013 — The Veil is published. A Silo Saga story, I believe it was one of the first few Silo stories in Kindle Worlds that hadn’t already been published in the Kindle store. After drawing inspiration from Hugh Howey, I really wanted to pay homage to the author who showed me I could become a published author on my own terms. To this day, The Veil is my best-selling title on Kindle.

From there, it was a little while until I published anything else. I worked on a few things and then school started back up in early August, pushing any new titles back until I got the new semester under my belt. One of the stories I worked on was The Sheriff’s Son, which was recently published in WOOL Gathering. The charity anthology was over a half-year in the waiting from when I wrote my story to its publication, but well-worth it. More on this later…

AntApoc_EbookCover (640x1024)September 15, 2013 — Ant Apocalypse is released. Over the summer, I saw a humorous tweet from fellow author Lyn Perry where he wondered about the effectiveness of ant spray that killed them for “up to 7 days,” or something like that. On a whim, I replied “ANT APOCALYPSE,” and he told me to write it. I know he was joking, but I took it as a personal challenge. Horror isn’t really my thing, so I tried to take it on in B-movie fashion and think it paid off. Recently, AA became my first audiobook when narrator Sean Lenhart recorded the book. I’ll tell you — the book really takes the creepiness to another level when you hear it voiced.

Veil_Part2October 29, 2013 — Behind The Veil is published in the Kindle Worlds store. A sequel to The Veil, it is told from the perspective of the villain from The Veil. I also set another small challenge for myself in the process. I knew the story I wanted to tell wasn’t really long, so I made it a goal to tell the story of BTV in less than 10,000 words (thereby making it 99 cents in the Kindle Worlds store). As of this blog posting, I still have plans to write the third and last part of the series, Beyond The Veil. It will be on my summer writing list, I promise.

November through February — Nothing published, but that doesn’t mean nothing gained. I knew heading into November that it was also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I planned and made it my goal to write Dead Sight during the month. I did complete over 50,000 words of the novel in November, but didn’t quite finish. December brought first semester exams, so I put off finishing until later and the final 20 percent of the novel was completed in January. Then came revising and editing, until…

Dead Sight ebookFebruary 23, 2014 — Dead Sight is published. Book 2 in my planned trilogy, it picks up a couple weeks after Dead Sleep leaves off. If Dead Sleep was a personal story for me, Dead Sight was a family story. Not sure what that means for the third book in the series, but these books will always have a lot of meaning for me. I know I’m doing something right because the sales for Dead Sight in the first month and a half equaled the sales for its predecessor in about four months’ time. The sales for the first book in the series have continued to sell better since I published the sequel as well and it has really given me incentive to complete the series. (Another summer project!)

Woolgathering_Cover-3 (1)March 13, 2014 — Finally, WOOL Gathering is published. I actually got involved with the anthology a couple months after its inception, but it took a while before we got all our ducks in a row. I wrote The Sheriff’s Son set in Hugh Howey’s Silo Universe back in August 2013, but it didn’t see the light of day for about seven months. But I am super-proud of this project, being next to stories from my fellow WOOL authors W.J. Davies, Ann Christy, Carol Davis, Lyn Perry, Fred Shernoff, Thomas Robins, Logan Thomas Snyder, and Dave Adams. A lot of great stuff in there and all the proceeds are going to the NaNoWriMo Young Author program. I guess I lied earlier — this is my best-selling work, but since so many other authors are involved, I don’t chalk it all up to me.

So what’s next? 

Concept 3Within a few days, my next project, Baking With Swords should be complete and for sale in the Kindle store. I’ll have a lot more to write about this in other blog posts, but this is a collaboration between me, my brother Paul, and my sister Betsy. After everything I’ve done over the past year, they each unearthed their long-dormant writing abilities and we decided to pool our talents for this collection. The cover is terrific and I’m really looking forward to people reading all the stories, not just mine (A Whimper, which I previewed earlier this year.)

I’ve also written my next short story, tentatively titled True Confessions of a Professional Sidekick, which may go in another anthology with my WOOL friends, and may not. We’ll just have to see. I had a lot of fun writing the story, but once again, it’ll be a few months before most people get a chance to read it.

Then — Dead Search, the final installment in the adventures of Jack and Kristina. I’ve written the first chapter, approximately 3% of the book. Just 97% to go.

This past year has been a trip. Writing and putting myself out there was scary. Hitting publish and waiting for people to read it is like hitting the top of a hill on a roller coaster. The seat is gone for a moment and you aren’t sure how bad or good it’s going to be.

My sales haven’t been life-changing. I’m still going to keep my job as a high school social studies teacher, but this is pretty cool:

  • I’ve sold over 1,200 copies of my books on Kindle in the last year.
  • I’ve sold about 100 copies of my two novels in paperback form as well.
  • Just over 50 people have checked out my books through the Kindle Lending Library Program.
  • I’ve also given away just over 6,500 copies of my books during the same time period.
  • Over 1,000 copies of WOOL Gathering have been sold since its launch.

That means that by now, over 9,000 copies of books that include words I actually wrote are out there on someone’s Kindle, Kindle app, or bookshelf. For that, I’m honored. Even more incredibly, my books have a 4.5 combined average with 113 total reviews on

I’ve met some great authors and readers throughout the past year and have been encouraged throughout the way. It hasn’t all been an upwards trajectory (you can’t help but think you are doing something wrong when your sales go from 250 one month to about 100 the next and you’ve released a new story.) Staying focused on the next book has helped, as well as the supportive authors I’ve encountered along the way (you know who you are!)

Along the way I also started this blog back in August and have loved entertaining you and providing reviews of my favorite books as well. Thanks for everything and stay tuned — the best is yet to come!




I’m finished. 

This is the one of the worst parts. Waiting. Seeing if anyone will buy the sucker and what kind of reviews it’ll get. 

ImageI officially released DEAD SIGHT today with much fanfare. (all true, except the fanfare bit)

I’m really excited for this one on a number of levels. First, it’s my second novel. I’d written DEAD SLEEP last year and got some pretty good reviews on it. I knew I was going to follow it up, I just didn’t know how soon. I didn’t even get the physical edition of DEAD SLEEP out until October, so it was still fairly fresh in my mind when I started on the sequel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. 

That’s the next aspect that thrills me — this was a NaNo book. It ended up right at 68,000 words, but nearly 55,000 came during November or in the days immediately following. I finished it up in January and added the finishing touches in February, but the bulk of this book was written in a 30-day time span. If you ask me, it makes for a better book. More consistency and better flow. Definitely convinced me to try it again this fall. 

What also gets me excited about this book is family. I suppose these first three novels (DEAD SLEEP, DEAD SIGHT, and the last, DEAD SEARCH <—- what’s that, a title spoiler?!) are all in some way a dedication to my wonderful family. Not only my wife and children, but also to my mom, dad, brothers, sister, aunts and uncles and grandparents. DEAD SIGHT takes place in South Dakota, which is where my dad’s mother spent the latter part of her life. We traveled through many times (as well as North Dakota, where my mom’s family lives) and it became a very familiar place. You can see me in the main character, Jack, but you can also see bits and pieces of my other family members in the other characters as well. What this book has also done is bring me and my brothers and sister closer together. I’ll probably save the bulk of that for another blog sometime, but the interaction between me and my siblings has been fantastic ever since I started writing. 

I’m also excited because I decided to give my readers a break. I priced both DEAD SLEEP and DEAD SIGHT at just 99 cents for the next couple weeks. If you haven’t gotten the first one, you can get both for cheaper than one cost yesterday. Go get them now!

Thanks so much for reading and for following my adventures. This book is for you, my readers. 



So here I am, nearly ready to publish my next novel, DEAD SIGHT, just waiting until some beta readers finish up, I do a few more edits and then rush off to hit “publish” on my Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page. 

And then it happens. 

I am told there are errors in my book. No — not the one that hasn’t been published yet. 

ImageDEAD SLEEP — the book on Kindle since July 1, 2013 and in print since October. With numerous proofreaders, a few beta-readers, dozens of ACTUAL readers, I was handed a list by two different people this week of a few errors in the book. 

Gut punch. 

Just kidding. Sorta. 

I mean, who doesn’t want a perfect book? I worked really hard to make sure everything was just write on that book. Even when I had it formatted for print in October, I found a dozen or so errors desperately in need of my attention, and they were fixed. Or so I thought. 

None of the errors were atrocious and some were ones that most people would miss, but regardless, they were still errors. Like “the South Dakota,” for example or “class country music,” instead of classic. Fairly minor, but still problems.

The book has been fixed in Kindle and will soon be updated for future print editions, but that brings me to the issue of perfection. Of course, I, as a writer, strive for perfection. I can’t tell you the actual number of people who have read through that book without seeing or mentioning those errors until now. As an author, it isn’t something you want to hear, but it’s necessary to learn and grow.

I read a book in September the first weekend it was out. I’m not going to say what book, but the author was also independent and is considerably more successful than I am. As I was reading, I found two or three errors. I was shocked. Surely someone with the writing ability such as he does not make errors and certainly someone who has sold as many books as him can get all the errors fixed before publishing? I was taken aback. I tried to forget his success (although he might call his success small, compared to mine, he is enormously successful) and his sales and thought of him as another person. A fallible person.  

I sent him an e-mail and addressed the errors, telling him, “if it was me, I would want to know.”

The author was grateful and agreed with me. 


I am not referring to any particular book. I just wanted to use Grumpy Cat on my blog.

Next thing I know, I published my next short story a few weeks later, ANT APOCALYPSE. Three days later, this author contacts me with a few mistakes he found and suggestions for improving the story. Obviously, I wood have liked to have fixed all the issues before I published? Sure…but here’s the thing. Whether the book has been out three days or almost eight months, there is bound to be a few errors in it. Thankfully eye found them quickly, revised my manuscript and re-published that night before I’d even sold a dozen copies. 

Mistakes are bound to be in nearly anything, and it doesn’t matter if it is self-published, like me or my friend, or traditional published. In the fall, I read a book being pushed by some in the media as “the next Harry Potter” series. It was interesting and I did review it on Amazon. (I don’t know about the whole “next Harry Potter” thing, but okay…) Anyway, I was probably about 75% of the way through it (sidebar — I now judge many books on how far percentage-wise I am through it) when I found a glaring misspelling. Not just a mistake. No — an honest-to-God misspelling that any spell check program would have noticed and put a red squiggly line underneath. 

We’re all prone to mistakes. It happens. 

But it is how we react to and fix those problems that defines us. 

ImageDEAD SIGHT, my next novel — hopefully very mistake-free — will be out on Kindle next week and in print soon after that.

I’m no anticipating any, but if you dew find an error, hit me up on Twitter @wswardstrom or my e-mail. I’d love to hear from you even if you don’t find any errors, and I’d especially love a review on Amazon or your own blog. 


Book Review — From The Indie Side


ImageA few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to grab an Advanced Copy of the Short Story Anthology From The Indie Side featuring 12 incredible authors from all around the globe. I’ll admit to being friends with a few already – notably Hugh Howey, Peter Cawdron, Michael Bunker and Jason Gurley. I was drawn the collection by those stories, but discovered so much to love here. This will be one of those books I’ll come back to again and again.

In his Author’s Note, Peter Cawdron noted some important science fiction short stories, such as Asimov’s Nightfall and The Bicentennial Man and Philip K. Dick’s stories that inspired Minority Report and Total Recall. Stories like that were hugely influential to me as a teenager. I had a few collections of science fiction short stories from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and frequently found myself returning to them over the years.

This could very well be a collection like that. Each of the stories is unique and presents their own distinct view on science fiction or fantasy (or in a few cases, both).

Along the way, I discovered some authors I hadn’t read previously – ones that I’ll definitely be paying attention to in the future – authors like Brian Spangler, Kate Danley, Sara Foster, Anne Frasier, Kev Heritage, Susan May, and Mel Hearse. I can’t find a lousy one in the bunch, honestly.

For me, though, three stories stood out. I loved all the individual tales, but the ones from Ernie Lindsey, Sara Foster, and Peter Cawdron really stuck with me and will ruminate in my mind for some time.

The story from Lindsey was so simple, yet was so relevant and so profound. “The Man With Two Legs,” is the title of Lindsey’s story, which is designed to catch the reader off-guard. Why wouldn’t a man have two legs? And thus begins a fantasy/sci-fi tale about a man who has two legs in a world where the general population has just one. One leg to keep them in line, to check their behavior, and to oppress opposition to the status quo. Those two legs represent so much, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, this story will stick with me.

Sara Foster had a short little yarn called “Cipher,” which tells the story of a woman out for a visit to her ailing father when a bomb goes off, leaving her separated from her family. The man she meets takes care of her as all the apocalyptic potentials raced through my head. Suddenly the story was over in an instant and the shocking end seared the story into my memory.

And Peter Cawdron’s “The Man Who Remembered Today” caps off the anthology. For an Australian, Mr. Cawdron does a phenomenal job of putting us inside of an Arab-American working as a paramedic in New York City when terrorists are striking all around him. The writing is top-notch and crisp, not hesitating from the plot for a second, as Kareem (the aforementioned paramedic) cannot remember yesterday, only the events of today. Events that haven’t happened yet. Cawdron expertly follows Kareem throughout his day, putting us on a collision course with an epic conclusion.

Oh…did I forget to mention these are all independent authors? I suppose the title may have given it away, but the writing sure didn’t. This is up there was any of the short stories I would have devoured as a teenager and continue to love today. Just because the word “indie” is slapped in front of someone’s title doesn’t alter the fact they are phenomenally talented at what they do.

Pick this collection up. Read it. Pick and choose if you like. At the most, the longest story will take a little over half an hour. Some will take a few minutes. All are worthy of your time.

Creativity Breeds Creativity


The days where authors sequestered themselves in an isolated cottage in upstate New York may not be over for good. A lot of authors – myself included – love moments of quiet and solitude, but for me, those moments are rare. Instead, I’m actualy finding that the time I am out in the “real world” can provide inspiration for the ongoing plotlines winding and twisting through my head. And instead of shutting myself off from the world, I find myself reaching for other pockets of creativity.

As I write this post, my daughter is a few feet away, emptying the dishwasher and signing the entire “Frozen” soundtrack. In her elementary years, she discovers her creative side every day and is even prodded to do so in her schooling. As adults, we can’t always do that. In fact, there are many people who stop seeing the “possible” once real life has set in. They’ve convinced themselves they are no longer capable of painting a surreal landscape, of learning to play a musical instrument, of writing a novel.

When I was fresh out of college and writing at the local newspaper, I made a goal in my head to write a book by the time I was 25. My early 20’s went by way faster than I anticipated and soon that goal was to write one by age 30. I had a lot of life changes between 25 and 30, but writing a book was not one of them. Then the years just started ticking by. 31. 32. 33. Still no book.

But I had purchased a Kindle for myself in November of 2011. Then I started exploring the books and stumbled upon Hugh Howey’s WOOL. I’d love to say I read it and my life was transformed. But I didn’t even read it for months after downloading it. MONTHS.


*Note: Not Hugh Howey

By the time I finally read it, I also had discovered Hugh’s blog and began discovering that he was JUST LIKE ME. Just a few years older and he had begun his writing career a few years before. He talked to his readers and even danced for them. Way different than I imagined a successful author. I always pictured them cooped up in some dark and dusty loft, plinking away on some ancient typewriter. Hugh was not that type, for sure.

And so, in January of 2013, I began to write again. I’d written the beginnings to books before…only to fail after 30-40 pages. This time I didn’t tell anyone – even my wife – for over a month after I’d started. I was scared to death I wouldn’t finish. That the book manuscript would simply get forgotten and curl up and die. It nearly did a few times when life got too much last spring, but once I’d reached a certain point – probably 20,000 words or so – I knew I HAD to finish.


Proof: My first novel.

And I did. My first book. A life goal, accomplished before I reached age 34.

But, I wasn’t done.

Once I started, I found new ideas. Ones I didn’t know I had. I have more than a few Word files with just a paragraph explaining a plot that I didn’t want to fade into mental obscurity.

Then, I started to meet other authors. To be fair, I haven’t met a single one in person – or even talked to any on the phone, but I lucked into a remarkable group of authors who were all writing WOOL fanfiction last year. (I decided to write The Veil as a tribute to the man who finally got me off my duff; I published it last July.)


Soon to be released Charity Anthology. Super excited for you guys to read these stories.

This group of writers has been amazing and we’ve all inspired each other. I read their work and they’ve read mine. Many of us have teamed up for a charity Silo Anthology to be released soon. (Announcement here.) Their creativity astounds me and inspires me. When I read my friends’ books, I find myself itching to get back to my laptop to add a chapter or four to my current manuscript. Their creativity sparks my creativity…and I think that is an amazing thing.

In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I decided to write the sequel to my first novel and successfully completed the month by putting over 50,000 words towards my book. But a strange thing happened that month. I read more books than I had in a few months. You wouldn’t have thought I would have wanted to expose my mind to all the new and different ideas found in other people’s books, but I found the opposite to be true. The strange, new, and wonderful ideas that sprang out of the pages of these books pushed me and motivated me to get my own words down on paper.

And I hope that my words will do that for you as well. Don’t just sit there – do something. Be creative. Take the energy you would put into a few rounds of Candy Crush or the next episode of Game of Thrones and put your thoughts down. They may be great, they may be terrible…but they’ll be yours.

That book I started writing in November? I had been a little stalled on it, but my friend WJ Davies challenged me to finish. I in turn challenged him to finish his book Binary Cycle 2 and we both aimed for February 8. (Here’s Binary Cycle 1, btw…) I just finished the rough draft two days ago and now it’s in the hands of five people who are (hopefully) critiquing the heck out of it. If all goes well and there aren’t any black holes (metaphorically speaking) in my plot, I should be publishing within a month or so. It may not be Feb. 8, but it’ll be pretty stinking close.

Maybe you won’t write a novel, maybe you won’t paint the Mona Lisa and maybe you won’t be the next Justin Bieber (we can all hope), but whatever you do, it’ll improve and enrich the world and your creativity will touch someone else. I can just about guarantee it.



This has been an interesting month. 
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I endeavored to participate this year. Only really hearing about it for the first time last year, I decided I might as well give it a go with the sequel to my debut novel Dead Sleep, that will be titled Dead Sight

When I wrote Dead Sleep, I started in January and went through June. Some days I wrote a lot and with a flurry, but other days went by without anything being written. In fact, there was a 3-4 week time period in March and April that I just put the book aside completely. My work as a teacher required my focus at the time, so I put it on a shelf. When I got back to it, I was determined to finish, but I had forgotten so much. I had forgotten a bit of the tone of the novel, certain attributes of characters that I had set up on a whim, and other random aspects of the book. A huge portion of my time in April, May, and June was simply going back over what I’d already written and figuring out how not to drop my characters into a gigantic plot hole. 

For that purpose, NaNoWriMo has been an amazing success. I’ve been able to juggle more and multiple characters with various locations and I haven’t lost my sanity! My own personal memory can go back 30 days, so I am quite able to recall what I wrote not only yesterday but also two weeks ago. 

Those that argue that this month teaches poor writing habits may think they have a point, but for me, I’ve learned I need to write a little everyday. I did miss one day this month, but I’ve written at least a few hundred words each day besides that with some days going upwards of 3,000 words. 

I have enjoyed the month and learning about myself and about my writing ability over the course of the month. I’m not as prolific as some other authors (cough, cough Hugh Howey) but I still am impressed with myself. 

Right now, I’ve got about 2,000 words a day to finish up by Saturday. I don’t know if the story itself will be finished, but I should hit the 50,000 word count goal set forth my NaNoWriMo. If all goes well, I’ll have a new novel out by spring. 

Down below is my current NaNo chart — right short of 42K. 


Sneak peak at DEAD SIGHT


For NaNoWriMo, I’ve been working on Dead Sight, my sequel to Dead Sleep. I just passed 20,000 words. I decided to reward my readers with a sneak peek of the novel. If you’ve read Dead Sleep, this will make a little more sense, but you may get a sense of how this novel will operate. I’ve had fun writing this one so far and I’m hoping to continue my NaNoWriMomentum and pound out a lot more this week. 

Well, without further ado, the Prologue to Dead Sight. (Bear in mind this is very rough and NO ONE has seen this yet except myself. I hold every right to change or discard anything you see before the book is finished). 



Thomas Hendrikson braced himself against the door frame between the dining room and kitchen of his home knowing his time was limited.

Within a few years, he would be sent off to war. War hadn’t yet been declared by the United States government, but it was only a matter of time. The signs were on the wall each time the newspaper came and with every radio broadcast. If that wasn’t enough, Hendrikson knew that once the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor in five months, the U.S. would be thrust into the war it had tried to avoid since Hitler began rampaging all over Europe.

For Thomas, death was almost certainty to meet him head-on in late December 1944. On a muddy battlefield with a gun in one hand and a letter to his wife in the other, he would breathe his last. When that moment came, the epiphany he felt while in his Midwestern kitchen wouldn’t matter at all.  There was almost nothing he could do to avoid his fate. The fear – not of the unknown, but of what was certain – controlled Thomas. It had entered through the backdoor and drifted through the house until it found him, about to enter the kitchen after a long day in the fields. It was fear that kept him rooted to the dark-stained oak floors as sweat stained his white, button-down, cotton shirt in the July heat.

Thomas’ wife, Julia, had left that morning to see her mother in Hurdsfield. Julia and Sue Ellen, their two year old daughter, packed for a week away from home. His mother-in-law was just 10 miles away, but he didn’t expect them back for seven days – possibly more. He didn’t mind Eleanor White, his mother-in-law, but he had other things to do. As a farmer in the middle of North Dakota, there was always work to be done. Even with rain on the horizon, there was plenty for Thomas to keep himself busy at the farm.

Taking a step back, Thomas found the desk in the adjoining room. Julia had always wanted the dining room to be just that – a dining room, with the clean formal table, lacy tablecloth and china cabinet. She’d put all that in the room, but Thomas insisted on keeping a desk in the corner for his personal space. Their home was spacious for a North Dakota farmhouse, but he liked to be near the kitchen while Julia was cooking. She didn’t like it, but she allowed it.

Rummaging through a few bills and invoices stacked together on top of the desk, Thomas found some blank sheets of precious white paper. Nearby, a half-sharpened pencil was ready for his use. He grabbed it while the thoughts that were tormenting his mind were still at the surface, ready to boil over. He needed to get these memories – his memories…or is it his future?… on paper before he forgot it all for good. Some of the images he saw were clear, recognizable – understandable, but most of the thoughts swimming around in his brain were beyond any comprehension he could muster. Thomas had always strived to be a progressive farmer, including the latest technology and techniques on the farm, but what he saw – what he knew to be true – was so unbelievable that the city folk of the 1940’s wouldn’t even understand his visions.

Without Julia on hand to nag him about cleaning up before sitting down to the table, Thomas straddled a chair at the solid cherry table in the dining room. He and Julia had purchased the immense table the year before in Fargo on a trip to see her sister. If Julia had been in the kitchen, she would have yelled at him to sit at the desk. That’s what he’d put it in there for after all. Somehow he knew that he’d need more space than the surface area the desk could provide. 

Thomas Hendrikson collected his thoughts. He was used to farming. The consistency of the annual plantings and harvests. The daily grind of milking the cows, feeding the livestock, and checking on his fields. Wheat, corn, barley and sunflowers. He tried out some oats last year, but it didn’t go as well as the salesman promised, so he went back to the basics and was determined to stay with them as long as they worked for him. He knew what worked in the fields of North Dakota and what didn’t.

This? The words and images that flashed through his head were foreign to him. He had no concept of how to handle this. He didn’t plant these seeds. He didn’t know how to harvest this crop.

All he could do – all he could even think to do – was to put pencil to paper and hope to rid himself of the confusion rattling around in his head.

But, when he finally had the pencil at the top left corner of the paper, he was at a loss. How would he start? What would he say? He knew the words he would write tonight and the next few days would affect his great-grandson and hopefully any great-great-grandchildren he might have. To ensure the continuation of the family, he began to write:


Dear Jackson Ellis,

At some point in time, you will be lost. You will not know what to do. The future will be blocked from you and the contents of this letter and the subsequent writings will be vitally important to your survival. As I write to you, the date on my calendar is July 14, 1941.

My name is Thomas Jackson Hendrikson and I am your great-grandfather. I already know that I will be long dead by the time you read this. You see, I share the same ability as you – I can see the future. I’ve known about my ability for some time, but only tonight was my destiny revealed to me. 

My future is destined to end on a battlefield in Europe in a few years, but your destiny is still wide open. I don’t want these letters to end up in the wrong hands, so after receiving this, there will be some tasks required to find the others. I believe in you, after all, you are my great-grandson. You are the only hope of keeping the family legacy.

Here is what you need to know right now…


Thomas Hendrikson wrote deep into the night, stopping only when the radio in the living room stopped playing its nightly variety of music. Waking up the next morning, he paused to eat breakfast and then continued, a man on a mission, possessed of the need to protect the child of his own grand-daughter. He continued writing, using up all of the plain white paper in the house. When that supply was exhausted, he used the scraps of paper left on the desk – old invoices, receipts and bills. Somehow his penchant for saving anything and everything over the years came in handy when the future most depended on it.

After that, he sealed the envelopes and made the arrangements that would need to be carried out over 70 years in the future. He couldn’t control the future – it was out of his hands – but the farmer knew he’d done what he could for Jackson Ellis, his great-grandson. 

The Most Prolific Author You’ve (Probably) Never Read

I’ve gotten to know Carol Davis over the past couple of months after she was welcomed into the WOOL fandom with her Kindle Worlds story, Rebel State: Underground. Since she hit publish on Aug. 30, she has since published a follow-up to her initial story as well as a one-off entitled They Kill. Back in the 90’s, Davis wrote and published two authorized Quantum Leap novels, but has been writing all along. 
Just last week, Davis published her first original story through Amazon — Blood Moon, a short story. I’ll include my review after a short interview I did with Davis (spoiler alert — I really, really liked it). Davis’s background in TV really informs her stories and she does a phenomenal job in bringing them to life. The following are just a few questions I peppered Carol Davis with yesterday:  
ImageYour author bio on Amazon now lists 6 works, but how many stories do you estimate you’ve written in your adult life? How were those published or read by others?
I’m going to guess at around 800 stories.  (I’ll use “story” as an all-inclusive term — some of my work was teleplays, a couple of screenplays, half a dozen novels, almost all of it fanfiction.)  I’ve always been crazy prolific when I’m interested in something! I started out publishing in fanzines.  The past 7 years, I’ve been offering my stories via LiveJournal, where they’ve been very well received — and that gave me the confidence to give Kindle Direct Publishing a try.
What do you think was the greatest impact on your writing career?
The encouragement of established writers.  As a beginning writer, I felt that “If this person, who knows what they’re doing and has had some noticeable success with their writing, says my writing is good enough that I should keep at it, I’m going to believe them.”  The past few years, the positive feedback I’ve gotten from readers on LiveJournal has really kept me writing.  There’s nothing like a pat on the back to keep a writer hammering on the ol’ keyboard.
What did WOOL and Hugh Howey’s writing career mean to you?
I was aware of Kindle Worlds before the big Wool-mania began, and it sounded like a very interesting proposition — a way for new writers to jump into the pool without the need to win over a “legitimate” publisher.  I loved  WOOL (the original novella), and when it was announced that Hugh was going to offer his universe to Kindle Worlds, all the pieces came together for me, and I got started on my first Silo Saga story.  Knowing that Hugh very patiently wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and published his work online with a nice degree of success (and was finally able to grab the brass ring) was very encouraging to somebody who’s spent a lot of years giving her writing away for free.
Talk about Blood Moon and the rationale for writing something that wasn’t fanfiction.
My long-term goal is building up a good-sized catalogue of work on Amazon, so that when I retire I’ll have something to do all day (putting together more stories!), and will be able to earn a bit of money to supplement my “fixed income.”  Original work seems like the way to go, because the field is wide open.  Horror, romance, family drama… I can give them all a try.  Short stories, novellas, full-length novels.  It’s a wonderful, thrilling opportunity.


….and now my review of Blood Moon, Davis’ newest story, on sale for just 99 cents. I highly recommend it. 
Carol Davis is new to selling books on Kindle, but isn’t new to crafting and weaving a great story and that shows in her short story, “Blood Moon.”
Davis has previously one dabbled in the world of fanfiction with licensed works in the Quantum Leap universe and most recently with three stories in Hugh Howey’s WOOLiverse. Blood Moon is Davis’ first attempt at an original story; after reading it, I can honestly say if this is Davis’ try at originality — bring it on.
Immediately upon beginning the story, the reader is dropped into the middle of an already moving situation, almost as if you had started watching an hour-long TV show after the first commercial break and had to work to catch up on details you missed out on in the first few minutes. Thankfully, Davis doesn’t skimp on the details, bringing the reader along for the ride as we follow the road-weary Will Bronson and his 11-year-old son, Danny as they track down and hunt werewolves. We get glimpses at a larger world that Davis has clearly mapped out for this quick introduction. The story reads like an episodic television series that could go on and on with Will and his son hunting and killing wolves throughout a nine-year run on the tube.
If this is it for her werewolf stories, I’ll be disappointed, but ff this is what Davis gives us when she isn’t working in other authors’ worlds, I’ll take it.