Book Review – Invariable Man

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in manWhen I was in high school, I adored Isaac Asimov. I devoured nearly everything I could get my hands on that he had written or had his name plastered on from short stories, novels, works he edited, and even fact books. One of those was the short story Nightfall.

To say my mind was blown by Nightfall was an understatement. Asimov took a concept completely foreign to an earthling, and made it terrifying and compelling all at the same time. When he teamed up with Robert Silverberg to expand the story into a full-length novel, it became a book I would read over and over.

Fast-forward to 2014 when The Robot Chronicles was released. Once again, it harkens back to my love of Asimov and all of his amazing robot stories. One of the tales in the anthology was A.K. Meek’s Invariable Man. It was one of my favorites from the collection with headfakes left and right, showcasing Meek’s great storytelling along with a great robot theme.

So you can imagine my delight when I found out Meek had taken his story and expanded it for a longer – and richer – robot experience. Just like with Nightfall, the story becomes a new animal, separated from the confines of a pre-set wordcount, and given the ability to breathe on its own While IM was a great addition to The Robot Chronicles, it makes a wonderful read all on its own as a short novel.

Just like in the short story, our protagonist is Micah, an old man living in the wreckage – literally, and psychologically – of a war between robot and human. He fixes things, and uses the scrap metal all around him to improve his own lonely life. I really don’t want to say too much because the twists come less than a quarter of the way into the story and don’t let up until the final page. Suffice it to say Meek has a plan for Micah and that plan may not always turn out like you might expect.

I really enjoyed reading the expanded version of Invariable Man and look forward to more of Meek’s writing into the future.

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Book Review – The Robot Chronicles

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We are creators.

Regardless of our professions, each of us is inherently a creator. We start early, creating unconquerable cities with building blocks and spinning entire lives centered around dolls and teddy bears. Creation is at the heart of humanity. Even when we think of our meals, we are mentally creating appetizing combinations of cuisines.

The art of creating has advanced by leaps and bounds as technology has advanced us as a species. Part of the problem with humanity creating is the fear that we might be too good at it. That we might create something we can’t control. That our creation takes on a life of its own.

We’ve seen this in literature for hundreds of years with Frankenstein as the long-lasting example. More recently we can point to 2001, Terminator, Blade Runner, The Matrix and dozens of other books and movies that have shown us what humanity has dared to create has ultimately come back to bite us in the end.

robot anthoAnd so, we get the latest David Gatewood anthology of short stories, The Robot Chronicles. Gatewood has again assembled a ridiculous amount of literary talent for 13 outstanding stories all involving robots in one form or another. Headlining the collection is Hugh Howey (WOOL) and Matthew Mather (Cyber Storm) and neither one disappoint. Howey’s story, Glitch, was published not long ago on its own and reminded me a lot of the movie Real Steel with fighting robots. What one person perceives as a glitch may be more than that, especially to the robot.

I’m not going to go through each of the stories, but each was fantastic and memorable in their own unique ways. I was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov as an adolescent and found each of his Robot stories to be their own moral tales in many ways. These stories are no different, offering viewpoints on what life actually means and how we treat it. Just because we are the creators, does that mean it lessens the life we hold in our hands?

A perfect story to go along with this idea is W.J. Davies’ Empathy for Andrew, where we see a situation similar to what Asimov’s Dr. Susan Calvin might have been involved in. Testing new and breakthrough robotics techniques, scientists push the limits of where the line between robots and humans lie. Andrew is the titular robot who is put through a battery of tests to test his empathy chip and Davies does a remarkable job in telling this story.

Another story I remember from Asimov’s Robot collection was that of Satisfaction Guaranteed, another Susan Calvin story where she was noticeably absent until the end of the tale. In this story, a woman has a human-like robot live with her and eventually she comes to think of him as more than a robot. You see this theme played out in two separate stories – Ann Christy’s PePr, Inc. and Patrice Fitzgerald’s I Dream of PIA. Both handle this theme in remarkable different (and in Fitzgerald’s case, bawdy and funny) ways.

There are also hints at Asimov’s child/buddy stories like A Boy’s Best Friend or Robbie where a child has a robot for a companion and friend. Edward W. Robertson takes the story further. His protagonist, Alex, received Bill as a companion when he is young, but over the years they become more than that – business partners and musicians. Just like a number of famous musicians, things happen and the band doesn’t always survive, but in Baby Your Body’s My Bass, Robertson ends the story on a positive note, in a very Golden-age way.

But the stories that really resonate and stick with me tend to be those that have a larger scope in mind – like A.K. Meek’s The Invariable Man where the fate of the world may be at stake or Deirdre Gould’s post-apocalyptic story System Failure.

One of the best things about this collection of stories is that it got me to get out my collection of Asimov robot stories and re-read and re-discover them in the light of this remarkable modern anthology. Each of the stories in TRC is fantastic, even if I didn’t specifically name the story and author. I’ll carry these stories with me for a long time.

I really enjoyed The Robot Chronicles, just like I did with Synchronic and The Indie Side. David Gatewood is becoming someone to know in the science fiction short story game and his anthologies are now “can’t miss” books for me.

The Robot Chronicles will be available for sale on Friday, July 25.

Book Review – The Lazarus Particle

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Full-disclosure: I am a member of a writing group called LOOW (League of Original WOOLwriters or Legendary Octogenarian Orbiting Whales – whichever you prefer). Logan Thomas Snyder is also a member of this group. We both have stories in the charity anthology, WOOL Gathering. I was given a copy of The Lazarus Particle to read prior to its release, but a favorable review was not expected.
That said, this is a favorable review. Snyder has created a great book with fantastic launching-off points for future books.

 lazparAfter reading The Lazarus Particle, I needed to just sit back and take a deep breath. There is so much going on and the action so intense, it seemed at times as if I was holding my breath waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Scientists gone rogue, bounty hunters, galactic corporations, space battles — in ways reminiscent of John Scalzi, Firefly, and the era of classic sci-fi, Logan Thomas Snyder takes the reader on a wild ride with this complex and epic tale through a huge, well crafted universe.
As a kid, I was a huge Isaac Asimov fan, notably the Foundation series and the Galactic Empire the books are centered around. We’ve seen the huge space-based empire played out on a number of fronts through the years and the competition for real estate throughout the galaxy. Snyder takes this idea and expounds on it with a corporate empire dealing with corporate espionage, a very competent alien race, and action all along this wild ride. One of the great aspects of The Lazarus Particle and the universe Snyder made is that even though two creatures are the same species does not necessarily mean they have the same goals, agendas, or political ideologies. At certain points, I found myself nodding in agreement with the antagonists, only to realize they were the bad guys! What was I doing? Snyder tricked me into liking nearly all of his characters, even if they were slimeballs.
This is an amazing universe Snyder has crafted and I look forward to reading more books set in this universe and dealing with many of the same characters. Well done!


 DON’T FORGET!!

Don’t forget to read my 100th Blog Post and comment on your latest reads. You could win paperbacks of my booksDead Sleep & Dead Sight as well as my family collaboration Baking With Swords.

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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2013 — A Great Year to be a Reader

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What a year.

I will always remember 2013 for a number of reasons. I finally decided to write (and then publish) my first novel. In fact, since late July, I’ve published a novel, three short stories and a novella. Along the way, I’ve learned a TON about writing, publishing, and marketing…I’ve learned about myself…and I’ve become friends with loads of new people whether fellow authors or readers.

As I looked back on the year, I also realized how many books I read. Just looking through my Kindle, I realized I’d read over 50 books just through Amazon and another 10-20 in physical copy as well. True…many of the Kindle books were what we might call short stories, but I’ll call them books nonetheless. That many books was pretty amazing, especially considering the time I have to spend working on my classes for school and the time I spent writing doesn’t exactly lend itself towards reading.

With all those books, I felt compelled to write a Best of the Year List. I don’t want to rank them, necessarily, but I’ll just say these are the ones that really stuck with me. When I think back on this year, these are the books I’ll really remember reading.

dustDUST by Hugh Howey

I’ll remember this because it was the epic conclusion to Howey’s ground-breaking WOOL Saga. Not only did he finish his story, he nailed the landing. There are a lot of stories that have difficulty on the final leg, but fortunately Howey didn’t succumb to the general rule. It seemed like I waited a long time for the story, but in all actuality, Hugh puts his stories out so quickly that I read WOOL, SHIFT, and then DUST within two years’ time. The book landed on Kindle on my birthday and the best present I received was time from my family to read DUST from cover to cover that day.

lgmLITTLE GREEN MEN by Peter Cawdron

I’d heard about Cawdron through Facebook posts by Howey earlier in the year, but I hadn’t read any of his works until LGM, which came out right before Labor Day in the U.S. I had a splurge in the three days of the holiday weekend and LGM was one of the books I read. The Jason Gurley designed cover catches the eye of any reader and quickly brought me in. Cawdron dedicated the book to Philip K. DIck and you can definitely see influences of PKD as well as Asimov and Heinlein. So good, I bought it in paperback and gave it to my father for Christmas.

pa2PENNSYLVANIA 1 & 2 by Michael Bunker

Why do you torture me so, Bunker?! Okay…so I count Michael Bunker as one of my friends, but even with that admission, I’ll say that both PA1&2 blew me away. Just fantastic. That said…I’d really like to read PA3 to see how this story ends. I said how LGM reminded me of sci-fi masters…well Bunker nailed Heinlein in Pennsylvania. Bunker calls it his “Amish Sci-Fi story” and that really drew me to it. My wife doesn’t read much beyond Amish romance and I love sci-fi — something I’d threatened to write for years. Bunker beat me to it, but that’s alright. He knocked it out of the park.

the sowingTHE SOWING by K. Makansi

Who is K. Makansi? Before I read The Sowing, I assumed it was just another ambitious sci-fi author and my assumption took me towards the masculine. I was wrong. Three times. K. Makansi is a mother and two daughters who wrote the book together and boy…is it a good one. The Sowing reminded me a lot of reading The Hunger Games for the first time — discovering a diamond in the rough. Reviewers compare it to both Hunger Games and Divergent, but I thought it was better than DIvergent. In fact, I read all of the Divergent trilogy this past year as well, including the finale, Allegiant. I wrote a two-star review of Allegiant and one of my complaints was telling the story first-person, alternating the chapters between the main characters Tris and Four. Makansi was able to pull this off between a male and female protagonist and make it feel like two separate people with very opposite lives and goals. Well done — looking forward to Book 2 in 2014.

ImageSTEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

Speaking of The Hunger Games, there have been countless stories written by Young Adult authors since Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic tale came out that tried to mirror the story. Sanderson managed to make his own futuristic tale with a unique twist — what if super powers existed, but everyone who had them abided by Machiavelli’s principle that men are self-centered. Anyone in the Steelheart universe is either super-powered evil-doer or plain old human. Fascinating and riveting.

ImageTHE SCOUT by Eric Tozzi

I’d first heard about Eric through Michael Bunker and once his book was released late this year, I purchased, read, and loved. It is a great story that jumps off the page like it was designed for the screen. Tozzi tells the story of a man, faced with the personal story of his parents’ mortality, confronted with a possible alien invasion. Tozzi does phenomenal in his debut novel and I’ll be among the first to get whatever he writes next.

ImageGREATFALL by Jason Gurley

I’d read W.J. Davies’ WOOL fanfic The Runner and a few other smaller WOOL stories, but when I finally dove into Greatfall this past summer, I was stunned by how well someone could write a story set in someone else’s universe. This story probably really set me on course to write my own WOOL stories and in fact, Gurley’s work as a cover artist helped me out a ton as well. I’ve had a sneak-peak at Gurley’s book Eleanor, which he should be releasing some time in 2014 and it is already drawing comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s The House at the End of the Lane — and for good reasons.

I suppose we’ll go with those as my Top 7, but I’ll give a few others as Honorable Mentions:

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, Ben Winters’ The Last Policemen, Hugh Howey’s Sand 1 & 2 (we’ll see how Sand plays out in 2014), Carol Davis’ Blood Moon, John Scalzi’s The Human Division (which I read in 13 installments early this year), and CyberStorm by Matthew Mather.

There were so many books I loved in 2013, but I’m betting 2014 will be even better. As always, check back here from time to time for my progress. As of late December, I’m probably 90 percent done with the rough draft of my sequel to Dead Sleep. I’ve also got a couple fantastic ideas cooking in my noggin. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

A Conversation with Logan Thomas Snyder

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A couple weeks ago, I was asked by Logan Thomas Snyder if I would be interested in joint interview. Snyder is the author of one of the latest WOOL fan fiction stories, titled The Disappeared: Part 1, a mystery which looks at the seedy underbelly of silo life. Since I released The Veil back in late July, I’ve been welcomed into the WOOL world and have been blessed in my journey. What follows is a back and forth between myself and Logan over the past few days where we talk about each other’s books, favorite authors and the writing process among other topics. It is a great conversation if I say so myself. With that said – enjoy!

WS: Tell me how you came to write a WOOL story:

LTS: For me, I think, it was the challenge. Obviously I love WOOL (the omnibus was the very first thing I downloaded to my Kindle when I got it last year), but it’s not like I finished and started right away on my story. In fact, I wasn’t even aware there were other Silo stories until I saw Hugh gushing about WJ Davies’ The Runner. So I read that, then Jason Gurley’s amazing Greatfall series, and that’s really when the gears started turning. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that before The Disappeared I had zero experience in quote-unquote fan fiction. I just never felt comfortable writing for other authors’ characters in their worlds. Because of the unique nature of the silo system, though, I realized I could take a silo and run with it. So that was appealing, the challenge of taking an established, closed setting and imbuing it with an original story and characters. Throw in Hugh’s blessing to attach our stories to his world, and it feels like what we’re doing is almost semi-canonical. Or maybe ‘canon lite’ is a better way of describing it. Either way, for better or for worse, we’re all connected now, and that’s exciting.

Same question for you, with a follow-up: What, if anything in particular, inspired your story, The Veil?

Well, obviously I can’t answer that without saying Hugh Howey and WOOL. Just like you and so many others, I fell in love with Howey’s futuristic world after I finished the WOOL Omnibus. But, it wasn’t until I looked him up and started following his blog that I really thought, “Hey…maybe I can do this, too…”

I had planned to write a novel forever, but it was Howey — a man just a little older than me — who really inspired me. I wanted to honor that and pay tribute to his world, especially when I saw WJ Davies’ The Runner and other Silo stories in the early part of this year, but I pledged to finish my novel first. Once I did, I worked on The Veil. But, what directly inspired the story of The Veil? It was my sister. She had written for a newspaper in Grand Rapids about her trouble conceiving and with miscarriages. A line just jumped out at me where she talked about her circle of friends leaving her behind and her being an outsider with no kids. If you’ve read The Veil, this is a part of Mary’s life about halfway through and I basically built a world around that small little scenario, except in a silo.

I will also say really quick, that I had never written fan fiction before, either. I had always dismissed it, but Hugh added a sense of legitimacy to it with his endorsement. Now that I’ve done it, I’ll say it is sometimes more difficult that penning your own work. Instead of framing your own world, you have to follow the guidelines set out by someone else. It isn’t easy and I believe it actually helped my writing by forcing me to be more disciplined.

Next question: The Disappeared is your first work, right? How’s the rest of the story coming and when can we expect them? 

That’s incredible, although I think in retrospect I sensed there was something more personal lurking between the lines of that transition in Mary’s life. There was something very intimate about it that I think most people would be hard pressed to imagine cold, without the life experience underpinning it –- which, of course, is where the best stories often come from.

dis_cover_1As for The Disappeared, it’s actually my first published work of fiction. Up until about five years ago, I was a dedicated biographer and all around nonfiction article writer. Then I just hit the wall and decided I wanted to tell my own stories instead of other peoples’. So, like you, I embarked on my first novel. Unlike you, I failed miserably. I hit a point where I just didn’t know what to do with it. So I scrapped it and started on another one. Same result. That was when I realized I needed to think smaller. The result of that was my first novella, This Mortal Coil. I viewed it as more of a personal project, so I didn’t publish it, but just seeing it through gave me the confidence to return to the novel form. It took a little more than a year, but I finished my first full-length novel, The Lazarus Particle, a few days before my thirty-first birthday.

About a week later I emailed Hugh with a very lengthy pitch for The Disappeared, and he quickly emailed back with his blessing. I started on Part I the next day. As for the progress, it’s going great. Part II is the better part of done, and I’m about halfway through Part III. Part II should be available in early October.

Next question: Let’s talk a little bit about characters. What do you think is the worst of the secrets Mary carries with her? Or, if not the worst, maybe the most potentially damaging? Feel free to interpret the question as you see fit. There’s so many, I can certainly think of a few, but I’m curious as to your view on the subject.

I don’t know that I succeeded where you failed. I had many starts and re-starts over the last 10-15 years, but I wasn’t able to have the endurance to finish until I saw Hugh’s story.

As for Mary (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR The Veil), I’d identify two as damaging. Obviously if you’ve read the story, you know that the entire tale is centered around all the secrets Mary keeps from her family and the rest of the silo. The first of which is certainly one I could lead with. When she decides to reject the lottery as a newlywed and then keep that fact from Jacob, it sends her on a downward spiral. Ultimately the argument could be made that each and every one of her mistakes from that point on were a direct result of the initial secret she kept from her husband.

Veil_Part1On the other hand, the worst and longest-lasting secret would be when she indirectly sent her friend Chelsea to clean. By aiding Ari Green by betraying her best friend, she sided with IT over Chelsea, her mother and even her father’s legacy. But even then, it is really the secrets and the heritage of secrets passed down from her mother that led to it all in the first place. If Mary’s mother had told her earlier about her father, perhaps Mary might have made a different decision at the end of The Veil.

Next question: Was there something specific that led to the ideas behind The Disappeared? If we start wading into spoiler territory for the sequels, just say so.

I thought you might mention that first one and I have to agree. I remember reading her denial of the lottery and thinking it was almost a kind of reverse original sin. She’s presented with this unexpected gift, and instead of taking it, she refuses it, only to continue to come back to that moment, and how much different her life might have been if not for that rash decision and everything that follows. It’s a powerful statement, how people fool themselves into thinking secrets will eventually wither and die, when really it tends to be the exact opposite.

As for The Disappeared, sadly I didn’t have to look too far back into recent history for a real-world analogue. For those of us that don’t have a background in history (it would seem we’re pretty well steeped, you being a history teacher and me being a history major and biographer), Latin America experienced an incredible period of turmoil as a proxy battleground of the Cold War. During the late 1980’s, so many political dissidents went missing in Latin American countries that a new slang term was coined by necessity to refer to them: los desaparecidos, loosely translating into “those who were taken/went missing in the night” — also known more simply as the disappeared.

So to answer your question, my specific motivation for The Disappeared was examining crime and punishment in the silos, in particular what other options there are for someone who isn’t sent out to clean. The other side of the coin, so to speak. And from there it just fell into place, the combination of missing girls as part of a deeply disturbing conspiracy that overlaps our own modern-day concerns about government surveillance and overreach.

Next question: Tell me a little about [your first novel] Dead Sleep. I’ve got it on my Kindle and it’s a strong contender for my next read. Without giving too much away, what should I look forward to?

I think it’s great when we can harken back to a historical event or even to modern-day issues in our writing. The Latin American angle is clear when you explain it, but I can also see parallels to modern-day slavery, similar in some ways to the Liam Neeson movie “Taken.”

So…Dead Sleep. It was my first story, even though the short story Perfect Game was published about a month earlier. I started the book back in January of this year after I had been at a funeral for a friend’s mother. While I was in line to see the family, I kept thinking of a character waiting to see someone who had died. Then, the concept came to me — what if she wasn’t really dead?

As all stories do, it took a lot of different shapes early on, but within a month or so, I pretty much knew where I wanted to go with it. The trick was to finish it. Teaching high school at the time, I was able to work on it alot in the evenings, but I had to stop here and there, once for over three weeks. But…I kept on writing and that’s the trick.

Dead Sleep 3 medI’ll tell you something… the blurb on Amazon references that the main character, Jackson, has the ability to see his future. While that sounds supernatural, there is so much science fiction in the story. Kristina, the girl he thinks is dead, has nanomachines running through her body and later they are pursued by a team of androids. While there are a lot of questions answered at the end of the book, I’ve got a lot planned for two sequels to complete a trilogy. In book 2, we’ll find out a lot more about Jackson and his abilities and book 3 will really showcase Kristina’s talents.

Right now, I’ve actually got a new cover in the works and it may be done by the time this interview goes live (it hasn’t — stay tuned). With it, I’ll also have a print edition for the first time.

Next question: Who are some of your favorite authors? Who do you think you write like?

I was wondering when someone was going to mention Taken in connection with The Disappeared. Not that I disagree with the comparison the way you made it. You’re absolutely right, there are definitely points of overlap. It was one of the first things I had to get past mentally. But, I mean, ultimately, Echo is no Liam Neeson. She can’t fight and for the most part she’s completely out of her element. I mean, as much as she doesn’t understand the word ‘quixotic’ by the end of the story, that’s sort of the irony. What could she ever really have done for Shim on her own, the way she set out about it? And yet, be that as it may, no one could have ever talked her out of her search — as we’ve seen — and so we come to Part II, with her… well, you’ll see.

As for favorite authors? Wow. I’m going to say right off the bat, A.C. Crispin, who sadly passed recently but also wrote the absolutely amazing Han Solo origin trilogy that I read waaay back in high school. I haven’t read it since, but I remember that being sort of a touchstone of science fiction for me, in love with Star Wars as I was at the time. More recently, though, William Gibson, Iain M. Banks (again, another recent passing, so sad), Lev Grossman, Erin Morgenstern, Carsten Jensen, so, so many more. Oh, and all my fellow Woolwrights, of course! We strive for excellence in all things. (Sorry, had to do it.)

Boy, that last one is a killer, though. I don’t think I write like anyone. Not to say that my style is especially unique; I’ve just never really thought about it, I guess. I’ve had such a weird, circuitous journey to fiction that I feel like I kind of had to work it out for myself in large part. Trust me, if you saw how bloody red some of my pages run after a good long editing session, you’d see what I mean.

Same questions.

Wow…just goes to show how many influential authors are out there. I’ve read some of Crispin (Star Wars geek myself back in the day) and a little of the others, but most of the writers you cite I haven’t really read. I’ll have to tap into some of them someday.

As for me, I really have to credit my dad. He is a huge science fiction and fantasy fan and had a lot of classics for me to read through the years. Overall, my main influence in childhood was Isaac Asimov. His robot stories and the Foundation novels really informed my writing a lot. He had a way of advancing the story in a very concise way. Not too flowery for the sake of inserting adjectives into the plot. Robert Heinlein as well…Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, and Frank Herbert for sci-fi. Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and J.K. Rowling for fantasy. Writers I like to read today include Hugh Howey, Lee Child, Vince Flynn (RIP), Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Clive Cussler.

I would love to think I write like Asimov. I did a lot of research into him when I was younger and he said he wouldn’t rewrite. He would write what he wrote and he rarely went back to re-do anything in his books. I think in many ways, I’m like that. But, I also have tried to pattern myself after modern-day writers like Dan Brown, Stephen King and Clive Cussler in terms of pacing and action.

Next question: What do you do for a living and when and where do you write the best? How do you find the time to write?

I’ve worked in the incredibly uninspired field of advertising and marketing for a little over three years now. It’s no coincidence that I started really writing in earnest again right around the time I took the job, mostly because it’s so lacking in creative stimulus that I needed some sort of outlet. The best thing about writing, unlike say something like painting or music, is that I can brainstorm and write in my head while I work. Even better, and really the best part about the work, is that I can more or less make my own hours, so if I have a sudden flash of inspiration, I can usually put it aside and get whatever just jumped into my head down on paper. As for where and when, I’ve got a nice little home office that’s pretty much my writer’s nest; I’ve never been one of those people who can peck away in a coffee shop or whatever, I definitely need to have control over my environment and that’s where I tend to find the most inspiration.

Speaking of occupations, one of the things I found most interesting about the world of Wool is how precious little the characters know about the world that came before the silos. As someone who also has a background in history, do you think your background as a history teacher gave you a different perspective or insight into the series as a whole, or possibly even the way you approached your own story?

That’s a fascinating question. Initially, that was one of the things I was really skeptical about in Hugh’s stories. How can a group of people so easily forget their own history? Obviously, he takes care of that with the medication dosed to the people of the silo, but it still has a ring of implausibility to it.

That is, until you look at history itself. The Middle Ages — sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages — was a period just like this. The Roman Empire existed and was the dominant force in the world. They ruled with an iron fist and provoked all their enemies in every direction, eventually suffering at the hands of the Visigoths and Vandals because of it. In WOOL and SHIFT, you can see a similar thing happening. The United States has so much power that it is very much like the Roman Empire in the latter stages. While the Romans had the Germanic tribes to worry about, the U.S. has foreign powers like Islamic extremists and Russians.

DUSTAfter Rome fell, the knowledge they had built up virtually vanished within a generation. All the Greek philosophers — Aristotle and Plato, Archimedes and Pythagoras — all the learning just went away. The world was “controlled” by the church and the bubble it established over the entirety of Europe, but eventually knowledge was re-discovered and Europe emerged stronger than ever. Obviously some stayed behind in the ignorance of the Catholic Church, but for the most part, Europe and the rest of the world were able to break free of the silos — I mean the “darkness” of the age. 😉

Next question: There is a lot of fanfiction out there now for WOOL. How much have you read and what is your favorite? Why?

I definitely see the parallels on the macro level when you put it like that. As a reader, my reaction came more at the micro level. At first I felt a bit of a thrill, realizing I knew considerably more than the characters. That’s an interesting position for me as a reader, because it sets up the internal question of “Well, what happens when the truth comes finally comes out? How will people react, what changes will it elicit?” etc etc. But the further I pushed into the series, the more I realized the gulf of knowledge separating reader and character was not nearly as wide as I initially thought. What more do we really know that they don’t? Granted, we have the benefit of several thousand years of recorded human history to study, but even with that knowledge at our fingertips we’re no more capable of answering the questions that define the human condition to this day: Why are we here? What else is out there? Are we alone? At the end of the day, we’re all basically Lukas, looking up at the stars and wondering what, if anything, lies beyond. That was a powerful realization for me, one that made it a lot easier to relate to the characters and their unique situation.

As for the wealth of Silo stories now available, I have to confess I’m fairly far behind. For a while I was keeping good pace, but it seems like there’s a new one just about every day now! Greatfall continues to be my frontrunner favorite, I think, purely because of how shocking the subject matter was. The Silo Archipelago series was also intriguing to me, primarily because of the parallels with other underground movements throughout human history. As for the rest, my Kindle cup overfloweth with Silo fiction, so those two will definitely have some competition in the weeks to come as I finish up The Disappeared and have more time to kick back and read for a bit before resuming work on The Lazarus Particle.

Aside from your own personal favorite Silo fanfic, one last question: Based purely on your own parameters, which of your works are you most proud of and why? 

Greatfall is amazing. Jason Gurley really knocked that one out of the park. Boy, I’ve read so much of it, it really is difficult to say which is my favorite — they all have different flavors with each author bringing their own perspective on silo-life to the table. Bunker did great with the Archipelago, of course WJ Davies’ Submerged series (The Runner, The Diver and The Watcher) all have a great place, simply because they were really some of the first and Davies managed to end his just after DUST so they were really the first to incorporate facts learned in DUST into the narrative.

There are some great new authors coming up because of WOOL as well — Carol Davis, Brigid D’Souza, Ann Christy and Fred Shernoff to name a few. I’ll read just about anything they have to write, simply because of what I’ve already read from the WOOL universe.

As for my own books — that’s like asking which of my children I love the most!

Nah…not really. Right now, I have four published works (I just published Ant Apocalypse yesterday) with two short stories, a Silo novella and my novel. I think my best writing so far was in the Silo Saga novella, The Veil. I really worked hard at keeping the details clear and concise and fitting that into Hugh Howey’s universe.

However, which one am I most proud of? My novel, Dead Sleep. My writing (and finishing!) it, I proved to myself I could do it. Before I became a teacher, I’d worked for a newspaper and I could write 500-2,000 word articles all day long. But…a novel? I didn’t think I could. Once I learned about Hugh and his process…then found out that he endorsed “shorter” novels with as few as 60,000 words, I really decided to go for it. It wasn’t easy, but I persevered throughout a six-month time period to finish it. The book will always have a special place in my heart, in spite of some flaws in retrospect.

fin.

WOOL and Foundation

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WOOL and Foundation

So, when I read Hugh Howey’s WOOL Omnibus, I was struck at how Asimovian it was. The tone, the characters, the expandibility of the universe — there was a lot that connected me back to the Science Fiction Master himself, Isaac Asimov.
When I was a kid, I devoured books, but it wasn’t until I read Foundation that something just clicked for me. I loved it. Let me say that another way. If I was stranded on a desert island and I only had one book to read, I might take the Foundation Trilogy Omnibus hardback I had when I was in junior high.
I probably started reading them right about the time that Asimov passed away, although I’m sure I didn’t know that for a few years.
Asimov had a way of capturing the reader and pulling them into the story. There was always a certain humanity about all of his tales, whether they took place in a robotics lab, on a distant planet where humans had adapted to live apart from one another, or tens of thousands of years in the distant future in the heart of a galactic empire.
I felt the same way about Howey’s WOOL. At it’s heart, its a tale of what humanity does to preserve and live even when the odds are against it. In fact, I found that in Asimov’s stories, particularly in the Hari Seldon tales, the future was guaranteed. It will happen, it is just a matter of how humanity reacts to it. In fact, humanity has done it all to themselves in many ways.
And so Howey mirrors the same themes in WOOL. The characters drive the story, but the background is established by events out of their control. Their future is seemingly set already and it is only through extraordinary means that they can change their destiny.
Another link to Foundation for me was the interconnectedness. By the time Asimov had died, he’d linked his early robot stories like Robots of Dawn to his later Foundation books. In spite of several decades separating the writing of those books, Asimov pieced together a logical conclusion. Then, when he was gone, his estate allowed three authors to write in the Foundation universe.
Hugh has connected his first, brief, WOOL story to four other parts in the Omnibus — then to three stories in SHIFT, a prequel, and now tomorrow in DUST. Hugh is also allowing fans to write in his world, (including yours truly) and thankfully it isn’t after his death.
After I’d read WOOL, the first review I wrote compared it to Foundation. I can’t find that review today, but I stand by it. I was poking around and found Howey’s Top 10 books of all time and wasn’t surprised at all to find Foundation listed at #4. It clearly left a huge impression on Hugh.
And…just like Asimov took 30 years off between Foundation novels at one point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see WOOL stories from their founder again decades later.