Author Interview – Jennifer Ellis

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Jennifer Ellis is one of five authors with books releasing next week under the “Apocalypse Weird” banner. The series started out with The Red King by Nick Cole and is spreading like a firebomb with the next books in the series, which include entries by Ellis, Michael Bunker, Chris Pourteau, E.E. Giorgi, and Cole himself with the follow-up to Red King. After reading Ellis’ book Reversal, I knew I wanted to interview her on my blog. The novel is a great read, in or out of the AW series. It reads a lot like a Clive Cussler novel with bits of Dean Koontz mixed in for good measure. And while you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, check out that M.S. Corley cover as well. Wicked.

Oh…and there may be a few spoilers, so consider yourself warned in advance.


WS: Jennifer, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Why don’t you start with a short background about who Jennifer Ellis is and your career thus far.

JE: Well, I’m a bit of an enigma, even to myself. I started off as a serious academic and have a PhD in Geography, but quickly decided academia was not for me. I always wanted to be a writer and I could not see how a career teaching at a university and being forced to publish or perish could fit with my writing aspirations. I’m also a bit of a lone wolf. I like working on short-term projects, over which I have significant control, on my own, preferably in my house, in my pajamas, with the option to sneak out for a skate ski in the afternoon. So for the past sixteen years, I’ve worked as an independent consultant doing research, coordinating projects, and writing reports for multiple clients in the fields of sustainability and climate change. I started writing fiction seriously in 2007, and after having an agent and trying the traditional route for several years, published my first novel , A Pair of Docks, in 2013, which is a middle-grade science fiction fantasy. I have published two more since then—the second in my middle grade series, called A Quill Ladder, and a dystopian action adventure novel for adults, called In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation. Reversal will be my fourth novel. I also have published two short stories in anthologies—Synchronic and Tales from Pennsylvania.

My writing career thus far has been pretty fun, and I’m so glad I decided to go indie. I have had lots of amazing breaks and met lots of fantastic people. I’m still very much at the beginning of my career, but plan to ramp things up significantly in the coming year. I had just started two pretty major and intense consulting contracts in December 2013, which left very little time for writing over the past year. Those two projects will be done in March, and I’m really looking forward to focusing more on writing.

Reversal_FT_FINALWS: How did your involvement in AW come about?

JE: I had met Nick Cole and Michael Bunker through my involvement in Synchronic, which I was invited to join by my editor, David Gatewood, and got to know them a bit through the Facebook Launch Party and subsequent Facebook interactions. You know Michael and Nick—never a dull Facebook moment when they are around, beards and all. It’s sort of like working with Iceman and Maverick. And more importantly, they are both seriously great writers. Then I worked with them both in the Tales From Pennsylvania anthology. They asked me to join the AW crew and after doing some quick math in terms of whether I could generate the required word count to produce a complete novel by December, I gave them a resounding yes, and have been thrilled to be along for the ride ever since.

WS: What inspired your story Reversal?

JE: Well, I am Canadian, so I wanted to do something with a bit of a Canadian and snowy spin. I also have friends who have done Arctic research and I thought the Ellesmere Island setting offered a lot of scope to do something a bit different than what the others were doing. Also, since I do have a background in climate change and geography, I wanted to take more of a geomorphological and environmental approach to the apocalypse with pole reversal, solar flares, super volcanoes and methane-venting craters. I’ve always been interested in the different theories of mass extinction and what from an environmental perspective might finally do us in.

WS: One aspect I was impressed with was the authenticity. Do you have a background in Arctic research?

JE: Thanks so much. No, I don’t have a background in Arctic research. But I did hang out with people who did do northern research in grad school and heard a lot of their stories, mostly about not being able to shower for 45 days. I also spend a lot of time in a snowy climate, as I live in a ski town. We have bears in town and our yard routinely. Regular black bears of course, but I am accustomed to thinking about bears every time I go out for a run in the summer. I also did a research paper on penguins in university, and when I started writing Reversal, I had just finished reading a book about Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic. Pulling the rest together was just pure straight research, which I am pretty used to doing.

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

JE: The best! They are such a great group and have been fantastic to work with. It has also been super exciting to be part of something that is such a revolution in publishing. But it has also been a bit nerve-wracking because of course I wanted to make sure my novel measured up to Nick’s and Michael’s and the other two launch books by Chris Pourteau and E.E. Giorgi.

WS: How about that Corley cover?

JE; I love it. He is a pro and totally worked with me to develop the elements that I wanted to include. It was great fun to be able to imagine what my characters looked like and how I saw the various settings and be able to send him links and have him just produce them with his pencil. That is true talent.

WS: Any hints on your next book?

JE: My next Apocalypse Weird book will be called Undercurrent. Sasha will carry on to the Falkland Islands in search of Murphy and Soren, and then back to the Arctic to retrieve the green folder with the mysterious coordinates with the help of Gregor, who has uncovered some information regarding the polar bear tags. They will encounter more than they bargained for, and discover that all magnetic roads lead to Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, the Deccan Traps in India, Parhump, Nevada and the year 1974. That is of course, assuming I get to write it, because that is not a given in the Apocalypse Weird world, as readers have to connect with my writing and characters, so if you want more Polar Wyrd, make sure you leave a review for Reversal.

WS: One last thing…exploding penguins???

JE: It seemed appropriately apocalyptic. I do feel a bit bad about the penguins. No real penguins were harmed in the writing of Reversal, I swear. I might have to have the penguins take over the Antarctic research station in Undercurrent to make up for it.


Seriously — if you love a good thriller, Jennifer Ellis’ Reversal might be right up your alley. A bit sci-fi, a bit mystery, a bit supernatural. All together a great read. It is just one of the five Apocalypse Weird books releasing on February 23.

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Baking With Swords: My Take

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Concept 3With all the blog posts I’ve shared lately, I haven’t offered my own take on Baking With Swords — why I decided to collaborate with my brother and sister, and what prompted me to write the story I included.

While I was whittling down the days until I was finished writing and editing Dead Sight, back in February and March, I started writing a short story. I never had any ambition beyond it being a short story that I would just release as a stand-alone tale, similar to the first story I’d ever written and published, Perfect Game.

I happened to say something on Facebook about it, and my brother, Paul, asked if I could wait to publish it until he was done writing a story. (Here is his story on how he started writing.) It was a strange request, so I waited a little bit. After some more inquiry, I found out he wanted to just throw it in at the end of my story as a “bonus” of a sort to any potential readers.

I read his story — or at least, what it was at that time. It was good. There was some great ideas in it and it just needed some polishing. It was better than just an unmentioned add-on to a little short story I was writing. I also knew my word count on A Whimper wasn’t going to be much — probably 6-8,000 words — and his was going to be about the same.

So, I proposed the idea of splitting the book title, or even inviting our sister, Betsy, along for the ride. I knew she had been dabbling with writing fiction since I started my publishing journey and figured maybe she had something she could work up fairly quickly. (Read more about her road to her inclusion here.)

Betsy was game, so I put my story on the backburner for a little while. School took over and I let the two of them tinker and finish their stories. In the end, each of our stories clocked in at roughly the same length — about 7,000 words a piece.

I love Paul’s story because it really is heartfelt. There is a lot of emotion from his main character, Max, and the choices he has made in his life. Obviously Paul isn’t Max, but you can see the questions he has asked are questions Max faces as well.

Betsy’s story fits her, as well. She is a mother to two little boys, both under the age of four. There are so many fears and insecurities that accompany being a parent to a toddler and an infant and she confronts them head-on in this tale. Paul and I really challenged her in the editing process and I think she came out of it with a great story that will connect with a lot of readers.

As for my story? Well, I shared a bit of it with you a few months ago. (Here’s that link.) I must’ve read some technology story, or even Michael Bunker’s Pennsylvania, and thought of the ramifications should we ever have chips in our heads (PIPs as I call them in A Whimper). What would the effects be? I think there are so many effects worldwide that I really could have written a full-length novel, but I chose personal ones to the main character. It is told first person and my brother said the tone reminded him of Ready, Player One, which is a huge compliment and may be true since I had just re-read it prior to starting the work on it.

How will the end come for humanity? Will it go out in a blaze of glory, or will it go in a whimper? Most books and stories choose the former, but I wanted a look at the latter.

I’ll confess I’m not the closest person to his family. I don’t talk to them much. I last talked on the phone to my mother probably two weeks ago (Reminder to myself to get on that), and Facebook and text messaging is the best way to get a hold of my brothers and sister. I live in Southern Illinois, one brother lives in northern Illinois, my sister in Michigan, and my older brother in Oregon. We are spread out, but when it counts, we are there for one another.

I don’t know if Paul and Betsy will continue to write and publish, but with my limited expertise, I wanted to be able to help them on their first trip into self-publishing.

As of this writing, the collaboration has received five reviews, four of which are five-star and the other is four-star. I would love to hear back from anyone else who has read it. Really, you should buy the book for my brother and sister and hopefully my story in this book is the bonus, not their’s.


Oh…don’t forget about the BWS Launch Party Monday on Facebook. <– Click there to join.

Find the link and the massive amount of giveaways I’ve got scheduled right here —> LOOK AT ALL THESE GIVEAWAYS!

 

Book Review — Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

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Tomorrow is the Pennsylvania Book Bomb, meaning if you are going to buy Michael Bunker’s Pennsylvania Omnibus, tomorrow is the day. If you buy the paperback on Amazon, you can get the Kindle version for just 99 cents thanks to the Matchbook program. This is a great work of science fiction and encourage everyone to give it a try. My interview with Mr. Bunker from last week, can be found here

Bunker_PENNSYLVANIA_Omnibus_EbookEdition-640x1024In preparation for the Pennsylvania Omnibus launch, I went back and re-read my reviews for each part of Michael Bunker’s science fiction serial. I was reminded that I was amazed by the beginnings of the book and that I wouldn’t be surprised by any measure of success by the author.

Part of my review for Pennsylvania 1, read:

“If I went to sleep for nine years like the main character, Jed, does in “Pennsylvania” to awaken up to find Michael Bunker dominating bestseller lists, I wouldn’t be surprised. As I read Pennsylvania, I was struck by reminders to so many standard-bearers in the sci-fi field. Asimov. Heinlein. Bova. Scalzi.”

I grew up a huge Isaac Asimov fan, which meant I quickly grew to love the writings of Robert Heinlein as well. The space-age sci-fi transitioned into Ben Bova and now modern-day with the books of John Scalzi (Old Man’s War & Redshirts).

Then I stumbled upon Pennsylvania. Stumbled upon may not be the best turn-of phrase, but when you read a short story by a bearded dude in suspenders who lives off the land and generates his electricity by solar power, you may not be prepared for the story you find.

Bunker definitely derives a good chunk of his story from his “plain” lifestyle, putting his protagonist Jedediah Troyer in a “Stranger in a Strange Land” situation. Jed, is Amish, living in a future world where people can access the Internet via a chip in their heads. Jed is headed to New Pennsylvania where he will help establish a new Amish community.

As a reader, we identify with Jed in this story. We are just along for the journey in this futuristic, alien world, and Jed, with his simplicity and innocence, acts as the perfect vehicle for the audience. We are Jed and are forced into this new world and are just as confused as he is.

As great of a protagonist as Jed is in the book, I daresay Bunker’s supporting characters are even better. Jed befriends a number of people throughout the books, notably Dawn, a woman whose interests in Jed may have a number of motives. I find the character of Jed’s brother, Amos, perhaps the most fascinating and would love a book series focused solely on him. When Jed leaves Earth in book 1, Amos is a 14-year-old younger brother, but when we meet him again later on in the book, he is aged considerably, both by time and experiences. What happened and who is this man?

The trip to New Pennsylvania isn’t as easy as Jed is led to believe and that journey has its costs. By the time he arrives, the planet is fully at war – both in an active and Cold War capacity – between two groups: Transport and TRACE. We get more characters and more and more revealed as the story moves on. Just as Jed learns what is really happening all around him, the audience is slowly clued in as well.

The book is a great work, alternating between moments of calm with the Amish lifestyle, and anxiety with the pending war between the two factions on New Pennsylvania. The simple life that that Amish lead with the chaos and politics of the “English” world raging around them. Bunker has painted a brilliant picture of this dichotomy by showing the differences between Jed and Amos. One content to be plain – the other aware of a different calling on his life.

By the time Pennsylvania ends, it is clear this is a big story and too big for just one book as Bunker has already made plans for the sequel – Oklahoma. Sign me up for the sequel and some more Amish science fiction.

Pennsylvania Book Review and Interview with the Beard himself

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Pennsylvania is a special book. If you haven’t read it, you need to — for the words, for the amazing art by Ben Adams, for the formatting — all of it that makes this indie book look not so indie. Except — wait until April 29. That’s the launch date for the Omnibus and we need all hands on deck to buy it that day. I’ll explain in a bit…alright…everybody in? Good.
In Pennsylvania, Michael Bunker has created a futuristic world where the most unlikely of protagonists takes center stage — the Amish.
I read the first part of Pennsylvania last summer and thought it was genius. I went back to find my review of that installment and found myself comparing Bunker’s tale to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, and John Scalzi. The comparisons are apt. While the men I mentioned have collectively written science fiction for decades, Mr. Bunker has been trying his hand at it for only a few years. Add “Amish” to that science fiction moniker and Mr. Bunker finds himself in a unique position.
I’ll have my full official review for Pennsylvania up next week when the Pennsylvania Omnibus drops in the Amazon store. (You can find my previous reviews of each of the parts on their respective Amazon pages.) The title is up for pre-order on both Kindle and Paperback right now, but you should wait until Tuesday, April 29 to buy.
Why?
Because as Indie Authors, we need all the help we can get. If the people who are going to buy PA anyway all buy it on one day, the book has a greater shot at rocketing up the charts, faster than an Amish Wagon heading to a barn raising. Michael Bunker calls it his “Book Bomb.”
I’ve read Pennsylvania and found it to be a great throwback to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, with the added element of 21st century independent author flair. Bunker did a great job crafting a world foreign to us, but yet based on a world he is all too familiar with. (If you don’t know already, Bunker lives an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, generating electricity for his computer off solar panels and sustaining him and his family off the land.) Readers really can sense a combination of a serious, but separate society in the Amish, combined with the modern politics of the time. He has already noted there will be a follow-up book, entitled Oklahoma.
With the release of Pennsylvania just a few days away, I decided I should ask Bunker the hard-hitting questions everyone is dying to know.
1. The Postal abbreviation for Pennsylvania is PA, which might also stand for Passive Aggressive. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble – why should people buy the Pennsylvania Omnibus? If you have the time to answer, that is…
Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

MB:  Because if they don’t, they are with the terrorists. And besides, every time someone buys the Pennsylvania Omnibus an angel gets its wings. A puppy finds a home. An old, lonely person is comforted. But then… some people don’t care about those things…

 
2. Alright. You’ve said Pennsylvania is actually a prequel to the upcoming series Oklahoma. (Which is OK.) Can you confirm or deny that this is actually the futuristic retelling of the classic Broadway musical “Oklahoma!”? How will Curly’s story intersect with Jed’s?
MB: Jed goes back in time to stop Jud from killing Curley, only to be mistaken for Jud because of the name similarity. Because of the mix up, Jud kills Curley, hilarity ensues, and Jed goes to prison in a surrey with a fringe on top! It’s a comic love story.
 
3. As for this Facebook group, AZ… how do you feel about having your own fangroup? Also, does their name have any sense of foreshadowing, meaning is the third installment of the Michael Bunker state series entitled Arizona?
MB: It is weird and humbling having a fan-started, fan-run, Facebook fan group. I was honored when it got started and I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and know so many of the readers. But I am starting to feel I’ve been duped. Since the AZ got started, I think I’ve posted about 90% of the content in there. Wait a minute… Doh. (Interviewer’s Note: Mr. Bunker conveniently dodges the third installment question, leading me to assume he is looking to become the James Michener of state-named science fiction novels.)
 
4. What makes the Amish such great subjects for a science fiction novel?
MB: Great question. There really could be no better subject for a sci-fi novel in my opinion. The whole history of the Amish is a tale of how humans who deliberately consider what technologies they will use or adopt, interact with a world that tends to adopt technologies without much long-term consideration. Of course, no one is “anti-technology,” even the Amish, but the Amish culture is the perfect canvas to examine the future, technology, and how these things affect our lives. And of course, since the Amish came to America on huge, futuristic ships, the parallels of colonization and exploration are ready made for sci-fi.
 
Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

5. I know every author these days does a zombie novel and technically you’ve already don’t yours, but what about Amish zombies?

MB: The biggest problem with Amish Zombies is trying to figure out how the first infection starts.  How do you get “patient zero”? Since the Amish eat wholesome, home-grown foods, and tend to avoid a lot of processed products, they are generally a healthy and robust people. Perhaps a young Amish man contracts the virus from an iPod earbud during rumspringa? Besides, the Amish practice of shunning would probably nip the infestation in the bud pretty quickly. Being undead is a definite violation of the Ordnung.
 
6. Hunker (Bunker + Howey) is so early 2013 and Burley (Bunker + Gurley) is so late 2013. The new jam is the Bunker-Nick Cole Bromance, which I am officially dubbing Nickel Co-Bunk. I will allow no more than 200 words of fangirling about Nick Cole’s work. And…go!
MB: You know, my relationship with Hugh was purely physical. He never appreciated my brain. And with Jason, well, I was in love with the art. We never really sat down for coffee. But with Nick, well.. he completes me. But, in all seriousness, these are three talented men, and I’m pleased to be their friend. But… desert island time? Give me some Nick Cole (or as I call him… Nick King Cole.) And unless Solzhenitsyn or Hemingway comes back in time… well, you know… (Interviewer’s Note — that response clocked in at just 84 words, meaning Mr. Bunker could have written another 116 words on his love for Nick Cole’s books. I’m sure he’s just trying to conceal his true emotions.)
 
7. There is a whole new sub-culture developing of independently published writers. In your opinion, what are some of the best aspects of being an independent author?
For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

MB: There are the obvious answers. Creative freedom, more money, the community aspect of having direct access to readers and vice-versa. I am so happy to be where I am today, and in on watching and participating in the revolution. And that is my real answer. I honestly believe that we are in one of those times… those golden moments that become “a thing” historically. Like being on the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris in the 1920’s, or hanging around the Algonquin Hotel during the time of the Round Table. Very few people (when things like that are actually happening) realize that they are participating in a monumental period. There are things happening right now that students will study in the future, and we’re getting to take part in it. Some of the names we’re throwing around loosely will be (and are becoming) household names, and will become part of the cultural consciousness and lexicon of this very distinct time.  We’re a sub-culture, but what is happening now is fundamentally changing the world, and that is fun to consider!

 
8. Would you rather: Have a burrito for every lunch every day for the rest of your life OR have a donut for breakfast every day for the rest of your life?
MB: I refuse to live in a world where those two things are mutually exclusive. I choose “C”. BOTH!  (Although a breakfast burrito and lunch donut are also wonderfully valid options.)
 
9. What is Michael Bunker currently reading?
MB: I recently finished Andy Weir’s The Martian, which was wonderful, and I’ve been reading some fantastic short stories as they have been submitted for super-editior David Gatewood’s soon to be released Synchronic time-travel anthology which should be out in May.
 
10. Any other secrets in that beard of yours?
MB: Oh, I’m always finding things in there.  Bear claws, Cadbury eggs, new collaboration projects… even a whole new MB website coming soon with direct purchase and download of e-books for every e-reader.  Lots of cool stuff in that ol’, plain beard.
Thanks for having me, Will!
As always, it was a pleasure.
Michael
Additional information on the Book Bomb can be found here. (Note: thanks to Amazon’s Matchbook program, you can get the Kindle version for just 99 cents with the purchase of the Paperback — a steal!)