Indiana Horror Anthology Introduction by R.J. Sullivan

The Hidden, Horrific Pulse of Indiana

Ask most non-Hoosiers (and many Hoosiers for that matter) what Indiana is most famous for and they’ll most likely rattle off the Indianapolis 500. After that, some might offer a blanket statement about awesome college basketball or football. And of course, everyone knows about the Peyton Manning-era Indianapolis Colts, while a few years earlier they might instead talk about the Reggie Miller Indiana Pacers. Somewhere before or after these answers, corn and cornfields come to mind, but that takes us literally off the beaten path.

Ask those same people the following question: “What annual event draws the biggest crowd and creates the most tourist revenue for the state of Indiana?” Easy, many would say: the Indy 500. What else could it be? But the Hoosier in tune with the hidden pulse of the city, who knows the true interests of so many quiet people beyond the media-blitzed sports obsessed Hoosier, can tell you it’s actually Gen-Con, a four day gaming convention, transplanted from Wisconsin since 2003, that allows the hidden, secret geek-pulse of fantasy, horror, science fiction, (and games devoted to same) fans to explode onto the city, usually in the form of extravagant, borderline-vulgar costumes, or herds of bodies wearing odd t-shirts with sayings and images confounding to the non-fan.

I think the biggest kick I get out of attending these conventions, (outside of catching up with old friends or meeting celebrities and other authors) is watching the faces and reactions of the non-fans, what we of the body call the “mundanes.” I love seeing a group of purple elf-girls approach the hostess of a steakhouse to sign their group up for a table, usually under the name Eleana DragonSpawn or something equally confounding for the hostess to call out. Or the dumbfounded look on the bellboy’s face as he carries the Klingon’s luggage down the hall to his hotel suite. The look that says, I lost my request to get the weekend off, and now I have to put up with this shit, freaks dressed in bizarre costumes, speaking their strange language, drinking and eating and yelling and starting fights all because of their pointless games.

And then, once the long weekend is over, the bellboy can return to the familiar routine of escorting the visiting football fans in their Cincinnati Bengal jerseys. The hostess can breathe a sigh of relief as the fans of the rival teams down a few beers, scream team statistics at each other, and occasionally fight. At least, she may think, without a trace of irony, it will be another year before she deals with the weird people again.

But the so-called weird people haven’t left. They’ve just returned to the underground. They’ve just changed costumes.

And that’s what James Ward Kirk exposes in this first of an annual anthology called Indiana Horror. Kirk puts his finger on the hidden pulse of Indy, the horror writer (and horror fan, for it’s not possible to write what you’re not fanatical about). James put the call out for all Indiana horror writers to stand up and be recognized, and in just a few months, his allotted space filled up with a huge gathering of the weird, the bizarre, the horrific, and the strangely literary. Amazing tales penned by established pros and promising up-and-comers: A.J. French, Eric Garrison, Christine Rains, Allen Griffen, Sara J. Larson, Spyder Collins, and James S. Dorr, to name just a few.

Are you shocked that our homey Midwestern state features so many talented authors with such an intense interest in macabre literature? Indiana Horror is committed to that growth—the growth of new talent, the growth of Dark Fiction in all its forms. Of course, the growth I speak of is gnarling and twisted, just as it should be.

But I’m not convinced we’re witnessing growth. Rather, I think Indiana Horror celebrates undergrowth. Not the blossoming of a new seed, but the exposure of a well-established, hidden pulse beneath racecars, basketball tournaments and football playoffs. A wicked throb beneath the cornfields, freeways, small towns and friendly facades of our great state—finally come to light, if only for a few hundred pages.

Prepare yourself as James Kirk exposes the hidden pulse of talent that is Indiana Horror.

R.J. Sullivan
July 6, 2011

Indiana Horror Anthology went live on Amazon the weekend of August 14th. The anthology includes this introduction, plus new submissions by Eric Garrison and Sara Larson. Indiana Anthology was the brainchild of James W. Kirk. I’ve previewed most of it and it’s pretty awesome. Order your copy here.

Interview: Michael West Discusses Cinema of Shadows

So your new novel, Cinema of Shadows, takes place in a haunted movie theater. I know you have a lifelong interest in film and in horror films specifically. Did you pursue an education in film?
Oh yes.  I studied film and television.   I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.  Growing up, I would write screenplays for movies I would make with my friends and my parents’ video camera. When I saw the film Super 8, it really took me back, because that was me and my friends at that time.
How does writing a script differ from how you approach a novel?
In terms of plotting and dialogue, I really don’t approach them any differently.  In fact, I often read my dialogue aloud, to make certain it sounds authentic. Where they differ is how you convey character. In a screenplay, you have to do it all with dialogue and visual detail. With a novel, you can be inside someone’s head. You can get to know how they think and feel. It’s more intimate, and it leads to a much stronger connection and emotional investment.
I read that Cinema of Shadows taps into the “ghost hunter” subculture.
LOL…T.A.P.S. Yes. My sons and I are huge fans of Ghost Hunters,Ghost Adventures,and what have you. But, when you watch these shows, you’re waiting for them to walk into the Amityville Horror house, into the house from Poltergeist. You want chains to rattle and walls to bleed. You want to see ghosts, and it just never happens. So, with Cinema of Shadows, I wanted to create the scariest haunting I could imagine and then have my team actually get to deal with it.
Those “ghost hunting” groups have exploded across the country in recent years. What sort of research did you do to keep your “team” authentic?
That authenticity was something I really wanted. I hadn’t seen a lot of paranormal research using  scientific methods in fiction before. So, in addition to speaking with researchers about how they would approach certain situations, I actually took part in some investigations; the Hanna House in Indianapolis, and the Woodcarver’s Building in Converse, Indiana. I used all the equipment that, up until that point, I’d only seen on television. And I witnessed things, felt things that I couldn’t explain. So, in addition to the technical aspect of an investigation, I was also able to draw from my own feelings and experiences to paint a very vivid picture.
Like me, I know you share some great memories of the Eastwood Theater on the east side of Indianapolis. For me, personally, that was THE theater to see the original Star Wars trilogy, Fright Night, and I also remember their experiments with classic 3D films when attendance was slacking off. How do you think those experiences differ from today’s moviegoing experience?
There is something to be said about going to a theater that doesn’t have a screen the size of a postage stamp, to seeing a film projected in 70 mm with six-track Dolby sound that makes the concrete shake beneath your feet. Going to movies back then was a real event, and I miss those days so much. The closest I come to that experience now is taking the kids to the IMAX, but it’s not the same.
How have you used those memories in CoS?
I tried to convey that sense of loss when the characters first enter the Woodfield Movie Palace and see what it has become. It’s so tragic to see the movie palaces disappearing from this world. The architecture alone was just amazing; grand balconies, gold molding, statues and chandeliers in the lobbies. All the neon! There are still some out there. Working theaters, like the Artcraft in Franklin, Indiana, that show classic films on the weekends, or converted into concert halls for bands and comedy shows. I based The Woodfield Movie Palace in part on the Crump in Columbus, Indiana, and we were lucky enough to be able to film the book trailer for Cinema of Shadows there. So sad to see the walls crumbling and the paint peeling. I stood on the balcony and tried to imagine what it must have been like to see a movie there, back when everyone in town would meet up and be transported to another place and time.
What is on the horizon for you in terms of future book releases?
I have more novels for Seventh Star Press that will be set in Harmony, Indiana, the same town that served as the backdrop to Cinema of Shadows and my first novel, The Wide Game. (Read R.J. Sullivan’s review of The Wide Game here.) Spook House is the next one, and it will be out late in 2012. I also have a dark, epic urban fantasy series titled The Legacy of the Gods on the horizon.  Look for an announcement on that very soon. And I am editing an anthology for Ambrotos Press called Vampires Don’t Sparkle! for all those Horror fans who want to read gritty tales about vampires who don’t mope and brood about going to prom. That will be out in the first half of 2012.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my participation during my short time in the Indiana Horror Writers. Tell us a bit about the history as a founding member and as your current role a president. Explain the overall goals of the IHW, what it does and what it plans to do.
Indiana Horror Writers is a regional chapter of the Horror Writers Association. It was founded in 2004 by myself, Maurice Broaddus, Sara J. Larson, and Tracy Jones, and has grown from there. We are an organization dedicated to those who pen the darkest fiction. As a group, we try to help writers find their voice, share markets, and promote terrifying work. We also sponsor the Mo*Con convention every year in Indianapolis, which is always a wonderful event! As President, I try to keep the trains running on time. Not an easy task with a room full of writers.  LOL
 Where can readers find you and learn more about your work?

Faithful readers can always find me at my website, http://www.bymichaelwest.com, or on Facebook and Twitter. You can find my short story collection, Skull Full of Kisses, and my debut novel, The Wide Game, at Graveside TalesCinema of Shadows, and future Harmony novels, can be found at Seventh Star Press.

Michael West will be a guest at FandomFest in Louisville, Kentucky, July 22-24, 2011. Join Michael and Seventh Star Press for the official book launch of Cinema of Shadows. Limited copies will be available, with the trade paperback version following soon! Learn details and see the book trailer for Cinema of Shadows at www.bymichaelwest.com

Blue and Skye–A Cross-character Discussion, Part 1 of 2

By E. Chris Garrison and R.J. Sullivan. CGI Art by Nell Williams.

Two fictional characters discuss their various trials and tribulations as portrayed in the novels Blue Spirit by Eric Garrison (©2010) [2015 update: Second Edition by Seventh Star Press] and Haunting Blue by R.J. Sullivan (©2010). [2015 update Second Edition by Seventh Star Press]

Clutching a bright blue trade paperback book in her hands, the punkish teenage girl steps through the door of the Café Expresso in Broad Ripple and looks around.

Her gaze falls on the willowy young woman already seated and waving a dark green book back at her.  Breaking into a grin, Fiona “Blue” Shaefer heads over to the table and shakes hands with Skye MacLeod before taking a seat across from her.

Blue: Hi there, Skye! [Blue points to the Blue Spirit paperback in her hands] Thanks for answering my email.

 Skye: How could I refuse?  I mean, I get to talk about myself, right? [laughs]

Waitress: What can I get you?

Blue: Medium Mocha, please, extra syrup.

Skye: [nods at her cup on the table] I’m good, thanks.

Blue: [to Skye] So, it’s been so long since I moved away, I wasn’t sure if you still remembered waiting on me all those times at the Starbucks. It’s been almost a year!

Skye: It’s good to see you again, without a counter between us this time.  Wow, you’re not a kid anymore, are you?

Blue: N-no… [nods at copy of Haunting Blue in Skye’s hands] I guess you could say I’ve grown up a bit. I’ve been through a lot since the last time I was in ‘The Ripple’.   I always think of you at Starbucks, it’s weird to see you here in the Café Expresso.

Skye: Well, I still go to the Broad Ripple Starbucks sometimes, but after they fired me up in Nora, I just kind of prefer independent coffee shops.

Blue: And the coffee you have there…is that…uh…just coffee?

Skye: [rolls her eyes] You know, I’m not always boozing it up, kiddo. Just unleaded coffee today for me!  I, uh, kinda had to promise Annabelle I’d cut back.  Being a Vampire Noble in the game is awesome, but it doesn’t, like, pay the bills, you know?

Blue: Yeah, I hear you there.  So… [looks around the room] If I understood what you wrote, you have a little guardian fairy named Minnie you have to be tipsy to interact with. Is she around now? Or can you tell?

Skye: [shrugs] I see her more without alcohol these days, but she’s also more independent of me, too.   I haven’t seen her today.  She’s becoming much more her own person.  It’s good for her, but kind of sad, since I’d gotten used to always having her around, watching out for me.  So, I’m going through two separate types of withdrawal, sort of.  Three, really… [sighs] But I have Annabelle and my gamer friends to help me get by.

Blue: Oh, yes, Annabelle. [fans herself with paperback] I read all about you two. Only boy I can attract is the small town computer nerd but you…you land a firefighter. Every girl’s dream. Well…sorta.

Skye: [smiles and sighs] Actually, I adore nerdy guys.  Stuart was the biggest nerd.  Annabelle… well, she’s a bit like you, kiddo; adorable but a lot tougher than she looks.

[Waitress deposits Blue’s coffee, looks back and forth between Blue and Skye, winks at Blue, and returns to the counter]

Blue: (turning pink) Well, uh, thank you, Skye. And I’m not a prude, but it is a little weird. For months, all you used to talk about was Stuart this and Stuart that. Then he goes off with another woman, so you turn around bring in your own other woman. I’d call that sweet revenge if I thought you did it on purpose.

Skye: Stuart really betrayed me, Blue.  He was the love of my life, then he sold me out.  Blamed me for the fire in our apartment. Meanwhile, Annabelle saved my life.  She was there for me when I’d lost everything.  And, well… we can’t help who we fall for, right?

Blue: Don’t I know it? I would never thought I’d fall for a guy who plays Dungeons and Dragons. Speaking of roleplaying, tell me more about the Live Action Roleplaying game you’re into. I never played myself. Never really wanted to, then when I moved to Perionne and of course Chip talked me into it. But that was paper and dice. The live action vampire roleplaying thing seems like a whole other level, with costumes and the improv in character thing. Do players really take staying “in character” as seriously as you say in your book?

Skye: Oh definitely!  Some people hate to break character, like, ever. I have a lot of fun with it, it’s good to get to be someone else for a while. And, for most of us, our pretend lives are a lot more glamorous than our actual lives.   It’s like living in a story, and some days, you just don’t want the fantasy to end.  Which, I know is funny coming from a girl who sees fairies.  [laughs]

Blue: So… speaking of Fairies, I guess Indy has its own gnome-like Scottish Fairy who calls himself the “Transit King”?  What’s up with that?

Skye: [laughs] I know, right?  He’s actually pretty formidable, even if he seems to be a batty little old bum on the surface.  He’s older than dirt and claims dominion over the bus system.   I wonder if IndyGo knows about him?   He’s mostly friendly, though I get the feeling you wouldn’t to tick him off!

 Blue: Well, I didn’t see him on the bus on the way up, but then again, I try not to look very closely at the other passengers. It can get you in trouble.  Speaking of colorful characters, tell me about this fella Leslie?  The huge costume designer guy with the great vampire fashion sense—does he just make people look great for roleplaying vampires or can he work similar miracles for a prom or something?

Skye: [laughs] Oh yes, he’s larger than life!  He wouldn’t turn you away, doll, not if I introduced you first.  He specializes in costumes, nothing all that durable.  But I guess a prom’s all about costumes, isn’t it?   So… does this mean prom is close for you?  So, I’m guessing you’re going with Chip?

Blue: No, I just meant any kind of party. [trails off] I don’t know, a big costume party would be great about now. Just dress up like someone else and…forget about everything for a few hours. Yeah, that would be nice.

Click here to read Part 2 posted on Eric Garrison’s Blog

Blue Spirit and other works by E. Chris Garrison can be found at Silly Hat Books.

See more 3D graphic art by Nell Williams at www.nellwilliams.com

Book review: Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder

Spellbent; Lucy A. Snyder; Del Rey/Ballentine Books 2009

Book one of the Jessie Shimmer series; http://www.sff.net/people/lucy-snyder/

A review by R.J Sullivan

Score: 9/10 Arjays—because everyone knows Arjays are the coolest thing ever!

First of all, anyone who says fantasy art covers play no role in selling a book has never seen Spellbent.  In December 2010 I attended Apex Day in Lexington, Kentucky, with the Indiana Horror Writers, and in choosing from the overwhelming number of titles on display, I happened to look over at Spellbent. SOLD!

Okay, confession time. I’m a sucker for Tanya Huff and Elizabeth Moon. They tend to write sci-fi series novels about tough military and/or mercenary gals with giant guns blasting giant holes in bug-eyed monsters while slapping their boyfriends around and barking orders. It’s a sort of sci-fi junk food that I’ve acquired a taste for, and I’m not saying they’re great literature, but they are a heck of a lot of fun.

So I’m looking at this cover and I’m pretty sure this book is going to be great, and I’m also sure I know exactly how this book is going to play out.

I was half-right. The book WAS great—but it didn’t play out the way I thought.  It far exceeded my expectations.

While I was all set for an Aliens inspired Ripley-esque action piece (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) what I got instead was a book that tapped an entirely different vibe, but one that resonates with me just as much—the hero-against-all-odds tale. See, while I’m a Tanya Huff junkie, I’m even more of a Spider-Man/Stan Lee junkie, and I love any story of the underdog struggling against incredible odds. (This should be no surprise to anyone who’s read Haunting Blue, but I digress)

Okay, let’s get to it. And we start off—with the reason for minus one Arjay. We have Our Hero, Sorcerer’s Apprentice and hot twenty-something Jessie, and her former-college professor-now-sorcerer-and-lover Cooper.  This is just me being totally honest, as a middle aged guy, I could not get on board for Jessie and Cooper.  In fact, I found the whole thing decidedly creepy. Much is made throughout the first chapter of Jessie and Cooper’s sorcery exploits; much more is made of their sexual exploits, and how Cooper can’t keep his hands off of Jessie and how Jessie loves every minute of it. And since this is Jessie’s story, the reader is not given Cooper’s perspective. But I found it just a bit suspicious and frankly, a bit disturbing in an icky way.

In fact, later in the book, when Jessie is desperate to find Cooper, accusations are made. Evidence is presented, and the case is made that Cooper wasn’t interested in training Jessie at all, but just wanted to take advantage of her naivety and use and abuse her body while not really taking her seriously as a student of the magical arts. Jessie, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, and stays true to her mission to save Cooper. But as I read the evidence, well, the accusations made perfect sense to me.

To be clear, I absolutely bought that Jessie was committed to Cooper. But it’s like watching a good friend giving themselves over to a relationship when you’re not entirely sure if the other person deserves that commitment or knows how lucky they are.  So—minor spoiler here—Cooper spends the majority of the book MIA, and frankly, Cooper still has to prove himself to me.

So enough on the quibbling point. Jessie and Cooper are off on a routine assignment, to cast a simple weather spell for a disgruntled farmer, when apparently a portal to another dimension–possibly Hell–opens up and swallows Cooper.  As if that’s not bad enough, Cooper has been pulled into Hell and something else has been transferred to our dimension—a really aggressive hellhound demon beasty thing. And it’s on a rampage.

At this point we meet Pal, Jessie’s familiar. Until this moment, Jessie has been unable to form a mental bond with Pal. Not that it matters; Pal is a ferret, which really doesn’t do Jessie a lot of good against an aggressive hellhound demon beasty thing. However, as people aren’t supposed to know that there are wizards in their everyday existence, the beasty has to be tracked down and killed ASAP, and Jessie is the only one who even knows about it.

To summarize, Jessie is terribly unprepared for the fight. While she does ultimately manage to stop the beastie, she takes a serious pummeling, making it clear that whatever Cooper’s intentions, she was terribly unprepared for an eventuality like this.

Much later, the council of sorcerers that run the world behind the scenes close in on Jessie and order her to give up her efforts to rescue Cooper. And they won’t take no for an answer, or play fair while they wait. And so, terribly injured, cut off from most of her magic powers, and even given a sort of magical “mark” so that other magic users will know not to help her, we watch Jessie refuse to follow orders, continue with her plans to save her lover, to a point where I could point to a spot in the book where I said to myself, “this is not worth it, I would give up right here, sign what I needed to, get my powers back, and abandon Cooper to his fate.”

But that’s why Jessie is a hero and why I just write about them. For the next 300 plus enjoyable pages we meet a delightful and intriguing cast of supporting characters while learning how this magic secret society operates in the real world, as the plot takes a number of dark twists, turns and revelations, all of which would be an incredible disservice for me to discuss or reveal.

Note: I have every intention of contributing book reviews to the Sci-Fi Guys Book Review site as often as my very slow reading pace allows. This review ended up on my own blog because Rodney already wrote his own rave of Spellbent here.

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers Part 2

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers Part 2

Q: When you wrote the first Firebird books as secular novels, were you aware of the salvation message even then, or is this something you drew out in the rewrites? Did writing for a Christian Fiction house help bring out the message you wanted, or create problems you had to work around?

KT: The Bantam Books version was more of a “cultural conversion story,” but I feel the potential always was there. I had a great time thinking through Brennen’s heritage from a religious viewpoint, brainstorming possibilities and running them past my friends. The assistant pastor at my church was a particular help with Fusion Fire, which deals with the existence of evil within and without.

Q: What surprises can readers of the secular and previous Christian Fiction versions of the Firebird series expect in this new re-release?

KT: My favorite “surprise” is a set of maps, beautifully adapted from my hand-drawn originals by the gifted Jamie Upschulte. The new titles continue the family saga for two more generations, and our heroes are there. Just a glimpse in Wind and Shadow. More centrally in Daystar.

Q: Okay, here’s the question I’ve been dying to ask for years. Would you agree with my assessment that Crown of Fire seems to indicate your struggle as a believer wishing to serve God with your talent juxtaposed with the temptation of chasing bestselling fame as a “name” author on the wildly popular Star Wars books? Did this create a dichotomy in your career path? If so, how did you approach this then and how do you approach it now?

KT: It’s actually more complicated than that. Crown was originally supposed to be Books 3 and 5 of that expanded series I proposed to Bethany House. And the Star Wars books were all written by invitation, so honestly, it wasn’t possible to “chase fame” by writing more and more of them. By the time Crown was contracted to be published, I was far more emotionally invested in the Firebird series than in Star Wars, although I will always owe SW a deep professional debt. I even considered turning down the invitation to write Balance Point, because I was writing Crown when the offer came. My Bethany editor, Steve Laube, essentially said “are you nuts?”

Q:  In the mid-2000s you went “off the grid” on a sabbatical for several years. Was Kathy on a “walkabout?”

KT: You might call it a walkabout, or maybe a pilgrimage. When my husband eventually lost his battle with alcohol abuse in 2004, I was too physically and emotionally exhausted to write. I took in a German exchange student for a year. I attended a C.S.Lewis conference at Oxford and taught at a writing conference in Pennsylvania. Then I went back to school.

Regent College in Vancouver, BC calls itself the unSeminary. It offers programs for Christians from all professions. Its focus on God as both Creator and Redeemer means that people who work in the arts—all the arts—are respected, challenged, and nurtured in community. It was a perfect fit, and I got used to working under a new kind of stress. Writing papers was comparatively easy for me (and I loved doing research in their fabulous library), but cramming for exams all those years out of undergrad … yikes!  I studied Christian thought and culture, Biblical books, systematic theology, history, Hebrew, postmodernity, exegesis, etc., and sang in a gospel choir—and for my thesis project, I was required to create a full-length work in my chosen art form. I assumed God would nudge me in a new direction, possibly poetry. What took shape, starting just a few weeks after I arrived in Vancouver, was a novel about Firebird and Brennen’s sons. That book, Wind and Shadow, has a different tone from the original novels. Of course—I was in theology school when I wrote it!

Almost as soon as I came back home, I stumbled on an idea for a contemporary fantasy, which I am also writing. With The Annotated Firebird, Wind and Shadow, and Daystar under contract at Marcher Lord Press and Holy Ground well underway, I think the walkabout is officially over.

Q: How does it feel to find your newsgroup of fans still active with discussion and anticipation, patiently waiting for your return into the spotlight?

KT: That group has become a circle of friends, no longer focused on my books but on each other. I love that! I hope they still get a kick out of the new books.

Q:  With social media, ebooks, the internet, etc., how have these innovations changed how you will go about promoting your upcoming releases versus the methods of the early 90s?

KT: The changes in my promotion calendar have more to do with my new publisher than anything else. Marcher Lord sells online only, so there probably won’t be any book signings. The focus will be on email, interviews, and conferences—starting with the February 2011 “Writing for the Soul” conference in Denver. It’s put on annually by the Christian Writers Guild. I’m scheduled to teach a two-day intermediate workshop on Point of View as well as a clinic on writing dialogue.

Q: Through the years I have known many openly Christian authors of secular fiction, who struggle with guilt and even receive judgment from other believers for their content. Many writers (I subscribe to this viewpoint) feel that holding a magnifying glass on the sinful nature of mankind struggling in our fallen world is a valid use of their gifts and not a contradiction to their beliefs. Do you have a response?

KT: At Regent College, I was exposed to some authors who’ve written thoughtfully about many aspects of being a Christian author, poet, musician, filmmaker, potter, etc. Let me point your readers toward Dorothy L. Sayers, Madeleine L’Engle, Nicholas Woltersdorff, Kathleen Norris, Jeremy Begbie, Alan Jacobs, and Maxine Hancock. Essentially, I agree with you: the real questions aren’t about superficial censorship but the sacramentality of creation, our honest humility in art and art criticism, and being choosy about which hill we really want to die on.

Q: Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, Kathy! God Bless and I look forward to reading the next chapter in the adventures of Lady Firebird and the writing career of Kathy Tyers.

KT: All my best to you too, Bob. Thanks!

Learn more about Kathy at:

http://www.kathytyers.com/

Yahoogroup: Lady Firebird Signup page:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lady_firebird/

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers, Part 1

R.J. Sullivan Blog Interview: Kathy Tyers, Part 1

Q: Kathy, thank you for agreeing to this interview. And also, thank you for answering my fan letter all those years ago with such a gracious response. Who knew we’d end up here decades later? Did you receive many fan letters back then?

KT: Right … who knew? There was a steady trickle of those letters, and they were mostly about the Firebird books or Star Wars. It was a pleasant surprise to hear from you about Shivering World.

Q: How did the Lady Firebird Yahoogroups list come about?

KT: A fellow who goes by the online name TZ Maverick asked for permission and invited me to participate. That was a new experience! I still think of the folks on the group as friends, though I don’t check in as often as I used to.

Q:  How did this daily exposure to fandom discussion and dialog differ from the pre-internet fan response? How did it affect your writing if at all?

KT: It was a world of encouragement when I needed it. I was living a real-life horror story, and someday I’ll tell that tale. But fandom discussions were quick, fun, and personal. They were also distracting, when I needed to be writing.

Q: As a midlist Bantam author, you received an invitation to contribute original fiction to the Star Wars novel and anthology titles—what would be for many SF authors a “dream gig.” How did that come about and what was your reaction at the time?

KT: Truce was a dream gig. I’d been a Star Wars fan since the first film’s release. Bantam Books originally acquired a license from Lucasfilm for Timothy Zahn’s first set of three Star Wars novels. Their phenomenal success proved there still was plenty of interest in Star Wars—so Bantam acquired a license for an additional book series. At that time, I’d published the first two Firebird novels with Bantam Spectra, another space opera called Crystal Witness and Shivering World. That meant I was “known” at Bantam—and my editor Janna Silverstein was a fellow Star Wars fan. One February day, she called to ask if I would like to be a Star Wars writer. I can still hear the grin in her voice, and it took me quite a while to wipe the grin off my face.

Q: When interacting with fans, do they fall into different camps—that is, Star Wars readers and Lady Firebird readers? Secular fiction readers and Christian fiction readers? Do you find your readers exclusive to one interest over the other or are they overall “well read” on all things Kathy Tyers?

KT: Every reader has favorites. Some of them overlap. What I have in common with all my readers is our enthusiasm for imaginative fiction. But I enjoy meeting them as people even more than discussing books.

Q: Explain the history of the Firebird books at Bantam, Bethany House…..and beyond!

KT: I started writing Firebird in the summer of 1983. It was acquired by Bantam in August 1986 and published in June 1987. Fusion Fire appeared in November 1988. My Bantam editor then asked for a stand-alone novel, so I set the series aside.

I never gave up hope of finishing it, even though I had no idea how it would end. I simply felt committed to the characters and their story. I met Steve Laube, then at Bethany House Publishers, at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in the spring of 1998, and we hoped to make it a five-book series. Within Bethany House, it was cut to three books (Crown of Fire is based on the outlines to books 3 and 5; book 4 simply went away). Those three were published in late 1999, early 2000, and later in 2000. Bethany House reprinted an omnibus three-in-one version in 2004.

In the following years, I met Jeff Gerke at a different writers’ conference. He worked as an editor and author, and we talked science fiction.  We corresponded irregularly then, but he consistently mentioned—or hinted—that he would like to be professionally affiliated. The hints and encouragement got thicker after he founded Marcher Lord Press as an independent, internet-based publishing house for fantasy and science fiction. So in 2010, having finished writing a new Firebird-universe novel (more about that below) and having started a final book in the series, I emailed him a proposal: the whole Firebird series, with no exceptions (except for that unwritten “book 4,” since the events I proposed aren’t possible now). He accepted—immediately! – with his own stipulation: he wanted the republished trilogy to include some features that aren’t available elsewhere. He suggested I read the Annotated Chronicles of the “Dragonlance” series as an example. I did, and then The Annotated Firebird took shape.

It was wonderful to reminisce my way back through Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire. I dug out the notebook of charts, maps, family trees, linguistic brainstorming and other notes I accumulated when writing the series, and I looked for things that might make interesting annotations. Since I also work as a writing teacher, other annotations are writing-method oriented … so readers who aren’t interested in the niceties of point-of-view etc. are welcome to skip those! MLP has scheduled The Annotated Firebird for April 2011 release, to be followed by Wind and Shadow in October 2011 and Daystar some time in 2012.

As they say here in Montana: Yeehaw!

Concluded Friday, February 11

Kathy Tyers Interview Intro

Introduction to R.J. Sullivan Blog interview: Kathy Tyers

I’m breaking format from my “Team R.J.” series to present an exclusive interview with author Kathy Tyers. Kathy is arguably best known as the bestselling author of several mid-1990s Star Wars-related projects, including her novels The Truce at Bakura and Balance Point. Fans of her original fiction are quick to express much love for her Firebird books. The first two titles were released in the late 1980s as Firebird and Fusion Fire by Bantam Books. She released several other original novels in that same time frame, including my personal favorite, Shivering World, in 1991 (more on that).

Tyers partnered with Christian Fiction publisher Bethany House in the early 2000s to produce a rewrite of the first two Firebird books and the new volume Crown of Fire, creating the Firebird Trilogy. (plus a rewrite of Shivering World.) Crown of Fire, for those who followed Kathy’s work closely, read like a thinly veiled confessional as the heroine struggles between embracing fame and glory or answering the call to use her “powers” to serve a greater good.

Now, following a multi-year sabbatical, Kathy is poised to reintroduce herself to both her anxious fan base and to new generation of readers in an industry that’s changed greatly since her previous career “peak”.

I see I haven’t talked about myself in three paragraphs, so to remedy that, here’s my personal story about Kathy. *grin* I discovered Kathy Tyers’ work through a bittersweet circumstance. Her Bantam novel Shivering World was included in my “swag bag” of free goodies at a science fiction convention—typically the efforts of a publisher burning off inventory of an underperforming title and an act that generally does not set a reader’s expectations high. That said, Shivering World completely blew me away with its engaging main character, hard science conundrum and masterful, suspenseful plotting.

Though a lifelong science fiction book reader, I did something after reading Shivering World I’d never done before or since—I composed a gushing fan letter to the author (back then, that meant taking pen to paper and using the snail mail method of delivery). What followed after was a friendly on-and-off correspondence for next several years. Fast-forward to the late 1990s, when the internet and Yahoo-Fan-Groups were developing, and I stumbled upon the Lady Firebird Newsgroup. I plugged in and interacted with Kathy and many of her most enthusiastic fans as she prepared to re-release the Firebird novels. Interaction within the fan group led to many *ahem* passionate discussions, fun friendships, and of course, the “inside scoop” on all things Kathy.

On this forum, I also “met” my mentor, friend, and peer editor Dr. Debra Holland (read our blog interview here), a friendship that has as lasted over a decade.

Then, Kathy suddenly took an extended sabbatical from writing, and for the last few years, and the Lady Firebird group has run on autopilot. But now it appears our patience has paid off as Kathy has plans to launch several exciting new project in 2011 and return in a big way! But I’ll let her tell you.

(The Kathy Tyers Interview parts one and two post Wednesday and Friday)

The NIghtmares Before Christmas Booklist 2010

Tis the season, time flies, and I got caught up in too many things to do this up in a big way. Excuses, excuses.

Still, it’s not too late to support your local horror authors, and here’s a list of books I can personally recommend for that slightly disturbed (but i n a good way!) reader on your Christmas list.

Look up these titles on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites:

The Butterfly Killer (Book 1 of the Monica McDowney Thrillers) by James W. Kirk (paperback and ebook)

Skull Full of Kisses by Michael West (short story anthology) (trade paperback and ebook)

Kingmaker Book 1: The Knights of Bretton Court by Maurice Broaddus (mass market paperback and ebook)

How to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing (paperback only)

Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder (mass market paperback an ebook)

These are not only great books by awesome authors, but great people, too. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

“Team R.J.” Blog interview series #2: James Ward Kirk

Welcome to the third in a series of short interviews focusing on “Team R.J.”: people who have influenced, worked with, or played some other vital role in taking me where I am today.

Throwing practical matters out the window, I pursued a creative writing degree at IUPUI. James Kirk and I met as fellow undergraduates, first in creative writing classes, then as co-staff members of the university literary magazine. James also worked in the university library, and after I’d graduated, James went on to receive his masters in literature. He taught literature for the university for several years.

Throughout the time, James remained dedicated to his writing, probably with at least as much passion and focus as I had in my own work. Horror was his genre of choice even then (I saw myself as more of a sci-fi guy, and still do), and his approach of unsettling the reader by dropping them into the viewpoint of mentally unstable characters did much to distinguish his stories. And it’s an approach he continues to use to this day.

Many years and a Facebook connection later, I caught up with James a few months ago and found he was returning to his writing after a long break. Since then, he’s released his first novel, the Butterfly Killer, and has had some success with his short stories.

James W. Kirk will be joining me December 18, noon-3 pm at Artesian Books in Martinsville, where he’s signing his novel The Butterfly Killer. Visit http://www.monicamcdowneythrillers.com/ and http://www.rjsullivanfiction.com for details.

Q: You were a driven, passionate writer when we first met almost…yikes, OVER…20 years ago. When did you get the writing “bug” and what drives you to keep pursuing it?

A: I remember a writing assignment from the third grade.  The teacher read the short story to the class, a comedic kind of story.  It was a hoot.  My classmates loved it and the teacher praised me.

Q: What writers inspired you? What made you pick the horror/psychological thriller genres as “your” genres?

A: I really enjoy John Connolly.  He incorporates the supernatural with the private detective genre.  Of course, I grew up with Stephen King—not literally, dang it.  My favorite film genre is psychological thrillers and horror.  The music I listen to relates well with psychological thriller, horror and the supernatural (Goth Industrial, Goth Metal, Symphonic Goth Metal).

Q: What circumstances caused a break in your writing, and what were the challenges when you returned to it?

A:  First comes love, and then comes James pushing a baby carriage.  Work and family came first.  After the kids were out of the house, I picked up the pencil and paper again.  Creativity never left.  I encountered no problems with the creative process and writing the novel.  The challenges came with the mechanics.  Grammar, sentence structure, passive sentences, bad words: “that” and “had,” and so on.  Thanks to RJ for jogging my memory.

Q: You attended a university campus for many years, worked in the university library, taught classes in your alma mater. How do you think the university environment affected your approach to the publishing business, good and bad?

A: I don’t remember a single instance of an instructor teaching anything at all about the publishing business, even while working on my Master’s degree.  I worked with genesis, the university’s student literary journal as a board member, senior editor, and as faculty advisor.  I did learn about the publishing business to a small degree while working with genesis.

Q: Describe your unique approach to your characters. How do you “psyche yourself up” to get into the bizarre mindset of your characters?

A:  I just be myself.

Q: Tell us about The Butterfly Killer. Include an excerpt.

A: The Butterfly Killer is the first novel of a planned trilogy.  I’ve finished two-thirds of the follow up novel.  I am incorporating Christian spirituality.  The protagonist is chosen by God to metamorphose into an agent against evil.  The protagonist, female, is beginning to catch on by the novel’s conclusion.  The first novel focuses primarily on human evil.  The second novel incorporates the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, demons and saints in addition to just plain mean people.  Excerpt:

——

Engelbert didn’t believe in God. But, of course, God believed in him.

Engelbert pondered this truth, momentarily, as the flames of his life burned cruelly, just like his mother’s final moments, and as his arterial blood sprayed into the very shadows he’d considered his fortress, from his surgically cut throat by the hand of God, He who rules the darkness and its violent dramatis personae, he whispered: there is a God, Momma.

—–

In this instance, “God” is self-proclaimed, the master puppeteer of other serial killers.


Q: Like I did, I know you’re re-approaching old stories from years ago and brushing them off for rewrites. Tell us what that’s like.

A: Taking old short stories and rewriting them was a lot of fun.  I got to see where I was and where I am now.

Q: I remember back in college, a singular science fiction piece in your group of short stories. Do you think you’ll continue to experiment with genres?

A:  I think you’re speaking of the short story entitled Joe.  I don’t think the story was science fiction in the way the novel 1984 is science fiction.  The piece was more of a commentary on society than anything else.  I don’t see any science fiction in my future unless, of course, I turn Joe into a novel.

Q: One consistent aspect to all your fiction is an element of faith and religion. How does your faith affect what you write and how do you weave it into your narrative.

A:  I haven’t been to church in at least a decade.  There’s a lot about organized religion that gets on my very last nerve.  However, I am spiritual and believe in a higher power.  For example, our planet is around three billion years old.  Think about the trillions of events and nonevents leading to me sitting here talking about God.  I don’t believe in coincidence.  The Butterfly Killer contains graphic/adult material.  I don’t think “God” has given it much thought.

Q: Tell us about your sequel novel and anything else going on.

A: I’ve mentioned above the sequel.  I’m also working on an anthology of short stories, some new and some revisions of old short stories.

Follow Indiana Horror Writer and my friend, James W. Kirk, at http://www.monicamcdowneythrillers.com/

“Team R.J.” Blog Inerview Series #1: Debra Holland, Ph.D.

“Team R.J.” Blog Interview Series #1: Debra Holland, Ph.D.

Welcome to the first in a series of short interviews focusing on “Team R.J.”: people who have influenced, worked with, or played some other vital role in taking me where I am today.

In early 2001, “Dr. Debra” and I began an email correspondence after “meeting” on a Yahoogroup for fans of Kathy Tyers. (More about Kathy, I hope, in a future blog interview) Dr. Debra’s genres include science fiction, fantasy and romance. Her line editing skills were miles ahead of mine and I nearly re-learned the craft of writing during our editing sessions. (She is probably still ahead of me …by a few yards. *grin*) Our early manuscript exchanges led to a peer editor partnership that continues to this day, nearly a decade later.

I say in all humility that over this past year, two of my peers released recent novels dedicated to me, specifically for my editing. I’m going on record that any skill I acquired is a direct result of working with Dr. Debra.

Deb’s novel Wild Montana Shy won the prestigious Golden Heart Award in 2001. Her fantasy effort, Sower of Dreams, received praise from none other than the “grand dame of science fiction,” Andre Norton. But it was her expertise as a psychologist that ultimately landed her a recent breakthrough writing deal.

Q: Before we met, where had you acquired your knowledge of fiction style and editing? I remain amazed at what your feedback brings to my stories, and in such an approachable, friendly manner.

A: Aside from being in school for a million years…

I owe my editing skills mostly to Louella Nelson, a wonderful writing teacher. When I started to write fiction, I attended her critique group. Lou spent one half of it teaching us about writing, and the other half critiquing our manuscripts.

My last agent was also a great editor, and I learned a lot from her.

I’ve also read books and articles or attended workshops to improve my craft.

Q: Tell us about your recent book deal!

A: To make a long story short… A writer friend emailed me that agent Jessica Faust had posted on Facebook that she was looking for an expert to write a book on grief. I emailed Jessica, and she invited me to send her a bio. I sent more than a bio. I also included the first chapter on a book on grief in the workplace I’d started, then put aside. I also included a handout I’d composed on Coping with Grief in the Workplace, as well as an article I’d written for the survivors of company-wide terminations. Plus a page on what I thought should go in the book.

The publisher is Alpha Books. They do the Complete Idiots Guides, and are coming out with a new line for more sensitive topics called Essential Guides.

Jessica thought it was great and forwarded everything to the editor. A week later, she emailed me saying I’d gotten it. I was SO excited, but then learned I have a 5 month deadline! So my celebrating is cut short for now while I focus and draft as fast as I can.

My title is: The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, with a tentative release target of October 2011

Q: I notice in your non-fiction, you approach psychology from a decidedly biological approach. Is that a fair comment, and what training/background does this come from?

A: A little. I use a lot about the brain, especially the male and female differences. I’m going to have some of that–a couple of pages–in the grief book. But that’s only 2 out of 320.

I started with the work of John Gray, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, and just kept researching.

I love the work of Daniel Amen: http://www.brainplace .com

Q: Any hopes/plans to return to fiction?

A: Yes. In a recent SF/Fantasy contest entry, the judges gave me a lot of great feedback that I’m itching to apply to Sower of Dreams. But I have to wait…

Q: To me, a Golden Heart-award-winning novel and a fantasy novel with an endorsement from Andre Norton should be no-brainers for any publisher. What do you think your frustration in this area says about the state of publishing?

A:  I don’t know if it’s the state of publishing or my writing… J My historical romance was traditional, not sexy, and that’s just not the market nowadays.

I changed my fantasy and added sex. It actually turned out better. But we never sent it out again.

Q: Okay, enough about you; say something nice about me. J

A: I’m so grateful to have you as a critique partner. I can’t wait until your book is out!

Q: Thank you very much Dr. Debra. A final, personal note: Of my electronic partners, I’ve known you longest and yet, uniquely, we’ve never met in person. Does this amuse you as much as it does me, or should I instead take it personally? J

A: Lol. Take it personally! J Someday…

Follow my good friend Dr. Debra!

http://www.drdebraholland.com

Also on Facebook and Twitter.