Review of Falcon’s Egg

Review By Ty Black

When the generation ship Mayflower II arrived in the Peregrine system ten years ago, it was nearly the end of tens of thousands of lives aboard the ship, and tens of millions on the planet below. Lorn Kymbal was only a teenager then, but he nearly died saving the man who was the best hope of both ship and planet. Now he nearly gets blown up after a reclusive acquaintance of his mother gives him an unlabeled netlink device, and Lorn finds himself caught up in another mystery where the fate of his world might hang in the balance. This time, it’s Lorn who is Peregrine’s best hope.

Falcon’s Egg by Edward Willet is space opera/action-adventure novel in the grand tradition, full of interplanetary intrigue, chases through the abandoned bowels of giant spaceships, and shootouts with everything from shotgun shells to beam weapons. Oh, and there’s an army of evil robot spiders. This book is a fun, easy read, and I got through it in two nights.

Falcon’s Egg is the sequel to Willet’s first title with Bundoran Press, Right to Know, but unlike a lot of sci-fi sequels Falcon’s Egg doesn’t depend heavily on the preceding book. Readers should be able to pick this one up and not feel like they’re missing something, even if they didn’t read Right to Know. (That said, I’ve read both, and Right to Know is also definitely worth a look.)

Canadian author Edward Willet has written 50-odd books in a number of genres, including Lost in Translation, Terra Insegura, and 2009 Prix Aurora Award-winner Marseguro, all from DAW. Under the pen name E.C. Blake he’s written the The Masks of Aygrima series, also published by DAW. He’s also an award-winning author of non-fiction on topics from Ebola to the mutiny on the Bounty, and a regionally-known playwright/actor/director in Western Canada.

Falcon’s Egg is escapism at its best, and I give it four out of five stars.

Falcon’s Egg
210 pp. Bundoran. $17.95 CAD
Sample Here

Patrick W Marsh Interview

Hello, readers. This is David Stegora, Editor-In-Chief of Dark Futures back with another interview. Today we will be interviewing Patrick W. Marsh, who any regular reader will know as the author of The Greenland Diaries. Patrick is also the author of the novel Beware The Ills and a story called The Water Palace, which appears in Dark Futures Annual 1.

Patrick will be appearing at Crypticon Minnesota this weekend, where he will be releasing The Greenland Diaries Days 101-140 in paperback format. He’ll have some copies of that, as well as his other books, available for sale and will be on hand to sign them. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Patrick.

As is our custom here, we’ll start simple by asking you to tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you for having me as an author interview on Dark Futures. I have a tremendous amount of respect  for Dark Futures and the content it produces. In fact, Dark Futures in many ways inspired me to create Calamities Press. I’ve been writing since I was 16 years old. After high school I floated around aimlessly taking classes at a variety of colleges. Typically, I’d take all the creative writing courses I could at a college, then I’d transfer onto the next one as much as FAFSA would allow me. It wasn’t until I published Beware the Ills a few years ago that I started to withdraw from using college as a time to write and fell from my academic paradise in the effort to actually produce writing that wouldn’t satiate a writers workshop full of my cynical counterparts. During this decade of muddled college, I worked a glorious amount of customer service jobs to support myself including; bank teller, maintenance guy, projectionist (before the invention of digital projectors, I just dated myself), cashier, security guard, and the heinously misanthropic Macy’s Christmas/Seasonal employee. Writing horror and dark fantasy has always been a two headed monster for me to dance with. Morose themes allow me to confront emotional trauma and psychological damage I’ve survived or inflicted throughout my life. Also, I like to use monsters within the horror and dark fantasy genre to enhance the humanity of my normal characters within the narrative. I’m literally bouncing nonfiction off of very fictional appendages within my plot. I dislike scary movies due to the suspense. I seldom play scary games for the same reason. Fear and monsters are a form of therapy for me, not necessarily a symbol of entertainment.  

For those who haven’t yet read any of The Greenland Diaries, tell us a little about the series.

The story is told through the point of view of a bank teller, who one evening in April hears a drum thundering off in the distance. Shortly after the sound starts,  shadowy monsters appear and began to relentlessly slaughtering humans for what seems like no reason. Plants began to choke the earth, and the mirrors and streetlights become haunted with these horrors. He writes fragmented, and sloppy diary entries each night before the drum starts in an effort to understand the then occurring apocalypse. It was important to me that the main character be a regular type of loser (slightly based on me). Not some ex special ops warrior. You’re chained to the story by his shaky perspective, which is continuously baffled by the monsters and their intentions. I emptied my entire war chest for the monsters. They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen. They’re not genetic freaks, aliens, zombies, ghosts, or anything of the sort. I’m not ashamed to admit they’re by far the most interesting thing in my story. I had the opportunity to purge the novel of errors and “poor” writing, but instead left some in to give the audience a sense of authenticity, that a survivor and not necessarily a writer wrote the Greenland Diaries.   

Regulars to Dark Futures are already aware we’ve published the first 10 days of the series here on the site. Would you say writing The Greenland Diaries has gotten easier or more difficult since then?

I would say the evolution of the voice has gotten easier, along with what I want out of the story as it progresses. The most challenging part of the novel is introducing characters, because the narrator is a monster-made hermit, a refugee of a nightly catastrophe, and adding other survivors, monsters, or characters into the fold cause ripples in his character that even I can’t predict. How he interacts with these characters in realistic manner in a fictional setting is hard to construct. Awkward emptiness tends to be the topic of conversation. You’re afraid to mention the world before the monsters because the old old world gets resurrected every night. How do you talk about the weather when everyone you know has been killed, and the drum is a metronome for your life?

Do you know how far, in terms of days/entries, The Greenland Diaries will go or is it still open ended for now? Do you know how it will end?

The Greenland Diaries will be exactly one year long or 365 days. The year will be split into six books, two of which have already been published. I wanted to stretch it out longer, but the rate of devastation and madness sort of compels the plot to be shorter. I do know how it will end. Just like the briefing at the beginning of the book, it will end in Duluth Minnesota. In the next novel to be released next year at Crypticon, we’ll be introduced to the character who takes the narrator to Duluth. The next book will be 62 days long.

The Greenland Diaries obviously didn’t start on Dark Futures. In fact, it’s something you’ve been writing for quite a while and the early days of it have been published online in more than one place. Tell us a little bit about how it got started and where it’s been.

The Greenland Diaries started in the humblest of ways. During a lull between colleges, I forgot how to write in past-tense, so I started writing a blog via Blogspot. It was an apocalyptic journal of a man trying to survive a plant-wild apocalypse. Originally, no one read the damn thing except for some family and friends taking pity on me. Eventually, the views started to grow, and after hitting 30,000 within the first year I decided to publish the first 100 days of the series as a novel, and I haven’t looked back. Out of all my stories, this one seems to resonate the most with audiences. It’s a strange mixture of a simplistic narrator in a complicated situation. I think people can appreciate how human the main character is in the storm of faceless abominations.

You write primarily horror, correct?

I do. I’ve been published in other genres as well like poetry and nonfiction. I’ve wanted to experiment in other styles, but horror pulls me back.

What is it that draws you to that genre? What keeps you coming back?

Horror done well can be emotionally rewarding to the audience and the writer. When you use elements of fear to represent your emotions, experiences, and beliefs, you can pull the genre apart and represent humanity itself. You can literally bounce our human flaws off of a fictional monster, or better yet, use monsters to represent human characteristics. In the Greenland Diaries, the monsters are center stage, but the emotions of the main character reacting to them are actually my emotions. I’ve had a hard time being emotionally honest my entire life, but horror offers me a chance to use monsters to represent my actual voice and beliefs. Moreover, it allows me to create human characters who react like I may or may not in these situations.

Attending Crypticon Minnesota has become an annual thing for you, as it is for me. You and I even met there back in 2013. What do you enjoy most about the con? What advice would you offer people attending the convention for the first time?

I enjoy the atmosphere of the con itself. Horror has become an amoeba of a genre, pulling in science fiction, fantasy, and literary genres to name just a few. All of this is represented at Crypticon, so even if you haven’t watched or read the latest horror, they’ll be something from your past or present you recognize and can geek out about. The people that run the convention are good people, family friendly, and they keep a low-key vibe so you’re not made uncomfortable by rabid con attendees. Also, the guests are great. My advice would be to hang out in the dealers room and talk to the guests of honor as much as you can. The convention does a great job of making them available to you beyond their signing times.

You will be on a panel at this year’s Crypticon. It’s my understanding you’ll even be on it with regular Dark Futures and Phase 2 Magazine contributor Roy C. Booth. Tell us what panel that is, when it will be taking place, and what you will be talking about.

I’ll be on a writers panel at 11:15 am on Saturday. We’ll be going over a variety of questions when it comes to horror, like why do we like it so much? How does horror writing fit in with the other genres? What are our inspirations? I’m sure it’ll be a hodgepodge of grim stories, sadness, and hilarious anecdotes of people getting their faces cut off. 

Moving onto something a bit different, you’re also editor of Calamities Press. Tell us a little about what that is.

Calamities Press is a literary magazine I started in the vein attempt to create a “job” in writing besides composing my own stories. I also wanted to see if I could work with other people on a creative endeavor, which hasn’t been that easy. In all, even if the technology is there to create a literary magazine, having the skill and the time to make it function is incredibly difficult. I have a ton of admiration for those who can make it work, since I’m constantly putting Calamities Press on hiatus. Calamities Press is a hodgepodge literary magazine that publishes new and serialized content during the week, along with new authors. We look for niche genres to publish like Slipstream, Magical Realism, nonfiction diatribes about your messed up dreams, and poetry. We also publish a ton of artwork, including photography, music posters, web comics, and jewelry. I’m very proud of the work we produce, despite funding setbacks, and real life getting in the way. We’ve recently gone through a reorganization of the site, so this is sort of the last hurrah to see if this website can exist in this saturated media environment.

What advice would you offer people who are either just starting to write or just starting to take writing and being an author seriously? Is there anything you wish you would have known back then?

The best piece of advice I can give authors is don’t run before you can walk. A formal education in writing isn’t for everyone, but it helped me. Sometimes, you can be the type of writer who just needs to read a lot to assimilate style and tact. Don’t aim for a massive novel deal from a traditional publisher right away, but maybe a small short story or poem for a literary magazine. If you shoot for the moon in this publishing environment you will almost always miss, and us writers are sensitive folk, we don’t take rejection very well. The world likes to put you through your paces, and writing isn’t any different. Whether it’s school, independent study, or reading a ton, learn how to write. Know the rules so you can break them. Writer’s workshops are invaluable, and I suggest becoming friends with a community of writers so you can get support with editing, content, and distribution. You don’t even have to meet with people face-to-face, you can be the atypical writer introvert and do workshops online. But there is no blueprint for learning how to write.

That’s all the specific questions we have for you at the moment. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about before we let you go?

Check out the Greenland Diaries. Read it online for free at Dark Futures, or buy the book on Kindle for a few bucks. People seem to really like it, including me, and I’m the one
writing it. Thank you David for being an inspiration of mine, and for writing on awesome column on Calamities Press called Voice of the Witness. Keep up the good work at Dark Futures. You got something good going here.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this today. Maybe we’ll catch up with you again at some point in the future.

For those in Minnesota or not far off, Crypticon will be taking place this weekend, October 23-25, 2015 at the Bloomington Ramada by the Mall of America. Come out for a weekend of parties and all things horror. I’ll be there along with a few past Dark Futures contributors.

Ty Black

Ty Black is the pen name of a former good guy turned professional supervillain. Outside of writing, his interests include weather control, mechanical arachnids, spending time with his wife, and inducing the apocalypse. He splits his time between a small Atlantic Canadian fishing village and his arctic lair.

His website is and you can follow him on Twitter @TyBlackATTACK

Richard Meyer Interview

Welcome, readers. This is once again David Stegora, Editor-In-Chief of Dark Futures, here with another interview. Today I will be interviewing poet Richard Meyer, who recently released a book of poetry called Orbital Paths with Science Thrillers Media. Orbital Paths is available on Amazon or directly from the publisher in hardcover, paperback, or ebook form.

This interview is particularly exciting for me to do because Richard was my Humanities teacher in my senior year of high school. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Richard.

We like to keep our interviews laid back around here, so we’ll start things off as simple as can be: Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a lifelong resident of Mankato, and I live in my family home — the house my father built, the house I was born into, the house where I was raised with my seven siblings. My roots grow deep here. For 32 years I taught high school English and the humanities, first in New Ulm for 14 years and then in Mankato at East High for another 18 years.

I remember one of the last times we saw each other after I graduated, it must have been summer 2006, you said it was your goal to write one poem a week. As anyone who writes knows, that sort of thing is much easier said than done. How close to that have you come?

I remember that evening and the remark I made. At the time, when I spoke those words about wanting to write a poem a week, I knew it was a foolish wisecrack and mere wishful thinking. Unlike many writers, I don’t set aside a specific period of time each day devoted to writing. I’ve never been able to establish such consistency and discipline in my writing habits. As a result, my creative output is sporadic. I will go for long, long periods without writing anything. At other times, when I’ve started working on a poem, I’ll often spend hours and days and weeks on it. Also, I have bits and pieces and fragments of poems started but never finished. These drafts and false starts reach back many years, even decades, and sometimes I’ll pick through those scraps, choose one, and try to get a completed poem out of it. With poetry composition, at least for me, there’s a delicate balancing act between waiting for inspiration and sitting down with intention to deliberately engage in the act of writing.

Since the release of your book, you’ve been keeping busy with signings, readings, and even appearing in the Mankato Free Press. Has this been enjoyable for you? Do you think it’s helped attract attention to your book? Its sales ranks and reviews on Amazon seem to indicate it’s doing well.

Orbital Paths has been doing very well in sales, both during the pre-order period and since the book’s official release on September 28. On Amazon, the book has been consistently bouncing around at the top of the lists for Hot New Releases or Best Sellers in the poetry category, specifically in the slot for nature poetry.

A few book events have already taken place, and some others are scheduled for future dates. The reading and book signing at Barnes & Noble in Mankato drew a good crowd, and I had a grand time giving my presentation. I’ve also been interviewed by KMSU, the radio station for Minnesota State University. The program aired in early October, but it’s been archived as a podcast and can be accessed at the KMSU site online.

In many ways, and for various reasons, poetry has become rather estranged from the reading public. That’s unfortunate. Perhaps some of the explanation for poetry occupying such a small niche in the publishing world and among the general public lies with poets themselves. Much contemporary poetry seems strange, obscure, unnecessarily difficult, and often written for other poets. I believe poetry should be accessible to the public. A poem can be well-crafted and literary while also being approachable. I think my poems could be taught in high school or college literature classes, but also be understood and appreciated by the general public — farmers, mechanics, truck drivers, lawyers, dentists, plumbers, and so on. This is one reason I enjoy giving readings and talks.

Is there anything else you would like to do on your mini promotional tour for Orbital Paths, or is this pretty much it?

Having a book out in the world is new for me, so I’m letting the current and flow of its publication carry me. I’ll be delighted to make appearances and give readings as long as the run may last.

Were the poems in Orbital Paths written together, always intended to be a book, or is this more of a collection of your work from a certain period of time?

Orbital Paths is a collection of my work covering many decades of writing. Some of the poems were composed nearly 40 years ago, while others were written in recent months. When it came time to organize the contents of the book, I selected those poems that I consider the best of what I’ve written. Then I arranged the poems into chapters or sections according to related themes. And this is a big book as poetry books go. It’s easily twice the size of a typical book of poetry published by a single author.

I’m going to move away from your current book a little now and ask a few other questions before we let you go. First of all, How long have you been writing poetry? Can you identify anything in particular that led to you starting?

I began writing in my late teens, but it’s difficult to isolate a single cause that got me started on writing poetry. Sometimes I tell people that I grew up in a house of words. There were ten people in my family — my two parents and their eight children. In addition, our house tended to be the gathering place for the neighborhood, so many other people were always coming and going. There was always a lot of talking. My mother was one of the greatest talkers I’ve ever known. She was a wonderful storyteller, and her speech was filled with humor and metaphor and colorful language. And my mother (her name was Gert) liked poetry. She had literally hundreds of lines of poems and song lyrics committed to memory, and she would often recite them aloud. Andy, my father, was a machinist and a rather quiet man, but after a couple of beers and a shot of brandy he would talk like a character out of a Mark Twain story, spinning delightful tales in a lively manner. Such verbal influences, I think, gave me an appreciation for the joy and power of language.

Also, I came of age during the 1960s, the period when classic rock and roll was dominating popular music. I enjoyed the song lyrics of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and dozens of other rock bands. This may have influenced me on my path to writing. When I entered college, I knew I was going to major in English, and my study and love of literature certainly led me further down the road of writing.

Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you set out to write about a specific subject and careful formulate your words to that end? Do you start with the words and allow the meaning to take shape as the come together? Or is it something else?

The process of creative writing has always seemed rather mysterious to me. It’s very difficult to consciously force a piece of writing into being. I think this is especially so with poetry more so than with prose. Sometimes a single word may start me on a poem, or perhaps a line pops up or surfaces in my mind, and that line will get the poem going. That initial inspiration is typically followed by a great deal of writing and rewriting, changing and revising, stopping and starting. Some poems come easily and are finished in rather short order. Others, however, take a long time and much labor and reworking. Often, once a poem starts, I have no idea where it will go or how it will end.

I understand you’ve won a couple of awards for your poetry. Tell us about them and your experience with them.

Although I’ve been writing poetry most of my adult life, I didn’t begin sending my work out for publication until four or five years ago. I’ve been fortunate to have over 40 of my poems published in various literary journals and magazines, both print publications and online venues.

In 2012 my poem “Fieldstone” was selected as the winner of the Robert Frost Farm Prize. That’s a first-rate award, and it brought me some national attention. I traveled to New Hampshire and gave a poetry reading at the Frost Farm near Derry, New Hampshire. The farm is a national historic site, beautifully renovated to the way it was when Frost and his family lived there for about ten years, from 1900 to 1911. Many of his famous poems were written while he lived there.

Then in 2014 I won the String Poet Award. That’s another prominent poetry prize. That award took me to New York in September of 2014 to give a reading. One particularly interesting feature of the String Poet Award is that a professional musical composer was retained to write an original piece of music inspired by my poem. The music, a cello solo, was performed after I gave my reading.

Review of Lightless

Review By Ty Black

In a future dominated by surveillance, a totalitarian government will stop at nothing to stifle dissent, even if that means depopulating entire worlds. When a known criminal and possible terrorist is captured breaking in to top-secret experimental spaceship Anake, the government sends intelligence agent Ida Stays to interrogate him. Meanwhile, his partner made the Anake’s computer go haywire before evading capture, and ship’s mechanic, Dr. Althea Bastet, doesn’t know how to fix it.

Space opera Lightless is author C.A. Higgins’ debut. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, stories live and die on the strength of their villains, and while there are plenty of bad guys to choose from in Lightless, Ida Stays is one of the best villains I’ve seen in a while. She’s ruthless, self-assured, and most importantly she believes in the horrible things she does.

I found the beginning quarter of Lightless hard to get into: Althea spends a while being stumped about how to fix the ship and Ida’s interrogation spends a while going nowhere, and it felt like that action was stalled. That said, Higgins was setting up some surprises for later which made it worthwhile. There was also just a bit more purple prose than the story could sustain, and the narration felt stilted in places.

Once the book reaches its climax, the body count spikes sharply and the pieces Higgins set in place so carefully come together in rapid-fire in a series of surprising ways. I won’t give any spoilers, but the book’s last lines were intriguing enough to ensure that I’ll read any sequel.

You know there’s actually going to be some “sci” in “sci-fi,” when a book uses the laws of thermodynamics for its epigraphs, and Higgins, who was a runner-up to the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing for her short story, The Changeling, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics. That (naturally) led her to a job in theater, and this is an author I look forward to seeing more from. I give Lightless three of five stars.

304 pp. Del-Ray. $25

Jason Kucharik Interview

Welcome, readers. This is David Stegora, Editor-In-Chief of Dark Futures, here with our first interview in a quite a long time. Today I will be interviewing Jason Kucharik. People reading this already familiar with Jason likely know him as the author of V.O.K. or the guest judge of our current writing challenge. He also has an Indiegogo campaign going on right now. We’ll talk about that a little during the course of this interview but you can take a look at it here. Thanks for doing this, Jason.

Let’s start out simple. Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. I’ve had a love for movies and video games ever since I was a kid. My dad had an Atari 2600 that we used to play on and he liked to stay up to date on technology, if we could afford it. I got into computers after that, playing text games and basic 2D stuff. When I was thirteen my parents got me a Playstation and my whole world changed. Metal Gear Solid was the first game that I really fell in love with. I like movies that made me think and was surprised at how deep the story in Metal Gear Solid was. In between games my dad liked to share all the 70s and 80s action, sci-fi, and horror flicks that he really loved: Star Wars, Aliens, The Thing, and so on.

After that I focused more and more on movies and games that would get the wheels turning in my head. I dabbled with some art in high school but ended up staying away from it due to a few select, arrogant teachers. I did a year a local community college studying photography and graphic design before transferring down to Full Sail University in Florida to study 3D animation. It was geeky heaven, haha. Everyone loved all the same stuff that I did, they were passionate, and excited to share their ideas. That’s where I really flourished as a person and a storyteller.

I graduated, life happened, and I got away from animation for a while. In 2010 I was looking at joining the Army, did everything short of signing papers, but got in contact with an old friend from school. I got back into animation, and moved out to San Diego with two suitcases and fist full of hope. My friend was working in the industry since school, had made a name for himself, and planned on mentoring me back into the industry. After about a year I decided that it just wasn’t for me.

A few months after making the decision not to continue freelance animation, I overheard two colleagues at work talking about bucket lists. Seeing as I had no personal goals at the time, I decided to make my own. First on the list was writing a book, and second was completing a triathlon. I completed both within a year and became addicted to writing. It’s definitely been an eye opening and crazy ride since that day. I never really read for pleasure so there’s a lot that I learned that first year, and there are things I continue to learn every day. I do read now, haha, thanks to the pressure of my editor. Pretty much nonstop in fact, I’m just trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed. There’s a different sort of appreciation for other people’s work when you understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. Plus it’s still one of the best ways that I’ve found to better yourself as not only a writer, but a person as well.

What is V.O.K.?

V.O.K. is my third book and the first one to really get some attention on Wattpad.

V.O.K. is written from the perspective of an Alpha, the universe’s most skilled special operations soldiers, who act as the High Order’s eyes and ears in every corner of the universe and, when necessary, its unflinching reapers. LT, a stoic combat veteran and his sarcastic Sergeant, Bill, are engaged in a seemingly simple recon mission on the scorched surface of the now abandoned Earth. Upon discovering that they were once human and the history of their species, the Hemosapiens is a lie, the very people they’re meant to protect turn against them.

An honor bound warrior species known as the Thyr spread across the universe preparing for war, as LT and Bill are pulled across worlds, expected to quell the threat of their home galaxy’s destruction. Meanwhile, a Hemosapien-made plague selectively spreads across the universe turning people into blood thirsty, powerful, animalistic echoes of their former selves. As everything goes to hell, LT and Bill trust in their skills, sarcasm, and the bond of blood to dismantle the increasingly corrupt High Order.

There’s a lot of action, a lot of sarcasm, and a lot of intrigue going on behind the scenes. I wrote V.O.K. as if I was making my own movie. It has a great deal of influence from a wide array of video games, movie and books.

Who or what would you say influences most in your writing? What about for V.O.K., specifically?

So, so many things. Videos games, movies, books, conversations I have with people, inside jokes between friends, people’s characteristics, relationships I’ve been in, my own life decisions, you name it, it goes into my writing, no more so than in V.O.K.. I actually have a document that I’ve been putting together that’s a list of Easter eggs in the book. People always ask what influences my writing and I figure that would be a cool way to show how much truly went into the story. There’s dialogue that’s a nod to things as obscure as Zack Braff’s character, JD, in Scrubs, to more similar stories like Pacific Rim, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and many other influences. Some are really subtle, like my shout out to Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn who I had the pleasure of meeting at San Diego Comic Con a few years back. He is an inspiration. A very creative, and talented man who fought for years to get the rights back for his book after the animated movie was made. Some are more in your face, like a chapter about a third of the way through the book where my characters express their views about a very popular group of vampires that sparkle in the daylight, haha.

V.O.K. is inspired by more things than I can remember. In fact, there are still times when I’ll be watching a movie or talking to a friend about something and just go…Ohhhhhh, that’s why I wrote that line that way. It happens all the time. It is a compilation of all the creative works, people and events that have inspired me to write and do whatever I can to better my own work. I don’t think anything I write from here on out will be even close to what it’s like in that sense.

What made you want to write V.O.K.? Was it something that was just in your head and you had to get it out, or did you spend time and effort developing and planning?

V.O.K., which now stands for Variable Operations Knowledge, originally stood for Vampire, Ork, Kiaju. V.O.K. came about, kind of on a whim and as a way to challenge myself. I was finishing up Fear Your Fate (my first book) and Project Aspire, which I wrote with Taran Matharu, Stephan Landry, and Penegrin Shaw; three other authors on Wattpad.

Stephen had posted something on Facebook, wondering if anyone would be interested in watching a movie with vampire space marines, using lasers to fight orcs and kaiju in a forest. The debate livened up, people traded ideas and he added zombies to the mix. The universe quickly started taking shape in my head. Haha, the idea itself is totally ridiculous and I think that’s why I was so interested. At the time, I had been planning on writing a gritty, more grounded vampire novel that pretty much threw out all the traditional archetypes and formed something new. This was the perfect chance to prove that I could do just that. I wrote the first chapter, posted it on Wattpad and didn’t really plan to go back until I was finished with Fear Your Fate, but the readers on Wattpad had other plans.

I’m a pantser when it comes to writing, which for anyone who doesn’t know, means that I write by the seat of my pants. I write chapter to chapter. I have a very vague idea of where I want to take the story, like the beginning and generally the end, what I want the characters to feel like or certain scenes I see in my head that would look cool…but I don’t plan. I don’t map everything out, write character bios or spend time charting plots. Maybe I will in the future, I don’t know, but for now I love the fluidity of writing chapters as they come to me. It worked very well for V.O.K., so I’m hoping it continues to work in the future, because I really enjoy doing things that way. There’s something so fun about having a sudden epiphany about what your next chapter should be and seeing the readers react to it only a day or two after you’ve conceived it.

I think getting to see how people respond so soon after you write is what draws a lot of people to things like Wattpad. As you’ve said, V.O.K. was originally published on there and it was quite successful. I understand it reached #1 in science fiction and #2 in fantasy at one point. Congratulations on that. Can you explain what Wattpad is for any of our readers who don’t know?

Thank you, I appreciate it. Wattpad is, for those who don’t know, a website where people can read free work or, as an author, post their work for free for others to read. I commonly refer to it as Facebook for authors. You can vote on peoples’ work, leave comments, add things to your reading lists, and have conversations in blogs with other like minded people.

Wattpad has over 40 million users daily, 77 million unique stories, and V.O.K. made it to #1 in Sci-Fi were it bounced between the first few spots for months. It made it to #2 in Fantasy (when Wattpad still allowed stories to have two categories) and Wattpad reached out to me to make it a featured story. At the time of writing this, Wattpad analytics says that I’m only missing readers in 22 countries across the world. Wattpad tracks readers’ location, along with age, and sex, so you can see who your work appeals to.

That being said, every time someone brings up V.O.K.’s success on Wattpad, my response is usually…Eh, it’s done alright. Truth of the matter is, I’ve had a hard time seeing my experience on Wattpad as a success just because of how early I am in my career. Especially compared to authors who have tens of millions of reads and have secured publishing deals that will set them up for life. I see it as a good start, not bad, not great, but good. I hope that V.O.K.’s activity on Wattpad is an indication of how successful I may become in the future, but that is yet to be seen.

Success is perceptual, and while I had goals when uploading V.O.K. to Wattpad, I didn’t and don’t want to become complacent with where I am. When are you successful? Fifty thousand reads? Five hundred thousand? Five million? Writing is a very tough business, especially if you want to do it full time, which I plan to do in the future. So I think it’s important to take a moment to enjoy whatever goals you’ve reached, then accept the fact that you’re not successful and set new goals. When you reach those, you do the same thing. If you do that, success will come on its own and you probably won’t even realize it. One day you’ll wake up on a boat somewhere, writing and sailing around the world and you’ll post something on Facebook about how you can’t believe everything you’ve achieved in life. If I can reach Hugh Howey status, I’ll consider myself successful. Boat not required.

What made you decide to publish V.O.K. on Wattpad? Would you recommend it to others?

Wattpad started as a platform to test my ideas. I really just wanted to know if people were interested in what I wrote. Was it engaging, did they like the characters, did they care what I had to say? It’s been overwhelmingly helpful in that aspect.

I would certainly recommend it to others. I have a very supportive family, a lot of them read my work before anyone else sees it, and I get feedback from that, but some people don’t have that. Often times, even if you do, it’s hard to tell whether family members actually like your work or just want to be nice.

Wattpad fixes that, or at least it did for me. Readers on Wattpad want a quality story, and I don’t necessarily mean grammar. They want to be engaged, connect with the characters, and enjoy what they’re reading and they have no qualms about telling you whether or not it’s bad. If the story is good, a lot of them will look past the grammar, or help you fix it, which is also nice. I love staying connected with my readers and they’re very passionate about my stories and offering ideas to make my writing better. Wattpad itself has also been awesome in helping me succeed. They’re now offering a new program which helps pair some of their more popular writers up with paying promotional work for books or movies, which is really nice.

Since you did so well on Wattpad, what advice would you offer to other writers who want to try to use it?

There are two very important aspects about writing that I believe are integral in helping someone connect with readers. They go hand in hand and they’re not just for Wattpad.

First and foremost by a long shot, and this is important, so if you’re reading this, please, really understand what I’m saying.  Learn how to take criticism, any criticism, and view it constructively.  I won’t lie, it’s really F’ing hard. I learned it over a few years of studying art in school, but not all authors have that background to begin with. You’re writing is a piece of you, any art is, and it’s so easy to take things personally when people say something about your work that hurts or you don’t agree with. You need to get past that. I’m going to say that again because it’s so very important. You NEED to get past the emotions attached to criticism. You need to remove the emotion from the situation as best you can, take a step back and say, “What made them say that?”  Even the really nasty stuff, “What made them say that?”  It will help give you some unknown perspective and allow you to grow as an author and as a person. 

Second, learn to sell yourself.  It’s very easy to put your work out there and remain anonymous or work behind an alias so people don’t know who you are, but I don’t believe in that. Once again, your work is personal and you’re asking people to spend a lot of time and, in some cases, money to read your work.  You’re saying TRUST me, you’ll enjoy this, it’ll be worth it. Great writers are a dime a dozen, now more so than ever due to social media and technology, so you need to give your readers a reason to care. You need to give them something to connect with and that all starts with you. I spent hours, sometimes up to twenty hours a week in the early days, responding to each and every comment on my story and personally thanking every person that read or voted. Whenever you try to sell something (even if they don’t pay for it) the biggest factor that comes into play is how much the customer trusts the person selling the product. This could be themselves, based off of their own research, (they sell themselves on the idea of buying a book) or you, based off of what you’ve written about it. Give someone a reason to trust you, and they’ll support you, and the way you respond to criticism, greatly affects how people think of you.

As we already mentioned, you’ve currently got an Indiegogo campaign going. In part, it’s for getting V.O.K. released in book form but it’s also for something more than that. Can you explain what that is?

Yeah, so an organization I’m in the process of creating is actually the focus of the Indie GoGo campaign. V.O.K. is the first book to be a part of that.

Authors For Change is about self-published authors who are looking to get the word out about their work and do some good in the process. I’m working with authors that I personally know for the first round of books that will be available. Authors involved in the program will donate 100% of the proceeds from their first thousand copies to a charity of their choice, and then a continued percentage after that for one full year. We’ll all use our networks and the charities networks to spread the word about our work and what we’re doing.

As self-published authors, we all understand how it’s likely that you’ll reach a very limited audience, unless you’re really good and equally lucky like Hugh Howey, haha. But we keep at it in our free time, get used to sleepless nights and spend less time being a social butterfly because we love what we do. It has a hold over us that nothing else rivals. I’ve always been raised to help others whenever you’re able and that’s what Authors For Change is about, using my talents, and helping others to use their talents, to do some good in the world. There’s a lot of work ahead, sleepless nights, and failures abound, but I’m up to the challenge and so are the people I’m working with. We believe in what we’re doing and it has to start somewhere, so we’re starting it.

The Authors For Change Indie GoGo will be available all the way through October so any donations or spreading of the word is greatly appreciated. Since it’s still in the very early stages, V.O.K. and V.O.K. related swag are available for perk prizes.

That’s all we have for now, though we may look to touch base with you again in the future and see how things are going. Thanks for your time. Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Please let me know, this has been a lot of fun and I was more than happy to do it. As far as final thoughts are concerned, I would like to touch on communication in general.

If you’re a reader and you enjoy finding new authors out there, I would just like to say feel free to reach out to those authors. I absolutely love hearing from readers and I’ve actually made a few friendships that way. I know a lot of other authors feel the same way. If you have a critique for someone, please do your best to do it in a constructive way as there is so much that goes into creating that product that you or anyone else will never see, know, or understand. Stuff that goes well beyond sleepless nights and good old fashioned hard work. It effects who we are as people and the actual relationships that we have on a level I’ve never experienced. They say actors have to keep their emotions just under the surface so they can access them at will. Authors are very similar except, often times, we’re living the lives and emotions of several different people at once and trying to fully understand and feel what they’re going through in order to convey that to a reader. It’s not always pleasant. Please keep that in mind before taking a few minutes to destroy a piece of work with your opinions. We want to hear from readers, we want people to talk about our work and we want to learn and grow, but try not to be nasty about it.

To authors or aspiring authors, I’d say keep at it. Keep your head down and moving forward, keep writing even when you don’t feel like it. Read other peoples’ work, network, stay connected with your readers and do your best to be polite and not get emotional when people get nasty. People are buying a piece of you, so remember to pour your heart and soul into it, then learn how to become detached when people start critiquing it. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but if you really love writing and want to get better, then you can see why that’s so important.