Friday, July 27, 2012

TALES FROM THE HANGING MONKEY Reviewed!

William Patrick Maynard, currently the talented writer who is bringing a new audience into the world of Sax Rohmer thanks to The Terror of Fu Manchu and The Destiny of Fu Manchu had some really nice things to say about Airship 27's Tales From The Hanging Monkey which contains stories by Bill Craig, Joshua Reynolds, Tommy Hancock and myself. Bounce on over to the Black Gate blog to read for yourself what he had to say.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: VALJEANNE JEFFERS


DERRICK FERGUSON: Who is Valjeanne Jeffers?

VALJEANNE JEFFERS: I'm an artist, poet and science fiction author. I'm also a member of the Carolina African American Writer's Collective (CAAWC) and a graduate of both Spelman College and NCCU.



I've written six books. I paint and I've had poems and nonfiction published too. During the late '90s, I wrote my first, and only, nonfiction book, The Story of Eve, a collection of essays in which I analyzed the media's connection to politics and our behavior. I really had a lot of fun writing it, because I'm something of movie buff. Obviously, this wasn't my last stop. The Story of Eve was never published as an entire volume, although excerpts have appeared in PurpleMag.

But the absolute love of my life is science fiction.

DF:Where do you live and what do you do to keep yourself in cheese and crackers?

VJ:I live in Alabama. I have an MA in Psychology, and I taught college for a few semesters. I enjoyed teaching—I've always loved a good rousing discussion. I mean, let's face it, what is teaching but engaging your students in dialogue that encourages them to think and question the world around them?

More recently I've begun working as an editor for Mocha Memoir Press and also as a freelance editor (I'm co-owner with my fiancĂ© of  Q and V Affordable Editing). Editing is another job I enjoy, because I get to read some of the best novels written before they're even published! I'm also self-published, so I sell my own books and earn income this way too.


DF:How long have you been writing?

VJ:I've been writing since I was nine or ten years old. As a child, I found writing to be a wonderful escape— just like reading, only more interactive. I was also a greedy reader of SF/ fantasy literature.
I rediscovered this love during the '90s, when I became a lifelong fan of Stephen King. I remember working as secretary (while going to classes at night) and reading books during my lunch hour—in class too whenever things got boring.

Then I stumbled upon Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. Octavia was a revelation! I'd never read science fiction written by a Black person—I didn’t even know People of Color wrote SF! I became obsessed with writing my own novel, creating my own worlds. When I first starting writing science fiction, I found that I was able to escape into my characters' lives, even when I just thinking about a plot or scene twist. For me, this is still the most productive and fun part of writing—the ability to slip into my character’s skin.


DF:Why science fiction?

VJ:Science fiction, in my humble opinion, is the most wonderful genre ever created! In what other motif can you create an alternate universe, give your characters preternatural powers, and make a statement about the human condition? You're only limited by your imagination. As an author, I like having that kind of freedom— the freedom of not being constricted by the laws of our physical universe.

With science fiction you can use your character's “powers” to make statements about who they are. You can even manufacture the kind of world you'd like to live in...one that is imagined, but (perhaps) not impossible, such as in the “not-too-distant-future” worlds. After all 40, years ago cell phones and modern computers were science fiction. Two hundred years ago, so were airplanes.

DF:What writers have influenced you?

VJ:There have been so many! In my youth, I read a lot of  YA SF/fantasy, pulp fiction and African American literature. I was addicted to the Nancy Drew mystery series and to Marvel comics. I also devoured the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes. I'm the daughter of two English teachers, so AA literature was required reading in my household. But I didn't enjoy them any less because of this.

I later came to feel that the magic realism of African American literature (especially the novels of Himes and Wright) had a profound effect upon my evolution as a writer. I mean take Richard Wright's The Outsider, for instance, in which the protagonist fakes his own death and recreates himself. This is the classic stuff of pulp and science fiction!

As an adult, I credit Stephen King, Dean Kootz, Sarah Zettle and Tad Williams as among my early influences. But during my last five years as a writer, I believe I was most strongly influenced by Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, Tananarive Due, and Steven Barnes.

Of course I have other favorite authors, who I know have impacted me—folks like Mimi Jean Pamfiloff, Carole McDonnell, Quinton Veal, Ronald Jones, Edward Uzzle, Milton Davis, Joe Bonadonna, Derrick Ferguson and Balogun Ojetade.


DF:When I'm asked to describe your work I always say it's imaginatively experimental. How would you describe it?

VJ:Thanks for the compliment! I'd say that “imaginatively experimental” is an excellent description. In adding to this, I'd describe my work as loosely fitting into the science fiction genre, with elements of fantasy, erotica and horror.

The alternate worlds I build are in keeping with what is scientifically probable if not yet possible. But there is sorcery too—magic just seems to find its way in my books. Charles Saunders once described my Immortal series, as a world in which science and sorcery co-exist. (I floated around on cloud nine for a month after that review!)

There is horror too, simply because some of the scenes in my novels can be very frightening. But life can be scary, and art imitates life. So there are scenarios that will make the reader's hair stand up on the back of their necks.

I've also been known to write some pretty steamy love scenes. Hence the erotica. I take the attitude that all authors express their connection to love and sexuality differently. There is never a right and wrong approach. James Baldwin, for example, could be graphically sexually in his novels. Octavia Butler, more reserved. Both are brilliant authors, and both are acceptable ways of approaching love and sexuality. I view sex as a part of life. I don't ignore it. I don't emphasize it either, so it's not on every other page.

DF:Tell us about the IMMORTAL series.

VJ:Each novel has time-travel, sorcery and shape shifting woven into the plot. The books are set on the alternate planet Tundra, a world without racism, sexism, poverty or crime. This is the setting of Immortal in the year 3075.

But the setting of 2075, a year which impinges on the present, is just as violent and conflicted as American during the 1960s. In fact, I drew heavily on the '60s, an era of great conflict but also of great love and sacrifice, when I wrote the Immortal series. And my readers have said that they get a strong “Make Love not War” vibe when reading them. 

In the first novel, Immortal, I introduce Karla and Joseph: lovers who've been separated by time and space. The inhabitants of Tundra decided that this was the way they wanted it, and fought to make it so. Karla and Joseph are gifted. They are also burdened. Gifted because they are werewolves. Burdened, because it falls upon them to protect Tundra from a powerful evil that has been unleashed upon their world.



Karla and Joseph are not the only protagonists of Immortal. The first novel builds the groundwork for the communes of supernatural beings, good and evil that make their appearance. In the second novel, the reader meets Karla and Joseph's kindred, who are also the saviors of Tundra. In Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, another key player emerges: Annabelle, a vampire with her own agenda and her own stake in Tundra's survival.




In Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds, the characters find themselves in a sinister, steam punk realm without their memories. Their death or survival is interwoven with the fate of Tyrol (The Switch II: Clockwork). That's all I can say giving away too many plot goodies. This is the conclusion to the series. At least, it was supposed to be. However, my readers have told me in no uncertain terms that I can't end it there. So we'll see.



DF:In the IMMORTAL series you're fearless in mixing science fiction with werewolves, vampires and eroticism. When you began the series did you worry that it would be too much for potential readers?

VJ:Most definitely! In the beginning, I felt like I had so much going on, that no one would ever want to read it. But the story is what the story is. When one begins to write, the characters take on lives of their own...these spirits that walk across the page.

I got good feedback from CAAWC. So I pressed on. I started to realize that I had a very unique book and that everything somehow fit together to create a compelling mosaic.  I remembered Octavia Butler's fiction. She was well known for her supernatural “communities.” I thought of The Talisman too, a SF odyssey in which the characters “flip” between realities. Then I knew I had a winner.


DF:Tell us about THE SWITCH series

VJ:The Switch was my first plunge into the steam punk genre. It takes place on the planet Tyrol: a world in which the wealthy live in luxury in the skies, and the poor in a cancerous, steam punk underground.  One of the problems with Tyrol, along with the oppression of the poor, is that the society has become so cut-throat that wealthy women cannot take lovers— for fear the men will marry and then murder them to steal their money. So the rich create androids for their own pleasure.



Like my Immortal series, there is a sharp contrast between the privileged and the poor. There are also two lovers, Simone2 and Dumas2, who are central to the plot, and to the liberation of their planet. There is sorcery and there is time travel. But The Switch is also an erotic thriller, with a plenty of sharp turns and twists. I've had two fellow writers compare it to Phillip K. Dick's Blade Runner! Of course, I'm honored by such a comparison!

There is also heavy emphasis on the other characters, such as Z100, an evil agent provocateur, and Lotus, the time keeper. And for anyone who missed reading Book I: The Switch (originally published by Mocha Memoirs Press) not to worry. I've condensed both books into The Switch II: Clockwork.  


Charles Saunders has just written a fantastic review of The Switch and Immortal IV and I'm really juiced up about it!  It's up on his site for anyone who wants to check it out!

DF:What are your future plans for your writing career?

VJ:I've just two of my stories published in anthologies, which I'm very excited about! My interracial romance story, Mocha Faeryland was just published in 31 Shots of Mocha (Mocha Memoirs Press). This was the very first fantasy romance story I'd ever written. But I like pushing myself outside my comfort zone. And my sword and soul story, The Sickness, was accepted for publication in Griots II: Sisters of The Spear (MV Media). Griots II should be out in 2013.

I'm also writing a space opera, Colony. If readers are interested, they can read the first chapters at smashwords or my wordpress site. I have a paranormal novel, set in New Orleans, in the works. And I'm working on a film based on one of my stories, Grandmere's Secret, with Balogun Ojetade. It's the first time I've ever attempted anything like this, and so I'm both anxious and excited about it.

DERRICK FERGUSON:What's a Day In The Life Of Valjeanne Jeffers like?

VALJEANNE JEFFERS: I spend my day writing, editing, reading—not necessarily in that order—and playing with my grandbaby. And I hang out with my guy, Quinton Veal. Quinton writes erotic poetry (Her Black Body I Treasure) and he's an extraordinarily talented artist too. So we have a really cool relationship.

Anything else we need to know about you?
I'd like to thank Derrick Ferguson, pulp fiction writer extraordinaire for interviewing me. I had a blast!

Valjeanne Jeffers








Tuesday, July 10, 2012

C'mere And Sit Down For A Minute. I Wanna Talk To You...


One of the true pleasures I enjoy is when I open up an email and see that a story is attached to it. It happens on quite a regular basis.  Some of the stories are from other writers I’ve known for years and just want to get my feedback on certain aspects of the story or certain characters or just want to let me read it ahead of the hoi polloi.

Then there are the stories I get from those aspiring writers who labor under the belief that I actually know what I’m doing and are looking for some constructive criticism about their prose.  It’s a a pleasure to get those stories as well.  And I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say that it’s not flattering as hell that a writer would put himself out there like that and send out their literary child to be examined by a stranger who just may well flay it alive over a pit of red-hot coals.

But I don’t do that.  Really.  Even on that rare occasion where I receive a story that…needs work, let’s say…I do my best to be supportive and provide the necessary encouragement while attempting to be realistic and practical without being a complete and total dick about it.

But there is one thing that grinds my grits to no end…

I can never understand why someone would send  me a story and feel the need to add to the email something that usually goes like this or some other variation: “I really appreciate you reading this story even though I know it sucks.” Or “This story is just so much crap and I’m probably wasting your time asking you to read it.” 

My question is this: if you know the story is crap or it sucks and you wrote it then why are you asking me to read it?  Apparently you must think I like reading crap.  In which case you must not think much of me to begin with. Or maybe you think that by you coming out first and saying it’s crap or it sucks that you’re getting a jump ahead of me and cushioning the blow if it turns out that I don’t like it.

How about this: let me read the story and let me decide for myself if the story sucks or not.  There’s absolutely no upside to you making up my mind for me before I’ve even read Word One and prejudicing me against your own work.  And in my experience, 9 times outta 10 the story is nowhere near as crappy as the writer thinks it is.  Matter of fact it usually turns out to be pretty damn good.

And when I say this one on one to a writer he’ll usually email me back something that reads along these lines; “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t write crappy stories.”

Say wha?

Of course I write crappy stories.  Every writer does.  The difference is this: you’ll never see the crappy stories because the only stories I send out are the ones that I know without a shadow of a doubt represents the best work that I can do. The crappy stories I leave on my hard drive until I can rewrite them until they ain’t crap or I decide to give them up altogether.  And believe me, the amount of crappy stories I have written are considerable to say the least.

Okay, glad to have gotten that off my chest at last.  So we’re clear on this, right?  No more sending me stories with a little “I know this story sucks” note attached, okay? Don’t worry.  If it is that bad, I’ll say so.  And then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get to work to help you make it better.

So why are you still sitting here?  Go get busy writing.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: MARK BOUSQUET


Derrick Ferguson: Who is Mark Bousquet?

Mark Bousquet: I was raised in a small town in central Massachusetts called Winchendon (the only town so named in the entire country). Back then, the town population was 8,000 people and the entire high school was only 200-something kids. I played baseball and basketball in high school, acted in the yearly play competition, and generally had a great time. I attended Syracuse University on two separate occasionsand earned Bachelor's degrees in Public Communications and then inLiterature, then went to the University of New Hampshire for a Mastersin Lit, and then to Purdue University where I earned a Ph.D inAmerican Studies (a dual degree in 19th century American environmental Lit and History).



DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?

MB: I've been living in Reno, Nevada for almost a year now with my coonhound/beagle Darwin, where I'm the Assistant Director of Core Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno.



DF: How long you been writing?

MB: Almost as long as I can remember. When I was in the first or second grade, I can remember getting a creative writing assignment and just absolutely loved it. Since then, I've always been thinking of stories to write when I get some free time.

DF: What writers have influenced you?

MB: My biggest influences were the mid-80s Marvel Comics' writers: Walt Simonson, Roger Stern, Steve Englehart, and Mark Gruenwald. I love the way they told long-form stories using the monthly format to their advantage. Beyond that, as a kid I gravitated towards series of books: the Hardy Boys, Lord of the Rings, the Three Investigators, Narnia, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Old Mother West Wind series. As I grew older, it was writers like Elmore Leonard, William Goldman, Nick Hornby, Robert Parker, and Edward Abbey. And I love the 19th century: Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Stephen Crane.

DF: What's your philosophy of writing?

MB: Simple: If I'm not having fun writing it, then you're not gonna have fun reading it. Beyond that, I'm always trying out new things. In my career as an academic, I've got to write articles that are largely written in the same style and format, no matter the subject, so in my creative writing, I like to try new things, which is why I've gone from a contemporary fantasy, to a kid's book, to a sci-fi actioner, to now aweird western.

DF: Before we get into GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC let's talk a bit about your earlier work.  Tell us about DREAMER'S SYNDROME.



MB: It started with a simple idea: what if everyone got to be as adults what they wanted to be as kids? I came out of the fan-fiction ranks, working at Marvel Volume 1 on just about every single Marvel characterI'd wanted to write. I was in the home stretch of my "original"series, ALL GOD'S CHILDREN, which was an "end of the Marvel Universe" story that jumped all over the timeline. I loved working at MV1 but I was ready to try something new, so I propped DREAMER'S to the Frontier Publishing website and luckily, they accepted it. The narrative focuses on Austin and Kelly, a young couple who get split apart by what I called "the New World." The story starts on the morning of the Reorganization, where the whole world wakes up and finds themselves transformed into their childhood dream. Austin goes from being a lit professor to a pirate, and Kelly is horrified to find herself transformed into a Disney-esque Princess. They get split and the story is about the two of them finding a way to come back together inside a New England that has been transformed into a half-Middle Ages, half-contemporary setting.

DF: HARPSICHORD & THE WORMHOLE WITCHES was a book completely different from DREAMER'S SYNDROME. Tell us about how and why you wrote that book.



MB: One of the complaints I received about DREAMER'S was that there was too much talking and not enough action, so I set out to write a straight-ahead action story where I'd have to fit the characterizationin alongside the action. (I didn't time to make these changes for mykid's book: ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE: THE COMING OF FROST.) 





The wholeproject was designed to be an antithesis of DREAMER'S. Because it was written for Frontier, DREAMER'S was a serialized novel, where each chapter had to tell its own episode, but with HARPSICHORD, the whole story is designed to move fast and hit hard. Harpsichord is a student at a military academy who gets shunted off to the Deep, the far end of space, and forced to fend for herself. I wrote the whole novel in a month while I was waiting for my dissertation adviser to get back tome with some feedback on the latest diss chapter I'd turned in. The whole project popped in my head and out onto the computer screen faster than any project I'd ever written.

DF: Before we get into GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC let me ask you this: why a Weird Western? And what about that genre turns your crank?

MB: Russ Anderson invited me to submit a story for HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD VOLUME 2, and that's how I came up with Hanna and Jill, the stars of GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC. I'd been wanting to write a western for a while and luckily Russ presented me with the opportunity. What I love about the genre is the wide open expanse of the west allows for any and all kinds of stories.

DF: Okay, enough sizzle.  Give us the steak.  What's GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC and why should we read it?



MB: The core question of GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC is how far are you willing to go for the woman you love when you know she'll never love you back? Hanna and Jill grew up together as best friends in a whaling merchant's house in Boston, but on opposite sides: Jill was the merchant's daughter and Hanna was the servant's daughter. Along the way, Hanna fell in love with Jill, while Jill lives too much in each individual moment to probably fall in love with anyone. She had agreed to marry Dotson Winters in order to save her father's dying business but when he disappeared on the morning of their wedding, Jill and Hanna headed after him. They boarded a train in Kansas City and before that ride was over, they'd fought werewolves, vampires, special agents, and confronted Mary Todd Lincoln and Dotson.

Then the train crashed. Jill died.

And GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC: BLOOD OF THE UNIVERSE is the story about how Hanna gets Jill back. Bellingham, a time-traveling British secret service agent who was on the train with them, tells Hanna the real reason he's in 1866: to look for the Universe Cutter, a blade that can bring one person back from the dead.

DF: What does the future hold for Jill and Hanna?

MB: This "Volume 0" edition is designed to be a bridge between the story in HTWWW V2 and the upcoming GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC VOLUME 1: UNDER ZEPPELIN SKIES. I love these two characters and I'm really enjoying writing of their adventures in the weird west.

DF: Bellingham is a character that at times threatens to steal the book away from Jill and Hanna.  Can we expect to see more of him?

MB: Absolutely. He stars in a back-up tale in BLOOD OF THE UNIVERSE entitled, "Appetite for Appeasement," that sends him back to 1939 London. He's kind-of-obviously the answer to the question, "What if James Bond had a TARDIS?" and he's an absolute blast to write.

DF: You're also a movie reviewer.  Tell us about your movie review blog, ATOMIC ANXIETY.

MB: I love movies. Directors are every bit as influential to me as writers and I love to write and talk about movies. I'll write reviews for almost everything I watch, whether it's an all-time classic or a cheesy B-movie.

DF: What other writing projects do you have planned?

MB: Getting UNDER ZEPPELIN SKIES finished is the next project on the agenda, and then after that it's the next ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE story, a Christmas story that I hope to have out for Christmas. But you probably guessed that. Other than that, there's all kinds of other projects spinning in my head, but I like the stay flexible. Over the past year, I contributed stories to not only HTWWW V2 but BLACKTHORN: THUNDER ON MARS, and I'd really like to start writing more short stories for other people's collections.

DF: What's a typical Day In The Life of Mark Bousquet like?

MB: Get up, walk the dog, go to campus, deal with teaching and administrative work, then home to walk the dog again, eat dinner, and then settle down with a movie or catch a ballgame or get some writing done.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know about Mark Bousquet?

Mark Bousquet: Just that I'm always trying to get better and love any kind of constructive criticism, whether it's positive or negative. To try and build some momentum for UNDER ZEPPELIN SKIES, I'm offering a PDF version of GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC to anyone who wants one. It's free ofcharge - I wouldn't object to getting some feedback in exchange or apositive comment dropped at the Amazon page, or buying the $7 paperback or 99 cent Kindle version, but it's certainly not a requirement. I think I've given away a good 20 copies or so, so far, and I'm happy to send more out to anyone who wants one. The early feedback has been very positive, which is nice, since this is where I'm spending the next few months of my creative time.







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