Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Interview with Thom Stark.

Full Name:
Thom Stark
Is this a pen name or a nome de plume or a plume de ma tante or were you just lucky enough to be given a name that sounds like Tony Stark’s cooler cousin from birth?
My birth certificate reads Thomas Stark, but I’ve gone by Thom since I was eight years old. It’s the name under which I copyright all my material, it’s the name to which my ASCAP account is registered, it’s even the name on my bank account. And I always thought Tony was the cooler one – but maybe that’s because he wears such nifty suits.
Sometimes the clothes do make the man. Especially when your suit lets you fly and shoot repulsor beams from the palms of your gauntlets.
Not to mention the custom tailoring!

Do you have a nickname or what do your friends call you?

No nickname has ever stuck, so I’m Thom (the H is silent, like the X in America) to all three of my friends.


They tell me I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since that’s what my birth certificate says, I believe them. But I was a military brat, and I’ve never spent much time there, so I don’t think of it as being home.
I’ve heard a lot about being a military brat, but I am not one. Was it weird having to move from place to place depending on capricious military duty assignments? Also, was it weird to grow up in the relatively sterile and ordered environment of military housing?
I can’t say it was weird, because I have nothing with which to compare it. We seldom lived in on-base housing, though. Most of the time we lived in regular, suburban, rental houses. Our first couple years in Japan, we lived in a suburb of Tokyo where the nearest other gaijin family lived about eight blocks away – and they were German. When we lived in Hawaii (mid-to-late 1960’s), we moved to Hickam AFB (it’s right next door to Pearl Harbor Naval Base) at the beginning of my freshman year in high school, and that was actually pretty cool. A lot of the office buildings still had bullet holes in their walls from the December 7, 1941 attack. Hickam is an Air Force Logistics Command base, so there were all these huge cargo planes parked along the runway. I’d see them every day on my way to and from the base library. I got my skipper’s license for sailboats at the harbor there. I was rammed and sunk by another boat on my way into dock at the tail end of my solo test – but it was his fault, and I did what I was supposed to do, so I passed the test, even though I ended up in the drink.

Current hometown:
My wife and I live in Chillicothe, Ohio. I don’t think of it as home, though – it’s just the place we happen to live at the moment.
Home is where you hang yourself, and in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn wherever you go, there you are.

Favorite city and why?
Hmm. Well, I really enjoy London, because of the beer, the British Museum, and the Tube. I like Berlin, too, because of the nightlife, and the Pergamon museum. And we both enjoyed Paris, mostly because of the Louvre. (Are you sensing a trend, yet?) But, really, my favorite place we’ve lived was on a 5.24 acre patch of granite boulders and oak trees five miles outside of Bootjack, California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The wildlife, the clean air, the beauty of the place just made me happy to be alive. If it hadn’t been for the dotcom crash of 2002, we’d be living there still.
I used to work as a travelling salesman of sorts, selling horror genre merchandise at horror conventions. It was great job, but my one regret is that my boss wouldn’t let me head out a day early or stay a day late to get to know the local areas. I would’ve loved to have had the chance to check out the galleries in all of the major metropolitan areas that I worked in, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have checked out a few museums in my travels. The Smithsonian and the National Gallery in Washington D.C. are pretty impressive, and Museum Mile in New York City is pretty boss, but I look forward to one day being able to visit The Louvre.
We spent three days at the Smithsonian on a road trip in the late 90’s, and still didn’t manage to see everything. The only NYC museum I’ve visited is the Museum of Natural History – but, if you only get to visit one, I think that’s the one to pick. When you get around to visiting the Louvre, there’s a stairwell that connects the entrance structure to the wing that houses all the great paintings. On the second floor landing stands the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It’s gigantic – and it brought me to tears, because the front has been so badly eroded that it’s nearly featureless, but the back is almost completely intact. The unknown sculptor who created it was so detail-obsessed that the weave of Nike’s gown is still plainly visible. It just saddened me enormously to contemplate how much of its beauty has been forever lost.
Since we’re talking about museums, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a decent one I like to go to whenever I get the chance.
I’ll keep that in mind, the next time I’m in Beantown with time on my hands.

Birthday / Age:
I was born at the end of winter, the same year Elvis Presley recorded his first demos at Sun.

How would you describe yourself physically?
I still have pretty much all my hair. There are Reed Richards-style silver streaks above my ears. I wear a neatly-trimmed goatee and mustache, which are now almost completely white. I’m just short of six feet tall, and I weigh more than I want to. I have dark brown eyes, and a Lou Reed tan.

How would someone else describe you physically?
Well, my wife is convinced I’m handsome. Everywhere I’ve gone, people have always remarked on how much I remind them of someone they know – but it’s never someone I’ve met, so I can’t speak to the resemblance.
I used to have that happen to me a lot during my late teen early twenties. People would furrow their brow and tilt their head and say, “Do I know you from somewhere? Have I seen you TV or something?” I was never able to figure out who people thought I was, but I figured it was just a sign that I was destined for greatness someday. I just wish that day would come sooner rather than later.

I’ll be happy if greatness happens to me while I’m still alive.
Me too, sir! As much as it would be nice to have whatever questionable legacy I leave behind to live on after me, I would like to be able to enjoy it a bit while on this side of the dirt.

The first thing people notice about you is…
It’s usually my hat. I wear a big-ass, leather Minnetonka hat with a bunch of feathers – red-tailed hawk, gray owl, turkey, and crow – thrust through the hatband. Over the years, I’ve got the brim shaped just the way I want it.
I tried to be a hat guy. I figure that in this life, you’re either a hat guy or you’re not a hat guy. I had this big leather hat with a brim that was really helpful in diverting the rain, but people never took me seriously in it so I ended up donating it to the “costume department” of my friend Rick Laprade, a local independent film-maker and since then, my former hat’s made a cameo in a lot of his stuff as a character accent, and it’s really for the best as I wasn’t that guy. I had a few black baseball caps over the years and I’m about due for a new one. The problem is that black baseball hats definitely get a funk to them after about a year and they really don’t stand up well to washing.
I bought my Minnetonka hat on our first visit to Mariposa, while we were passing through on our way to Yosemite, in 1991. I wear it a lot. It saved me from some pretty nasty bumps on the noggin when I was skying up oak trees on our property. You can see what it looks like in the image on the index page of my website at:

Hair Color / Eye Color / Race?
See above. Oh, and Le Mans.

Sexual orientation?
Frequently horizontal.

Religion, if any?
I’m a strong disbeliever in the usefulness of religion. When hard-pressed, I’ve been known to describe myself as a gnostic pantheist, but I don’t really proselytize for it. Basically, I think of the Universe as a single entity, of which you, me, the carpet, Saturn’s rings, and Stonehenge are all manifestations. I tend to leave morality to moralists – although I’m pretty big on personal ethics. I definitely don’t see any evidence of a caring and compassionate God, and I’ve studied way too much comparative mythology to be especially captivated by the Jesus myth. The whole murdered and risen God trope goes back a whole lot further than Christianity – Osiris, anyone? It seems clear to me that the Universe doesn’t care about me, or you – or the human race, our planet, or much of anything else. Caring and compassion are traits of complex organisms, not the existential matrix within which we’re imbedded.
I also think that the Universe is much too large for the human experiment to be the reason it all exists and that religion is an institutionalized form of superstition, wishful thinking, and the externalization of the super-ego resulting from the ability of our species to view its consciousness somewhat objectively. I also think that religiosity is a symptom of simplemindedness. There’s no harm in believing in luck, I suppose, but when you start trying to tell people how they should behave based on your belief in the opinion of an invisible man that is everywhere at once I probably think that you’re either stupid or crazy or both. Every now and then I have the urge to proselytize for humanism or moral relativity or atheism or existentialism outside of the church next door on Sunday morning, but it would probably end with someone calling the police and me getting taken away in handcuffs and I don’t have a lawyer on retainer yet so I guess I’ll have to keep stifling those urges for the time being.
Try googling for “atheist megachurches”. I think you’ll at least be amused at the profusion of results. I used to be an atheist-leaning agnostic, but I had a pretty profound spiritual experience one evening while walking Wolfgang along the road on which our spread outside of Bootjack was located. There was no conversation with burning vegetation or anything, but I suddenly felt such an intense awareness of connectedness with and belonging to the Universe that it permanently changed how I felt about the relation between myself and existence in general. I don’t at all believe in an afterlife, nor do I believe in a separate deity – and certainly not one that takes sides – but I’ve personally experienced the immanence of the divine in myself and every living and non-living thing in the Universe, and I can’t un-experience that. I think it may not be unreasonable to posit that intelligent beings throughout the cosmos may be the mechanism that existence has evolved to contemplate its own coolness, but, whether that’s true or not, it seems crystal clear to me that we are all aspects or manifestations of a single entity. The current model of the Big Bang starts with a singularity: the entire Universe springing from a point source. It takes some pretty advanced mathematical skills to even begin to wrap your head around that in an intellectual sense, but my little moment of noesis allowed me to appreciate it on a strictly intuitive level.

Are you superstitious at all? Any phobias?
Not really. I don’t much care for large, armed, aggressive, flying insects, and I’ve come to hate spiders over the years – but that last is because I’ve been bitten by (among others) a black widow, a brown recluse, and several yellow sac spiders, and none of them has turned me into Spiderman.
You might want to invest in some spider repellent. You’ve got some shitty luck with spiders.
T’ain’t no such thing as spider repellent. And, basically all my spider bites happened when I pulled on clothing in which one of them happened to have taken up residence during the night.

Do you smoke / drink? If so, what?
I gave up tobacco thirty years ago. I like beer – especially beers that can pass the 60-watt test. (Hold the glass up to a naked 60-watt bulb. Can you see the light through the beer? If so, it fails.) I enjoy bourbon, and I’ll drink an occasional glass of wine with dinner. I don’t like getting drunk, at all. I don’t drink often, but, when I do, I’ll have one or two beers, bourbon and sodas, or glasses of wine, usually with a meal. And I like smoking weed … but only when I’m not working.
I never drink… wine.

Any bad habits?
I often fail to use my turn signals. And I sometimes yell bad words when I’m reading news stories about politics.

Current occupation / Dream job:
I’m a professional writer. I’d like to be an intergalactic overlord, but, in the meantime, I enjoy what I do.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Watch movies, read, play guitar. Talk with intelligent people. Walk my dogs. The thing is, when you’re a writer – and especially when you’re writing a novel – you’re almost always working. It may not look like it from the outside, but then a lot of a writer’s work is strictly internal. I can’t speak for others, but I spend big chunks of time just thinking about plotlines, characters, dialogue, and so on. I also do a whole lot of research. In fact, I average about three hours of research for every hour I spend writing. That’s why I prefer immersive activities when I’m not actively working – because, if my attention isn’t wholly taken up with leisure activities, my current work is almost always what’s on my mind.
Alright, I’ve got some follow-up questions for that one.

What do you like to play on your guitar? Do you have a favorite song to play?

I alternate a defined set with one that’s more à la carte. I start both sets with Little Wing. It’s an arrangement of my own for acoustic guitar. My vocal delivery is influenced by Jimi’s, but it’s definitely more me than him. The defined set then continues with my most recent composition, Ready For My Close-up, followed by Naked Eye, Walk On The Ocean, Can’t Find My Way Home, and, lately, an arrangement of Lodi that I’ve been working on. I usually end it with The Wind Cries Mary, which is a wristbreaker, because I have my guitar strung with medium, bronze-wound strings, and it’s all bar chords. The other set could include any number of things. Desperado is often one of them. I deliver the lyrics superbly, and my guitar arrangement works really well, too. So are Key To The Highway, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Like A Rock, and I Shall Be Released, but I also throw in one or more of my own songs, and/or anything from Grantchester Meadows to This Boy. I hold or co-hold copyrights to about four dozen songs, and I know dozens more, so it really varies all over the place.
I remember hating bar chords. I love playing guitar, but bar chords always tied my fingers in knots and hurt like a bitch. Thankfully now I only own a bass, but I still love playing chords on it.
The thing is, bar chords free you to play inversions anywhere on the neck – plus you get to slide into them, so they can really add to the dynamics of an arrangement. If I were willing to sacrifice the tone I get from medium bronze-wounds, I could string my guitar with ultra-lights and comfortably play bar chords all day.

I definitely relate to always turning the raw materials for your writing projects around in your head like a rock tumbler tumbling a stone, using everyday activities to polish what will hopefully be something at least semi-precious.
Just last night I was thinking about starting a fire in a dumpster to try to stay warm while working outside at night, and I lit a couple styrofoam coffee cups on fire with my lighter just to see if it would work, and it worked just fine and I decided to use that in the post-apocalyptic zombie-epidemic novel-length book project I’m working on.
These days, you probably do a fair amount of, if not all of, your research using the internet. Are you ever worried that some of the things you’re looking up are getting you added to a secret government list? Or if you’re already on a list, that you’ll be moved up to the next surveillance priority level?

I’m certain the NSA has looked at my browsing history – after all, for American Sulla, I’ve looked up nuclear weapons, firearms specifications, the address of CIA headquarters, Marine One, homemade napalm recipes, and the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. And that’s just for Book One – and it’s far from an exhaustive list. Coming up, I’ll be researching cruise missiles, drones, special ops, anti-submarine warfare, and battlefield communications, all in conjunction with Pakistan. I’ve also been in email contact with a couple of the reporters who are most responsible for stories drawn from the Snowden revelations – and, no, I’m not going to say which ones – to make sure that my inclusion of NSA protocols and programs is as technically accurate as publicly-available information permits. None of that worries me especially, because I’m not doing anything subversive or criminal with that information, and I’ve done everything in my power to get the word out that I’m writing this novel. Besides, Scott Shane of the New York Times wrote an interesting summary of the Snowden revelations called No Morsel Too Minuscule for All-Consuming N.S.A., in which he mentions that the analyst charged with monitoring email communications between members of a Pakistani Islamic terrorist organization called Lashkar-e-Taiba is quoted in one of the messages Snowden copied as saying that most of what he looked at was in Arabic or Farsi, and he couldn’t read either one. What struck me about that statement is that, although Farsi is used in Pakistan for writing poetry, it’s not a language that a Sunni terrorist organization would employ on a day-to-day basis. So that unnamed analyst is so woefully under-qualified that he can’t tell the difference between Farsi and, say, Pashto, or Urdu – and apparently doesn’t understand how important that difference is. And yet he’s the go-to guy for analysis of the email communications of a terrorist organization that’s powerful enough to have planned and executed the 2008 simultaneous attack on the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel and eleven other locations in Mumbai that killed 164 people. So, no, NSA surveillance of my communications and browsing doesn’t particularly concern me. What does worry me – and has worried me ever since the mid-1990’s – is the amount of information that private companies who have essentially zero strictures on what they can do with it have acquired about me. I’ve been saying since the Boardwatch days that personal privacy was going to be the single most important issue of the first quarter of the 21st Century, and nothing I’ve seen to date has made me doubt that prediction. Why does that worry me? See my comments earlier about MBAs.
That’s a really interesting response. My primary concern as an author that looks up similar types of stuff is that I’d get added to a “no fly list” as a “domestic terrorist”. Mostly because they don’t tell you in advance that they put you on the list, and I don’t think there’s any way to appeal your inclusion in the list. The whole concept of “domestic terrorism” is so absurd to me. Basically, as far as I’m aware it means “people that aren’t happy with the way that the government seems to be working to perpetuate the goals of the government rather than to improve the lives of the people that they were elected to represent”. If that’s what a domestic terrorist is, then I guess I am one. I’m also a “patriot” and not in the whole “love it or leave it” way, but in the way that I think the United States of America is a decent country and has a lot of potential but that the potential is being stifled by the people that have been tasked with running the government because the government seems to be creating laws with the intention of using them against the people to further the government’s interests.
Well, Timothy McVeigh was a genuine, no-shit domestic terrorist. James Kopp – who murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian for providing abortions – was a domestic terrorist. The Order – who assassinated talk show host Alan Berg for being liberal, outspoken, and Jewish – was a domestic terrorist group. There are lots and lots of other examples, so it’s not like the term is purely a propaganda device. That having been said, I agree that it’s become conveniently elastic in definition, as our lawmakers’ regard for our constitutionally- guaranteed protections from law enforcement and prosecutors has steadily disappeared.
I just said in another interview conversation that I think there should be about five laws. I wish I could find that chunk of writing because I’d just copy and paste it over. Ah, I did find it. This was my rambling from an as of yet unpublished interview with In McClellan: Eye to eye, sir. It seems like there’s been an increasing epidemic of people who think that the ideas that roll around inside their head should have practical value outside of their head. You don’t like homosexuals? Don’t be one. Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one. Don’t like cigarettes? Don’t smoke them. The fact that some people are so delusional that they think that their projected opinions residing in the nonexistent mind of an imaginary man that is everywhere at the same time should be used to draft laws criminalizing other people’s lifestyle choices is annoying. There should be about five things that are illegal. Rape. Murder. Child Molestation. Animal Cruelty and Bank Robbery. Other than that, people should be left alone to do whatever the fuck they want with their lives. The fact that some cop on a power trip can use a vehicle equipped with flashing lights and a noisemaker to inconvenience me whenever they feel the whim is absurd. As long as I’m not raping, murdering, molesting, bank robbing, or being cruel to an animal aside from eating them because they’re delicious, whatever the fuck I’m doing should be nobody’s business but my own. Unfortunately we live in a softcore police state where instead of being relieved when they see a patrol car, people are worried that they’re going to have the power of the police state inflicted upon them.”
As Alan More said in V for Vendetta, “People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Unfortunately, it seems the government is afraid of the people if the kind of legislation enacted during the Bush administration is any indication.
Well, unfortunately Obama isn’t any better than Bush was on the civil liberties and protection of privacy fronts. I have to tell you I think that rant is a tad simplistic. I’m reminded of H. L. Mencken’s observation, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” Effective laws can’t be simple, because human society is complex. Should bribing a public official be a crime? Obviously it should. Should arson for profit or revenge be? Of course it should. Should stealing a car be? Yup. And so on. On the other hand, Ohio has a law that makes it illegal to install a hidden compartment in your car “for purposes of smuggling illegal drugs.” I think that’s way, way over the line – but then again, Ohio is (or at least should be) infamous for imbecile lawmaking. It used to be illegal here to own a pit bull, unless you had $100,000 in liability insurance (which no insurance company would write), a completely-enclosed outdoor pen (even for an indoor dog), and kept it on a chain lead at all times. (They finally rewrote that statute last year to eliminate all breed-specific language.) I was prosecuted under Chillicothe’s language-identical ordinance a couple of years ago, despite the fact that neither of my dogs is a pit. That, in turn, was because the language of both the statute and the ordinance was purposefully vague in defining a pit bull, and the Supreme Court’s opinion that a law need not be “mathematically exact” in its definitions was twisted around to mean “a pit bull is any dog a police officer says is a pit bull.” That cost me five months of grief before the City Attorney finally dropped the pit bull-related charges – and that only happened because I subpoenaed the County Dog Warden, who would have blown big holes in her case.
If you’re getting the impression I hate this place, you’re very perceptive. If we could afford to move away, we would. In a hummingbird’s heartbeat.
I have a lot of friends that are Alex Jones followers and New World Order conspiracists and if you do the research, it really is chilling, the secret plans that the government has had, but been unable to implement. Listening to the radio shows by the late great William Cooper, there’s an amazing variety of plans for martial law, totalitarianism, and world government, turning the entire planet into a slave state. Thankfully either the government is too inept, or the people are too aware or potentially resistant to allow total implementation of totalitarianism and oligarchy and the accompanying police state and new world serfdom, but as in the book 1984 by George Orwell, our nation inches closer to totalitarianism and fascism with each new law and that concerns me as a private citizen that values my individual civil rights. I am of the philosophy that “That government is best which governs least.” As attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and I believe that was the intention of the original Constitution. “Okay, everyone. Here’s all the law that we need. Anything that’s not in here is none of our fucking business, so go about your lives. Thanks, your government.” My concern is that we are gradually shifting from a “That which is not forbidden is permitted.” philosophy to a “That which is not permitted is forbidden.” philosophy. Your thoughts?
I think Alex Jones is a foaming, right-wing twat. The man has serious anger management issues, and a hatred of liberals that’s truly unhinged. I also think the bulk of his conspiracy-mongering is about selling books and DVDs, rather than finding the truth. Are there government conspiracies? Of course there are. Look at the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Look at the FBI’s CoIntelPro, and the CIA’s MkUltra programs. The thing is though, Jones and his fellow truthers see a government conspiracy behind everything that happens in the world, and it just ain’t so. The World Trade Center towers were brought down by the effects of two full loads of burning jet fuel being fanned by a steady wind into blast-furnace heat levels, not by the controlled detonation of CIA-planted plastic explosives. The BBC did an excellent documentary on how the curtain-wall design of the towers interacted with the burning fuel to bring down the buildings. Jones points to the temperature of burning jet fuel not being hot enough to soften structural steel – but that’s the temperature at which the stuff burns in the open air, in calm conditions. Coal doesn’t burn hot enough to melt steel, either – except when it’s subjected to a forced-air draft in a blacksmith’s furnace, where it melts steel very nicely. I mention Hanlon’s Razor a little later on in this interview, and I think it’s an important principle to keep firmly in mind. I’m also an enthusiastic proponent of Occam’s Razor: “Never multiply root causes unnecessarily.” The simpler explanation is usually the correct one. Not always, but usually. Again, though, that doesn’t mean I approve of the NSA mindlessly harvesting and storing digital data, nor do I approve of giving police ever more unchecked power. Asset seizure in the absence of a conviction in a court of law is simply wrong, it’s unconstitutional, and it needs to end. Every police officer ought to be required to wear a lapel cam at all times when on duty – and should be promptly fired for obscuring it, or turning it off. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I am, in fact, worried about the increasing erosion of civil liberties, just as I’m concerned about the unchecked influence of plutocrats on lawmakers. But I don’t think people like Alex Jones are helping. At all. And I say that, because of the little boy who cried “Wolf!” effect: when you spend all your time hyperventilating at extreme volume about mostly-imaginary conspiracies, you create an environment in which the existence of actual conspiracies is discounted by the electorate in general – and thus the erosion of constitutional guarantees proceeds unchecked, because now every claim of conspiracy is regarded as strictly a delusion of the tin foil hat brigade.
I don’t know. Since we’re talking about 9/11 I think that Building 7 is the smoking gun. If they just targeted the two main buildings, they probably might have gotten away with it. But they got greedy. Plus the chances of them running a drill where the air force is practicing how to deal with hijacked planes being flown into the World Trade Center on the day that planes are flown into the World Trade Center so that they are unable to shoot down the planes, which is standard protocol, completely destroys the realm of incredulity. That and the aerial maneuvers performed by relatively unskilled pilots. And The Pentagon being hit on the one side that was reinforced to withstand the impact of a cruise missile. And the surveillance tapes never being released. And all of the footage available being released from sources that specialize in post-production. There’s just so many smoking guns that I was eventually converted over to the tin-foil hat team. My opinion is that it was a false-flag attack, much like the Gulf of Tonkin incident which you referred to earlier, and a poorly coordinated one at that. When I was watching the attacks on the day, I was amazed at how much the collapse of the buildings looked like a controlled demolition, but I shrugged it off, figuring that no one could be that evil and that our government would never have the lack of compassion to perpetuate that sort of attack against its own citizens. I’d love nothing more than to be convinced that my suspicions are completely unfounded, but the “official” story just doesn’t hold up to anything but the most cursory investigation. If there’s nothing to hide, then why all the secrecy? It doesn’t help that the UK did the same “bombing while a bomb drill just happened to be happening” routine. Not that I wanted to turn this into some big conspiracy debate. But sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination.
The last thing I want to do is turn this into a conspiracy debate … however. First of all, Building 7 collapsed because of blast front damage from the collapse of the two tallest towers. Back in the 1990’s, a chunk of granite about the size of a modest suburban house sheared off the cliffs of Yosemite Valley and fell to the valley floor, less than half a mile from Nevada Fall. When it hit, the blast wave (which was composed entirely of air compressed beneath the falling rock shooting out horizontally when it hit the ground) blew down hundreds of mature pine trees and killed two people on the ground. They weren’t struck by the rock fall, or by shrapnel from it shattering (and the pieces being blown for hundreds of feet along the valley floor by the same blast front). It was just the force of being struck by an effectively-solid wall of air that killed them. Now think about the amount of air that 110 stories worth of air space being compressed into a pile of rubble 40 feet tall would create – and in a confined space, rather than an open valley floor. That’s what damaged Building 7 so badly that it finally collapsed – its structural framework was compromised so badly by the blast front that the side facing the ruin of the towers eventually buckled, and the building came down. Secondly, it was NOT ‘standard protocol’ to shoot down hijacked civilian airliners, prior to 9/11. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. It BECAME standard protocol only afterward – because, prior to 9/11, no one had ever used a jumbo jet as a weapon of mass destruction before. Airline hijackers had ALWAYS demanded ransoms or political action, instead. Again, anyone who tells you otherwise is a baldfaced liar. The same goes for the claims that the Air Force was running a “what if someone flew an airliner into … let’s say the World Trade Center” claim. It’s a completely false, completely made-up claim – just like the claim that there was a seismometer spike just prior to the first tower’s collapse. The hijack team pilots were not particularly skilled. Basically, they just flew in a straight line into all three buildings. The Pentagon is reinforced against missile attacks on all five sides, not just the one. And the Pentagon surveillance tapes HAVE been released – but, at more than 500 mph, the plane itself appears in just two frames. Finally, not one, single CIA operative has stepped forward to blow the whistle on this supposed false flag operation. There would have had to be hundreds of covert personnel, all working in perfect coordination to pull off the kind of fraud Alex Jones claims occurred on 9/11, but not one of them has surfaced. That’s because IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. You have been misled by the Big Lie technique, which is one of Alex Jones’s standard strategies: repeat the same whoppers over and over, as loudly and self-righteously as possible, until you convince people that they MUST be true, because you seem so passionately convinced that they are. Having his own echo chamber, in the form of his fans, just amplifies the effect. But HE is lying and THEY are deluded.
Fair enough, sir. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one.
Do you ever use other activities to try to work through a bout of writer’s block and to walk away from a project so that you can come back to it with a fresh perspective?
Not really. For me, writer’s block is a very temporary problem – and it’s invariably a product of not having figured out how to start and end a chapter. Once I know what the opening and final lines are, the rest pretty much writes itself.
I love that! I’m pretty much the same way.
Once I know where I want to go with a project or a story or a chapter, it’s pretty much just the task of getting the story out of my brain and into the document that trips me up.
If I ever get well-established enough at this that I can afford to just talk the stories out of my head and pay someone to transcribe them, I’d be able to be truly prolific.
As things stand, I can write about ten thousand words a day if nothing else gets in the way, which means I can write a novel-length work every week with two days off, not that I ever take days off. But if I could just afford to get someone to faithfully type up the content as I channel it out from my brain, I’d be a lot more efficient than trying to type everything up myself.
Ten thousand words a day is pretty impressive. My big-ass, leather Minnetonka hat is off to you, sir.
Ah, not trying to brag. Well, kind of. If anything I feel bad for people that creep along at two or three thousand words a day. I read people’s NaNoWriMo word counts and I really wish that everyone could just knock it out in five days. I know that they’ve got the stories in their heads, but not everyone has the stamina to just sit there and write and write and write until they’re physically not capable of typing anymore. Till they’re nodding off at the keyboard. And even I have my limits. If it weren’t for the need for sleep and the other limitations of the physical form I’d just stay up three days straight and write the first installment flat-out. But staying up for three days straight doing nothing but writing does weird things to the human mind. Just ask Philip K. Dick.
Funny you should mention Dick. I actually talked with him – well, he’s the one that did most of the talking – at Octocon II in Santa Rosa, back in 1978. I recognized him as we were about to pass one another, so I stopped him, and told him, “Ubik has always been one of my favorite novels, but it’s always seemed to me that you started off to tell one story to begin with, then suddenly the story takes a sharp left, and turns into something different – and a whole lot weirder.” He immediately and enthusiastically started telling me about how the bulk of the book was what he claimed to have been a case of automatic writing. According to PKD, he’d been typing along on a more-or-less straight SF story about a future in which corporations routinely employed people with psionic powers for industrial espionage, when the typewriter basically took over, and began writing a different story altogether, using him as a kind of conduit. He claimed that he just sat and watched, as the novel poured out of his fingers and onto the page, without any conscious intervention or control on his part. He seemed really animated and happy, and the conversation – or, rather, his monologue on the subject – went on for a good 15 or 20 minutes. It was an experience both extremely cool and kind of disturbing at the same time.
That’s amazing! If you die before I do, I want you to will me that experience.

What is your zombie outbreak survival plan?
I don’t have one. See my answer above about superstitions and religion.

Weapon of choice:
I’m a dead shot with a pistol. I favor nine-millimeter autos, because they have the best tradeoff between kick and stopping power.

Do you have any special skills?
Robert A. Heinlein observed, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
I’m with him – and I can do many of those things, and others, as well.
Well put.
In this case, I would definitely opine that your quotation is a serviceable substitute for creation.

Did you go to college and, if so, what for?
I did. And I’ve often asked myself that very question.
But seriously, what was your primary area of study, or did you just major in Gen Ed.?
I was aimed at a career in clinical psychology. Then I started taking upper-level classes, and I swiftly realized that the folks who would wind up being my professional peers were themselves pretty much all seriously unbalanced mentally. It’s no wonder the suicide rate in that profession is so high. If I had to spend much time in that company, death would be a blessing! Besides, I also came to understand that I really didn’t fancy spending the majority of my waking hours listening to other people complain about how shitty their lives were. So I dropped out, and I’ve never gone back. If I did, in fact, return to college someday, I think I’d major in history, or perhaps journalism. But I doubt that will happen, because I have at least ten years’ worth of writing projects in the hopper, and I can already feel the Reaper breathing down my neck. Time might be money, but, even if the reverse were true, at the moment, I couldn’t afford to buy an extra nanosecond.
I also studied psychology in college, and I, too, was amazed at how many people in my classes had obvious, serious, mental health problems. I thought, at the time, and probably still do, that the study of psychology draws many people that are interested in knowing more about the way that the human mind works in order to better understand their own latent mental health issues. I fully admit that I’m a bit “crazy”. I have ADHD and I really don’t like people, and as a result, I don’t have a lot of compassion because I don’t care what happens to humans. Despite all of that, I was an excellent counselor, as I never got all wrapped up in the personal lives of any of my clients and could always look at any given situation or problem objectively and help the client to view their problem objectively and work towards either dealing with or overcoming their mental obstacle. Unfortunately, having only a bachelor’s degree, the pay wasn’t that great and I now make more as a security officer than I could make providing direct care to individuals with developmental disabilities and I think that that’s a sad reflection of where we place our values as a society.
I think your insight about the motivation of most psychology majors is bang on. In fact, I think the reason they choose it as a career is along the lines of, “I can’t be the crazy one, because I’m the psychologist/psychiatrist!”
The worst is the recovered drug addict that decides to be a substance abuse counselor. They really do think that their personal experience and their dubious ability to master their own demons makes them qualified to counsel other people. Sometimes it’s true, but more often they ignore the practical application of tried and true psychological methodology for fuzzy brained personal faith and that usually doesn’t work. If a person’s personal will was sufficient to enable them to resist the lure of illicit substances, then people would stop whenever they made their mind up to. Counseling enables a person to objectively view their behavior patterns and the cyclical phenomenon of addiction to allow them to try to change their behavior and in so doing change the course of their lives. That’s why I hate twelve step groups. Just because you remove the alcohol doesn’t mean you exorcise the inner asshole.
Twelve step programs work – but only if you work the program. I have several friends who are 12-steppers. None of them are assholes about it. They’ll talk about it, if you ask, but they don’t preach, and they seem, on the whole, a lot more comfortable with themselves than they were before they entered the groups. A person’s will IS sufficient to break an addiction – but it requires a long-term commitment and determination. Also, guided imagery helps considerably. I quit smoking on my thirtieth birthday. At that point, I’d been a smoker for half my life, and I reliably consumed two-and-a-half packs a day of Kook Filter Kings. I successfully managed to quit for three reasons: first, I set a date certain for ending my relationship with tobacco; secondly, I spent five minutes at a time, at least three times a day, for several months prior to my birthday just sitting and quietly imagining myself doing the kinds of activities that I’d normally accompany with a cigarette (drinking beer or coffee, finishing a jay, talking to a pretty girl at a party, etc.), and thoroughly enjoying them without one; and thirdly, convincing myself that, no matter how strong the impulse to light up might be, if I could convince myself to hold off for just five minutes, it would go away (naturally, that doesn’t apply to the first six weeks or so, when the craving for nicotine is constant). I worked a film shoot the night before my birthday, and smoked as usual. When I got home – at five in the morning – I had one last butt, crumpled the pack, and went to bed. I’ve been a non-smoker ever since – and it’s since become well-established that nicotine is as addictive as heroin. So will power alone is enough – but only if you commit to changing your self-image, as well. Where tobacco is concerned, as long as you continue to think of yourself as a smoker who isn’t smoking right now, you’ll never succeed at getting the nicotine monkey off your back.
Oh, I know all too well. I’ve kicked for a few years at a time but always come back to it. I find that I’m most easily able to stay away from smoking when I’m in a stable relationship, but that hasn’t happened for a couple years now so I’m happy with smoking the years away till it does.

If you went to college, did you manage to pay off your student loans?
I never took out any student loans. So, no.

Any pets? If so, what are they and what are their names?
At the moment, we have two dogs – Wally and Miss Watson. Wally is a boxer-bulldog mix. Watson is a purebred American mutt. We know she has some Bullmastiff in her, but the only thing that matters is that she, like Wally, is beautiful, sweet-natured, and eager to please. Neither of them bark, even when strangers come to the door. Neither one is afraid of humans, so they’re profoundly friendly, affectionate animals who see all human beings as potential sources of petting and praise.
Those are my favorite kind of dogs. I mean, I’m not really big on keeping animals prisoner in our homes for the purposes of our pleasure, but if it improves the quality of the animal’s life and it helps to make the lives of its human wardens better, then I guess I don’t see the harm in it.
You don’t keep dogs prisoner in your home. You become members of a dog’s pack. If you recognize that, and step up to the responsibility of pack leadership, your pups will be happy, well-balanced animals. If you insist on anthropomorphosizing them, they’ll wind up frustrated and unhappy – and so will you. It’s important to understand how unique dogs are in the animal world. Our neolithic ancestors first domesticated them more than 18,000 years ago, and we’ve been selectively breeding them for companionship ever since. Canines are more attuned to human communication than any other species. Even bonobos don’t grasp human body language as well as dogs do – and that’s because we’ve been preferentially selecting dogs for their ability to understand what we want them to do for thousands and thousands of years. People who think they’re natural-born slaves (those are mostly persons of cat), misunderstand their psychology altogether. They’re pack predators. All pack predators – including, for instance, lions – are intensely hierarchical. There has to be a pack leader, and a pecking order, and no pack member can be happy unless he feels confident about his place in that hierarchy. (Or her place – female pack leaders are the rule, rather than the exception, where dogs are concerned.) By contrast, cats are ambush predators, and thus solo of necessity (pack predators are notoriously bad at ambushing their prey, except when the have it surrounded). When we decided we needed to get a dog, the first thing we did was to rush right out and start researching canine psychology and training. We read the Mariposa County library dry on those subjects, scoured the Web for information, and bugged all our friends who owned dogs for tips. It took six months for us to feel as though we had learned enough to be responsible, knowledgeable dog owners – and only then did we go looking for a dog to adopt. That research has paid off handsomely, ever since.
Okay, honesty time. I know that the second half of my initial comment was a bit glib and superficial and I kind of meant it that way. Just trying to mix in a bit of comic relief. I actually know all of the things you mentioned in your comment. I just get annoyed by people that don’t know as much as you and I do about the canine/human symbiotic process. I have a lady friend that is a dog trainer and I love to mess with her about how dogs are just furry toys, but she knows me well enough to know that I’m just breaking her nonexistent balls about it. I just hate it when someone has a tony aggressive dog, especially because I know that it’s not the dog’s fault. Same thing goes with public urination and defecation. I think it’s fucking disgusting and many dog owners just shrug it off like, “Well, it’s what dogs do.” That’s cool. I’m going to follow you home and take a dump on your front steps and we’ll see if you just shrug that off. I know it’s a personal pet peeve of mine, pardon the pun, and I actually like cats and dogs in the abstract, but I prefer interacting with wild animals. As I said in a passage from a book I published under a pan name, “That’s why I appreciate earning the friendship of stray cats and wild animals. Any interested asshole can pet a friendly dog, but it takes a certain kind of calmness and patience to get a squirrel to trust you enough to come close enough to take a peanut from between your pinched fingertips at the end of an outstretched hand at the end of an outstretched arm.”
Speaking of wild animals, the reason we decided we needed a dog in the first place was this: about a week and a half after we moved to Mariposa County, I had just finished pulling an all-nighter to meet my monthly deadline for my Boardwatch column. I was decompressing in the living room, getting ready to kack out, when I spotted a mountain lion stalking across our front yard. So I did what any animal-savvy person would do in the same circumstances – I walked out on our front deck, and said, “Good morning, Mr. Mountain Lion. How are you today?” The lion froze in its tracks, and gave me a long, hard look. I could just see the figurative wheels turning inside its canine head. “Hmm … it’s bigger than me (in my bathrobe, I’m sure I must’ve looked like a black bear to him), it knows I’m here, and it obviously isn’t afraid of me. Plus, it’s got at least twelve feet of altitude on me. Time to skeedaddle!” It then sprinted into the safety of the treeline, and disappeared into the 1,200-acre woods that adjoined our property. The thing is, my wife, of whom I’m extremely fond, and would hate to have to do without, had already discovered a fondness for taking walks along our road in the early morning and late evening – both of which are prime hunting times for ambush predators like mountain lions. I instantly realized we really needed to get a dog for her protection. It’s not that I envisioned our pup actually fighting off a lion, but instead figured that even a big cat – and the one with which I’d just conversed was at least six feet from nose to tailtip – would look at Judy and our pooch and think, “Well … there’s two of them, and one of them has teeth nearly as big and sharp as mine. Never mind. There have to be easier pickings elsewhere. Thus, eventually, Wolfgang entered our lives – and permanently altered them very much for the better.

What is your favorite animal?
The bonobo. They used to be called pygmy chimps, but they’re actually a different species. They’re probably the most intelligent of the Great Apes, and, unlike chimpanzees, they’re really gentle animals. They solve most conflicts between individuals by having sex – lots, and lots of sex.
I wish our species could learn from their example. Personally I definitely prefer making love to making war and fucking to fighting. Not that I’m against mixing the two every now and then, but generally I prefer helping someone to have an orgasm over making them bleed.

Speaking of pets, any pet peeves?
Lots, starting with the pernicious influence the rise to dominance of the MBA has had on American business, and the economy in general. Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as, “One who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” That’s an MBA in a nutshell. Henry Ford was a bigot and an asshole, but he at least understood the concept of enlightened self-interest. MBAs understand only endarkened self-interest. Then there’s the Tea Party. And Randroids. And don’t even get me started on idiots who insist on texting while they drive! I used to lose my temper when I’d spot some oblivious moron with a cell phone glued to his ear – usually holding up traffic, changing lanes without signaling, or otherwise demonstrating how distracting the damned things are. Now, I just shrug, and think, “Well, at least he’s not texting!”

Favorite / Least favorite Food:
I like a wide variety of foods. My wife and I are particularly fond of Indian food, but there’s such an enormous profusion and variety of different cooking styles, ingredients, and influences in South Asian cuisine that the term “Indian” food is barely even descriptive. And I’m just as fond of, say, French cuisine. It’s true that I’ll often order the Tandoori mixed grill at an Indian place – but then again, I’m big on barbeque and grilled meats, in general. In fact, at one time, I hoped to captain the first American Olympic barbeque team, but I’ve kind of fallen out of practice since we moved to Ohio. I dislike grapefruit, and I’m not fond of okra, either.
I don’t even know what okra is. I mean, I know what it is, but I’m not sure it’s supposed to be food. You could probably deep-fry dogshit and eat it if you were really of a mind to, but I wouldn’t call that food either. That’s kind of how I feel about okra.

What is your favorite quotation / motto / saying?
Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence or stupidity.” I also like the Dali Lama’s observation, “If you can do something about a problem, there’s no need to worry – and, if you can’t, there’s no point in worrying.”
Coincidentally, I had to have that conversation with a friend. The short version is we went to New York City and parked midtown and his vehicle wasn’t there when we went back to where we left it. He, understandably, panicked. I calmed him down by saying, “Look, one of two things happened. Either it was towed, or it was stolen, and either way we have to call the police, so let’s call the police.” Turns out it was towed. Not that you cared, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging by not closing the loop.
I appreciate that. Speaking of which, if you should decide to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, don’t start reading it expecting closure. Just don’t.
You know what? I seriously thought that I had read some work from David Foster Wallace but looking him up on Google, I think I was confusing him with John Kennedy Toole or Richard Brautigan. I’ll have to get around to reading some of his work after I finish getting caught up on my never-endingly increasing review queue. *laughs*

What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
Meeting and successfully wooing my wife. Hands down. The second best? Getting Wolfgang Amadeus Dogzart, our first dog.

What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?
There’s a lot of candidates for that one, but I’d have to choose losing Wolfgang to leptospirosis. That just tore my heart out.

Ever had your heart broken? Is there a story worth telling behind your answer?
Sure. Many times, in fact. But they were all long ago, and I was young and callow. So, no, not really.

Ever broken someone’s heart? Is there a story worth telling behind your answer?
Yes. Once again, that was a long time ago, and I was an immature jackass, then. I’m sorry, Nancy. You deserved better, and I hope you’ve found it.

What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
Adopting Wolfgang. He was a six-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier – they’re the AKC version of a pit bull – and I fell in love with him the moment I laid eyes on him, scarred muzzle, viciously-cropped ears, and ear-to-ear scar across his throat where he had had an embedded choke chain surgically removed notwithstanding. My wife only had eyes for his giant head and big teeth, but I could tell he was a sweetheart the instant I first saw him. Once Judy took him for a walk, she immediately understood why I knew he was the right dog for us. He came home with us on Valentine’s Day, 2001, and I’ve never loved another animal as much, before or since.

What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?
I’m not going to talk about that. Ever.

Except for now, by saying you won’t talk about it.
This might be your big chance to clear your conscience of whatever it is.
I am authorized to grant pardons by The Church of the Subgenius.

If you could kill one person, consequence free, who would it be and why?
Are you sure I can’t have two? Because I’d choose David and Charles Koch in a heartbeat. They are largely responsible for climate change denial in America, they spent lavishly to support the Tea Party’s takeover of the Republican Party, and they’re basically deeply evil cats. But, if you’re going to limit me to just one, I’d pick Sheldon Adelson – because he’s another profoundly evil billionaire who’s spent extraordinary amounts of money screwing up this country’s politics.
Why not David Rockefeller? He’s a much more public face of world government, totalitarianism, oligarchy and perpetuating modern serfdom.
Rockefeller’s a dick – but he’s not nearly as big a threat to this country as the Koch brothers. And I’m not opposed to world government, per se. I just don’t see the United Nations as a viable forum for it. Multi-national corporations are not a world government, nor, I think, do they particularly want to be. The European Union’s Executive Committee is pretty firmly their captive, and I think it’s a Good Thing that the European Parliament gets to overrule the Executive Committee, or the EU would be even more screwed up and bureaucratic than it is. If you haven’t seen the documentary The Brussels Business, I recommend it to you. Our problem is that the Supreme Court has ruled – by 5 to 4 votes each time – that corporations are people (and thus have the right to unlimited political speech), and that money is the same thing as speech (even though it clearly is no such thing). Until we overturn those decisions – by constitutional amendments, so the Supremes can’t just magic it away – our politics will continue to be completely snafued.

What do you do?
Dream, experience, aspire, create … oh, wait. You mean, “for a living?” I write. Since March, 2012, I’ve been writing a novel called American Sulla. It’s an ambitious project – May Day, the first volume of the trilogy, is 147,000 words long, so the completed work will probably exceed 400,000 words. May Day opens with a nuclear explosion that wipes out Lower Manhattan. The rest of the story is about the consequences of that event – long and short-term, national and international, as well as individual and personal – on a really huge cast of characters. May Day focuses on the immediate aftermath of the attack – basically what happens during the first week after the bomb goes off. The second volume, War, will be about the medium-term consequences over the six months or so following the May Day attack, and leading up to the presidential election of 2020. The third volume, Revolution, takes us to the end of William Orwell Steele’s presidency, and the long-term effects of the decisions he makes and the actions he takes on America and the world. I’ve worked hard to keep the narrative from becoming ponderous and self-important. I borrowed some narrative tricks from Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs to keep it suspenseful and propel it along. For instance, most of the chapters are quite short. Some are less than a page long. I also adopted Harry Turtledove’s device of building the story around the effects of world-shaking events on regular people – my characters include everyone from an Icelandic tourist who gets trapped in the New York subway system to a five-year-old girl riding her Big Wheel around her neighborhood in Hackensack, New Jersey. While President Steele wrestles with the big issues, most of the other characters have their hands full just trying to survive.
That sounds really interesting, but a bit of a beast to take on. I’d definitely be interested in giving it a read some day as I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction. The premise of your project reminds me of a book I read when I was a teenager. Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka [ ] For some strange reason when I got a copy of this it was shrink-wrap-packaged with a copy of Strunk & White’s: The Elements of Style. I’m certainly not saying that it is derivative but with books, as also with music, comparisons are almost inevitable.
Actually, I think it’s safe to say American Sulla and Warday couldn’t be more different, at least, if the Warday Wikipedia page is at all reliable. Nor could my novel in any way be derivative of Warday, because this is literally the first I’ve heard of that work. Once you start reading May Day, I think you’ll understand how profoundly different it is from anything else you’ve read – and, by the time you get to the last page of Revolution (three or four years from now), that difference will be inescapable.
Well, I did say that I wasn’t suggesting that it was derivative, but that the premises seemed similar based on my having read Warday and not being completely familiar with your work, but I am interested in reading your book once I get my existing review queue taken care of.
Sorry if I seemed defensive.
No apology necessary. It’s your baby and you’re completely entitled to go all mother grizzly over it, especially since it hasn’t been subjected to the social proof of the critical crucible yet. I’m sure it’s excellent, and I was just trying to compare it to a work I have already read and enjoyed, so if anything my comparison was meant as complimentary, but text is a terrible way to communicate since you lose 85% of the message communicated by “body language” and voice tone and what-have-you. I think that’s why the internet is such an awful place and why the art of writing is so difficult and should be valued. Although everyone can do it, not everyone can do it well.
Amen to that, brother.

How did you get started doing what you do?
It was an accident, I swear. In 1994, at a Christmas party in San Francisco, I buttonholed Susan Breidenbach, who was then the editor-in-chief of LAN Times Magazine. I laid out a carefully-reasoned and passionate argument in favor of LAN Times inaugurating a column about the Internet for people who administer local area computer networks. To give you a notion of how utterly naïve I was about magazine publishing at the time, I thought that, if I was successful at convincing Susan on the subject, she’d assign a member of her staff to write the column, and I’d have done a signal favor for her readers (who were my peers and customers, since I was a freelance networking consultant at the time). Instead, to my surprise, she responded by saying, “I think it’s worth trying. So, when’s your first column?” (She already knew I could write. I had authored a guest editorial the previous fall, and it drew more reader mail than the rest of that issue’s content combined.) I’ve never been one to back away from a challenge, so I replied, “I dunno. When do you need it?” She called me the day it was published to say that she’d been deluged with mail from their readers, all saying approximately, “What took you so long?” and welcoming me to the LAN Times masthead as a contributing editor. The rest, as they say, is journalism (which is like history, only more recent).
HA! That’s great! That’s kind of how I got invited to write my first book. I was reviewing books for a horror genre magazine and I asked an author of regional paranormal books if I could have copies of his books to review. He told me that he bought the copies to sell, but that I should contact the publisher. I sent the publisher an e-mail, asking for copies of the books for review and they said that would be fine, and, by the way, had I ever thought about writing a book myself? I was like Jason Lee at the end of Mallrats. Of course I’d be interested in writing a book! Six months later I was the semi-proud author of a regional paranormal book for Schiffer Press. They asked me to write another regional paranormal book for them, but the region they assigned me was too small and didn’t have enough material and they wanted me to turn in a book twice as long as the first one based on half as much source material and I couldn’t see myself fluffing if full of chaff just to meet a page count so I abandoned the project after drafting a few test chapters.
I’ve been contributing to anthologies by invitation only since then, and I wrote a novel under a pseudonym that I couldn’t find a home for, and now I’m working on a post-apocalyptic zombie epidemic novel-length book project around the length of the project you’re working on so I also know the endurance it takes to take on a project of that scale. I also have recently realized that I’m probably going to have to break it into book-length installments if I ever hope to see it in print. Plus I’m not against selling the same book three times if the audience will support the project and the interest is strong enough.

Cool. If you’re going to self-publish, you can put out each third of the novel, as you reach a suitably-suspenseful cliffhanger. Then, once the third one’s been out for a while, you can publish a “complete in one volume” version that’s a dollar cheaper than buying all three individual books – so you’ll get to sell the same book four times!
Eye-to-eye, sir!
I think that once I’m further along in the process of writing the book a natural breaking point will suggest itself and I will be able to wrap the first installment and use it to generate a negligible income to support my existence while writing the other two installments. Although I am concerned that self-publishing will be a problem for the finished book because it’s going to be a doorstop for sure. I think I’m going to self-publish the installments in two or three hundred page installments and look for a publisher for the collection if I can find an interested publisher. I’ll hold onto the self-publish rights for the paperbacks and the audiobook adaptation I’m producing.
Pretty much I’d only be willing to share the rights to produce the entire series as a softcover and hardcover and if the publisher isn’t interested, fuck ‘em. I’m doing just fine self-publishing it. I already made $500 from the crowd-funding campaign I ran for the book which is about a third of what I’ve made from my first book through a publisher over the past six years. And I haven’t even written the book yet, although I know most of the contributors for the campaign and they’re familiar with my writing style and they share my faith in my ability to accomplish getting the book written, which I really appreciate. I probably would have written the book either way, but their support is really a great encouragement to make it my primary project to work on at this time.

By the time you get the book written – even that first section – a lot of small publishers will have joined the dodo in extinction. I’m convinced that e-books are going to be the death of the paperback. Consider that this Christmas season there are going to be lots of Google Play Store-certified tablets available for $50 or less. That means their owners can buy books from the Kindle store, and/or Barnes Ignoble for less than the paperback edition would cost, and store them and hundreds or thousands of others on their tablets. Big Lots is currently advertising 16 gigabyte micro-SD cards for less than nine bucks, so expanding bargain tablets’ storage capability has become very affordable, too. Plus there’s an enormous number of public-domain texts on the Gutenberg Project website, and elsewhere. And e-readers remember where you left off reading a given book, so tablet owners have no more bookmarks to lose, or pages to dogear. That’s death for the paperback. And the cost of entry for the indie writer is nil – a cover graphic and rudimentary formatting, and you’re done. Plus, services such as CreateSpace allow you to make your work available on dead trees on a print-on-demand basis, for people who insist on having a physical book to read. Even without doing much marketing beyond announcing the publication of each section to your friends and family, you’ll make steady sales – and, unlike a dead-trees edition, your books will remain in “print” (and continue to sell) for as long as you live. You say you’ve made about $1,500 from your publisher in the past six years. Properly priced and promoted, you’ll make way more than that with an e-book edition. And you’ll never run out of copies to sell, either.
I agree and disagree with the preceding.
I’ll always prefer a physical copy of a book as I’m a bibliophile and I like the feel of holding a book in my hands and I don’t mind using a bookmark. Also, reading books on a screen fatigues my eyes and gives me eye-strain headaches if done for the amount of time it takes to read a book.
But I’m the exact opposite when it comes to audio/visual media.
I have more media than I’ve ever owned before and figured out how to acquire most of it for free. But there are still people that aren’t as savvy that still buy CDs and DVDs and pay for downloads and bless those honest individuals for keeping the wheels of commerce turning.
I think the problem with “publishers” is the same problem with record labels and movie studios. They used to own the means of production and distribution so unless you received their blessing, you couldn’t produce or distribute your media except at considerable personal expense, and having a virtual monopoly on production and distribution, they retained the lion’s share of the profit from any artistic endeavor.
With the growing dominance of virtual media, there is no longer a monopoly on production and distribution. Anyone can make an album or make a movie or write a book and distribute it to their intended audience. The most difficult part is establishing yourself as different than every other independent artist so the real challenge for the independent artist is branding and promotion. This is where publishers and agents are still useful because they have more experience working the promotional machine and being on a label is an imprimatur and adds social proof to any independent project.
Self-publishing isn’t easy. I mean it’s relatively easy, but it requires determination and the ability to keep leaning in the direction you want to move in and navigating a dozen
different websites and being able to either commission or accomplish your own book design and editing and layout so there’s still a considerable amount of work implicit in the endeavor, as you know. That’s why I decided to start my own publishing imprint, Burnt Offerings Books, to publish my work and the work of similar like-minded authors. I figured out how to release a novel I had been sitting on for five years because I couldn’t get any publisher to read it. But it wasn’t easy. My goal is to help to facilitate other authors in the self-publishing process for a small percentage of the royalties after the fact, but I haven’t really put any effort into finding any other authors for the imprint because I figure I’ll just focus on putting out my own stuff and like-minded authors doing similar work will find me in time.
The eye fatigue from staring at a screen doesn’t apply to e-ink-based devices, or to displays with a sufficiently high refresh rate. E-ink doesn’t refresh – once a page is displayed, the image simply persists, until it’s replaced by a new image. What causes eyestrain from staring at traditional screens – CRTs, LCDs, LEDs, or plasma – is the flicker of the image refreshing. We don’t usually notice it, because it happens to fast for us to be consciously aware of what’s called the blanking interval, but the visual cortex perceives it, and it becomes tiring after a while, especially if we’re forced to focus on fine detail, as we do when we read. Ultra-high refresh rates (above 120Hz) eliminate the problem, because the visual cortex no longer perceives the flicker. As to your points about publishing, I’ve been saying for a while that the old model is dying. If traditional publishing houses are to survive, they’re going to have to re-invent themselves as service providers: offering proofing, editing, rewriting, formatting, graphics, distribution, and, most importantly, marketing services to authors on either an à-la-carte basis, or as packages, because dead tree-based books (other than from boutique and collectible publishers) are on the verge of extinction. I own hundreds of books, and I’ve sold or given away hundreds more. Like you, I enjoy the feel of a physical book. But millenials and post-millenials don’t care about that. At all. And they are the future of the market, like it or not. Besides, the advantages of ereaders – storage for large libraries, scalable fonts, bookmarkless resume – are compelling, even to fuddie-duddies like us. The only real present obstacle is solving the library sales problem. Ebooks don’t physically wear out, and, absent DRM, one digital “copy” can be loaned out to an unlimited number of readers. So what has traditionally been a steady source of income for publishers – especially with bestsellers, of which public libraries must order multiple initial copies, and must replace fairly frequently as they physically deteriorate from being handled by many borrowers – potentially become one-time sales. Once that’s solved, it will be less than a decade before paperbacks and hardbacks alike largely disappear, to be replaced with exclusively-digital publication for the mass market, supplemented by artisanal paper publication for collectors who are willing to pay high prices for single copies of books printed on acid-free paper, with leather bindings and all the other accouterments of collectors’ editions. It’s not just a trend. It’s a tsunami.
All good pints that I can definitely agree with.
Although I have to admit that I’m going to miss libraries.
Not that I go to them very often anymore, but I used to go a lot and I will miss them.
Maybe if I get finally acquire the wealth and fame I rightly deserve I’ll be able to buy one of those old federal style libraries and remodel it and live in it.
A man can dream, can’t he?

What is your advice to other people that want to get started doing what you do? Write. Write, write, write, write. Write all the time. And read. If you don’t read, you’ll never be a writer. Read stuff outside your field of interest. You never know when some factoid, or turn of phrase will wind up being the exact hook you needed to hang your latest ms on. Remember: it takes the average person 10,000 hours of practice to really master a skill. The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll get there.
I kind of gave the same advice to a young author I interviewed. I told her that it’s important to read books that you hate, at least once, so you can figure out why you hate them.
I think it’s also important to cast as wide a net as possible. For instance, I’ve never heard of anyone applying the literary techniques of John Dos Passos to, say, zombie fiction, but that would certainly make me more likely to read a zombie novel. John Brunner was the first to apply Dos Passos’s narrative approach to science fiction, and his novel Stand on Zanzibar is still considered a landmark in the field.
That’s a great insight that I truly agree with. Coincidentally, and not that I want to make YOUR interview about MY book project, but that’s why I decided to do write “another post-apocalyptic zombie epidemic” book because I haven’t found the one I want to read yet, so I decided to write the one I always wanted to read. I caught a lot of heat in a conversation thread on Facebook when I suggested that I didn’t think that any zombie genre author ever managed to really “nail it” yet, because everyone thinks that they nailed it, and they’re certainly welcome to their opinion. I’m still going to take my stab at it and hopefully it ends up being the book that other die-hard fans of the genre have been trying to find too.
That’s why we write – because we have a story we think is unique and worthy of an audience, and we’re convinced we can tell it in a way that will be compelling. At least, that’s why I write.
I wish everyone wrote for that reason. And I’m sure most authors THINK they do. But I’ve been reading books for as long as I’d learned how and reviewing them for at least a decade. I’ve read it all, and nothing really knocks me over any more, but I can still appreciate a decent turn of word and a well-executed phrase. Writing is like any competitive field. There’s a few people doing world class work and a lot of people that will never make the Olympic team if you’ll allow me to engage in the lazy shortcut of metaphor. I don’t doubt that everyone is trying hard, and trying to do their best, but just because a person can write doesn’t mean they should. I know how to play basketball but I’ll never be in the NBA and I’ve accepted that. The problem with writing is that anyone with a laptop can do it. Most authors just muddy the waters with their awful derivative retreads of books that are already out there and don’t need a rewrite.
But, that being said, and having had this conversation, I am looking forward to reading your book. I think you might be able to do something interesting with the existing materials and I like apocalyptic scenarios so I think that I and it will get along just fine.

Well, it’s important to keep Sturgeon’s Law in mind. Theodore Sturgeon, poet, warrior, science fiction writer, observed way back in the 1950s: “Unfortunately, 90% of all science fiction is utter, irredeemable crap. But, then again, 90% of everything is crap.” I think Ted’s figure is hopelessly optimistic – I’d put the real percentage at 98 or higher – but, as a principle, it’s pretty darned useful. 90% of everything – music, movies, clothes, shoes, books – is crap. It has always been. The Internet has just enabled producers of crap to inflict it on the public more easily, but that doesn’t mean there’s no good stuff out there any more. It’s just that the haystack has gotten a whole lot bigger, while the number of needles in it hasn’t noticeably increased. As always, the problem for the discriminating reader is to find the good stuff, while wading through the minimum amount of crap, while the problem for the worthy writer is to bring his or her work to the attention of deserving readers.
Agreed. I always say that “good writing will find its intended audience”. Plus doing a lot of self-promotion doesn’t hurt. No one’s going to come around trying to discover you, but if you put out your stuff often enough and persistently enough and politely enough, you’ll find your audience for good or for bad.

What are some of the projects you’ve worked on/finished in the past? Give us a little history if you will.
Well, I wrote for LAN Times until McGraw-Hill kicked Susan upstairs, and replaced her with an idiot who tried to turn the magazine into a clone of PC Week. It didn’t work – and I refused to participate in his scheme to “coordinate content between the back of the book and the front of the book.” That was corporate-speak for “write about Microsoft’s latest underbaked Internet offering”. There’s a reason there’s supposed to be a firewall between the ad sales department and the editorial side, but there’s very little integrity in technology trade publications. So they canned my ass. I wrote three columns for Internetworking Magazine, and then, the very day I submitted my first feature story, the publisher chloroformed the mag. Then, out of the blue, Jack Rickard, founder and Editor Rotundus of Boardwatch Magazine called me up, and asked me to write for him. That started a four-year period that was the happiest and most productive of my journalistic career. It lasted until the newest owner of the mag decided to fire everyone who wrote for Boardwatch, canned the entire editorial staff, and brought in a clone of the same idiot who ruined LAN Times. A year later, Boardwatch was gone. I spent that year in my home studio, recording a CD called Ordinary Hero. After that, we moved to Las Vegas, where I worked for four years on an academic reference book on Alexander the Great called Plutarch’s Alexander – The Complete Reference. But I couldn’t find a publisher, so I shelved the project. Then my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and we wound up in southern Ohio (because there are zero national cancer centers in Nevada, and The James Center in Columbus is the more highly-rated of the two NCCs in Ohio).
It’s a shame that you spent four years on that book but couldn’t find a publisher. Not that the time was wasted, but there’s nothing worse than trying to find a publisher to take an interest in a finished book. In my experience, it’s hard to get any publisher to look at anything because the literary market is so competitive and crowded with hacks that think that just because they can write a book that they should. That’s why I usually only write for publishers already trying to find material to publish and then write whatever it is that they’re looking for. I joined a bunch of book/author groups on Facebook, but aside from a very select few they’ve been more useful to find people to preemptively block so I never have to know about their existence rather than any real source of networking or helping with the writing/publishing business. Have you thought about self-publishing your project?
I know what you mean about MyFace author groups. On the other topic, May Day has been available in Kindle format since mid-October – and the trade paperback is now available on Amazon, too:
Oh, I meant the academic reference book on Alexander the Great called Plutarch’s Alexander – The Complete Reference that you couldn’t find a publisher for.
It would be of limited appeal, I’m afraid. I might sell a couple of hundred copies to scholars and students of Alexander’s life, but it’d be too dry for a mass market audience. Perhaps once I’m rich and famous I’ll return to it, and it’ll become a bestseller. Or, y’know, not. More likely, I may be able to find an academic publisher who’ll be able to move a couple of thousand copies to university libraries – but it still won’t exactly become a bestseller. See, I embarked on that book as part of a larger project that was intended to include a documentary series based on an expedition on horseback to follow the trail of Alexander’s campaigns, and examine his life in detail. The hook was that, rather than tell the audience, “This is what happened,” I’d take a more evidence-based approach. “This is what Arrian says happened. Curtius says this other thing happened, and Diodorus says something else altogether occurred. As usual, Justin disagrees with everyone else. Modern scholars make the following arguments … Now you know as much as they do about it. What do you think is the truth?” Plutarch’s Alexander was planned as the opening gun in my battle to get that expedition and documentary off the ground – but I eventually, reluctantly came to the conclusion that the expedition (which was always going to be dangerous) would merely be an elaborate method of committing suicide, as Islamism in Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan grew more and more murderous. So I abandoned the whole project. It was a major blow to my morale, but, as the saying goes, “If you would hear the gods laugh, you need only announce your plans.”

What projects are you working on now?
In October, 2013, I published May Day – Book One of American Sulla. It’s the first book in a trilogy that starts with a nuclear terrorist attack on Manhattan. I’m in the walking-around-thinking-about-it stage of work on War – Book Two of American Sulla, now. I expect to start actually writing in January, 2014.

What are you watching?
In no particular order: The Blacklist, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Revolution, CSI, Arrow, Elementary, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time. Plus most of the Fox Sunday night animation block. We’re big fans of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, and we’re eagerly awaiting the return of Doctor Who, Sherlock, Hannibal, Metalocalypse, and The Venture Bros. Oh, and Game of Thrones, of course.

What are you listening to?
I don’t listen to music when I’m writing. It’s too distracting. People like Neal Stephenson, who listen to speed metal when they write amaze me. Of course, I’m relentlessly single-tasking. If there’s music on, I’ll start following the melody, or the lyrics, and pretty soon I’m only theoretically writing. So, I play guitar and sing for about half an hour a day, and occasionally we’ll watch a concert video or rockumentary – but that’s about it, as far as music goes.
Since I also dabble in making electronic music, I find that it’s handy to use the time I spend writing to review music for samples as a secondary act. My brain is always working on three different things at the same time, so writing, by itself would just make me restless. Right now, I’m watching Haneke’s Time of the Wolf, editing this interview and clicking over to stay on top of my social media between questions. I find that at least pretending like I’m doing something productive by surveying instrumental music is somewhat gratifying and not too distracting, but anything with lyrics is too distracting unless the lyrics are illegible. I wrote my first novel listening to nothing but Through Silver In Blood by Neurosis on repeat because it struck a chord with the dark place that I was trying to get to in the novel. I also find that sometimes watching a film I’ve seen a dozen times already in the background is a nice visual distraction when I need to take a break from writing to compose the next chunk of writing in my head before trying to push it from my brain through my fingers and the keys onto the blank page.
For example, I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist and all of the George Romero zombie movies at least a hundred times each so they don’t take me away from the writing if I play them in the background as a sort of virtual window to look out of every now and then so I can come back to the writing project a bit fresher.
How many words do you write a day approximately?

It varies. Some days nothing. Once in a while, I’ll do a couple or three thousand. If I can manage a chapter every two or three days, I’m happy – and I write short chapters. For instance, there are about 175 chapters in May Day, and it took me almost a year and a half to write. Then it took another seven weeks to edit – but that was because my editor, Hilary Lauren, author of Killing Karl, works a full-time job and has two teenagers and a boyfriend to complicate her schedule, as well. It was well worth waiting for her input, though. Hilary rocks.
By the way, I did the soundtrack music for the American Sulla YouTube trailer:
It’s only 54 seconds long, but I’m still proud of it.

What are you reading?
I just finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It’s basically an elaborate shaggy dog story, but, once you get a couple of hundred pages into it, it’s pretty entertaining. Wallace set out to break just about every rule of novel-writing he could think of, and he succeeded pretty well in accomplishing that. I’m now reading Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley’s Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming. I’m a big fan of Zelazny, and Sheckley, who’s now largely forgotten, was a wonderful satiric writer.
I’ve heard of Sheckley, but haven’t read his stuff yet, but since we like a lot of the same authors, I’ll have to check his stuff out someday.
Sheckley’s best-known book is Mindswap. It’s hilarious.

Favorite author / book?
Oh, please. It’s simply impossible for me to pick one. I’ve read everything Robert Heinlein ever wrote. I love Zelazny. It hurt me to the quick when Iain Banks died. I like Pynchon, Stephenson, Thomas Harris and Harry Turtledove. I’m an absolutely raving Twainiac – I’ve read everything of his I could get my hands on. I can’t adequately express how glad I am that the Mark Twain Project is finally publishing his Autobiography. It’s wildly entertaining. I can’t wait for future volumes.
I vaguely remember enjoying The Crying of Lot 49 when I was in college, but when I tried to read Gravity’s Rainbow it defeated me. I could only read so much of the externalization of Pynchon’s neuroses before I stopped caring. The writing was solid, but the content just started to lose me after a couple hundred pages. When you’re reading a book and you find yourself thinking about other ways you’d rather be spending your time, I think it’s forgivable to put it aside at least for the time.
I do love myself some Twain though. I must have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at least a hundred times.

I never made it past page 90 of Gravity’s Mudbow – and I’ve tried three times so far. I urge you to read Twain’s autobiography:

I didn’t even know Mark Twain wrote an autobiography! That’s definitely something I’m interested in reading once I get on the other end of my review queue.
He almost didn’t. He tried three times to write a “proper” autobiography, and abandoned it each time. Then, about six years before he died, Twain hit upon what he felt was the proper formula: start anywhere, don’t worry about chronological order, and change the subject whenever the whim strikes. He dictated an incredible amount of material to his typist, then went back and added in copies of letters, handbills, newspaper clippings, and whatever other supplementary material caught his fancy. Then, because he wished to avoid bringing opprobrium on his descendants, he left instructions that none of it was to be published until 100 years after his death. That’s why the first volume was only published in 2009. I’m so glad I lived to read it.

Favorite band / song?
Again, an impossible assignment. I adore the Beatles, Springsteen, Spirit, Little Feat, Pink Floyd, and Derek and the Dominoes. I like dozens or hundreds of other bands, too. Good Vibrations might just be the single greatest recording in the history of pop music – but there are a LOT of contenders for that honor. And then there’s Beethoven. And Bach. And … well, you get the idea.

Least favorite band / song?
I’m not big on rap or smooth jazz. I’d have to say that Screaming Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends is about the nadir of rock. Jimmy Page produced it, and it’s just unlistenable. But probably the worst musical abortion I’ve experienced is Mickey Hart’s remix of Anthem of the Sun. He utterly ruined a truly great album.

Desert Island Music / Movies / Books: You know the deal. Five of each.
Oh, Hell. How about Abbey Road, The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Dark Side of the Moon, and The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East for music? Then Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Die Hard, Terminator, and Samsara for movies. And Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Iain M. Banks’s Excession, and Philip K. Dick’s Ubik for books.

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would you do?
Be an astronaut. I always wanted to live in zero gee. I’ll probably never make it into orbit, now, but I’d spend the rest of my life in space, if I could.

Who would you want to meet that you haven’t met? You get three choices:
Alive. Dead. Fictional.
Thomas Pynchon. Alexander the Great. Valentine Michael Smith.

What’s the best and worst job you’ve ever had?
The one I have now is the best. The worst? It’s a tossup between restaurant dishwasher and door-to-door aluminum siding salesman. They both suck the big, green weenie. Basically, I’m happiest being my own boss – and unhappiest trying to sell people things.

Are there any questions that I didn’t ask that you wished I had asked that you would like to answer now?
Well, I’m glad you didn’t ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” You haven’t asked me about politics, and I’m sure we’ll get into that, big time. Your readers might find my working method of interest – I write on a laptop, sitting in an easy chair in my living room, with my pooches sleeping on Doggy Island (the pile of bedding in front of the media computer) to keep me company. You might want to ask about my experience on Jeopardy! Or our hobby of horseback riding in national parks.
Well, now that you mention it, where do you get your ideas? *laughs*
Your working method sound quite nice. Do you have a tray that you rest on your lap to put the laptop on?

No – but my piece of crap Vaio doesn’t get all that hot. I need to replace it, though – there’s a thick line of dead pixels across the screen, about a fifth of the way up from the bottom, and it’s just infuriatingly distracting and annoying.
I had that happen with my old HP. Then again, I did get tripped up in the power cord and drop it off of a coffee table onto the corner of the screen so I have no one to blame but myself. I use my old HP as a torrent box/entertainment console hooked up to my flat screen TV via HDMI cable and am quite pleased with it as such. I saved up and bought a Dell Inspiron and was quite happy with it till the motherboard died a month after the warranty ran out, but I made a ton of polite fuss with their customer service department and they agreed to fix it for free if I sent it back to them and I did and it’s been working fine since.
I built a custom media center box with a TV tuner card in it that we have hooked up to the flat screen, the Internet, and the stereo. We use it to watch movies and TV shows. It works really well for that.

I write in bed, a pile of pillows supporting my back and my feet up on a pile of blankets.
It’s quite nice, but I think if people saw me writing they’d think I was the laziest writer in the history of writing.
My only defense is that I can crank out ten thousand words a day, every day, as long as my material needs are met and since my material needs are few I could write a novel a week if I could only find a publisher to buy them off of me. *laughs*
I mean, this interview alone is just over seven thousand words and thirteen pages in Arial 12 point single-spaced, which would be about twenty-six pages in book format and this is something I’m doing to help you to promote your stuff.
When I’m working on my own stuff and I’m in the groove with a solid sense of what I want to write for the day and where I want the story to go I can really churn pages.

I’m a compulsive perfectionist. I kind of envy writers who can just let it flow, rewrite later, and worry about fixing problematic prose only once they have a first draft complete. I simply can’t do that. Each sentence has to be at least adequate before I can move on. That’s why I’m so indebted to word processing software on the PC – because I can fiddle with and fine-tune each sentence and paragraph until it meets my expectations, without having to rip sheet after sheet out of the typewriter, or build up a half-inch-thick layer of Wite-Out to do it. I started out with Wordstar, which had this enormous set of alt- and control-key combinations to perform editing tasks, moved on to WordPerfect (which, once I learned to use it, I really liked), and now, reluctantly, use Microsoft Word. (I hate it, but it’s the industry standard – so I really don’t have much choice, if I want to work with an editor.) Once I completed writing May Day, I went through it three times, proofing, tightening, and polishing. For the final pass I went through it backwards. Only then did I turn it over to Hilary for editing. She caught a bunch of typos I missed, made quite a number of excellent suggestions for improving the narrative, and convinced me to ditch my attempts at reproducing regional dialects. That last really improved the readability of a lot of the dialogue. Dialogue is one of my strengths, but Hilary convinced me that too much dialect just makes reading it a chore. In the end, I opted to leave in occasional regionalisms, but only as a kind of seasoning, instead of feeding the reader a steady diet of them.
I’m definitely glad that you found an editor that is complimentary to your style of writing. I use to be that kind of writer. The kind of writer that would stress about a single sentence and rewrite it, toying with the variations. I am still a bit that way with short stories, but I can’t be bothered with that working on a long form project. What I’ve found is that if I get stuck with one part, I just hit return a few times to mark the spot so I’ll know I have to go back in and fill in the blank spot, and then just move onto whatever the next part is which is more clear in my mind. At least that way I’m getting words and pages down and making forward progress. One great tool that I use is reading whatever I’ve written back out loud. It’s a great way to catch usage and spelling errors because I find you pay much more attention to what you’re reading than when you’re just reading it in your head and you tend to skip and slip over words because your brain assumes that it’s fine because it wrote it in the first place, but you can’t fool the “read out loud” part of your brain. Then again, I haven’t had any success working with editors. I’m pretty solid with spelling and grammar and usage. Solid enough that I can edit other people’s work. So editors tend to try to make changes to style and content and my style is quite clear and intentional and I don’t need anyone trying to rewrite my stuff in their style. But, as I said, I’m glad you found someone you can work with amicably. Definitely hold onto her as a good editor is a rare beast and hard to find.
I’ve been working with editors literally since the day I submitted my first column to LAN Times, so I’m used to it. I’m also a pretty fair grammarian and speller, so most of the errors I make are just typos. One of the best things about a good editor is that you have a second mind to make suggestions and question your questionable choices. Hillary fulfilled both roles, and did them admirably. There were things she didn’t “get”, but those were mostly her lack of personal experience with, for instance, military usage. I was fine with that, because her questions still made me consider whether a typical reader would have the same reaction as she did. And, too, since I was aimed at self-publication, I didn’t have to take her suggestions. So, in some cases, I declined to do so. In many others, however, her input was invaluable. As I said, Hilary rocks.

And, please, by all means do tell us about your experience on Jeopardy!
I passed the test for the program in 1990, but they never called me. You go to the studio, and take a 50-question quiz (which you don’t have to answer in the form of a question) that covers a wide range of subject material. You also fill out a form that gives the show-runners some biographical details, and provides material for Alex to interview you, if you get chosen. If you pass the test, they have you play a mock round against others who made it that far in the process. They’re not interested in whether you answer correctly, but more in whether you promptly choose another question and category, how you handle pressure, and so on. Then they take your photo, and ask you a few questions. The most important one is, “If you won a lot of money on Jeopardy!, what would you do with it?” The first time I tested, I told them I’d use it to follow the trail of Alexander the Great’s campaigns – on horseback. That was a mistake, because (as I eventually realized) they’re looking for responses with which the audience at home can identify. So, in 1991, I retook the test, passed it again, and responded, “I’d use it to travel.” They called me on Halloween of that year, and asked me to a taping scheduled for mid-December. I’d been working for Wells Fargo Bank for less than a month by then (I was doing network user interface design and third-level problem escalation – essentially, I got the problems that neither the local administrator nor the central help desk could solve), but my boss allowed me to take the time off to be on the program. I won twice, and then lost in Final Jeopardy to an IT guy from Yellowknife. (The category was operettas – not my strong suit. I bet zero, he bet the farm, and all three of us correctly guessed the answer. So he went on to be a five-time winner and appear on the Tournament of Champions, and I went home with a 26” Sanyo TV, a ginormous satellite dish I never put up, and the Lee Press-on Nails.)
That’s a pretty good story. There’s no shame in losing out to a five-time winner. He was obviously really good at the game. And at least you got a TV and a ginormous satellite dish, and some Lee Press-on Nails out of the deal.
I also got $27,401.00, as well. As I mentioned, I’m a two-time champion.
Yeah, you kind of forgot to mention that in your whole “sour grapes” story.
I did say that I won twice. And those grapes were never sour. If I had bet differently on the Daily Double in my final game, the outcome might well have been very different. If I had bet the farm, we’d have been tied, and the next game would have had dual returning champions. But I did neither, and I lost, fair and square, so I have no room to complain. And I’m definitely not complaining. Being on Jeopardy! was the most fun I had standing up that year.

Another question I like to ask authors who have managed to support themselves exclusively with their writing is, what was the tipping point where you realized you could support yourself exclusively by writing? Was it a certain number of books in print or a certain monthly income or what?

Well, when I wrote for Boardwatch, I made enough that, with both of us working, my wife and I could afford to move to the Sierra Nevada foothills. Then came the dotcom collapse, which cost me my market, and, a year later, my wife lost her job at the Mariposa County fire department (they loved her there, but the funding for the position evaporated). So we sold our house, making enough of a profit for me to spend the next four years working on Plutarch’s Alexander. Then Judy was diagnosed with cancer, and we moved here to Ohio. In the meantime, I tore a tendon in my left biceps, so I can’t lift anything much heavier than a cup of coffee. So we’re now living on foodstamps and the income from her job as a retail drudge, while I write, because that’s a lot more satisfying than simply sitting around watching cartoons.

Anyone you recommend I interview that you can put me in touch with?
Let me give that some thought and get back to you on it.

I get that about half the time.
I have a friend named Chris Kohler who lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s a crackerjack artist, and he does an ongoing serial horror comic called Portland Underground. It’s Portland hipsters versus zombies, with inter-personal drama. I can contact him, if you think you might like to interview him. There’s also my editor, Hilary Lauren, whose self-published book Killing Karl is about a serial killer called the Keeper whose marriage to a mousy, submissive, compulsive-obsessive woman messily unravels, as his wife begins to suspect what he does on the nights he’s out late. Mayhem and madness ensue. She’s working on a sequel now.
Hell yeah! Hook it up! You do the introductions and I’ll handle the follow-through!
Okey-dokey. I’ve left FB messages for both of them, explaining who you are and that you’re interested in doing interviews with them for your blog. I’ll get back to you when they respond.
Cool deal!

There’s no money in this and only marginal benefit to me personally as it’s mostly a “labor of love” to give others an outlet to promote their body of work and current projects. Also I get to have conversations with like-minded individuals.
So if I don’t ever do another interview, it would actually be a net gain of time and resources for me, but if you know of anyone interested in subjecting themselves to the interview process to promote themselves for whatever marginal exposure the blog provides, I’m always pleased to oblige their latent narcissistic tendencies.

Well, I appreciate you indulging me. Although, truthfully, it’s a lot less about feeding my ego than it is about trying to market my book. As I mentioned earlier, selling things to people is one of my least-favorite pastimes – but it’s a mandatory task for indie authors, so here we are. Besides, I have to admit I really am enjoying the back-and-forth nature of this interview. You’ve been gracious enough to make it an actual conversation, and I appreciate that.
I totally get the need to market your work.
I don’t understand authors that think that they’re going to get “discovered” and suddenly find themselves making Stephen King money. Those are the kind of authors that don’t know about the railroad spike King had on his wall that he would hang his rejection letters on, and that when it got too full it would fall off the wall and he’d clear it off and put it back up and start the whole process over again. They also don’t know that he and his wife wrote Harlequin romance novels under pen names to pay the bills. As an independent author, until you get an agent, or a publisher, half of the job is promotion. Sadly. I spent pretty much all of October running a crowd-funding campaign to try to raise funds so I can have a little breathing room to write my next book project. It was a hassle, because I don’t like being “that guy” but no one is going to come around asking me to write a book, except when they do, and that doesn’t happen very often.

During the year-and-a-half I spent writing May Day, I ran two fundraising campaigns: one on Kickstarter, which failed, and the other on Indiegogo, which had a much more modest goal, and succeeded. Each of them caused my writing to basically come to a halt, but we really needed the money, so I didn’t feel as though I had any choice in the matter. Judy’s job doesn’t quite cover our monthly nut – and we live very, very modestly, believe me. If it weren’t for the generosity of our mothers, we’d be homeless now.

As for the interview process being conversational, that’s quite intentional.
My favorite interviews are the ones that get kicked back and forth a few times and drift off track, like this one, for example, as they tend to be the most interesting, both to participate in and for potential readers of the interview to read.
My least favorite ones are the ones where the interviewee just answers with one word answers or brief phrases. It doesn’t give me much to work with in the follow-up rounds because I’m not interested in making small talk about pizza or whatever.
GIGO still applies. If someone doesn’t give me something good to work with, then the interview is going to be flat. I’ll still publish it, but you can’t polish a turd.

Got any questions for me?
You indicated that your to-be-reviewed stack is about ten books high. At your typical reading pace, do you have a windage estimate of when you might get around to mine? I ask, because I think the interview might be more interesting, if some of your questions were about my book. For instance, you might want to ask about the Easter eggs I’ve scattered through the text. Most of them are characters’ names – and there’s a lot of ‘em.
In addition to working full-time when the place I work for has the hours, I also do this interview blog and maintain about half a dozen other blogs on various subjects, mostly review blogs. On top of that, I have my own book project I’m working on and music projects, and art projects, and I’m often asked to help friends out by taking a look at their work and providing a copy and content editorial pass so I honestly don’t have a lot of time to read other people’s work for my own personal pleasure, I’m too busy trying to meet my own expectations.
The ten books I have will probably take me till next year, which, as I write this is a little over a month, but I’m trying to wrap an audio book project I’m working on which is going to eat a few days and I’m trying to get more audio book production work.
Since that helps to pay the rent and keep me in coffee and cigarettes it takes precedence.
One surefire way to insure that I’ll read your book is to commission an audio book adaptation of it, but that’s as far as I’m going with that pitch and I’m not pushing it.

I totally agree that the interview would be more interesting if I had read your book first, but I don’t have the time to do that.
I’m actually planning to record an audiobook version of May Day over the course of December. I want to do the voice work myself, both because I can’t afford to hire someone else to do it, and because I’ve had what people have been assuring me is an announcer’s voice since I hit puberty. I also have the home studio equipment, so why the heck not?
You should definitely record it yourself. Even though I’m trying to break into the audio book biz, I still believe that the best read will most likely come from the author as long as they have the voice for it. If you can get it mixed down to MP3 or WAV or FLAC I can do a post-production pass for cheap to clean it up if you need a post-production pass.
I’m pretty conscientious about levels and noise control. I’ve been doing digital home recording for quite a while, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Just for giggles, check out my song The Acoustic Chair:
It’s all me – writing, singing, playing, engineering, production, mastering. The works.

I have two books by John F. D. Taff to read and review. Two books by Jeremy Shipp. Three books that Mike Resnick gave me in PDF format that I’ve wanted to read since I was ten years old, but couldn’t find until now, and three books by Stephen Biro. I also get at least one review request a day by e-mail since I somehow managed to make it onto the Horror Writer’s Association list of reviewers from when I used to review books for Icons of Fright, despite the fact that they managed to misplace the thirty two or so reviews I gave them a few years ago. I finished two of Stephen Biro’s books for review purposes and pitched him on an audio book adaptation of the first one as a test / proof of concept so that’s the audio book project I’m halfway finished with.
Thankfully I’m finished with the raw audio and I finished the post-production for the first half of his book Hellucinations. And when I finish that, if it sells well, I’ll probably work on adapting the other two into audio books.
So, as you can see, although I agree, I won’t be able to get around to reading it until after the new year, although, as I said earlier, I’m definitely interested in checking it out, and if you wanted to do an update of the interview after I’ve read and reviewed it to tie it all together we can definitely do that.
That’d be great. I wasn’t trying to prod you. I just wanted to get an idea of when you might be getting around to reading May Day. I really am interested in your reaction – moreso now than when I first approached you. I think it would be instructive to see how having read the book affects the questions you choose to ask in a followup, too.
You’ve got a deal, sir. I’ll definitely let you know when I get caught up on my review queue. I wasn’t being insincere when I said I wanted to give your book a spin. There’s a lot of books I want to read, but between work and running the interview blog, and reading books for review purposes I have no time to read the stuff I want to read. A somewhat enviable problem, I know, to always have a bunch of free books to read, but, as I said, I have to turn down most review requests I get by e-mail from people I don’t know because I often get at least one a day and I usually can’t read and review a book in a day and if I agreed to review everything coming in I’d never have any time to do any of my own writing and I can’t have that.

Thanks for letting me subject you to being interviewed!
You’re entirely welcome. Thanks for interviewing me!

Pitch parade:
Give me all of your links for things you want to promote.   All of them.
My book (in Kindle format):
The trade paperback version of my book:
The YouTube trailer:

About the Interviewee:
Thom Stark, the author of May Day – Book One of American Sulla, has been a professional writer since 1995. He is best known as a columnist and feature writer for the late, great Boardwatch Magazine. Mr. Stark currently lives in Chillicothe, Ohio, with his wife Judy and their lovable mutts Wally and Watson. He is hard at work on War – Book Two of American Sulla.

About the Interviewer:
Scott Lefebvre has probably read everything you've read and can write about whatever you want him to write about.
Mostly because when he was grounded for his outlandish behavior as a hyperactive school child, the only place he was allowed to go was the public library.
His literary tastes were forged by the works of Helen Hoke, Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and H. P. Lovecraft.
He is the author of Spooky Creepy Long Island and a contributing author to Forrest J. Ackerman’s Anthology of the Living Dead, Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction, The Call of Lovecraft, and Cashiers du Cinemart.
His reviews have been published by a variety of in print and online media including Scars Magazine, Icons of Fright, Fatally Yours and Screams of Terror, and he has appeared in Fangoria, Rue Morgue and HorrorHound Magazine.
He is the Assistant Program Director for The Arkham Film Society and produces Electronic Music under the names Master Control and LOVECRAFTWORK.
He is currently working on a novel-length expansion of a short-story titled, "The End Of The World Is Nigh", a crowd-funded, crowd-sourced, post-apocalyptic, zombie epidemic project.
Check out the blog for the book here:
Check out the Facebook Fan Page for the project here:
Check his author profile at:
Follow him at GoodReads here:
Check out his publishing imprint Burnt Offerings Books here:
And here:
Check out his electronic music here:
And here:
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Follow his Twitter here: or @TheLefebvre
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Join the group for The Arkham Film Society here:
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