Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Revealing the Magic Trick

by Stuart Jaffe

From time to time, I get asked how something like the Max Porter mysteries came to be.  How did I come up with the idea of mixing true, odd, North Carolina history with witches, ghosts, curses, and such? And, over that time, I had developed a standard response. I had been living in Winston-Salem for several years and was curious to know more about it. My wife was a grad student at Wake Forest University, so one day, while stuck there waiting for her, I decided to hang out at the library. It was there that I stumbled upon a bit of WWII history I had never heard of before (that we shipped German POWs onto US soil to labor for the tobacco industry), and it screamed for a story. Max Porter was born.

That is the truth. But it’s also not.

See, it depends on who you are and why you’re asking. If you’re a reader who just wants to know what sparked this ever-growing series that has (hopefully) thrilled you, then yes, the above answer is the truth. And if that’s who you are, if you don’t like to know how a magic trick works or how the sausage is made, then I urge you to stop right here. Because there be dragon below.

Now — and this part took me years to figure out — if you’re a new writer, then you mean something quite different by the question. What you’re really asking me is how the Max Porter mysteries came to be — as in, the entire series. I see this when new writers discuss any long-running series. They marvel at the complex interplay between characters, how fully-developed each personality is, and how little details in an early book become massively important later on. How, they wonder, did the author know to do that?

My standard answer above does not answer that question.  Because no writer, no matter what PR line they spout, has an entire series fully formed in his or her head. Doesn’t happen. She might have the beginning, some key points in the middle, and a killer ending in mind, but the entire run of a 7 + books series?  Nope.

Those characters you marvel at were not so well-developed in the beginning. The complex interplay grew over the course of all those books. Each mystery they solved, each baddie they vanquished, each love they cherished and loss they endured, all built upon each other so that when Heroine nods with narrowing eyes at Hero, we all know what that means — all the history behind it — which sends chills through our delighted reader hearts. And that little detail which became huge later on — well, the author didn’t plan it that way when she wrote that detail in. But four books later, when she needed something to call back from a previous book, she read over her work, found that detail, and neatly clicked into place.

It’s part of how a writer’s mind works. We are constantly putting together the puzzle pieces that make up a novel, and sometimes we set a piece aside based on nothing but gut reaction, only to discover later exactly why we did it. We know that if we’re patient and consistent, our books will build upon themselves and create that full-world experience you crave. That’s why Book 1 or Book 2 of a series can be so much more difficult than Book 5. But it can be super-exciting too!

It’s all part of the magic trick that we perform.

What’s really cool is that with the Modern Magic deal, you get 12 novels that are almost all Book 1 of a series. You can start now and see how the groundwork for the trick is being set down. Then keep reading those series you like and watch the magic!

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I love superheroes.

By James Maxey

I love superheroes.

Like most people, this started when I was a kid. I’d watch the Superfriends on Saturday morning. I got excited at the I Love Lucy episode that guest starred Superman. Later, the Hulk and Wonder Woman had their own shows. I watched every episode.

Then I picked up actual comic books and things got seriously geeky. If your knowledge of superheroes comes from TV or even movies these days, you can name, what, fifteen superheroes? A couple of dozen, tops? Dive into comics and there are enough superheroes to fill encyclopedias. I used to make lists in alphabetical order cataloging all the members of the Legion of Superheroes, the Avengers, the Defenders, the Justice League. Teen Titans. X-men. Doom Patrol! Outsiders! Invaders! All-Star Squadron! Holy moly, the rosters were endless. In the days before Wikipedia, you had to really work to figure out who some obscure character appearing for a single page on the Avengers might actually be. (Jack of Hearts, anyone? Dr. Druid?) I would dig through boxes of musty, torn up comics at flea markets trying to assemble the various universes.

Unlike most people, this interest in superheroes didn’t vanish as I grew up. Instead, when I got to college, I started to place these heroes into a broader context of historical literature. Superheroes were the foundation of a modern mythology, a worthwhile evolution of the fairytale. The Justice Society used to sit around a round table; they were Arthurian Knights in a modern context.

Despite occasional tip toes into television, superheroes wound up identified with a single medium, the comic book. In the era of pulp fiction, superheroes could be found in prose, headlining their own magazines, like the Shadow. Once comic books came around, the costumed heroes packed up their bags and moved to the new, more visual medium, where their bright colors and miraculous feats found a natural home.

By the 1950s, prose super heroics had almost vanished. By the end of the millennium, only a few licensed properties, like Batman and Spiderman, still appeared in the occasional novel.

Which provided me with a dilemma when it came time for me to write my fourth bookl. The most fundamental advice for any writer is, write what you know. I knew superheroes. But superheroes didn’t appear in prose, and I wanted to write a novel, not script a comic book.

I finally obeyed an even more fundamental rule than “write what you know.” That rule is “do what you love.” So, with no hope whatsoever of seeing it in print, I sat down and started writing a superhero novel. I wrote the book I wanted to read that no one else had yet taken the time to write for me.

The main reason I wrote it was, when you really love something, you hate seeing it done badly. Let me be blunt: the vast majority of superhero fiction in any genre is pretty crappy. Characters that belong to the major publishers are property, and can never truly grow or change. The monthly nature of comic books means they get cranked out on a deadline whether the writers and artists feel inspired or not. They sell to a closed circle of readers, so there’s not much reason to change what they’re doing. The readers already know the characters, so there’s not that much exploration of character’s inner lives, and what little there is superficial. Most characters motives gets summed up in a single sentence: Batman fights crime because he watched his parents die. Wonder Woman was sent to man’s world to bring a message of peace. Aquaman… um, actually, I’m not clear on what his deal is. I know his powers. I don’t know his angels or his demons.

Of course, during the 80s and 90s, there was an effort made in some comics at treating superheroes as real people, peeling back the masks as it were. Unfortunately, treating heroes seriously somehow translated into treating them grimly, stripping away all joy, taking all their bright colors away to paint them in shades of dark gray and even darker gray. Every seemingly good action was shown to have some dark motive. We finally saw the demons on their shoulder, but the matching angels on the other shoulder were missing.

Having had my fill of heroes who were either two dimensional or joyless, I wanted to try my hand at a middle path. I wrote Nobody Gets the Girl treating the characters as realistically as possible, given that some of them fly, some are invisible, and others juggle tanks. But realistic doesn’t have to translate as grim. The hero, Richard Rogers, has his life erased by a time machine accident, trapping him as a ghost in a world where he was never born, a literal Nobody. Having your life erased would be a good excuse to spend the whole book moping, and he does have to deal with the grief over all he’s lost. But, he also takes spark as he begins a new life as an invisible, intangible spy for a family of superheroes. He processes his tragedy with humor and stoicism, working hard to find a path forward after encountering the worst roadblock ever thrown into a person’s life. Like most people, he stubbornly struggles toward joy.

More than joy, I also wanted to capture a sense of wonder. Superheroes are friends with gorillas and robots. They routinely talk to aliens and travel through time. For the heroes, the extraordinary becomes the mundane, but I want my readers to sit back from time to time and think, “Holy cow! That’s cool as hell!”

In the years since Nobody Gets the Girl first saw print, superheroes have become even more culturally dominant than they were. But I hope readers still find it to be a fresh experience, a balanced blend of the everyday and the miraculous, a perfect framework, I think, for understanding life as it truly is.

I’m pleased that Nobody has found a home in the new Modern Magic collection. Hopefully, it will open the door for readers to delve further into my weird and wondrous worlds.

For my excerpt, I going to break from my usual pattern of previewing the first chapter and instead preview something a bit closer to the middle of the book. I like this section because it has most of the major players on the stage. For the good guys, there’s Nobody (our invisible man), the Thrill (Sarah, who can fly and has mind control powers), and Rail Blade (Amelia, who’s ferrokinetic). Also, lots of UN Peacekeepers. Representing the forces of evil are the Panic (an unassuming looking teenage boy who causes panic in anyone who sees him), Sundancer (a woman who controls heat and radiation), and Pit Geek, who’s powers are just too weird to go into now and don’t really play much of a role in this passage anyway. You should also know that the bad guys can teleport away at any time just by saying “exit.” Finally, there’s a whole army of terrorists with stolen tanks, helicopters, etc., showing up to rain death down upon the crowds gathered to celebrate the signing of a peach treaty in Jerusalem.


“LIVE FROM THE Apocalypse!” said the Panic, facing the camera. “Citizens of Earth! Rise up! It’s time to riot in the streets! It’s time to take what you deserve! It’s the End Time, Armageddon, the Great, Big, Final Smackdown! Waaaaa­hoooo!”

Nobody’s stomach twisted in knots. All around him, panicked people were stampeding, trampling those too young or too old to move out of the way. Sundancer rose into the air, flinging glowing balls of plasma at the United Nation guards, who screamed as their weapons melted in their grasps. Pit Geek belched, bringing up a buckle to his lips. He tugged on the buckle, and dragged out a bandolier of hand grenades.

“Crap,” said the Thrill, her voice crackling over the radio. “Trouble. A dozen helicopters just popped up from nowhere. They—shit! Missiles fired! Missiles fired!”

“On it,” said Rail Blade.

In the distance, loud explosions could be heard. “Sarah, get down here and calm the crowd,” said Nobody. “People are dying.”

“Oh no,” said the Thrill. “Tanks. We have tanks moving in on the edges of the Old City.”

“Do what you can with the crowd,” said Rail Blade. “I’ll stop the hardware.”

High overhead, a glimmer of light, a daytime star, grew brighter and larger. In seconds, the image had resolved itself into the Thrill, clad in mirror armor, wielding her glowing sword.

The Panic looked up.

“Ex—” he said, and vanished, just as the Thrill reached him, slashing the air where he had stood. With grim satisfaction, Nobody noted a stream of blood whip from the sword as the Thrill pulled from her dive and shot back into the sky. Apparently, the Panic had been a little slow.

“Think I got him,” the Thrill said, her voice strained. “Felt like I got a solid hit.”

“Watch out!” said Nobody.

Sundancer blazed a trail behind the Thrill, slamming into her back with a hard tackle. The Thrill went into a spin but pulled up before hitting the ground.

“Monday’s pulled out all the stops,” Rail Blade complained over the radio. “Every tank I tear apart, two more pop up. I’ve never seen him use his teleporter so aggressively.”

Nobody wasn’t exactly focused on her words. Even with the Panic gone, the crowd was still going crazy. By now, Pit Geek had strapped on the bandolier and stood on the edge of the stage, lobbing grenades into the mob, laughing.

Nobody raced onto the stage, banging his fists on the treaty table to get Pit Geek’s attention. It didn’t work.

He noticed the treaty on the table. The formal, gold-rimmed parchment had vanished. In its place was a sheet torn from a notebook, with words written in red marker: “Screw it! Let’s just fight!” Beneath it were three neat signatures.

“Doc,” said Nobody. “The clerics. When Monday teleported them, could you follow them? Can you track them?”

“They reappeared beneath the ocean,” said Dr. Know. “They died in seconds.”

The platform shook as though an earthquake had struck. Nobody was thrown from his feet. The Thrill lay beside him, among shattered boards, shaking her head. She still had her shield, but had lost her sword.

“I’m so sick of this bitch,” she grumbled.

Nobody rolled aside as a ball of flame smashed into the Thrill’s shield. The Thrill flew into the air, deflecting another ball of flame, then buzzed over a UN guard who was trying to carry a wounded child to safety.

“A little help here,” she yelled. “Shoot her.”

The guard dropped the child and placed his rifle to his shoulder, unleashing a stream of bullets toward Sundancer. Sundancer motioned toward the gun, melting its barrel, causing it to explode in the guard’s hand.

The Thrill swooped in, using the momentary distraction, screaming her best kung fu yelp as she delivered a powerful kick to Sundancer ‘s head. The burning woman spun backward, looking surprised and disoriented. The Thrill pressed forward with her attack, continuing to deliver savage kicks with her metal boots. The boots glowed red hot, but if the Thrill felt any pain, she didn’t show it. Instead, her features locked in an angry grimace as she struck Sundancer again and again.

“Come on, Sunny,” Pit Geek screamed. “Take her! You’re making us look bad.”

Sundancer didn’t have anything witty to say in response. Instead, she crashed to the ground, hard, rolling to a stop on the pavement stones. The Thrill swooped down, continuing her assault.

Pit Geek pulled a pin on a grenade and lobbed it toward the fighting women. It bounced on the stones, and burst open in a loud flash. Nobody ducked and covered his eyes as shrapnel ricocheted around him.

He blinked, trying to make sense of the smoking aftermath. The Thrill had been thrown back, lying still against the pavement, though her armor appeared to be intact. Sundancer was screaming. Her left leg was gone from the knee down, and jets of flame spurted from her wounds with each heartbeat.

“Oops,” said Pit Geek.

Nobody spun around, running toward the filthy bum. Pit Geek didn’t notice him. Nobody passed through him, and turned around. There were grenades on the back of the bandolier as well. Gritting his teeth, he pulled one, two, three pins, then ran. He was knocked to the ground by the explosion seconds later. Pit Geek’s head bounced to the ground in front of him, his eyes blinking wide, his lips mouthing words that Nobody couldn’t make out.

Then, the head vanished.

Looking back, Sundancer was gone as well.

Nobody raced over to the Thrill, who had risen to her hands and knees.

“You all right?” he said. “Are you hurt? Burned?”

She shook her head. “Amelia makes good armor.”

He helped her to her feet.

“No rest for the weary,” she said. She rose into the air, two dozen yards over the platform.

“Listen up!” she said. “Yo! Look at me!”

In unison, the hundreds of people within the sound of her voice stopped their panicked flight and looked to her. “We’ve got a lot of wounded people here. I don’t know how long it will be until help arrives. I want everyone who knows anything about first aid to stay and help those too hurt to walk out under their own power. Everyone else, I want you to leave, slowly! Stay calm, don’t step on anyone, and get to safety. Let’s move it, people.”

A pleased murmur came from the crowd, a chorus of “Great idea,” and, “She’s so clever!”

“Ground zero’s locked down,” the Thrill said, dropping down to grab Nobody. “Let’s see if Amelia needs a hand.”

It quickly became evident that things were even more chaotic outside the plaza. Everyone in the streets appeared to be armed, and firefights were blazing from every window and doorway. A millennia’s worth of frustrations and anger had apparently boiled over, and the ancient buildings of the Old City were slowly being chipped to gravel by the relentless spray of bullets.

“Stop shooting,” the Thrill said, flying low and slow over the streets. “Go home! Be nice!”

She left a small wake of peace and quiet, but the sound of gunfire was still omnipresent.

“It’s hopeless,” she said. “We’re never going to put a lid on this.”

“Don’t say that,” said Nobody. “I signed on as one of the good guys. We don’t give up.”

Ahead of them, a tank flew into the air and disassembled itself, sending its astonished crew screaming toward the ground.

The Thrill darted forward, placing a free hand on one of the falling men, and lowered him to the ground. He stood, staring at her, his eyes wide.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

Then he pulled a pistol and thrust it into her stomach.

He pulled the trigger. His hand dissolved into red mist as the gun disintegrated. The bullet flashed backwards with a loud crack, punching a jagged hole through the man’s chest. With a gurgle, he toppled.

“Don’t show them mercy,” said Rail Blade, sliding up behind them on her gleaming steel beam. “Everyone signed on for this intending to kill or be killed. I say we don’t disappoint them.”

“How many more tanks?” the Thrill asked.

“None. I’ve taken apart over fifty of them. All the helicopters are down. I’ve detonated all the missiles.”

“Then all that’s left are the small weapons,” said Nobody. “It’s down to people shooting people now.”

Rail Blade’s track crumbled to rust, dropping her to the dusty street. “You have no idea how tired I am,” she said.

Nobody knelt beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You’ve done good work. You’ve saved a lot of lives. Maybe we should go. The peacekeepers can get all this under control. Eventually.”

“No,” said Rail Blade. She sucked in a deep, long breath. “No. I’m the only one who can stop it. I just need to catch my breath. Just need to think.”

“What—” Nobody cut his question short as Rail Blade closed her eyes. Her body trembled, as if about to explode.

Suddenly, the cacophony of nearby gunfire dimmed.

“I can feel them,” Rail Blade whispered, opening her eyes. “All around me. The guns. I can feel the atoms, agitated and hot. They’re singing to me. Can’t you hear the singing?”

“Um,” said Nobody.

“And I can silence them.”

She breathed deeply once more.

“Triggers snap,” she whispered.

The gunfire lessened further.

“Barrels snake into knots,” she said, sweat beading on her brow. The gunfire grew even dimmer. Angry and confused shouts could be heard.

“Bullet jackets rust,” she said. And all the gunfire stopped. But the shouting continued.

“They… they pull their knives,” she moaned. “So many knives.”

Nobody placed his arms around her as she tried to sit up. She slumped against him, her eyes focused somewhere he would never be able to see.

“And the knives crumble to dust,” she whispered.

Suddenly, even the shouting began to calm. Nobody could see men stepping from their hiding places, looking down at their empty hands, their faces confused.

Rail Blade went limp, her face falling against his shoulder. “It’s over,” she said, quietly. “That’s all I have. It’s over.”

He stroked her hair. “You did fine,” he whispered. “You stopped it. You just stopped the Apocalypse.”

“Wow, Sis,” said the Thrill. “You kicked butt.”

One by one, the confused men in the streets looked at one another, bewildered. Then, with growls, they lunged at each other, fists flying. They lifted paving stones and hurled them with angry curses.

“No,” whispered Rail Blade. “No.”

“Don’t sweat it,” said Nobody. “They can only do so much damage. You’ve stopped the killing.”

“I haven’t stopped the hate,” said Rail Blade, pushing him away. She rose on wobbling legs. “I’m too tired now. I could slap everyone in handcuffs, I guess, but I’m beaten. I don’t care anymore. Let them kill themselves. I’ve done all I can.”

Nobody nodded.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” said the Thrill. “What you did was amazing. You did good.”

Rail Blade’s shoulders drooped. “I’m so tired.”

Nobody looked at the fighting in the streets. In a way, it was comical—the flabby, middle-aged men kicking and cursing, slapping each other like children on a playground.

From the crowd of men, an actual child appeared. He looked to be about ten years old. His features were dark, his eyes red, as if he had been crying. He wore torn, tattered, dirty clothing, and he walked slowly toward them, his eyes focused on the two colorfully garbed women.

Nobody started to point the boy out to Rail Blade, to let her see that her work had possibly saved this boy’s life. Perhaps that would make her feel better. But something about the boy’s eyes made him think differently. They were too hard, too full of hate. The madness that had infected the adults also seemed to be gripping him, though he was too small and powerless for his anger to find any outlet.

He kept walking, until he was only a few yards away. He reached into his coat and pulled out a hand grenade.

Nobody’s mouth dropped open as the boy pulled the pin.


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Beneath the Surface

JenniferStGilesby Jennifer St. Giles

What lies beyond our ability to see and touch? Have you visited a spirit laden battleground? Have you sensed the ghosts in a haunted house? Have you seen an aura of goodness glowing around a person or a place? Have you felt the chill of evil in the air?

If you can answer yes or even a maybe to those questions. Or if you’ve had a different experience with the beyond-our-world mysterious, please share with me here. Whenever I am writing in my Shadowmen Series, paranormal romantic thrillers, I get to dive beneath the surface of life and let my imagination go free. I can explore things we miss in the world around us because of our limited knowledge or narrow perspectives.

In my Shadowmen world, I can explain spontaneous combustion. I can give reason to the violent forces of nature like tornados and hurricanes. I can delve into the different ways the battle between good and evil might play out in heaven and on the earth. I can create my own lore behind warring factions of werewolves and vampires. I can enter the realms of heaven and the depraved recesses of hell. But more than all of these things, I can create a new story about the redeeming power of love—the greatest gift to be given or received.

I love writing and the magic that story brings into people’s lives. I love the connection that story brings to all of humanity. Another aspect of life that lies beneath its surface is the untold story of each person’s life. My grandparents and great-grandparents have passed and never wrote the story of their lives down in any sort of journal or other communication. Their amazing stories departed this world when they did. I will never know the depths of their hearts and the truths of their journeys. Those will forever remain below the surface of life, lost in time. So I always encourage people to write for themselves and for their loved ones. Share your story in life because you matter. No, I am not suggesting every person become a writer. I will explain why in the next paragraph. I am suggesting that every person shouldn’t be afraid to put their own hearts and thoughts and experiences on a page where those treasures can be found and not lost.

touch a dark wolf jenniferstgilesWriting, the creation of story that drives a book or inspires a movie is a solitary, painstaking task. We pull words from our hearts and we figuratively bleed on the page for months at a time to write a book. Not necessarily for any real monetary gain. Very few writers achieve financial success with their efforts. Because even in this digital age where the cost of a book can be relatively low, most people will spend more for a cup of coffee than a book. Writers write because they are compelled to create story. And our reward is learning our story touched another person’s heart, for therein is the true measure of success. So share your appreciation by letting your favorite authors know if they’ve touched you. Give a shout out to their hard work in a review. And if their story wasn’t your cup of tea, then be kind.

Touch a Dark Wolf, book one of the Shadowmen Series, is a quick plunge into a unique world that lies beneath the surface of our own world today. I begin my take on how vampires, werewolves, and otherworldly beings might exist and what role they could play in the battle between good and evil. So even if creatures of lore aren’t your thing and the label of romance makes you shake your head—I won’t tell you that almost every story ever told is a romance at heart—I encourage you to delve beneath the surface of the story and connect to the truths that play out in the series.

Don’t forget to share your beneath the surface experience here.

Happy reading
Jennifer St. Giles/ Jennifer Saints/ JL Saint
Reach me at or on twitter @jenniferstgiles

Link to excerpt.

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Q&A with Jean Marie Ward

JMWard-WRW150What is the title of your newest book or short story? What’s it about? Where can readers find it?

My next release will be “The Clockwork Nightingale” in the Steampunk fairy tale anthology Gaslight and Grimm, coming from eSpec Books in May 2016. It’s currently available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local bookseller. Starting at Balticon, which will be held in Baltimore over the Memorial Day weekend, you’ll also be able to buy it directly from eSpec Books at selected SF/fantasy cons.

How did you choose to become a writer?

It happened so early, I’m not sure it was a conscious choice. Part of it was my parents’ love of reading and the scope of things they read me at bedtime—everything from army regulations to Greek mythology to Shakespeare. Part of it was certainly my dad’s unrealized literary ambitions. He was a born storyteller, but he never got the chance to write professionally. In any event, I started inventing my own fairy tales before I hit kindergarten. I wrote a play about the theft of Thor’s hammer in fourth grade. Then I discovered Brenda Starr in the newspaper and Lois Lane in the comics, and my fate was sealed.

What’s your favorite part of writing a new book or story?

Seeing all the parts of a shiny new story come to life in my head.

What do you like the least?

Trying to get all that shiny on the page. Somehow, it never reads the same as they did in my head. In addition, as I’m slogging my way toward “The End”, I always reach a point where I’m sure my current effort is the worst story ever written. It’s so bad, somebody’s going to sneak into my house in the middle of the night and take away my writer card. And maybe my cat.

They haven’t succeeded yet, but I suspect it’s only because the cat hides from strangers.

What inspired your new book or story?

Equal parts desire and desperation. I knew I wanted to write a story for Gaslight and Grimm from the moment I heard about it. Unfortunately, my first choice for a story had already been taken…and my second…and my third. Then co-editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail said she was open to classic fairy tales from other sources, at which point my wayward brain proposed setting Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale” in a frontier saloon, complete with bare-knuckle bullies, love-struck engineers and a singer with a diamond heart. Somewhere along the way a little Casablanca crept in there, too. I’m still not sure how that happened.

How do you research your stories?

Like a sponge—no kidding! Once I have a vague idea of the story I want to write, I’ll grab everything that looks fun or useful from the internet, my local library, TV, radio, the movies, my bookshelves and local color. I take notes and photos, assemble electronic and hard copy files. I’ll even draw maps. Then I’ll start writing, discover I’ve missed something, and back to the books and Internet I’ll go. I won’t say research is the best part of writing, but sometimes it comes close.

Where can readers find you on social media?
Twitter: @Jean_Marie_Ward

Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr) and art books. Her stories appear in numerous anthologies, such as The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity, The Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, and Tales from the Vatican Vaults. The former editor of Crescent Blues, she co-edited the six-volume, 40th anniversary World Fantasy Con anthology Unconventional Fantasy and is a frequent contributor to Her website is

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Making a Connection to Fairy Tales via Steampunk

Steampunk-Dave-2-150by David Lee Summers

Grimm’s Fairy Tales were among the first stories I remember hearing.  My grandmother read me such stories as “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.”  Among the first movies I saw were Disney’s Snow White and Cinderella.  Of course, I can’t forget The Bullwinkle Show whose “Fractured Fairy Tale” segments featured delightfully twisted versions of “The Fisherman and his Wife” and “Rapunzel.”  The problem is, timeless as these tales were, I always felt separated from them by the gulf of time and space.  I grew up in a land with no kings or princesses, much less enchanted fish or cobbler elves.

Fairy tales have a long history. When first told, the people hearing them could relate to the pastoral settings.  Relatives might know characters like those in the stories.  “A long time ago, in a land far away” is a phrase invented to connect those of us who don’t have those experiences back to that distant time.  However, the original audience of fairy tales didn’t need that link.  For all they knew, the time was only a generation or two ago and the land of the story could be just over the hill.  The stories were meant to be relevant to the audience.

My paternal grandfather was a World War I veteran. I inherited the pith helmet he wore in the service.  After the war, he went to work for the railroad during the last years of the steam era.  My maternal grandparents homesteaded in Northeastern New Mexico. They worked on ranches and in a general store, living in the real Wild West.  I spent time on that land as a kid and I’ve ridden on trains pulled by steam engines through the mountains of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.  The steam era is not my era, but I feel personally connected to it.

Steampunk is a genre that looks at the not-so-distant past through a magical lens.  Some authors invoke literal magic while others imagine technology taken to such an extreme it becomes magical in its own right.  Either way, it’s easy for me to imagine those steampunk worlds as ones that existed just over the hill from the places my grandparents experienced and shared with me through their stories.  My Clockwork Legion steampunk series which begins in the novel Owl Dance and continues in Lightning Wolves is set in a west inspired by the west my grandparents homesteaded.

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150When Danielle Ackley-McPhail asked me to pitch a story for the collection Gaslight and Grimm, one of the stories I suggested was a steampunked retelling of the Grimm Fairy Tale, “The Dragon and his Grandmother.”  It was the story of soldiers escaping a terrible war through the aid of a duplicitous dragon. I easily imagined soldiers in pith helmets like my grandfather used to wear.  A huge dragon belching smoke and fire, reminded me of a powerful locomotive and I had a flash of a mechanical monster that could have been.

Steampunking a fairy tale might not bring it completely up to date, but it brings it up to my grandparents’ generation.  I can imagine the stories in Gaslight and Grimm taking place in a world parallel to the one they inhabited.  As a result, those stories give me another connection to my grandmother and allow me to smile again as I remember her telling me those stories.  I honor her memory by continuing the tradition and telling you stories.  I hope you’ll drop by my website at and learn more about the stories I tell.


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When the end is nigh, take another look at your characters’ “victory conditions”

JeMcK-col1-smallBy Juliet E McKenna

Preparing the ebook edition of the final volume of The Aldabreshin Compass set me thinking about the challenges I faced when writing this particular story as well as the wider questions which authors must answer when they’re wrapping up a multi-book series. Because there are some significant pitfalls to be wary of.

There’s a fine line to tread between ‘and they all (eventually) lived (more or less) happily ever after’ and ‘they all came full circle and hit the Reset Button’. The first can and arguably should be satisfactorily achieved, because ending a series with overall failure is hardly rewarding the reader for their time and commitment. On the other hand, hitting the Reset Button treats the reader just as badly, when an entire series ultimately fails the ‘So What?’ test. What was the point in following those characters through all that travelling, learning and struggle if nothing has really changed?

Quite apart from anything else, if your characters have been on a multi-volume journey, whether that’s literal or metaphorical, they’ve been planning for anticipated challenges as well as facing unforeseen threats. Surely they themselves will have changed? Real life, in fiction as well as in fact, is all about emotional growth and learning through experience. And the best fiction is always ultimately grounded in reality.

Which brings us to “victory conditions” which is an expression wargamers will be familiar with. If it’s new to you, it’s most satisfying when it’s far more complex than simply ‘beat the other guy and/or his army’. It can be ‘defeat a certain percentage of his army within a certain timescale’, like Napoleon at Waterloo needing to break the British army before the Prussians arrived. It can be ‘fight the other guy to a standstill’, like the Russians at Borodino who managed to mostly-not-lose-entirely rather than win that battle. That was still enough to mean Napoleon couldn’t force the Czar to surrender completely. Some games offer variations on victory conditions. We’ve been playing the tabletop Firefly game as a family recently, where winning the introductory scenario requires amassing a certain amount of credit and making two key allies. The longer scenarios for more experienced players have far trickier requirements for success.

In real life, as well as in gaming, and in fiction, victory conditions can change. Something I’ve seen time and again in martial arts is a shift in perspective once people attain their black belt. Starting out, every grading and each new coloured belt is generally seen as a rung on the ladder to that ultimate goal of black. That’s the summit of their ambition. However, by the time they’ve reached that level of experience, their understanding has usually developed so that they now recognise a First Dan grade isn’t anywhere near the end of their journey. Rather that achievement marks the point where they’ve laid a sufficiently solid foundation of skills and knowledge to appreciate the far deeper and more complete learning that’s still to come.

All this informs my writing. As the Aldabreshin Compass series begins with Southern Fire, the central character Kheda, warlord and absolute ruler of a tropical island realm, faces vicious invaders backed by brutal sorcery. In subsequent books, he realises that was merely the first of successive challenges stemming from all this upheaval. In Northern Storm, fighting magical fire with fire is not so easy when wizardry of any kind is forbidden in the Archipelago on pain of death. Add to that, in a feudal society full of rivalry and intrigue, there will always be those who’ll pursue their own, short-term advantage over and above any commitment to the greater good.

Such behaviour may be contemptible but those people can’t be ignored, by characters and authors alike. Turn your back and they’ll be sure to stab you between the shoulder blades. So keep your eye on them, and take a good hard look at their own victory conditions while you’re at it. Working out what they ultimately want may well show you the key to defeating them. Ideally achieving your own victory in ways that readers won’t be expecting at all, because the all-too-easily predictable end to a story is another writerly pitfall lurking at the end of a series.

Kheda’s journey is both literal and metaphorical throughout these books. He travels the length and breadth of the Archipelago as well as voyaging to an unknown land far beyond in Western Shore. Along the way, he meets new people and new ideas which profoundly alter his world view. he’s a very different person by the time Eastern Tide sweeps him back to more familiar waters. His personal victory conditions have become something very different indeed.

Northern Storm-smallWhile he’s doing all this, life for everyone else left behind goes on. All those people are still pursuing their own victory conditions. This highlights another fatal flaw of any ‘Hit the Reset Button’ conclusion. A realistic scenario will simply not allow for characters returning to easily slot back into holes and roles in other people’s lives which have been waiting for them, unfilled. Characters having to fight physically or emotionally to regain their former place can work but that’s another story.

Will Kheda achieve his new ambitions? You’ll have to read the books to find out. If you want to get a taste of these stories first, you can find the opening chapters via my website, along with some short stories about some of those characters getting on with their own lives while Kheda’s away.

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author, living in the Cotswolds, UK. She has always been fascinated by myth and history, other worlds and other peoples. Her debut fantasy novel, The Thief’s Gamble, first of The Tales of Einarinn was published in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence and The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution. Her fifteenth book, Defiant Peaks, concluded The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. She writes diverse shorter fiction ranging from stories for themed anthologies such as The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity and Tales from the Emerald Serpent to a handful of tales for Doctor Who, Torchwood and Warhammer 40k.  Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing she wrote a serial novella The Ties that Bind for Aethernet e-magazine and her Challoner, Murray and Balfour: Monster Hunters at Law short stories are now available in an ebook edition from Wizard’s Tower Press. She also reviews for web and print magazines and promotes SF&Fantasy by blogging, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. Learn more about all of this at



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How I Became a Publisher…Accidentally on Purpose

The Weird Wild West anthology from Espec Books rides into town in November looking like big trouble. Saddle up, pardner and discover strange, supernatural, otherworldly and downright weird adventures way out West from some of your favorite authors. Larry and I have a story in The Weird Wild West, so throughout November and December, we asked some of our author friends to prance their ponies over in this direction and share a few lines with us. Enjoy the blog posts—and then order the book please!

by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

One of the things I swore I would never do was start my own press.

(Never make such claims. It is generally the most certain way to ensure that you eventually do whatever you say you’ll never do.)

Having worked in the publishing industry for over twenty years as a career taught me all the various headaches that come with publishing books. However, absorbing all that knowledge and doing virtually every job there is in the industry pretty much meant it was bound to happen eventually. At least I’d gathered a wealth of knowledge beforehand. Now I have only half as many mistakes to make on my own.

This doesn’t tell you how I became a publisher, though.

Earlier this year I ran my first Kickstarter. It was for a little personal project called Eternal Wanderings, a continuation of my Eternal Cycle series of Irish myth-based novels (you can learn more here if you are curious: The campaign was successful and the book needed a brand, an imprint to serve as a foundation. Thus eSpec Books ( was born.

A few weeks after the campaign completed I received an email from my friend, Misty Massey. She remembered that I work for Dark Quest Books ( and was hoping they would be interested in a project for which the original publisher had fallen through. That project was to become The Weird Wild West. Unfortunately Dark Quest had a full schedule through 2016 and Misty and her co-editors, Emily Lavin Leverett and Margaret S. McGraw, didn’t want to wait so long to see their vision become a reality.

(Yep…here comes the accidentally on purpose part…)

When I saw how disappointed they were I found myself saying…If you don’t mind taking a chance on a brand-new press, but with plenty of experience, eSpec Books could help you out.

We hashed out the particulars and the rest, as they say, is history!

Our editors did a fantastic job corralling high-quality authors for the project, such as R S Belcher (Six-Gun Tarot), Tonia Brown (Railroad!), Diana Pharoah Francis (Trace of Magic), John Hartness (Bubba the Monster Hunter), Jonathan Maberry (Code Zero), Gail Martin (Deadly Curiosities), Misty Massey (Mad Kestrel), and James Tuck (Blood and Bullets).

And, because we are optimistic that way, if we raise enough funds there will be a second volume, for which the editors already have commitments from Faith Hunter, Barb Hendee, Devon Monk, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Charles E. Gannon and Laura Anne Gilman.

But it’s not just about the known talent. Both eSpec Books and the editors are very dedicated to giving new authors a chance. To this end the first collection will have a minimum of four open submission slots, with two additional slots to be added if we hit the appropriate stretch goals. If we unlock a second volume, that will have open-submission slots as well.


The Publisher

Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. Currently, she is a project editor and promotions manager for Dark Quest Books and has started her own press, eSpec Books.

Her published works include five urban fantasy novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court: and The Redcaps’ Queen: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, and a young adult Steampunk novel, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo science fiction collection, A Legacy of Stars, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Dragon’s Lure, and In an Iron Cage. Her work is included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

She is a member of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, the New Jersey Authors Network, and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, mother-in-law Teresa, and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on LiveJournal (especbooks, damcphail or badassfaeries), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail). To learn more visit,, or


The Editors

Misty Massey is the author of Mad Kestrel (Tor), a rollicking fantasy adventure of magic on the high seas, and Kestrel’s Voyages (Kindle DP), a set of stories following Captain Kestrel and her daring crew. Her short fiction has appeared in Rum and Runestones, Dragon’s Lure and The Big Bad II.  Misty is one of the featured writers on Magical Words ( When she’s not writing, she studies Middle Eastern dance and performs with Mythos Tribal and Chimera. You can see more of what Misty’s up to at her website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Emily Lavin Leverett is a fantasy, sci-fi, and (occasional) horror writer from North Carolina. Her works have appeared in Flash Fiction Online and Drafthorse: A Journal of Work and No Work, and will appear in Summer 2015 in Athena’s Daughters II from Silence in the Library. She also edits, with short story collections including The Big Bad: an Anthology of Evil and Big Bad II with John Hartness, from Dark Oak Press.  She freelance edits as well. When not writing or editing, she also is a Professor of Medieval English Literature at a small college in Fayetteville. She teaches English literature including Chaucer and Shakespeare, as well as teaching composition and grammar.  Medieval studies, especially medieval romance, heavily influence her work. When neither writing nor teaching, she’s reading novels, short stories, and comic books or watching television and movies with her spouse and their cats.

Margaret S. McGraw’s writing includes the daily prompt-writing blog, several short stories currently in circulation for publication, and two novels in progress: Mira’s Children is a YA science fiction adventure, and OceanSong is a fantasy begun in the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge. Her imagination draws on her lifelong love of science fiction, fantasy, and anthropology. Her education and experience range from anthropology and communication through web design and IT management. Margaret lives in North Carolina with her daughter and an array of cats, dogs, Macs and PCs, and too many unfinished craft projects. For more details on her writing, follow Margaret on Twitter @margaretsmcgraw or visit her daily blog at

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eSpec Books interviews Keith R.A. DeCandido

The Side of Good/The Side of Evil is a book of superheroes and super villains by some of your favorite authors, including Larry and me! It’s available for pre-order now here: Now enjoy one of several interviews as our authors take you behind the scenes!


eSpec Books interviews Keith R.A. DeCandido, contributor to The Side of Good / The Side of Evil, a Superhero Flipbook anthology,

eSB: What drew you to this project?
KRAD: Danielle Ackley-McPhail saying, “Wanna write a superhero story?” and me saying, “Sure!” I’ve been a huge fan of superhero stories since I saw Spider-Man show up on The Electric Company in the 1970s, and two of my first short story sales were superhero stories, as was my first novel.

eSB: Which side are you writing for?
KRAD: The villain side.

eSB: What got you interested in superheroes/villains?
KRAD: I’ve just always been taken by superhero stories. Seeing Spidey on children’s television led to reading the tie-in comic Spidey Super Stories, which led to reading more comics, and I just loved ’em. I love the notion of powers and what they do to change people, some for the better, some for the worse.

eSB: Please tell us a little bit about the inspiration for your story.
KRAD: I’ve written one novel and one short story so far in the world of Super City Police Department. SCPD is about the cops in a city filled with superheroes and all the nonsense they have to deal with. One of the bits in the first SCPD novel, The Case of the Claw, is about how the homicide detectives just hate when they find the body of the Clone Master, because another one always turns up later, and they waste time and effort investigating his death only to have him turn up again. When Dani came to me with the notion of TSoG/TSoE, I thought it might be cool to flesh the Clone Master out and delve into his particular brand of lunacy.

eSB: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would it work?
KRAD: Flight. The closest I’ve come to unaided flight is when I went parasailing, and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

eSB: What would your weakness be and why?
KRAD: Why would I want a weakness? That’s just silly.

eSB: Describe your ideal super suit.
KRAD: Thin body armor that protects my entire body.

eSB: Who is your favorite superhero and why?
KRAD: Spider-Man, because he’s still a person who has to deal with the same nonsense as other people, and being a superhero not only doesn’t make it better, it often makes it worse. Plus, he’s someone who does whatever it takes to do the right thing regardless of personal consequences, even if the consequences are horrifically negative and those consequences only affect him. Plus, he’s hilarious…
eSB: Who is your real-life hero and why?
KRAD: My great-grandmother, Grazia DeBacco. She came to this country as a teenager on a crowded boat in the early part of the 20th century, moved to rural western Pennsylvania and proceeded to have ten kids. Despite the fact that the kids were almost all born at the height of the Depression, despite the fact that they lived in a house the size of a shoebox, those ten kids (starting with my grandmother) grew up into the nicest, sweetest, most generous people. And she was this little 4’9″ woman with incredible presence who kept them all in line and raised them to be fantastic. She died in 2003 at the age of 98, and I based Federation President Nan Bacco in several Star Trek novels after her.

eSB: Who is the villain you love to hate, and why?
KRAD: Dick Cheney. If I must stick with a fictional villain, it’s so hard to narrow it down I’m going to go with Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road, because he was deliciously evil, and the root of his evil is something we see in the world today, with his need to control women and use them only as incubators for children.

eSB: In your opinion, what characterizes a hero?
KRAD: Someone who is faced with all the crap in the world, but still perseveres and does the right thing, even though it would be so much easier to not do it.

eSB: In your opinion, what characterizes a villain?
KRAD: Someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about consequences.

eSB: What is your viewpoint on Sidekicks?
KRAD: They’re usually more interesting than the hero.
eSB: What is your favorite superhero movie and why?
KRAD: Mystery Men. It was ahead of its time, as it would have been much better received after superhero movies took off, not in 1999 the year before X-Men was released. But it’s a great sendup of the genre, and still also a great movie about heroes. “We’ve got a date with destiny, and she just ordered the lobster.”

eSB: What other comic or superhero-related work have you done in the past?
KRAD: I’ve done a bunch of licensed comics: Star Trek, Farscape, StarCraft, Cars. I also scripted a graphic-novel adaptation of Greg Wilson’s Icarus, with art by Matt Slay, that should be out in 2016. My superhero work, on the other hand, is all prose. I’ve written two Spider-Man novels, two Spidey short stories, short stories featuring the Silver Surfer, Hulk, and the X-Men, plus I’ve got the aforementioned SCPD stuff, and another nifty superhero project I can’t talk about—yet…

eSB: What was your most exciting moment working in the comic industry?
KRAD: Getting to write the post-finale Farscape comics, collaborating with the show’s creator, Rockne S. O’Bannon. We did “season 5” of the show in comics form, and it was fantastic. Just a great three years.

eSB: If there was one comic franchise you could work on, which would it be and why?
KRAD: Probably Spider-Man, just because I have such a history with the character.

eSB: Fiction or comics, which is your favorite medium and why?
KRAD: I’m more comfortable with prose, because that’s what I’ve worked more in—more than 50 novels and more than 75 short stories, versus a comparative handful of comics. But I like both.

eSB: Please tell us about your non-comic related work.
KRAD: Tons of it. Most recently or coming soon: the Star Trek coffee table book The Klingon Art of War, the novels Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution and Stargate SG-1: Kali’s Wrath, the short-story collection Without a License: The Fantastic Worlds of Keith R.A. DeCandido, and short stories in Bad-Ass Faeries: It’s Elemental, Buzzy Mag, Out of Tune, Stargate SG-1/Atlantis: Far Horizons, V-Wars, V-Wars: Night Terrors, With Great Power, and The X-Files: Trust No One. I’m also doing weekly rewatches of the original Star Trek (Tuesdays) and of the various Stargate series (Fridays) on; in the past I’ve done rewatches of both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for that site.

eSB: Do you have any news you would like to announce?
KRAD: I wish, but I’m working on two projects right now that I can’t talk about yet. But soon. Keep watching the skies! (Or the Internet…)

eSB: Please let us know where you can be found on social media.
KRAD: I’m on Facebook as Keith DeCandido, my blog is at, and I’m on Twitter @KRADeC.

eSB: Thank you for allowing this glimpse beneath your alter-ego. We’re looking forward to more super heroics and evil geniuses to come.

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eSpec Books interviews Greg Schauer

The Side of Good/The Side of Evil is a book of superheroes and super villains by some of your favorite authors, including Larry and me! It’s available for pre-order now here: Now enjoy one of several interviews as our authors take you behind the scenes!


eSpec Books interviews Greg Schauer, co-editor of  The Side of Good / The Side of Evil, a Superhero Flipbook anthology,

eSB: What drew you to this project?
GS: Danielle beat me over the head caveman style and forced me to edit a group of writers I have admired for many, many years. Actually, I have been a both a fan and comics retailer since I was a teenager. The nature of a good Superhero/Supervillian story is about the mythic fight between good and evil. Doing this as a flip book allows us to show that struggle from both sides. We have been lucky enough to attract a very talented pool of creators to this project. It will be a fun and exciting book.

eSB: What got you interested in superheroes/villains?
GS: To paraphrase Keith Laumer “Comics taught me how to read. Trust the Comics” I have always loved to read, but it was superhero comics that sent me to the dictionary more often than the books I was assigned in elementary school. What the young me took a long time to understand was that the stories I was reading were introducing me to many new concepts in science and philosophy and advanced my vocabulary at a very young age. Through them I was introduced to the modern mythologies Marvel and DC were creating at the time, worlds filled with Super Science, magic and a very firmly defined morality.

eSB: Who is your favorite superhero and why?
GS: Wow, so many favorites it is hard to choose. If pressed (I see that mallet, Dani) I would have to say ‘Mazing Man. Sigfried Horatio Hunch III is a man who believes he is a superhero and does what he can to help his friends and people in his neighborhood. The stories were told in a lighthearted whimsical style and yet told some of the most poignant stories about courage, bravery and selflessness I have ever read in a comic book

eSB: In your opinion, what characterizes a hero?
GS: A hero is someone who does their best to help their community. Whether that is placing themselves in danger or helping a neighbor in need.

eSB: In your opinion, what characterizes a villain?
GS: Anyone who intentional hurts other people by any means, Physically, Mentally, Emotionally or Financially.

eSB: What is your viewpoint on Sidekicks?
GS: Sidekicks help to keep a Hero sane and balanced.

eSB: What other comic or superhero-related work have you done in the past?
GS: John French and I edited a collection of Superhero stories, With Great Power published by DarkQuest Books.

eSB: Fiction or comics, which is your favorite medium and why?
GS: Hard to say, they both use vastly different techniques to tell a story. Comics, being a visual medium allows the story teller to focus on characterization in the dialogue while the art creates the mood and conveys the action. In fiction the writer needs to do it all through words. Comics can be a very surface medium if the storyteller relies exclusively on the art to tell the story sacrificing character motivations. Fiction allows the writer to delve into the inner being of a character but may sacrifice details of immediate surrounding. I love both for different types of stories.

eSB: Please tell us about your non-comic related work.
GS: My not so secret identity is as the proprietor of Between Books 2.0 in Claymont Delaware. I am also the editor of Stories in Between edited by myself, Jeanne Benzel and W.H. Horner, a collection put out in 2010 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Between Books.

eSB: Please let us know where you can be found on social media.
GS: I can be found on Facebook under Greg Schauer and Between books.

eSB: Thank you for allowing this glimpse beneath your alter-ego. We’re looking forward to more super heroics and evil geniuses to come.

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eSpec Books interviews John L. French

The Side of Good/The Side of Evil is a book of superheroes and super villains by some of your favorite authors, including Larry and me! It’s available for pre-order now here: Now enjoy one of several interviews as our authors take you behind the scenes!

eSpec Books interviews John L. French, contributor to The Side of Good / The Side of Evil, a Superhero Flipbook anthology,

eSB: What drew you to this project?

JLF: I’ve always been interested in superheroes.

eSB: Which side are you writing for?

JLF: Truth, Justice, and the America Way, what else?

eSB: What got you interested in superheroes/villains?

JLF: I like stories of crime and adventure. In all of these there are, or should be, good guys and bad guys. This is especially so in superhero fiction with the lines between he two more clear-cut than usual

eSB: Please tell us a little bit about the inspiration for your story.

JLF: Some time ago I was asked to write a story for an anthology about phoenixes and firebirds. As one of my series characters is a pulp fiction hero called The Nightmare I created a story in which he helps a man who’s been cursed by immortality and rescues a phoenix. I like the character so much that I write two more stories about her and this Phoenix trilogy became the last three stories in my collection The Nightmare Strikes. I thought that was the (literary) end of The Phoenix. But as you know, a phoenix cannot die and so when I was asked to do a story I found myself brining her back.

eSB: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would it work?

JLF: I would be able to read, speak and understand every language there was, is, and will be

eSB: What would your weakness be and why?

JLF: Poor penmanship

eSB: Describe your ideal super suit.

JLF: That depends on the hero and his mission. Heroes like Superman need something bright, something people can look up to. Heroes like Batman, the Shadow, and (ahem) the Nightmare need something dark so they can blend in with the darkness. I think the best super suit out there today is the Flash’s

eSB: Who is your favorite superhero and why?

JLF: Batman and if you need to ask why you don’t know Batman.  My second favorite is anybody from Astro City. And if you don’t know about Astro City, you need to stop reading right now, go to a comic book store and buy the trade. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

eSB: Who is your real-life hero and why?

JLF: In general, it’s the people who keep us safe on a daily basis – the members of the police and fire department. Specifically it’s anyone who’s got the guts to do the right thing no matter the cost. There’s damned few of them these days and none of them hold elected office.

eSB: Who is the villain you love to hate, and why?

JLF: Keyser Söze – if you don’t know who that is, you need to watch The Usual Suspects as soon as possible. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

eSB: In your opinion, what characterizes a hero?

JLF: Raymond Chandler said it best – “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”
Anyone who meets this standard has the makings of a hero.

eSB: In your opinion, what characterizes a villain?

JLF: Someone who cares only for himself without regard to the consequences to the world or those who live in it. There are too many of these people around and, yes, some of them are in elected office.

eSB: What is your viewpoint on Sidekicks?

JLF: I think a direct punch to face works better than a side kick. Oh, you mean people like Robin. Let’s get one thing straight – heroes like Tonto and Kato were not sidekicks (sidekick is what Kato did) they were partners. Maybe they were not always treated as equal partners but they were partners. It’s kids like Robin who were sidekicks. They are good dramatic derives that give the hero someone to explain things the reader need to know as well as gives the hero someone to rescue on a regular basis.

eSB: What is your favorite superhero movie and why?

JLF: I don’t know if this counts but right now it’s Daredevil: Season One. Why? Because they got (most of) it right.

eSB: What other comic or superhero-related work have you done in the past?

JLF: I’ve written two superhero hero stories (Turquoise: The Right Betrayal” and “Hero” that can be found in my short story collection Paradise Denied and which will also be available as goals for this book.

eSB: What was your most exciting moment working in the comic industry?

JLF: My major contribution to the “comic industry” has been buying too many comics for far too long. But other than that, I have been in the three Batman comics written by the late, great C. J. Henderson. I “play” a crime lab technician for the Gotham PD and work for Captain James Gordon. It mirrors my real life job as a crime scene investigator for a large, east coast city. In addition, I am the co-editor of With Great Power … an anthology about people with superpowers.

eSB: If there was one comic franchise you could work on, which would it be and why?

JLF: While Batman is my favorite I’d like to take over either the Superman or Green Lantern franchises. Both of these have gotten away from fighting for truth, justice, etc. and have been too involved in fighting personal battles.

eSB: Fiction or comics, which is your favorite medium and why?

JLF: There’s this Romany fortune teller down the street who pretty good … but I don’t think that’s what you mean. I like books. The kind that come with just words and no pictures. I get to use more of my imagination.

eSB: Please tell us about your non-comic related work.

JLF: I write short stories and edit anthologies. My books include The Nightmare Strikes, The Grey Monk: Souls on Fire, Here There Be Monsters, The Devil of Harbor City, and (with Patrick Thomas) The Assassins’ Ball.

eSB: Thank you for allowing this glimpse beneath your alter-ego. We’re looking forward to more super heroics and evil geniuses to come.

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