Interview with Author Peter Cawdron

Peter Cawdron

I very much enjoyed Peter Cawdron‘s contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, and I say this while acknowledging that the story did not immediately pull me in. Yet, after a page or two I could not put the story down. The first time I read it, I set out to read a couple of pages and crash for the night; I had just run a good collection of miles. I was beat, but I couldn’t. THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY that good. Honestly, it made me want to hear this anthology as an audio collection similar to METAtropolis.

I really enjoyed Peter’s story and I also enjoyed working with him to create this interview. Dig in, you will too. And when you’re done, go pick up a copy. These stories are that good, you’ll lose sleep.


MT I really enjoyed THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY. Kareem became a hero because of circumstance not because of amazing prodigy. It was equal parts crime story and temporal switch, and while I never really understood what was happening to our hero’s memory, I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief to be convinced. Where did you find the inspiration for this compelling short?

PC Yeah, that’s the nice thing about short stories, not every detail needs to be supplied, some can be left for the reader to ponder. In this case, why Kareem remembers the future is never explained, but the implication is that he’s wrapped up in the fate of his brother.

Racial profiling is a big deal in our society, and not just for law enforcement. We make all sorts of judgement about people based on appearance without an iota of reason behind our conclusions. Often, these attitudes are subconscious and we don’t realize we’re pigeonholing people based on their race, their gender, etc. And that got me thinking about how awful it would be for someone to be caught up in a dragnet. I liked the quandary the story posed — that Kareem has knowledge of future events, is entirely innocent, but is powerless to get anyone to believe him.

MT The ending to THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY made me think that this might be the first installation in a series. Do you have plans to develop Kareem and Deb? If so what can you tell us about them.

PC I’m tempted. It really depends on how much readers warm to the story. If there’s interest in a sequel, I’d love to write one and so deliberately left the ending open for that reason. And besides, stories have ends, but life goes on. I wanted to show that our glimpse into their day was just one chapter of the larger story that is their lives.

MT How did you become involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

PC I was a late substitute, the guy called off the bench at the last minute. Jason Gurley reached out to me and asked me if I had any stories lying around that might suit an anthology. I didn’t, so I started hammering the keyboard. I’m glad he asked or this story would never have seen the light of day.

MT THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY seems like a bit of genre departure for you, compared to your bibliography. It is less classic science fiction and more speculative. Are you branching out?

PC Good writers challenge themselves. When choosing a story, I look for something that is both interesting to me from an exploratory perspective and technically challenging in one way or another. My latest novel, FEEDBACK was written largely because the storyline is so audacious I wanted to see if I could actually pull it off. I think I did, but I guess you’ll have to check the reader reviews to see if they agree. When it came to THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY, it was the challenge of not taking the easy path. I wanted to avoid the tried and tested scifi I love and dabble. Oh, and I loved the title. It’s anachronistic throwback to the pulp stories of the 50s, which hooked me right into the project.

MT I am very interested in the tools and processes other writers use to create their works. In THE MAN WHO REMEMBERS TODAY you have a impressive collection of action scenes. These are notoriously difficult scenes to write, especially with detail and clarity and you pulled them off well. How do you treat scenes like this? Do you use any special tools or techniques when writing action?

PC Normally, I’d do a mind map of a story, but with this story I couldn’t help but dive right in. When editing, though, I listen to my stories read back to me by the computer. By involving two senses while revising (sight and sound) I find I can get a good feel for the rhythm of a story.

MT In the afterword to your story you talk about the value of short fiction. And about how it has inspired some excellent movie productions. I usually dislike most film productions based on a novel length books, finding that the screen writers, directors, and editors necessarily need to chop up a perfectly good story in order to cram it into a watchable movie length. It occurs to me that short form may actually lend itself to this sort of transformation much better. Do you think this is true? If so, explain why, for instance, short fiction like Philip K Dick’s THE MINORITY REPORT makes a better film.

PC Novels establish character by peering inside the mind of a protagonist, which is something no movie can ever do. As much as I love watching a good movie, even with all their special effects they can never achieve the level of immersion you find in a novel. If stories are an iceberg, then the movie is all you see above the waterline, while the book is everything in the depths below. I think short stories and novellas work better as movies precisely because they’re a closer match. Like movies, they don’t have time to establish character familiarity and rely on interactions to reveal subtleties.

MT Was THE MAN WHO REMEMBERS TODAY something you had sitting in a drawer or did you write if specifically for the FROM THE INDIE SIDE anthology.

PC It was a vague what-if idea in the back of my mind that would have never been written outside of an anthology. Having written it, though, I’m now more interested in the short story format. Ideas are easy, execution is hard. The nice thing about a short story is the execution of the idea is that little bit easier. I look at what Jason Gurley has done with his short stories THE CARETAKER and THE DARK AGE and I’m inspired to write more in this manner. Being part of FROM THE INDIE SIDE has shown me that high-quality short stories are every bit as important as full length novels.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.

PC Oh, I don’t know that I’ve been discovered just yet. Indie writing is tough. You’ve got to be incredibly patient. It’s a slow, long hill to climb, but writers are not in competition with each other. We’re in competition with Candy Crush and Facebook, reality television and movies. I smile whenever someone says they couldn’t put a book down because it means reading was more important to them than a dozen other distractions. Reading is chicken soup for the soul.

How does an upcoming author get discovered? By respecting the reader. Books are cheap. Even at fifty bucks a copy, a book’s financial cost is pittance. The real cost is the reader’s time. I try to never lose sight of that.

Writing a novel is relatively easy if you stick with it. Getting someone to read your novel, that’s the challenge. The only way to get read by a broad variety of people is by showing the utmost respect for your readers, by refining and revising, and that’s something I’ve found takes time and growth in maturity. With half a dozen books to my name, I feel like I’m only just learning to write.

It takes time and exposure to grow as a writer so get something out there. Polish your work. Get involved in writing workshops. Refine, revise and edit. Personally, I’m growing from one paragraph to the next.

MT Does music influence you while you write? You’ve got a list of favorites on your web site and I’m wondering if you crank up U2 or Dire Straits when you sit down and bang out the next chapter.

PC I write to all sorts of music, from Norah Jones to David Bowie, John Mayer to INXS and, as you note, U2 and Dire Straits. I don’t know that it influences what I write, but I deeply appreciate music with a heartfelt message. Chasing pirates by Norah Jones, as an example, is a song about a book she was reading that kept her up all night. I’d love to know the title of that book, and would like to imagine my writing can be just as inspiring.

MT I take it you have a day job. A commute. You have a family that requires your attention too. The standard twenty-first century responsibility package. How do you make time for writing? Does your writing space reflect this?

PC Yes, I work for a company that conducts performance tests of computer applications. I have a 45 minute commute each way, and I’m torn between Twitter, Facebook and reading books while on the bus. I’m a reader wrestling with the same demands and distractions as everyone else. Reality TV was the best thing that ever happened to my writing career, driving me away from the television. Once the kids are in bed, I’ll try to get in anywhere from 60-90 minutes writing. My wife is very long-suffering in this regard, as she knows how much I enjoy getting lost in a fictional universe.

Thank you for your interest in my writing and all the best in your writing career.

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Interview with Author Jason Gurley

Talented illustrator and amazing author, Jason Gurley has had an excellent premier year. He opened the anthology FROM THE INDIE SIDE with an excellent piece THE WINTER LANDS that I thoroughly enjoyed. It took me back to late nights, sitting in front of a tiny black and white Zenith watching Tales from the Dark Side and I, for one, would love to see the Winter Lands become something much larger.

Jason and I sat down and exchanged some ideas and I got his take on a lot, everything from the genesis of THE WINTER LANDS to where his writing career might be headed. I hope you enjoy the interview, and when you’re done, go pick up a copy of FROM THE INDIE SIDE.


MT THE WINTER LANDS seems like a wonderful introduction to The Winter Lands. Sort of the Old Man’s introduction to the Wardrobe. Do you have any plans to expand on this tale?

JG Thanks! I didn’t know that it would end up being the story that opens the book. Susan May, David Gatewood and Brian Spangler — who are responsible for making this book happen — made that choice, and I confess it feels a bit like an honor. I’ve published several short stories recently, and I’ve begun hearing from readers who really want to see the worlds continue. I don’t ever like to say never, but “The Winter Lands” feels as if it’s said everything that it needed to say.

MT I really liked that THE WINTER LANDS was the story of a story teller telling a story. (Read that again if you haven’t already read THE WINTER LANDS). It was the literary equivalent of a Tales from the Dark Side all on its own. It felt like the icy equivalent to Zelazny’s walking in shadow with the potential for a little Gulliver’s Travels mixed in. What influenced you when you wrote this short? How did you create the portal to THE WINTER LANDS?

JG THE WINTER LANDS wasn’t actually the story I planned on contributing to the anthology. I had a couple of stories in mind, both of which began their lives as short comic scripts. One of them, “The Caretaker”, has since been written and published. I banged away at the other — which, for lack of a better title, has always been called “My Father Who Travels Through Time” — for weeks, and was never really happy with how it was going. There’s a great story there, and one I’ll probably finish this year or next — my wife may have actually solved it for me, but that’s another story altogether — but it wasn’t quite clicking this time.

THE WINTER LANDS just started with an image, like most of my stories do. I can’t say what that image is — to do so would spoil the story — but for those who have read it, it’s the big finish of the story. For me, almost all of my stories start with an image or a question. The Man Who Ended the World began that way, with an image of a man alone in a bunker, watching the apocalypse happen on TV. I have a dozen or more voice memos saved on my iPhone — I usually get story ideas when I’m driving, so I dictate notes to myself for later. Most of those stories are unwritten, and might always be, but they’re compelling ideas. I hate to let them vanish without at least acknowledging that they happened, whether I ever actually do anything with them or not.

Some of my ideas are atrocious, and should never be explored further.

MT I know, from interviewing Michael Bunker, that you brought him into the group. How did you become involved with FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

JG Well, that would be Brian Spangler’s doing. He approached me after he and Susan and David had already put the project together, and had signed on a bunch of authors. I think — but am not positive — that I was originally the last addition to the group. I’m still surprised that anybody thinks of me for these things, so of course I said I’d contribute a story. I can’t remember whose idea it was that I would design the cover. Might have been Brian’s, might have been mine.

In any case, soon after I joined, one or two authors had to bow out of the project. I suggested the creators talk to Michael Bunker and Peter Cawdron, and before I knew it, they were on-board and done with their stories. (In fact, I think Michael and Peter finished theirs before I even finished mine. Indies are fast.)

MT I know from reading your posts on KBoards that you’ve had a pretty good first year. Congratulations! To what do you attribute your successes in self-publishing?

JG Thanks! I don’t know what I expected at the beginning of 2013, but the year was much more interesting than anything I could have imagined. For me the measure of success isn’t all about the numbers, but about the connections I’ve gotten to make with readers and other authors. I’ve been incredibly fortunate this year to discover that not only did a few people want to read my books, they also liked them enough to tell their friends about them. They’ve shown up on Facebook and Twitter to tell me what they think of the books, they’ve emailed me and told me some very personal things about how my work has made them feel. It’s so surprising that anybody at all cares what I’m writing, and I’m grateful for every last person who gives my work a shot.

Along the way, I’ve also gotten to meet some truly inspiring authors, most of them independent authors like me. These are people who work day jobs, write in their stolen free time, publish books, then go do it again. They set the bar pretty high for people like me. They make me better at all of this. (Which isn’t to say that I don’t have a long way to go. I have so far to go.)

MT What are you doing differently or planning on changing during your second year? And how do you expect these changes will help you with as you publish more?

JG Oh, I’m not changing anything. I mean, I don’t think I’ve really thought about it quite like that. All I want to do is keep telling stories, and I’ll do that as quickly or as slowly as I am able to. I have an extraordinarily satisfying career as a designer, and in my spare time — usually after my little girl has gone to bed, after we’ve built Lego towers or banged out off-key tunes on her little green piano — I get to make up stories. Life’s pretty good already. I’m extraordinarily fortunate. I don’t know what sort of changes I could possibly make.

MT I am very interested in how other authors manage their creative process. Take us through the creation of THE WINTER LANDS. Where and when do you write? Do you have a planning process you use when you write a story or is it more ad lib? Are there any unusual tools in your tool box or critical things you must have at hand to write?

JG I write in stolen moments. That wasn’t always the case. For years I’ve worked on a novel called Eleanor, and for most of those years everything had to be just right: silence, the right lighting, etc. I was very picky. But I was a kid, and now I have a kid, and my wife and I have a house full of pets, and neighbors who put their trash out at two a.m., and we live not that far from a major road, so there are traffic sounds all day, or sirens — in short, all of the kind of distractions that would have made it hard for me to write when I was younger. But this is my life now, and writing is only a small part of that, and so I write when I can. Usually that’s at eleven p.m., or for fifteen minutes before I go to work. Now and then I’ll have a stretch of hours, and I’ll produce a huge amount of work — but I’ve gotten good at making enormous progress in small snatches of time. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll get a thousand words down.

THE WINTER LANDS wasn’t planned at all. I do outline sometimes, but I didn’t in this case. I just let the story tell itself, and it turned out kind of slow and patient and weird, and that was the best part. I had no idea what was coming next, other than that image I was working towards at the end.

MT I’ve read and enjoyed your personal stories concerning literary agents. I can understand the idea and appeal of getting made by a big ink house — having someone else to do some of the plentiful leg work would be nice all on its own — but you seem to be doing okay right now and, if anything, your star is on the rise. Yet you wrote “[That] email nearly ruined my evening. It immediately made me doubt ELEANOR and all of the years I’ve spent on her. I thought: Maybe I should put ELEANOR in a drawer, and do something else. I commiserated with other authors, who said all the right things, and I ignored them, and moped.” Why do you think this sort of rejection cuts so deeply? Why do we, as writers, want representation or endorsement from an institution that we clearly don’t need?

JG Dean Wesley Smith has a wonderful series of articles that he’s collected into a book. They’re called “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing”, and I wish that I’d read them before I talked with that agent recently. They’re a remarkable bit of perspective about how dramatically the publishing world is changing, and really underscore one wonderful truth: These days, writers don’t really need anybody to help them publish. They can just publish.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I can tell you that for as long as I can remember I’ve been in love with the romanticized nature of being an author. I think this comes from movies, or from reading afterwords by authors who describe the glorious route to publication as a hard-fought battle, but one with immense reward waiting just beyond the gates. I think I had this illusion for years about publishing that was very perverse — it celebrated the author, not the book; it celebrated notoriety, not writing. I had this idea of rooftop cocktail parties to celebrate book launches, or lecture tours to packed auditoriums — things like that. And I can’t speak for anyone else, like I said, but for me, that sort of dream was not only completely inaccurate, but completely impossible. I am a massive introvert. If someone threw a rooftop cocktail party to celebrate my book, I’d probably want to hide in a corner, then sneak out early and go home and watch a movie or something. For me to do any of these things, I have to mentally prepare myself, then do them, then take hours and hours for myself to recover from having done them. Being that kind of author would turn me into a wreck in a heartbeat.

But this past year has taught me so much about publishing. For all of the years that I’ve been writing, I craved the status of being a published author. I wanted an agent. I wanted an editor I could have a beer with. I wanted to be part of the in-crowd of the publishing world. What’s missing from all of that?

Readers.

And I’d rather have a wonderful relationship with my readers than with an agent any day.

MT You are a fan of apocalypse fiction. What about these survival stories keeps you coming back for more? Is there a specific kind of sub-genre that you enjoy more than others, for instance zombie fiction, and why? Is there a critical component, or universal thread that you think runs through the best examples of this kind of fiction?

JG Loneliness.

As I get older, I wonder if the reason that I’m drawn to these kinds of stories is that I’m as introverted as I am. When I was a kid, you might find me playing with my friends… but it was just as common to find me climbing a tree in our front yard with a book, or sitting on our rooftop, reading. I’ve always liked being alone. So when I discovered books that told stories about the rest of the planet just… disappearing, I was enthralled. I read all of the books like that I could get my hands on. Earth Abides. Alas, Babylon. The Stand.

One of my very favorite short stories is called “The Silent Towns”, and it’s part of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, which I try to read a couple of times a year. (My own Movement books are a sort of homage to Bradbury’s.) Like most of the stories in the book, “The Silent Towns” takes place on Mars, once mankind has moved in and set up cities and highways and made the planet its own. One day war breaks out on Earth, and everybody on Mars flies back to the homeworld. But a man named Walter Gripp stays, and the story of his daily routines was marvelous to me. He goes into a deli and makes a sandwich and pays for it, though nobody is there to notice. He’s all alone, and loves it. And one day a phone in a nearby house rings, and he discovers that while he’s the last man on Mars, he isn’t the only human on Mars. There’s a woman named Genevieve Selsior somewhere on the planet. The story of how Walter and Genevieve meet, and then the story of how Walter ends up alone again — and that wonderful final image of him just sitting in the middle of a highway on a folding lawn chair — is a near-perfect encapsulation of what I love about these kinds of tales.

But the current spate of apocalypse stories that you see in theaters has done very little for me. I get bored by stories that involve zombies and mutants and vampires and children who become ’the one’ and so forth. I’ve been looking for the perfect apocalypse story for years, one that captures the sheer loneliness of it all, without needing to inject the traditional dramatic structure of villains and hero’s journeys and such. And I think I found them, finally, a few years ago. Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD left me breathless. It was exactly the book I’d always been looking for.

And then, oddly enough, the perfect apocalypse movie came along, too. It wasn’t the film adaptation The Road, though. It was Wall-E. And not the whole movie — just the first twenty minutes or so, which play out in almost reverent silence while this little robot trundles through a world that is lifeless and marked with memories. I think I was the only person in the theatre watching those twenty minutes with damp eyes. It was exactly what I had always wanted to see.

Now that I think about it, though, I might have seen the perfect movie about loneliness years and years earlier, without even knowing it. The Black Stallion, Carroll Ballard and Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation, captured that same overpowering quietude from the moment the boy lands on a desert island. Eventually both Wall-E and The Black Stallion become rich with dialogue and action, but for those brief chapters, they are everything that I love about last-man stories.

MT I see you went to Wizard World in Portland. Do you have plans to do any more conventions in 2014? If so, where are you headed? What do you get from conventions? Why are they important to you?

JG Oh, man, was that fun. I’ve actually never done anything like that at all, and I would love to do it again. A friend of mine here in the northwest, the author Erik Wecks, had organized a few science-fiction/speculative fiction book panels at Wizard World, and invited me and other local authors to be a part of them. I’d spoken in front of crowds before, but this was my first time to talk to people about writing, about stories. One reader in the audience actually recognized me and my work, which was earth-shatteringly amazingly cool. I got to meet new readers and sign a few books. It was just fun.

I don’t have anything like this scheduled for the rest of the year, but if the opportunity arose to do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

MT Is there anything you would like to say to your readers before we sign off?

JG Thank you! So many of you risk your hard-earned money and precious time on independent authors like me, and I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I hope to keep telling stories that you all enjoy!

Interview with Author Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker at WorkMichael Bunker‘s biography only grants the reader a momentary glimpse of a truly innovative and unique mind. He has been grinding out an amazing list of stories which include dystopian sci-fi, the WICK series, The Silo Archipelago, The Last Pilgrims, and the Amish/Sci-Fi novella Pennsylvania.  His latest short, the excellent REDOUBT, is part of FROM THE INDIE SIDE and is a bit of a prequel to some of his longer form fiction. It is also an excellent example of short fiction done well.

I sat down and talked with Michael about REDOUBT, the FROM THE INDIE PROJECT and his writing. I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy his thoughtful answers as well as his formative storytelling.


MT An anthology takes a lot of outside editorial effort. Finding all the authors, ensuring that all the different works make it into the collection on time and with requisite polish, and then there are the on going business aspect of publishing and imprint that must be managed. It is a difficult proposition for traditional publishers to undertake. How were these things managed by a bunch of independents spread all the way around the Earth? Were there hurdles along the way?

MB Susan May has written a wonderful article for Suspense Magazine that outlines how the whole thing came together. But basically it was a serendipitous conflagration of events and how I ended up involved I’ll probably never really know. From my perspective, it came as a total surprise, because – you have to understand – things have changed a lot for me since I first was invited into the project. When my friend Jason Gurley first asked me if I’d be interested, I was probably by far the most unknown author of the twelve. At least that is the way I saw it. I jumped at the opportunity to be connected to these other eleven authors, and I’d do it again. But my overall footprint in the Sci-Fi world was almost non-existent when this first came together. Since then, I’ve become slightly better known, but I’m still awed to be mentioned in the same breath with any of these other professionals. As for hurdles, I was surprised that there weren’t any that I knew about, because out of all the authors in the world, we ended up with 12 that worked really well together, and who were all willing to sacrifice, if necessary, to make this thing happen.

MT Tell us about how you became involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

MB I was contacted by my friend Jason Gurley. He’d been approached to write a short story for the project, and I was fired up for him.  Secretly, I might have been a tad envious, but I really think that Jason is a great author and I want good things to happen for him, so my excitement for him squashed the envious part.  So then Jason said that they might be looking for a few more Indies and asked if I would mind if he mentioned my name to them. He said that I’d already been discussed, and he was pretty sure they’d be glad to have me, but he wanted to clear it with me first.  I jumped all over the opportunity.  To be included in this anthology was – and is – a great honor for me.

MT After FROM THE INDIE SIDE would you consider future anthology projects?

MB Absolutely. I’d love to do more of them. I’ve tried to make myself more valuable to the big guns involved with FROM THE INDIE SIDE by working my reader base and turning out a bunch of reviews. Hopefully if anyone else out there is doing one they’ll ask, because I’m all for them.  I wrote a little piece on my blog about what I think about short stories and anthologies, because I’m a huge supporter of the form, and I always have been.

MT Your contribution REDOUBT parallels the world you’ve developed in your novels WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS in that it takes place at the beginning of an American collapse shared by those books and is the result of a series of attacks. Something that is unclear and never really answered in the short story is the question of who the aggressors are. Can you provide a little background about the conflict?

MB Yes. I wrote THE LAST PILGRIMS first, and it takes place 20 years after a worldwide collapse, the root of which I only hint about in that book. The next novel was the WICK Omnibus which details the events of that collapse.  In that book I started with some events that were really happening in the world. Economic problems, the sharp and acrimonious political divide in America, and then I added two very real natural disasters: Hurricane Sandy, followed by a Nor’easter that strikes the New York area leading up to the presidential election.  The fictional part comes in when my protagonist in WICK, lost in the snowstorm in the Catskill reserve, stumbles into a prison that turns out to be part of an actual top-secret town that turns out to be a Russianized village that is a privatized spy school – utilized to turn out authentically Russian intelligence operatives that can be sent into Russia to spy for America.  That part is based on some real events and locations that happened during the Cold War.

Through this bizarre landscape, we learn of a plot by hardliners in both America and Russia to destroy America and Russia as they are in the modern age. This leads to an EMP attack over America – carried out by corporate interests serving these hardliners – and eventually a full scale nuclear exchange.  Through all of this, my goal has been to show real people and how they deal with one another, and not so much to focus on huge events and the show that is going on.  WICK, THE LAST PIGLRIMS, and REDOUBT are essentially Russian style stories. They focus more on people, the real-world consequences of philosophies, and human interactions, with action only serving to move the story along.

MT Three of your main characters have a military background (SOF and SAS) and are currently survivalist militia members waiting for a collapse. Have you served previously? Are there other experiences that you draw on to create these characters?

MB I have not served in the military, although I was raised in a military family and as a student of history and human nature have spent a good part of my life studying the subject. I also, in my younger days, spent a lot of time around militia types and have many friends in lots of different political/social camps – including militia members, and people who are hostile to anything paramilitary.  The main background of THE LAST PILGRIMS, and therefore REDOUBT though was that TLP was written as a direct modernization of the story of the Ancient Waldenses. A religious community that lived in the Alps for centuries despite numerous genocidal attempts to destroy them as a people. So my military characters are almost all directly drawn from real life individuals in history who lived with and protected the Waldenses.

MT Near the end of REDOUBT there is an exchange between Phillip and Geoffrey in which the Taos artists says, “I don’t have any [politics] left. Except this place. This place is my politics.” Considering where and how he lives before the attacks, I found this sentiment a lot more believable than his earlier characterization. Why was it important to you or the story to make this Taos based artist a “socialist/communist” in the first place?

MB I wanted to have these wildly different characters who came from very different backgrounds. Goffrey Byrd who is the artist, is based on several real life people who I’ve known and befriended who have self-identified as socialists or communists, when in fact, once pressed really only adopted those labels as a way to be different and to shock some people while ingratiating themselves with others.  So I modeled Goffrey after some real artists.  My parents have a rental home in Angel Fire, New Mexico, only miles from the location I describe in the book, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Taos talking to people and drinking coffee. So many beatniks and hipsters and society dropouts who hang out in Taos identify themselves as socialists and communists, but I found that when I really got to know them, they had almost no political foundation at all. They were just like me, in fact. They just wanted to live life and be left alone.  That was their real politics.

MT Was REDOUBT something you had sitting a drawer or did you write it for the anthology?

MB Busted! I wrote REDOUBT originally as an Epilogue for WICK. Something that would lead into a third novel (or series) that would tie WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS together. It was quite a bit longer, and it really ended with a cliffhanger.  When I talked to Brian Spangler and others about a story for the anthology, I was encouraged to use the story if it would introduce a whole new audience to my other works. So at first I submitted the longer REDOUBT story for FROM THE INDIE SIDE.  After thinking about it awhile, I realized that first – I shouldn’t end an anthology story with a cliffhanger, and also I didn’t want to introduce a whole bunch of ancillary conflicts that are not resolved in the story. So, I ended up pulling the submission and re-writing REDOUBT so that it became a shorter story, and one that had an ending that said what I wanted it to say, without it angering people by leaving the story with a cliffhanger. In the original story, there was a lot more about what was going on in Taos, which becomes “New Rome” in THE LAST PILGRIMS novel.

MT You live and work on a farm, take care of a family, and, without a doubt, you are a prolific writer. I often wonder how much time you put in on a day-to-day basis and where that time comes from given your other obligations and responsibilities.

MB I have a wonderful family, including four children – three of whom are either adults or teenagers. I’ve reached an age where my wife and family are really able to handle most of the farm requirements, which allows me to write full time.  I work at writing just like it is a full-time job. I am at my desk usually at 7:30 in the morning, and I work straight through until I’m done. Sometimes that is 5 p.m., sometimes it goes on until midnight.  I have a goal I try to hit every day, and I try to work until I’ve reached my goal.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.

MB Well, I don’t think anyone has figured out the ins and outs of discoverability. There is a natural Catch-22 there, and I’ve talked about this in some of my blog posts. If ever the “way” is figured out and broadcast, everyone would do it, and it would instantaneously cease to work.

Discoverability is like Atlantis, or the Fountain of Youth. Maybe it is out there, but I don’t know where. I’m not sure anyone knows how it works or where they are. All we can do is increase the likelihood that IF someone finds us, they like us and want more of what we write.

There are three concrete things Indies can do to help themselves.

  • Write and publish. Build a backlist. It is possible for someone to have a hit book with their first title (and with nothing else out there,) but it is very, very unlikely. Too many authors go all-in to try to make their first novel a hit, without realizing that statistically your first novel sucks, and realistically – if there is nothing else out there for readers to buy, then they might be unwilling to take a shot on a debut title AND think that it is representative of what the author will continue to produce. There are some great debut titles, and some turn in to hits (people win the lottery)  – it just isn’t likely to happen to you or anyone you know. The answer is to work hard, and publish a lot.
  • Get better. Since in every field of endeavor people tend to improve as they practice and work at their chosen field, your next books is most likely going to be better than this one. Especially if you are studying to make your writing improve. So keep writing AND improve your skill at writing.
  • Be Nice. Say “yes” to opportunities, be a good member of the community, and try to help others.  All the marketing and promotion stuff – to me – is secondary. It is an afterthought after these three things. That way when the time to be “discovered” happens, you’ve increased the probability that what the discoverer finds, is worthwhile and can ignite into something much larger. There tends to be streams or paths of least resistance, which readers follow to find the things they might want to read. You usually cannot force your way into that stream. You have to grow into being a part of what people are looking for. Sometimes Indies get frustrated because there is no “Easy” button, or some system they can use that is guaranteed to work. And answers like mine only increase that frustration – but that is just because I don’t know how to be found, break out, or be successful at this.  I’m still trying to figure it out myself. All I know is that when I publish more, improve, and be nice, better things start happening for me.

MT I believe science fiction today is trending toward the dystopian. Many new stories are more survival epic than space opera. You write a great deal about what happens after the end of everything as we know it. Do you agree that this trend exists, and if so why?

MB I agree that it exists. Absolutely. I’m just against dystopia or post-apocalypticism being lumped in with Sci-Fi. I am not a Sci-Fi writer (Ok, with Amish/Sci-Fi I am, but still…). It is by accident of historical genre manipulation by companies that sell and categorize books that I am a sci-fi writer. I think there can be dystopianism or PA in Sci-Fi, but for the most part realistic dystopian and PA titles should not be considered Sci-Fi.

They are only considered Sci-Fi because there is world building, and usually it takes place in the future, and sometimes that imagined reality involves some technology that isn’t currently widespread.

Now, to answer your question. Why? Why is dystopianism popular today, and why is Sci-Fi really trending more dystopian? I think it is because we live in a world that is very troubling right now. There have always been pessimists, but I don’t think they’ve ever outnumbered the optimists. Not even close to doing so, probably. I think those numbers are probably growing closer together today. You know, I am a great pessimist, but I think I write optimistic fiction.  Whereas someone like my friend Hugh Howey, who is a great and evangelistic optimist, seems to me to write more pessimistic fiction. If that strange scenario is what is really happening, then maybe more Sci-Fi writers today are actually very optimistic about the future of the world! It’s just that I’m not. Because I’m a pessimist (mostly).

MT I am very interested in the tools other authors use to create their works. Give us a rundown of what your writing space looks like. What are the tools you keep in your tool box? Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? Is there anything you’re unhappy with or is there a feature request that you have for a particular tool?

MB I have a great work space.  I have an almost 600 square foot office that is a separate building on my property. It is almost solely used as my work space.  I have a huge library in my office, and I have a really ideal environment for creating.  I live off-grid, so my office is powered by alternative energy sources (solar power and a backup generator).  Ideally, I’d like to increase the amount of power I have available (for printers and perhaps some larger monitors) but I’m really happy with my space. I think I have all the tools I need, since I rely on some really talented people to do a lot of the graphic and formatting work.

MT Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we sign off?

MB I’m just glad to be asked to do this, and I appreciate the opportunity!

State of the Short: From the Indie Side – Sci-Fi Anthology

From The Indie Side

From The Indie Side

Let me make one thing clear before we being. I am not a professional book reviewer. I am not an editor, nor do I possess the critical eye necessary to be a very good one. That said, I like to read. And I know what I like when I read it. And, when I’m reading with my eyes and not my ears (thanks Audible), I usually spend a good deal of time deconstructing what I love, as well as what bothers me.

If you were to get your hands on my iPad you could open up my Kindle app and review pages and pages of notes and highlights in just about any novel resident in my library. I rarely if ever sit down with a paperback without a highlighter and a pencil. I’ve even been known to flow chart story lines, just so I can get the low orbital view of a book’s landscape. So while I’m not an editor or a reviewer, you might say that I enjoy understanding why one thing works while another may not.

I have been a long time fan of short-form fiction. Anthologies are even better because they bring so many yummy bite sized piece together. Paolo Bacigalupi won a devoted fan with Pump Six and Other Stories. What a roller coaster ride of dystopic fancy. And I’ve made it my mission to read, and re-read, anyone who ever contributed to METAtropolis largely because each and every one of those stories were just that good. And sometimes I open these books just to read one at a sitting, and it always feels like I’m plucking the best chocolate from the box.

Recently I picked up an advanced copy of From the Indie Side from Michael Bunker. He is one of a number of independent authors, some well established and some writing their way up through the ranks, who made a contribution to this anthology.

From the Indie Side does not fail to deliver. You will discover dark chocolates that require a nice glass of red to fully appreciate and lighter, sweeter morsels that will delight. It has a little something for everyone and since completing it cover to cover I’ve enjoyed going back and re-reading everything from Jason Gurley’s The Winter Lands and his dark, luxuriant pros to Hugh Howey’s well told coming of age tale Mouth Breathers.

What is, perhaps, even more interesting about this anthology is that it is all independent authors. Somehow, all of these people managed to set aside enough time to pen tales within a genre, that could then be collected together. It is a true collective artistic endeavor with the same quality and polish you might expect from a Big Ink publishing company. But there was no outside, organizing power, no invisible hand of the publisher moving money and time around to make this anthology possible.

That gives me a renewed sense of hope that this Indie business can be made to work. That people can overcome their inherent differences and the physical challenges of distance and time to produce such a fine anthology tells me that short form fiction still has a place.