Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, July 31, 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Z" is for "Zero Hour"

"I packed my bags last night pre-flight
Zero hour nine a.m."
- Elton John and Bernie Taupin

In a strange way I never thought this moment would come.  Intellectually, yes, when I agreed to take on this 26 Week Blog Challenge some five-odd months ago, I knew that July 29th would be my final post.  There was even a point in time where I was planning posts well in advance.  I knew, for instance, that for R I would want to cover "Red Adept" and for F I would talk about "Fat Zombie" and so forth.  But Z?  Z seemed like a cipher.

Z is a cipher.  Not quite the cipher that X is.  X is the great unknown, the variable.  The X-Factor.  The X-Files.  But Z is similarly odd.  Stationed at the end of the alphabet, rarely used (except, like its pluckier, cruciform brother, in algebra) Z is kind of a strange animal.  It's not useless.  Z is a distinctive sound, unlike, say, its bastard cousin C who serves literally no purpose.  All the heavy lifting that C does could be done by S and K, without the added confusion of having to guess which it is.  So, in a way, C is a liability to the alphabet rather than an asset.

Not so with Z.  Z is distinct, albeit, rarely used.  Maybe that's for the best.


I suppose I'm getting off track.  Not that there really is a track for blogposts.  Sometimes you want them to be short and concise.  Sometimes you want them to be endless and rambling.  That's part of their beauty and their mystique, I suppose.  Sometimes I click on a link and get hit with a one-two punch.  Other times I get slowly drawn in to a lengthy, morphia-laden argument.  Other times I don't get drawn in and give up after a paragraph or two.

But this post is supposed to be about endings.  Zero hour.  Launch day.  It's a beginning and an ending.  The 26 Week Blog Challenge is at an end.  I am, as far as I can tell, the only survivor.  I have been for quite some time now.  By rights, I suppose I could have just thrown in the towel once I was the last participant left and claimed my "prize" (which I assume to be a Highlander-style super-Quickening.)  But I really liked having this challenge to keep me on track for my blogging this year, as I've talked about ad nauseum in the past.

Now it's kind of like there will be a hole in my schedule.  What am I supposed to do on Wednesdays from now on?  I mean, sure, it's nice that if I feel like throwing in a laughing chicken meme or something, I don't have to worry about cranking out 500 words on the meaning of humor.  But on the other hand, I'll have no structure.  Structure is constricting but it's also freeing in a way.  I never had to worry about, "What post will I do on Wednesday?" I just had to worry about "What will I write about for the challenge this week?"


I suppose I'm getting maudlin.  That's the way I get at the conclusion to things.  Thanks for sticking with me for these past 26 weeks, everybody.  We'll be back next week of course, but with something...different.  And as for me, I'm off back to Hobbiton.  Take care!

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Person I Admire

I've always had trouble accepting help.  We don't need to go into the psychosexual justifications for that now, though I'm sure it was a function of various elements of my upbringing.  I was just always the sort of person who would rather suffer through on my own than ask for anything from anybody.  One of the hardest parts for me of my military service was accepting the absolute necessity of accepting help from others, relying on others, depending on essentially complete strangers.

I can still recall with crystal clarity lying flat on my back in full gear when a battle buddy reached out a hand to help me up.  My natural instinct was to roll over, force myself to my knees, and find my way up from there without anybody's help.  But I took his hand - a literal helping hand - and was on my feet in an instant.  It always stuck in my memory because, though tiny, it was quite symbolic for me.

Let me tell you a story about a person I admire.  I don't often do this - in fact, I'm not certain I've ever done this - but I thought it might not be a terrible idea.  A sort of an anonymous PROFILES IN COURAGE entry, if you will.

This person was (I believe) a lot like me.  Refused to take help.  Didn't want anyone to see her vulnerable.  As a result, she got stuck in a very bad situation.  I've been in one or two bad situations in my life, and I wouldn't wish something like that on my worst enemy.  Well, maybe my worst enemy, but I digress.

This person decided enough was enough.  She picked up her whole life, packed it into three pieces of luggage, and got on a bus.  She'd never been on a bus before.  Never been outside of an XYZ radius of her home before.  And with nothing but three bags, a bus ticket, and the sheer grit of a fighter, moved across the country.

"In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
'I am leaving, I am leaving.'
But the fighter still remains..."

I don't think I could do that.  I still don't think I could do that.  You know, not to make things political, but there's been a lot of talk on Facebook and social media these days about what constitutes "courage."  There are people who would like you to believe that only a man being shot at in a war is capable of courage.  And that is a kind of courage, and a tough kind of courage, and a very cinematic kind of courage, and the kind that lends itself to being used as an example.

But as a man who's been shot at in a war, I'm here to tell you that sometimes courage isn't sexy.  Sometimes it doesn't lend itself to being made into a movie starring John Wayne.  Sometimes the struggle is completely invisible.  Sometimes it's just waking up in the morning, or putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes it's a drama that doesn't seem like a big deal when you're on the outside of it.  Sometimes it's just being who you are.  And sometimes it's discovering where you belong.  And for that I admire my friend and anyone who can be courageous in that way.  That's a courage I don't have.  Here's to you!

Two fight songs in one post?  Yeah, that's right.  You got two fight songs in one post.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Five Concerns While Writing MIDNIGHT BURNING (Interview With Karissa Laurel, Author of MIDNIGHT BURNING)

Happy Friday, everybody!  Today we have a very special present for you, a visit from our good friend Karissa Laurel!  (Editor's Note: the statements of the owner and proprietor of Manuscripts Burn do not necessarily reflect the views of Manuscripts Burn.)  Let's meet the author and then jump right into her post!

About Karissa Laurel:

Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between.

Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you’ll find her on the slopes.

Karissa also crafts, paints, draws, and harbors a grand delusion that she might create a graphic novel someday.

You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and her blog.

Guest Post

1: Avoiding the Mary Sue.

Simply put, a Mary Sue is a character the author identifies with so strongly that the story is distorted by it. Another way to say it is that a Mary Sue is an idealized character, often but not necessarily a case of the author inserting himself/herself into the story, and/or wish-fulfillment.

If you research the Mary Sue topic, you start to wonder if it’s possible to write a character who doesn’t fall into some Mary Sue sub-category. It’s a long rabbit hole with no bottom and spending too much time dwelling on it means never finding the courage to write a single word. I wrestled a lot with whether or not Solina was simply an extension of myself, fulfilling some innate wish for adventure and magic. In defense of Mary Sues, to some extent all characters and stories are wish fulfillments, aren’t they? If writer’s had no wishes, would there be any stories?

The key, I think, is subtlety and balance, and that comes with practice, repeated trials and failures, learning from mistakes, reading a lot of other people’s writing, and listening to beta readers and editors. Solina was developed in layers, improving in each draft and revision of the story. Sometimes I tweaked, sometimes I performed major surgery, always trying to get her right. She’s probably still not perfectly written, but it’s a goal I always work towards.

2: Giving My Main Character Agency.

One of my favorite blogs is Terribleminds, written by Chuck Wendig. I credit him for introducing me to the concept of character agency. It’s something, as reader, I was probably aware of on a subconscious level, but he was the first to point it out in a way I really understood. His blog post titled, How “Strong Female Characters” Still End Up Weak And Powerless (Or, “Do They Pass The Action Figure Test?”) made me aware of considerations I needed to make, and probably hadn’t been making, when it came to empowering Solina to be a true Main Character.

Wendig says agency is a character’s power to make decisions (i.e. “choices”) that affect the direction of the story. In my own words, it means putting my character behind the wheel and making them do the driving. In the early drafts of MIDNIGHT BURNING, Solina was a lot more passive. Often things happened to her without her say, and she trundled along behind the plot or the other characters like a dutiful caboose. Instead of acting, she was frequently reacting. Over the course of many revisions Solina crept forward and eventually took control of the engine, and the story is so much better because of it.

3: Passing the “Bechdel Test”

My career, both as a writer and in my “day job” has depended a lot on the coaching, mentorship, and teamwork of other women. Portraying positive female relationships (as opposed to “catty” women fighting over a man) was an important feature I wanted to include in this book.

Passing the Bechdel test means having at least two female characters; who talk to each other; about something other than a man. Solina wouldn’t have lasted long without her loyal friend, Skyla Ramirez, an ex-marine. These two women make a pretty unstoppable duo. I won’t say Solina and Skyla never discuss the male characters in the book (sometimes in romantic terms, even), but they are primarily focused on achieving their goal, and their goal is to find whoever killed Solina’s brother and bring that person to justice. I think I can safely say the majority of the interactions between Skyla and Solina exist for that purpose.

4: Respecting the Mythology

World building is so much more than creating imaginary, magical lands in long ago or faraway places. It is not simply a collection of maps and geography. At its heart, world building is the establishment of rigorous rules and parameters that the plot and characters will interface with throughout a story. The more consistently these rules are applied and enforced, the better the story as a whole. Plot holes often result from not respecting those rules, and if not plot holes, then angry readers who don’t appreciate convenient rule-breaking to get around plot problems.

The world I built in MIDNIGHT BURNING relies a lot on Norse mythology. A reader does not have to know the mythology to follow along with or enjoy the story, but for me it was the basis of the law, the rules, the parameters by which I built the world Solina lived in. As much as I possibly could, I stuck to the original myths and tried not to take too many liberties or broad interpretations. When I faced plot problems, I went back to the myths to look for solutions.

I will admit, however, that sometimes the myths were vague, and in those instances, I used them in the way that benefited my story. Once it was written in, though, I tried my best to never change it.

5: Handling Male and Female Relationships

As I said before, the way Solina interacted with Skyla was important to me. Almost as important was how Solina interacted with the two main male characters, Val and Thorin, and how they interacted with her. Okay, yes, the men are both two sides of an Alpha Male coin, but I wanted to avoid overtly negative male and female interactions, unless it was strongly supported by character and plot. And most of the time, I found that plot and character rarely supported it.

Specifically, I wanted MIDNIGHT BURNING to shun sensational violence, especially sexual violence, perpetrated by men against women. And by sensational I mean violence used only to manipulate a reader’s emotions. I also wanted to have Solina’s interaction with her male counterparts, over time, reach a level of mutual equality, if not respect. They may not always get along or agree, but they’ll face each other as equals as often as possible.

I want to say more about how male and female relationships develop as Solina’s story progresses (and as this series progresses in forthcoming books) but I don’t know how to do it without spoilers. There will be a lot of growing and changing and evolving. But if you want to know what influences my thoughts on this issue, see Kameron Hurley’s WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUGHT which changed a lot about how I perceive and write women characters.

I know I haven’t gotten it all exactly right, but writing is a living, breathing, changing pursuit. I hope to continually improve and progress. I expect to never stop trying to be better.


Solina Mundy lives a quiet life, running the family bakery in her small North Carolina hometown. But one night, she suffers a vivid nightmare in which a wolfish beast is devouring her twin brother, who lives in Alaska. The next morning, police notify her that Mani is dead. Driven to learn the truth, Solina heads for the Land of the Midnight Sun. Once there, she begins to suspect Mani’s friends know more about his death than they’ve let on. Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.

As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Mani’s death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani’s friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world. If she can’t learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.

Purchase it now on the publisher's website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, kobo, or the iBookstore!  And make sure to tell your friends about it on Goodreads!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Y" is for "Yes, I Almost Just Blew It"

You ever almost blow it?

You ever make it 24/26 of the way into something and then almost completely drop the ball?

I got nothing for you today.  I got nothing, so I'm going to see if I can blather on about nothing for 500 words.  If that's the kind of thing you come to my blog for, then God have mercy on your soul.  If it's not, then I suggest you check out this video of a tuba player trolling the Klan.

Wasn't that great?  I'm about 95% certain you checked out the video whether you kept reading or not.  So, yeah.  I got a good laugh out of that today.  I almost couldn't stop laughing even when they kept doing it over and over again.

Yeah.  So.  Here's the deal.

I don't know how much I've ever actually sat down and talked about this challenge.  Seven months ago (!) our good friend Tonia Brown proposed the 26-Week Blog Challenge.  I'm pretty sure I had already declared 2015 the Year of Interviewing Dangerously.  At that point I realized that bringing both on board would be a great opportunity to keep myself on track for blogging this year.

The first year I blogged, I posted every day.

Let me repeat that:



Seven days a week.  Now, at that point (2009) I was still "burning" manuscripts, which some of my newer followers may not even remember.  Every author has "trunked" manuscripts, that is to say, manuscripts which should never see the light of day or are in some other way unpublishable, and end up in the trunk at the foot of their beds.  (Well, you know, back in the days when manuscripts were physical things instead of files on their computers.)

So I was posting a few of my trunked manuscripts, and since I had so much material to work with, I had no issue posting daily.  I could even throw in multimedia days and a few other things, you know, like a regular blogger, and add a little bread to my meatloaf that way.

By 2011 things had fallen off.  2011 was my worst year for blogging, just as 2009 was my best year.  And really I think the best schedule for blogging is three times a week.

So now in 2015 I'm trying to make it stick.  We've got a bunch of upcoming releases this year, so those will make for ready-made posts.  And even though the 26-Week Blog Challenge is coming to an end, I still intend to keep up posting on Wednesdays.

But I almost didn't today.  I almost dropped the ball.  It's nearly 10:30 at night.  And my normal blogging schedule is for noon.  I've just been stressed as hell this week.  But I'm doing it.  I'm struggling through.  I'm going to get there.

You know who I really admire, though?  I admire you.  For somehow getting through this.  You made it.  I think we're almost up to 500 words.  That was one of the limitations of the 26 Week Blog Challenge limitations.  I don't think I mentioned that.  But hooray!  You made it through with me.  There.  We did it.  A few sentences ago.  Now get off of my lawn.  One more to go.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fable of the Fish and the Rabbits

Once upon a time there were ninety fish.  The fish caught wind of a fine glass enclosure which they wanted to live in instead of the ocean.

As the fish were crossing the dry land they came across ten rabbits.  They decided the rabbits would be useful in doing work around their new home.  So they rounded up the rabbits and took them with them.

When the hundred animals reached their new home, they found it empty.

"It's beautiful," said the fish, "But we should fill it with seawater so we can be comfortable."

"We'd rather it stayed dry so we can be comfortable," said the rabbits.

But there were ninety fish and only ten rabbits, so the fish got their way.  To add insult to injury, they even made the rabbits do the bulk of the work filling up the glass enclosure with seawater so that it would be more comfortable for the fish.

The rabbits had to find a way to live in their new home, so they paddled away, forever exhausting themselves just to stay afloat.  They had to compete with the fish for the same food the fish ate, but of course a rabbit learning to dive is no match for a fish born to the water, so the rabbits had great trouble getting enough food.  The rabbits were constantly struggling and barely scraping by.

The fish, by contrast, were having a delightful time of it.  As they had suspected, the glass enclosure (now an aquarium) was a infinitely superior to the ocean.  They had no trouble finding food, and frolicked about all day.  You see, the fish were totally unaware of the water they were swimming in, and the advantages it gave them, and the disadvantages it gave the rabbits.

Over time things grew gradually better for the rabbits.  They adapted, such as they could.  Their legs became fin-like.  They began to breathe through blowholes.  The rabbits became dolphin-like creatures, better adapted to a life in the water.  At that point, the fish no longer even acknowledged the issues of the rabbits.

When the rabbits would complain that they breathed air, not water, the fish would shrug and pretend like it wasn't an issue.  After all, they breathed water.  And if living in a watery environment put the rabbits at a disadvantage, well, they would just have to be the ones to continue adapting.  The fish couldn't even see the water that they breathed, and that it drowned others.

And how does the fable end?  Well, I hope.  I hope the fish stop denying that they live in water.  I hope the aquarium becomes a better place for the rabbits.  But I can't be sure.  We're writing the ending now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Appear on Zombiepalooza Radio!

Zombiepalooza is one of my interview stalwarts.  I think this may be my fourth time on the podcast, although the first on their new YouTube format.  There was a lot of love for a lot of my favorite people this week including:

Steve Rimpici
Zee Risek
Sylvia Bagaglio
Renee Conoulty
Nikki Howard
Brian Keene

And unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, my long pitch on RPGlory was lost to the aether, but make sure you go and check them out anyway!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"X" is for "X-Chromosome"

I don't speak to my mother.

It's been about four years since we last spoke.  There are times I feel bad about our estrangement in a philosophical sense, but I wouldn't say I've ever felt bad because of it.  My stated purpose (to myself) was to cut the poison out of my life.

I don't speak about this.  Not in public.  Rarely in private.  I've alluded to it to some of my closer friends.  My wife and my sister know the real story.  Aside from that, it's generally too painful to even delve into.  And it's not acceptable in society at large for a son to have issues with his mother.

I don't particularly feel like talking about it now.  But I read this sloppy, sophomoric article

Everyone's entitled to their opinion.  A lot of opinions are just shit.  And this is a shitty, shitty opinion piece. 

If you haven't got the time or inclination to read it, I'll summarize it here:

Baby Boomers are awesome.

Our (as in, my) generation is a cantankerous gang of vainglorious narcissists.

If a child cuts off a parent, it's because the child is wrong, not the parent.

If you think I'm exaggerating...well, then read the fucking article.  I'm really not.

I am not trained or even particularly well-read in psychology.  Nor am I really qualified to give anyone advice unless their goal is to be a thirty-something civil servant with middling life skills.  But I can assure you of this:

If both of your adult children, independently, have cut you off, you are the problem.

I haven't noticed my generation to be particularly narcissistic.  If anything, I'd say we're hyper-aware of the power nostalgia holds over us, something I don't think our parents' generation has ever gotten over.  (There's a whole boatload of Baby Boomers who seem to get furious at the suggestion that teenagers don't know all about the '60s.  But ask them about modern pop culture and they'll say it's all shit.)  But this is more just my snark defense than anything else.  Painting millions of people with the same brush is a largely masturbatory exercise. 

I'd rather just paint Elizabeth Vagnoni, the author of this article, with a brush.  I have a whole lot of feelings about her.  But I won't.  I suspect her pain is genuine.  Hell, I suspect her bafflement is genuine.  No one likes to look at their own behavior and find fault.  No one especially wants to look at eighteen years of childrearing and find fault.

But the fault is hers.  If you're reading this, Elizabeth, I'd recommend you conduct what they call a "fearless moral inventory" in AA (which, incidentally, is usually followed by making amends.)  And I don't bring up AA to accuse you of alcoholism, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised if that was involved in your troubles somehow.

The greatest hurdle I usually find in addressing this issue is that it is one of the last great taboos.  You don't even realize it's a taboo until you find yourself estranged from your mother.  But mothers are sacred.  Mothers are beloved.  Mothers are saints and perfect and gave up everything for you, including their bodies, and you ought to get down on your hands and knees and kiss the ground that they walk on, as far as society is concerned.

And I've known mothers, plenty of mothers, hell, most mothers who deserved all of that treatment and more.  I could rattle off a few now, but you don't know any of them.  Just think of your own mother.  She's probably pretty goddamned great.

Some of us, though, not so much.  And society is not very accepting of the idea that a mother can be bad.  So unaccepting, in fact, is society of that very concept, that Elizabeth Vagnoni is totally unable to even comprehend that she might have done something wrong.  Surely, it was the narcissism of the younger generation which caused two grown adults to sever ties with her, and not anything she may have done.

Nope.  Not so.  There's such a thing as a bad mother.  And I don't just mean a sneering, mustache-twirling villain like Cersei Lannister.  They can be just as scary as Cersei Lannister when you're in their absolute power.  Most mothers hold that absolute power over their children with aplomb, and dignity, and love, and affection.

But not all.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Identity is What We Share and What We Hide (Guest Post from Jay Wilburn, author of THE DEAD SONG LEGEND)

Hey there, flayed corpse lovers!  I know we bounce around in focus here on the blog quite a bit, but today, we are getting back to motherfucking basics with a guest post from a zombie author I've admired for quite some time: the one, the only, Mr. Jaaaaaaaaaay Leno!  I mean Wilburn.

Jay has come to us today with a new book and a new album.  Let's meet the man and then jump right into the post.

About Jay Wilburn:

Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at

Guest Post:

I created a novel series that involved characters traveling back and forth across the apocalyptic, zombie infested landscape of America to gather recordings of the music of the various disparate groups of survivors thrown together and forced to survive together. The novels involved stage names, drag queens, roving gangs, and gay lead characters. I was then challenged to sum up the story in a sentence. It was a request unrelated to these particular novels, but the idea was that if you couldn’t boil the story down to one sentence then you might not truly know what it is about. It might have subtext, subplots, and multiple themes, but if a writer cannot see through all of that to the core of the novel, he or she may be too lost in those extra elements to see the real story. A paragraph summary is an action recap and can begin to sound like a five-year-old recounting his day to his parents in a rambling stream of consciousness regurgitation of events. The idea is that you have to know that single core sentence that gives the key heart of the story or none of that summary has any meaningful focus. It is a point that may be argued, but it is an approach that helped me see why stories that I write matter to be told and then to keep those stories focused. For the Dead Song Legend, I came up with “Identity is what we show people about ourselves, but it is also what we try to hide from them.”

The characters in the story withhold their true names each for his or her own reasons. This plays into who they are and who they are trying to be. The two most important characters are gay men. They have that in common, but not a lot else. Each has dealt with this aspect of identity before and after the apocalypse. One of the two is African American and the story explores how the apocalypse causes some people to leave behind prejudice as unimportant baggage for the needs of survival while others have their hatred laid bare by the stripping away of social guidelines and courtesy. One character goes by multiple names and even performs in drag along a circuit of clubs that continue to put on shows for survivors starved for entertainment.

Music plays a major role in the story. We even recorded some music as if live from the world of the novels to help tell the story. The mash-ups from the world of Dead Song are the result of groups of survivors that would not normally build a community together being thrust together by the terrors of the apocalypse and forced to do so for their survival. As their musical styles blend, they form a new group identity that represents all of them together expressed through the new, invented style. The production of music also represents people seeking to do more with their lives than just survive. It is the expression of hope and faith that one day they will be able to rebuild and reclaim life together. Afterward though, they will not be the same people or the same nation they were before. Their collective experiences will change who they are.

As the stories progress, readers will learn more about the characters and their pasts. These details will have an impact on their individual futures, but the destiny of the entire nation and world too.

The Dead Song Legend tells the story of Tiny Jones. He will be a legend in the Recovery Era, but the truth behind his story is far more complicated than even the outrageous stories about his life could tell. The novels of the series unfold that truth behind the legend revealing who Tiny really was and why that mattered.

All of us are complex and full of contradictions. This is what makes us so frustrating to each other and so interesting in fiction. The crux of these complexities is that we show people what we want them to see. Sometimes that show is untrue or only partially true. Sometimes it is mixed in with the pieces of our personality that slip out at times we wish they would not. Who we are is also made of those parts that we hide. Sometimes we are able to hide them for a long time. Sometimes we are found out. Often, we are afraid to let people see those deeper, darker aspects of our person. All of these things are part of our identity and I hope I captured some of that with my characters in Dead Song.


In a world where Twilight has the balls to call itself a ‘saga’, I think it's time to take a step away from that word. I go to a book store and see a book proclaiming to be the first in a dodecology, I'm gonna buy that book just cuz the author decided to throw down that gauntlet from the start.—Indy McDaniel, author of Nady’s Nights: Road to Vengence

Truth is lost in legends and legends grow over time. They grow because we need them to be bigger and we need them to explain the things we fear. We write them for ourselves and for our world. The Dead Song Legend of Tiny “Mud Music” Jones has captured the imagination of everyone that survived the apocalypse even as he captured the music of the survivors and the music that helped us all to survive.—B.B. Tarmancula, Dead World Memorial Dedication.

About "The Sound May Suffer"

All songs recorded live during the zombie apocalypse by music collector Tiny “mud music” Jones. The sound may suffer.

Track Listings

1. Amazing Circle of Suffering
2. Don't Make Me Repeat It
3. Last Lullaby of the Wind
4. Replay the Life Incomplete
5. Undead Dinner Bell

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"W" is for "WYTCHFIRE"

I'll bet you thought after last month's post you were done with hearing from Professor Fancypants, eh?  Well, you thought wrong.  Dead wrong.  It just so happens that I've come into possession of a series of...well, let's just call them "answers" some rather arcane...well, let's just call them "questions"...well, on second thought, let's just get right to it.

About Michael Meyerhofer:

Michael Meyerhofer grew up in Iowa where he learned to cope with the unbridled excitement of the Midwest by reading books and not getting his hopes up. Probably due to his father’s influence, he developed a fondness for Star Trek, weight lifting, and collecting medieval weapons. He is also addicted to caffeine and the History Channel.

His fourth poetry book, WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE BURIED ALIVE, was recently published by Split Lip Press. He also serves as the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review. His poetry and prose have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Brevity, Ploughshares, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rattle, and many other journals. He and his fiancee currently live in Fresno, California, in a little house beside a very large cactus.


1.) Tell us a little bit about your series, especially the first book, WYTCHFIRE.

WYTCHFIRE is the story of Rowen Locke, a former orphan-turned-sellsword who gets caught in the middle of a sprawling conflict fueled by age-old prejudices (what one reader described as a thousand-year cyst about to burst), and his desperate, fallible attempts to both gain and maintain honor in a world where behaving honorably usually gets you killed. Anyway, WYTCHFIRE is Book I in the DRAGONKIN TRILOGYKNIGHTSWRATH, the sequel, came out a few weeks ago. I've also completed a rough draft of the conclusion, tentatively titled THE WAR OF THE LOTUS.

2.) How would you describe these books, in terms of genre/subgenre?

The first book, WYTCHFIRE, is probably halfway between epic fantasy and dark fantasy. The sequel, KNIGHTSWRATH, gets significantly darker (spoiler: there's a guy contemplating whether or not to carve out his newborn son's eyes, and that's just in the prologue!). The series does have one central protagonist, but there's also a big cast of characters and a lot of interrelated conflicts. Regular fantasy fans should feel right at home, though I hope they'll also appreciate the twists I've put on some of the "traditional" ideas, like magic and honor.

3.) What inspired you to write this series?

I've always loved fantasy--dark fantasy, in particular. Also, I was born with birth defects that made me the target of a lot of bullying and teasing when I was younger, so as a child, I felt something of a kinship with people who were different, who were disliked or even hated simply based on the lottery of their birth. Eventually, this formed the basis for the discrimination that underlies the story and various conflicts of the DRAGONKIN TRILOGY.

4.) Who are some writers who have influenced your writing style?
Yikes, too many to count! Some of my biggest influences, though, were George R. R. Martin (of course), Katherine Kurtz, Raymond Feist, Richard Knaak, Lloyd Alexander, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Stephen King, Brandon Sanderson, Robert E. Howard, and J.R.R. Tolkien (another "of course"). I've also been influenced by a lot of writers outside the fantasy/horror genres, including Ernest Hemingway, Shirley Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O'Connor, Walt Whitman, and J.D. Salinger, along with contemporary poets like Dorianne Laux, George Bilgere, Allison Joseph, Yusef Komunyakaa, Billy Collins, and Tony Hoagland.

5.) On a related note, can you discuss one author who had a big, early impact on you?
Sure! One of my favorites for many years now has been Richard Knaak. I first discovered his work when I was plowing through nearly all the books in the Dragonlance series, and I came upon his book, THE LEGEND OF HUMA. I was wary because Huma is a big, historical figure in the DRAGONLANCE books, and I was worried that actually nailing down his story in a prequel would dispel some of the mystery. Instead, it was quite the opposite. Knaak’s writing conveyed both action and emotional nuance, and I loved his portrayal of Huma as fallible and struggling. After THE LEGEND OF HUMA, I sought out pretty much everything else he’d written, and was especially a fan of the unique world and textured characters created in his DRAGONREALM books. As a side note, I’d already written WYTCHFIRE by then but was very surprised to find that Knaak also has a character named Shade (though aside from the name, the characters are completely different).  

6.) What’s one thing that distinguishes your book from other fantasy books?
I’ve always liked complex plots with lots of characters (wait… is that two things?). So, while my books do have a central protagonist, you also get to see the story through different sets of eyes. I find that’s a good way to establish moral ambiguity, which is really just a fancy way of writing a story that kind of gets under your skin (but hopefully, in a good way).

7.) Tell us a little more about the conflict in your series.
The primary conflict in the DRAGONKIN TRILOGY centers around the Shel'ai, those born with the “gift” of magic. The Shel'ai serve as echoes of a dark past in which sorcerers (who gained both power and madness by draining the life-force of dragons) ruled with an iron fist. As a result, Shel'ai are almost always viewed with hatred and paranoia. Most are killed at birth, and those who survive still face a lifetime of running from mobs. However, many of the Shel'ai are far from blameless, as they've been using increasingly more brutal and desperate means to defend themselves, creating a schism in the ranks. 

8.) What's the most challenging part of writing this book?
I tend to focus a lot on character development, to the point where I get almost absurdly invested in what happens to them. At the same time, especially in my stories, necessity and realism demand that awful things happen to these characters on a regular basis. I'm also a perfectionist when it comes to plot lines and dialog. Long story short, this series has given me a lot of sleepless nights. 

9.) I read that you’re a history buff. Did you base any of your characters on historical figures? What about the world-building?

Ha, yes and yes! I'm kind of an amateur historian (emphasis on the amateur part) and I'm fascinated by Greek and Roman history, plus the pre-Civil War era of the United States--the good and awful elements, both. Also, I know it's a bit cliché to say this but when I was young, I spent a great deal of time studying the Holocaust, reading various memoirs and testimonials (particularly those of Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi). I guess all that went into the mental cauldron... as did stacks and stacks of X-Men comics.


Rowen Locke has achieved his dream of becoming a Knight of the Crane, and he now bears Knightswrath, the legendary sword of Fâyu Jinn. But the land remains torn, and though Rowen suffers doubts, he would see it healed. His knightly order is not what it seems, though, and allies remain thin. When Rowen and his friends seek an alliance with the forest-dwelling Sylvs, a tangle of events results in a midnight duel that teaches Rowen a dangerous lesson and leaves him with a new companion of uncertain loyalties.

The sadistic Dhargots still threaten the kingdoms, but another menace lurks in the shadows, playing a game none can see. As Rowen struggles to prove his worth—to his allies and to himself—chaos raises its hand to strike. A price must be paid, and not even the wielder of Knightswrath will remain untouched.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy 4th!

I got nothing for you today.  Why are you even on the internet anyway?  Go hang out by the pool or at a barbecue.  Peace!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"V" is for "Vendetta"

Every morning, I thank my lucky stars for E.L. James. 

I wake up, greet the sun, do a modified downward facing dog, and whisper, "Thank you.  Thank you, Imaginary Sky Man, for each and every shade of grey."

You would think, in the wake of the release of GREY, and the rather ill-advised #AskELJames debacle, that the Ayatollah of Publishing had declared a fatwah against her.  That Don Pinguino, representing the Big 5 Families, had ordered a vendetta.  The vitriol!  My God, the vitriol!

Is this level of contempt strictly necessary, especially from the authorial community?  I often hear authors, especially from marginalized genres like horror, science fiction, and erotica, complain that we need to be supporting each other, not tearing one another down.  Why is E.L. James the exception?  Because she had the audacity to be successful?

Hell, I'm not going to front.  I've poked fun at her work right here on this blog from time to time.  But I'm also well aware I wouldn't exist as an independent artist if it wasn't for her.  Any author published in the last five years - especially any author first published in the last five years - owes her a great debt.

So let me say a couple of things up front:

1.)  I've never read a word, beyond a few excerpts on a Buzzfeed article making fun of it, of Ms. James's work.

2.)  Based on what little I've read - and on the opinions of people I trust who have read her work - James's prose is terrible, possibly even laughable.

I'm being 100% up front about both of these issues so you don't think I'm missing some important point when I move on here.  So let's move on, and then we'll circle back around to these points.

Setting aside the fact that authors ought to support authors as a general rule, because we're all in this boat together, let's look at this from a purely selfish perspective.  The publishing industry is a bit arcane, but you're probably familiar with the way profit margins work at, say, an Italian bistro. 

Things like steak and seafood don't have much profit margin because they're expensive, and there's a limit to how much you can mark it up without driving away your customers.  Pasta has a great profit margin because it's cheap, and people will pay quite a bit for it.  And soda has an astronomical profit margin because it costs a few cents a gallon and you can charge a few dollars a glass for it.

The whole reason a restaurant can sell prime cuts of meat for $20 is because customers are willing to buy sugar water for $3.99.  One thing underwrites the other.  And let me make this metaphor crystal-fucking-clear: E.L. James is underwriting hundreds, if not thousands of lesser-known authors. 

You could say the same thing about Stephen King, or James Patterson, or J.K. Rowling, or, hell, James Frey or Dan Brown.  It's pretty simple when you think about it.  A superstar author has a mega-smash hit and exceeds all expectations, and brings in millions of dollars on a single book.  Now the publishing company has millions of dollars in its reserve.  It can afford to take chances on those weird, artsy little projects which the editors may have been on the fence about.

Every author published by Penguin Random House was directly underwritten by E.L. James.  I might equivocate and say that a few authors who were going to pay out their advances anyway might not owe her quite so much, but the solvency of the entire company still rests on just a few superstar authors, including James.

And that's not the end of the story.  Publishing is a complicated ecosystem.  A pebble tossed in one bay has ripples through the whole ocean.  So consider the fact that several millions of people who were not normally part of the book-buying public logged onto Amazon (or their favorite online book retailer) or walked into their favorite bookstore and grabbed a copy of one of the GREY books.

A change like that has affected the publishing industry as a whole.  Entire new audiences have been opened up to the idea of buying books.  Why shit on E.L. James for that?  Authors who write erotica or romance have probably benefited most from the new customers which E.L. James brought into the fold, but honestly, getting more people to buy books is a good thing for the whole industry.

And, yes, again, the same could be said for King or Rowling or Myers or whoever.  I'm not saying E.L. James is unique, but I feel hypocritical singing the praises of superstars I respect, without at least acknowledging the impact of one I don't.

One major impact James has had is in making self-publishing a legitimate career move.  Sure, Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey helped to pioneer that market, but E.L. James was the first superstar smash breakout success that made the publishers start coming down from their howdahs and start offering deals to self-pubbed authors.  And even the ones who rejected the deals from the big boys still aspire to James-level success.  Self-pubbing is a path in large part thanks to E.L. James's work in dynamiting her way through that labyrinth. 

So one last point.  I haven't been published by Penguin Random and I don't write love stories (that you know of, anyway) and I've never self-published.  But I still owe a debt of gratitude to E.L. James, along with Stephanie Myers, Dan Brown, and all those other awful superstar writers.

There's a reason agents and publishers even still unsolicited queries.  It's because HARRY POTTER came from the slush.  TWILIGHT came from the slush.  DIVERGENT came from the slush.  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY didn't even come from the slush, it came from the fan-fic world, which was supposed to be the slush of the slush of the slush, and into the self-pubbing world, which was supposed to be the slush of the slush. 

(If I just disappeared up my own asshole with that last sentence, just think of farm teams and AAA in baseball.  One feeds the other feeds the other feeds the pros.)

Every huge, record-shattering literary phenomenon of the last twenty years or so has come over the transom from a relative unknown.  I don't doubt that agents and publishers are ripping their hair out daily about that fact, but it doesn't change the way only literary outsiders seem capable of blowing up.  And that's the whole reason every once in a blue moon they'll take a gamble on someone like me.

Now back to those two original points:

1.)  I have no room to judge because I've never read E.L. James.  Well, truth be told, that's probably not going to change.  But you know what?  There are a lot of people who think I'm terrible.  I had a reader tell me to my face in public - I'm not making this up - that zombies are stupid garbage and nobody should like them.  Horror authors get disrespected for their craft sight unseen all the time.  I can't speak to whether James's content is dangerous, insulting, encouraging abuse, or any of the other charges that have been leveled at it.  I also know I don't care.  I don't believe in censorship.  Have you read PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT or TROPIC OF CANCER?  Once the bans on their pornographic content were lifted they started being considered classics.  As long as I can go to a library and pick up a copy of MEIN KAMPF and children can see a book by Rush Limbaugh in the kiddie section of the bookstore, I'm pretty sure we're just going to have to table the whole moral panic of books having dangerous content.  People will just have to be responsible about exposing themselves to the unmitigated terror of new (and quite possibly bad) ideas.

2.)  E.L. James's prose is objectively terrible.  Yes, and I'm about 99 44/100% certain that the prose isn't the big selling points on these books.  I'm pretty sure they tap into some element of the zeitgeist, some hidden vein of desire which is near-universal and had never quite been tapped before.  There are different kinds of genius, and even if you don't respect E.L. James for the aesthetic quality of her work, you'd damn well better step back and recognize her ability to write something popular, and her marketing savvy in getting people to read it.  If you think The Beatles blew up because of their lyrics, go back and listen to "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" sometime.

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.
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