interview

Commenting on the Times: An Interview with Steven Mohr

The+Listless+coverTell us a little bit about your book. What inspired it? Who’s your ideal reader?
I’m a fan of so many types of literature, but when I started writing The Listless, I wasn’t looking to just write some action adventure that can make a person jump but hardly think. And I didn’t want to just write some romance that plays on a person’s emotions but not on their sense of cultural ethics. I wanted to write a piece that had elements of both these while commenting on the times we live in and the situation it presents for those in the young adult (or should I say youngish adult?) age group who have been most affected by it. Really, The Listless was my attempt to combine the freedom of Kerouac’s On The Road and the introspection of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises… I’m not saying I succeeded, I’m just saying I tried! There’s no doubt that’s a hefty goal for a first novel.

I had fun writing it, though, and I enjoyed putting together somewhat realistic dialog you might hear from the indie music lovers, which are probably the ideal readers of the book. I hope, though, I added elements that nearly all can relate to.

It’s a YA novel, yet your protagonist, Conor Batey, is a college grad. Do YA heroes tend to be so old? (Granted, “old” is a relative term!)
Ha, that’s a good question and one that I somewhat wrestled over as I was thinking about where this book really did fit in. To me, the YA (young adult) fiction definition is getting wider than just the age range it was originally designed for. I mean, isn’t Edward Cullen from Twilight over 100 years old? Haha, a little different case… But I look at the YA fiction designation as talking more about the topic than the age of characters or readers (though they both play a big part). The topic of this book is about indie rock and regressing from a business life back into (at least a summer of) road trips and concerts. I think that topic is more in the field of YA than anything else.

Along similar lines, have you observed that YA readers are getting older? How “Y” is “Y” these days?
It certainly seems like the readership of YA fiction has been the biggest change in its overall designation. It went from adolescents right out of juvenile fiction in the 90’s to adolescents, young adults, older adults… the whole gamut today. Creative minds like J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and many others have really opened this genre up to a larger spectrum in the past fifteen years.

 What do you see as the difference between YA fiction and more traditional “adult” fiction?
Well, in full disclaimer, my definitions for these phrases are probably very different from the standard ones. When I see something that is cataloged as fiction without being further explained as romance, mystery, sci fi, fantasy, urban fiction, classic literature, or one of the many other sometimes helpful sometimes not helpful at all descriptions, I assume it’s going to be either a Nicholas Sparks book about some guy/girl who lost his/her memory or some Amish town where a recent visitor causes worlds to collide… Not so much a rock group of childish young adults. To take that even one step further, I don’t really like seeing books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk called “Contemporary Fiction.” Until there is a good genre title that describes books that vie for a younger sentiment, YA seems to best fill the void.

Part of your novel is set in Detroit. Why that setting?
It starts off in Detroit for a few reasons. This Rustbelt metropolis was and is the source of a lot of great art in America. From Motown and other classic pop music genres to urban farming and decorative city block art projects, this town continues to endow the world with that outsider’s perspective. Between these artistic surroundings and the roughness of the inner city, Detroit is the perfect setting for a band on the run from everyday life.

You mention that your protagonist is in a rock group called Listless. What do they sound like, and who are some of your own favorite bands?
I guess I can answer both of these questions together because I imagine their style being a blend of some of my favorite pop bands from the past. I imagine them with the sounds of soulful minor chord breakdowns like the Beatles, awesome choral harmonies like the Beach Boys, a punkish disregard for the norm like the Pixies, and a dorky grunge look like Weezer in the 90’s.
 
Do you play music yourself? Are you in a band?
I do play a few instruments; though, not necessarily well. I’m mainly a fan of stringed instruments that can be used to play silly love songs. My favorite instruments to serenade my wife are the guitar and ukulele.

What’s next for you?
I’ve always been a pretty eclectic reader. And I definitely have no desire to be pinned down to writing in one genre, either, so I’ve started a couple of projects that are pretty distant from The Listless. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Isaac Asimov. I loved his series sci fi. I’m certainly no Isaac Asimov but I thought why not give it a shot? I’ve started writing my own series of sci fi short stories that I might at some point put together into one novel. I’ve also started a new novel that I’m writing in a very very slow fashion set in the Asheville, North Carolina region that includes a journalist, a death, a town in turmoil, and an unexpected twist. If that sounds to you like just about every other contemporary title written in the past twenty years, I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest!

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Make Each Word Count: An Interview with Marcus Pactor

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing Marcus Pactor read from his short fiction collection Vs. Death Noises as part of the TireFire fiction series in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, he sent me a copy of the collection, and I enjoyed it immensely, so I was doubly excited to get a chance to ask him a few questions about writing and how he fits it into his busy schedule.

You came from Florida up to my hometown of Philadelphia to do a reading for the TireFire fiction series. That’s dedication! What motivated you to make the trip? Was it worth your while?

I read Christian TeBordo’s The Awful Possibilities last year and dug it so much. I did what I previously considered a junior high stalker thing by asking this total stranger to be my Facebook friend. He agreed. He found out about my book that way, liked it, and invited me up. I have never been a junior high stalker, but I imagine this was like the junior high stalker’s dream. Besides that, I think it’s important to read wherever people are interested in my stuff. You never know who you’re going to meet.

It was entirely worth the trip. Christian and his family are great, warm people. Philadelphia’s downtown is a beautiful, large and cared for in a particular way that I have rarely seen. That art museum is a treasury. In addition, I reunited with an old, old friend.

Note: I have since learned that what I did on Facebook was pretty standard practice and not widely considered stalkerish.

Along similar lines, what motivates you to write? I ask because I know firsthand how difficult it can be to fit writing into a busy schedule, but just keep doing it anyway, and I’m trying to figure out why.

If I didn’t write, I’d probably be talking to myself all the time. I’ve got all kinds of ideas and people in my head trying to get out. Writing is about the healthiest way to get them out. It’s purgation, I guess.

I’m also motivated by the date August 30. Some time on or around that date, my wife and I will welcome a little son to the world. I have to write as much as I can before then, because my schedule will probably become more crowded afterward.

You teach at University of North Florida, and Rate My Professors reports that your students love your classes. What, specifically, do you teach, and how do your teaching and writing inform each other?

It’s strange to think that they love them. I mean, I love my kids, but we spend about a third of the semester explaining why certain kinds of sentences don’t work and why “he ejaculated” is no longer an acceptable dialogue tag. Maybe they love it because it’s a public place in which they feel free to discuss ejaculation.

This semester I’m teaching four fiction workshops. By the end of this week, I’ll have read 130 or so stories by students. Two weeks from now, I’ll have read 65 revisions. By the end of the semester, I’ll have read close to 2000 pages of my students’ fiction.

The pleasures of teaching mostly involve seeing the students improve from one piece to the next. Most of them really do work hard. It’s great to see when it pays off, especially when they get published.

Teaching has also helped me become a much better reader of fiction and practitioner of language. A lot of people can feel that something has gone wrong in a story, but a teacher has to recognize what that something is, where that something is located, and how to fix it. I mean, he has to say more than that “these sentences don’t work.” He has to be able to explain why they don’t work, especially when the grammar is impeccable. He has to point the way. He has to make recommendations that a student can respect.

Reading their stories has forced me to think hard, much harder than I ever had before, about what makes fiction work. A lot of what I figured out went into this book.

Your book is called Vs. Death Noises. Can you explain the title and any principles that guide your writing?

The book’s title comes from the first story, “The Archived Steve.” Steve had this awful emphysemic voice. He slurped from electronic cigarettes. The narrator said the sounds were death noises. Noise isn’t an element common to every story in the book, but it’s in enough of them for the title to work. Plus, tons of people seem to dig it.

I don’t know if I want to use the word “principles.” It’s a much better word for critics to use about a writer’s work than it is for a writer to use about his own stuff. My principles shift all the time, which might be why I don’t want to call them principles. Right now, I like these: –Make each word count. –Form is content. Content is form. -Tell a couple of jokes, but be serious. Seriously tell a joke. A purely sad story is not my kind of beer.

The book’s publisher is Subito Press. If I remember my Latin correctly, that means “suddenly.” Was there anything “sudden” about the writing or publishing of this book? How did you find them–or did they find you?

It was both sudden and not sudden. First, the not so sudden: the stories themselves were written over the course of two-plus years. Then, suddenly, it was summer. I was 35. My girlfriend, now my wife, and I were getting serious. I needed a freaking book. I found Subito’s contest on Duotrope and entered. Everything worked out.

And, finally, what’s on the horizon for you?

I mentioned the baby. Mostly, he is on the horizon. I’ve also got a short novel in the hands of several independent presses and contests as we speak, so I spend a lot of time knocking wood, etc. I’m working on another book too. I’m about to learn how to put up a fence in my backyard. That should be painful.

Thanks, Marcus, for taking the time to chat with me!

vs-death-noises-marcus-pactor-paperback-cover-art

Enchanted Britain

Enchanted Britain CoverAs its title suggests, Traci Law’s gorgeous new book of photography, Enchanted Britain: A Photographic Journey, takes readers on a magical tour of the land that brought us such wonders as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I recently had a chance to chat with Traci about the book and the magical (yet real!) landmarks that she captures in its pages.

What drew you to Britain for this project?

I have always been drawn to the myths and beauty of Britain.  At the risk of sounding cliché, there’s just something very magical about it with all the castle ruins scattered about, the ancient and medieval buildings and the scenery.  Over the years I’ve built up a vast collection of images from Scotland, England and Wales and wanted a way to share them with people beyond art shows.

In producing the prints for this book, you used a process called HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging, which gives each photograph the appearance of a painting or a dreamscape. What was behind this decision, and what was involved in the process?

Wells Cathedral (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Wells Cathedral (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

HDR is a process that some photographers love and some photographers loathe. It’s definitely a different look from what we’re used to seeing in photographs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For Enchanted Britain there were many images that this process simply did not work well.  However, I decided to use all HDR images to continue with the idea of the magic and enchantment of Britain.  Personally, I love the look it gives.  For some images, like Kilchurn Castle in Scotland, it gives a softer feel whereas for other images, such as the Chapter House stairs in Wells Cathedral, it gives an eerie, mysterious look.

On average it can take twenty minutes to nearly an hour per image to get the look just right. I use three different programs to achieve the perfect look for the subject and image. Of course, it is important to have a good original image to start with.  HDR can change a look but it can’t perform miracles.

In your “other lives,” you’ve worked on archaeological digs and have been the host of Morbid Curiosity TV, a web series exploring the relationship between history and paranormal phenomena. How did your other interests influence your work on Enchanted Britain

It was through archaeology that I was accepted to work on a project at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in England and it was there that I was able to explore more of the true England and appreciate their history on my own.  I’ve always been interested in history and the medieval period so everything managed to fall into place nicely.  A few years later I went back and drove around the United Kingdom without really having a plan other than to photograph anything and everything.  Some of the places I visited I had heard of from my days in the paranormal field, such as Rosslyn Chapel, but it was their history that drew me to visit.

I suppose, ultimately, it was my deep appreciation of history and respect of people and places that really influenced the images I chose for the book as well as influences how I see things when photographing in general.

Thanks, Traci, for an enchanting conversation!

Kilchurn Castle (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Kilchurn Castle (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

A Few Words With GF Smith

GF Smith, the author of the Subjected trilogy, recently dropped in on SPR (in the virtual sense, anyway) to chat about his “sci-phi” series, writing, and e-publishing. Here’s what he had to say…

Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for Small Press Reviews. Let’s start with your books. What is the Subjected series all about, and what inspired it?

The cover copy for the first book, SUBJECTED: Eye of God, pretty much gives the overview of the entire series:

*Daniel Jeremy Sayer has gone through more than his share of pain, loss, and frustration. Which leads him to ask some “Big Universe” questions: Why have we been subjected to this life? What on Earth is happening? Why the big mystery? Is anyone out there even listening?

When the answers start coming, in the form of a mysterious, seemingly benign, yet oddly inane individual from another dimension—Alien, or Angel, he’s not sure which—Daniel suddenly begins to question whether he really wants to know the answers after all.

Through tragedy, loss, coincidence and consequence, through frustration, anger, courage and faith, along with a touch of humility and humor, Daniel Jeremy Sayer unexpectedly finds himself being shown the metaphysical edge of human existence, whether he wants to see it or not.

The three book series delves sensitively, objectively, and sometimes humorously into the historically controversial and dichotomous relationship between Religion and Science, though it’s not a proselytizing or dogmatic work by any means. In quick terms, it’s about a guy who genuinely wants to know what life is all about…yet is really ticked-off at God for the way everything is—in his life, as well as in the rest of the world.

The inspiration for the series came from my own, life-long, internal struggle to—as Einstein stated best—to, “understand the mind of God.” On a side note: anyone who has ever been honestly mad at God will love this series, I think.

You describe your writing as “Sci-Phi.” Can you explain what you mean by that, and how it’s different from what might be considered more traditional Sci-Fi?

The term Sci-phi—which I like to use—denotes (as well as connotes) the relationships between Science and Philosophy. Simply put, the science part is like the lines of this text here…the physical part: the words describe, define, and delineate a particular subject or knowledge. Philosophy is like the spaces between the lines: there’s always the supposition that there may be more going on than what we know…more to a meaning. Philosophy asks the questions about the nature of being and knowing—origins, purpose, destiny.

Traditional Sci-Fi (Science Fiction), which is actually a huge genre, covers mostly technological advances—the real, or the imagined real—the future, space ships, space travel, astrophysics, etc. Everything from space operas, to time travel, to dissimilar life-forms on other planets, to whatever we can imagine those advances—realities—might be, given time and creativity. Again, that’s like the words in this text—matter and substance.

Again, the Philosophy part is the between-the-lines part: are the advances good, bad, infinite or finite? Are they purposeful? Do they enhance, or advance the Spirit, the Soul? Do they change us for the better…or the worse? Does the end justify the means? How did it all start in the first place, and where’s it going to end up?

Given this distinction, do you still see yourself as writing with the sci-fi tradition? Or do you see your work as separate from that genre?

Good question. I love both… always have. To me, the physical and the between-the-lines spiritual/essence side are not dichotomous at all—I personally can’t divide them into two mutually exclusive areas. So, I will be writing about both as long as I can. However, since a large portion of society still seems to suffer from the memetic programming of the past, and hence seem to prefer adherence to either one or the other, exclusively, I think I will continue to write about both as being two sides of the same awesome coin.

Along these lines, who are some of your favorite writers, and what books have influenced your work?

Oh, let’s see… Heinlein, Hubbard, Weber, Koontz, Roddenberry, Serling, Bach, Brown, Redfield, Cussler, Ludlum, Crichton, Carr, King, Baldacci, Von Däniken, to name only a few. I even like Sparks, Patterson, and Albom. Different books have influenced me for different reasons, as I suppose is the same with most people. Although they didn’t exactly write books, the most influential writers relative to my writing would be Gene Roddenberry (along with his show writers), Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, David Weber, and probably… I don’t know, all of them have had a huge influence on me.

I’d say I’ve read more of Dean Koontz than anyone else, though I don’t think I pattern my writing after his. I’m not into horror, but I love his other-than-natural, paranormal stuff: Watchers, Odd Thomas series, the Taking, Sole Survivor, One Door away from Heaven; there are a lot of them. And Robert Heinlein’s, Stranger in a Strange Land gave me a lot to think about. And of course, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series’ helped give me that between-the-lines curiosity and insatiable drive to question, which is dominant in my writing.

Where else do you find inspiration?

My own studies of Cosmology, Astronomy, Physics, and the Earth & Space Sciences have given me a lot of inspiration. I’m a big fan of Einstein, Hawking, Kaku, and of course Galileo, Copernicus, Hubble, Kepler, Newton, etc. all those guys from history. I also cherish the stories of the Bible, the life and passion of Christ, of Paul and the Apostles, and several of the Old Testament characters: Ezekiel, Moses, Enoch, David, etc. All of these—especially Christ—have driven me to question life, and purpose, and what the future holds for us…in life and after life.

But, I find inspiration from a lot of alternative things as well: Eastern and Islamic faiths, some new age stuff, mystical stuff, though it all makes me wonder about the nature of reality and being. I have to be humble and hold in reservation that my perspectives and interpretations may in fact be in error; just because I believe it may be so, doesn’t necessarily make it so!

How do you approach writing? In other words, how did you learn the craft, and where does it fit into your life?

I approach writing fairly methodically; this comes from the analytical/business side of me. When writing fiction or nonfiction I like to know where I’m going…for the most part. I like to have an overall understanding of what I want to accomplish and where I want to end up. But, within this method I still enjoy and employ the spontaneous eruptions of creativity that happen. And sometimes, these will even change the overall outline I’ve initially set. I try to be humble in my writing, and with the creative process. I think a balance of both brings about the best results. And it’s what makes writing such an enjoyable experience.

Writing, nowadays, is a huge part of my life. My children are grown and I feel a compulsion to get some of these things out of my soul and share them with others—especially my children and my grand kids. And, I somewhat feel a sense of obligation to do so as well. If it weren’t for all the aforementioned writers…I wouldn’t be who I am today. I just want to give back to life…not just be a taker, if you know what I mean.

At present, the Subjected is series is available only as an E-book. Why did you decide to go with this format, and do you have plans to publish a print version of the series?

Ebooks are the future. No different than Digital over VHS. It offers so much customization: font size, color, background, and style adjustment; they provide bookmark solutions, word meaning lookup, go-to page options, etc. It’s really a reader’s dream, and also the fact that I spent years querying agents and not getting one single request for even a chapter for them to review. Though I understand, it’s a tough business—publishing. They can only accept the best of the best to work with under their current business models.

I was adamant in my stand to NOT be self-published. But, after seeing the trends of publishing (Amazon just announced that they are now selling more ebooks than printed books) I changed my mind. Art is art, and all art is appreciated at varying levels of development. Ebooks are art, and although they should be as professionally created and rendered, as printed books historically are, I hold the belief that all art should have its forum. The art lovers have spoken! Plus, it’s a green technology, and that means a lot to me as well. One day my works will be available in print, but not until the demand requires it, and probably only in limited printings.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on marketing right now, for the SUBJECTED series. However, I am also outlining my next novel. No comment on the particulars, yet.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just a question (and possibly an encouragement) for your Readers:

Which is more precious: a thousand answers, derived from one questions, or, one answer…from a thousand questions? (*Hint, read between the lines…)

Thanks for reading, everyone!