Category Archives: Writing

Dinner, Sex and a Movie

Dinner, Sex and a Movie_ebookAnd now to start the new year with some shameless self promotion – Drunken Mermaid/ co-founder Sean Develin has just released his latest work, a five-act stage play/romantic comedy, on Kindle. But be warned, it’s chick lit, or wants to be, anyway. The female advance readers loved it; the men, not so much. Their responses ranged from “It’s OK” to vomiting followed by testosterone replacement therapy. We say give it a read, and if you feel you’ve been estrogen-poisoned, listen to some Reverence and that will purge all that from your system and get your T levels back up.

Happy New Year.

Ten Questions: Tim Queeney

Tim Queeney is a magazine editor, filmmaker, celestial navigation instructor, dad and offshore sailor who writes the news satire site Height of Eye. Later this year he will publish the sequel to his thriller The SHIVA Compression. You have a diverse and accomplished background. How did that influence your decision to write?

Actually, I’ve always been writing. Have been at it since my school days. I’ve messed around with short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, songs, novels, humor, nonfiction. There are so many different styles and forms of writing. This may have been held me back a bit commercially as I have jumped around into different genres and forms. But it has certainly been interesting. What did it take to get George in London from idea to published? How long did that take?

I had the idea for George in London probably about four years before I wrote the first draft. I was reading a biography of George Washington and was intrigued that he and his older half-brother Lawrence went to Barbados for a few months in 1751. George was a 19 year old who was still very much finding his way in life. Lawrence had tuberculosis and his doctor thought he would do better in Barbados than in Virginia. This, incidentally, was the only time that George ever left the U.S. So, reading about this Barbados trip gave me an idea: what if George left Barbados and traveled to London seeking his fortune? An unsophisticated 19-year-old George Washington having a series of humorous adventures in London was an appealing idea. The actual writing of George in London took less than a year. The story seemed to come to me as if it had actually happened and I was just recording the events — a fun sensation. Your second book was The SHIVA Compression. Tell us about the genesis of Perry Helion.

Perry is the lead character in SHIVA and he stumbles across The SHIVA Compression digital virus without grasping its significance. I wanted a character who was not some super cool ultimate warrior, but more of a complicated guy who is able to rise to the occasion and do his best. And he has to do his best because he’s dealing with a threat that could start World War III. Perry comes from a family of Air Force pilots and is a pilot himself. But he crashes a hang glider in High School and suffers a head injury that comes back to haunt him. It leads to a minor crash in the Air Force that knocks him out of flying altogether. As a grounded pilot, Perry’s Air Force career is going nowhere and his on his way out of the service when he starts fighting the SHIVA Compression.  Perry’s father was pretty brutal when he was growing up. And though it was difficult for Perry and his brother Drew, the demanding routine did toughen Perry and make him quick-thinking and resourceful. What’s next for Perry?

His next adventure takes place in Antarctica. There are subglacial lakes and viruses and murder and Sno-Cat chases and a couple of plane crashes (I seem to write a lot of plane crashes for some reason). This is all set in the unforgiving terrain of Antarctica — the coldest, highest, driest place on Earth. In this next book, called The Atlas Fracture, Perry has to fight a devious plan by terrorists to trigger massive worldwide climate change by attacking the Antarctic ice shelves weak link: The Atlas Fracture. A critical component of a thriller like The SHIVA Compression is the threat. How much of threats in your plots are your imagination, and how much real world? Do you ever manage to make yourself lose sleep?

The threat of the SHIVA Compression is still a real one: missiles topped with nuclear weapons are sitting in silos all over the U.S. and Russia. There are still hundreds of U.S. and Russian missiles ready to launch at any moment. If there really was a way for a crazed cult to infect missile bases with a doomsday virus and launch those missiles, we would all be in big trouble. So, yes, while the probability is low, there is always the danger of an exchange of nuclear missiles. That possibility is pretty terrifying and should make everyone lose a little sleep. Who are your main literary influences? What do you take from them?

Big favorites are Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Vladimir Nabokov, Alistair MacLean, Doris Lessing, Joseph Conrad, Andre Dubus III, Muriel Spark, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephan King, Tim O’Brien… well, there are a lot of ‘em! I think they all have something to teach about plot, style, pacing, emotional punch. Who do you read for fun?

I like to read thrillers right now. Just finished a great “black ops procedural” by Barry Eisler, The Detachment. And I like to read my fellow indie writers. Recently read Jesse James Freeman’s Billy Purgatory: I Am the Devil Bird book — a wild ride. Any formats or genres you haven’t explored yet that you would like to?

I’ve written a few science fiction stories in the past, but never a sci-fi novel. Definitely have plans for that. Also, I have a huge chunk of writing I did for a nonfiction book on a shipwreck salvage. I had a contract with Hyperion Books in New York. Hyperion ultimately canceled the contract (it’s a long story!) so the book was never published. I did extensive research for the book and I’d like to turn that kernel into a romantic historical novel. And now our mandatory/signature question. Think of one of your favorite novels by someone else.  What is it? How does its first sentence read if you wrote it?

The book is The Great Gatsby and my first line is (although it seems foolhardy hubris to rewrite Fitzgerald!):
“My father once gave me some advice that led me to a man whose outsized charm was matched only by his inner mystery that left me swirling in his dark wake.” When and where can we get our hands on the next book? And where can we find you in the meantime?

The Atlas Fracture, like my current book, The SHIVA Compression, will be available at the Kindle store on  The Atlas Fracture will be released in early September.

I’m in the process of revamping my author page on the web. But you can visit me at That’s my news satire site, Height of Eye. On Height of Eye I take a real news story and then have some fun with it. Try it for a laugh. We will indeed.

Ten Questions: R.B. Wood

This week, novelist R.B Wood is re-launching his novel The Prodigal’s Foole as an indie. We took a few minutes to catch up with him. You arrived on the scene with The Prodigal’s Foole in 2011. What was the motivation for the book?

I’ve always loved the fantastical–whether Sci-fi, pure fantasy or old comic books.  The stories that most entertain me are ones with well-fleshed out characters with all the flaws and foibles that we all have.  But the final catalyst, believe it or not, are all the stories about a “magical world” where there was always a reason “normal” people couldn’t understand or see the power.  Muggles in “Harry Potter” or the “Mist” of Rick Riordan’s stories, for example.  I wanted to explore what magic would mean in the real world– who would control it?  What would the modern age of instant communications and cellphone videos mean?  How would the dynamics change?  That theme of awakening will be throughout the series, seen from Symon Bryson’s perspective. Where, when, and how do you write?

Like many writers with ‘day jobs’ and normal lives, the answer is whenever and wherever I can.  I carry a notebook with me at all times.  I cherish the rare quiet times in my home where I can create for hours at a time. Who’s your favorite character? From where did he or she emerge? 

Symon Bryson, the main character of The Prodigal’s Foole is my absolute favorite.  He’s a hero who has absolutely no desire to be one.  Although he has a strong sense of right and wrong; Symon has no code of ethics to limit what he does to get the ‘bad guys.’ He’s a blast to write about. Tell us about the next book in the series.

The Young Practitioner takes place only a few months after The Prodigal’s Foole.  The search is on for the evil released in the first book, but the story is about characters and family and the complexities of both.  The action is ramped up as well.  There are ramifications of Symon’s actions (and what he represents to the Church) that have to be dealt with. You are notorious for plotting far, far, down the road. What comes next, when this series is done?

I have five books in The Arcana Chronicles already mapped.  I have an outline for a SciFi trilogy that I’m tinkering with and a few collaboration projects I’m working on.  Beyond that, I have an idea for a screenplay and a comic book series I’d love to get off the ground. You are active in a number of writer’s groups. Who should we be on the lookout for? 

There are a lot of writers out there who have a marvelous sense of the craft.  On the SciFi front, Leah Petersen and Steve Umstead jump to mind.  Steve just completed his first trilogy, a military-style action thriller called Gabriel’s Journey is available now.  Leah’s first book, Fighting Gravity, has just been released by Dragon Moon Press.  (Funny you should mention that, see previous post 😉 – The Eds.) And Eden Baylee is a wonderful erotica writer who’s Fall into Summer is a must-read for couples.  There are many more, quite a few of which feature on my monthly podcast, The Word Count. Who wins in fight: Babylon 5, Star Trek, Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica?  

Babylon 5.  Because I loved the series arc and Straczynski’s writing—and because the lovely Patricia Tallman– who played the red-headed Lyta Alexander on the series– sent me a wonderful note about how much she loved The Prodigal’s Foole. Still reading comic books? Which ones?

The beauty of having a sixteen-year-old son is being able to get back into comics all over again.  We are wandering through Ironman, X-men and the Amazing Spiderman back issues now.  I have a brand new copy of Watchmen and the entire run of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman waiting for him when he’s ready. And now our signature question that we plague all of our writer guests with, starting with Jim Morrow: Think of one of your favorite novels by someone else.  What is it? How does its first sentence read if you wrote it?

Wow.  Just pick one, huh?  Well let’s start when I was much younger with the stories that started my imagination churning.  I’ll pick one of my earliest influences, H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds— which I’ve probable ready two dozen times at this point.  The original first line which is arguably one of the most famous in SciFi history:

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s…”

I could never improve it, but my take on a start would be something creepy and from the perspective of the Martians:

“For millennia they watched their neighbor from their own dying world with a mixture of jealousy and anger…” Rich, great catching up with you. Where can your readers find you in the coming months? 

I’m always around online via twitter (@rbwood), Facebook and via my website.  Readers can also subscribe to my free podcast, The Word Count, which features new writers reading their own original stories based on a different theme every show.

Away from the computer, I’ll be at ReaderCON this summer as always.

It’s been a pleasure catching up with you as well.

The Prodigal’s Foole is available in Paperback and Kindle editions. It is FREE on Kindle April 20, 21 and 22 – The Eds.

Book Release: Fighting Gravity by Leah Petersen

Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. (Try Dragon voice recognition software –the Eds.)

Her first novel, Fighting Gravity is published by Dragon Moon Press.

Novel Summary:

When Jacob Dawes is Selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he’s catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob’s own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely, and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor’s heart, but it’s no protection when he’s accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves.

The book launch party, including a reading and signing will be in Toronto, Ontario at the Ad Astra convention, Saturday April 14 at 8:30 PM. will feature our interview with Leah in May.

Ten Questions: James Morrow

One of the first things we did when we “woke up” from our nap was track down award winning novelist James Morrow, and bother him AGAIN for an interview, as if his humoring of us the first time wasn’t enough. We are happy to report he graces our pages once again… It’s been about five years since we last caught up with you. What’s been the highlight of that time?

The highlight was that I kept getting mistaken for a serious mainstream writer. This is generally okay with me. (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.) But I hope I shall never forswear my science-fiction roots.

In April of 2010, I appeared on a panel at the New York Public Library moderated by Adam Gopnik. Our discussion was a follow-up to a cyberspace project that found various scholars and writers, myself included, providing a kind of digital-age Talmudic commentary to Candide, a translation of which had been mounted on the NYPL website in honor of the novella’s 250th anniversary (you can find it here – the Eds.).

And then in September of that same year, I spent two weeks in Russia, having been invited to speak at the International Tolstoy Conference in Yasnaya Polyana. Wife Kathy came, too. Our friend Larisa Mihaylova (a literary scholar we got to know way back in 2000 at Utopiales SF Festival in Nantes) was our guide and translator, taking us to museums in the amazing, fissured, sorrowful, mammoth city of Moscow.

The conference itself was weird. The scholars displayed very little interest in Leo Tolstoy as a literary artist. Though perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, since he ultimately turned his back on his own novels. Most of the papers seemed aimed at rehabilitating the Tolstoy in the eyes of the Eastern Orthodox Church—not an easy task, given his unequivocal heresy. Anything you’d change if you could?

Last year Kathy and I bought a scruffy houseboat on Raystown Lake, about an hour from our home in State College PA. You’ve probably heard this truism: the happiest day of your life is when you get a boat … and the second happiest day is when you get rid of it.

Voyages figure throughout my oeuvre: the submarine journey in This Is the Way the World Ends, God getting hauled to his tomb via supertanker in Towing Jehovah, Martin Candle navigating the divine cranium in Blameless in Abaddon, Nora Burkhart crossing the Gulf of Mexico in The Eternal Footman. So it’s only fitting that I should have a boat of some sort.

But Kathy and I may live to regret our purchase. Boats, I’m told, have a way of eating into your time and bank account. So if I had to make the choice again … hmmmm. What’s your next project, and what sent you in that direction?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a satiric epic about the coming of the Darwinian worldview—a kind of thematic sequel to The Last Witchfinder, which celebrated the birth of the Enlightenment.

Most of the action takes place between 1848 and 1852, long before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. My heroine, Chloe Bathurst, works on the Darwin estate in Kent, tending to the live tortoises and iguanas her employer transplanted from the Galapagos archipelago. (That’s a bit of a stretch, but the fine print on my artistic license allowed me to imagine a zoo at Down House.)

Interacting with Darwin and his fellow sages, Chloe becomes fairly fluent in the emergent science of biological descent. So when she hears about the Percy Bysshe Shelley Prize—£10,00 to the first person who can prove or disprove the existence of God—she sets sail for Galapagos, seeking to round up the sorts of reptiles and birds that vividly illustrate the blasphemous theory of natural selection.

Mostly the novel is a wild, rollicking, Candide-like odyssey. But, as usual, James Morrow has an agenda.

Despite the claims of contemporary feel-good theologians, it seems to me that Darwin profoundly—and forever—problematized the theistic worldview. Throughout the composition process, I was energized by my annoyance at those who insist that science and religion are as easily harmonized today as they were before Darwin brought back the bad news from Galapagos. It just ain’t so. The Gifford Lectures are a rigged game. Which one of your novels are you most fond of? Tell us why.

Beyond what Daniel Dennett calls “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” the other grand rejoinder to theism is the Problem of Evil. Christianity tells a complex, compelling, and beautiful story—but it is not the story of the universe in which we happen to live, and a truckload of clever theodicies cannot change the manifest fact of unmerited pain.

I’m most fond of Blameless in Abaddon, because I think I managed to dramatize—and deconstruct—all the major theodicies in an entertaining manner. The book is idea-driven, but I like to think it gave readers sympathetic characters and an engaging plot. Blameless in Abaddon never found the relative large readership that Towing Jehovah has enjoyed, perhaps because it’s too dense with argumentation. But it’s still my fave. What haven’t you done yet that you’d like to?

I haven’t yet attracted any serious notice in Hollywood (merely a few scattered options from independent filmmakers). How do you make that happen?

Darned if I know. I guess I’ll wait for big budget blasphemy to become as popular in Hollywood as CGI adaptations of comic books. If you could be any other writer, who would it be, and why?

When it comes to combining philosophy, humor, audacity, and drama, nobody did it better than Herman Melville. I would rather have written Moby Dick than spend eternity with Jesus.

Melville’s remark to Hawthorne is always worth quoting: “I have written a wicked book and feel as spotless as the lamb.” Think of one of your favorite novels by someone else.  What is it? How does its first sentence read if you wrote it?

Your question makes me think of Jorge Luis Borges’s wonderful story, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” By plunging deeply into his own psyche and experience, a 20th century French novelist has managed to replicate—per his explicit intention—portions of Don Quixote line for line and word for word (in the original Spanish). The narrator deliciously and perversely insists that the parallel passages, though “verbally identical,” are phenomenologically different, and that the Menard version is “infinitely richer.”

A favorite novel of mine is Kafka’s The Trial. In James Morrow’s infinitely richer version, the first line reads, “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one fine morning.” Attitudes toward religion have dramatically changed in the US in the last ten years. Have you seen any backlash toward your Godhead Trilogy?

The heartening change, from my secular-humanist perspective, has been the arrival on the cultural scene of a full-blown atheist discourse, as embodied not only by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens but also by less celebrated—though in many ways more compelling—figures such as Jonathan Miller (writer and producer of the robust BBC series Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief), Julia Sweeney (creator of the marvelous solo performance “Letting Go of God”), and Rebecca Goldstein (author of the paradoxically titled novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God).

Before 9/11, if you wanted to encounter atheism as a source of seriously intended comedy or drama, you had to search out eccentric efforts such as James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter and his Godhead Trilogy. But after the Twin Towers went down, thousands of people doubtless thought to themselves, “Hmmm, despite the extreme deference accorded to religion in our culture, it would appear that theism doesn’t necessarily lead to desirable moral consequences. Indeed, something like the opposite may be the case.” So when a series of books by public intellectuals appeared that explicitly addressed this conundrum, large readerships were waiting to devour them.

In other words, after 9/11, the cat was out of the bag: religion is a wholly human invention, and not an entirely felicitous one at that. (This realization may be one reason that Towing Jehovah is still in print after all these years.)

Of course, we’re now seeing a backlash, to use your word. Those uppity atheists, don’t they know their place? Alas, this attitude is not confined to the religious right: much of the progressive philosophical community has closed ranks against a certain kind of unembarrassed secular humanism. (I think especially of Terry Eagleton’s snarky manifesto, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.) I would say that Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens and my hero Jonathan Miller must be doing something right.

Even if the evangelical right knew about my Godhead Trilogy, they probably wouldn’t give me any particular grief about it. From the standpoint of Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich (despite his affection for a certain kind of technocracy), all discourse that puts a premium on science, reason, ambiguity, skepticism, and secularism is degenerate, not simply frankly blasphemous novels. Christian theocracy forever! Jim, Thanks for your time. Last question: where can your fans find you during March 2012? Any upcoming appearances?

I’m about to take off for Bard College, where The Philosopher’s Apprentice has found its way into novelist Bradford Morrow’s syllabus. On March 19 I’ll be visiting Brad’s classes and giving a public reading.

Then it’s off to Orlando for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, March 21-25, where I’ll be reading from the Darwin novel—probably the scene where Chloe lands on the Galapagos island of Charles (now Floreana) and discovers that it’s been colonized by three Mormon Saints and their harems.

(You can also find James Morrow here and his latest story here – the Eds. again)