Category Archives: Author Interview

Author Interview: Michael Bunker

I met Michael Bunker at last year’s LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio, the World Science-Bunker_PENNSYLVANIA_Omnibus_EbookEditionFiction Convention for 2013. We were seated next to each other at the dinner Hugh Howey hosted for local fans and fellow writers, and we hit it off quickly. The man makes quite an impression. About the last thing you expect to see at a science-fiction convention is an Amish man and his family dressed in traditional garb, and Michael was asked more than once if he was engaging in a bit of cosplay. He good-naturedly informed the curious that he was, in fact, Amish, and was also a writer of science-fiction, thanks for asking. Making even more of an impression was the obviously sharp mind beneath the straw hat, along with his passionate advocacy for independent publishing.

Bunker has made a rapid transition from author of primarily non-fiction books such as Surviving Off Off-Grid: Decolonizing The Industrial Mind, to prolific writer in the science-fiction and post-apocalypse genres. His newest release is the complete omnibus edition of Pennsylvania, which has been serialized over the course of a year. It promises to be a true showcase for what’s possible in independent publishing, with cover by Jason Gurley and interior illustrations by Ben Adams. The trade paperback edition is being released on Tuesday, April 29, and Bunker is cooking up a “book bomb,” asking fans to buy it on that day, the better to make a boulder-sized splash in the rankings. I checked in with Michael to get the latest on the release:

SS: I already know, of course, because I’ve been reading the installments, but for everyone else, give us a rundown—what is Pennsylvania about?

MB: In shorthand, Pennsyvlania is about a young Amish man who, like his ancestors before him, decides to emigrate to a place where he can find good cheap land in a new Amish community. It just so happens that this community is on a new planet… the earth-like planet of New Pennsylvania. The journey thrusts young Jed into the midst of a war between an insurgent anti-government organization, and a tyrannical government agency, and in the midst of a number of mysteries that involve the very nature of time and space.

SS: You seem to have mined a unique sub-genre: Amish Science-fiction. How does your own life in a “Plain” community inform your fiction?

MB: I think living as a plain man in an off-grid community involves a daily study of how technology affects our lives and how we interact with it. Our cottage on our forty acre farm is completely non-electric, but I have an office several hundred yards from my cottage where I work. In my office I have limited electricity via solar power and a generator. So every day I experience the tension between the modern technological world, and my own community which is a simple, peaceful, plain community. That contrast is the root stock of Amish Sci-Fi. The Amish have never been anti-technology. They are just very deliberate about what technologies they choose to use and examine how the use of it will affect their lives, families, and communities. I think Amish Sci-Fi is a perfectly natural extension of what Sci-Fi is all about… how we deal with the future and how it affects our humanity.

SS: Pennsylvania was released as a serial in five installments over the course of a year, culminating in the omnibus edition. You’ve done that with many of your other novels. How does serialization help the Indie author? Is this still the most effective strategy?

MB: I think serialization offers the reader the best of both worlds. Some readers HATE serials, and only want to purchase the finished novel. Great! My books are compiled and novelized at the same speed as if I’d written the book and published it as a complete novel. So there is no “waiting” involved, other than the waiting that would have happened if I hadn’t serialized. At the same time, there is a large and growing population of readers, raised on serialized television and even serialized movies, who love the serial form. Actually, the serial form in literature is very, very old, and some of the greatest works of literature were serialized first. So readers can consume their fiction however they like it.

Serialization helps the author in numerous ways. First, it creates a relationship between the author and the people I call “super fans.” Those readers who just love serialization and love to actually have direct contact with the content creator. These readers become partners in the production and distribution of the work, almost like they are co-writers. They often offer early comment and critique as the story is being written, and through social media the author can actually listen in as his or her most avid readers discuss what they like or don’t like about the story.

Next, the super fans are also a driving force. They encourage the author to keep moving forward and to produce on a schedule. Like I said, they become full partners in the work! Then, with a large number of readers who are partners, our finalized novel has a firm platform to be launched out to the rest of the world. It is improved by the help from our partners, and those partners become voices that help move the story out of our immediate circle of influence. I don’t think serialization will work for every book, but for most speculative fiction it is an ideal plan for both the readers and the authors. I meet people all the time who say, “I hate serials. I’ll just wait for the full novel,” and I say “GREAT!” And I reinforce the fact that the serialization process has added ZERO time to the waiting. The Pennsylvania Omnibus will be released exactly when it would have been released if I hadn’t serialized it. The only difference is that I believe it is a much better book now than it might have been otherwise.

SS: You’ve put a lot of effort into the print edition of Pennsylvania. What’s special about the trade paperback?

MB: I’m one of those strange fellows who likes both e-books and paperbacks. I have well over 3,000 books in my personal library. I love physical copies of books, and I think there are still a whole lot of people who love physical books. At the same time, I realize that some people don’t have room on their book shelves or for some reason they just don’t like to buy physical books. Like with the Serial vs. Full Novel issue, with Indie publishing every reader can get exactly what they want.

I also happen to believe that we are in a very special time in the history of the world, one of those Golden Ages that happens in literature every 50 to 100 years. I believe that some of the Indie writers telling stories today will one day be household names, and they’ll be studied in classrooms in the future. I wrote a blog post for my blog yesterday where I explained how Gogol and Pushkin, both self-published authors at the time, published books in 1831 that fundamentally changed the world and all of literature. It was the beginning of the golden age of Russian literature.

So having some of these important works in the Indie publishing revolution in print format—a first edition—is a very cool thing. I’m developing quite a pile of signed Indie works, mainly because I believe they are going to be very valuable very soon. I can tell you this, if you had a signed print version of Hugh Howey’s first WOOL Omnibus (the earliest “ugly” yellow cover), you’d be able to sell it for a lot of money on Ebay. The one that is available there this morning is $599! I think that kind of collector reality is happening right now in self-publishing. I want the early, first edition printings of Pennsylvania to have the kind of intrinsic value that makes it valuable to the reader for more than just the story. That is why I put a lot of time and money into the first print edition of The Pennsylvania Omnibus, and why readers can buy it directly from Amazon unsigned, or they can ordered a signed First Edition directly from me.

SS: You have a book bomb planned for April 29th when the print edition is released. What everyone really wants to know is, which adult beverage are you holding in reserve to celebrate? And which stogie will get the honor?

MB: It will definitely be Scotch. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I’m considering my options. I think I will spend the day in Fredericksburg, Texas and I’ll buy a bottle of 12-year-old Highland Single Malt and I’ll sit back and see how the launch goes. As for a stogie, same deal… there is a pretty nice little cigar store in Fredericksburg and I’ll go pick out something fine and perfect and I’ll enjoy the day!

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Author Interview: Eric Tozzi

The Scout by Eric Tozzi
The Scout by Eric Tozzi

Eric Tozzi is that rarity in science-fiction—someone who has worked closely with real-world space programs and then used those experiences to build his own worlds of the fantastic. He was a documentary producer and editor at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has also produced a variety of web video series. He directed the award-winning independent film Kaleidoscope, based on the Ray Bradbury short story. Tozzi just released his first science-fiction novel, The Scout, so it seemed like the perfect time to talk with the writer/director/producer.

You just released your novel The Scout. Give us the elevator pitch: What’s it about?

ET: The Scout is an alien invasion thriller with a science-based foundation. But really it’s a story about the inevitability of change. In the book it plays out in two arenas: the family and the world. The hero, Jack McAllister, is confronted by the sudden death of his estranged father, and left to care for his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. Those things carry huge implications for his personal life. But when a robotic geochemist—an alien scout—lands in the forest nearby to conduct an environmental survey, he’s drawn into the realization that things are about to change catastrophically for the entire planet. Jack soon discovers he might be able to change the course of world events before it’s too late, but remains powerless to change the fate of his own parents.

I should mention that I wrote the loss of family component from a very personal perspective. Both my parents passed away in 2011 as I began writing this book. There are numerous moments in the story that are very close to the real thing.

You used to work for JPL documenting the efforts behind the Mars Curiosity Rover and Twin MER missions, among other assignments. How did those experiences influence your work?

ET: Working at JPL had a huge impact on how I saw space exploration. Most profoundly, I realized that it is an incredibly hard, if not an impossible feat. There are just so many things that can go wrong on a mission. Most people have no idea the millions of points at which a spacecraft can fail. It’s really a miracle that we’ve had so much success in deep space with, say, Voyager and Cassini, and on the surface of Mars with Viking, Pathfinder, MER Rovers, Phoenix and Curiosity. The systems on these vehicles are complex, and the conditions in which they’re placed are incredibly hazardous. It seems a recipe for almost certain failure.

It’s when you watch the teams working together: the engineers, planetary scientists—all of them—that you realize what kind of patience and dedication it takes to pull off a mission like the Curiosity Mars Rover. They think and plan in terms of decades, not years. They spend all that time trying to engineer out any possible problem. And just when they’ve solved one, a hundred more materialize from out of nowhere. It’s an ongoing challenge.

In fact, I recommend, for those who are interested, looking at some of the documentaries I shot and produced, titled, “The Challenges of Getting To Mars,” available at the official JPL/NASA website.

In terms of how this all influenced me writing this book, I took a lot of what I learned about the entry, descent, and landing of a vehicle on another planet and reverse-engineered it for the story. I thought, if a scout mission were to land on Earth, how would it get here, and what would it be looking for?

You’ve been right there inside the heart of NASA and have now moved on to science-fiction, which has clearly been a dream of yours for some time. Who were your science-fiction influences?

ET: Ray Bradbury was a huge influence. I remember reading Martian Chronicles as a kid, and even seeing the old TV Miniseries version of it back in the ’70s. I was also a huge Star Trek and Lost In Space fan when I was a little kid. The premise of exploring the heavens and discovering other worlds with all kinds of strange life…I loved that! I also loved all the gadgets: phasers, communicators, tricorders, giant viewer screens and warp drives. As a kid, one word: awesome.

Your film Kaleidoscope, based on Ray Bradbury’s short story, has won a pile of awards on the independent film circuit and was shown at Worldcon this year. How did that project come to be, and what did Bradbury think of it?

ET: The film came together when the producer/star, Brett Stimely, approached me about doing some “actor’s scenes” from the short story to showcase himself in the part of Hollis, the main character. It wasn’t long before “actor’s scenes” became the production of the whole story as a film, with photo-real visual effects produced by some very talented artists, some of whom worked at Digital Domain, Disney and DreamWorks.

A mentor of mine, TV producer, writer, and novelist Marc Scott Zicree (The Twilight Zone Companion), helped put us together with Ray personally, so we could shoot the film with his blessing on it.

We screened the film for Ray at his home in early 2012, just a few months before he passed away. Ray truly loved Kaleidoscope, and told us, “It’s beautiful…it made my life!”

You’ve directed films and web series, and now written a novel. How does structuring a story for film differ from constructing a story for the page? Which is more difficult?

ET: They both have their challenges, but I found an incredible amount of liberty writing a novel as opposed to writing a screenplay. Screenplays demand a very precise writing style and structure. If you want a shot at getting your spec script considered at an agency or production company, and you’re a new writer, you have to play by the rules, period. There are typically 60 story beats in any script, major and minor act breaks, a strong mid-point all launched by an inciting incident. And your page count has to be within a certain margin (usually 90 to 120 pages max). You can’t turn in a 200 page screenplay and expect a reader at an agency or production company to give you the time of day. Unless you happen to be James Cameron.

Novels and screenplays can be equally challenging. But at the heart of both should be a great story with great characters and some emotional truth powering it all. If you know your end from the beginning, if you can draw people into the moment with the characters, and if you make sure you’re not leaving gaping plot-holes or loose ends…you’ve got something.

What’s your next project?

ET: Like most people, I have several pots on the stove. On the book front, I’ve begun working on a new novel with the working title, “The Zoo.” It’s another science fiction thriller, but this one takes place on an alien world…a heavy planet. Lots of action planned for this one. I may also be pulling a screenplay I wrote years ago, “Field Of Gods,” off the shelf and novelizing it.

There are a couple of low-budget sci-fi features I hope to be shooting next year. I also have a female-driven superhero web-series in development over at Endemol, and I’m excited to see that one get funded and take off soon!

For The Scout, I’m planning on producing an audiobook version through ACX Amazon, and a print version too. Most of all, I really hope people enjoy The Scout, and find it to be an exciting and interesting story that keeps them hooked and entertained.

Author Interview: Rob Reaser

Fellow comrade-in-words Rob Reaser has released a new book, Southern Strange, available in e-book format at amazon.com. I’ve followed Rob’s career since we both broke into the car magazine field together over twenty years ago. The man can write. so I checked in with Rob to get the story behind his latest work of fiction.

Give us the low-down on your new book. What’s it about?

Southern Strange is a collection of short stories I wrote over the last couple of years, in-between writing my speculative fiction novel Age of Giants – awakening. As you can tell from the anthology’s title, the collection is made up of stories that take place in the southeastern U.S., and there’s a dark, sometimes supernatural vein running through all of them. Nearly all of the stories loosely adhere to the conventions of Southern Gothic literature.

How would you define the Southern Gothic Genre? How does it differ from traditional horror stories?

Most critics consider Southern Gothic works to be those that are set in the south, in some way touch on cultural or sociological aspects that are identifiably southern, usually contain a supernatural element, and often include the macabre or grotesque. As such, Southern Gothic stories tend to be significantly more subtle in their approach to the horror or terror components of fiction than do traditional or contemporary horror stories. Traditional horror or, more accurately, contemporary horror, usually include more outrageous situations, heavy-duty supernatural conditions and characters, and often a good smattering of blood-and-guts.

Southern Strange is written in more of a literary style when compared to conventional horror, and is more aligned with the Southern Gothic genre. With most of the stories in this collection, you’re not even aware of the supernatural element until it creeps up on you.

You’ve spent most of your life in the South. What is it about the region that lends itself to this branch of literature?

I think readers and critics have been trying to figure that out for decades! I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, other than to say that the South developed a culture unlike that of the northeastern states due to diverse Spanish, French and African influences that combined with the uniquely American spirit of pioneering and enterprise. Add in the stark environmental differences between this region and the rest of the country, and it’s easy to understand that the South is different. As to why…well, that is the question that has intrigued so many, and I think that it’s different for everyone.

For myself, the South is a mysterious place—from the Florida swamps to the highest peaks of the Smokey Mountains—the land itself seems to have been imbued with an almost supernatural charm. That it would help form a distinctive culture and inspire its own literary flavor comes as no surprise to me.

You’ve written a novel (Age of Giants — awakening) and now have written a short story anthology. How does the writing process compare?

To be honest, I’ve never written short stores before this because I never really gave them much credence. I’ve often enjoyed reading short pieces by some of the masters (Poe, Hawthorne, et al), but never considered writing them myself because I never saw the point. I suppose that was the business side of me talking. In my mind, short stories were for budding authors looking to enter a contest or to be paid a ridiculously low sum of money for the opportunity to be published in a magazine or anthology. It just didn’t make sense to me from a time vs. return perspective.

Well, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a try, and cranked out four shorts last winter. To my surprise, I enjoyed the process. Unlike novel-length works, I found that short stories demand a truly austere approach to writing because of their brevity—assuming that you are trying to pack a complete story arc into one and, hopefully, deliver a resolution that has a measurable impact. It turned out to be an extremely satisfying effort for me because the short stories allowed me to write and explore topics in a quick and concise manner. Also, short stories provide quicker gratification because you’re in and out in a few days to a week, depending on the length of the piece. In other words, you enjoy a change of scenery more quickly than when you’re working on a full-length novel. Writing a novel, as you know from your work on the Connor Rix Chronicles, demands total immersion in that particular world—often without coming up for air—until it is completed. You have to maintain that focus and momentum for a solid two or three months. With short stories, it’s kind of like going to a new theme park every week. Another great thing about short stories, from an author’s perspective, is that it can allow you to develop characters, situations or themes that could potentially plant the seeds for full-length novels.

What’s next on your plate? Tell us about your next book:

I’m currently working on the second volume in the Age of Giants series. Age of Giants follows the journey of a young woman in the post-apocalyptic American southwest as she leads her tribe in guerilla conflict against the Nephilim overlords who have returned from our ancient past and taken over the earth, enslaving humanity in the process. The first book of the series, Age of Giants – awakening, introduces us to Nora and her fellow raiders, and establishes the ongoing conflict between the various human tribes who have managed to remain free of the Nephilim slave camps, and the brutal and technologically advanced giants. In it, Nora discovers that she, among all free humans, may be the key to defeating the Nephilim and returning mankind to its rightful place on the earth.

While a complete novel, Age of Giants – awakening posed numerous questions, not the least of which is what will be the ultimate outcome of the struggle between the remnant bands of free humans and the Nephilim. The second volume, which I’m working on now, picks up three years after the first book, when the conflict between the raiders and the Nephilim is about to reach epic proportions.

Currently, I’m about a quarter of the way through the book. My goal is to have it completed and ready for publication by the end of June.