Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interview - Armand Rosamilia

Armand Rosamilia, owner of Carnifex Press and the creator of the Freehold Shared World series, is a writer, editor, and a big Heavy Metal fan. In other words, he's just one cool dude.

How did Carnifex Press get started?

It all started about 10 years previously, as I had Black Moon Magazine in the mid-1990's, a print magazine filled with horror fiction, Heavy Metal interviews and reviews, and basically dark things. It lasted a few issues but there was a difference of opinion between my partner and I about the direction, so we split up and Black Moon folded. I continued writing short stories (mostly fantasies set in my Freehold world) on and off but not seriously. When I decided in about 2003 that I wanted to get them published I looked around, saw a lack of fantasy/horror small-press publishers that might want to publish my stuff, and decided to do it myself. Instead, I focused on being a true publisher instead of self-publisher and started with the first Clash of Steel anthology.

As an editor, what are the qualities you look for most in a story?

You have to grab me from the first three paragraphs or else you'll lose me. So many writers feel the need to 'info- dump' their big, grand plots up front and push the character to the background. You won't catch an editor like that. Dialogue is also a big factor. I don't know how many stories I've rejected over the two years of Carnifex Press due to slang and lazy dialogue in fantasy stories, stories that might have been good but made me stop reading.

Being both a writer and an editor, does your work as an editor improve your writing skills?

Immensely. When I went back and started to rework some of the older Freehold short stories (some dating back to 1986) I immediately caught so many common mistakes that writers make, and I used to make... I still make too many mistakes, but I can catch some of them now. When Misty Gersley came to me to edit Withersin Magazine, I told her that her own writing would improve because of editing, and she saw it right away.

What are your favorite genres and subgenres?

I hate pigeon-holing everything into neat little titles, but anything Fantasy and Horror is good with me. I am a huge Conan fan, a huge David Gemmel fan and a huge RA Salvatore fan. I am in the midst of collecting the entire series of Forgotten Realms books (there's 200+ right now!) because I am insane. I love any fantasy with a strong character who kills things... I hate wizards, female leads and wimpy kids growing up to be warriors most of the time. In horror, you need to scare me... I don't need gore, it is so five minutes ago.

How did you come up with the idea for the Freehold shared world series?

The idea came out of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ran (I was a super-uber D&D geek in junior high and high school) for a number of years, all set in my world of Freehold. It was based on the premise that magic had been taken away - I hate wizards - and I created maps and characters and storylines. I wrote short stories based on some of the ideas and never stopped. When I was happy with the direction of Carnifex Press, I decided to pull it all back out, gather some writers and see what happens. I could not be more happy so far with the stories and
ideas that are flowing. I have four trilogies as well as novellas and single books that I'll be releasing... someday I'd love to challenge Forgotten Realms in sheer volume of good books.

And perhaps challenge them by creating a world for RPG players to game in, too?

I've actually tossed around the idea of a d20 Freehold game or perhaps my own creation, as well as a card game ala Yu-Ghi-Oh, but that is still far off in the future. I'd like to build Freehold as a brand name once the core reading fans are there and branch out. Maybe someday you can buy your kids an adorable stuffed Northlander doll or have a goblin doll that says cute things like 'kill the Freeholder dead'...

What are some of the challenges to working on a shared world series? And what are the advantages?

Well, the very first writing group I started for Freehold was a disaster. I had a bunch of writers that had no idea what I was looking for and I was hesitant to let people 'play in my world' and add their own ideas, so we spent months and months wondering what fauna was where, and about crops and the bartering system... real heavy Fantasy stuff, to be sure! I gave up on it for nearly a year, then contacted Nathan Meyer, who was in the first group and showed the most promise, and he helped me assemble a great group of initial writers like Steve Goble, Bruce Durham, M.P. Ericson, Heather Lee Fleming, Keith Gouveia, and Cindy Rodiana. I've since added quite a few other writers that are taking part in one of the other trilogies, and I'm always looking for more to be added. It's not about getting authors with big writing credits, it's about getting writers that show an enthusiasm for the process.

One challenge, initially, is getting the writers on the same page as far as what I'm looking for. With the above- mentioned writers it is so much easier now, as new writers are almost being 'policed' when they submit ideas... Freehold is a bit unique in that magic is no more, and has been gone for over 250 winters... so anytime they see even a hint of magic in a short story they point it out, which helps me immensely. An advantage is the way we write: I start out with the first draft of a 20,000 word novella that gets critiqued by everyone involved in that trilogy. They hopefully get a few ideas from that and submit character and plot ideas. I pick five stories for each book to go along with the novella, and they begin writing while I do a rewrite of the
novella. As they get something down on paper they submit it to the group, and get a critique right away on it. We work together until the book is finished, asking questions and sharing ideas along the way. Several characters have come out of the stories so far that have also had cameos in other stories, which is neat.

What kind of music do you listen to, and has it sometimes had an influence on what you write?

Music is a huge influence on what I write. I am a huge Heavy Metal fan - going to be 37 in November - and put on something great like Manowar when writing battle scenes. I've also gotten into Hammerfall lately to write, and when I want to do dark stuff or horror I put on King Diamond and some moody Black Metal to get me going. Some people need no noise, but I write with headphones on when I'm writing at home.

What are your future plans with Carnifex Press, and what are your future plans as a writer?

Carnifex Press will be releasing three more anthologies in 2007 and then only single-author novellas for the future. I am always looking for the best writers out there, whether horror or fantasy. As for my writing: I plan to finish all of the Freehold short stories I have (there are over 30 right now) and get them into markets. I already have three published, in Gryphonwood, Stalking Shadows anthology and coming in Sword's Edge.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Author Interview - Carrie Vaughn

A werewolf...named Kitty...(ROFL!). How did you come up with that?

In very early drafts of the first story, her name wasn't Kitty. I'm not sure how I came up with it at that point, but it became clear that thestories were going to be pretty funny on one level, and if I really wanted to push that aspect of it, Kitty was the perfect name. It was so silly I just had to do it.

Kitty Norville is a very interesting character,especially how she acts more like a beta wolf insteadof the usual, aggressive "alpha" stereotypes found inother werewolf stories. Did you make her that wayintentionally, or did she just end up that way as you wrote?

I definitely didn't want her to be a Buffy-esque kick-ass kind of heroine. There are enough of those out there already. I wanted her to be aperfectly normal person who just happens to be a werewolf. That's how she developed in the short stories, but when I wrote the first novel, I needed an arc--I needed her to develop from one thing into something else, andthat's how the "coming of age" aspect of the first novel developed. She starts out as submissive and insecure, and has to learn to stand up for herself.

Did the short stories about Kitty come first, or were you planning to write a novel from the start?

The short stories came first. I didn't know if the idea of a werewolf talk radio host was big enough for a novel at first. It was only after writing the first two or three stories and realizing that I had so much more to say about Kitty and her world that I wrote the novel.

What was it like to get that first novelpublished?

From an emotional standpoint? Huge. Massive. It's a thrill, especially because I'd been working for it for years and years. Kitty and theMidnight Hour is the fourth novel manuscript I tried to get published. After working that hard, success feels great.

So persistence eventually pays off.

Yes, that old advice is really true. With a caveat--you have to persist and improve. You have to work not just at writing, but at making your writing better. Part of collecting all those rejections for all thoseyears is simply learning the trade. But if you're improving, you will eventually get published.

I once read an article you wrote ("An Ode to KAFA orHow College Radio Saved Me") about how certain stylesof music influenced you while growing up. Does music also influence what you write?

In some cases. Certain songs have triggered scenes, help me define certain moods and tones for the story. The thing is, there's often no predicting when that's going to happen, when a specific song is going to crystalize part of the story or really get my creative juices flowing. So I try to listen to lots of different kinds of music all the time. I also just need to have something playing while I write, to distract the obsessivelist-making part of my brain so I can concentrate on the creative side.

The next Kitty book comes out in Spring 2007. Anything you want to say to wet our appetites while we wait and scratch our ears impatiently?

Cormac is by far the character besides Kitty I get the most comments about. People always want to know if we'll see more of him, and the answer isyes, he's a big part of Kitty Takes a Holiday. Though I have to warnyou, all the main characters are in for a pretty rough time of it in this one. How's that for a vague spoiler?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

Werewolf and radio host Kitty Norville gets subpoenaed by the Senate to testify at a hearing on behalf of supernaturals. But when she gets to Washington she finds herself embroiled in the politics of the Washington underworld as a fundamentalist senator attempts to expose her as a monster. While dodging the "protection" of the city's vampire mistress, she has an affair with a Brazilian werejaguar and teams up with a tabloid paparazzi photojournalist to unmask the mysterious traveling cult that first appeared in the previous novel.

All-in-all, Kitty Goes to Washington is a fun read and just as good as Kitty and the Midnight Hour. You get to see more of Kitty's newfound independent streak, and there's plenty of humor mixed in with the action and drama. Vaughn also reveals more of the diverse supernatural underworld, especially how the Washington underworld differs from Denver. Political intrigues and surprising plot twists keep you reading all the way through just to find out what happens next.

Publisher: Warner
Paperback:360 pages

Monday, October 09, 2006

Kitty and The Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

A werewolf named Kitty with her own radio talk show? Just the title alone was enough to know this would be a story full of humor. But to my delight, there was much more than just humor in it. Action, intrigue, horror, drama, mystery--even kinky armpit-sniffing.

Kitty Norville is a DJ who also happens to be a werewolf. Out of boredom, she begins taking calls from other members of the supernatural community and giving advice, thus creating "The Midnight Hour" when the ratings soar. Her fame, however, becomes a liability, and she finds herself facing a werewolf hunter, a vampire Family, and the alphas of her own Pack who all want her either dead or under their control--when they're not asking for favors. On top of all that, she finds herself with a few mysteries to solve: a traveling cult that claims to have a cure for Lycanthropy and Vampirism, a psychotic werewolf serial-killer, and the identity of the one who hired the hunter to assassinate her. The plots and subplots twist and turn in a Machiavellian dance that leaves you guessing.

Inside you find a realistic depiction of wolf-pack dynamics mixed with human social conditions, a coming-of-age story, and an understanding of what it's like to be feared and hated for what you are while finding the necessary courage to face your own fears.

The characters each have their interesting quirks. Kitty's two love interests create a powerful dynamic. You have the pack alpha, Carl: protective, yet abusive. Then there's the hunter, Cormac, who hunts werewolves for the sport and because the pay is good. Hired to kill Kitty, he falls in love with her instead, but for all the obvious reasons it's a strained relationship to say the least. Then you have T.J., Carl's second-in command, who watches over Kitty with genuine affection. Meg, the female alpha, is as manipulative as she is powerful and sexy. The Master of the local vampire Family, Arturo, and his second, Rick, have all the markings of classic elder vampires, right down to the sophistication and dry humor. Even the minor characters are more than just two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs.

My only complaint is the "Buffy as werewolf" feel to the novel. But other than that, it is an enjoyable read well-written with a good flow and pace. I'm already looking forward to reading the sequels.

Publisher: Warner Books
Price: $6.99
Paperback: 272 pages
ISBN: 0-446-61641-9

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Author Interview - Eugie Foster

Award-Winning Short Fiction Author, Columnist for Writing-World.Com, Managing Editor of Tangent Online, and Assistant Managing Editor of The Town Drunk, are just a few of Eugie Foster's many accomplishments. And if that isn't enough, she's just an all-round great person. So getting to interview her is an honor, and one I've been blessed with twice now.

What's the most fun part of writing horror stories?
Fun is probably the wrong word for this, but writing visceral horror gives me the opportunity to dig into the dark crannies of my psyche and drag the squalling, snarling creepy-crawlies out and shove them blinking and wincing into the spotlight. They get to ham it up, and I get to look them over and poke at what I've got cluttering the recesses of my hindbrain. 'Cause, y'know, sometimes, a mind needs some airing to keep the clutter from overwhelming the day-to-day sanity. I know some writers treat horror as a big gross-out fest, a sort of competition to see who can write the goriest, most extreme stories, but I'm not of that school. While some of my horror has gotten quite explicit, the hardcore elements serve a purpose; they're integral to the story and theme, not gratuitous gore for the sake of gore.

I guess that's why I don't write as much horror as, say fantasy. There's a certain headspace I have to be in to create horror, and it's not one I typically seek out or strive to attain. Rather, it's foisted on me, and writing horror is how I cope with it. Therapy, if you will. For every real horror story I've written-not dark fantasy, which is a different animal altogether-I can point to a disturbing issue or event in my life that spurred me to write it.

What do you think marks the difference between Horror and Dark Fantasy?
Genre lines are so arbitrary and, in some regards, subjective. For me, horror is more contemporary in setting, mood, and character than dark fantasy, but at the same time, urban fantasies are essentially defined by their modern settings, and they tend to be quite dark, yet I don't consider them horror. Similarly, there are plenty of stories with historical settings that I would consider horror. So I guess it's a spectrum. Horror is grittier and tends to addresses starker themes of desolation and rage, while dark fantasy is still, at its core, fantasy.

As a writer, I enjoy writing dark fantasy. There's a sensual beauty to baddies and an allure to danger that's exciting to play with. But horror requires me to strip away the glamorous veneer of darkness and confront the reality of it, and there's nothing sexy or attractive about the things that make me want to cry or scream for real.

What do you think are the good qualities regarding the Horror/Dark Fantasy genres?
The monsters, the big bads, are metaphors for that which really scares us. By conquering the personifications of our fears, we're less frightened by them, which makes us better able to deal with them. And sometimes, shining a light on our boogy monsters shows us that they're in actuality timorous, puny nebbishes named Irving.

"My Friend is a Lesbian Zombie" shows that you also have a humor streak when it comes to horror fiction. How in the world did you come up with the idea of a lesbian zombie?
Funny horror is my favorite variety of dark speculative fiction. Humor undercuts the tension, gives you a chance to catch your breath and put things in perspective, while at the same time, it makes you feel it even more intensely when the scary bits ratchet up again. Plus there's always a delicious squirm element, finding yourself giggling during what you'd otherwise run screaming from.

As to what inspired "My Friend is a Lesbian Zombie," zombies scare the shrieking bejeebers out of me, always have. I can't watch zombie films, haven't seen any of the George Romero Living Dead movies. I could go all analytical about which squicks me about zombies-what they represent, why they max out my primal fear o'meter-but that's boring. Basically, I decided to address this lifelong heebie-jeebie by writing a zombie tale, and figured, "What better way than with humor?" A gal's gotta be able to laugh at herself.

What kind of music do you listen to, and how much influence can music have on your writing?
I listen to a pretty broad range of music, and my preference varies from day to day, depending upon what sort of listening experience I'm looking for. I adore Loreena McKennit, Simon & Garfunkel, and Stone Soup (a defunct little band in my old Midwestern stomping grounds with Carrie Newcomer as the lead singer) when I'm in a folksy, mellow/melancholy mindset-often good for writing fantasy and folktales. When I get my goth on, I toss on The Crüxshadows, The Changelings, or Dead Can Dance to take care of my ambient/dark wave/techno fix. And when I'm craving something sophisticated and complex, I turn on the classical-my favorite composers being Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, and Bach. Recently, I've been getting into Opera Babes and Evanescence with some post-Grunge a la The Verve and Matchbox 20 to mix it up.

As far as what influence music has on my writing, I've had a couple stories inspired by songs ("The Goddess Queen's Battlefield," forthcoming in issue #2 of GrendelSong came about from Suzanne Vega's "The Queen and the Soldier," for example), but for the most part, I decide on the mood I'm trying to maintain and select the soundtrack accordingly.

So, what's in Eugie Foster's future, writing-wise?
To quote my favorite diabolical cartoon lab mouse: "Same thing we do every night: Try to conquer the world!" Mwa ha ha haaaa!

Failing that, I've got stories forthcoming in the DAW anthology Heroes in Training, edited by Jim C. Hines and Martin H. Greenberg; a Haworth Press anthology, So Fey, edited by Steve Berman; Best New Fantasy: 2005, edited by Sean Wallace; as well as ones due out in Realms of Fantasy, Cricket, and the new horror podcast 'zine, Pseudopod. And, of course, I've got half a dozen works in progress awaiting my attention: short stories, a YA novel, articles, and the next installment of my monthly column, Writing for Young Readers, at