Author Corner–Richard Thomas

E: Hi Richard, and welcome to Erindipity.  Charlie has a story idea he’d like to pitch you.  I mean, I already told him writers hate that sort of thing, and that the likelihood of you speaking corpse is probably low, but he threatened to pout until Christmas unless I brought it up.  Trust me, you don’t want to see him pout.  It’s not attractive.

R: Love to hear it. I’m sure he has some excellent insights he could share with me. Lay it on me.

E: You were included in the charity anthology Bleed from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.  What was it like writing for this project where the monsters being fought were metaphors for childhood cancers?  And which charity were you raising money for?

R: Of course I couldn’t say no when Lori Michelle approached me. We talked about a few different stories I had, and I sent her over “Death Knell.” It deals with a mother’s side of the grief after she loses her son to a random accident. It was a bit of flash I wrote later, in response to my original story, “Say Yes to Pleasure” which appeared in Warmed and Bound. There are always two sides to a coin, to a story, and it was interesting to explore both of them. There is a line in one of my stories that goes, “I was autistic with pain,” and that’s how I feel when I think about children and suffering. It’s so horrible. The charity is The National Children’s Cancer Society.

E: You had another anthology release earlier this month.  What’s the name of your story and what can you tell us about it?

R: I had two come out this month. Reloaded: Both Barrels, Volume 2 includes a bit of Southern gothic noir entitled, “Trinity” about three women who share a childhood secret, based on my time down in Conway, Arkansas. And there’s also my story “Victimized” collected in the anthology, The Best of the Horror Society 2013. This story came out a few years ago, originally in Murky Depths at 5,000 words, but later in its full version in my collection of stories Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press). It’s a story set in the near future where victims can find redemption in a boxing ring, fighting, and often killing, the men who raped and murdered their family members. It’s told from the POV of a female protagonist, Annabelle, and it’s a wild ride, for sure. And on Halloween, I have a story coming out in Fear the Reaper (Crystal Lake Publishing), “The Culling,” which is my homage to “The Lottery,” a tale about family and wolves and the choices you make to protect your own. October is definitely one of my favorite months.

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E: In addition to your short story writing, you also write columns for Storyville.  What can you tell us about the column?

R: It’s a lot of fun to write. It started as a way for me to share my experiences—you know, misery loves company. I talked about what I was going through, how I struggled, and eventually, how I was breaking through. I write about craft, process, submitting, the business, you name it. My hope is that it will help other authors with their own writing, to become better, more educated about the process, and to not give up hope, no matter how long they struggle to get their stories and novels out there.

E: You’ve also written a novel, TransubstantiateHow was that experience different for you than short story writing?  What do you like best and least about the novel length manuscript?

R: Well, the scope of it is just so much bigger. And for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take this neo-noir, speculative thriller, a mix of Lost, The Truman Show, and The Prisoner, and tell it from the POV of seven different people. It was a challenge, for sure. You have to stay focused, and think in terms of short arcs (scenes), medium arcs (chapters) and the big arc (the novel) with several different threads, plots and sub-plots, all meshing together. Hopefully, it’s cohesive and the audience can follow you. I want to entertain, but I also want it to stay with people, by using lyrical language, and emotions we can all relate to, whether good or bad, happy or sad, light or dark. The hardest part is staying with it, on task, and to keep the voice going. The best part is having the room to really expand the narrative, sit in those moments and scenes for pages and pages, really getting all of the details, and emotions, and impact that you can. My agent is currently shopping my second novel, Disintegration, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

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E: I’ve heard you offer editing services.  Is there anything you are unwilling to edit and what are your rates per service?

R: I try to work on writing where I feel I have something to say, some experience. And I’ve been lucky enough to write in many different genres—horror, fantasy, SF, crime, noir, neo-noir, transgressive, magical realism, surreal, bizarro—even literary. I probably wouldn’t take on romance, since I don’t write it or read it. I don’t write MUCH YA, but I’d read that, edit it—I’ve read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Lemony Snicket. I’ve only turned down one client because he was SO BAD that I was nearly in tears trying to edit him. He had SO far to go. The formatting, the structure, it wasn’t really even a story. I suggested some books, and some classes, and refunded his money. He had a strong vision, but he wasn’t ready. I charge $1-3/page depending on the amount of editing, whether it’s big picture overall criticism, a closer edit, or a full on copy edit that covers everything. I’ve been really thrilled to see “my clients/students” go on to sell novels to Perfect Edge Books, Post Mortem Press, and Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, as well as short stories to places like Juked, Red Fez and the American Nightmare anthology (Kraken Press).

E: You’re insanely busy.  On top of everything else, you’re also the Editor-In-Chief of Dark House Press.  What’s the best thing about being in that position and what is the one thing you wish you could change?

R: It’s really a dream come true to be able to publish the voices I’ve been reading over the past 5-10 years, authors that have inspired me, and pushed me to write, to take risks, and get my writing out into the world. In addition to Letitia Trent’s Southern gothic supernatural horror novel, Echo Lake, the Joshua City fantasy trilogy by Okla Elliott and Raul Clement, and the literary horror collection by Stephen Graham Jones, After the People Lights Have Gone Off, we’ve got two excellent anthologies coming out. In 2014, our first book, is the “best of neo-noir” anthology, The New Black, with stories by Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, Craig Clevenger, Paul Tremblay, Lindsay Hunter, Roxane Gay, Kyle Minor, Micaela Morrissette, Benjamin Percy, Roy Kesey, Craig Davidson, Matt Bell, Richard Lange, Joe Meno, Vanessa Veselka, Nik Korpon, Antonia Crane, Rebecca Jones-Howe, Tara Laskowski, and Craig Wallwork. There’s also a foreword by Laird Barron. I’m really excited about this book. Exigencies in 2015 is all new stories, and a fantastic collection as well.

I only wish I had more time, more money, more resources, more staff, etc. We’re only doing 4 titles in 2014, and 5 in 2015, but I could easily accept 10 books a year, 20. There is just so much fantastic writing going on out there, and so many authors that deserve to be discovered.

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E: Clearly, you must be a master of time management.  What advice would you give new writers about effectively managing your time?

R: Well, I don’t know about that. I’m constantly struggling to meet deadlines, turn in blurbs, get my columns done, and I’ve been slacking on my own writing, too. I think the best thing you can do is to make a list, short-term and long-term goals, and check things off as you go. It’s always a good feeling to go, “DONE!” Otherwise, you can feel overwhelmed. Sometimes when that happens, I just turn off the technology, back away from the computer, and get some fresh air—asking my kids to take a walk with the dog, or I hop on my bike, or grab a bowl of ice cream and watch dumb tv with my wife. I have to remind myself why I’m doing all of this, and also, to enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it, the process, the writing, the submitting, all of it, then maybe this isn’t what you should be doing. I have to remind myself that sometimes. It can be frustrating, sure, it can be a slow process, but really, it’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done—writing, editing, teaching, and publishing. It gives me a lot of peace and joy. 

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When he’s not listening to my pet corpse pitch novel ideas (ideas about novels, not original and splendid ideas because lets face it, Charlie just isn’t that creative) he can be found on his website.

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Local Reading Event

A few weeks ago, I posted a new spoken word poem I wrote titled “I Can Hear You.”  I just submitted it for a local reading event here in South Bend, IN.  If it gets chosen, I’ll be reading it at the event.  This sounds like a great time and it’ll be a chance to meet some of the other local writers.  It’s almost the submission deadline for The Michiana Monologues, as well.  I submitted a piece last year that was performed earlier this year at the benefit show.  I may not submit this year, but if you are local you should submit something.  And please, if you’ll be in the area, consider stopping by for the performance.  They have some very talented women performing the submissions and there is a silent auction that helps local agencies help women.  The show dates start at the end of February and go through the first of March.  I will not be in town for most of those dates because I’ll be in Seattle for AWP.  And now, I leave you with this picture of a pugtato for no particular reason.

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Author Corner–Rafael Alvarez

Rafael Alvarez, a writer for the HBO series The Wire, stopped by the blog today to talk about his new book.

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E: Greetings and welcome to Erindipity, Rafael!  I’m glad you could stop by.  Care for a refreshment?  Cookie?

R: Tap water is fine. Thanks.

E: You have a new book coming out in January 2014 from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing called Tales from the Holy Land.  You’ve described it as a mural.  Can you tell us more about that?

R: Since about 1988 (in ficciones) I have been writing one huge book – a very marginal history of Baltimore across the 20th century – a single story at a time.

The setting is always Baltimore (the “Holy Land” of the title) and – like Altman or Woody Allen – I tend to work with a trusted troupe of characters, perhaps two dozen who appear over and again in the stories: fictionalized versions of myself, my family, friends of my grandparents when I was young, obscure local legends (eccentrics) who make Baltimore the goldmine of narrative that it is, along with completely fictional characters, best exemplified by Orlo the Salvage King and his young Greek lover, Leini Leftafkis.

Each story is a panel in the mural. I do not write these stories in chronological sequence. I wait for one of the two dozen characters – Basilio Boullosa or Cherry Triplett or Leini’s cross-eyed daughter Little Leini – to speak to me and then I step back from the mural and see where there might be a gap in the chronology.

E: You have several other books out.  Out of all the titles you’ve published, which one was the most fun to write?  Which one was the hardest to write?

R: Not sure fun is the right word to describe it. I was most thrilled when my first book – The Fountain of Highlandtown – was published in 1997 because I’d worked so long for a book and sometimes wondered if it would ever happen. Most fun is when I’m not thinking about publication, when I’m not thinking about the internal carpentry of the story, most fun is when I’m a kid again, taking my characters down from the shelf like puppets and playing with them for my own amusement.

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The hardest was First & Forever: A People’s History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore” because it covered 400 years of Maryland history – beginning with the Ark & the Dove (the Catholic Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria!) and going all the way through the election of Pope Benedict the XVI. But again, the subject matter was dear to me and I was able to combine a lot of my interests – such as faith and seafaring – in chapters on chapels in ships docked in the Port of Baltimore. It took me seven years to write and the pay was minimal at best.

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E: Your website is a place I could get lost in for hours.  I think my favorite part is all of the old black and white photographs of Baltimore.  What is it about these pictures that grabbed you?

R:  Those photographs evoke what I try to capture in the stories: a simple, working class enchantment (food, work, love, struggle), perhaps not so great to have lived through (though every octogenarian I’ve interviewed looks back on them fondly) but a time when there was work if you wanted it and the pay was enough to put a good meal on the table. 

E: The Aging Newspapermen’s Club is another fantastic section of the site.  How did working in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun shaped who you are as a writer?

R: I learned to write – basic construction, the carpentry I mentioned earlier – as a young man on the City Desk of a once-great newspaper, a room of mostly good souls and bosses who wouldn’t spare your feelings to make a story better. That was my MFA. I ornamented that carpentry with a poetic ear I acquired by listening to a lot of music: the British Invasion (Ray Davies of the Kinks is an extraordinary storyteller; the great bluesmen (I covered Muddy Waters’ funeral in 1983); glam-rock of the early 1970s (Bowie, Mott the Hoople); and listening to the Who’s Quadrophenia (1973) every day for about five years. The other aspect of the newsroom was I got paid to “study” the city I love. Not only was I learning to write but the subject matter was often lives that had taken place in those enchanting black and white photographs. I also wrote a lot of obituaries, which was great for getting to the nuance of relationships by talking to surviving family members. It’s fascinating the things people remember about loved ones or not-so-loved ones. 

E: Your website also lists The RosaryProject as a documentary you’re working on.  What inspired the project?

R: The Blessed Mother is very important to me, crucial to my daily life.

E: You make a lot of nautical references, from photographs to stories about the sea.  What was it like growing up in the second largest American seaport?

R: My Spanish grandfather was a marinero who landed in Baltimore on a ship in the 1920s; my father first went to sea at age 17 and spent most of his working life on tugboats in the Baltimore harbor and I worked on ships twice (two years right after high school and again two years after leaving The Sun in 2001. I draw on all of these experiences (those lived, those only heard about) in my fiction.  Seafarers are notoriously good storytellers. The old joke is: “What’s the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story?”

                Answer: “A fairy tale begins, ‘Once upon a time …’ and a sea story begins: ‘This ain’t no shit …’”

E: What has been the hardest thing about being a writer and what has been the most rewarding?

R: The hardest thing has been making a living. The most rewarding are the notes and conversations from people who say, “I was going through a hard time and your story made me feel better, helped me to get through it …”

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You can find out more about Rafael on his website.

Author Corner–Sue Lange

A few weeks ago, I had The Perpetual Motion Machine Club on Recommend It Monday.  Today, author Sue Lange joins us for Author Corner.

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E: Hi Sue, and welcome to Erindipity!  I made up some hot cocoa for us.  Care for a shot of peppermint schnapps for yours?

S: Funny you mention that. I just mixed up a Brandy Alexander for the occasion. Cheers!

E: Your book, The Perpetual Motion Club, just came out this summer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  How did you come up with the idea for it?

S: I gave myself the challenge of writing something from the world of physics. Something that many people would consider too dry for a light novel. I wanted to make the topic entertaining, to prove that this stuff is interesting if only you’ll look at it the right way.

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E: My favorite part was the perpetual motion machines.  How much did you know about them going in and how much did you need to research?

S: I did a lot of research. When I first started, I kept the image of one of my high school teacher explaining why Villard de Honnecort’s overbalanced wheel wouldn’t work. He told us it was because of friction at the axle. When I did my research I disocovered that was totally wrong. The truth is much more complicated. So I had to go back and relearn physics that I thought I had left far behind. It was enlightening. The most interesting thing I discovered was this whole world of fanatics working tirelessly to invent a perpetual motion machine. It’s a cult actually and not much different from the way I depicted it in the book. It’s tied in with evangelism and God plays a really big role, because in the end you have to “believe.” There’s no other way to break the laws of thermodynamics. Fascinating.

E: Are you currently working on anything?

S: I’m working on a stageplay entitled “The Digital Divide.” It has a lot to do with the technological Singularity, a subject I’ve written a lot about. I wanted to get into writing plays and thought I’d start with something that didn’t require so much research. I’m almost done with my first rewrite and I’m hoping to find a theater group that would like to do a staged reading so I can figure out what works. It’s a new medium for me and I’m really excited about it.

E: What is the hardest thing for you, personally, about being a writer?

S: There’s a lot of emphasis on marketing nowadays. I don’t like to do it. In fact I’ve written a manifesto against social media. I love the world and intend to keep on living in it. Spending a lot of time in virtual reality, i.e. the Internet, takes me away from the world, so that part of being a writer is so adios.

 I like writing, I like the editing process. I like just about everything to do with the artistic end of writing. Selling my work? Not my bag.

E: Is there anything you won’t write?

S: I won’t write anything gratuitously exploitative of animals, people, or the planet. Try not to, anyway. When you write satire, you walk a fine line. I try not to hit someone when they’re down. Some people are so far up, though, that when they’re down, they still need to be drop kicked to the cheap seats.

E: Do you have any upcoming events, book signings, etc?

S: I’m doing the Celebrate the Book event in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on October 19th. (85 Marsh Drive, 9am to 4pm)  I’ll be giving out freebies, holding sales, berating the passersby: the usual stuff.

E: Have you ever been tempted to give up writing?  Not the usual frustrations of writing, but an actual moment of wanting to walk away from it?  And if so,  what made you change your mind?

S: No, not really. I write all the time even if it’s not for public consumption. Even if I stopped writing novels, short stories, or stageplays, I’d still write something. I’ll write letters to my friends, blog posts, emails to the President. Something.

 

Thanks, Erin, for inviting me to Erindipity. Fun! Keep up the good work.

You can find Sue on Twitter or on her blog.

 

Recommend It Monday–Cruel by Eli Wilde

It’s time once again for RIM.  I wish I could do these more often than I do, but grad school makes outside reading problematic, so I do what I can when I can.  That said, I just finished Cruel by Eli Wilde.

There are certain things I feel that people should experience once because they need to.  One such example is the film 8MM.  These are things you should experience once, but once is enough.  Cruel is one of these experiences.

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The book is what its title suggests: it’s cruel.  Some passages gave me goosebumps from their unvarnished honesty.  Others made me feel slightly ill.  The novel is set up in cantos, short memory passages that make reading it a one evening experience.  That is, if you can take that much in one sitting.  I could not.  I found myself reading in chunks, letting parts digest and break down before going back for more.  The first half, for me, was harder to get through than the last half.  I guess it’s easier to distance yourself from a damaged man than it is to watch a child becoming damaged.

The prose is well crafted and that’s largely what makes the book work the way it does.  Less skill from the author would have left it feeling gratuitous.  There are jumps in time, but each canto is dated so its easy to keep track of the time.  The first person POV makes the novel uncomfortably intimate.  It’s wonderful.  It has a mostly linear progression, with acts of cruelty lining up like dominoes waiting for the push.

Read this book.  Take as much time as you need to in order to get through it, but do it.

Guest Post–Kim Williams-Justesen

Some of you may recall the name from past interviews and book reviews.  Kim’s book, The Deepest Blue, is set to launch, so she stopped by to tell us a little about the backstory.

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The Story Behind the Story

One of the most common questions any writer gets is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The most common answer to that question for most writers is, “Everywhere.”

That’s really not a copout answer. A lot of the writers I know, myself included, were the kinds of kids who were looking out the window wondering what would happen if dinosaurs suddenly interrupted their math class. They were the kinds of kids who got together with friends and came up with inventive ways to turn the slide into an underwater escape hatch or the short-cut that led to the medieval castle.

My newest novel, The Deepest Blue, was actually inspired by real events experienced by my own kids. Their bravery and determination to do something they knew was right for them proved to be an amazing source for a story.

When my oldest daughter M was 10, her biological dad married his second wife. I had remarried several years before, so she was used to having a step-parent in her life. Her new step-mom had two daughters, so she also got two sisters, and a few years later, a new brother. By the time she was 15, though, her relationship with her step-mom and her dad had gone from difficult, to strained, to almost intolerable. It was classic fairytale material. There were different rules for her when she visited the house than the rules for her step-sisters. For example, while her two step-sisters could eat anything they wanted, enjoy a can of soda, and play video games, M was told she could not have soda and was only allowed fruits and vegetables as snacks. The message, though never spoken, was clear: we think your weight is a problem and, therefore, you are restricted to choices we think are appropriate.

Let’s be clear here – M was not overweight. She was built differently than her step-sisters, but she was by no means obese. Her self-esteem plummeted, and she was constantly being unfavorably compared to the sister who was her age. After several episodes of being told how she didn’t measure up, M came to her step-dad, my husband, and asked if he would adopt her. It was entirely her idea, but we pursued it, and ultimately, despite the loud protests and accusations of my ex-husband and his wife, the adoption went through.

It was around this time that my husband’s ex-wife had a second baby. My step-son, almost 13 at that time, was delighted to have a new baby sister, and he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. While we had had issues with his biological mom in the past due to a mental health condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder, she seemed to have leveled off and become more stable.

Fast forward a few years. My step-son, R, was almost 16 years old. His biological mom was so busy with a toddler that she often contacted him and said he couldn’t visit for the weekend because she just couldn’t handle two kids. R was struggling with school and making poor choices about friends, and we wanted to keep his mother in the loop and ask for her support. When she came to pick him up for a visit, my husband and I asked if we could talk to her about R’s situation. Rather unexpectedly, she launched into a verbal assault on the two of us, but also on R. The following visit, R indicated that his mom had been verbally abusive and had accused him of trying to steal from her. A few months later, she had stopped calling him at all.

It was shortly after the new year, when his mom hadn’t even sent him a Christmas card, that R asked if I would adopt him. I don’t think I spent more than 1/100th of a second to consider it before I said, “Yes!”

It took nine months of hassling with his biological mom, but eventually, our court date arrived, and I became R’s legal mom.

Both of these experiences led to the creation of The Deepest Blue. While not exactly the story of my kids’ experiences, I did draw upon their strength, their courage, and their belief in doing what was best for them. I drew from actual events, but made the main character, Mike, his own person with his own, unique issues.

Every book is close to my heart, but this one came from my heart in a way I’d never experienced before. I’m as proud of Mike as I am of my kids, and I hope readers will come away from this story feeling empowered in their own way.

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The Deepest Blue launches in a few days, so be sure to get your copy.  I’m not just saying that because Kim is the Louise to my Thelma, or the chocolate to my tequila (you can ask, but I’m not sure you want to know).  It’s a fantastic story, and you’ll be glad you read it.

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Guest Post–Ian Thomas Healy

It’s almost that time of year, again.  No, not Halloween and pumpkin flavored everything.  It’s almost November, which means it’s another exciting round of National Novel Writing Month.  Today’s guest post comes from an active NaNoWriMo participant.  As a side note, Enraptured was started as an attempt at NaNoWriMo.  One of these years, I’ll have a November when I”m not a college student.

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Broadening the Universe

The story of how Deep Six came to be isn’t nearly as interesting as how Just Cause originally came about, but it does have a certain cachet all its own. Deep Six was the second book I wrote for the Just Cause Universe. I had originally started right in on The Archmage after completing Just Cause, but after a year of submissions for Just Cause and over 140 rejections, I decided that maybe I needed to take the JCU in a different direction. I’d done NaNoWriMo twice, resulting in The Milkman, which you can buy, and Propane Jockeys, which you can’t. I felt like I was becoming a better writer, and so I decided to do my own version of NaNoWriMo, which I called the Hundred Day Novel. I felt that 50,000 words was too short for any serious novel, but 80,000 was reasonable. I decided a daily writing goal of 800 words and a hundred days would suffice for such a challenge. Over the summer of 2006, I did just that, and thus Deep Six was born.

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Following the usual round of beta reads and revision, I sent around Deep Six, and this time I actually got a couple of nibbles. Most prevalent was one agent who requested a revise-and-resend. I did, and the agent came back with a new request: Remove the superpowers and make it a straight thriller. I politely declined and there I was, with no prospects yet again. I had written Jackrabbit in 2006 and was about to embark upon Pariah’s Moon in 2007 when I heard about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest for the first time. With nothing to lose, I took what I felt was my best completed project, Deep Six, and entered it.

It made the first round cuts and wound up as only one of four science fiction novels in the Top 100 Semifinalists. That was freakin’ exciting, let me tell you. Suddenly I felt like maybe I really did have something there, and I began to approach new ideas in the Just Cause Universe. My tales didn’t all have to be about the primary team of Just Cause. I’d created a lot of other organizations, some of which are mentioned in Just Cause itself like the New Guard, the Lucky Seven, and Divine Right. Why couldn’t some of them be featured in JCU novels? Or some of the other things I’d created like Deep Six or the Institute for Parahuman Medicine and Research in Paris? ABNA helped to rekindle my interest in the universe I’d created, and even though I didn’t make it to the finals, I can credit it with helping the development of the JCU.

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Deep Six releases worldwide in print and ebook formats on November 29, 2013. Preorders are available here. Check out the book trailer. Ian is on Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to visit scenic Ian Healy for more information!
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Ian Thomas Healy is a prolific writer who dabbles in many different speculative genres. He’s a nine-time participant and winner of National Novel Writing Month where he’s tackled such diverse subjects as sentient alien farts, competitive forklift racing, a religion-powered rabbit-themed superhero, cyberpunk mercenaries, cowboy elves, and an unlikely combination of vampires with minor league hockey. He is also the creator of the Writing Better Action Through Cinematic Techniques workshop, which helps writers to improve their action scenes.

Ian also created the longest-running superhero webcomic done in LEGO, The Adventures of the S-Team, which ran from 2006-2012.

When not writing, which is rare, he enjoys watching hockey, reading comic books (and serious books, too), and living in the great state of Colorado, which he shares with his wife, children, house-pets, and approximately five million other people.