Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Six Things New Writers Can Learn In Six Months

For all the communal aspects publishing fosters, writing is still a solitary profession that requires its adherents to develop themselves as much as they develop their storytelling abilities. This can be difficult, as we are all victims of our own neuroses, hang-ups, and habits. For example: I have a big issue staying focused on one project, which often leaves me having to deal with three different manuscripts, and invariably, I will only focus on two of them. I'm working on this, but the thought came to me that there were six things to share that might help my fellow wordsmiths better commit themselves in a healthy, happy way. I would never dare to say that these are universal; they are just ideas, and like all ideas, they should only be considered if they add to your process.


I first learned meditation from a physician my family patroned, named Dr. Z (I cannot remember nor spell his Russian last name). Like Dr. Z, meditation helped me with a lot of the anxiety that comes with people in a situation where people treat you like you are damaged. Meditation helped me later when I decided to dedicate myself to it in relation to my writing. I like to work fast, and I expect faster results, but unfortunately publishing is a slow, arduous process. Being able to slow down, clear your mind, and stop thinking is a pivotal skill both for writing and for life. We are flooded by our senses every moment we are awake and asleep, and with writing, it is multiplied. We become so ingrained within our characters, our stories, and we sometimes forget to take a step back. For me, meditation is that step back. Anyone can do it, and it only has as much of a spiritual component as you allow it, and you can do it as long as you like. It is an open practice.

There are a lot of resources where you can learn meditation, but here's a simple introduction to the basic technique:

Find a comfortable place to sit where you won't be bothered by noises or distractions. This could be your writing area (which for me is my entire apartment. I'm a bit nomadic.) Sit in comfortable position, using whatever you need to do so. I use a Zafu pillow. Close your eyes, and empty your mind of all thoughts or, if you are very active, picture yourself in a setting. I usually go to a place like this:

Count your breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Nose In, Mouth Out, Nose In, Mouth Out. In the beginning, try to get at least 15 good breaths before you open your eyes. This will calm you down, and in time, help you see the world and your work more objectively, as well as your writing. Which leads us to...


One issue that really plagues me is separating myself from my work, often taking criticism more harshly than I should, and in some ways, delivering it. First, no writer or reader should criticize another for who they are, but it is completely fine to constructively criticize the work, even if it is as simple as "it's not for me." Learning to separate these two things is incredibly important.

Now, this idea is a bit of misnomer. Of course your work is about you--you wrote it, and whatever you write, it is a reflection of how you feel, your experiences, and your beliefs at the time of the writing. Still, it is important to remove "you" from assessing the quality of what you put out. As I have said before, rejections can be a great thing for a writer if they go about assessing why they were rejected in the right way.

Here's an exercise: next time you get a rejection, sit down with the rejected work and read it differently. Act like you are not the person who wrote the piece, but a constructive critic who has never read it. This will open you up to new details you might not have noticed in your previous proofreading, ways to better the story, etc. There is a multitude of wisdoms to gain in doing this.


One would think that this would be a given for new writers, but every day I hear so many writers I come across lament their inability to finish a manuscript. Among the things I am speaking of here, this one might be greater in importance than the second point above, so let me clear:

Finish your stories.

So many people get into the Craft of Writing thinking that it will be a simple enough business to finish their first book, let alone a simple short story. The act of writing is arduous, being a combination of physical, mental, and emotional stress much like a real job. Sitting in a chair hurts me. I don't stop thinking about what I should be writing. I sometimes cry when I am done with a story. Putting in work is putting in work, and finishing a story gets you past a huge hurdle that the majority of writers never even attempt to leap. Finish your stories. It is the only way you can find out what you really need to work on.


This one will take a bit of explanation.

When one decides to become a writer, they often forget to remain a reader. However, things change quickly when one takes up the craft. Speaking for myself, getting involved in the process of writing initially made reading fiction a much more labor-intensive task. I often found myself breaking down the style of the writer I was reading, looking for imperfections I wanted to avoid in my own work. This can take a lot of fun out of the act of reading, but with a few little tricks, it became a joy again.

For all the mistakes you notice, take the time to bask in the moments where you are just reading. When there are no mistakes, the reader simply reads, and though we are writers, we will always be readers first. Mark the places you really enjoyed, and the places you did not. Read deeply for lessons, for theme, constructions, character, everything; reading critically can be a wonderful experience if you go about it the right way. Make it about learning first, criticism last.


Like this one.


It is easy to think that the publishing industry would be a competitive place as a new writer, but if you look beneath the surface, it is anything but. Here's what you need to understand: everyone around you wants everyone else to succeed (unless you make a colossal ass of yourself, which I am sometimes guilty of), and this is because we're working for the most wonderful resource there is in the world: readers. Readers like to read, so they aren't going to buy just YOUR book (if they do in the first place, which is another blogpost for another blog time.) They will keep buying the product we put out, all because readers are so wonderfully voracious.

At the same time, I think it is important for writers to have a bit of an competitive bent. This is just an opinion I hold to myself, but I want to write better than R.A. Salvatore, my literary hero. I want to write better than Jeff Vandermeer, the baddest MFer in Fiction today. I want to write better than K.V. Johansen, one of the most talented writers I have ever seen in Epic Fantasy. I want to write better than any other luminary I can name. I think every writer should look at their inspirations in absolute reverence, but also as bars you need to climb over. Anne McCaffery set bars. Lloyd Alexander set bars. Tolkien, my literary father, set bars. David Gemmell. Michael Moorcock. Robert E. Howard. Try to achieve more than your forefathers and foremothers did. We owe it to them.

These are practices, attitudes, and mindsets you can achieve as a writer in six months. They have been invaluable to my creative process over the years, and if they can add to yours, I hope you produce some of your best work.

So let's get to work.

Thank you for stopping. Please feel free to check out my Publications page and follow me on Twitter @JayRequard if you enjoy the content you find on this blog. In addition, if you really do enjoy the content on this blog, please consider clicking on the G+1 button on the left of the page. It lets me know that the content I am creating is meaningful, and it is at no cost to you.

Stay safe and see you soon!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Evaluating Critiques: Do's and Don'ts to Follow

Full disclosure: I am writing this out of reaction to a bad critique session I recently experienced, but instead of sitting and stewing on the negatives, the decision was made to turn that experience into a positive one.

Critiquing fiction, short or long, is often dependant on the critiquers themselves being well-read, experienced in collaborating with an editor (which means they have sold work), and taking the time to go out and get training through workshops, at conventions, and even within the critique groups themselves. Good writers are good critiquers because they put the work into their writing, reading, and editing on a daily basis so they can learn the tricks of producing great fiction. Still, there are pitfalls that can plague any critique group. The list below is a series of four Do's and Don'ts when it comes to giving and receiving a critique.

JAY's List of Four DOs and DON'Ts: Critiquing Fiction

DO read the work more than once

As the current Head Organize of Charlotte Writers and as a regular member of some smaller groups beforehand, I can easily say that since 2011 I have read hundreds, if not thousands of pages of manuscript. Everything from my genre of Fantasy, to Science Fiction, to Romance, to Memoir, and even manuscripts that contain poems have passed in front of me, and one of the first things I learned that I needed to do was read a manuscript more than once. I discovered the need to do this the hard way during one critique session where I had read a Charlotte Writer member's manuscript more than a week before their scheduled critique, where the entire membership would discuss the work while the writer remained silent (which is always wonderful in terms of learning body language), and it couldn't have gone worse for me. I forgot key points to the story's plot, characters, everything you could imagine, and in the end I was unable to offer anything of value to the person who had put so much time and effort into their manuscript.

The solution I came up with was to read the manuscripts twice (we usually critique two during a session): once when they first became available for download, and then again on Friday, at which point I would actually start creating my notes that I would explain during the session itself. This way I was always prepared, was familiar with the work, but at the same time, reading the work twice allowed me to learn new things about the author in terms of their style of writing, what they did right, and what mistakes they made that I want to avoid, etc.

Putting in this kind of time can offer huge dividends; both for yourself and for them!

DON'T critique the author; critique the work!

This is a faux-paus that happens more often than not because it is an easy one to make. Writing, especially fiction writing, is a reflection of the writer's very self, and from reading their work in a critical setting can often leave critiquers open to interpret things about the writer that may or may not be true.

For example: I was once leading a critique of a writer whose work featured the kidnapping and very graphic rape of a young woman, two things in today's publishing industry is looked at with less than favorable views, both by professionals and readers (which I agree with, by the by.) As soon as comments were allowed to be taken, the author was hit with "Your creepy prose..", "Your sick...", etc., and it created an atmosphere where everyone had to tiptoe around what they said about the work because they were making value judgements on the person. When the author of the work was finally allowed to address the comments made, they revealed they had written the creepy character in question because it was told by that character's POV. Once it was explained, it made far more sense, yet the damage was still done--critiquers had made judgements on the person AS WELL as their work, and the author stopped attending our group.

Part of the fault for that was mine, and after that day, I made sure that it was the work being critiqued, not the author! Judge their work for what the work is, not as a measuring stick for who they are. What they are there for is constructive criticism of their writing and NOTHING ELSE. (However, it should be said that we do not allow works at Charlotte Writers that contain bigotry or misogyny as positive affectations of a work.)

DO be clear about your expectations

Often when I host Charlotte Writers critique sessions, we often ask our writers who submit work for critique to be clear as they can be about what they are looking for. Are the characters likeable? Does the pace work with the genre? Is the dialogue engaging? These are all wonderful questions to ask and receive information on, but it is equally important that you as the critiquer are also clear about your own expectations. There are some definite questions you have to answer when you go into a critique:

1. What are you looking for as a reader? Are you looking for clean copy? Grammar issues?  Flow and pacing? Content that speaks to you? You have to answer these questions because not every critiquer is great at everything, nor are they supposed to be. Some of them are better at writing characters than they are writing plot, just like some are stellar at dialogue but really need to learn how to write action scenes. You have to know what you expect from the submission.

2. Is the work publishable for its market? This is one of the bigger concerns I try to bring to Charlotte Writers when we critique submitted work, as the stated goal of the organization is to prepare writers to get their work published in the genre marketplace. This often requires our members to put in time by learning about the industry at conventions, conferences, meet-ups, workshops, etc. You have to know the business you want to be in, and you have to know the current conventions by which the publishing business works. It not only helps you with your own manuscripts, but it also assists in allowing you to look at a manuscript from another author and point out the places that would get them sent to the rejection pile.


Let's be honest: critiquing is hard. 

A lot of factors are involved when it comes to a reader enjoying your work, and sometimes no matter what you write, it won't be right for them--and they may be highly critical of that, but that is what they are there for. I cannot tell you how many times a new writer has come up to me and expressed their fear about getting critiqued, and what I usually tell them is that the first time is always nerve-wracking, but if you can get through it will probably never be nerve-wracking again. It's like pulling off a band-aid.

However, just because you are ready to have your work critiqued doesn't mean *you* are ready for the process. It takes a lot of humility and maturity to sit there and let someone put your "Literary Baby" in a corner, and if you are going through a tumultuous time this can be really trying. There have been instances at critique sessions where prospective authors state that they are ready and then fall apart by the end. I have seen tears, passive aggressive responses, and the always aggravating defense of things everyone else found issues with. If twenty readers in the room find something in error with your manuscript, most likely the problem is there, and the best thing you can do with it is take the time to really look at what was said about the issue. Writing is a process of creation and problem-solving, and denial does nothing to solve problems. The best thing you can do is be ready.

To sum up, critiquing is a wonderful way to grow your skills as a writer, but a lot of thought needs to be put into the process just like every other aspect of your work. Be humble, keep your ears and mind open, and remember that this is about identifying problems and solving them. If you can keep yourself motivated enough to fix those problems, you're well on way to the day you sell a story, a novel, or whatever. Be mindful of your own expectations and knowledgable about what you and others write. In doing so you will grow by leaps and bounds.

Critiques are a powerful tool. If you learn to use this tool correctly, you will become a powerful writer.

Thank you for dropping by. Please check out my Publications, and please consider clicking on the G+1 button on the left side of the screen if you enjoy the content you see here on the blog. Follow me @JayRequard on Twitter, and see you next time! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Poem: By Strands of Hair

I do not take often to writing poetry and presenting it in public, as I often find that reaction to it is so varied. I even once heard a poet say that "nobody could criticize her poetry because it was hers", to which I say "then keep it to yourself." The moment you put something out into the world, it is no longer just yours, but is open to interpretation and criticism by the audience-at-large. That's the cost of trying to live off your creativity, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. But back to poetry...

I wrote this in a free form style (as the only other style I am actually good at Sonnets in the form of Shakespeare, and mine are horrible.) The inspiration came to me one night in a hot bath I had drawn after painting along to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles. I used a bath wash that dyed the water a lovely shade of rose which put everything floating within it (including myself) in stark definition. One of my fiance's hair strands came floating along and from that was born this poem. It follows a 4,4,4,5 count by word, which I came up with during the same bath. The last stanza reverses it and follows a 5,4,5,4 count, again by word. Again, forgive me if this is awful.

"By Strands of Hair" by Jay Requard

By strands of hair
love found itself born,
mixed by fiery water,
a spirit of past aeons.

By strands of hair
therein found whole redemption,
the weight washed away,
a spirit laid to rest.

By strands of hair
cities would burn ashen,
blood would flow unhindered,
a spirit of wrath enthroned.

Yet by strands of hair,
the spirit chose otherwise.
By strands of her hair,
the spirit never faltered.

If you wish to let me know that you like this poem, you hate, or if you have constructive criticism which *can* equal "stop writing poems", let me know below. Hope you are all doing well and see you soon!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why I'm not a fan of NaNoWriMo (And how YOU can succeed at it)

I'll be honest, there's not national novel writing month for me, mainly because I write everyday unless I have a reason not to, which even this is suspect because what excuses can you make NOT to do a job you love? Even so, every November comes the flood of posts, the good intentions, and the massive cottage industry that seeks to exploit those who take part. I could gripe about this for an entire blogpost, but instead of griping, I should be helping. So let me state some things clearly before I begin.

NaNoWriMo in itself is not a problem. The idea that you dedicate yourself to writing 50,000 words over the month of November is a great goal, even though it is often presented in an incredibly obtuse manner that doesn't really help those who try, especially those who have never done it before.

Here's why I say that: I have written, to date, seventeen different novels, having only completed six of them, and having only sold one that didn't even make it to print at a very tiny press. I started writing in earnest when I was 19, and the average time it takes me to really put out a novel-length manuscript that I'm willing to put my name on is six months to a year--and that is only on the rough draft. The drafts that follow it will take as long as they need to take. Some have taken six weeks. Others, three years. Part of this is because I try to work on three to five different manuscripts at once, but that's me, and I'm getting help for it!

Novel writing is not easy in any sense of the word, so the idea that someone like me, who has sold stories and written novel-length manuscripts before, looks at NaNoWriMo with a bit of trepidation should be telling. But I've seen how the sausage is made, which also means I can imagine someone else sitting down, never written anything ever before, and seeing something else that is completely different--and I don't want to downplay that. I know people put a lot of love into their work this month, and that should be celebrated. But remember:

The only pat on the back you deserve is the one you get when you sign that publishing contract and sell that work.

With that said, I could be a fan of NaNoWriMo and its output if it was presented in a realistic, meaningful way that helps instead of pressures. There is a way of doing this that helps new writers learn the craft, helps experienced writers edit their work, and helps those who are already prepared to create the manuscript they will one day send out to publishers/agents/alpha-beta readers. This will be my attempt to provide that path with these five tips for making NaNoWriMo work.

Jay's Five Tips for succeeding at NaNoWriMo

1. Outline

There are two concrete ways of going about writing your manuscript, though you can usually play between them. The first is "Pantsing", where you essentially write your story as it comes to you, with no planning whatsoever, until you reach THE END. That works for some people, and for short stories, it is usually a doable model. 50,000 words, however, is a completely different beast. A lot can happen in those words, so it often important to "Outline", and thankfully there are a lot of great outlines and methodologies available on the internet to help get you started. At the very least, you should know four things:

A) Your Beginning - Where does your story start? (Characters, setting, problem, plot)

B) Your Middle - Where are we when the reader hits your story at its dead center? (Character growth, resetting the board, new problems, fresh solutions)

C) Your End - Where does the story end? (Resolution, Growth achievement, Landing, Seeding the next book if there is one...)

D) Your Climax - What is the big thing that happens before THE END that ties it all together?

Knowing these four points, at the very least, gives you a road map where to go, even if you are pantsing it. Knowing where you are going gives you time to formulate how your scenes will play out, how you will sequence events, characters arcs, etc. This leads us to...

2. Word count

Let's do the math: 50,000 words/30 days in November equals 1,666 words a day. For new writers, that can be daunting, but the fact that you're attempting NaNoWriMo is daunting in the first place. With those considerations, I would suggest that everyone employ Stephen King's Word Count "rule" that he enumerates better than I will within his memoir, On Writing.

Hit 2,000 words a day.

Yes. That many. By shooting for that number, you can realistically hit the magic 50,000 words, even if you have to miss a few days, which you will, because...

3. Hitting 50,000 words is not the point. Getting writing done is.

I see every year people lament and complain that they didn't hit 50,000 words for the month, but if 50,000 is the point of this month in the first place, stop. Word counts don't equal publishing contracts, and neither does bitching about the fact that you couldn't hit some arbitrary number that nobody is ever going to get mad at you over for not hitting. Things WILL get in the way that may cause you to not reach 50,000 words--work, school, kids, drugs, the apocalypse, John Hartness--anything and everything can and will stop you.

And that's fine!

Great writing is not made on an assembly line or on schedule. Great writing is made through dedication, time, work, destroying your own ego for the sake of your story, and revising again and again and again until the manuscript is sold. NaNoWriMo is the opportunity to get started, because there is often one thing that people forget: there are not a lot of traditional or small press publishers out there that are taking 50k manuscripts who are going to get you into a bookstore. And that shouldn't be your goal this month. The real goal is much more simple.

4. Focus on writing a great rough draft.

Depending on the genre your write in and the path to publishing you want to take, having 50,000 words at the end of November may only get you so far. In some genres, it won't get you anywhere. Now, if you are self-publishing your NaNo project, none of this really applies to you, and I wish you nothing but the best. However, if I was a publisher or an agent and I received a query letter that said "this is the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo, and I am submitting it to you" and that query letter is dated on December 1st, good bloody luck!

Take this time to write the best story you can. NaNoWriMo should be about the process, not just the completion, and if you are writing in a genre that often requires more than 50,000 words for acceptance, you owe to yourself to give you a break from any sort of pressure that writers who partake in this month usually put themselves under. There has only ever been one author that I have known who set out to write a complete novel during NaNoWriMo, and he's a North Carolina Laureate. I'm guessing those reading this are not him, and neither am I, so why pressure yourself into doing something that results in work that is not your best?

The words will show you how important it is to just to take your time. Make this the best rough draft you can.

5. Commit

Here's where the real pressure is: 1,666 to 2,000 words. For some, that is a steep mountain to climb every day, while for others, it is a walk in the park. Speaking for myself, I usually hit an average of 1700-2000, but that took YEARS to get to. Just like climbing a real mountain, you have to train for it.

Allow me to repeat myself: you don't have to hit 50,000 words by November 30th.

You do, however, have to sit down and write everyday. You will lose sleep. You won't be able to go out for drinks with your friends. You might not be able to watch your favorite show on Wednesday night. That's because your butt needs to be in a chair, in front of whatever you use to write on.

Set goals on word counts. Follow your outlines. And remember--this isn't about the word count, it is about the creative process of writing. Enjoy what you are doing. That is what this month should be about: enjoying the process of writing fiction and getting it done.

Now go to work, stay safe, and if you have any gripes with what I have said here, I'd be happy to hear from you in the comments below. Bye now!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

REVIEW: Daughters of Shadow & Blood: Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders

Just in time for Halloween, Daughters of Shadow & Blood: Yasamin (Saint George's Press) is the first book in an ongoing supernatural thriller series written by J. Matthew Saunders, who elegantly weaves history, vampiric lore, and colorful characters together in a fast-paced, yet often gloomy ride that grabs you by the throat and sinks its fangs into you.

Set through a myriad of timelines and eras, the anchor story itself begins within a dark study, where Adam Mire, a historian and scholar, has tracked one of the Dracula's brides to discover why his friend was murdered, and as these types of stories often result, ends up uncovering so much more. Mire himself is a fairly well-built and fleshed-out hero, full of his own doubts that are made up for by the strengths of his knowledge and deductions, and never once does the reader feel really lost as he tries to uncover the truth behind Dracula and his chosen brides, with constant connections made to Bram Stoker's Dracula. In many ways, this book serves as a love letter to its predecessor.

The real wonder of this novel lies within the story of Yasamin, however, as Saunders gifts us a protagonist whose story the reader knows will not end well in terms of her mortal life, yet it grabbed me at the very beginning. From the moment we find the orphaned daughter in the harem of an Ottoman prince to the scene where her shadowy lover, Dracula, embraces her within an eternity of darkness, she captivated me. Mystery, murder, and horror abound in these stark yet beautifully paced chapters, leaving me often wanting more.

Fine storytelling aside, there are some things to consider when you pick up this book. For all of the intense psychology and pacing, it was often easy for me to get lost within the short chapters that jump between character timelines and events. The other issue, and this is just a peeve of mine, is that sometimes the action scenes aren't as well put together as they should be--but I'm a stickler for action scenes, so take that criticism with a real grain of salt. They might work for others.

Daughters of Shadow & Blood: Yasmin is a cerebral jaunt into darkness, filled with questions accompanied by bloody answers, schemes brewed by dark souls, and one hell of an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the moment the curtains close and the blood starts to spill. If you are looking for a great Halloween read this season, pick this one up!


Pick up this great story here, and check out more of J. Matthew Saunders at these links:


Thanks for stopping by and have a happy Halloween! Stay safe!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sit.Write.Bleed. interviews JAMES R. TUCK aka LEVI BLACK!

In my career as a fantasy author, I have been lucky in the fact that I have had a few mentors who pushed me to be better and climb for my dreams of one day doing this full-time. I am interviewing one of them today. 

James R. Tuck (also known as Levi Black) is the author of Deacon Chalk Series (Kensington), an exciting Urban Fantasy that first brought him to prominence within the realm of genre fiction. Since then he has written extensively in the categories of crime fiction, horror, science fiction, and Sword & Sorcery. He was more than kind to sit down and talk about his past and future works while revealing a treasure trove of advice.


Sit.Write.Bleed. (SWB): James, you’ve written in a vast array of genres over the last couple of years, spanning from traditional Sword & Sorcery to Lovecraftian Horror, and are best known for your release in Urban Fantasy with the Deacon Chalk series (Kensington), and soon you will be releasing Red Right Hand through Tor (as Levi Black), and you have written extensively in crime fiction, zombies, and even fighting mechs. From a literary standpoint, where do you think home starts for you?

James R. Tuck (JRT): I write as widely as I read. Look on my shelves or in my kindle and you'll find a dozen genres. My home is pretty much anywhere I lay my head, metaphorically speaking. There is zero reason why I shouldn't play in any kind of genre I want. Some writers stay in one genre and that's cool for them, but no way could I do that even if I tried. I've found over the years that when I'm done with a project, whether it's a novel, a short story, a comic script, whatever I have to shake it off by moving into a new genre and style. It keeps me interested in writing to play in new worlds and new formats with different sets of characters. I'm polyamorous in my writing, taking on new lovers while never forsaking the ones who have held me before.

SWB: Tell us about co-authoring Robin Hood – Mark of the BlackArrow (Titan Books) with Debbie Viguie. Jumping into the waters with such a well-known cast of characters and lore, with another author no less, must have been an interesting challenge.

JRT: It was indeed. Debbie and I write pretty differently so it did take a minute for us to find our flow, but in the end we figured out that my strengths are her weaknesses and vice-a-versa. With our powers combined we forged the perfect author for this work. We also did some things very different than I normally do. This story is in 3rd person, I usually write in 1st, we have nearly 20 POV characters throughout the book, and I never ever get inside the villains head but in this series you get all of that. We really put a spin on the Robin Hood mythology that I enjoy.

SWB: Recently you released Theok the Indomitable: A Spill of Sorcerer’s Blood, a collection of stories featuring a barbaric warrior who has devoted himself to Yahweh in a world full of grim magics and frightful villains. I really enjoyed the diversity of material in this collection, which included sort of a “thank you” letter to Robert E. Howard. Could you talk about those stories and the importance of Robert E. Howard in your life as a writer?

JRT: Theok was one of the first characters and worlds I created, in fact, a large chunk of that collection is the first complete story I ever wrote almost 20 years ago. The Theok cycle is something I write episodically, much the way Robert E. Howard wrote Conan. The stories range the length of his life and are in no particular order. In one he is a mercenary, in another he is a manhunter, in another he may be a bodyguard, it gives me the ability to write sword and sorcery in whatever manner I want.  I chose to give him faith in Yahweh because of my own interest in religion. Theok roams around a world that is pretty much the age of King Solomon if the Old Testament were written by Robert E. Howard.

Speaking of Howard, he is a great influence on me. His work was powerful in a way that few are. Images of violence and concepts fundamental and esoteric all handled in the manner of a grim poet. I truly hold him in the same strata of literature as writers like Cormac McCarthy or Ernest Hemingway.

SWB: What’s the future of Deacon Chalk? Will we see more of his story one day?

JRT: Yes indeed. There is much Deacon planned for 2016. I know it's been a bit of a break, and there are boring business reasons for that, but Deacon is returning in short novel form. I plan to release his next adventures as novella sections until their arc is complete (4-6 per arc) and then they will be bound together for print. That way Deacon fans who e-read can get their fix on the regular and my print readers can still put a new Deacon book on their shelves. Plus, my plan is to do some work in the "Deaconverse" and I have stories featuring a young Father Mulcahy, Special Agents Bramble and Heck, and a Ronnie and Blair misadventure.

And there may even be a new adventure in comic format.

SWB: Taking a step back from you work as an author, I think you are one of the better cover designers out there on the indie scene. Whether it was the beautiful jacket for Theok or That Way Lies Madness, you’ve been able to produce quality covers that are elegant, well-crafted, and often better than what you might see for a Big Five thriller. What is the secret behind James Tuck covers?

JRT: Thank you. I really only do my own covers for the things I independently publish. I've done some layout work for friends, but mostly it's for myself and spins out of the fact that I work as a professional artist in my day job (tattoo artist for 20 years) and I love having complete control over my indie stuff. I've done the artwork on all but one of them (LOVE AND VENGEANCE, with art by Karl Comendador).

Crafting the artwork myself really adds a new dimension to the book. I've had some beautiful covers done on the books of mine out through publishers, but they are all one step removed, someone else's interpretation of my story and ideas. When I indie publish that is all straight from my brain and into your hands.

It really adds to the feeling of pride I have when I hold my indie books. In my head I just hear the words 'I made this'. There is a power in the creative process for me, some kind of magic, a spark of the big bang, a syllable of the Word in crafting something completely. When I indie pub that book is exactly everything I have the ability make. It is not just my words and story, but also my skill in formatting and my artistic ability all combines to give you a small piece of me.

It also appeals to the maverick inside me to write and create stories and books that don't fit into the system of publishing. I get to put those out and it is so very satisfying.

Cover by James R. Tuck

SWB: Being a hybrid author (with works both published and self-published), how do you see the state of the publishing industry right now?

JRT: Truthfully? I feel like publishing is the quiet chaos. There are so many things that counter-lever against each other to keep the status quo that I keep waiting for the next big thing to rock it loose. Traditional publishers are working their asses off to keep the authors who sell on board while at the same time pumping money into the retail book space to keep Amazon from complete domination. Amazon is playing a long game that I think they will actually win.

Do I think all traditional publishers will die? Absolutely not. We had a similar implosion with the advent of MP3's and Itunes (the Amazon of music back in the day) and yet we still have a Sony and other record labels. Traditional publishers will maintain because they do something that readers want, but they are going to have to adapt.

Do I think all authors will go indie? Of course not. It's not for everyone and it's hard to make a living at it, but a lot will, just like a hardworking band can stay indie and make a good living for its members because the margins are better, an author with some talent and hustle can pay their bills and go to the movies on indie publishing alone.

Things are vastly different than they were even 5 years ago. By 2020 it'll be even moreso.

SWB: Tell me about Red Right Hand (Tor), which is arriving in 2016.

JRT: I love this book. It's a Lovecraftian horror novel masquerading as an urban fantasy. It's extremely dark. So dark. In fact, this book is so dark that as my agent was shopping it an editor for a major publishing house responded that it was well written but was far too disturbing for her to ever consider buying it.

Jonathan Maberry said he “couldn't put the fucker down.”

I'm proud of it.

It was a hard book to write.

Charlie Tristan Moore, the main character, is a young woman who suffered a terrible assault as a young teen, one so bad that after a decade of therapy it still haunts her. The chaos god Nyarlathotep arrives on her doorstep, turns her into his Acolyte, and enlists her help in tracking down elder gods who are leeching their way into this world, seeking vengeance on humanity for imprisoning them eons ago. Is he the hero, or simply wiping out the competition?

SWB: Let’s talk about Hollow Earth (Pro Se Productions) and anthologies. You are a veteran of editing anthologies, so how would you explain the appeal an anthology to today’s reader? How does Hollow Earth fit for you?

JRT: Hollow Earth is a new thing I'm doing. Basically it works off an old pulp concept that the Earth is hollow and inside it is a separate world that lays on the inside of the earths crust and there is a sun in the center that acts as a gravitational pinpoint for the world's rotation. In my version the world is called Hyperborea and contains humans along with a few other species, most notably the Kurg, a species of intelligent, bloodthirsty lizard men. In real history, the Nazis made a military installation in WW2 in Antarctica, in Hollow Earth history, they encountered the Kurg and took them under their wing, instilling in them all the ideals of the Third Reich and giving them the military might to begin conquering all of Hollow Earth.

Just as the world was about to fall the greatest mage cast a spell, resetting the world and calling to it potential champions from all of time and space, heroes of all stripes from a 1970's private eye, to a cowboy, to an astronaut, to a viking, the options are endless. This spell also pulled into Hollow Earth things like the city of Atlantis, the colony at Roanoke, Camelot, and more.

I wrote a novella set in this world, featuring the appearance of Big Jim Magnum, a Harlem ex-cop turned private eye. The anthology will have other writers playing in this world, telling stories in it, and then I will return for a follow up novella. It's my first licensed property and I hope to have it expand into other anthologies and even novels set here by other writers interested in the world.

As to the appeal of anthologies, I love them. You get to try several new authors in one easy place. I've found some great writers by reading anthologies. Plus, the short story is one of my favorite forms of storytelling, there is no room to drag and you can get a helluva impact from a well-crafted short story.

SWB: Taking away the majority of writing advice, what piece of wisdom would you impart on those wanting to write better?

JRT: Let go of any preconceived notion of how to tell a story and write it. Quit worrying about agents and editors and publishers and even readers and write exactly what YOU want to see in a book. You have heard there is no new story under the sun and that is the honest truth, so the only thing you have is your ability to tell the story. You have to do you in this regard. It's called finding your voice and the only way to do that is to shut out everyone else's.

So get to writing. Stop worrying about anything else until you get that part finished.

Develop your ability to be completely honest with yourself. Not only do you have to be able to see when you suck, but you have to be able to see when you rock. Then you have to learn the ability to parse between the two.

SWB: I always end the interview with this question: what tropes in genre fiction could you NEVER read again and be completely happy with it?

JRT: Tell it in an interesting way and I don't care. Tropes exist and, truthfully, I'd rather read a well-done story with a well-used trope than read some cockeyed attempt at subverting one. Don't be smarter than your story, just entertain me and make me think if you can.

I do love some tropes and keep reading and writing them myself. The hero damaged from some personal tragedy. Loss of family as a motivator. Barbaric nobility. Personal codes of honor in thugs, criminals, and outlaws.


Check out James R. Tuck/Levi Black's other work at these links:


Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you all again soon!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mask of the Kravyads

It is my pleasure to announce that my novella, Mask of the Kravyads, has been published by Silver Blade Fantasy Magazine. And my story served at the basis for the cover!

You can read the story here!

I am particularly proud of this story. When I set out to write Mask of the Kravyads, my goal was to pen a piece of Grimdark Heroic Fantasy that starred a female protagonist who was NOT a warrior, but powerful in her own right, set in a fantasy version of India with monsters straight out of Hindu myth. It is my hope that I was able to write a compelling hero that could stand alongside Jishnu and The Grinders Sellsword Company, but I will let you all be the judge of that.

I would like to thank my editor for this story, Les Weil, who was more than patient with me during a long editing period that taught me a lot. Working with editors is such an important part of getting better as a writer, and I can say without question that Les helped me a lot in that department. Of course, I need to thank Darin Kennedy, Matt Saunders, Caryn Sutorus, who critiqued the work, and of course, my fiance Margo.

And of course, thank you for continuing to come to this blog. My goal with this site has always been to help other writers find their way without making the same mistakes I did, and hopefully show you that if I can do it, so can you.

In closing, I want you all to stay safe, happy, and enjoy the story!