Q&A With Lunar State Creator Ian Humphrey

This month, I’m sitting down with Ian Humphrey, the creator and driving force behind the upcoming podcast Lunar State.

When I first met Ian and we began discussing our various projects, his writing style (which initially struck me as Cormac McCarthy meets Douglas Adams but I now think of more as Elmore Leonard meets Douglas Adams) immediately enchanted me.

Over the past few months, Ian has frantically channeled his rather prodigious energy into Lunar State. While I have no doubt he will eventually successfully turn back to written fiction, I am tremendously excited about his current project. While it is very “now” (witness the success of Welcome to Night Vale), Lunar State is infused with its creator’s quirky and distinctive vision.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a reoccurring small role in Lunar State voicing Professor Garrison, a bumbling and absented-minded professor who occasionally gets it together and manages to save the universe.

Rather than trying to describe Lunar State as Welcome to Night Vale meets PCU, or Animal House meets the Illuminatus Trilogy, or Prairie Home Companion  meets Dark Shadows, I wanted Ian to tell you about it in his own words.

Q: Previously, you focused on novels and short stories. What inspired the shift to a podcast?

Ian Humphrey, creator of Lunar State, lays down vocals for the podcast’s Patreon-only prequel.

A: I didn’t have a resume. Instead of spending my twenties writing and submitting and writing and submitting like a good author does, I spent them drinking and dreaming and drinking and dreaming and then there was the three years I was high on coke. Turning thirty put things in perspective. I narrowed my lens to writing hours every single day and burned out a novel in a year. When it came time to submit the upcoming international sensation, Of Lunatics and Degenerates, I quickly realized no one had reason to take my calls…

I wanted to tell weird stories and didn’t have the patience to wait for someone to notice. I grabbed the most accessible microphone.

Q: Tell us a little about the World of Lunar State and its main characters?

A: Lunar State is a liberal arts college with a supernatural prison hidden on campus. The bulk of the prisoners have been charged with varying degrees of humanity; that is, they have betrayed their barbaric, arcane, or otherwise supernatural nature and acted in a manner that is far too human.  Their only hope of release is showing they can still be monstrous. The students, for their part, are supposed to grow into proper adults at a time when that definition is unreachable.

Our narrator is a were-rat named Cyrus Berkowitz, forced into the criminal informant trade by the Warden in exchange for his favorite meal, never more available in American History: the corpses of nazis and other bigots. Cyrus loves the outlaw life, everything from running guns in the goblin civil wars to smuggling harpy drugs.

Our hero, Cyrus Berkowitz

To fill out our world, we have the bumbling and yet devoted campus police. Unaware they’re de facto prison guards, the cops struggle to rationalize the body count on campus and the canine unit who spontaneously learned speech and reeks of brimstone.

And of course the students and inmates struggling to grow up, while the threat of Martian abduction always hovers just over the skyline.

Q: Talk about some of your influences, both for Lunar State in specific and your writing more generally.

A: Obviously when you talk about fantasy, sci-fi, and horror podcasts one would be loathe to ignore Welcome to Night Vale. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor blasted open a genre that I am proud to join. Their ingenuity is a constant inspiration.

However my real hero in this arena is the ever sober, ever comical, and true American Garrison Keillor. His stories… I could talk for days about Lake Wobegon and even light reminiscence literally brings me to tears as I type. The man stands for almost everything I parody. Civility. Humility. Reverence. Yet when I poke fun or outright blow these ideals apart with a figurative shotgun, I am always doing so in honor of Keillor.

There’s a long list of influences I could reference, but probably the most important idol of mine is John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. He was the one who showed me that no matter how horrible your past, or how despicable your actions, you can find a kind of redemption in honest exaltation. I mean, the man is a devout Catholic and the lyric of his that rings truest in my ears is:  “When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you. The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both out pace and out live you. Hail Satan, tonight. Hail Satan.”

Q: As a format, scripting has very different conventions and requirements than novels or short stories. What were some challenges you encountered in shifting from one format to another? What tips or advice would you offer to other authors considering such a switch?

A: Challenges? Brevity. You’ve got seconds to make a point, and I am far from mastering that efficiency of language. Writing always suffers from excess, but never more so than when spoken. That and the simple truth of the format: we’re looking for what I think of as the “Drive to Work” time frame. If it’s longer than thirty minutes, I might as well be selling pre-owned rugs outside the Four Seasons and yelling “Cum stains free of charge!”

In terms of advice, mine is this: List everything you can do well. Then list everything you can fake. And then do all of them. I’ve never edited audio before, but I’m figuring it out. I’ve never shot video before. I’m burning out video trailers as fast as I can.

If you want to tell stories, never let the keyboard hold you back. Tell every story you love from whatever soap box you can climb.

Q: How can people engage with Lunar State and track its progress in advance of its debut?

We launch September 9th. Lunar State lays embryonic and growing by the day. First off, check out our Patreon. Subscribe, get directly in touch with our process. Your subscription at a dollar a month puts us one step closer to recording a prequel episode exclusively for patrons in August, a month ahead of our September launch. If you don’t subscribe at first, check out the rewards, promises, and descriptions. You’ll get a solid feel for what we do.

Aside from that, we have an active Instagram account, @lunar_state. I post daily, with photos and videos from our trailer shoots featuring Cyrus Berkowitz himself. We also have promotional art that astounds me every day, developed by the brilliant mind of Tiffany Ray.

The YouTube Channel, Lunar State Podcast, trudges always forward with trailers and snippets of Lunar State’s little world.

Finally there’s the FaceBook account, that’s probably the place where I do the most posting.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background?

A: My formative years were fostered on a feminist commune out in the Maryland forests. In high school I was an accomplished swordsman while working at a YWCA woman’s shelter. I attended Evergreen State College until a riot and a capsized patrol car put me on the run from the law. I learned about loyalty from genuine knights or as genuine as a renaissance festival can provide. I cannot return to my hometown of Baltimore because of the horrible things I’ve done. Four years ago I hopped a plane to Flagstaff and was homeless within twelve hours of getting off the flight.

Between perseverance and the reassurance of my mother, the modern deity Layne Humphrey, I’ve been able to piece together a life I bear with pride. At age thirty one, I wake up every morning with one question on my lips, “What’s next?”

I made it a point to see terror and iniquity, and now I have the opportunity and responsibility of redemption. I will not squander.

Ian Humphrey

Q: Anything else you want to talk about that I haven’t asked? 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: My Midwestern modesty left me sorely tempted to omit this from the post. But, upon additional reflection, it’s not really my place to censor Ian’s answer ;-).]

A: A year ago I got a job at a little coffee shop in Austin, TX. On the Epoch patio, 221 West North Loop Blvd, I met a man named Jon Black who made his living penning fantastical tales. He inspired me. And I could not possibly express the depth of my gratitude. I will try with simplicity.

Thank you Jon.

So I’m Co-Editing an Anthology

Oxford’s Bodleian Library

I am proud to announce that I will be co-editing an upcoming anthology for 18thWall Productions with the peerless Mary-Helen Norris. The anthology, titled “Overdue,” revolves around the quest for lost books and takes place in a shared universe joining together my Bel Nemeton with Mary Helen’s All the Petty Myths.

I admit to being a little nervous. Moving from writing to editing an anthology is a big step, especially as I’ve always viewed editing as one of my weaknesses, so I’m really going to have to up my game.

With that caveat, I’m very excited about Overdue. I’m a huge fan of Mary-Helen’s work and collaborating with her is an incredible opportunity. There is a lot of potential in a shared universe joining the forensic mythology, urban folklore, and procedure mystery of All the Petty Myths with Bel Nemeton’s blend of historical fantasy and modern pulp.

The “lost book” angle also really appeals to me. I’ve always enjoyed seeding my work with references to fictional lost books. Some of my favorites include:

  • The Awkar Plates (from Bel Nemeton): “Books” of beaten copper sheets bound together and inscribed in an unknown alphabet. Acquired by an explorer in West Africa during the 19th century, he claimed them to be 7th century texts from the Empire of Awkar (Empire of Ghana) recording myths and folklore. At one point housed at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, they have since disappeared.
  • Al-Kitaba Manat (from Bel Nemeton): Compendium of long vanished Arabian history and geography compiled by an unknown author in the late Sixth century, widely regarded as myth. Sir Richard Burton claimed to have accessed a copy in the 19th century and then written down as much of it as he could remember (then again, Burton claimed a lot of things).
  • Donaukelten und Roms Grenzen (from Caledfwlch, the upcoming sequel to Bel Nemeton): Published in the late 18th century, one of the earliest works about Noricum, a Celtic kingdom occupying much of Austria and Slovenia before Rome absorbed them in the First century. The text uses a variety of classical and archaeological sources not available to later writers as well as preserving a number of inscriptions in the untranslated Noric language for which the originals have been lost. A copy was rumored to be kept in the Hapsburgs’ imperial library.
  • The Life of St. Radegund (from Bel Nemeton): A biography and hagiography of a pious 6th century Merovingian princess later elevated to sainthood. No confirmed copies survive. Tales place a single copy in a remote abbey established by the princess, its monks reluctant to let outsiders see a document that may paint their patroness as more Cathar than Catholic.

Then, of course, there are plenty of real life lost books from the missing volumes of the Annals of Tacitus to the Inventio Fortuna chronicling an unnamed monk’s travels around the North Atlantic to Jane Austen’s Sandition.

And, yes, I’ll contributing a story to the anthology as well. I won’t say much, but I will say the idea comes not from the Bel Nemeton series by from my short story (and upcoming novel) “Gabriel’s Trumpet.” Yes, I am effectively declaring that those two stories take place in the same universe.

For all the writers out there, you can find the full submission call for Overdue here.

 

Bel Nemeton Available in Paperbook and eBook

The paperback version of my novel Bel Nemeton became available on Amazon last week. True, I signed the contract more than a year ago and the eBook had been available for a while.

But I didn’t really feel like a novelist until now.

There’s just something about knowing that my words have become a tangible object; imagining the crisp sound of a finger run across its unopened pages; holding it to my face and inhaling that mellow, spicy smell; the possibility of encountering it a used bookstore and knowing my story is now part of that great, eternal, mysterious cycle of books.

My book is real…

And I’m very pleased with the publisher’s blurb

UNCOVERING MERLIN’S TOMB

A globe-trotting quest for the treasures of the historical Merlin.

From the Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll Award-Winning Author Jon Black…

The ancient city of Samarkand

Carvings have been unearthed in the Middle East. They bear impossible names–Arthur and Merlin, albeit in a native transliteration. How did these names come so far? Do they imply the existence of a historical Arthur and Merlin? The scholars do what they always do. They arrange a press meeting.

Oxford’s Bodleian Library

But scholars aren’t the only attendees. After heavily-armed mercenaries steal the stone, Dr. Vivian Cuinnsey is forced to work with Jake Booker, a self-professed treasure hunter. Can he be trusted? Or is he just one more force after Merlin’s treasure for personal profit?

From the Middle East to the caves of Israel to German record rooms to Oxford’s secret underworld, chase Vivian and Jake in their pursuit of Merlin’s greatest treasure.

Finally,  a few choice blurbs from reader reviews of Bel Nemeton:

“It’s rare to see such a creative new take on Arthurian mythology. Even rarer is to see a new take done so successfully.”

“A book that makes Dan Brown weep with jealousy.”

“Fast paced and exciting, I was never bored. When’s the movie?”

“The blending of historical tale and modern archaeology manages to excite the mind with a tale of ‘What if?'”

“…weds an historically plausible Merlin with a modern day plot that is engaging. I very much appreciate how the novel also expands its horizons beyond mere British or Western European ‘folklore’ and embraces a larger, more inclusive, more nuanced ancient world.”

“I cannot wait to read more.”

Gabriel’s Trumpet Named “Best Short Story (all other genres) of 2017”

I’m excited to announce that my short story “Gabriel’s Trumpet” has been voted “Best Short Story (All other Short Stories) Published in 2017” in the annual Preditors & Editors Readers Poll.

See full poll results here.

While my work has previously appeared in award-winning anthologies, this is the first time something of mine, in specific, has received an award. So, yes, I’m thrilled. And I am profoundly grateful to the many fans and friends who took the time to voice their support for the story.

So, what is “Gabriel’s Trumpet?” First, at nearly 16,000 words, it’s more than a simple short story and borders on being a novella. Second, it is historical fiction and a mystery with heavy supernatural overtones. The story follows a paranormal investigator on the trail of jazz trumpeter reputed to have returned form the dead. The investigator pursues the musician through some of the Jazz Age’s definitive locations: the Mississippi Delta, New Orleans, and New York at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Along the way, he faces challenges from rival investigators, gangsters, hostile backwoods rustics, and perhaps even a supernatural entity or two.

One of the great joys of writing “Gabriel’s Trumpet” was that it allowed me,  in a way that my previous fiction had not, to really bring into play my experience as a music journalist and music historian focused on American roots music.

“Gabriel’s Trumpet” incorporates several elements that I think of as representative of “my style.” Hopefully that’s a good augury for future awards! These elements include:

  • An emphasis on “the spirit of place.” I worked hard to bring each location to life as a character in its own right.
  • “Cameos” by several historical figures, including author/poet Langston Hughes, eccentric scholar Charles Fort, elder statesman of “ghostbusting” Walter Franklin Prince, and New Orleans photographer E.J. Bellocq.
  • A nodding homage to the Mythos.
  • And a scene or two of crazy, two-fisted pulp action.

Read the opening of “Gabriel’s Trumpet” here.

“Gabriel’s Trumpet” is available in the anthology Speakeasies & Spiritualists from 18th Wall Productions. Speakeasies & Spiritualists won several other awards in the P&E Poll, including:

  • Top 10 Anthology
  • Best Cover Artwork (Johannes Chazot)
  • Its curator, Nicole Petit, came in second for Best Editor.
  • Best Magical Realism Short Story (Donald J. Bingle, Double D).
  • Top 10 Horror Short Story (Brendan Foley, Moses Callahan’s Last Chord; John Linwood Grant,  Hoodoo Man).

Look for the release of a novel-length treatment of Gabriel’s Trumpet, also from 18th Wall, later in 2018. What will you get in this expanded version of the story?

  • Willie “The Lion” Smith — waiting for you to encounter him.

    Discover the origin of Gabriel Gibbs’ mysterious trumpet.

  • Take a peak behind the curtains of the legends and folklore of Gates County, Mississippi, including its county seat’s ill-starred name, Pilate’s Point.
  • Learn the backstory of Gibbs’ family matriarch, Aunt Mancie.
  • Experience the lurid origins of the split between the American Society for Psychical Research and Boston Society for Psychical Research…through the eyes of its participants.
  • Cringe at historically accurate portrayals of 1920s medicine and surgical techniques.
  • Dive deeper into the exploration and celebration of Jazz music and Jazz culture.
  • Take a trip to the bayous of south Louisiana for a full-throttle Mythos rumble.
  • Encounter addition historical figures, including Victor Records scout Ralph Peer, colorful jazz pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith, and arch-skeptic Harry Houdini.

The Harrowed Hearts Club “Official” Playlist

My supplement, Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club (available here through Steve Jackson Games as part of their GURPS system) combines tools and resources for GMs to design and populate detailed, realistic, and unique nightclubs/speakeasies/music venues, etc. The supplement’s second part contains four adventure seeds (encounters) reflecting a variety of genres, power levels, and historical periods. It also draws deeply upon my background as a music journalist and music historian. Read The Blind Mapmaker’s review of The Harrowed Hearts Club.

 “It’s quite clear that Jon Black knows his stuff” 

The Blind Mapmaker

If ever a supplement begged for a playlist it’s the Harrowed Hearts Club. This post provides playlists appropriate to each of the supplement’s four encounters. The songs selected meet at least one of two criteria:

  • They are appropriate to the encounter’s time period and musical milieu.
  • They match the encounter’s theme or roleplaying style.

Priority, of course, was given to songs that met both criteria. A few of the songs selected are obscure (ask a music journalist for a playlist and this is what happens) but well worth tracking down.

Each playlist is accompanied by a short description of the encounter (These descriptions and other teasers are available from the free excerpts of the supplement available for download from Steve Jackson Games here) as well as commentary on the calculations and challenges that went into each playlist.

I. Jewels, Jezebels, and Jake Leg

A pulp encounter for low-level GURPS Action or similar campaigns. On the trail of stolen jewels hidden in the club, the party faces challenges, expected and unexpected, in finding the loot.

While stylistically distinctive, the music of the swing & big band jazz period remains accessible (indeed, often popular) among contemporary music fans. Putting together a playlist using only period music (with a little fudging, such as Luck Be a Lady) was relatively straight forward.

  • In the Mood (Glen Miller)
  • Harlem Nocturne (multiple credible versions available. While it’s anachronistic for this encounter,  I’m partial to the Viscounts’ recording)
  • Sing, Sing, Sing (Benny Goodman)
  • Mack the Knife (Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra versions are all credible)
  • As Time Goes By (Doolie Wilson is the most recognizable version, but plenty of other credible recordings exist)
  • Choo Choo Ch’boogie (Louis Jordans)
  • Minnie the Moocher (Cab Calloway)
  • The Gal Looks Good (Scatman Crothers)
  • Swing on a Star (Bing Crosby)
  • Anything Goes (Cole Porter)
  • Luck Be a Lady (Frank Sinatra)

II. The Lady With the Red Cameo

 This encounter blends urban fantasy with Gothic elements. Meeting an unusual ghost, investigators have the tables turned when they are shifted back in time, confronting the worst disaster in the club’s history.

Scott Joplin

Unlike swing or big band, there aren’t many contemporary music fans who can sit down and listen to hours of ragtime (of course, having written that, I will now hear from all of them). The period songs I’ve included are weighted heavily in favor of instrumental numbers. Not only were the low-fidelity recording technologies of the time especially unkind to vocals but, in the absence of widespread electric amplification, vocal stylings of the day relied heavily on techniques such as vibrato which made voices audible in large venues but are rough on modern ears. For all those reasons, I’ve created a playlist blending period standards with more listenable thematically appropriate songs.

Some observers may note that perhaps the most obvious thematic match for the encounter, Howlin’ Wolf’s Natchez Burnin’, is absent. Upon reflection, I decided that including a song about an actual nightclub fire which killed 209 people would be inappropriate (read more about the Rhythm Club Fire here).

Also, I have tried to avoid using multiple songs by the same artist in a playlist. However, because Scott Joplin loomed so large in the period’s musical scene and because his rags are among the most approachable for contemporary listeners, that was simply not possible in this case.

  • Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
  • The City Sleeps (MC 900 Ft. Jesus)
  • The Charleston Rag (Eubie Black)
  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (multiple versions)
  • Topline Rag (Joseph Lamb)
  • Heliotrope Bouquet (Scott Joplin/Louis Chavan)
  • Hot Time in Old Town Tonight (Lots of recordings, I like the Bessie Smith’s)
  • My Wild Irish Rose (Chancellor Olcott)
  • The Band Played On (Guy Lombardo)
  • Ta-ra-ra Book-de-ay (multiple versions)

III. The Deadly Chamber

Heroes discover that more than money is at stake when a backroom poker game adds macabre rules.

One of the joys of this playlist was the natural overlap between the underground music scenes dominating the Harrowed Hearts Club at this period and themes appropriate for the encounter, like gambling and gun violence.

 

  • The Gambler (the original by Kenny Rogers is a classic, but covers by punk band Elmer or even an Indy Rock rendition by Smashing Pumpkins may be more atmospheric).
  • My First Gun (Crooks)
  • The Ace of Spades (Motörhead)
  • Bullet in the Head (Rage Against the Machine)
  • God is a Bullet (Concrete Blonde)
  • Russian Roulette (Yngwie Malmsteen)
  • These are People Who Died (Jim Carroll Band)
  • You Never Should Have Opened that Door (The Ramones)
  • Forward to Death (The Dead Kennedys)
  • Pepper (The Butthole Surfers)

IV. Nobody Gets Out Alive

A night out takes a supernatural turn when patrons witness something they shouldn’t. Someone doesn’t want any survivors to tell the tale.

For this playlist, I tossed concerns about musical genre and time period out the window and had a field day picking out songs appropriate for a supernatural battle royale.

  • Deadman’s Party (Oingo Bongo)
  • I Walked With a Zombie (Roky Erickson)
  • Haunted House (Juliet Tango)
  • The Monster Mash (Bobby Pickett, and thanks to jsammallahti for tipping me off to the existence of an awesome Misfits cover!)
  • Nemesis (Shriekback)
  • Never Get Out of This World Alive (Hank Williams)
  • Welcome to My Nightmare (Alice Cooper)
  • I Put A Spell On You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
  • Little Red Riding Hood (Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs)
  • Sympathy for the Devil (The Rolling Stones’ original is definitive but Slovenian industrial band Laibach has an entire album of ultra-creepy covers of the song)

The Harrowed Hearts Club: Q&A

GURPS Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club – CoverNovember saw the release of my first gaming supplement, Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club, for Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System). Though I have published occasionally in their monthly periodical, Pyramid, the supplement is a big milestone for me. After gaming for more than 30 years (and using GURPS for more than 20 of them) I feel like I’ve finally given something back to the gaming community. I’m pleased to report it’s already received generally favorable marks from one reviewer.

 “It’s quite clear that Jon Black knows his stuff” — Review at The Blind

Mapmaker

In putting the Harrowed Hearts Club together, it was a pleasure to draw deeply upon my background as a music journalist and music historian. The supplement’s first part combines tools and resources for GMs to design and populate detailed, realistic, and unique nightclubs/speakeasies/music venues, etc. The second part contains  four adventure seeds (encounters) reflecting a variety of genres, power levels, and historical periods.

  • Jewels, Jezebels, and Jake Leg : A pulp encounter for low-level GURPS Action or similar campaigns. On the trail of stolen jewels hidden in the club, the party faces challenges, expected and unexpected, in finding the loot.
  • The Lady With the Red Cameo: This encounter blends urban fantasy with Gothic elements. Meeting an unusual ghost, investigators have the tables turned when they are shifted back in time, confronting the worst disaster in the club’s history.
  • The Deadly Chamber: Heroes discover that more than money is at stake when a backroom poker game adds macabre rules.
  • Nobody Gets Out Alive: A night out takes a supernatural turn when patrons witness something they shouldn’t. Someone doesn’t want any survivors to tell the tale.

(The encounter descriptions and other teasers are available from the free excerpts of the supplement available for download from Steve Jackson Games here)

To pull back Harrowed Hearts Club’s curtain a little a bit, below five questions about the supplement asked and answered.

Q: Is there a real world inspiration for the Harrowed Hearts Club?

A: The HHC is based on no single venue, but aspects of several different establishments found their way into my conception of the club. Bobby Mackey’s Music World, in Wilder, Kentucky, is the most direct influence (or, rather, the almost unbelievable body of supernatural folklore that has built up around Bobby Mackey’s). The now defunct Skyline Club of Austin, Texas, infamous as the venue where both Hank Williams and Johnny Horton played their finals shows before meeting untimely deaths, impacted HHC’s feel and back story. (Since there is a strong Austin component among my social media followers, the site of the Skyline Club now rests somewhere beneath the H-E-B at North Lamar and Rundberg). The Church, Dallas’s premier Goth club during the 80s and 90s (and possibly longer, but I don’t have the frame of reference to say so) offered an atmospheric influence on the HHC’s 80s and early 90s incarnations. Finally, I have to cite a decrepit basement punk/industrial club in Shreveport, Louisiana. I no longer recall the name, the venue’s subtle, creepy sensation of something being “off” has stayed with me and very much found its way into the mood and look of the HHC.

 

Q: Are any of the encounters’ NPCs based upon historical figures?

A: Even more than the club itself,  the impact of any real persons on HHC’s NPCs is indirect and nebulous. That having been said, it is certainly possible to see elements of Hank Williams in Billy Montgomery, Johnny Horton in Andrew Jackson Johnson, and (a bit more obviously) Johnny Ace in Ace Hoyle.

 

Q: Do any elements of the Harrowed Hearts Club reflect personal experience?

A: Yes. The section about it normally being impossible to get locked in a modern walk-in freezer (don’t ask).

 

Q: What was the most difficult aspect of researching the module?

A: Believe it or not, the hardest (or at least most frustrating) part was researching the sizes of various historic venues (offered as reference for GMs designing their own  establishments). This proved incredibly time consuming. Apparently not many people Google “How many square feet was the Moulin Rouge?” Even where figures could be found, they were sometimes vague or contradictory.

 

Q: Do you have a “suggested playlist” for the Encounters.

A: Not yet, but that’s a good idea. I’ll get to work on if for a future blog post.

Purchase The Harrowed Hearts Club from Steve Jackson Games here.

Poetic Justice for Descansos

While my contribution was a short story, “So Lonesome I Could Die.,” I am ecstatic to see that the anthology Descansos from Darkhouse Books is Amazon’s #1 New Release in Poetry Anthologies.

I think this is proof that Darkhouse’s concept for a new kind of anthology has legs. They envisioned an anthology where the only criteria (other than quality of course) was thematic. The anthology was open to all genres and mediums as long as it revolved around the central thematic element, in this case descansos or, rather the “interrupted journeys”  implied by such roadside shrines.

Thus is it is that my 1930s musically-driven ghost story can coexist harmoniously with such excellent poetry within the confines of a single volume.

Check out Descansos on Amazon or B&N.

Read more about “So Lonesome I Could I Die.”

Descansos Now Available!

“I want readers to be able to hear the guitar and smell the sawdust and smoke of the honkytonks.” — Jon Black

Descansos, the new anthology from Darkhouse Books featuring my short story “So Lonesome I Could Die” is now available on Amazon and B&N.

“So Lonesome,” is a tale to appeal to anyone with an interest in music, Texana, or a good old fashioned ghost story.

It brings together elements of Texas Gothic and the classic Ghost Story, with more than a passing nod to Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. It is the tale of musical prodigy Johnnie Gruene (as the story notes, “if you’re not from around here” that’s pronounced Green, like the color) his mysterious origins, big chance for fortune and glory, and enigmatic fate.

The story is set against the backdrop of the Depression-era Texas Hill Country. The latter, I believe, is one of most criminally underused settings for fiction, especially of the mysterious or macabre variety.  With its ancient hills and shadow woods, long history by southwestern standards, and being touched the hands and feet of so many peoples over the centuries there is something archetypal and liminal about the region.

Of course, one of the great joys for me in writing “So Lonesome,” was drawing on my experience as a music journalist and music historian to really make the musical elements of the story come alive. The Hill Country of the 1930s was an immensely fertile crossroads for musical traditions of the past, present, and future: reels, German and Czech polkas, cowboy tunes, Gospel, blues, country, honkytonk, Western swing, and even the first stirrings of what would one day become rock and roll. As readers make their way through “So Lonesome,” I want them to be able to hear the music and smell the sawdust and smoke of the honkytonks.

One departure from my usual writing style was using Third Person Omniscient narration, but with such a distinctive voice that the narrator itself arguably becomes a character in the story.

This is a story I’d been kicking around in my head for a very long time but could never quite make it work. Serendipitously, it was the descansos angle, both literally and figuratively as a “journey interrupted” that let me tie it all together.

Throughout the whole process, working with Dark House books was true pleasure. I am very impressed by their whole operation. Descansos marks the first of new line of anthologies for them, in which submissions are selected around a central theme regardless of genre or medium. It is a fascinating concept that makes use of art’s true potency and I wish them well with it!

Purchase Descansos on Amazon or B&N today!

Today’s Big Announcement

Celebrating a Project That Could Only Be Published Today

I am pleased to announce I have had another novel accepted for publication. The project, Tristouse Ballerinette and the Perpetual Motion Machine, is one I haven’t discussed with many people … for the simple reason I never expected it to go anywhere. But the project is my attempt to cash in on the Young Adult Paranormal Romance craze.

Of course, I added a few twists intended to offer a note of gravitas to more discriminating readers … while still, hopefully, being a huge hit with the young people. The main action takes place in the milieu of 1930s Welsh coal mining, but transposed to 2017 California so as to be more accessible to the young folks.

Narratively, the work is divided into three parts:

The first is a flashback that takes place over the last 15 seconds of the protagonist’s life as she falls from a trestle into an ore smelting crucible.

The second part is a series of non-sequential vignettes exploring how she develops her supernatural powers, meets her love interest, Chai (pronounced “Gee”), as well as their mutual wizardly nemesis, Professor Dastard Rhesus.

Resolution of that conflict comes in the third art, in the form of a therapeutic dialogue between Tristouse Ballerinette, Chai, and Ernest W. Camp (who, of course, was first Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service) which takes place in something like a bus station.

Needless to say, I am tremendously excited about this project. I invite you to look for Tristouse Ballerinette and the Perpetual Motion Machine in print on this (or any other) April 1st!

All the Little Things: Editing A Manuscript

If you took a survey of authors, I suspect 99% of them would say editing is their least favorite part of the writing process. I’m not exception. But it has to be done. I’m currently in the thick of editing Gabriel’s Trumpet. It’s my second novel (or at least long novella) length project. But I’m beginning to get a handle of my editing “process.

First and foremost, I don’t edit for everything at once. Obviously, that would be the most efficient way to do things. I’m just not up to it. If I looked for everything, I’d end up not catching anything. So, I break my editing into focused passes. The typical breakdown goes something like this:

Round 1 & 2

Checking for narrative continuity, smooth transition between scenes, and anything that just plain doesn’t make sense.

Round 3 & 4

One of my biggest issues with editing is passive voice. For some reason, I find passive voice much more pleasing than the rest of the world. So, typically, I do two editing passes just to get my use of passive voice down to an acceptable level.  Because the “Find” feature lets me pick up words like was and were regardless of whether it’s passive or not, it’s also an opportunity to switch out being verbs for other, more interesting and uncommon verbs.

Round 5 & 6

After that, it’s time for comma culling. I am also quite comma happy … a trait I will lay in the feet of ten+ years of speechwriting – where it’s common to insert a comma anywhere you want a speaker to pause or even just breathe.  So, there’s a lot of comma culling as well.

Round 7 (and, if necessary, 8, 9, etc.)

I finally move on to the other punctuation, grammar, and generic errors typically associated with editing. A special variation on this in Gabriel’s Trumpet, with its extensive use of historical figures, was fact checking spelling and biographical information.

So, that seems to be my process. I’d interested to hear how others handle this most unloved of tasks.