Welcome to Junzt County, Texas, Population: Weird

Lovecraft has Arkham…

King has Castle Rock…

Campbell has his unique take on the Severn Valley…

Invariably, those who write horror seem to want their own creation they can revisit time and time again. I am no different. This August, my creation, Junzt County, comes out and takes a walk in “Totmann’s Curve,” a 35,000 word novella included as part of Sockhops & Séances, an anthology of horror set in the 1950s, from 18th Wall.

Texas Hill Country

If you ask me, the part of Texas best suited for rich, atmospheric horror is neither the broken deserts and vast plains of the lonely west nor the impenetrable pine forests and swamps of the “boy, you got a pretty mouth” east. Rather, it is the rolling hills, shadowy valleys, and dark-fairytale woodlands of the Hill Country. Stretching about 100 miles west from Austin and San Antonio, many groups, most notably Germans and Eastern Europeans, settled there … each bring their own traditions, folklore, and whispered fears about what haunts the dark. The place feels old, older than anywhere in Texas has any business feeling.

Spme of the Hill Country’s German settlers cut loose and clown for the camera.

So, that’s where I brought Juntz County to life, lovingly populating it with it everything needed for my macabre purposes. Brockenberg, the legend-shrouded vast granite dome rising over county’s center.  Goethe College, an ivy-covered institution established by scholars fleeing an academic schism at the University of Gottingen (and bringing the more, um, unusual parts of its library with them).  Koenigsburg State Hospital, mysteriously burned in the 1980s and many of its patients never accounted for. Thale, a tiny village deep in the hills, perpetually surrounded by ill-rumor and tragedy. And, of course, burger joints, honky-tonks, auto shops, local radio station KJZT, and all the other infrastructure of “normal” everyday life.

Here’s the kicker, originally I created Junzt County not for narrative fiction but table-top roleplaying. It came to life for a Call of Cthulhu campaign I ran the better part of a decade ago, pitting a party of college students all enrolled in the same local folklore class against a mysterious amulet, the supernal forces tied to it, and the (obligatory) cultists trying to recover it. It was a great campaign (thanks, especially, to some great players) and, even at the time, I grasped the location’s potential as a setting for fiction.

Western Swing, Hill Country Style

Before there was “Totmann’s Curve,” there was “So Lonesome I Could Die.” My first published Junzt Country story, in the anthology Descansos, was a musically-themed Texas Gothic ghost story set during the Great Depression. While “Totmann’s Curve” is an entirely self-contained, stand-alone narrative, anyone who has read “So Lonesome I Could Die” will discover several Easter Eggs revealing what has become of some of the earlier story’s characters … and hinting at the resolution to one of its biggest mysteries.

Koenigsburg hot-rodders park on the town square before going for a burger and a malt (actually, Kerrville, Texas)

What of “Totmann’s Curve,” then? It’s a faced-paced 1950s tale of ghosts, teenage hot-rodding, and evil sorcerers serving dark entities. After the tragic deaths of two teens during an illegal road race, increased police attention forces the local hot-rodders to move their activities farther into rural parts of the county. At first, the new race route seems perfect. But the roads have a history of their own … and fender-benders caused by a pretty blonde ghost wearing a white wedding dress are only the beginning of the racers’ troubles. Something in the deep hills is very unhappy about the kids being there.

Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” belonging to Hot-Rodder Jack “Jockey” Groce, Junzt County Historical Society Museum

Can good-natured all-American hot-rodder Sam Granger, his gearhead friend Joe Tegeler, egg-headed cousin Eleanor, the ghostly dreamboat Helene, and the rest of their gang figure out what’s going on in time to save the Saturday races … and their own skins? That is the question.

Are there other Junzt County tales? Yes. A half-dozen, scattered across a variety of time periods, are in various stages on completion. But three others, one set in the ‘40s, another in the ‘80s, and a third in the present are already finalized and resting in my computer, awaiting only a sympathetic publisher.

Sockhops and Seances, from 18th Wall, is available here.

AramadilloCon: Music, Your Novel’s Sountrack

Thank you for attending the Music: Your Novel’s Soundtack session at ArmadilloCon 41. I appreciate our moderator Sandord Allen and fellow panelists Holly Lyn Walrath, Michael Wolff, and Cassandra Rose Clarke. Below are some key thoughts I may or may not have shared during this session on music in fiction. But, first, a bit of shameless self-promotion of my most heavily music-themed work:

Gabriel’s Trumpet (scheduled for release later this month): an expansion of the award-winning short story,  this Jazz Age supernatural mystery that spans the country from the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans and the deep bayous to Harlem at the height of its renaissance. Gabriel’s Trumpet is steeped in the era’s music / music scene, including historical musicans and industry figures.

“So Lonesome I Could Die” (part of the anthology Descansos):  Texas Gothic meets the classic ghost story in this tale of music, love, betrayal, and more music set among the country and western swing scenes of the Depression-era Hill Country.

 

Chupacabra vs. Rougaraou (scheduled for release in 2020) A struggling punk rocker and a down on his luck bull rider may be all that stands between humanity and ultimate extinction, as a showdown between two cryptids in a small Louisiana town proves to be so much more.

And, for any gamers out there, a large proportion of my writing for rolepaying games is conntect with music in some way, feel free to check it out here.

Long before I turned my attention to fiction, I worked as a music journalist and music historian, specialized in blues, county, and punk. I am best known for my original research into seminal blues guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson, my chronicling of the Louisiana Hayride, in-depth biographical pieces, and festival coverage.

 

 

Why Music in Writing?

Music is a universal human experience.  Anthrolopolgists know of no human culture that that does not have some form of musical expression and it has been part of our species for a very long time. The earliest known instruments are simple birdbone flutes found in Germany and dated to around 40,000 years ago. More complex instruments (silver pipes found in a grave in Ur) date at least far back as 2,500 BCE, with the earliest written musical notation arising about the same time (also in Mesopotamia). This universality  helps readers connect with characters, backgrounds, and situations radically different than their own, or even completely fictionally. 

Bone flute, Germany. c. 40,000 years ago

So Retro!

Music can be especially effective for writers of historical fiction and historical fantasy. Many books emphasize the sights of the past to  the exclusion of other senses (excluding the now obligatory passage about how bad the past smelled). Music is a great way to insert the sounds of the past. Referencing Verdi, the Doors, or medieval troubadours immediately provides expositive shorthand regarding location and setting. It helps build mood and atmosphere. Because sound is so visceral and people often have very personal reactions to music, it puts readers right there in the story.

A Quick Glossary

Diegetic Music: (also known as source music) music that actually occurs in in a book (or film): the cassette tape played the protagonists as they leave on the Great American Road Trip, the War Hymn sung by the Battle Maidens of Koth, the Nursery Rhyme repeated over and over by the creepy hitchhiker, etc.  For the purpose of the work of art in question, diagetic music is “real” it can be heard to and reacted to by chracters.

Incidentdal Music: Music intended to enhance a viewer’s experience of a movie (rarely, for obvious reasons, in a book). It exists only for the viewer and is not real from the perspective of the work’s characters.

Furniture Music (a term coined by French avant-garde composer Erik Satie) diagetic music occuring in the background (the string quartet at a Ventian masked ball, the endless loop of “Girl from Ipanema” inside a stuck elevator, etc.). Furnitue Music could be said to be part of the scene, not part of the story and, as such,  kind of straddles the line between diagetic and incidental music.

 

Video Killed the Radio Star

When in the late 19th century or beyond, don’t forget the possibilites created by recording, playback, and broadcast technologies. Consider the following sentences:

  • After cranking the Victrola, she delicately set a phonograph record on the platter.
  • Jamming a cassette in the car’s 8-track player, she slammed her foot on the accelerator
  • Flipping through her phone, she wanting to share the album she’d downloaded just hours ago.

Each sentence suggests an entire scene, a defined character, and an unmistakable time period. Indeed, it’s not hard to go from there to plot and motivation.

STEAL THIS PLOT TWIST:  Speaking of recording technology, if you’re looking for an unusual way to challenge protagonists, stick critical information on some obscure pre-phonograph  recording technology (cylinder, wire recorders, etc.). Now, send them scrambling to find a way to play it!

Broadcasting technologies, especially radio, also deserve special mention as a great vehicle for exposition. Between ads, DJ chatter, and news breaks, authors can convey a wide range of information to readers.  It can establish era or setting (a news story about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens), provide local color (don’t forget the annual Strawberry Days festival this weekend, come on down and see the crowning of the Strawberry Queen), or advane the plot (a hook-handed killer has just escaped from the nearby institute for the criminally cliché).

Players Only Love You When They’re Playing

As long as we’re talking about music, lets talk about musicians … and their advantages as supporting characters, foils, or even protagonists.

Jazz pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith , one of many musicians performing in Gabriel’s Trumpet.

Archetypal musicians are colorful, larger than life, flout social conventions, and have interesting backstories. In other words, they are precisely the kind of characters that most authors like to write.

While, historically, often considered somewhat disreputable, musicians come into contact with people from all classes and walks and life. That makes them a great vehicle for providing information that protagonists might otherwise have difficulty accessing. That musicians often travel widely offers similar benefits.

Musicians are often portrayed with unusual (and frequently shady) backgrounds.  It is easier to believe that a down on his luck punk rocker knows how to hotwire a car than an CPA. Or more likely that the grizzled old Meistersinger knows the high passes out of Hapsburg lands than a simple peasant.

In sort, because of the enduring and portable archetypes we associate with them, the romantic and liminal musician can be played as something of a wildcard.

Great Fiction About Music / Using Music

Dragonsinger by Ann McCaffrey: In Pern, musicians are the true king makers, the power of their music letting them say others’  thoughts and emotions. The young Menolly,  an apprentice harper, must overcome gender bias in addition to the standard trials and tribulation before blossoming into a formidable talent.

Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann: Faust meets Robert Johnson, in this retelling of the classic legend, the titular character is a musician/composer bargaing his soul for musical brilliance.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby: Sure, we’ve all seen the movie. But do yourself a favor and check out the book.

Idoru by William Gibson: The definitinity novel about AI celebrity musicians.

“Incommunicado” by Katherine MacLean: Good luck finding a copy of this decades- ahead-of-its-time story of AI musicians and musical mind control, featured inthe June 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

Kamikaze L’amour by Richard Kadrey: In the near future, a burned-out rock icon fakes his own death and journeys to southern California, which has all become rain forest for some reason, where he falls in love while rediscovering himself as well as a passion for music for music’s sake.

Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: Seminal novel of both horror and music ficition about masked weirdo stalking a talented starlet.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason: Middle-aged piano tuner recruited to travel  to (what was then) Burma, make his way through the jungle, and tune the piano of an eccentric Royal Army doctor. Through his musical talents, he ends up getting dragged into intrigue and skullduggery, with a bit of a “music as a universal language” theme at the end.

I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive by Steve Earle (yes, THAT Steve Earle): Southern Noir meets Magical Realism in this mystery where the ghost of Hank Williams is major chracter.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: a post-apocolypic novel about a traveling symphony trying to keep music alive in a shatterd world.

Tolkien, obviously (though I am old enough to be traumatized by the music in the 1970s Rankin-Bass cartoons)

The Vinyl Detective Series, by Andrew Cartmel: Fanatical British vinyl collectors kill each other over rare records.

ArmadilloCon: Writing for Computer, Roleplaying, & Board Games

Thank you for attending the Writing for Computer, Roleplaying, and Board Game session at ArmadilloCon 41. I appreciate our moderator Aaron de Orive and fellow panelist D Chang.  Below are some key thoughts I may or may not have shared during this session on writing for tabletop / pen & paper roleplaying games (we’ll just go with TTRPG for the rest of this post) as well as some useful links. I also invite you to check out my roleplaying writing credits here.

1) The State of the TTRPG Industry in 2019

Image result for d20The TTRPG industry looks a lot like the world of fiction publishing in 2019,  in many ways dominated by a few companies (Wizards, Paizo, White Wolf, Chaosim, Games Workshop) with formidable resources. Beyond that sphere are a wide range of mid and small size, often niche, publishers as well as self-publishers. While that is very good for the range and diversity of projects coming available, resources as scant. The extent to which TTRPG products are now crowdfunded gives an idea of exactly how much money is floating through most of the industry (not much). Margins are generally low and publishers are resistant to backing a project that can’t prove its market.

In summary, the industry is wide open for new innovative ideas. But, if writing for TTRPGs is your “get rich quick” scheme (or even your “get rich slow” scheme) you probably want to rethink that.

2) TTRPG Trends   

What is Old is New Again:  The biggest trend in TTRPG matches one at the movies. Many of the most successful and early anticipated releases in recent years have been new installments or reboots of familiar properties (Vampire: The Masquerade, Lord of the Five Rings, Pathfinder 2nd Ed., ongoing new properties for D&D 5th Ed.).

Which is not to say that no one is putting out new properties. Some recent release that have received buzz include the high-concept fantasy Overlight, the space-opera Tachyon Squadron, and the dark Sword & Sorcery Forbidden Lands.

Image result for runequest murphy's laws

From Murphy’s Rules, c. Steve Jackson Games

Keep it Simple, Sorcerer:  In terms of new properties, we see a continuation of the decade-or-so old trend toward greater simpler game mechanics emphasizing quick set ups, flexibility, and speed of play. This can be seen in the popularity of games that use engines like FATE, Savage Worlds, and the Gumshoe System. (Of course, in TTRPG, anytime you talk about a “trend,” at least one counterexample will immediate present itself. This year saw a re-release of Runequest, a game once (in)famous for its complexity.

Along with the trend toward simplicity, comes a greater fondness for open or collaborative storytelling, in which all participants and not just the GM have some ability to shape the broader world beyond direct PC action.

Every Game is now Cyberpunk 2020:  Finally, the continuing popularity of play by post, the increasing popularity of live streaming, and the rapidly expanding number of apps on online resources is slowing blurring the lines between TTRPG and computer RPG.

3) Six Tips for Breaking into TTRPG Writing

Where my first RPG writiing appeared…

Play TTRPGs:  And then, when you’re sick of them, play more TTRPGS. Just like the best writers are voracious readers, the best TTRPG writers are compulsive gamers. Also, when I say “play TTRPRGs” I really mean “DM/GM TTRPGs.” Only by being in the driver’s seat to really get the 360-degree experience of what goes into a published product and develop an intuitive feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Begin by Freelancing:  Publishers/designers are much more likely to take a chance on you if you have a portfolio you can show the,

 

Be cautious about entrusting your content to open source market places.

Practice the Craft of Writing:  It’s not enough to have great ideas, you must be able to communicate them in writing clearly and succinctly. It’s not at all sexy to think about it this way, but TTRPG writing is essentially technical writing.

Network, Network, Network:  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m terrible at this one. But, compared with fiction publication, I’ve found the TTRPG to be informal and heavily driven by “who you know.” So, how do you get to know the right people. First, hit the chatrooms and social media. Make intelligent comments and astute observations. Second, become a presence at local cons and beyond (think GenCon, PaxEast, etc.). Not only is this great way to meet people, it helps you stay abreast of industry trends. Third, look for volunteering opportunities. The industry has an endless hunger for playtesters, rules reviewers, game reviewers, etc. those are excellent opportunities to make connections and favorable impressions!

Take Your Ego Out of It: Remember, the proximate goal for TTRPG publishers is producing a coherent, compelling, marketable product. Their ultimate goal is making a profit. If you can’t suborn your artistic vision to the publisher’s needs, you’re not going to get very far.

5) Streaming/Live Play Games

The emergence of gaming is a spectator sport is something, I admit, I don’t fully understand. But, clearly, I’m in the minority there … and building a following there certainly could help one’s career in TTRPG writing … so this post would be remiss without addressing the issue. Plus, I’ve finally drunk the Kool-Aid, next month I’ll be playing the Hygiene Officer in live-streamed Paranoia campaign.

To be clear, I’m not speaking from first-hand experience here, but from reading and conversations with others, here is what I can offer on successful streaming/live-play.

Production Quality: An engrossing game is essential to be successful … but it will not in itself ensure success. You need to think of this as full on video-production and treat it accordingly, giving full consideration to camera placement, quality of audio, sound effects, even gimmicks like dry ice or puppets.

The Interactive Experience: Unlike a traditional video production, the level and nature audience interaction is another aspect needing consideration. Some groups find it both convenient and effective to appoint a single individual to take point on this. While the DM feels like the intuitive choice for this, I’ve heard reports that assigning a player or even recruiting a “host” for these duties is very effective.

Allowing chat members to directly impact the game, by choosing a character to receive an automatic critical success/failure, vote on an encounter monster, or even name an NPC or tavern is an effective way to engage and involve viewers. Obviously, any form of audience impact is something that needs to be agreed upon by DM and all players beforehand. Some groups monetize audience interaction by putting some or all of these features behind a paywall.

Give Murphy Murphy His Cut:  Finally, manage your expectations. First, things will go wrong. React with patience and good humor, maybe even try to bring the audience in on the “joke.” While there are stories of instant streaming success … for most mere mortals audience growth is a slow process.

6) Jon, what are your favorite RPG systems?

GURPS (of course), D&D 3.5E, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Paranoia, 2300 AD, MegaTraveler, and Earth Dawn. Thank you for asking.

7) Useful Links

Five Tips for Breaking into the RPG Industry

So You Want to Write RPGs: Tips for Becoming a Freelancer (an older article, but the most of the information is still good)

Five Tools that Will Help You Create a Gaming Broacast (another older article, some of the technical info is outdated but the general advice and prodcution checklist remains solid)

Five Tips for Steaming a Game on Twitch

An Online RPG Writer Workshop (This is not an official endorsement … but I have heard positive feedback).

ConFessions of a 45 Year-Old SFF Imposter

Image result for omni southpark austin

The Omni Southpark Austin, which is to ArmadilloCon what lairs are to dragons.

Hi! I’m Jon.  I’m 45 years old. I’ll be 46 next month. In spite of that, sometimes (and by “sometimes,” I mean “usually”) I don’t feel like a grown-up. This weekend I am appearing at ArmadilloCon 41 as a regional guest.  This is my first apperance at a Con as a presenter rather than an attendee, which has all those “not really a grown-up” feelings welling up to the surface with an anticipation and anxiety better suited to a teenager than a white-goateed weirdo.

There’s no denying it, I’ve got a full-blown case of imposter syndrome.

A sample of my RPG writing

That being said, I am terribly excited. I am participating in two panels (both on Saturday), Writing for Computer, Roleplaying, and Board Games (I wrote for RPGs before turning my attention to fiction) and Music: Your Novel’s Sound Track (I worked as a music journalist and music historian before starting with RPGs), so intellectually, I know I’m on solid footing there.

 

I am also giving a reading (Friday night) and doing a book signing (Sunday at noon). Picking out the selections for my reading was very exciting. One of the my biggest decisions was including a selection from my soon to be published novel Caledfwlch (second installment of the award winning Bel Nemeton series, blending 6th century Arthurian historical fantasy with 21st century progressive pulp). This will be the first time any content from Caledfwlch has seen the light of day (excepting my publisher and me, of course). My other selections come from Gabriel’s Trumpet, “So Lonesome I Could Die,” and the P&E Reader’s Choice winning “A Scandal in Hollywood.”

Blue Oyster Cult 1977 publicity photo.jpg

No, Blue Öyster Cult, not THAT Godzilla.

But my eye is really on the other programming, here are some of the sessions I’m enthusiastic about this year:

  • The Future of Money: Beyond Solars and Credits
  • Godzilla in 2019
  • Writing Realistic Horsemanship (God knows I need that one)
  • Screenwriting 101 (no specific plans, but it seems like a good thing to have in the toolbox)
  • Sword fighting Demonstrations (also needed)
  • Whither Horror
  • How to Build a Religion (for purposes of writing, I presume)
  • Editing Anthologies (could have used this one 12 months ago)
  • Science Fiction Mysteries
  • Reading by lots of my favorite authors
  • and, of course, the yummy goodness that is the Con hospitality suite…

And, if you’re at ArmadilloCon, please feel free to come by and say hello. Again, here’s my schedule of events if you’re looking for me at other times, check my twitter @blackonblues, I’m usually pretty good at broadcasting my movements.

Q & A With RJ Hanson

The Author of Roland’s Path talks about fantasy, life as a country cop, and why every author should get hit on the head now and then.

 

Q) Tell us a little bit about Roland’s Path and its main characters.

A)  Roland’s Path is a swords/sorcery genre adventure that introduces the reader to a new fantasy world in global strife.  The two main characters, Roland and Eldryn, are based on RPG characters that I and a friend started playing in 1996.  Roland’s Path is the first book in an overall story arc that will likely go for at least another 14 books.  Roland’s Path is the ground floor of that story.  It gives readers a chance to get to know the characters in their youth and see how their mistakes and their triumphs over time affect their choices and their lives.  Most overall arcs use flash backs or limited narratives to describe a character’s past, however, our story gives the reader a chance to grow with the character.

The story begins with Roland as a teenager in a remote town with only preconceptions of what the world around him is like.  As Roland’s journey progresses, the reader learns about the world as he does.  Roland’s good friend, Eldryn often represents a flip side of the coin.  While he is much like Roland in many ways, he is very different from him in others.  Early on, Roland is shamed and feels that he owes an act of redemption to his father, whom he idolizes as well as resents.  I think this story will touch a nerve with anyone that experienced that common conflict with a parent during the time of becoming an adult.


Q) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

RJ Hanson, author of the sword and sorcery spectacular Roland’s Path

A) I grew up in the country and went to school in a small town.  Most people strive to be in the top ten percent of their class.  I was the top ten percent of mine.  I started college (the TAMS program) at 16.  I found out then that I was not nearly as smart as I thought I was.  I spent a few years wondering what I wanted to do with my life when I decided to try law enforcement.  I started working as a jailer in 1996 and have been in the business ever since.  I’m currently a lieutenant in C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Division) and specialize in crimes against persons.  If I ever figure out what I want to do when I grow up, I’ll let you know.  My wife, Michelle, and I started our own ranch in 2005 and have a small herd of a little over thirty beefmaster and brangus cattle.  I wrote Roland’s Path in 2002 and in 2018 my daughter/editor, Kaity, encouraged me to actually do something with it.  So, here we are.


Q) You have a very distinctive background as a law enforcement officer. While Roland’s Path is not a mystery in the traditional sense or a procedural, I am curious if there were things from that background you were able to bring to the story and, if so, what?

A) The main aspect of my experiences that contribute to the book are how violence is perceived and its effects on the personality and outlook of those whose lives it touches.  Some people become jaded by it, some crushed with shame, and some find that they enjoy it.  Others work very hard to keep a moral perspective about the use of violence, the need for violence, and the aftermath of seriously hurting someone or being seriously hurt themselves.

An aspect of that experience comes through in Roland and Eldryn’s outlook.  They have been trained since their earliest memories to fight for what is right and just.  Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has written a few books and done a lot of research on what makes cops and soldiers choose to do what they do and how it affects them.  Because of my chosen profession, I know firsthand how that outlook can make you different from those around you or create an emotional distance that can be hard to overcome.

These aspects of characters’ personalities becomes even more apparent in Roland’s Vow, book II of this series, which we hope to have available by the beginning of August.

Furthermore, if you’re going to write about how it feels to be knocked out, it helps to have actually been knocked out on a few occasions.


Q) After considering your options, you chose to self-publish. What are some of the factors that informed that decision? And what have been some of the challenges and rewards of that path?

A) In ’02, when I first wrote the book, I looked into having it published but most of those in the business suggested professional editing which cost a great deal more than I was willing to spend at the time.  Last year Kaity, my daughter/editor, and I discussed her editing the book for me for a percentage of net profits (if there ever are any).  So, we made an agreement and the process began.  It was a wonderful decision!  Kaity has discovered a new talent she didn’t realize she possessed.  Our collaboration on story, setting, and characters has been a truly joyous work and we have learned so much about each other in the process.  Communication between father and daughter was a little daunting at first, though.  Our relationship had to change, as it should as children become adults, from ‘father telling daughter’ to ‘father asking daughter.’  We had to learn how to disagree without arguing.  It was a great transformation of our relationship.

As far as author copies are concerned, Amazon has a pretty good set up in what they call a print on demand system.  You can order one book or five hundred without changing the per unit cost.  At one time, to self-publish one had to make a minimum order of several thousand books which is a huge investment.  We also get to control our timeline and release dates.  The only deadlines we have to concern ourselves with are the ones we set.  My wife, Michelle, also found it to be a nice surprise when she discovered our first release date was set up for our anniversary, March 22nd.


Q) One thing I really enjoyed about Roland’s Pathis the well-defined mental universe the characters inhabit. The values, preconceptions, and priorities of their society are very clear, including the texts that lay down those precepts. Talk to me about that aspect of your world-building.

Map of the Roland's World

The World of Roland’s Path

A) On most weekends for a few hours at time over the course of twenty years I lived in this mental universe.  We have played, off and on, the same RPG campaign since 1996.  During that time, we worked hard to avoid the classic ‘bad guy’ concept.  It always made the game/story more interesting to all involved if the origin of the conflict was from some human idea or emotion that players/readers could identify with.

Furthermore, spoiler alert, some of the ‘good guys’ aren’t nice people, and some of the ‘bad guys’ are actually quite helpful.  In some ways it also addresses the problems with labels in society that are part of the world we live in as well as Roland’s.  In the real world we are all one bad decision away from a life that we didn’t count on or expect.  I try to make this real for Roland and the other characters in his world as well.


Q) Another thing I really enjoyed about Roland’s Pathare the fight sequences which are fast, fun, and very creative yet also detailed. Talk a little bit about your writing process for these (In the interest of full discloser, this is an area of weakness in my writing … so you may consider anything you say immediately borrowed).

A)Between Louis L’Amour and R.A. Salvatore I learned that I really loved a detailed fight scene and learning how the good guy figures out how to win.  Their writing helped me to understand what I enjoyed about those scenes.  As far as my own writing goes, I’ve had some hand to hand combat training, some martials arts training, and studied fencing.  If you throw on top of that some lively times working patrol it mixes together for some basic knowledge of the second oldest profession.  I always thought that good fighters fought the same way good chess players play chess.  There’s a plan.  Sometimes, the plan doesn’t survive contact with the enemy (Tzun Tzu) and you have to adapt on the fly.  So, it’s a mixture of proper fighting strategy and dirty tricks, some of which I learned the hard way.

It’s also a part of the pen and paper RPG gaming that I enjoy the most.  The planning of an attack and the strategies employed.  The system we use has several critical charts that do an excellent job of defining exactly what sort of damage is done to an opponent and that really gives the combat in the game a more realistic feel.


Q) I know that Roland’s Pathis loosely based on a roleplaying campaign. You work is one of the few examples of I seen of that turning out tell well. Will you share with us how you went about transforming a campaign into a cohesive narrative … and what advice you would have for others considering such an undertaking?

A) The overall story arc was actually worked out for me in the playing of the game.  Some of the sessions happened twenty years ago and some of it had to do with details of a copyrighted game, so I did have to adapt the highlights I could remember to that of a new world completely of my creation.  The main things taken from the original campaign are the personalities of the characters as they organically developed, bad guys and good guys.

Also, for those familiar with a pen and paper RPG, there was the challenge of explaining through actions how a ‘Nat 20’ dice roll or a ‘double open ended roll’ played out.  That proved to be a bit of a challenge.

I was blessed in that I gamed with a good group of folks that took their characters seriously.  We had a great time, don’t get me wrong.  But we all took our characters and how they would react to situations very seriously.  We also had some great DM’s/GM’s that understood what makes a game/story great.


Q) What do you consider your greatest asset as a writer?  

A) A wife that backs you 100% and is strong enough to tell you when you’re wrong or that your idea sucks while continuing to encourage you.


Q) How will define success for Roland’s Path? Selling 500 copies? A spot on the NYT best seller list?

A) It is a success.  I had a nine year old boy read the story and tell me that he loved it.  His mom said he didn’t touch any electronics for days until he finished it.  There’s another boy, age 10, that I’ve mentored for a couple of years who has struggled with reading.  We started reading the book together during our time at school and I gave him a copy of it.  Over the course of the next two weeks he finished it on his own and really enjoyed it.  There’s actually a character named after him in Roland’s Vow (Book II) that he requested.  We made a deal that if I added the character, he would read Book II as well.  That, to me, is a success.


Q) Now that you have Roland’s Path under your belt, what advice would you give to someone considering writing their first book? 

A) Don’t be afraid to create.  Don’t worry what people might think or say.  Also this, to quote Louis L’Amour, a writer writes.  Continue to write.  If you write all day and you think it sucks, well, that’s alright.  If it sucks and you hate it tomorrow, you can always throw it away.  But keep writing.  Furthermore, get a good editor.  Find what Stephen King calls an ‘ideal reader.’  Someone you trust that you are willing to listen to.  Apparently, some writers (certainly not me) tend to love their own ideas and dismiss the opinions of others.  However, you must remember that, if you plan to publish and want others to read your story, you are writing for them too.  This was a hard concept for me to swallow but I believe my work improved dramatically when I did.

Readers can find Roland’s Path on Amazon in eBook or paperback. Look for its sequel, Roland’s Vow, in late July or early August. RJ Hanson can be found  on  FaceBook .

Diving into The Green Muse

This month sees the release of my first Mythos story, “The Green Muse” part of the innovative anthology The Chromatc Courtedited by Peter Rawlik and published by 18th Wall Productions.

The Chromatic Court by [Rawlik, Peter, Morgan, Christine, Pulver Sr., Joseph S., Mackintosh, Paul StJohn, Lai, Rick, Black, Jon, Grant, John Linwood, Barrass, Glynn Owen, Harris, Micah S.]The Chromatic Court is anthology of horror/dark fantasy anthology exploring the connection between color, art, and the powerful entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, drawing especially heavily on the feel flavor, and weird meanace of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

As someone who has been a fan of the  Mythos since college, I’m very excited about this story, and very excited to talk about it. So, I thought I’d play Q & A with myself by sharing the author interview compiled by my publisher.

… also, I may be the first person in the history of the universe to quote Ralph Wiggum while discussing the Cthulhu Mythos.

Q) Tell us about your story?

Johannes Chazot’s Illustration for “The Green Muse.”

A) Set in the fertile artistic and literary scene of 1910s Montmartre, The Green Muse chronicles the journey of Drieu Gaudin, a novice reporter at Paris’ top arts and culture newspaper. His editor, a man of very traditional artistic sensibilities, assigns Drieu to report on the murders of several Cubist painters. Seeking to unravel the mystery behind the artists’ bizarre deaths, Drieu is challenged not only by one of Frank Belknap Long’s most celebrated creations but by encounters with the Parisian avant-gardes’ leading lights: Picasso, Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Max Jacob.

 

Max Jacob waits to encoutner readers in “The Green Muse.”

Q) What is your favorite part of your story and why?
A) This project was a labor of love for me. For a very long time, Paris’ artistic scene in the early part of the 20 th century has captivated me and inspired voracious reading on the topic. The greatest joy of The Green Muse was breathing life into the enchanting world of 1910s Montmartre. Within that broader answer, it was especially gratifying to shine some light on poet Max Jacob, a figure unfortunately and undeservedly less well known than the other historical artists who appear in the story. Spoiler Alert: it was also exciting to expand on the fascinating yet under-explored mythology of the Hounds of Tindalos.

 

Q) Every story in The Chromatic Court details a noble,  a powerful Mythos entity, and the art form they hold sway over. What is your entity’s art and what drew you to it? 
A) As anyone familiar with my work is likely aware, music is my greatest passion among the arts. Painting, however, runs a close second. This is especially true of painting from this particular time and this particular place; as artists began grappling with the question of what the invention of photography meant for painting. Movements such as Cubism and Fauvism arose from attempts to answer that critical and vexing question. As Picasso observes in “The Green Muse…”

“Painting is dead. At least painting as you know it. Photography killed it. But, in death, painting is free. Our quest is figuring out where it goes from here.”

 

“Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!”

Q) In The Chromatic Court, every Mythos entity and their art is also tied into a specific color. What is your noble’s color, and why?
A) As revealed in the title, green. I could point out the relevance of green to the absinthe which features so prominently in the era and in the story, but as Ralph Wiggum says, “The rat symbolizes obviousness.” Less explicitly but more importantly is that color’s connection with envy, specifically the jealousy Montmartre’s artist feel for each other’s success, talent, and romantic prowess. In various forms, jealousy is a driving force for the main characters of “The Green Muse,” Drieu and Cara, as well as some of its historcial figures,  like Picasso.

Q) How do you approach writing Mythos fiction, particularly when it’s a mix of the Cthulhu Mythos and Chambers’ Yellow Mythos?
A) For me, the most important element of successful Mythos fiction is believably but compellingly conveying the protagonist’s mental journey from the comforting illusion of everyday life to the sub-rosa Mythos reality beneath. When blending Lovecraft and Chambers, the challenge is balancing the Outer Gods’ concrete if alien terrors with the latent and more diffuse menace of The King in Yellow.

Read Chapter One from “The Green Muse.”

Inside “Swinging Londons”

(A novel in an anthology? My story, like the TARDIS itself, is bigger on the inside than the outside)

This month sees the release of Defending Earth, a  charity anthology of Sarah Jane Smith stories raising money for researching cancer (which killed SJS actor Elisabeth Sladen in 2011). My contribution, “Swinging Londons,” rapidly mushroomed beyond the original concept, ultimately reachng 42.5K words.

Why/how did this piece grow so long. Part of it is simply that “Swinging Londons” was hella fun to write. But there’s more than that, “Swinging Londons” isn’t just a story for me … it’s a labor of love.

I first discovered Dr. Who on  KERA, the Dallas Public Television station, in the late 80s. At time, this was something that branded me as a nerd even among nerds. Nevertheless, it was a revelation … a vision of sci-fi so much more expansive and full of possibility than anything I had encountered previously.  My favorite Doctor was (and remains) John Pertwee, especially those episodes with Sarah Jane Smith and “Swinging Londons” is very much an homage to those episodes.

It also proves that, even when writing sci-fi, I am incapable of breaking his historical fiction addiction or my fondness for cameos by real-life historical figures.

As much as I’d love to toot my own horn about the role of “Swinging Londons” in Defending Earth,  I need to credit the real heroes … curator/editor Mary-Helen Norris and artist/illustrator Sophie Iles.

So, obviously, I’m very excited about this piece. For all the of Dr. Who fans  out there (and, dare I hope, fans of Jon Black), I’ve copy/pasted a Q&A about “Swinging Londons” from the press kit for Defending Earth.

Q) Which Sarah Jane story (any medium) is your favorite, and why?

Sladen in 2003

A) My favorite Sarah Jane story is Planet of the Spiders (Sladen/Pertwee) with Pyramids of Mars (Sladen/T. Baker) a very close second. Of course, these are among the finest stories in Dr. Who cannon in their own right. They also present Sarah Jane at her best and most compelling: smart, pragmatic, determined, inquisitive, and, above all, humane.

 

 

Q) Tell us about your story?

A) In “Swinging Londons” the space-time surrounding that great city has become dangerously unstable, swinging rapidly between alternate possible versions of itself. As UNIT cordons off London and struggles to prevent dragons, Black Shirts, Mole People and other threats from spreading to the rest of Britain and the world, Sarah Jane and the Doctor travel into the heart of the disturbance seeking its cause. After she and the Doctor are separated, Sarah Jane must navigate dozens of alternate Londons while searching for the Time Lord, acquiring a strange companion of her own, and encountering someone she never expected…all before the small matter of saving her London by ending the instability.

Q) What is your favorite part of your story and why?

Yeah, you wonder why this picture is here …

A) While the story allowed me to delve deeply into my historical fiction and alternative history addictions, the true joy of writing “Swinging Londons” came from exploring the relationship between Sarah Jane and the Doctor: specifically, the complicated and sometimes ambivalent emotions even an exceptional human would experience having a best friend and companion who is not only effectively immortal but possesses abilities which often seem to knock at the door of omniscience and omnipotence.

Q) Why do you love Sarah Jane?

A) While Sarah Jane is an ideal “everyman” to bring viewers along on adventures in time and space with the Doctor, she is so much more than that. The adjective “plucky” is, admittedly, cliché when referring to British heroines of a certain time period. That doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect characterization of Sarah Jane. With her resourcefulness, common sense, perseverance, and compassion Sarah Jane epitomizes how, in a universe full of ostensibly much more formidable creatures, humans manage not only to survive but thrive.

A Short Selection of Press for Defending Earth and/or “Swinging Londons”

Blogtor Who

The Doctor Who Companion I

The Doctor Who Companion II (Interview with editor M.H. Norris)

Time Lord Archives (extensive review of “Swinging Londons”)

We are Cult

 

2019 Starts with Nominations!

51r0mxjwv4l._sy177_I am very excited (and more than a little shocked) that two of my works have been nominated in this year’s P&E Reader’s Poll (Last year, I was fortunate enough that “Gabriel’s Trumpet” was not only nominated … it won!)

Bel Nemeton has been nominated Best Thriller Novel (Thriller? Okay, whatever). Seriously, I’m glad that my quirky mash-up of 6th Century Arthurian Historical Fiction and 21st century pulp genuinely seems to be making people happy. BTW, the the next novel in the Bel Nemeton series, Caldedfwlch, should be out sometime in 2019.

“A Scandal in Hollywood,” part of the anthology Silver Screen Sleuths, has been nominated Best Misc. Short Story. This is a fun little (well, not so little, circa 20K words) pulpy historical mystery set in Golden Age Hollywood. British character actor Basil Rathbone is the protagonist and much of the story unfolds like an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle.

These nominations come at a very good time. Post-holidays I was feeling rather ground down by my works in progress. Win or lose, the nominations are tremendously validating and a great shot in the arm.

On the subject of winning, however, should anybody following (or just reading) my blog care to vote … your are certainly welcome to do so! The links for voting are http://critters.org/predpoll/novelthrill.shtml and http://critters.org/predpoll/shortstory.shtml

Thank you so much!

Bel Nemeton Cover Final

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.