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.


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


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, late in 2019. 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


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.