First Shots Fired: An Author Interview at Privateer Press

My first Iron Kingdoms novel, Acts of War: Flashpoint, drops in June, and the fine folks over at Privateer Press have gone and plastered my smiling mug on their website along with an interview about the book. If you have a sec, hop on over and read it, and, if you’re unfamiliar, learn a bit more about the steam-powered fantasy setting of the Iron Kingdoms.

Click on the badass cover art below for the interview.

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Take a Quiz, Get a Free Story from Privateer Press

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Some of you might recall that I’m writing a series of novels for my former employer, Privateer Press, set in their Iron Kingdoms universe. Why am I reminding you? Well, Privateer Press has announced new editions of their award-winning tabletop miniature games WARMACHINE and HORDES, which means it’s a great time to get acquainted with the games or the steam-powered fantasy setting they inhabit. On top of that, the novels I’m currently writing form a large part of the new narrative for the games, telling the story of some of the Iron Kingdoms greatest heroes and villains as they adapt to a dangerous new world.

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So here’s what I’d like you to do. Go to the Privateer Press presentation website for the new editions of WARMACHINE and HORDES, click “Find out More,” scroll through some awesome illustrations and photos of the game until you get to a screen that says “Take the Quiz.” Click “Take the Quiz,” and at the end of the quiz, sign up to receive a free short story from Privateer Press every Thursday. Tomorrow, you’ll get a story from yours truly (plus two more from me in the coming weeks).

Here’s the link to the presentation site: ALL NEW WAR

Or, if you want to skip all that jazz and go right to the quiz, click this link: TAKE THE QUIZ

Thanks for playing along, and I hope you dig the story.

2015: A Rearview Review

Well, it’s a new year, a blank slate of dreams and possibilities, so instead of focusing on the future and what it might bring, let’s wallow in the past. Yep, it’s one of those year-end review/summary type things we bloggers just love to do. So here’s a look back at my writing in the year of our lord 2015.

This post with be filled with stats because they are super-duper exciting.

Horror/Sci-Fi Submissions

Total Submissions Sent: 46*

Honestly, this is fewer than I’d hoped, and a lot of this has to do with my position at Privateer Press, which I left in June. It kept me pretty busy, and I had a grand total of five (5) submissions from January to June. Things picked up a lot when I abandoned a good, steady-paying job with benefits to hang my hopes and dreams on the sure-fire, cannot-possibly-miss, super-good-decision of becoming a fulltime freelance writer. Anyway, I sent another 41 submissions from June to December, averaging almost seven (7) a month.

Acceptances: 5

Not too shabby since it’s really just the second half of the year we’re talking about. This is good for a 13% acceptance ratio, which is okay, but it could certainly improve. Some of the stuff I published this year is available to read online, right here:

Form Rejections: 23

Yeah, bunch of these things. Form rejections made up 56% of my total responses from publishers. Seems about right to me, but I’m sure there are writers who have gotten more than I have or a hell of a lot less.

Personal Rejections: 11

A fair number of these, and 27% of editors who didn’t actually publish my work had something (usually positive) to say about my writing. Personal rejections accounted for about 40% of my total rejections.

Never Responded/Withdrawn: 2

Just a couple of these, and one of them was my own damn fault. I sent a story to a publisher they’d already rejected like a giant fucking tool-bag. I fired off a very apologetic—i.e., I’m-a-dumbass—withdrawal letter soon after.

*I still have five submission pending, so percentages are based on the submissions that have received a response.

Privateer Press

As some of you know, I write a fair amount of material for Privateer Press, and that stuff is not included in the stats above. So, what did I do for the fine folks at Privateer? Hey, look, more stats!

Novels: 1.5

Privateer has commissioned me to write a series of novels set in their Iron Kingdoms universe. I’ve finished one, and I’m working on the second. The first book is slated for publication in the third quarter of 2016.

Novellas: 1

I wrote a long novella or a short novel with former coworker and talented writer William Shick. It’s called Scars of Caen, and hey, look at that–a link to Amazon where you can check it out.

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Short Stories: 6

A wrote a total of six short stories for Privateer Press, ranging in length from 1,500-word flash pieces to 10,000-word novelettes. You can check out some of these via Amazon right here. The others appeared in the magazine No Quarter or will do so in the near future.

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Articles: 4

In addition to short stories, I penned a number of articles for the Iron Kingdoms universe and its two primary games WARMACHINE and HORDES. These also appeared in the Privateer Press magazine No Quarter.

Rejectomancy

And lastly but no leastly, we have this here blog. It’s been a lot of fun to do, and it’s provided me an outlet for my opinions and my personal writerly woes. The response to the blog and the nonsense I write on it has been really positive, and I’m thrilled so many folks find my blathering useful or entertaining. Anyway, continuing our theme of stats and more stats . . . here are some more stats.

Total Posts: 75

Total Visitors: 4,015

Total Likes: 514

Total Comments: 252

I’m pretty satisfied with those numbers for my first six months, and I think I’ve found a groove for how often I should post. Those 75 posts and other bits and bobs total about 75,000 words of material, which is a fair amount, I think, and I’ll likely exceed that handily in 2016.

Summary

Okay, broad view, and, yes, more stats. Here’s what my total output for 2015 looked like in hard numbers. I’m only counting stuff I wrote that was either published or is slated for publication. I certainly started a lot of projects last year that I hope to finish this year, but that’s too many disparate bits to pull together

Words Written: 290,000

Articles/Stories/Novels Published: 16

2016 Goals

So, goals for next year. I’d like to double the number of horror/sci-fi submissions and shoot for an even 100. I’d like to increase my acceptance ration to 15%, which of course translates to 15 acceptances. One way I’d like to increase my submission rate is to complete at least one new story per month. I have ten or so in various states of completion, so this feels pretty reasonable.

I’m slated to write/finish three novels for Privateer Press in 2016, but if I can, I’d like to write a fourth novel for my agent to shop around. I’ve got some ideas for this book, but it’s another 90,000 words or so added to an already packed schedule. Might be tough, but it’s a goal worth shooting for.

As for the blog, I’d like to keep my pace of two to three substantive posts per week. That said, I have at least two novels coming out next year, so I’d like to use the blog to promote them. Don’t worry; I’m not going to turn the blog into a giant marketing platform, and the biggest change you’re likely to see is one additional post per week pimping out my latest book, story, or whatever. You can certainly ignore those posts, or, if you’re so inclined, click a link once in a while and behold the fruits of my labors.

Well, that’s my 2015 wrap-up post with too many numbers, self-aggrandizing drivel, and obvious excuses for failures and shortcomings.

How was your 2015? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The 7 Stages of Literary Rejection

A writer goes through a lot of emotions when that rejection letter shows up in his or her inbox, and it occurred to me these emotions are similar to those involved with grieving or loss (more or less). I’m sure you’ve all heard of the seven stages of grieving (the Kübler-Ross model, I believe), and I’ve seen the model used for everything from breakups to business deals, so why not rejection letters. So here are the seven stages of rejection, as this writer sees it, anyway.

1) Shock

What the actual fuck?! A rejection? But “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” was perfect for Monkey Junkies Quarterly!

I think this feeling is truer for new writers. I’m certainly not all that surprised when I get a rejection letter these days. Still, I can remember my first few rejections, and I do recall being a bit shocked that one submission didn’t equal one acceptance. Crazy, right?

2) Denial

So what if Monkey Junkies Quarterly is a totally rad professional market I’ve been trying to crack for the better part of a decade. Who cares that they just sent me my thirty-seventh form rejection? Whatevs.

Rejection hurts. So, of course, the first thing you tell yourself is that it doesn’t. You know, cuz you’re a tough, salty writer with skin thicker than alligator ass. And that’s what I’ll tell you if you ask me how I’m feeling right after a rejection (sometimes it’s even true). Usually, I take my denial with a healthy dose of distraction: video games, binge-watching documentaries about dinosaurs, anything that takes my mind off my writerly woes for a while.

3) Anger

It’s bullshit, man. I’ve read the stories in Monkey Junkies Quarterly and “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is way, way better than the crap they’re actually buying.

Remember when I said rejection hurts? Well it’s only natural that sometimes you react to pain with anger. It happens to the best of us, and as long as that anger doesn’t travel beyond the fleshy confines of your noggin, say in the form of a reply to a rejection letter, it’s perfectly natural to get a little pissed off from time to time. Just remember, a rejection isn’t a personal attack on you or your work.

4) Bargaining

Well, if I completely change the first half of the story, make the moon monkeys moon gorillas, and then add a subplot about their mole-people allies, I might have a better shot at acceptance next time.

For me, this stage of the rejection cycle invariably makes me want to tinker with the story. Sometimes this is the right reaction, especially when I’ve been given solid feedback I agree with. The danger here is to tinker too soon, like when you’ve only received a couple of form rejections that don’t tell you anything useful. There are plenty of good reasons to revise a story, but doing it as knee-jerk reaction to a rejection isn’t one of them.

5) Guilt/Anxiety

Fuck, “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” wasn’t ready for submission. Why in the world did I send it out? If I’d only spent another month defining the motivations of Mofo, the Master Moon Monkey, I might have had a chance.

This one is similar to the bargaining stage, but instead of doing something potentially constructive (like revising the story), I usually just wallow in anxiety and focus on all the things that must be wrong with the story. This stage usually passes quickly for me because, hey, the good stuff is in the next stage.

6) Depression

“Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is fucking terrible, and I’m a terrible writer. My dream to be the premier author of lunar-based simian fiction was just a pipe dream. Who was I kidding?

If you’re a writer, then I’d put money on the fact that you’ve dealt with depression at some point in your life. Rejection can trigger depression like nobody’s business, especially if you haven’t sold a piece yet or if a particular piece you like gets rejected a bunch of times. Again, I think this a pretty natural way to feel, and for me, the best way to get over it is to commiserate with my writer pals, read good reviews of my work, and maybe, you know, write an entire blog about rejection.

7) Acceptance

You know, now that I look at it again, “Attack of the Moon Monkeys” is actually pretty fucking rad. My alpha readers loved it, right? Hey, looks like All About Apes is open for submissions again . . .

Yep, like all things, this too shall pass. After the sting of rejection fades, and you look at the story again, more often than not, you’ll see what needs fixing. Or, maybe it’s fine as is, and you just need to find the right market for it. If it’s a good story, it will find a home eventually. That said, sometimes the acceptance stage of rejection is the realization that the story or even your writing needs more work, and that’s okay too. The point is to take the whole rejection thing in stride, keep working on your craft, and to realize you are absolutely not alone when it comes to getting kicked in the skull by the ol’ rejection roundhouse.

Got a different take on the seven stages? Tell me about it in the comments.

Rose Blackthorn – “Worthy Vessel” Interview

I recently spoke with kickass horror writer Rose Blackthorn about her latest release “Worthy Vessel,” a novelette published by Skull Island eXpeditions/Privateer Press and set in their Iron Kingdoms universe. This was Rose’s first whack at writing media tie-in, so I asked her about the process of writing “Worthy Vessel” and how it differed from the other fiction she’s written.

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Full disclosure: This was one of the last projects I spearheaded during my tenure at Privateer Press, and I specifically targeted Rose to write it. She’s one of the best horror authors I know, and I figured the Nightmare Empire of Cryx, with its oodles of undead, soul-sucking sorcery, and general nastiness would be right up her alley.

Here’s what Rose had to say about “Worthy Vessel.”

1) Give us the details on your new novelette “Worthy Vessel.” What’s it about? Why is it awesome?

Set in the Iron Kingdoms, a world of steam-powered sorcery, “Worthy Vessel” is about Darragh Wrathe, who starts out as a pirate and sorcerer before becoming a commander and necromancer serving under Lich Lord Terminus in Cryx. This novelette explores his decision to leave pirating behind and make the journey–physically and mentally–from his old life to the possibility of a new one. This isn’t an easy trip, on any level, and he has to prove himself worthy of becoming more than just a man.

I think it’s awesome because it provides a glimpse into the inner workings of a character who might be perceived as rather two dimensional. Darragh isn’t just a weapon used by the Lich Lords; he is a person who has his own fears and doubts, and follows a progression to overcome them and reach his goal. In many ways, although he is kind of a ‘bad guy’ like most of those in Cryx, he has his own honor and is willing to devote himself to the things he believes in.

2) What was your experience with media tie-in fiction before writing “Worthy Vessel?” Had you read any WARMACHINE fiction?

I have read quite a bit, including books set in the Star Wars, Alien, and Darkover universes. I have read some WARMACHINE fiction including Into the Storm by Larry Correia, “On a Black Tide” by Aeryn Rudel, and a handful of short stories. From what I have seen, there is a huge range of fantasy available in the Iron Kingdoms: swashbuckling adventures, mercenary warriors, magic, both dark and light, many races of beings from humans to dragons, and anything in between. I think any fan of fantasy literature could find at least one section of this world they would love to visit. Being (mostly) a horror writer, I was drawn to Cryx.

3) I know this is your first foray into writing media tie-in, so what did you expect from the process? What were the surprises?

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Considering that for the most part I’m a “pantser”, meaning I usually fly by the seat of my pants and rarely plan out the plot. Even just writing up an outline to submit with my pitch was a brand new thing for me!

Part of the challenge was I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the Iron Kingdoms. The timeline alone is staggering (and somewhat terrifying, depending on what you’re trying to encompass). I was very happy to be given the opportunity to write in Cryx, though. It’s interesting, and somewhat gratifying to take a character generally viewed as a villain and explore his internal processes. I don’t think anyone ever thinks they’re the bad guy, and it was actually quite enlightening to crawl into Darragh’s psyche.

4) The Iron Kingdoms, a world that encompasses the award-winning games of WARMACHINE and HORDES, is massive, with tons of existing characters, a history spanning millennia, and so on. How did you tackle all of that in your story? How much did you feel was necessary to learn?

It was a bit daunting. Seriously, the timeline and noted history in Caen is many times our own in the real world. When it became clear I would be writing about Darragh before he became the necromancer and commander he is now, I was able to zero in on a specific time and place in this world. I tried to bring in enough of what would be “current history” to make it feel grounded. I spent a lot of time just reading about Cryx and its history before I started writing. Toruk the Dragonfather is so ancient and so much larger than life, he seems like a dark cloud hanging over this island kingdom. But the history of his coming, and the way he changed and elevated the Lich Lords is fascinating. I’d like to read stories and books about all of them, and how they came to where they are in the present timeline. I personally have interest in ancient history in our world, and reading about the history of the Iron Kingdoms holds the same power over me. That being said, I probably did more research than was strictly necessary for what I wrote. Not wasted time, however. I hope that everything I assimilated just adds to the complexity and background of the story.

5) You’re an accomplished horror writer, and “Worthy Vessel” definitely deals with horrific subject matter, so how did you infuse your style into the Iron Kingdoms?

I guess I can only write as me. I am generally character driven, and so I got to know Darragh as well as I could. But there were other characters who I liked and enjoyed writing as much as the main character. Kutzov, the insane necrotech, just kind of skittered out of my mind whole, already fully realized and with his own history. I was completely taken with the Satyxis haruspex, Elsevin Hemeshka. She could have absconded with the whole story if I had let her!

The most difficult part of this process, in my opinion, is not having the freedom to just run with a plot line. Most of these characters, with the exception of Kutzov, were already described, named, and given a backstory. So I had to make sure to stay within the lines of what would be allowed for the larger world in which they are confined.

6) What advice would you give to writers who might want to try their hand at writing media tie-in?

If there is a world or universe that you love to read about, make an effort to see if you can add to it. If you have the opportunity to write in a world that maybe you’re not so knowledgeable about, don’t let that hold you back. This was a great experience for me. It was a way for me to stretch as a writer, to get to know and really come to love some characters I might never have met otherwise, and to explore a vast and many-faceted world like nothing else I’ve written.

***

“Worthy Vessel” can be purchased as an e-book from the following retailers:


Rose Blackthorn lives in the high mountain desert with her boyfriend and two dogs, Boo and Shadow. She spends her free time writing, reading, being crafty, and photographing the surrounding wilderness. She is a member of the HWA and her short fiction and poetry has appeared online and in print with a varied list of anthologies and magazines. Her first poetry collection Thorns, Hearts and Thistles was published in February 2015. Follow rose on Facebook, Twitter, her blog, or her author pages at Amazon and Goodreads.

The Book of Starry Wisdom

If you have a look at the “about me” page, you’ll see I promised to use this blog as a shameless promotional vehicle. Of course, I meant for it to be a shameless promotional vehicle for me, but as it so happens, I have a lot friends and colleagues who are doing all kinds of awesome things I really want to talk about. So, I’m spreading the shameless promotion around, starting with Simon Berman, my friend and a former colleague at Privateer Press, who is doing something super fucking rad. He’s taking his unnatural love for all things H.P. Lovecraft and turning it into a tangible artifact of lunatic obsession via the occult magic of Kickstarter. The project is called The Book of Starry Wisdom, and I recently spoke with Simon about how this must-have book for fans of Howard Phillips Lovecraft came to be.

Starry Wisdom Product

1) So I hear you got yourself a Kickstarter campaign. Tell us all about it.

My entire life is being consumed by the eldritch forces of social media summoned in support of my project, The Book of Starry Wisdom. I’m a tremendous fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and this book is a direct result of that obsession. When I first encountered Lovecraft’s stories as a teenager, I was captivated by his description of hoary tomes of forbidden knowledge. I was always a little disappointed that the only way to read his stories was in the form of cheap paperbacks. This was the early 90s, and while I loved those old Del Rey editions with Michael Whelan’s fantastic cover art, I always wanted something more substantial.

The Book of Starry Wisdom is my pet project, a way to collect Lovecraft’s specifically Cthulhu-related stories in the kind of portentous book they deserve. The heart of the book are those three stories, “Dagon,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” I’ve arranged to have the stories fully illustrated and bound in a faux-leather, hardcover edition accompanied by essays that relate to the original stories. I want this to be a book that looks awesome on your bookshelf, whether it’s in your living room or your ancient and forbidden library.

2) What’s the significance of the title The Book of Starry Wisdom?

It’s a reference from Lovecraft’s story “The Haunter of the Dark.” While the original reference is to a cult worshiping Nyarlathotep, I felt it was evocative of one of the pillars of the Cthulhu Mythos, namely that of the Stars Coming Right. I wanted this collection to have a title that felt immersive, like something that might be used by a real cult. This sort of gentle breaking of the fourth wall is a major theme of the entire project.

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3) There are some really talented writers involved on this project, including Orrin Grey, whom I’ve interviewed on this very blog. Tell us a bit about the writers and what they’re contributing.

I selected my writers with great care. All of them are talented authors or game writers of note. Frankly, I was spoiled for choice given how many stellar and often award-winning writers I’m lucky enough to call colleagues. One thing I wanted to ensure was a diversity of perspective. In addition to seasoned horror writers like Orrin Grey—who has submitted a brilliant and twisted essay exploring Cartesian philosophy, Lovecraft, and the films of John Carpenter—but also people like the poet Bryan Thao Worra, a Laotian poet of note and a huge fan of Lovecraft. All of the essayists were instructed to examine some aspect of the three Cthulhu stories and then shed light on them in some new way. As well, I requested they not write anything like literary criticism. I want the volume to be totally immersive, so all of the essays treat the stories as if they are non-fiction, or, at least, not entirely fictional in origin. My deepest hope is that a copy ends up in a Salvation Army used books bin in twenty years and scares the living shit out of some teenager who happens to buy it on a whim.

4) You’re also working with a very talented artist, Valerie Heron. Tell us about her contributions to The Book of Starry Wisdom.

I originally became acquainted with Herron’s work about a year ago. She had illustrated t-shirts for Pacific NorthWEIRD and Rifftrax, and through the small world of the internet I realized we had a number of people in common. I was starting to plan The Book of Starry Wisdom in earnest this past spring, even though it had been kicking around in my head for a couple of years. Having looked at Valerie’s deific artwork in the pagan community, I knew she’d be an excellent choice for this project. Aside from her obvious skill as a fine artist, I recognized that she also had an understanding of occult principals and symbolism that would lend itself well to the immersive qualities I wanted in my book. Herron is producing thirteen interior illustrations as well as other prints exclusive to the Kickstarter. I’m incredibly excited at what she’s been drawing, I think it’s going to be a fantastic-looking book.

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5) I know this isn’t your first go-around running a Kickstarter campaign. What experience do you have with crowdfunding?

That’s correct. About two years ago I was one of the principal architects and managers for the WARMACHINE: Tactics Kickstarter. It was highly successful, and I learned many lessons that I think are scaling down well to my current project. I’ve also run some smaller crowdfunding projects for local artist Tom Dewar and his Supercharger Press Kickstarter, as well as managing the ongoing Patreon for artist Eiza Gauger’s Problem Glyphs project.

6) Who are the people who fucking need to run over to Kickstarter and back The Book of Starry Wisdom right this very second? (I mean, besides aggressively nerdy, oft-rejected writer types like myself.)

Those who have heard the Call. Those who wish to be blinded by the revelations of the new dark age. The mad, the dead, and the Damned. Ia! Ia!

Simon Berman is a writer and the social marketing manager at Privateer Press where he has contributed to the award-winning games WARMACHINE, HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game. He lives in Seattle and in his spare time attends to the whims of his fat and bitter cat, Chud.

The Molotov Cocktail: Prize Winners Anthology

The Molotov Cocktail has just released a print anthology with stories collected from their quarterly flash contests. I’ve got a couple of pieces in the mix, and you can read my stories “Shadow Can” and “Night Walk” in real, honest-to-god dead tree format by clicking on the big fat image below. There’s a whole bunch of stories by super talented authors in this thing, so if you like horror and flash fiction, go forth noble consumer and get yourself a copy.

Flash Anthology