1-How long have you been writing?
Since I was in my teens, about 40 years ago. But I first finished something 21 years ago, when I took a creative writing course that required us to write every day. I wrote an expose of my Masters' program, with thinly veiled characters drawn from real life. So academia has been my theme from the start.
When I was in my PhD program I wrote on an interminable science fiction novel, but for some reason I didn't write it in a notebook but on the backs of ATM slips. Obviously I wasn't serious about that novel... I probably didn't feel I could justify doing any serious fiction writing while I had a thesis to finish. I still have those slips in a box in my basement.
About 3 years after I got my first job, when I'd finally gotten control of the material I was teaching and could look around, I started writing seriously. It helped that by then, desktop computers were becoming affordable and I could use word processing at home. Like many of my peers, I wrote a Star Trek novel. But at least I finished it! I still have it, on an old floppy disk that I have no idea how to retrieve it from, which is the downside of the word processor.
A few years later a friend invited me to join the Milwaukee Area Writers' Guild and I began writing more seriously. What sold were the Royal Academy at Osyth stories, a series of novellas about life in the Demonology Department of a modern university. After selling six or seven of these and having one reprinted in Year's Best Fantasy 3, I wrote 'Advice From Pigeons,' the first Royal Academy novel. Now it and the sequel, 'A Lovesome Thing,' are available from Double Dragon and the third novel in the trilogy, 'Swept and Garnished,' has just come back from Double Dragon's editor.
2- What is your favorite genre to write?
Academic satire/fantasy. I'm obviously preoccupied with the academic setting, but one of that setting's limitations is that even academics often aren't all that excited by other academics' research topics. By using fantasy, I can explore the academic milieu with characters who study dragons, incubi, ghosts, vampires – things that interest all of us, and don't require me to do hours of research. Nobody is going to write me a letter saying 'your depiction of vampire studies is completely out of date!'
Also, fantasy gives me a set of metaphors for spiritual problems. When I write about someone's demons, everybody knows what I mean beyond the fact that yes, the professor in question has bound demons. I can write about someone losing his soul, in fantasy. If I did that in a straight academic satire it would be read as simply metaphorical, and as implying a religious stance that the reader could ignore, dismiss, or scorn. In a fantasy novel, hey – he really did lose his soul, here it is floating around his office; and here are real demons coming to devour it, and a reader who wants to claim this isn't a problem will have to do some really creative interpretation.
3-What are you working on now?
I'm working on a remote prequel to the Royal Academy novels, set in the University of Selanto about 350 years in the past. It's tentatively titled 'Fountain Girl,' and is the story of Paio, a girl who goes from a remote valley to the university to learn how to use her magic.
This is a huge change for me – the long-ago and far-away setting, the YA protagonist, and the fact that it's straight fantasy instead of satire. It's turning out to be great fun! Also, since the role of story becomes huge in it, I'm studding it with fairy and folk tales, and that's a really different kind of writing as well.
4-When you begin a story do you start with character or plot?
I start with problem. My characters have to have problems that interest me, so I can be working my way toward a solution. Then I need voice, a character who speaks and thinks in a way I can get inside. But all of this can change quickly, once I get into the writing. In my current work in progress, the story started out in the head of Bana Crowe, the valley's witch, but then Paio took it over almost completely.
5-Tell us about your latest/upcoming release. What inspired it?
My upcoming book, 'Swept and Garnished,' is the third in a trilogy, so it was inspired by a need to clean up the loose ends from the previous two books!
At the end of the first book I'd left the protagonist, Hiram Rho, with a big problem. I let him sit through the second book, 'A Lovesome Thing,' in which a different character, Teddy Whin, got involved with even bigger problems. Although that book had a resolution for most of its point-of-view characters, they didn't get the underlying issue solved. And Rho was still sulking in the background. Also, I had a tragic hero to deal with. I'd introduced Lord Stimms in the second novel, and he was such a juicy character with so much potential, stuck in such a nasty situation, that it was easy to stay excited about writing him. So book three had to tie all of this together.
Plus, I was feeling very motivated to write a summer book and to write about the countryside and animals. 'Advice From Pigeons' takes place in the dead of February, and 'A Lovesome Thing' is set in spring break. I wanted to give my favorite character, Warren Oldham the department head, a summer vacation; and I wanted to send Rho back to his family farm and reunite him with his mother. Of course all of this went terribly wrong for them, but my intentions were kindly.
Buy Link: 'Advice From Pigeons' at http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-808-7
Advice From Pigeons: Tenure track doesn't mean your troubles are over... Hiram Rho's first job in demonology isn't going as well as he hoped. He's acquired a demon with a plan to take over the department, two senior demonologists have lost their souls and their health insurance, and soon Rho's problems have embroiled everyone from the mysterious Alchemy faculty to the pigeons on his window ledge.
Excerpt: The first book in the series, 'Advice From Pigeons,' follows newly hired magician Hiram Rho through his first semester at the Royal Academy. Rho's life has been severely complicated by a demon that follows him home from a conference. In this excerpt, the demon has discovered that Rho has something it wants -- if he can be convinced to use it.
Rho shut the door and leaned his back against it. A stream of perfect smoke rings was drifting out of his bedroom into the lab. When he went back in the demon was sitting on the bed, reading Warren Oldham’s grimoire by the light of its own eyes.
“Do you have the other volumes? The charms of intent and charms of discourse?”
“No,” Rho said. “I was looking at this one first.”
“First! He gave you a chance at them all, and you took only one?”
“I was only interested in charms of essence.”
“I thought his essence might be enough like mine that I could make some of them work.”
“You had this and were too ignorant to use it,” the demon said. “Did you never learn that to steal a man’s grimoire is the first step to stealing his soul?” It laughed at Rho’s face. “So there is something that even the clever students in Kasidora have not ferreted out of their masters’ libraries. You could have owned Oldham for your slave, if you had known how to call on the grimoire. Now his soul has gone flitting, and you will have to catch it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Trap the man’s soul in his own book, and he will cast the charms for you as often as you command.” The demon leaned forward, its eyes gleaming at Rho over the book. “Now will you believe I mean you well? I am telling you the secret my master sacrificed his own children to perfect. All you need do is find Oldham’s soul, and nothing can stand against you.”
“I wouldn’t do anything like that,” Rho said. “He’s the one who was halfway decent to me.”
The demon looked at him as if it could not imagine such a foolish statement. “Are you not aware those are the dangerous ones?” it asked. “The ones who seem so sensible, so reasonable. Oldham has probably half-convinced you to become a good little suburbanite.” Its tone dripped sarcasm. “How many magicians do you think he has destroyed with his decency? Nobody worth noticing has survived Oldham’s rule in this Academy. But if that is what you prefer,” it shrugged, “there is nothing forcing you to become a magician. You have the perfect appointment, if your true desire is to abandon magic and become a good citizen. If you bought a decent suit, Hoth would take you on and teach you how to behave.”
“I’ll be a magician on my own,” Rho said. “Not by using someone else’s power.”
“Of course,” the demon said, and went back to reading the grimoire.
Rho felt himself flush. He had just opened his mouth to answer when another knock came at his door.
“Rho!” Susan Teale’s voice called. “I know you’re in there. Campus security is clearing the building, there’s a demon around.”
“Let her in,” the demon chuckled, looking up from the charm for trapping souls. “We’ll need blood.”
Buy 'A Lovesome Thing' at http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-863-X
In 'A Lovesome Thing,' the Osyth demonologists face Antimora, one of the most dangerous possessing demons ever recorded. Teddy Whin, just returned from the University of Selanto with news about it, discovers that the demon has arrived before her.
“There’s a new demon in Selanto that’s killed four people this semester, and the faculty there were practically slitting throats to get the first crack at binding it. It’s a possessor, too—feeds on despair—and word was that some of them were using their grad students as bait.”
“That sucks,” Neil said without much attention. Everybody knew the University of Selanto was like that. “What demon?”
“The name they’re using is Antimora, but it’s not a true name. At least, no one’s been able to bind it using that name.”
“Crap! You’re sure?” The car swerved.
Teddy grabbed at the dash. “Watch it! Of course I’m sure. Would I be alive if I got demons’ names wrong?”
“We got that one in an invocation right after you left,” Neil said. “It was scary as hell.”
“What’s it like?”
“Really calm,” he said. “About Russell’s height. Gray. It looked like one of those old statues of the mysteriosa, with the robes and the wings. Remember those?”
Teddy nodded. The mysteriosa stood at street corners all over Selanto, relicts of a religion long abandoned. Only the statues of the Bright Lady outnumbered them.
“But when you looked under the robe, it was on fire. Flames all around it— it spoke to us,” Neil said.
Complaining about that didn’t make any sense. The whole point of invoking a demon was to speak with it.
“It spoke to each of us, and none of us heard what it said to the others.”
“Ooh,” Teddy said. That was an issue. A demon’s magic should not be able to reach out of the pentacle and affect the magicians who had invoked it. “Why didn’t anybody tell me about this?”
“Russell didn’t email?”
“That’s weird,” Neil said. “I can’t give you a clue on that one.”
“So what did it say?”
Neil made a face. “Believe it or not, we didn’t figure out what it had done for a while. Each of us thought we were the only one it had spoken to, and the things it said—well, they were the sort of things your friends don’t bring up later. You know?”
Neil sighed. “Typical demon crap, I don’t know why we paid attention to it. It told me I was a charlatan, pretending to be qualified, that sort of thing. How many people would die because I’d fall apart when it really mattered.”
“That is crap,” Teddy pointed out. “You saved us all last semester.”
“Yeah, but somehow that didn’t mean much... I guess it told each of us what we were afraid people were thinking. And then when nobody else mentioned what it had said, we thought they were being tactfully silent, and it took almost a week before we started to figure it out. Susan was the only one really speaking to anybody else by then. You’re lucky you missed it. And it’s a possessor?” Neil shuddered so hard that the car did a little jig.
“The demon probably made you believe what it said. If it could talk to you with magic, through the lines, it could make you believe it the same way.”
“Yeah, probably. It’s all over now, though. Especially for me.”
“But you quit Demonology. And—” Teddy did mental math. “Did you quit before or after you found out what the demon had been up to? You can’t let a demon trick you out of your job!”
“I quit before break,” Neil said. “It didn’t take any demon to tell me. I used to wake up in a cold sweat every morning, just thinking about the invocation and what would happen if something got loose again... I don’t know how you can bounce into the pentarium and call up a demon as if it was some kind of party.”
“I don’t know,” Teddy said, flattered. “It’s just what I do, I guess.”
“Not me,” Neil repeated. “Not anymore.”
He pulled over in front of Teddy’s building, a four-story brick structure built in a grander era. Its door was flanked by dirty pillars, and worn faces with their noses knocked off looked down from over its windows. The streetlight above them flashed blue and then the whole line of lights went out at once, their cold glare replaced with gold as the sun peeped over the mountains to the southeast. Looking north, Teddy saw the crenellated top of the city wall leap into sight behind still shadowed buildings, like a stage set with the Royal Academy’s trees and roofs a backdrop behind it. Pigeons wheeled up from the wall, white against the sky. A siren wailed somewhere behind her and a clock chimed seven uncertain notes. She craned her neck to look past Neil, to where a streak of light hit her window three stories up and glinted off the golden wards that hung there. Looking up, she felt herself glow in return. Home!
“Whoa,” Neil said. “What’s that?”
His finger pointed down the street to Teddy’s right, where the watchlights still shone a pale green in the shadow—except those at the next corner down, which flared a vivid blue, almost violet. By the time she had registered that, the purple blaze had run up the line of streetlights almost halfway to where they were parked.
“Shit!” Neil said, starting the car up again. It jerked forward and died.
Neil wrestled with the key for a moment, but the wave of purple was almost upon them; Teddy could feel the cauld grue running before it, a sick wave of cold in her bones.
Neil gave up on the car and threw his arms around her. “Hold still,” he said, his voice thin. “I have a ward against it—”
Cold was all around them, swirling and pushing, and Teddy felt Neil’s wards and her own flare to life.
And coming soon from Double Dragon:
Swept and Garnished: When you go looking for yourself, you may find more than you wanted! Warren Oldham, head of the Demonology Department, is burned out. Hiram Rho, youngest department member, needs to regain his magic. Rho's mother, just widowed, needs a reason to go on. A peaceful summer in the country will do wonders for all of them – or will it? There are far worse things than goblins under the Kasidora mountains.
Links:Buy 'Advice From Pigeons' at http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-808-7
Buy 'A Lovesome Thing' at http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-863-X