Introducing Author M. Brandon Robbins

Dragon Soul Press proudly announces horror Author M. Brandon Robbins to the family!

Stay tuned for news about his novel, Mr. Haunt.


What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always enjoyed stories in their various forms, whether told through books or films or M Brandon Robbins Logogames. Being that I loved stories, I would come up with my own. I was writing fan-fiction about my favorite superheroes and video game characters long before I knew that fan fiction was even a thing. Almost all of my play was imaginary; I loved playing pretend and I would come up with these fully-realized narratives with my action figures. I always enjoyed creative writing assignments in school and tended to do well on them. When people asked me wanted I wanted to do when I grew up, I would tell them that I wanted to be a writer. When I got to college, I decided to major in English with the intention of writing professionally. I’ve continued to be inspired anew throughout the years, as writing is frustrating and far too easy to give up on. Whenever I step away from writing, I always come back because I remember how nourishing and exciting the act of creating is, so ultimately I would say that’s what inspired me to write: the agency that comes with creating your own worlds and characters is freeing and empowering. That’s something I knew as a child and something I remind myself of constantly as an adult.

How long have you been writing?

I would say I’ve been writing serious since my sophomore year of college. That’s when I started sending out submissions to publications and started writing a novel. So, about seventeen years or so. There have been long spans of time that I’ve set writing aside, such as when I was in graduate school or earning my teaching certification, but I’ve always been writing at least a little bit since I was about twenty. For a long time, I wrote a column for Library Journal on video games and libraries. I’ve also written graphic novel reviews for them and have contributed to a book on games in libraries. It’s hard to think of a time that I wasn’t writing something.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

Write the story that’s inside of you. I struggled so much trying to write for a particular market or chase a certain trend, but when I’ve just sat down and followed those crazy ideas that come into my head at 2:00 AM, I’ve done my best writing. You’ll get good enough to write on demand and follow a prompt so you can submit to a specific anthology or take advantage of what’s popular at the moment. But if you’re just starting out, trust in your ideas and see them through to the end.

What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Finishing. Coming up with great ideas is easy. Coming up with great endings is not. More often than not, I’ve written myself into a corner because I’ve gone down the rabbit hole with a certain idea and didn’t stop to actually think it through and make sure it would come to a logical and satisfying conclusion. That’s when I have no choice but to go back to the drawing board.

How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Mr. Haunt is my first published novel, so it will probably always be my favorite! I’ve written two other novels. One is a book I started on in college and finished not long after. It’s really not very good at all. I’m still glad I wrote it. It was a learning experience and a valuable one. I’ve also written a western that I can see being part of a series. I’m just not sure if it’s the first book or not.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Sometimes I find inspiration and sometimes it finds me, but ultimately it all comes with asking the question, “What if?” Mr. Haunt started with the question of “What if depression Photo on 8-18-19 at 7.29 PMwas an actual demon that haunted those who suffer it?” Sometimes it’s a more direct and specific questions, such as “What if somebody lost their cell phone at a nightclub for vampires?” I’ve actually written a flash fiction on that question, and it was accepted for publication in a small webzine called Shotgun Horror Clips. To me, that’s the heart of fiction: trying to find the answer to that question of “what if.”

Who is your favorite author and why?

Neil Gaiman has been my favorite author for a long time for several reasons. Not only is his writing brilliant, but he has such a close and meaningful relationship with his fans and I truly respect that. I remember that his blog was one of the first author blogs I read and, if I recall correctly, he was one of the first to adapt to blogging as well as Twitter. I respect the fact that he considers comics legitimate literature and doesn’t consider himself to have graduated to prose fiction. As a librarian, I also love the fact that he is so supportive of libraries and librarians. He’s an all-around polite gentleman who loves the art of storytelling, and that’ what every writer should be.

What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

If not Neil Gaiman, I would have to say Stephen King. He’s so in love with the craft of writing that I can imagine he would have a good bit of advice for any hardship that may come along; I’ve read his book On Writing and learned quite a bit from it. I imagine a mentorship with him would be incredible.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I’ve played video games ever since I was in the crib, so that continues to be a major hobby of mine. I also read, of course, and tend to the ten pets that my wife and I share.

Where can readers learn more about you?

My blog, Meds and the Reasons For Them, can be found on my website. I can also be found on TwitterInstagram, and Dragon Soul Press.

Pitfalls to Avoid: Mary Sue Characters

You: “Oh man, people are going to love my female MC. She’s a total badass!”

Friend: “Why?”

You: “Because she has all sorts of magic at her disposal, she can fight with swords, she’s got a genius-level IQ, and she’s beautiful. Guys just swoon for her, but she’s a virgin, saving herself for her True Love.”

Friend: Rolls eyes. “Of course. What does she do?”

You: “I’ve got a whole series of books planned. She’s from a fantasy world, but she’s transported to our world in the 21st Century. She then learns about guns while wielding magic. She has to fight Neo-Nazis, werewolves, evil corporations, and gives a speech at the U.N. on women’s rights. She doesn’t need a man to save her.”

Friend: Sighs…loudly. “That’s it? What’s her flaw?”

You: “Umm…flaw? Oh yeah, she was abused a lot by her parents. She doesn’t know how to love. She can’t decide from the six men who are chasing after her, but she can’t let a man in her life though she did have some girlfriends with some buxom elves and hot shifters. She–“

Friend: “Stop! Just…stop. I have a major headache now and I need a drink.”

What did I describe to you? If you guessed that the author had created a Mary Sue character, you’re right. What is a Mary Sue? I won’t get into the origins of such a character (but you can read about it here), but they are a very powerful, virtually flawless character who overcomes any obstacle in the story. Ultimately, they are boring characters because they will plow through every scene by their sheer will alone.

I write this post because if you’re an indie author or an amateur writer who is looking to publish, this is a very common mistake to create a main character who can do everything. Trust me, as I write this, I’m not writing this from a pedestal looking down upon you. I’m guilty as charged as well and this post is also for me as well (I have a few characters in my Rise of Evil Series that I need to take a hard look at and pare them down a bit).

So, let’s get back to the boring part and what you can do to fix them or at least create believable MC’s the reader can get behind. Remember, these are guides, not hard rules.

  1. Outline all the challenges a character has to face in your story. Hand them some failure that sets them back and if you want to make it impressionable to your reader, make those failures debilitating. Say, for example, you have a master swordsman. He is awesome. No one can beat him even in twenty-to-one odds. Now, get him in a fight with a wizard where he loses his sword arm–chop that thing right off. He has to learn how to fight all over again. On top of that, he now has to weigh his battles carefully.
  2. Flaws in the backstory are meaningless unless they come into play in an actual scene. You want to “humanize” your MC with some trauma from their childhood? That’s an overused cliche in amateur writing as well, but that’s another post for later. That trauma is boring if it doesn’t come into play. For example, you have a young man who is sorcerer attempting to overthrow the evil king, but past abuse from his father causes him to freeze up. The evil king casts a spell to look just like his father, and the sorcerer is powerless, just stands there, and is captured, tortured, and sentenced to death.
  3. Make your character rely on others to achieve victory, and make that an endeavor as well. I’m not talking about him leading troops. I’m talking about he needs others to help him overcome a particular challenge. Bob from Accounting can’t see Sue the VP to convince her to fund Project Z; however, Jack, who … umm … works closely with Sue, can slide that proposal on her desk. But as life would play, Jack likes to play both teams and desires Bob too, so Bob has to figure out how to get Jack to agree to meet with Sue while not having to cave into Jack’s unbridled lust (and irritate his constant bickering wife).
  4. Bring the power level down. If you play Dungeons and Dragons or similar table-top role-playing games, you’ll know that your characters have a level assigned to them which measures their power and abilities. A 1st level wizard is no match for a 20th level wizard. In your story, you don’t want your character start right off as a 20th level wizard because if you do, your character won’t grow and achieve a pinnacle of power if you have a whole series of books planned out.

In summary, ensure your characters have flaws purposely created to give your story tension and drama. Your readers will appreciate your MC’s efforts to try to overcome or circumvent those obstacles.

Happy writing!

 

Pitfalls to Avoid: Showing vs. Telling

As a writer, we have many expressions and mantras that both writer and reader alike have heard. Here’s another one you’ve probably heard ad nauseam: 

Show, do not tell.

However, a lot of amateur writers get this concept frequently wrong and why is telling so bad anyway?

Let’s start with an example of telling:

Grim unholstered his six-shot, pointing it at Sylvia. He felt angry and growled his fury.

Sylvia was unperturbed by his weapon, laughing defiantly. “If you plan on intimidating me, you’re sorely mistaken.”

He smiled cruelly, “The bullets in the gun are made from cold iron, demon. You’re finished!”

He opened fire, Slyvia screaming in anguish as each bullet tore through her violet flesh.

Is this bad? Isolated, no, not really, but it’s clearly amateurish and if the entire story is peppered with this style of writing, then it’s bad. The reason why is I’m telling the reader Grim is angry. I am telling the reader Sylvia was unperturbed. I am telling the reader Sylvia not only laughs, but how she laughs. I told the reader how Grim smiled and I told the reader how Sylvia screamed (okay that last part was really bad, but you get the point).

Understand that “show vs. tell” is a reader’s trend. At one point, it was perfectly acceptable for writers to tell the reader of the emotions and actions of the characters instead of showing. Read any 19th Century or early 20th Century literature. And if attention spans continue to get shorter and shorter, this trend may reverse itself and I may be writing a post about “tell, do not show.” I’ve been reading negative reviews of readers wanting just this thing (I’ll get into why in a moment)

So, how to avoid telling? Here are three rules to help you:

  1. Don’t use emotive words in the narrative at all. An easy test on yourself is if you have any emotive words. Angry, happy, sad, etc. Get rid of them.
  2. Use body language to describe the emotion. Instead of writing, He was angry, write, He grimaced, baring his teeth, nearly snarling. But you want the reader to feel a particular kind of rage, you say? Let the readers decide that for themselves. Don’t try to control that part of the process of writing for your reader.
  3. Mitigate or avoid adverbs. Adverbs are like salt. It’s okay to use one sparingly here and there, but overuse ruins the whole meal. A lot of adverbs is lazy writing. She laughed defiantly tells me how she laughed, and on top of it, how do I picture defiance? Instead, let’s go with, She folded her arms and proceeded to laugh, a raucous bellow that shook the room.

So, here’s the caveat of showing vs. telling and this is how I’ve seen this in the form of negative reviews. Showing increases your word count–considerably. It forces you to be more descriptive. Even if you chose a minimalist approach to describe an emotion, you’re still going to have more words than a simple, He was angry. In the example above, that was three words vs. seven. In the other example, that was three words vs. a whopping fifteen. Some readers hate this because you have writers who can literally spend a page and a half describing a gate-opening scene (George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you). It’s beautiful, it’s immersive, but it’s long. So be aware when you’re being descriptive or you’re laying it thick on the purple prose.

Happy writing!

Introducing Author Phil Penne

Dragon Soul Press is proud to present Author Phil Penne to our avid audience! Debuting through DSP with a non-fiction self-help book for when it comes to technology, more titles are sure to follow. Enjoy our interview with the author below.


 

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

      Hmmm… Going to have to go with “depends” on this one. A lot of factors come into play: my current state of mind and physical health are near the top. It also depends on what I’m writing; Non-fiction, like Geezer Tech don’t affect me one way or the other – I’m just relaying my work experiences. In fiction, writing passages that fit my personality can be energizing; writing about things out of my comfort zone tends to be more exhausting.

What is your writing Kryptonite?Phil Penne Facebook Profile Pic

      Never really thought about it, but considering the technical writing I’ve done, I’d have to say the word ‘deadline’ gives me goose bumps more than anything else.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

      I’d give up my self-doubt in an instant to be a better writer, but I don’t think I’m able to… and there’s the self-doubt again.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

My writing tends to be all over the map in terms of subject, so I can’t really give you a hard number, since different genres take varying amounts of time. “Too long” is probably the closest I can come to an answer; I tend to procrastinate and am always finding excuses to do something other than write. Sometimes the excuses are valid, other times not so much. Considering I.T. tech support was something I had done for over forty years, I finished Geezer Tech quickly, by my standards.

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

      Oh, big time! I even addressed that precise subject in one of the vignettes in my first fiction work, Forty Rabbit Holes: The Book of Daydreams. Being slightly ADD (self-diagnosed, mind you), I tend to think of plots for other books while working on my current book. Once that happens there’s a major log jam and nothing happens until I manage to clear my head. Usually photography is the panacea for that; when I’m behind the lens nothing else exists.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

      I’m going to include self-published under the umbrella of unpublished, so that would be four, not including two coffee table books and three books of sheet music transcribed for the Native American flute. Half finished? Well, I’m 8,000 words into my next fiction work (out of an anticipated 110,000 words). Two more are in the 2,000 word range (out of an anticipated who-knows-how-many total words). The total number of ideas bouncing around inside my skull? Carl Sagan couldn’t count that high.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

      Hmmm… tough one. Oddly enough, I’d have to say Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Even though it became hugely popular with the release of the movie Blade Runner in 1982, it should have been every bit as popular when it was published in 1968 – it shouldn’t have taken the movie to propel the book to fame.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

      In a nutshell, “Get used to rejection.”

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

   Never really thought about it much until recently when I toyed with the idea of writing a trilogy of artfully written books with erotic overtones. The closest I came prior to that was in my book Mama Root: The Old Woman of Loop Road, where I found it necessary to pen a Shakespearean style sonnet as part of the story, and ascribed its authorship to one “Royce Voithem” – which is actually an anagram for “My other voice”.

Where can readers learn more about you?

     Probably my website. There’s a little bit of a bio there, plus insights into my photography, graphic arts, storytelling, etc. That might give people at least a thumbnail sketch of what this Phil Penne character is all about.

I also believe you can tell a lot about a person by asking them what their favorite quote is. Mine? It comes from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.


You can also find this author at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Youtube, and DSP Author Page.

Author Interview with Simon Dillon

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Simon Dillon for his latest bone-chilling release, The Irresistible Summons. With the tagline of “How far would you go to bring the one you love back from the dead?” how could one resist the temptation? Especially when cutting-edge technology and evil meet.


How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I’d say it takes me about a year, on average, to write something like The Irresistible Summons or Spectre of Springwell Forest, if you include the initial inspiration, preparation and planning, writing the first draft, rewrites, edits, and so on.Irresistible Summons promo 8

Outside my usual psychological drama/supernatural thriller/horror spectrum, I’ve written some novels at record speed (my animal fiction adventure novel Echo and the White Howl, for instance), and others at a snail’s pace. I’ve got a fantasy epic I’ve been working at, on and off, for about twenty years. Still not sure if I’ll ever try and release it.

What was your hardest scene to write?

I can’t reveal that here, because it’s from a thriller/horror novel I’ve not yet published. Suffice to say, the scene in question was so disturbing and upsetting that I had to keep taking breaks every ten minutes to write that chapter. I’m made of pretty stern stuff, but that was fierce, even for me. It really had my stomach in knots.

From novels that are presently published, the finale of The Irresistible Summons was an absolute fiend to get right. Previous versions were either too gruesome, too repetitive, too bizarre, too long, or – incredible though it may seem – too optimistic.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I’m going to cheat and pick three books – The Bartimaeus Sequence (comprising The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate). This trilogy, set in a parallel London filled with powerful magicians, is particularly notable for witty first-person sections, told from the point of view of a highly intelligent and cunning demon summoned by the novel’s young protagonist. Highly recommended.

Or did you mean my own novels? Some of my children’s adventure novels are definitely under-appreciated, because they are just as much for adults as for children.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Out of what I currently have published, with the notable exception of the George Hughes trilogy (my children’s science fiction novels), all my novels and short stories stand-alone. Even the George Hughes adventures are each stand-alone stories, though they should be read in order, as there are recurring characters and references to previous incidents.

Having said that, my horror/thriller novels do share a certain DNA and express variations on a theme. One reader I know jokes about “Simon Dillon Plot Bingo” (imperilled heroine, religious oppression, big central mystery, haunted locations, supernatural elements, cults and/or secret societies, melodramatic overdrive, big twist ending – apparently). I don’t see this as a bad thing. I think it means I’m getting known for a certain type of story. Just as long as I can keep surprising people within that format, I’m pleased to be stereotyped to a degree.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

That’s a good question, because it follows on from what I said above. Actually, I think there is nothing wrong with following a formula and giving readers what they want. Agatha Christie did it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did it. JK Rowling did it (all the Harry Potter books follow a very clear formula, except the last one). But within these formulas, the above authors consistently surprised and delighted the reader.

Every writer wants to be original and put their own stamp on the world’s literature. However, that isn’t at the forefront of my mind when I write. Rather, I want to master the form in whatever genre I am working with. To that end, I try to give the reader what they want – but not the way they expect it. That’s the clue to any fine dramatic writing, in my opinion.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. The Irresistible Summons and Spectre of Springwell Forest both have fairly clear-cut conclusions, but one or two readers would have preferred more ambiguity. On the other hand, my next novel Phantom Audition (due out in October) is a much trickier beast. The various ways it can be interpreted may frustrate those who prefer clear-cut endings. As an author, you have to decide what you think is the correct, most satisfying ending, and stick with it. In fact, I always do. I don’t write any story until I know the ending and love it. Then I work backwards from that point.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I’m not sure why I’ve been so foolhardy as to simply go by my real name, but I don’t really see what I gain by hiding behind a pseudonym. Privacy is the main reason cited, but if JK Rowling didn’t feel the need for one, I’m not sure I can be bothered either. I’d rather be loud and proud about what I put my name to.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

I often lurk on the event horizons of social media black holes and get sucked into vortices of very dark humour. Plus the internet in general is so distracting.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

A bit of both really. But I can’t not write. It’s like breathing. If I don’t write at least a little each day, I feel like I’m wasting my life.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Watership Down, which I read at the age of nine, just before I read the second book that made me cry, The Lord of the Rings. I find it hard to imagine any intelligent, thoughtful reader coming away from either of those novels unaffected or unchanged. The final chapters of both had an incalculable effect on my young psyche, and the bittersweet truth that in this world at least, all things end.

Both books conclude with death, whether the literal death of Hazel, in Watership Down, or the figurative death of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings (not to mention the passing of the Elves, and the melancholy end of the magical eras of Middle Earth). However, although sad, neither scene is negative. It is simply the way of things, and, as Gandalf puts it, “not all tears are an evil”.

Where can readers learn more about you?

I’ve got a blog,which has regular updates on all my writing projects. It also features film reviews, links to my film podcast The Tangent Tree (which I co-host with Samantha Stephen), and other book/writing related articles. On top of that, I have a Facebook page.