Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Rachel Aukes

Meghan: Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books, Rachel. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rachel Aukes: I’m a science fiction/apocalyptic fiction writer who loves telling stories! When I’m not writing, I’m either chasing after my very spoiled 50-pound dog or flying old airplanes across the Midwest US countryside.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Rachel Aukes: Here goes… 1) Nearly all my clothes are black or gray, because I’m horrible at coordinating colors. 2) I love video games, mostly old school RPGs since I feel like an old lady playing alongside the young whippersnappers on some of the new ones. 3) I’m a big fan of the KonMari method of tidying up. My life and home are so much more peaceful since I cut out everything that didn’t bring joy. 4) I collected comic books as a kid, and I still love them as much as ever. 5) I love cheesy sci-fi movies. The crappier the special effects, the more fun.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Rachel Aukes: Hmm… One of the first books I remember reading is The Haunted House, which was a children’s book (with pictures) on kids going into a scary haunted house, which turned out to be not quite so scary after all. I wish I remembered the author’s name!

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Rachel Aukes: Titan’s Fury by Rhett Bruno. I’m so in love with this series!

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Rachel Aukes: I like all types of books, so I can’t think of one that stands out that would surprise others.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Rachel Aukes: I love writing as a child. Then life and the need to pay bills got in the way until one day I realized I needed to write again, if even just for fun. I’ve never looked back.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Rachel Aukes: I have a home office, where I write. It’s cozy and perfect for me!

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Rachel Aukes:I have pictures of my characters sitting along the edge of my computer screen as I write. For each character, I find an actor or movie character who most represents one of my characters.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Rachel Aukes: The actual writing part. When I begin a new story, I love jumping in, but the words sometimes get so hard to pull about midway through!

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Rachel Aukes: So far, it’s always the book I’ve just finished. With every book, I feel like I grow as a storyteller.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Rachel Aukes: I was reading Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dream Chaser the day I decided I needed to start writing again. That book will always hold a special memory for me because of that!

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Rachel Aukes: A complete story arc with a fulfilling ending. None of that cliffhanger crap (by cliffhanger, I mean a book that ends without wrapping up its story arc; I’m not referring to series arcs). Beyond that, all stories depend on its characters to drive it.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Rachel Aukes: I have to be able to connect with a character. They must have human traits—both strengths and weaknesses—or else they feel like Gary Stus or Mary Sues. I spend a ton of time on my character biographies before I begin writing a story, so they are real people to me by page 1.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Rachel Aukes: All my characters share certain traits with me, though Cash, the protagonist of the Deadland Saga seems to share the most. We’re both nerds on the introverted side but want to do the right thing.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Rachel Aukes: Yes. We’re human. We all judge a book by its cover. I’ve bought books purely by their covers, and I’ve skipped books with horrible covers. For my traditional published books, I had minimal to some involvement, depending on the house. For my self-published books, I have complete control, but I always try to trust my designer’s expertise and advice whenever possible.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Rachel Aukes: I used to create detailed outlines, or storyboards, for each book. Then I’d begin writing and everything would change. Now, I spend less time on creating high-level outlines, which gives me more time creating characters with full, 3D backgrounds.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Rachel Aukes: Writing the death of a loved character. There was one supporting character in the Deadland Saga that I absolutely hated to see killed but saving his life would’ve gone against the personalities of other characters, and I had to stay true to the story.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Rachel Aukes: My books tend to be on the shorter side since I write tight and straightforward. Even so, the most common feedback I get across my books is on how well my characters resonate with readers.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Rachel Aukes: I spent too much time up front thinking of a cool title, and it seems like at least half the time, the title changes! For example, my working title for my upcoming novel was The Black Sheep of Starbus Route 128b. My editor guided me into a simpler, catchier title: Black Sheep, and there you have it!

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Rachel Aukes: Writing a novel is a deeply fulfilling exercise. During the time I write a novel, I am fully immersed in that world day and night.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Rachel Aukes: I try to keep my stories PG-13 rated, so that they are accessible to a wide audience. I’ve written in multiple genres, so my audiences are quite different. My romance targeted adult females while my science fiction targets adult males. My apocalyptic fiction is most popular with teenagers (both male and female). The only commonality you’ll see across my stories is a sense of hope against all odds.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Rachel Aukes: I wish I could say my deleted scenes are gold nuggets that sit in my drawer, but they’re really crap. Mostly, they’re “day in the life” stuff that doesn’t move the story forward. As I mentioned above, I write shorter than many writers, which means I like to keep my stories as tight as possible.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Rachel Aukes: I have a OneNote section dedicated to my trunk of ideas! There are so many stories I want to write that I don’t have time or now’s simply not the right time.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Rachel Aukes: I have a new series called Flight of the Javelin coming out soon from Aethon Books. This series stars Throttle, the paraplegic pilot in the Fringe series. She’s leading a colonization mission and lots of crazy happens!

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Rachel Aukes: You can learn more about my books and where you can get them on my website. I can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Rachel Aukes: Thanks for staying with us through the whole interview. Happy reading!

Rachel Aukes is a science fiction writer with over twenty books in print, including 100 Days in Deadland, which made Suspense Magazine’s Best of the Year list. She is also a Wattpad Star, her stories having over six million reads. Her popular Tidy Guides series covers tips on writing, editing, and publishing your first novel. When not writing, Rachel can be found flying old airplanes with her husband and an incredibly spoiled 50-pound lap dog over central Iowa.

Fringe 5: Fringe Legacy

It’s an age of heroes and sacrifices. 
The colonies won their independence.
But they are not at peace. 

New enemies come at the fragile Alliance of Free Colonies. Assassination attempts. Kidnappings. Murder.

When Aramis Reyne is nearly killed, he turns the tables and hunts the hunters. He learns things are not as they seem. When Critch disappears, he must make an impossible rescue. 

If Reyne fails, the Alliance will fall. War will claim the colonies once again. 
The race is on and time is running out.

The Tidy Guide to Writing a Novel

Learn to write a novel in 30 minutes!

Do you dream of writing a novel, but not sure where to start? Have you been working on a book for ages but feel stuck? Despite all your best efforts, do you feel overwhelmed? The Tidy Guide to Writing a Novel brings you a no-nonsense approach to write your book right the first time. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to: 
• Plan and organize your story ideas by breaking them out into easy, digestible bites 
• Use the simple yet mighty Little Ups approach to confidently write your first draft and subsequent drafts 

The Tidy Guide to Writing a Novel is a 30-minute read that’s jam-packed with information essential for writers at any stage in their careers.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Robert J. Duperre

Meghan: Hi, Robert. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert J. Duperre: Okay, some background info.

I live in rural Connecticut (the northern part) with my wife Jessica Torrant, a wonderful artist and my favorite person ever. I have three children who’re all grown and out on their own. Oh, and I also love dogs.

I’m a writer of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and my work tends to blur the line between all three. Currently, I’ve published thirteen full-length novels, twelve of which are broken down into three separate series: The Rift, The Breaking World (written with David Dalglish), my current series, The Infinity Trials, and a future series, The Knights Eternal, the first book of which will be re-released this year.

I also have a one-off novel titled Silas, a novella called Death Devours All Lovely Things, and I edited and contributed to a pair of short story collections – The Gate: 13 Dark and Odd Tales and The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair. I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the last Infinity Trials novel while working on the 2nd installment in The Knights Eternal.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Robert J. Duperre: Hmm… This one’s a toughie.

  • I’m originally from Plymouth, Mass, the land of Pilgrims. Much of my extended family still lives there.
  • I listen to Katy Perry when no one’s around.
  • I’m partially deaf in my right ear, which makes it hard to carry on a conversation while driving.
  • I sang and played keyboards for a number for a number of local progressive rock and death metal bands in my younger days.
  • I’ve always struggled with self-esteem issues.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Robert J. Duperre: Charlotte’s Web. What a harrowing experience that was!

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Robert J. Duperre: Deacon, the 2nd book in Kit Rocha’s Gideon’s Riders series. Sexy dystopian sci-fi fun. Who could ask for more?

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Robert J. Duperre: I’m not sure if anyone’d be really surprised, per say, but I love romance novels. I’m a sucker for love stories and expertly written sex scenes. So yeah, I guess I didn’t single out a specific book, but I think you get the point nevertheless.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Robert J. Duperre: I’ve always written. It’s what I’m good at, and is something I need to do to stay sane. When I was in high school, I decided that I’d go to college to teach English, and during my summers, I’d pen the great American novel. Of course, since I ended up dropping out of school after the birth of my first child, that didn’t happen. But after a seven-year period during which I didn’t write at all, which brought about a long bout of depression, I found my way back to the craft as a way to deal with said depression. Everything kinda took off from there.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Robert J. Duperre: Not particularly. As long as I have a comfy chair and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, I can write just about anywhere.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Robert J. Duperre: The one that sticks out to me is my tendency to speak dialogue out loud as I’m writing it down. It’s something I’m not even aware of when it’s happening, so if there’s people around, I get plenty of odd looks.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Robert J. Duperre: Without a doubt, coming back into the craft after taking some time off after my mother-in-law passed away last summer has been the most challenging writing experience of my life. My work tends to dive into dark themes, and I just didn’t have it in me for about a half-year. When I started back up again, I had to force myself to work. The original plot for the last book of my Infinity Trials series was depressing, and I just couldn’t get myself to linger in something that’d make me sadder than I already was. Which led to me completely changing how I wrapped up that series. Let’s just say I’m not upset that happened.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Robert J. Duperre: After some thought, I’m gonna have to go with Silas, a story of a depressed man and his dog and their unexpected adventure into a parallel universe. Mainly because I wrote that book in less than a month, took another full month to edit, and it ended up being exactly what I wanted it to be, which is a dedication to Leo, my dearly departed yellow Lab, and a self-examination of my own failings. So, in a nutshell, because it came so easily and was personal as hell, it’s EXTREMELY satisfying.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Robert J. Duperre: Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and the Skipp/Spector team were my inspirations growing up, along with idea-creators like Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. I read everything they wrote, and my early attempts at writing were basically me mimicking their styles and themes. It took me quite a few years—and many literary failures—to break myself of that copycat tendency and come up with a voice of my own.

The kind of writing that inspires me today is the type that makes me examine my work to see if I’m making the most of the stories I want to tell. Authors like N.K. Jemisin, Mercedes Yardley, S.M. Reine, Brandon Sanderson, and Gillian Flynn are who I now turn to, devouring every word they write and letting those words push me into being better, myself.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Robert J. Duperre: Oh man. I really can’t give you a singular answer for that one. Sometimes it’s the setting and ideas, like with any of Sanderson’s work. Sometimes it’s the emotion themes, like in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series. But then again, there’s the personal connection I feel, which is what dragged me into S.M. Reine’s Descent series and kept me devouring every book until there weren’t any more to read.

But really, now that I’m actually thinking about it, the question’s not really as complex as it first seemed. Because if the characters I’m reading about don’t captivate me, then I won’t enjoy my experience. Even Sanderson, as obsessed with magic systems and world building as he is, creates interesting people to populate his books. And no one – NO ONE – writes better characters than S.M. Reine, who very well might be my favorite author who’s active right now.

So yeah, I think that’s the answer. Characters first, with creative worlds and original stakes a distant second.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Robert J. Duperre: I need to relate, first and foremost. Does this character feel fleshed-out? Are their motivations realistic? Do their lives fit logically into the world the writer’s created, and do their reaction and emotional make-up feel consistent when viewed against the backdrop of that fictional setting? Do they resonate with me? Does the author make me feel what they’re feeling, experience what they’re experiencing? Do they bring something new to the table, or at least bring a certain clarity if they’re on the more rote end? Can I learn anything from them? Are they, in their own way, “real?”

Those are all the most important things I look for in characters. It’s a long list. But those two aspects I wrote there at the end – whether I can learn anything from them and if they feel real – are what I carry with me into my own creative endeavors. I want my characters to exist firmly in the world I’ve created, while at the same time teaching me about life. Because that’s really what creating is – an author’s way of learning. How to deal with the past, with trauma; how to exist within the world; or simply to understand and cope with the innerworkings of said world. Luckily for the readers, they get to experience this learning along with us. Which is, in a lot of ways, totally awesome.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Robert J. Duperre: As I wrote earlier, Ken from Silas is basically a version of myself with all my faults magnified. So yeah, that’d be the one.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Robert J. Duperre: Not necessarily. I’ve read some great books with bad covers, and some complete trash with covers that blew me away. Because of that, I try not to let the presentation dissuade me, using sample chapters to help make my decisions. I’d be lying if I said I’m always consistent on that front, however. Because it does take time to read samples, and as someone who has to work and write full-time, I really don’t HAVE that much time. Which means I’m usually purchasing my next reads based on the trusted recommendations from others.

As for my own covers, since a lot of my books have been self-published, I’ve of course had complete control of what I put out there for everyone to see. And paid for it out of my own pocket. But oddly enough, I was intimately involved in the cover-creation process of my professionally published novels too. The publishers sought out my input, I gave it, and they (mostly) listened. Which I’m entirely grateful for.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Robert J. Duperre: More than anything? Patience. It takes time to write and edit, sometimes more than I want it to. Early on, I dove full-in on the first part of that, half-assed the second. Which ended up with me having put out a less-than-stellar product when I first published The Fall. Early criticism made me pull that book down soon after publication to rework it. That fact alone could’ve ruined my career before it began. Thankfully, it didn’t.

But patience also matters with the, how can I describe it, lifespan of a book. It can get frustrating when you put something out there that you know is good, but doesn’t sell. Completely disheartening. It can stifle your creative process, maybe even make you give up. But I’ve learned, especially in the last couple years, that I need to give the whole process time. Sure, The Infinity Trials hasn’t sold as much as I would’ve liked. But it’s my favorite series, my best books. I need to be patient with them, allow the audience to come. Which they will.

Hopefully. 😊

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Robert J. Duperre: Oh, an easy one! For sure, it was a bit from the 2nd Infinity Trials book, Lost in the Shadows. There’s a scene in there were one of the main characters, Hannah, confronts her despicable father. It was an emotional scene, the conclusion of a storyline that included some rather charged sexual deviancy. I hated writing it. Felt dirty. Didn’t want to keep it. I almost threw it out, until I gave it to my daughter Lily to read. She told me I needed to keep it, that what happens, and the way it happens, was important.

So I did.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Robert J. Duperre: First and foremost, they’re written by me. I’ve yet to read another book by Robert J. Duperre that wasn’t by me.

(Just picture me smiling right now at my own horrible joke. Got it? Excellent.)

But seriously, I think my books do offer something different. Mainly because I’m a little ADD, and like I said, can’t settle on one specific genre. Which means what I create tends to be a hodgepodge of what I enjoy in horror, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, etc. And I can’t stay consistent with a target audience! The Rift and The Breaking World are completely aimed at adults, The Knights Eternal is aimed at the fantasy crowd, while The Infinity Trials was originally written for a very specific teen audience – my daughter, who’s now a decidedly not-teen. Sigh, so goes the passage of time. Others in the biz have told me that if I stuck to one thing and one thing only, I’d be more successful. But I can’t. If I stopped being me, my books wouldn’t be, well, mine.

More than that, however, I think it’s my personal point of view. My early works were all super-personal, tearing tidbits from my life and autopsying them on the page. But as the years have gone on, I’ve shifted my viewpoint. I’ve lived with me for forty-four years. I don’t interest me anymore. It’s other people’s stories, other people’s viewpoints, that infatuate and inspire me. It’s them that I want to get to know. Intimately. And I want my readers to get to know them too.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Robert J. Duperre: I hate coming up with titles. It might not be the hardest part of writing, but it can certainly be frustrating. For short stories, I end up using either song titles or sections from poems that fit the themes, because what a short is called is probably the least important part of the finished product. Novels are different. What you call a book has to draw a reader into spending a good chunk of their time with you, so it has to convey the feel, genre, and tone of what you’re selling. Which can be tough. Sometimes you have a great idea right away and it sticks, while other times you go through so many iterations that by the time you settle on something, you get the feeling you’re doing just that. Settling.

For the first few books I published, the titles nearly wrote themselves. For The Rift series, I wanted season-themed titles, and they just appeared in my head (The Fall, Dead of Winter, Death Springs Eternal, The Summer Son). Then came Silas, which is named after the dog. Easy enough. But after that… gyah.

The Breaking World books I wrote for Dave Dalglish were irritating. We went through so many different names, using so many different fantasy conventions (The ing ___, ___ and the ___, A ___ in ___, The ___ of , etc) until finally settling on Dawn of Swords, which was actually suggested by our agent. The other two in that series (Wrath of Lions and Blood of Gods) kinda fell in line after that.

As for The Infinity Trials books, those were actually published originally under not only different individual volume names, but a different series title too. I initially called the series Covenant, and the first two books were The Mirror of Souls and The Chalice of Sorrow. I wasn’t really a big fan of them at the time, but I’d gone through so many names that I said screw it and settled on the ones that a writer friend of mine liked. But then, after putting the books out there, I realized that those titles didn’t relay the tone and themes of a young adult-skewed story. So I rebranded, using typical YA conventions, and put them out again. I’m much happier with the titles—in fact, I think they’re perfect—and though The Infinity Trials sounds a bit cheesy and ten years too late, genre-wise, they’ve been out too long to change it again.

Then again, all this complaining I just did is completely moot when I consider the “Knights Eternal” books. Every title came to me immediately, from the series name on down, and I love each of them. “Soultaker,” “Vowbreaker,” and “Warmaker” might be the best titles I’ve ever come up with. So what the hell do I know?

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Robert J. Duperre: Oh, without a doubt it’s novels. There’s so much time, effort, thought, and even more effort put into the creation of a book-length work that I can’t look at one of them after I’m finished and NOT feel like it’s a worthy accomplishment. I mean, while coming up with a crafty short story is a great feeling—for example, I think “39 Days,” which I wrote for Dan Pyle’s Unnatural Disasters anthology, is so clever that I like to say, “Look, see, I did that!”—but for me, it simply doesn’t compare. My books are my babies, while my short stories are akin to passing friendships. They didn’t take as much effort to cultivate, and if they go away or end up not mattering any longer, that’s really okay.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Robert J. Duperre: As I said earlier, my writing can be a little all over the place in terms of audience. I guess I’ll just say that if you like a good story, with detailed worlds and wacky occurrences, that’s full of heart and all about growing up and discovery, with a smidge of romance, gore, and scariness thrown in, then I’m the writer for you.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Robert J. Duperre: Hmmm… There’s so much that gets deleted from every manuscript that it’s hard to point out just one thing. If you want to know just how much I’m talking about here, let’s use the last Infinity Trials installment, God in the Girl, as an example. The first draft of that manuscript was 175,000 words (roughly 650 pages). It now stands at about 129,000 words (roughly 440 pages) as I send it out to beta readers.

My problem is, I tend to practice “word vomit” when I’m writing. Everything that enters my head gets put down on the page, no matter what. Which means my first drafts contain a lot of over-explaining and side tangents that need to get trimmed out. I’ll use Boy in the Mirror, the first Infinity Trials book, to illustrate that point. In the original version of that story, I had the five teen leads make a bowl out of an empty orange soda can. Initially, that section ran four paragraphs, as I went into aggravating detail about how one goes about creating a makeshift pot-smoking apparatus. When my daughter read it, she was like, “Dad, do I really need to know that? Can’t you just say, ‘They found a can of Fanta in the trash and used a steak knife to turn it into a bowl?’”

She was, of course, right. So all those unnecessary words got thrown in the garbage. Almost all of my deleted material is like that. Getting rid of the draggy, useless bits. I don’t think there’s ever been a scene that I’ve deleted that I’ve regretted afterward.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Robert J. Duperre: I don’t have anything actually in my “trunk,” per se, except for a novella I’d been asked to write for a shared-world anthology. The publisher went under before the book ever came out, so now I have this very detailed, 50-page story that I don’t know what to do with.

I do have a TON of stories in my “mental trunk,” though. Books that I really, really, REALLY wanna write, if I ever get the time to. One of them is a tricky series of ultra-violent, ultra-feminist books about two ladies who traipse around a post-apocalyptic fantasy world murdering toxic male stereotypes. I’ve created my own genre for those – Splatterfantasy. They’re going to be short novels and be an ongoing series that could potentially be ten to fifteen books long. A kinda warped play on the “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser” series by Fritz Leiber. And something that I’ve wanted to write for YEARS now. It’s on the docket after I finish Knights Eternal. Maybe. It depends. See how certain I am?

Of course, I do have others that I want to dive into, but since those ideas are SO ORIGINAL and SO REVOLUTIONARY, I think I’m gonna have to keep them to myself. 😛

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Robert J. Duperre: Well, right off the bat, I’m finishing up the last of the Infinity Trials books. “God in the Girl” should be out in December, so depending on when this interview’s published, they’ll either be already pubbed, or soon to be.

After that, I have the re-release of Soultaker through Outland Entertainment in December. I still owe them the last two books in that series, and am working on the 2nd installment now, but Outland is going with a once-a-year pub schedule, so it won’t be until next year at this time until the next book is released. But hopefully, if things go well, I’ll have some tie-in comics and maybe even an RPG based on that IP rolling out some time in the near future.

So my releases are gonna be a little sporadic over the next couple years, I think. But that’s okay. What I already have out there, and have coming, is good stuff. I think people would really enjoy them, if they get a chance.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Robert J. Duperre: I’m on Twitter and my Facebook author page. I’m also on Instagram, though I’ve yet to even post anything. And I have a blog, Journal of Always, that I hardly ever use any longer. You know what? My entire social media game is supremely lacking. I’ll try to change that. In the meantime, if readers REALLY wanna reach me, they can shoot me an email. I promise I’ll get back to you if you do. Eventually. Ask Meghan, our gracious host. She can attest to that.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Robert J. Duperre: Not really, other than to ask everyone to be kind to one another. That’s something this world can lack, especially nowadays. We all have so much love to give. We should just give it, already.

Oh, and buy my books. That’s good too. ☺

Thank you all so much for having me, and giving me your time. I hope it was worthwhile. It certainly was for me.

Robert Duperre writes a combination of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and is the author of several novels, including The Rift series, The Breaking World series, which he co-authored with David Dalglish, and his epic urban fantasy series The Infinity Trials. He is also a contributor and editor of two short story collections, The Gate and The Gate 2.

Robert lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, artist Jessica Torrant, and their new pup Rosie, a hyper-lovey mutt.

The Rift Series
The Rift 1: The Fall
The Rift 2: Dead of Winter
The Rift 3: Death Springs Eternal
The Rift 4: The Summer Son

The Breaking World Series
(with David Dalglish)
The Breaking World 1: Dawn of Swords
The Breaking World 2: Wrath of Lions
The Breaking World 3: Blood of Gods

Standalone Novel
Silas: A Supernatural Thriller

Short Story Collections
The Gate: 13 Dark & Odd Tales
The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation & Despair

The Infinity Trials Series
The Infinity Trials 1: Boy in the Mirror
The Infinity Trials 2: Wolves at the Door
The Infinity Trials 3: Lost in the Shadows
The Infinity Trials 4: Queen of the Dead
The Infinity Trials 5: God in the Girl (Available Dec 22, 2019)

Shock Totem 4.5: Holiday Tales of the Macabre & Twisted

Shock Totem presents the first in an ongoing series of special holiday issues. This issue, covering the Christmas season, features an eclectic mix of holiday-inspired horror from New York Times bestseller Kevin J. Anderson, K. Allen Wood, Mercedes M. Yardley, Robert J. Duperre, and more. Also anecdotal holiday recollections from Jack Ketchum, Jennifer Pelland, Mark Allan Gunnells, Nick Cato, and a host of others. Celebrate the holidays with Shock Totem!

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Phil Sloman

Meghan: Hi, Phil! Welcome back! It’s always a pleasure having you here. It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Phil Sloman: Thanks for having me back, Meghan. Always a pleasure to be round at your place.

So, what’s been going on since we last sat down together? Life has been life with varying ups and downs, things which seemed important at the time but now have drifted from my memory. Every day the kids get older and I seem to get greyer but things are pretty good. Writing wise I’ve been lucky enough to have folks keep coming to me asking for stories so there’s a little bit more of my work spread across the literary landscape. I also had my first collection – well, micro-collection – put out by Black Shuck Books which has had a lot of love from readers and reviewers alike. The collection is called Broken on the Inside and deals a lot with mental health and psychological breakdown. As well as that I also recently guest edited a five story anthology in Hersham Horror Books’ Pentanth range. The anthology is called The Woods and features amazing stories from Cate Gardner, Mark West, Penny Jones, and James Everington as well as an editor’s story from me as is traditional with the series. And I guess one other thing I should note is winning Best Legs in Horror 2018 so am looking to defend my crown – or is that garter – this year.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

Phil Sloman: In my day job I work as a disability rights campaigner working to remove societal barriers experienced by disabled people. Beyond that I am a father with two amazing boys and husband to an amazing wife. Lots of our time is taken up with nature stuff: birdwatching, fossil hunting, mushroom foraging though that has its perils. I remember once last year having brought back some mushrooms with an unknown mushroom to identify. My pulse started racing when I thought I had contaminated the gathered mushrooms with a Death Cap (they have the name for an incredibly good reason!). Fortunately I had picked the non-poisonous False Death Cap but it still made me very aware of my internal bowel movements for the next few days. As well as foraging, I’ve recently got into making my own cider. We have an allotment with a few apple trees on and it seems a shame to let them go to waste.I’m also a keen sportsman and play tennis and football (soccer for my friends in the US) for local teams. I’m not bad at tennis and have won a few trophies, football less so but I enjoy the run about!

Oh, and I also lead a band of heroes called the Slomanites trying to save the world from the evils of coffee creams, fighting the good fight against the tyrannical Jim McLeod of Ginger Nuts of Horror fame but that’s another story.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Phil Sloman: With my writer friends I’m quite relaxed about it as they write similar things. It’s when friends and family outside of that sphere discover that I’m a writer, and especially a horror writer, that I get a complex about my work. Or more particularly, the horror aspect of it; something I really need to get over. None of my family reads or watches horror that I am aware of, and only a limited number of my non-writing friends do too, so I think there must be a reason why they don’t. That then morphs into they must think anyone who writes horror is a serial killer waiting to pounce and before you know it I am ordering a false passport and a suitcase of money with non-sequential bills for me to flee the country with. The reality is that those who have read my stuff think it’s great which highlights to me the personal neuroses which I really need to get under control.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Phil Sloman: I’m going to do that typical thing of coming up with an option three! I think it depends on you as a writer and your circumstances. I know some people who connect intensely with their writing to the point that it affects their moods and their very being. Others who treat it as a job and switch off after a day at the writing desk.

For me I find it more gift than curse but it depends on which day you ask me. The opportunity to create all these fantastic stories and play around with concepts then getting them down on paper is brilliant. That’s the great side. Plus when you get someone come up to you and tell you they loved your story; there’s a lot of personal reward right there. Yet there is also the frustration and pressure which can build if you find your writing dries up or that you find you are not enjoying it. I think sometimes people are reluctant to say that they are not finding any joy from what they are doing while still producing amazing writing. There is that worry of people jumping on the situation and saying, ‘Well, I’d love to be a writer so stop moaning word-monkey and just keep typing’. Obviously I am overegging this but the pressure is there and often for very little financial reward plus you will find a good few writers, especially as they are establishing themselves, having to work a full-time job alongside the writing which can impact on family, friends and relationships as well as physically draining the author. And for those writers who do this as a full-time career, there are the pressures of getting the next gig, will their next book soar or flop, will they get paid as contracted or will the publisher fail to deliver on the contract and a hundred other pressures I am not aware of.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Phil Sloman: Completely. I often get asked about why I write horror. The simple answer is the 70s and 80s. Growing up as a kid back then there was the threat of nuclear war. I remember being taught at school about what to do in the event of the bombs dropping and seeing maps of England showing where the blast radius and fall out would cover if they hit London and where might be deemed ‘safe’. I think we were on the periphery of that ‘safe’ zone. We also had these public service advertisements to teach kids to be safe which invariably showed kids of my age at the time getting killed in varying ways usually involved quicksand or having entered building sites. To this day I have yet to find a patch of quicksand in the UK. So all of that was definitely starter fluid for where I am today. We also lived on a farm where our nearest neighbor was a mile away and school friends a good drive so that meant I was often left to amuse myself. I’d spend long periods of time roaming the local woods and fields on my own which I think built a more introspective character than I may have developed otherwise.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Phil Sloman: I once had to Google the decomposition process of a body left in a bath of acid. This was for my novella Becoming David from Hersham Horror Books. The book revolves around a serial killer and I needed a way for the bodies to be disposed of. Turns out that the human body will break down into effectively a brown sludge eventually, the bones gelatinous along the way. Now it’s things like this which make me wonder a) how people find this stuff out and b) just how writers would have found the answer to questions like that pre-internet. I have images of an author sidling up to a police officer and quietly whispering in their ear, “Excuse me, Officer, I know this may sound strange, but would you happen to know the best way to dispose of a body”; the other alternative, personal experimentation, doesn’t bear thinking about!

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Phil Sloman: Definitely the middle. The beginning and the end are the A to B on your road map for the story. It’s a bit like fishing. The beginning is where you are sorting out your bait and equipment, choosing the right spot to cast-off from (and there is a lot of skill in doing all that), the end is where you’ve reeled in your catch and have it in the net ready to show off to friends, making sure it doesn’t slip the hook before the net is in place). The middle is all the hard work where you’re trying to make sure the reader – sorry, fish – takes the bait, that you’re able to keep them on the hook, knowing that you’re going to have to put a lot of effort in to make sure they don’t wriggle off at the last moment and you’ve lost them forever, letting the line play out a bit and then reeling in once more.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Phil Sloman: It depends on the length of the story. For short stories I tend to think through the story, work out my start point and end point then let the words take me where they will along the way. For novellas and novels I have to plot. I will write down a chapter by chapter outline, nothing too detailed, mainly things like Chapter 4: Richard meets David in a local pub, Chapter 7: police find out and come calling, that kind of thing. There’s still freedom to change things as necessary as you go but at least you have markers to keep you on that route from A to B.

In terms of characters or plot first, well I generally go with an inkling of a plot, more of a what if as it were. So, for Virtually Famous, which was published in Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press and also in my collection, I asked the question of ‘What if someone was the face of a virtual reality game about them and saw themselves dying day after day, how would they react, how would people react playing the celebrity, where would it all lead?’. The answer is it leads to a very dark place, very dark indeed. It was after those questions that the character of Chet developed, his personality, the people around him, and so forth.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Phil Sloman: I sit them down in a dark room and have a ‘friendly’ chat with them.

Seriously though, sometimes it is for a reason and you have to go with it. I’m not one for saying ‘the character made me do it’ but I am very aware that there are layers you are revealing as you get to know the make-up of your characters better, those little tics and traits which reveal themselves, which mean the story needs to bend to a degree to accommodate that. Sometimes I’ve had to include characters I hadn’t even considered from the start as I realize we need a certain motivator to occur or something to show a different side of our protagonist.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Phil Sloman: Deadlines are good. I have been very lucky in that people approach me to write stories for them but that comes with the pressure of having to meet your end of the bargain. Part of that pressure is that you want to be known as someone who delivers what you were asked to when you were asked to do it. There will sometimes be extenuating circumstances which may impact this, for example a serious family illness which is sadly something we are currently going through, and at those times you need to be honest with yourself and the publisher as you would with any employer.

I find it harder when not writing to a specific target or open call. Those days you just have to sit yourself down in the chair and write. However, I also think that you need to be kind to yourself. Day jobs tend to be five days a week with two days off yet the mantra is ‘write every day’. There are many writers who achieve writing every day but I also know people who burn out and writing becomes a chore, something they hate as I mentioned earlier, so you need to work out what is right for you while still hitting those deadlines when you have them.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Phil Sloman: Yes but I find myself increasingly time poor nowadays but that is self-inflicted; trying to fit too much into life around the day job. I tend to have several books on the go at once, usually a novel alongside two or three short story collections. I’ve just downloaded Kindle on to my phone which now means I always have a book with me wherever I go. I generally read horror fiction but will pick up books in other genres if recommended to me by friends. I know people say you should expand beyond your genre but there really is a vast diversity in the styles and offerings within horror that I don’t find myself feeling limited by it.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Phil Sloman: I tend to like an anti-hero. Those protagonists who have no redeeming characteristics yet there is this charisma about them which makes you root for them. A great example would be Thomas HarrisHannibal Lecter. You won’t get a much more reprehensible character yet we find ourselves feeling pleased when he escapes the clutches of the authorities. Also books which make you feel a bit grimy reading them. By that, I don’t mean in a sleazy sexual way, more an uncomfortable read due to the personalities of the characters on the page than necessarily their actions. Examples would be things like Joyce Carol OatesZombie, Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet, or Ritual by David Pinner.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Phil Sloman: It depends on the book! If it is a book I love then it is hard to separate that from the movie in so much as I have all these preconceptions of how the characters should act, the way the story HAS to be told and all of that. Sometimes directors do something with the movie which you weren’t expecting and it works fantastically, other times they fail (or at least in the eyes of me as a viewer) and you feel disappointed but I guess that’s all about our interpretations. Recently Mike Flanagan adapted The Haunting of Hill House which is right up there in my top books of all time and I have to say that I think he nailed it, taking the television series in a different direction to the book yet keeping faith with the feel of the original story. Overall though, I think movie adaptations of books are a good thing. They bring these fantastic stories to a wider audience and, one would hope, increase the readership of that book and the author.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Phil Sloman: I think perhaps the question should be when haven’t you killed a main character! I am ticking off characters in my head thinking who have I killed off and who survives and I am pretty sure the dead column is stacked a lot higher than the survivors one. Perhaps there’s a reason I don’t tend to write romance or comedies!

I quite like having the option to kill off characters, it keeps the reader on their toes. There’s a thing for me where if you take that off the table, like in some thriller series where the hero always survives, that you remove the peril from the story as there will always be some plot device providing a miraculous escape.

Meghan : Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Phil Sloman: No, I definitely don’t enjoy making them suffer. Sometimes I am ambivalent towards it. I am usually quite good at compartmentalizing things, recognizing that the words I am putting down on the page are fiction, that no one is actually getting hurt. At other times I find myself slightly nauseous about what I am writing, more so when I am getting in the head of the character, when there is more emotional distress rather than physical harm. Those are the times when I need to close my laptop and walk away for a bit.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Phil Sloman: I once had a talking burger meal as a character in the opening to the story. Burger, fries and onion rings talking, and singing, to the main character in my story Discomfort Food. Effectively they were the beating heart of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the conscience of our protagonist haunting her psyche. I also created some anthropomorphic foxes in my story The Man Who Fed the Foxes who come to help this guy called Paul find his missing wife. Otherwise my characters tend to be broken individuals either fighting against their own personal demons or visiting their demons on others.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Phil Sloman: The best piece of feedback was to trust your readers. If you write well then the story will explain itself. I had a habit of overwriting, just the occasional extra sentence here and there, to make sure the reader was definitely keeping up. Now my writing is tighter and all the better for it.

The worst feedback I had was from a story called Gifts which was rejected by one publisher – it found a home since in The Black Room Manuscripts 3 from the Sinister Horror Company – where the rejecting publisher said the story needed the main characters to be stronger or less flawed which kind of missed the point, for me, of the essence of the story where this marriage had reached breaking point and simply needed a nudge to have it all come crumbling down.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Phil Sloman: Fans are amazing. It’s brilliant to know that people are out there and regularly buying your work and enjoying it. It’s such a fantastic boost. But it’s also really strange to hear the phrase fans in relation to my writing. Like a lot of writers I experience imposter syndrome, that feeling where someone is going to suddenly find out you’ve been getting lucky this whole time and that really you can barely write a shopping list. Having someone come up to me at conventions or online and tell me that they’ve loved something I’ve written is such a boost. It also keeps you honest as a writer in that people are spending their dollar on your words. So you owe it to them to make your work the best it can be.

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Phil Sloman: I think Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. She is such a perfect character even if she is amazingly fractured, if that is the right word. So confident and self-assured at such a young age yet probably as dark as you can get. Layers within layers within layers.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

Phil Sloman: Now that’s a tough question. I’d be tempted to be audacious and do a sequel to Lord of the Rings where evil has found its way back into Middle-Earth again, but I think that path is laden with doom via judgment from fandom and picking your way through the legalities of the Tolkien estate!

There could be quite a good story in exploring the world of I Am Legend, but the style I think would have to be quite different as you couldn’t write about the lone survivor again. Perhaps there’s something about other survivors or more about the evolution of the vampires though I fear I am straying into Walking Dead territory here.

Otherwise, from my own writing, I keep pondering about writing a sequel to Becoming David. There’s definitely potential there but I’d need to have a proper sit down and plot it through.

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

Phil Sloman: I would love to write something with Mark Z. Danielewski. I think House of Leaves is brilliant and I became incredibly obsessed with it when reading the book for the first time a few years back. What would we write about? Not sure, undoubtedly something which would broach on a form of madness, maybe an interconnectivity of a city, or borough, spread across a disparate group of people impacting each other’s lives unwittingly.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Phil Sloman: Great British Horror 4 from Black Shuck Books came out in October. The theme is ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and there is a ridiculous level of talent involved in the anthology; people like Tim Lebbon, Priya Sharma, Mike Carey, Catriona Ward, G.V. Anderson, and others. My story is called Old Women and Knives, which is an old Welsh term for stormy weather, and deals with an old man in the Welsh valleys haunted by his past.

Beyond that, I’m currently outlining a novel about street kids, some of whom go missing for reasons to be revealed, evil conglomerates and corruption. There’s a lot of working out who to trust and the like. This will be my first novel so I’m sure there will be a lot of learning for me along the way.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Phil Sloman: I’m generally on Facebook or Twitter wasting valuable writing time but I have fun so I’m not complaining. I have a blog which I need to really update more often here.

And if anyone fancies buying any of my books then feel free to have a browse at the following big river links: Amazon US ** Amazon UK

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

Phil Sloman: For fans out there, simply thank you for buying what I write and for the kind reviews which are always hugely appreciated. For anyone considering being a writer, don’t wait for permission to be a writer, just go and do it, the clock is ticking so take the opportunity and get some words down. For the rest of you, avoid the perils of coffee creams; that way lies danger!

And finally, thanks again to you, Meghan, for having me over. Some great questions and I hope I’ve done them justice.

Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. He was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society Best Newcomer award in 2017 for his novella Becoming David. His short stories can be found throughout various anthologies and his collection Broken on the Inside has received widespread praise. In the humdrum of everyday life, Phil lives with an understanding wife and a trio of vagrant cats who tolerate their human slaves. There are no bodies buried beneath the patio as far as he is aware. Occasionally Phil can be found lurking here or wasting time on social media – come say hi.

Amazon US ** Amazon UK

Broken on the Inside

Phil Sloman’s BROKEN ON THE INSIDE presents a quintet of macabre mentality in:

Broken on the Inside
Discomfort Food
The Man Who Fed the Foxes
There Was an Old Man
Virtually Famous

Becoming David

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely? A Novella from Hersham Horror Books

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Michael Shotter

Meghan: Hi, Michael. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michael Shotter: Greetings! I’m Michael, I’m from Pittsburgh, and I write books!

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Michael Shotter:

  • Before publishing my first novel, I worked as an IT professional for over twenty years.
  • I’m a formally-trained journalist, with a bachelor’s degree in the subject.
  • I’m a musician, and have played guitar in various capacities for over thirty years.
  • I’m a good cook.
  • I’ve been legally blind since birth.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Michael Shotter: The Little Red Caboose, who I have it on good authority always came last.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Michael Shotter: I do more writing than reading these days but I did recently finish Cured: A Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Michael Shotter: The Glass Flame by Phyllis A. Whitney

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Michael Shotter: I’ve written all sorts of things ever since I’ve been able to do so. Consequently, I don’t know that I ever decided to write as much as I instinctively acted on an inherent desire to express myself creatively.

In terms of making the decision to write professionally, the seeds of that were planted in my early twenties during college. For better or worse, they didn’t really take root until my mid-forties, when a series of life events forced me to reevaluate my future as an IT professional. When the dust cleared, I was a writer.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Michael Shotter: At my computer desk, where I do all my work. I’ve never really explored any alternatives to that, but I’m not against the idea in principle. It’s more an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset at this point.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Michael Shotter: Sometimes, I physically act out scenes, particularly pivotal, dialogue-heavy ones, a few times before writing them. I’ve done some acting and improv, and I find that those skills can at times help me get a better sense of my characters, especially when they need to say and do things I wouldn’t.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Michael Shotter: I used to really struggle with writing anything related to self-promotion. Even though I’m comfortable with that sort of thing now, I’d still say that finding the time to properly and consistently address all the aspects of my writing career is my biggest, ongoing challenge.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Michael Shotter: My novels, The Big Men and 309. I’ve certainly written other things in my life that have given me a sense of satisfaction and pride, but the only things that even approach the relevance of those two books in my mind are the songs I’ve written.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Michael Shotter: Piers Anthony (the Adept series and Incarnations of Immortality), Clive Barker (Cabal), Ben Bova (Orion Among the Stars), Lois McMaster Bujold (Falling Free), Stephen King (the Dark Tower series), and too many others to list.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Michael Shotter: An original or innovative premise, fully realized characters participating in compelling relationships and activities, and the ability to convey those elements via a strong command of the written word.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Michael Shotter: Relatability helps, but it can also be compelling to explore a character that’s opposed to one’s own way of thinking and behaving. For example, I can love a villain in a story if they’re presented in a compelling way.

Personally, I always strive to represent my characters in as complete a way as the story allows, trusting that the reader will inevitably bond with them as a result of the familiarity that creates, regardless of the circumstances of the narrative.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Michael Shotter: Mike Maxwell from 309.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Michael Shotter: Absolutely. I have a design and publication-production background, so I feel I’m particularly sensitive to that sort of thing. I personally design my own book covers, though I do use stock or commissioned imagery as part of those designs when necessary as I’m not an artist, nor am I a particularly-proficient photographer.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Michael Shotter: The importance of self-promotion.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Michael Shotter: In my first novel, The Big Men, there’s a particularly-critical scene fairly early in the book that I’ve always seen as a make-or-break moment in terms of compelling a reader to buy in to the story and its characters for the duration. Without a doubt, it’s the most thoroughly-revisioned, painstakingly-crafted thing I’ve ever written. Thankfully, it fits so seamlessly into the text that surrounds it that I’ve yet to encounter a reader who could successfully identify it without being told where to look.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Michael Shotter: In general, I go out of my way to defy genre conventions. That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally, intentionally lean into an established or expected trope from time to time; however, I do feel confident saying that one of the best attributes of my books is that they don’t readily fit into neat, predictable literary pigeonholes.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Michael Shotter: Titles are very important for attracting new readers. When someone’s not already familiar with your work, you often have little more than your title and your cover art to get their attention in the first place. Once a reader knows and trusts you, I think they become somewhat less vital.

In any case, titles do represent a great opportunity to reinforce or play off of a reader’s expectations, or pique their interest in a variety of ways, particularly when combined with good cover art.

Personally, I like my titles to be fairly literal, while working on at least one additional level that besoms apparent at some point during the story. That can be tricky to pull off but I think I have a fairly solid track record when it comes to titles so far.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Michael Shotter: Writing novels, simply due to the sheer effort required to complete them. The scale is so much bigger, the demands and expectations of readers are so much greater in the case of novels. Having said that, there’s absolutely a wonderful, unique fulfillment in crafting an efficient, compact tale that makes economical use of its words but in my experience, novels give me a bigger thrill.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Michael Shotter: My primary goal as a writer is to surprise and delight my readers. In everything I write, I strive to give them a unique, memorable experience unlike anything else they’ve read. Obviously, that’s a tall order and it’s objectively impossible to write anything that absolutely appeals to everyone, but I do my best.

It’s worth mentioning that my works are generally targeted at adult readers as I don’t shy away from harsh language and mature themes if they serve the story I’m telling. If you’re looking for kid-friendly books, I’m definitely not your guy; however, I do consider myself quite measured and thoughtful when it comes to incorporating unsavory elements into my writing, which many seem to appreciate.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Michael Shotter: For the most part, I have a fairly complete sense of the stories I write before I ever sit down in front of my word processor. As a result, there’s not a lot of fat in my writing process. I’ve certainly tweaked the occasional bit of prose for one reason or another during editing passes but I honestly can’t think of an entire scene or section of a project that I’ve felt compelled to cut after writing it.

That’s certainly not to say that my writing is flawless out of the gate as I’m as big a beneficiary of copious editing as the next scribe; however, I think the degree to which I tend to think about stories and characters prior to my initial drafts goes a long way toward keeping things lean and tidy once the furious typing starts.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Michael Shotter: In the past, I’ve published original music and the occasional video game. Those are both extremely expensive and time consuming endeavors in my experience that I think I’m unlikely to revisit at this point in my life. Still, given the right circumstances, I certainly have a few “dream” music and game development projects in my “trunk” I’d be tempted to pursue.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Michael Shotter: In 2020, I’ll be including that story (and several others) in a new, short-fiction anthology. I’ll be revealing more information about that project shortly after the new year.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Michael Shotter: Blog ** Amazon ** Goodreads ** Twitter

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Michael Shotter: As always, I greatly appreciate the support people have shown for my written works over the past few years. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to establish myself as an author but every time one of you reads and enjoys what I’ve written, it all feels worthwhile.

Also, huge shout out to Meghan’s House of Books for giving me this opportunity. I hope this was a fun and interesting read for everyone!

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.


Paperback ** Kindle ** Google Play ** Apple iBooks

Meet Lisa Hudson, a dedicated journalism student, on a beautiful, spring morning in Pittsburgh that proves to be the last ordinary day of her life.

As she struggles to survive in a new reality, forged from catastrophe, Lisa confronts its mysteries and dangers with the aid of intriguing and unlikely companions.

For her, the world will never be the same. For you, the journey is just beginning.

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

“309” represents his most ambitious effort to date and is sure to thrill fans of both science fiction and high adventure.

The Big Men

Paperback ** Kindle ** Google Play ** Apple iBooks

The pursuit of power is as old as human history. In ancient times and in various cultures, it was believed that a person’s power, indeed their very essence could be literally extracted through a variety of means.

The methods by which this was accomplished were largely lost to the ages or banned and purged from historical records by kings, pharaohs, and the like in efforts to preserve their own power and authority.

Still, the echoes of these ideas and techniques persist. What would happen if a man living in modern society, a descendant of the practitioners of those arts were to inadvertently awaken such an ability and what would be the consequences of that awakening?

“The Big Men” is a paranormal thriller that explores the perceptions, manifestations, and consequences of power as wielded and coveted by men in the modern era. This debut novel by Michael Shotter will keep readers guessing as they are drawn into the world of such men by an outsider capable of taking everything from them.

Academic Displacement

Kindle ** Google Play

In this gripping novelette from the author of “The Big Men” and “309,” witness Roy Carter, a man with everything he ever wanted, confounded by an inexplicable event that completely disrupts his idyllic existence after apparently changing almost nothing about it. Prepare yourself for “Academic Displacement.”

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Rebecca Besser

Meghan: Hi, Rebecca. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books, and thank you for agreeing to take part in our Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rebecca Besser: Hi, I’m Becca. A wife, mother, and author. I write mostly dark fiction, but have been published in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction for all ages (children – adult). I like to read, watch movie, and cook.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Rebecca Besser:

  • I’m a sometimes goat midwife, since my son has a small mini-goat farm.
  • I’m a published photographer.
  • I was homeschooled after 6th grade.
  • I’ve been to Israel twice, and have also visited Rome and Holland (all before I was 16).
  • I snore.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Rebecca Besser: The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Rebecca Besser: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Rebecca Besser: That’s a hard one… I read a large variety of books and genres. I’ll go with The Shack by William P. Young.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write?

Rebecca Besser: I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I won an award for a story when I was in 1st grade. But, I signed up for my writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature after I had a miscarriage. Writing ended up being good therapy for me.

Meghan: When did you begin writing?

Rebecca Besser: Writing for serious? Like trying to get published? About 12 years ago. So, around 2007.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Rebecca Besser: At home, on my laptop. Usually in my living room, on my couch/recliner.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Rebecca Besser: No, not really. I do like it when my house is quiet and I know I won’t be interrupted.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Rebecca Besser: Finding the time to do it. My family is important to me, so I give them a lot of my time.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Rebecca Besser: I’ve written a number of articles for Super Teacher Worksheets. One of those articles was about my husband and his job. Writing that was pretty satisfying, especially knowing that it will help educate children.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

Rebecca Besser: As a writer? I can’t think of any in particular. I love all kinds of books, writing styles, and story-telling formats. You can learn for any book, even a bad one.

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Rebecca Besser: I’ve never tried to pattern my writing story after another writer. Writing style, I believe, is something unique to each and every writer. No two writers can tell the same story, because their insight and style change everything.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Rebecca Besser: A good story needs to be told well, easy to follow for the reader, and be interesting. If you can easily entertain and captivate your reader, your story will be loved regardless of the content/genre.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character?

Rebecca Besser: I need the character to seem as real as possible. I want to forget I’m reading about a fictional person and actually think I’m reading about a real person.

Meghan: How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Rebecca Besser: I try to make my characters seem as real as possible. I want them to have quirks, realistic dialogue, and seem like someone you could walk past on the street at any moment.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Rebecca Besser: Oh, that’s an easy one, since I actually wrote a short story with the main characters based on myself and my husband. The story is entitled, “My Kind of Woman,” and can be found in my zombie short story collection, Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death. I named her Brooke.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover?

Rebecca Besser: Sometimes. But if I find the blurb for the book interesting, I will probably still read it. Some really great books have bad cover. Also, some really bad books have great covers. Covers don’t always represent the book well.

Meghan: To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Rebecca Besser: For my self-published works, I create my own covers using stock art, but sometimes I have an artist do an original cover. Undead Drive-Thru’s covers (both versions) were done by artist, Justin T. Coons. Also, my Nurse Blood novel was inspired by one of his original paintings, which I bought from him and now own. Nurse Blood’s current cover (with Limitless Publishing) is based on some pictures I found on the internet.

Mostly though, I do my own covers.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Rebecca Besser: I’ve learned to create and format book covers, edit, and do eBook and paperback internal formatting. I can do it all because I worked with some small presses years back and learned a lot about indie publishing overall.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Rebecca Besser: In an anthology entitled, Fading Hope: Humanity Unbound, my story, “When Plans Fail,” has a scene that was hard to write. The book was about hopelessness. My story was set in the zombie apocalypse. The characters were a young mother and her infant. The mother was bitten when she attempted to get supplies, mainly food, and she tried to take the baby and find someone to care for it. Unfortunately, she didn’t find anyone before she started to turn. She didn’t want to eat her own child… so she ended the baby’s life so she wouldn’t hurt it and it wouldn’t suffer and starve to death.

That was hard to write, and I imagine it was hard for the reader to read.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Rebecca Besser: I try to stay away from the mainstream norms of the genres. Nurse Blood is an organ harvesting thriller, which isn’t a huge genre. For zombies, I try to do stories with themes I haven’t seen, heard of, or read before. My Zpoc Exception Series (ebooks) is based on characters that are immune to whatever is making people zombies. They get bitten, they get sick for a time, and then they’re fine. Undead Drive-Thru only had one zombie in the entire book. Undead Regeneration, the sequel, has zombies, but not at apocalypse level.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Rebecca Besser: I used to really struggle with titles, but I’ve gotten better. I decided the title needs to have something to do with the book, like I’m summing up the entire book/story in just a few words. That’s incredibly hard. I usually have a few working titles and pick one when the book/story is complete. It really helps if I can take a line or phrase out of the actual work to use as a title, but that rarely happens. You also have to make sure the title actually sounds interesting so you can catch people’s attention. Because, you know, it isn’t hard enough already.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Rebecca Besser: I feel fulfilled if the story is told well. It doesn’t matter the length of the work. Making everything make sense in a way that will engage and grab the reader is fulfilling always, no matter what the work is. I really enjoy when I can make things clever in a way that there’s this huge “Ah-ha!” moment, especially at the end.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Rebecca Besser: Undead Drive-Thru and Undead Regeneration are Scifi zombie books about a man who comes home, turns into a zombie and is protected by his wife—she keeps him as kind of a pet. Things go bad. People get hurt. Things happen and lives are changed.

Nurse Blood is a serial killer organ harvesting thriller. A group of a couple medical professionals, a couple thugs, and a black market dealer kill and part out people for money. That, and they have a warped sense of righteousness, because they’re killing one person to save many lives (depending on how many organs they get from their victim).

Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is a short story collection of various horror stories, from broken humanity to monsters.

Zombies Inside is a short story collection of various zombie short stories I’ve had in anthologies (there’s a brief history of each story after it in the book). That was also has a short story by guest author, Courtney Rene.

Zpoc Exception Series: Re-Civilize series is currently available in eBook only, and is about the few among the many that are immune to whatever is turning people into zombies. Thus far, there are four character books available that start from the outbreak to where they meet. I’ll do a novel series also, with all the characters together after that point, when they’re turned into a team to help re-civilize the world for humanity after the zpoc (zombie apocalypse).

Hall of Twelve is a short story Scifi horror eBook about monster from a different dimension who come to Earth to use humans for food.

Curse Bounty is a short story western zombie story about outlaws that rob a bank. When the sheriff asks for help tracking them down, he’s given help from a zombie bounty hunter.

Heart of a Soldier is a short story YA Scifi story about love, healing, and hope.

My main audience is anywhere from YA to adult. I like to provoke people to think, to ask themselves what they would do in the characters’ situations. At the same time, I want to entertain people.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Rebecca Besser: There’s not usually much I take out. Nurse Blood has a missing flashback for Roger, because the publisher insisted I take down the word count a bit. Otherwise, you usually get it all.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Rebecca Besser: I have idea journals with so many ideas they’re too vast to put here. But, even if they weren’t, I don’t share my unwritten ideas with many people, at least not until I start writing or am at least halfway done.

I was told once to never throw any drafts away, even if things change majorly in the story, because one day you could use those bits or ideas to write something else. I have a bunch of those in a writing folder on my comp somewhere too.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Rebecca Besser: Scary stuff. Stories that are hard to read because they question morality and the reader’s humanity.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Rebecca Besser: I make it easy to find me, since everything has a version of my name.

Website ** Blog ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Rebecca Besser: Thank you for having me on your blog and including me in your event!

Also, thank you to all the readers that love my work—you inspire me when things get hard.

Rebecca Besser is the author of Nurse Blood. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization. She has been published hundreds of times in magazines, ezines, anthologies, educational books, on blogs, and more in the areas of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for a variety of age groups and genres. Her nonfiction article on skydiving was picked up by McGraw-Hill for NY Assessments. One of her poems for children was chosen for an early reader book from Oxford University Press (India). Her short story, P.C., was included in Anything But Zombies! published by Atria Books (digital imprint of Simon & Schuster).

Rebecca’s main focus has been on horror works for adults. She writes zombie works, suspenseful thrillers, and other dark fiction related to the horror genre/community. She has also edited multiple books in these genres.

Amazon Author Page