Inkshares Interview – Prescott Harvey & In Beta

When two friends realize they’re NPCs in a video game,  they hack reality to make their lives awesome and wind up targeted for deletion.

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Prescott Harvey’s IN BETA is one of my favorite books currently funding on Inkshares. Harvey’s the author of The World of Warcraft’s Guide to Winning at Life, and creator of the viral video/open letter telling JJ Abrams how to make Star Wars great again, which Abrams incorporated into The Force Awakens. All in all Harvey sounds like a pretty cool dude, and I’m digging what I’ve read of IN BETA.

Elon Musk thinks we’re living inside a video game, and this novel is primed to run with that notion and then some. This is an awesome high concept paired with a brilliant proven quantity in Prescott Harvey — dude, sign me up as an IN BETA-tester! – Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of ROBOPOCALYPSE

Who is Prescott Harvey and what’s IN BETA all about?

I tend to think about my life like this: My 20’s were about expanding my universe, and my 30’s are about shrinking it back down.

My 20s were for adventure. Traveling abroad, trips to Burning Man, living a feral existence out in the woods, sailing the Pacific Coast. Etc.

Now, in my 30s, it’s about living in a neighborhood, biking to work, getting to know a community, giving back, establishing roots. It’s about depth over breadth.

So that’s a narrow overview of me. IN BETA is a book about two lazy high schoolers who realize they live inside a simulated reality. Instead of trying to escape, they hack reality to make their lives awesome. And then they get targeted for deletion by a systems admin.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

It’s been years in the making. I don’t say that to imply that it’s some sort of masterpiece; more that it’s been a very difficult story to develop.

I’m a fan of bad movies, and a friend recommended I watch “The Miami Connection.” I did, and was blown away. The movie is not nearly as good / bad as the trailer makes it seem, but it’s still amazing how quintessentially 80’s the movie manages to be. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of friends who are in a rock and roll band, and they’re also all blackbelts in karate, and of course an evil ninja clan threatens one of their girlfriends. It has kung fu, (surprisingly good) music, machine guns, motorcycles… basically, everything you’d want in an 80’s movie. And I started thinking “God, wouldn’t it be amazing to push this even further?”

So I started by researching all my favorite 80’s cliches. From lightsabers, to time machines, to hoverboards, to Nazi’s, to rock and roll, to video games. Even cliche 80’s phrases like “lock and load”, “let’s roll”, “let’s ride” etc. I don’t even remember what was on the list, but it was long. The working title was “Awesome Movie.” (and yes, it was originally going to be a movie).

But I needed some sort of device to tie it all together and make it work. How can you effectively have every awesome thing in a story, without it all falling apart? The device I came up with was a magical VHS tape that got struck by lightning to release a Jumanji-style 80’s experience. But even that was still a little too loosey goosey, and I was having a hard time staying invested in the story. Which, when you’re whole premise is one schlocky joke, that’s of course going to be an issue.

Around this point, the trailer for Kung Fury came out. Not only did it beat me to the punch, but it did an awesome job of it. And then Lego Movie came out, and I started realizing I wasn’t the only one pondering a ‘more-is-more’ approach, where everything and the kitchen sink could be refreshing and fun.

Long story short, I got to rethinking my premise. I finally struck upon a device I enjoyed (The Matrix as a comedy) that allowed me to do the things I wanted, but could still ground the characters and give them depth. I personally am already starting to tire of the “more is more” approach. And if I am, I’m willing to bet others are, too.

So I started thinking that if I wrote it as a book, I’d get to spend more time with the characters, not focus as much on gags, and could explore interesting existential tangents without sticking so purely to genre conventions like a movie would require me to do. A book sounded more and more appealing, and here we are.

Why Inkshares?

I’d been aware of Inkshares for a bit. I even had a different novel that I was planning to crowd fund, maybe next year. Then they announced their videogame competition with Nerdist, and suddenly it was (to quote another 80’s cliche) “go time.”

What books have captured your attention lately?

I’m going to be honest, at the risk of alienating people. I don’t read a lot of new books. I mean “new” in the sense of recently published, and also just books that I am unfamiliar with.

When I tell colleagues and coworkers this, they always look at me like I’m some elitist snob. Which, you know, I hope I’m not, but I’ve heard the accusation enough (mostly from my wife) that I’m willing to consider the possibility.

Here’s my rationale:

Reading books takes time. Just like watching a movie or a TV show (which I’m also careful about). When I do venture out and read a new book, I am nine times out of ten disappointed. It’s probably because I’m older now, and have less free time, but I have no stomach for mediocrity in storytelling. I have my selection of favorite books. When I re-read them, they move me. I laugh. I cry. I put them down and regard life. There is so much in each of them, so much to be gained on every re-read, it saddens me to think I will probably only read them a dozen times before I die.

Here are some of the books on this list: Lord of the Rings, Sometimes A Great Notion, Watership Down, Confederacy of Dunces, Wind in the Willows.

I just finished The Once and Future King for the second time, and it’s going on the list. I’m about to start The Fountainhead for the 3rd time.

Now there is a tremendous and obvious downside to only rereading your favorite books, and that is you don’t get exposed to new things. I’m very aware of this, and try to rectify it as best I can. I do take recommendations from trusted sources. Two years ago I read House of Leaves on a friend’s recommendation, and absolutely loved it.

But yeah, I’m actively working to not be such a snob.

Who are your greatest influences?

The Simpsons, Michael Crichton, Ken Kesey, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A random list I know. For better or worse The Simpsons have shaped my sense of humor. I started watching in 2nd grade. Now I can trace the rhythm and meter of my every joke back to a classic Simpsons line.

Michael Crichton because, as a kid, I read him more than anyone else. I still study his books to find how he keeps his readers hooked. Other authors (Stephen King) are arguably better writers, and I enjoy King, but I love that Crichton re-inventing and re-popularized the victorian adventure novel. Genius.

Ken Kesey nailed (perhaps formed?) my worldview. Especially in Sometimes A Great Notion, his melancholy world tinged with awe and beauty, and the mixture of defiance and despair his character’s grapple with… he more than anyone is responsible for showing me the themes I want to explore.

And lastly: Beauty and the Beast. A good friend once tried to tell me that Jame Cameron’s AVATAR was the pinnacle of human artistic achievement. What, he argued, was more aesthetically amazing than that movie? The Mona Lisa? The Sistine Chapel? I thought for a moment and then responded BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. With the exception of one gratuitous and superfluous song (“Be Our Guest”), this movie is the pinnacle of storytelling. Every story beat has a purpose, serves multiple functions, and flows together beautifully. And while the orchestral score is not as iconic as other movies, I would challenge anyone to find a score that better serves its purpose.

What’s next for you as a writer?

Get better!

I’m lucky enough to write for a living, working as an advertising copywriter. Writing in different brand voices, writing headlines with only have 3 – 5 words… this has helped me immensely. My goal, for the rest of my life, is to continually get better. I want to be a great writer. There. I said it. Gauntlet thrown.

But that’s not a very tangible goal, so: There’s a book after IN BETA. It’s not as lighthearted or “fun” as IN BETA. It’s a Crichton-esque book that (hopefully) has a little more depth. It’s a Western that takes place in the last remaining slice of American wilderness, and it’s inspired by “Heart of Darkness.” And that’s all I’ll say.

You can read a sample & pre-order IN BETA on Inkshares.

Inkshares Interview – Rick Heinz & The Seventh Age: Dawn

As part of the campaign for WRESTLETOWN I’m featuring weekly interviews with other Inkshares authors whose work I think you might enjoy. First up – Rick Heinz & THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN.

Before the age of reason and science, magic ruled the world. Now, it’s coming back and if most of humanity gets wiped out in the process….well, sometimes you have to break a few eggs.

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THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN has already been successfully funded through Inkshares (though you can still pre-order), hitting the stands this November. It also received a great mention from Publishers Weekly yesterday.

Who is Rick Heinz and what’s THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN all about?

Rick Heinz is just some bloke with an overactive imagination who sleeps a lot despite drinking copious amounts of coffee. By day, I’m a electrician who crawls around in the bowels of Chicago, but by night: I’m a hardcore storyteller and gamer. Constantly with my nose in some book or running an event.

The Seventh Age is my first novel. Set in the modern age, it follows a global conspiracy as heretics work in the shadows to tear down the barrier that keeps humanity ignorant of demons, forgotten myths, and magic.

Inspired by works such as Neverwhere and American Gods. This tale explores the ramifications of ancient creatures waging war in the shadows – and specifically, what happens when that war spreads into public view.

A world of moral grey areas, ancient myths, and Illuminati-style conspiracy with powerful beings who blithely step into the most mundane circumstances of everyday life. Where your favorite street-taco vendor could at any moment have his sales interrupted by a scuttling imp, and where being a multi-century-old warlock with a grand agenda doesn’t help you file building permits.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

Ever crawl through hidden railways under Chicago? Since I work in construction I’ve come to learn that all cities have – hidden just out of sight – an amazing labyrinth of architecture that has a story. For a decade I’ve been crafting the setting of The Seventh Age by studying secret societies and urban legends. The more time I spent wandering around near-empty buildings at 4 A.M. the more inspired I got.

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Why Inkshares?

So… it’s 9 A.M. and I’m trying to avoid the giant flaming ball of death that sits in our sky by hiding within my air-conditioned sanctuary. My wife sends me a text message telling me I should enter this contest with The Nerdist that’s hosted on Inkshares. She found out about it by listening to the podcast. So, I entered. Out of 300+ entries I ended up in the top 5 after a grueling contest. Since that time the platform has grown on me, but my entry into picking Inkshares was really random.

What books have captured your attention lately?

I’ve got two actually. One is Scorch: A graphic novel by Ashley Witter. It’s about a demon living an immortal life as a young teen in suburban America. To keep this, she’s gotta cough up 10,000 souls as payment. Plus interest. It comes to print in July and I backed the kickstarter for it.

The other is Scott Kenemore’s zombie collection. I mean collection as well. I just found out about all these things: The code of the Zombie Pirate, Zombies vs Nazis, the Zen of Zombie (Even) better living through the undead. So on and so forth.

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Who are your greatest influences?

In the writing world, Chuck Wendig, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Jordan. Writers who have influenced many, for we all stand on the shoulders of giants. In life however, there are countless historical figures that I draw inspiration from. I’m extremely politically active and particular time periods in history like the Chicago riots or the Pullman Strike are things I draw a lot from. For the past decade, I’ve been engrossed into biographies of Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison.

What’s next for you as a writer?

Seventh Age: Dystopia the sequel is what’s next. I’ll be sticking with Inkshares as a platform. They have a lot of fantastic ideas and a great direction planned ahead. All I need to do is tackle a few taco-vendors, stock up on some crappy coffee, and then chain myself to a desk next month to start writing.

Which probably won’t happen because The Seventh Age: Dawn comes out on November 1st and I’m going to end up pacing in circles as reviews come in. But after that for sure. Start the next book. Always. Keep. Writing.

You can read a sample & pre-order THE SEVENTH AGE: DAWN on Inkshares.

Wrestletown is Go!

Wrestletown is go!

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*Placeholder cover by Andrew MacLean (2011)*

Officially announcing the launch of my debut novel, WRESTLETOWN, on Inkshares! WRESTLETOWN is an illustrated novel featuring cover and 10-15 illustrations by the incredible Andrew MacLean (Head Lopper, Image Comics).

Inkshares is a publisher that functions similar to Kickstarter (crowdfunded) except it is by copy and not dollar amount (therefore pursuing a goal of reaching readers and avoiding vanity press issues, etc). My local bookshop, Papercuts J.P., published their debut anthology with them, and I’ve been very impressed with the quality of books I’ve seen them put out. Wrestletown is a success at 250 copies (POD) pre-ordered, upgrading to an offset printing at 750 copies. Inkshares provides editing, marketing and distribution (functioning like any other publisher). The campaign runs through October 30th, with publication in 2017.

You can read the first five chapters of WRESTLETOWN on Inkshares, and each week I’ll be sending out updates to backers on inspiration and story. An official cover reveal is set for late July/early August with interior illustrations to follow.

I hope you’ll give the book a shot and consider supporting the campaign. WRESTLETOWN is my favorite work to date and the most fun I’ve had writing.

Let’s kick this pig!

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Safe Inside the Violence nominated for an Anthony Award

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In a bit of belated blogging news…SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE has been nominated for an Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection! Couldn’t be more thrilled, humbled and honored to see it listed alongside such a fantastic line up of nominees – especially Protectors 2, which features my short story, “Snapshots.”

BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
Safe Inside the Violence – Christopher Irvin [280 Steps]
Protectors 2: Heroes-Stories to Benefit PROTECT – Thomas Pluck, editor [Goombah Gumbo]
Thuglit Presents: Cruel Yule: Holiday Tales of Crime for People on the Naughty List – Todd Robinson, editor [CreateSpace]
Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015 – Art Taylor, editor [Down & Out]
Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds – Kenneth Wishnia, editor [PM]

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Check out Bouchercon 2016 for the full list of Awards.

Art Taylor quickly pulled us together last week for a little chat on short fiction. Check it out at SleuthSayers and give these books a look!

SS

 

See you in New Orleans!

CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS with Jen Conley

I’ve gotten to know Jen Conley over the past few years through conventions and working alongside her at Shotgun Honey, and as a big fan of her work, I’m very excited to see her debut collection, CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS, hitting shelves this May. It was a pleasure catching up with Jen and discussing the book. Check out the pre-order via the stellar cover image below.

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Chris: You are well known in the short crime fiction world, but for those who don’t know, who is Jen Conley and what’s CANNIBALS all about?

Jen: I write crime fiction, usually peppered with a bit of horror. Most of my fiction takes place in the Ocean County area of New Jersey, where I grew up and still live. For a few years I’ve been one of the editors of Shotgun Honey, a flash fiction site that publishes crime fiction. In my other life, I have a fourteen-year-old son and I teach seventh grade Literacy, otherwise known as English.

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Chris: Many of your stories are set in or around the Pine Barrens. I don’t know too much about New Jersey and its geography, but I found this setting to be fascinating. Can you talk a bit about it? What draws you to it? What does it mean to you?

Jen: The Pine Barrens is a large region of forested land in central and southern New Jersey. Because of the sandy soil, or “sugar sand”, it wasn’t great for farming so it’s been pretty much been left undisturbed. It became protected land in 1978 under the Pinelands National Reserve, which also protects the watershed areas. (Although, sadly, a gas line was just approved to run through part of it.) Anyhow, in the 1700s and 1800s, there was some industry–sawmills and iron–but it was a difficult place to live, so towns would pop up and go abandoned. Today, it’s the largest body of protected area in the mid-Atlantic states. The trees are scrub pines, which are pygmy pines, and that, with the sugar sand and the lack of development, give the area a ghostly, desolate feel. Especially at night, when you can hear all sorts of wildlife–several types of frogs, toads, insects, owls. It’s really a great place to visit, just bring your bug spray. The mosquitoes and pine flies, especially the pine flies, are downright relentless. Those things hurt.

I guess I’m drawn to it because of the spookiness–lots of “ghost” towns of abandoned settlements. This area used to have a pretty strong iron industry until it moved to western Pennsylvania, so, like I said, it’s pretty desolate. I’m also attracted to the drabness, too, because it’s not pretty forest at all, but it makes for a wonderful setting for crime fiction. The people who live in this area are usually not wealthy, it’s pretty middle class and working-class, and for someone who likes to write about ghosts and working-class people, it’s perfect for me. Plus, it’s where I grew up, so I tend to be sentimental even if it doesn’t come completely across in my stories.

Oh, one more thing–the famous Sopranos episode, “The Pine Barrens,” that wasn’t filmed in the Pine Barrens. It was filmed in upstate New York. It’s a fantastic episode but the first time I saw it, I was really pissed. I could tell it wasn’t filmed in the Pinelands because the trees were wrong, and when the camera panned out, there were large hills in the background. There are no large hills in the Pine Barrens. It’s mostly flat.

Chris: Your stories featuring your character Officer Vogel are some of my favorites. In the past we’ve talked about you doing more with her. Any plans?

Jen: I’d like to because I love her character but I don’t have any definite plans yet. She’s a very reticent person, compassionate on the inside, but cold and tough on the outside. It’s a good mix for a character of a crime novel but I need a plot and I haven’t wrapped my head around an idea yet. I’m working on it.

Chris: I love how you tackle trust/mistrust in your stories featuring Vogel, and even more so in “Pipe” and “June.” What draws you to these stories?

Jen: I’m a big fan the theme of betrayal. I guess that’s why I love The Godfather I and II, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos. Even my all-time favorite, Mad Men, works on this theme because Don Draper spends his entire adult life betraying himself.

But in both “Pipe” and “June,” we’re dealing with kids, kids who are betrayed by adults. There is another level of tragedy in that and I think it breaks my heart–I like to write stories that break my heart on some level, even if I’m ending it on an upswing. I also like writing about kids but I’m aware that creating sympathy for them is an easy gig, because everyone feels bad for a kid in trouble. So I have to tone down my kid story ideas, not write so many.

Chris: Talk about the process of forming the collection, the selection of stories, etc. Any must-haves? Anything not make the cut?

Jen: It took me a long time to put a collection together. I tried before but I found I was writing stories to fill the collection and they weren’t all up to par, so it’s almost as if I had to wait until they all came to me. Until I was happy with each and every single one.

As for selecting stories, I wanted to pick the stories that actually took place in the area I was writing about. I have stories that take place in London, in New York City too, and those didn’t make the cut because they didn’t take place in Ocean County, NJ, which is part of the collection’s signature. In addition, some of my Pine Barrens stories didn’t make the cut because their themes were too close to something I’d already chosen.

I also made a point to bookend the collection with two stories: “Home Invasion” and “Angels.” In my first story, “Home Invasion,” the main character is haunted by a devil. In the last story, “Angels,” the main character is haunted by angels. So those two were definite picks. I suppose I was going for the classic ying/yang idea.

Chris: “Pipe” might be my favorite of the collection. How did this story come about?

Jen: Back when I was in high school, there was a small skinny kid who was bullied by some of the older boys. One of the older boys told the kid he was going to beat the shit out of him the following day. So the kid came to school with a pipe and hid out in the bathroom. I think he was caught before anything went down. I don’t remember much else about the incident, none of the names, etc., which is good because then I could write the story as fiction. Yes, there was a movie from ‘87 called “Three O’Clock High” with a similar premise, but that was comedy, and bad comedy at that because it wasn’t a good film. The real story from my school was very sad, and this sad, desperate image of going to school with a pipe to defend yourself against boys who were the size of fully-grown men just hung out in my head for years.

Chris: “Home Invasion” is another favorite, in which I get a strong “A Good Man is Hard to Find” vibe. Who/what do you see as your influences?

Jen: Definitely Flannery O’Connor. That has to be one of the best stories ever written, by the way.

I’m a big fan of the short stories by Annie Proulx. I also love the short stories by Edward P. Jones and Ron Rash. I think those three writers are my biggest influences, none of which are actually “crime” but there’s a sense of place and people who struggle constantly, which is what crime fiction should encompass, or at least, I think so.

But as for writers, or collections of stories that made an impression on me when I was young, I’d have to say the stories by Langston Hughes. One of my college professors had us read them and I remember I enjoyed the tales everyday people just trying to get by but more so, I was influenced by his style. His characters jump off the page, as do his descriptions. But his descriptions aren’t overblown, just very simple. One sentence and you can see everything. That’s what I like.

One collection that has stayed with me over the years is Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. She’s a beautiful writer but boy, does she hit you in the gut and that collection is relentless. I haven’t read everything she’s written although I read Veronica a few years ago. It’s gorgeously written (and I took some notes on her style) but that book depressed me for weeks. Hell, I think it stayed on my mind for almost a year. There are so many painfully beautiful images on those pages that to this day are forever planted in my brain. But the bottom line is that I was bugged out by that book. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe I’m just impressed by her power and as a writer, that’s a bar I’d like to reach.

One other thing–although I love my mob movies and TV shows, I’m not a fan of too much blood. I like stories about people’s lives, about what’s going on inside and around them, about how they got to the violence. Not so much the violence itself.

Chris: How has your work with Shotgun Honey influenced your writing?

Jen: I think so. Not everything that comes through the submissions process is successful and I think that’s what really hits home with me–sometimes I’ll read a story and start reworking it in my head and then I realize I can’t do that for every writer. What Shotgun Honey has also taught me is draw it tight. One or two scenes, one to three characters, one problem. And because we only accept 700 words per story, it’s very, very important to make sure every single word counts. Leave out the backstory–and I love backstory– but you can’t do that in flash. So your backstory has to be a sentence or two and then your character in action has to show the rest.

Chris: Any plans for a book launch or readings around release this year?

Jen: June 3rd, I’m having a book event at Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. Hopefully I’ll have more events. I’m new at this promotional stuff.

Chris: What’s next?

Jen: I’ve decided to take a break from short stories. They’re my great love but I’m never going to get anywhere if I just write short stories. So I’m working on a thriller/horror book. It’s about a woman who gets involved with a bad guy–I know that’s vague–but she’s in transitional point in her life, she’s restless and also desperate to have a family, and he’s good-looking, cool, and all that good stuff. It’s got a horror touch so there’s more to it but I guess I’m going for a thread of reality–what happens when you land a guy who seems perfect for you, accepts you as you are (my main character has some horrible scars from a dog attack) but as the relationship evolves, he becomes darker, almost abusive, then abusive, and you have come to the realization that you have extricate yourself from it all. Of course, it takes place in Ocean County and I’ve got the “first draft” written but I’m in the process of slowly and methodically going through each chapter, rearranging, cutting, expanding, rewriting. My writing MO is this: blow through the first draft, then go back and do the “decorating” as I like to call it. This method works for me only because of computers–you never really have to write new drafts, do you? You just improve on the first. I have no idea how anyone wrote in the old days, before computers, before you could cut and paste and then cut and rewrite… what a pain in the neck.

Thanks for having me Chris! It’s been a lot of fun.