Indie Zone: Talking with Nicole Jones-Dion


Profile picture of Nicole Jones-DionNicole Jones-Dion is an LA-based writer/director who specializes in genre films. She is currently in pre-production on a YA fantasy that begins shooting this spring. Her first feature film, a YA sci-fi called STASIS, was from one of the executive producers of CLOUD ATLAS. Her writing credits include THEY FOUND HELL for the SyFy Channel; DRACULA: THE DARK PRINCE starring Academy Award-winner Jon Voight, which was distributed by Lionsgate; and TEKKEN 2, based on the best-selling series of video games. She also has several projects in development with her mentor, Sean Cunningham (creator of FRIDAY THE 13TH).

I met Nicole during Women in Horror Month, at the official WiHM website. Timing didn’t allow for an interview to take place during that month, but we decided not to let that get in the way. Nicole’s graciously agreed to answer a few questions about working in the film industry, her CV, etc.


Talking with Nicole Jones-Dion


S&S: How old were you when you realized that working with film is what you wanted to do?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was a kid, I used to write and perform little neighborhood plays and puppet shows, and when I growing up in Germany, I was part of a travelling performance group that went around to different military bases entertaining the troops. I quickly realized I wasn’t the world’s best singer or actor so I focused on my strengths working behind the scenes instead.

Even making the transition to film took a while… I moved to LA to work in video games and I’d written a few spec video game scripts that a friend told me would be better as movies. I’d say I was probably 26-27 when that happened. The person who I really credit with getting me into screenwriting is Iris Yamashita (who was later nominated for an Oscar for LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA).  We were both working for a software company at the time and we would meet up every day at lunch to work on our scripts.


S&S: Now that you’ve got several credits under your belt, is there anything about working in the industry that you never expected?

Nicole Jones-Dion: There is a certain mystique about the film industry but at the end of the day, it’s a job. For the most part, the industry is full of normal people living normal lives – paying bills, getting their oil changed, shopping for groceries — doing all the things the rest of the world does. They just happen to have a really, cool, fun creative job that they love.

I think most newbie screenwriters envision producers as these Scrooge McDuck type-caricatures sitting in their giant money vaults but that’s not the case at all (at least not with the producers I’ve worked with. If you know any of those money-vault guys, send them my way!). Producers are some of the hardest-working people I know, busy juggling multiple projects in multiple stages of development at any given time. They’re always hustling, always working a deal. Love them or hate them, producers are the gears that keep this town moving.


S&S: Is writing for films just a stepping stone to eventual pure directing or producing for you? Or is writing where you’re happy?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I’ve actually doing a lot of soul-searching about this lately… writing is my first love. I live and breathe it. But unless you’re a novelist, a screenplay is not the end product – the film is. I know so many writers who are sitting on a great big pile of unproduced scripts that will never see the light of day, and that can be really disheartening. Or if you are fortunate enough to sell a script… only to have it completely rewritten by the producer and director it goes into production, so the finished film is just a pale specter of what you had envisioned. How do you change this? You decide to make these films yourself.

Making that transition from writer to writer-director and writer-producer has been eye-opening. Now those scripts that I used to think were “good enough” are total crap. You look at each scene differently —  it has to earn the right to be in the finished film. Is there tension, is there drama, is it moving the story forward? If not, it’s gone. Same thing with all those characters – do we really need all these speaking roles? Can some lines be cut or can certain background characters be combined to save costs? Locations and set pieces go through this same process. Looking at a script through the director’s or producer’s perspective instead of the writer’s definitely changes things.

So far, I enjoy directing. It’s an extension of storytelling, but using moving pictures instead of words. It’s like learning a new language, but I like the challenge. I still have a way to go before I’m as comfortable directing as I am writing but that’s OK, it’s part of the journey. Producing feels more like “work,” but if you want ultimate control over the end result, producing is the way to go.

S&S: You’ve got 5 credits as director, 6 as producer, and 12 as a writer.  There’s a lot of overlap, especially in your shorts, so I was wondering if you could answer a basic question for us: What is the difference between directing and producing, in your experience?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I think in general, the director comes up with the creative vision for the film and the producer acquires the resources to make that happen. So while the director gets to do stuff like building outlook books and watching movies and TV shows for visual references, the producer is responsible for raising money, hiring the crew, negotiating contracts, and getting insurance. They are vastly different jobs. Some producers do get involved in the creative process as well, but usually in the development stage. Once production starts, they are busy putting out fires so the director can stay focused on making the day.


S&S: When serving solely as a writer (as you did on Dracula: The Dark Prince), how much interaction do you have with the movie as a whole? When does your job on the movie officially end?

Nicole Jones-Dion: Dracula was interesting because it was shot in Romania but because the budget couldn’t afford me to fly out there, I was still in LA. We would have meetings at midnight my time where the producer would give me script changes that would need to be ready for the next day’s shooting schedule. So I was essentially working on Romanian time. Even after the film was shot, I was brought on to write new lines of dialogue for ADR. So even though I wasn’t physically present, I was involved all the way through post-production.


S&S: You have a preference for thrillers, and a lot of those thrillers have a technological bent to them. What draws you towards delving into the ways that technology can be used against us?

Nicole Jones-Dion:  My preference leans toward what I call “hidden realities.” These can be expressed in a number of ways, from ghosts and demons to secret societies and government conspiracies. I like to draw back the curtain, so to speak, to expose a little piece of the many possible worlds that overlap our own. Technology does it in a more seductive way… by hiding in plain sight. The Netflix show BLACK MIRROR does a fantastic job of shining the light on the myriad of dangers that our dependence on technology creates. It’s such an excellent show, so disturbing but incredibly thought-provoking. One of my new favorites, for sure.


S&S: On average, how long does it take you to see one of your shorts through to release?

Nicole Jones-Dion: People underestimate how much time it takes to make a short. I guess if I was just shooting something on my iPhone, cutting it together myself and using stock music, I could whip something up in a week or so (heck, as the 48-Hour Film Challenge has proven you can make a short in 2 days). But since I never went to film school, my goal with my shorts was to gain as much experience of what a “real” film production is like as possible. So I wanted to go through each step of the process and glean as much from it as possible. From fundraising (2-4 weeks), pre-production (another 2-4 weeks), filming (1-3 days), editing (4-8 weeks), sound, color correction, music, VFX… it all adds up. Especially when you’re calling in favors and people are helping on the side. I think for our 15 minute shorts, they each took about 6-9 months. DEATHDATE is unfortunately taking a bit longer because I shot my feature STASIS in the middle of it, but we’re hoping to wrap it up soon.


S&S: On several of the movies you’ve worked as a writer on, the main character has been male. Is it hard writing characters of the opposite sex? Have you ever had anyone check you about something that didn’t seem quite right?

Nicole Jones-Dion: No, and that’s an interesting question because I see the reverse happen all the time (male writers totally misrepresenting female characters). I think it might be easier for women to write men because all our lives, we’ve been inundated with male-dominated stories. We know those characters because we’ve seen them a million times.  I can’t tell you how many times a reader has read one of my scripts then went back to check the title page because they didn’t believe it was written by a woman. I take it as a complement, but it’s also sad that the general consensus is that women can’t write horror or sci-fi and should stick with more traditionally “female” genres like character dramas and rom-coms.


S&S: Alright, now for an obvious question: Do you feel like being a woman has helped or hampered you in any way during the course of your career?

Nicole Jones-Dion:  Ask me again in a few years, LOL. As a writer, I feel that the words on the page are gender-neutral – either you can write or you can’t. As a director, it’s a bit different because you’re not only judged on the end result of the film but also by also your cast and crew while you’re on set. You have to manage a team of people and make decisions in real-time, often under incredible pressure and impossible deadlines. I think working in management in corporate America helped prepare me in that capacity, but there is still an undercurrent of gender bias in the film industry. Luckily more attention is being paid to the problem now and there are programs in place to try to correct the imbalance, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ll see how it all works out in the long run.


S&S: As a director: Practical effects or CGI? We know a lot of that depends on budget, but what’s your natural instinct?

Nicole Jones-Dion: My first choice is always practical. In the low-budget space, I think nothing takes you out of a film faster than bad CGI. There are certain things you just can’t accomplish without it, but I try to keep it to a minimum. I would rather err on the side of subtlety than shoot for the moon and end up looking cheesy.

S&S: What is one of the most frustrating things about working on a film for you? (IN general, or pick a specific capacity.)

Nicole Jones-Dion: Film is a collaborative medium. When you surround yourself with great people and everyone is on the same page working toward the same goal, it’s like a glorious symphony. But on every production, it seems like there’s always that one person who is out of tune with everyone else. When you’re an introvert (like me) dealing with people issues is the most annoying part. I’ve had other directors tell me that when they’re on set, they actually spend very little time directing and most of their time babysitting. It’s crazy-making.

S&S: Tell us a bit about Stasis, your upcoming movie, if you can? IMDB is not very helpful at the moment!

Nicole Jones-Dion: The producers are being pretty secretive, but I found this synopsis elsewhere online so I think it’s safe to share: “After a night out of partying and left behind by her friends, Ava wakes up and sneaks back home only to find that she’s already safe in bed. But that’s not Ava… it’s someone who looks just like her. A time-traveling fugitive has stolen Ava’s body, her identity, and her life. What’s more — she’s not alone. There are others, hiding in the past, secretly living among us, plotting to alter the future. Without her body, Ava is a virtual ghost, silent and invisible to the world. And, as far as she knows, she’s the only one who can stop them and put the timeline back on course.”

As for the film itself, it’s been picked up for US distribution by XLrator Media. I don’t have any release info yet, though, sorry…

S&S: They Found Hell, your 2015 adventure/fantasy/horror movie, was made for TV. What’s the difference made-for-tv and a regular film? Are there any considerations apart from budget?

Nicole Jones-Dion: Huge. The structure is completely different. Instead of 3 Acts, there are 8 to allow for commercial breaks. Each Act has to end on a cliffhanger to entice the viewer to come back after the break. There’s hardly any time for character development up-front, you have to grab the audience by the throat in the opening scene and never let go. But the biggest difference is also turnaround time. For THEY FOUND HELL, I only had 2 weeks to write the first draft of the script. It was tough but a fun challenge.


S&S: What piece of work are you most proud of so far? Why that one particularly?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I will always have a soft spot for DEBRIS because it was my first solo project as a writer/director. And I just love the visuals and the subject matter (It’s about a cursed samurai sword that washes ashore a California beach in the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami). Hopefully someday I’ll be able to work on the feature version of that story. STASIS will also be special because it was my first feature. I’ve learned something new from each of my films so hopefully my best work is still yet to come.


S&S: How do you sell your script?

Nicole Jones-Dion: I wish I knew the answer to that but I haven’t actually sold one yet! All of my produced credits were all written on assignment. This is the reality of working as a professional screenwriter – 90% of the jobs out there involve writing (or rewriting) someone else’s ideas. If you don’t like the sound of that, then it’s time to put your producer hat on and make your own films.

That’s not to say a spec script is completely useless. Having a killer spec is your calling card. You will need a strong writing sample to get your foot in the door with producers, to win contests, to give you credibility – in short, to prove you can actually write. If you’re lucky, your spec might even get produced but think of that as the secondary goal, not the primary one.

Blog Tour for The War of the Usurper: Interview with Elí Freysson

Banner for War of the Usurper by Eli Freysson

Elí’s Biography: I was born in Akureyri in northern Iceland in 1982. Aside from a brief spell spent in Norway in my very early childhood I have spent my whole life here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum in my teens, which explains a whole lot and makes me just eccentric enough to be a writer.

I graduated high school in 2004, after which I dove into my first attempt at a proper fantasy novel. I finished the first draft a year later, but it took me until 2011 to get it published. I followed with a book a year for the next four years, before deciding to move into the English-language market. I translated three of my fantasy novels into English and self-published on Amazon, and then started writing original material in English. And here we are.

Talking with Elí Freysson

S&S: When did you start writing?

Elí Freysson: I toyed with writing a bit in my teens, but never really finished anything. I got serious about the whole thing just after graduating college in 2004.

S&S: Where’d the name for your book come from?

Elí Freysson: “The War of the Usurper” is the central conflict of the story. The culture the novel focuses on is quite fond of dramatic titles, personal honour and forging events into legends. So just at the dawn of the war the man who murdered the king and seized the throne is titled “The Usurper” and it sticks to him to such a degree that it effectively becomes his name.

S&S: What book got you hooked on reading?

Elí Freysson: I can’t point to any one work of fiction that really got me reading. As a kid, I was a bookworm since the day I could read. European comic books like Lucky Luke, Asterix and Spirou, were big favourites early on, and when I moved to prose I started out with pulpy stuff like Tarzan and Morgan Kane. But I can safely point to The Lord of the Rings as sparking my interest in fantasy.

S&S: Did the story of  The War of the Usurper make its way into your dreams while you were writing it?

Eli Freysson: Boy, I wish my dreams were that interesting. No, I’m afraid I only get confused nonsense. As a writer, I can’t say I approve of all those internal inconsistencies and plot holes. 🙂

S&S: What’s your current favorite book?

Elí Freysson: It’s always hard for me to pick a favourite anything, but what’s fresh in my memory right now is Alexis Hall’s Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator series. I have to admire the way it manages to use many of the tropes that annoy me so much about the urban fantasy genre and still be entertaining… in part by skewering quite a lot of them. I also recently read and quite enjoyed Tim Lebbon’s Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void (two colons, how about that?), for the interesting take on the very early precursors to the well-known Jedi.

S&S: Did you ever read a book and think “I could have done it better”?

Elí Freysson: I’m not going to call anyone out by name here, but I recently took a look at a fantasy novel that had quite a lot of positive reviews, and it just felt like someone’s first attempt at writing. A prologue that is nothing but infodump that goes into exquisite detail about cultures, races and characters for several pages before actually getting to any real storytelling is not the way to go.

S&S: How long did it take you to write The War of the Usurper?

Elí Freysson: From starting the first chapter to finishing the last, I would say it took me about half a year. That seems to be my general speed, counting fixes, rewrites and long sessions at the café with a notebook, trying to untangle a plot problem.

S&S: How many drafts did you do before you were satisfied?

Elí Freysson: I don’t really work in drafts these days. I can’t seem to write anything down unless I’m satisfied with it, so once I have the finished manuscript all that remains are little tweaks.

S&S: What aspects of the writing community did you utilize? (Beta-readers, proofreaders, etc.)

Eli Freysson: Beta readers are an absolute must. To any aspiring indie-author who happens to read this and thinks they can go without a second opinion: Don’t. It’s my experience that authors are the worst judges of their material.

S&S: What was the hardest part of writing The War of the Usurper?

Elí Freysson: Possibly the fact that I was stepping out of my previous genre of choice (fantasy), and moving into space opera. Deciding on the technology level was also a challenge, given that I am the least technologically savvy person I know outside of a retirement home.

S&S: “For fans of” can be a dangerous phrase, but what well-known books would you say are like _____________________________ so that people can get a feel for if they might be interested?

Elí Freysson:  Boy, that IS a minefield of a question. I have asked my beta-readers that on several occasions, and they haven’t really been able to come up with an answer. So I guess I can conclude that, at the very least, my book isn’t just same-old, same-old.

The War of the Usurper is the first in the Golden Throne series. It is my foray into creating my very own epic space opera universe, full of what I like about such settings: Casual space travel, many, many inhabited worlds, super-technology co-existing with magic, larger-than-life characters, a whole lot of backstory, and just sheer vastness of scale.

This first entry is a self-contained story about the titular nine-year war for the throne of the Realm of the Glorious Dawn. Power is seized by a power-hungry tyrant, who resorts to ever-greater atrocities to hold onto the throne, while loyalists secure the sole legitimate heir, twelve-year-old Princess Maraka, and begin the struggle to restore order.

Each chapter details a different flashpoint of the war, as important events must turn on the actions of wildly different people, spread far and wide across the social hierarchy and physical width of the Realm. Meanwhile, year after year, Maraka must grow up in the shadow of all of this, and learn to become both the steadfast symbol and the strong leader her subjects need.

Check out The War of the Usurper on Goodreads.

Purchase The War of the Usurper on Amazon.

Indie Zone: Talking with Teri Polen

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Teri Polen Author PhotoTeri Polen reads and watches horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, and anything Marvel-related are likely to cause fangirl delirium. She lives in Bowling Green, KY with her husband, sons, and black cat. Visit her online at



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Indie Zone: Talking with Frank Cavallo

Frank CavalloFrank was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Communications in 1994 and he earned a JD from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2001. He currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio, where he has been a criminal defense attorney for fifteen

His latest novel, the dark fantasy “Eye of the Storm” has just been released from Ravenswood Publishing. He is also the author of “The Lucifer Messiah” and the weird western “The Hand of Osiris.”

His short fiction has appeared in venues such as Another Realm, Ray Gun Revival, Every Day Fiction and Lost Souls. He has worked in the Warhammer universe, penning the novella “Into the Valley of Death” included in the “Gotrek & Felix: Lost Tales” collection as well as a number of short stories available as part of Black Library’s “the Best of Hammer and Bolter: Volume 2.”

You can see more about him at


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Indie Zone: Talking with Brenda Cooper

Brenda Cooper InterviewBrenda CooperBrenda Cooper is the author of nine science fiction and fantasy books. Her most recent novel is Spear of Light (Pyr, 2016). Her other works include the P.K. Dick nominated Edge of Dark (Pyr, 2015) The Creative Fire (Pyr, 2012) and The Diamond Deep (Pyr, 2013) as well as the Silver Ship and the Sea series (Tor Books) and Building Harlequin’s Moon, with Larry Niven (Tor, 2005). Her most recent short fiction includes Elephant Angels (Heiroglyph, 2014) and Biology at the End of the World (Asimov’s, August 2015).

Winner of the 2007 Endeavor Award for a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors Brenda lives in Bellevue, Washington with her wife and three dogs.

Find her at:


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Indie Zone: Talking with Kevin Chambers

indiezonekevinchambers - God's RogueKevin Chambers God's Rogue

Brief Bio: Kevin S. Chambers, in addition to writing novels, has a series Daughter of Time (Time Needs an Assassin) currently in post-production that should be available next year. When he’s not writing, on set, he’s at home with his wife and dog, or out playing baseball, fishing.

Talking with Kevin S. Chambers

S&S: Where did the idea for God’s Rogue come from?

Kevin S. Chambers (KC): Back in early 2014 as we were wrapping up filming the first run at Daughter of Time, my current web-series in post production. One of the actresses, I had a thing for. We were going to shoot a new Web-Series together titled God’s Rogue. Well, things never worked out with the actress (She along with my costar in Daughter of Time broke my heart (they aren’t bad people)), so God’s Rogue got put on the back burner.

Fast forward to last February, when I was down in LA meeting with a distribution agent / production company for Daughter of Time. They asked for other ideas I had, we talked about God’s Rogue becoming a movie instead of a series. As I was writing the screenplay, I realized there was too much there. As such, I turned it into a novel.

S&S: Why do you write?  / Do you consciously try to work social commentary into your work?

KC: I have so many stories to tell, and all of them, whether it’s a screenplay, novel, short story, all have to do with The Traveler. Or they can all be traced back to The Traveler. I find that time and the idea of the multiverse, are perhaps the best story tellers.

For social commentary, I would say it is conscious. My main characters all share a common desire, the desire for life.The idea that each individual sentient life is sacred, that no one life is above the rest. No one can tell another how to live, and no one can tell you how to live.

S&S: What book/movie got you interested in science fiction?

KC: Stargate the movie got me interested in Stargate, which got me interested more in SciFi. For Novels, well my favorite(s) are the Sword of Truth Series.  Anyways, back in high school, I would watch Power Rangers. My senior year was Jungle Fury, well I saw two of the leads were cast in a series titled Legend of the Seeker. I started watching said series, finding out it was based on Sword of Truth. I began reading. I guess you can say Power Rangers brought me to where I am today.

S&S: What do you think is the recurring theme in science fiction right now? (Hope, despair, etc.) Why?

KC: Apocalypse. I just see a lot on the idea of an apocalypse, which you even see in my book, just a bit. Divergent, Walking Dead, Hunger Games and more. However, In God’s Rogue, we see a reset, not a total end of the world.

S&S: What (aside from publishing) was the most difficult part of writing God’s Rogue?

KC: Having a life outside. Having work, baseball, and friends, made it hard. At times all I would want to do is write, spending hours to listen to the muses tell me the story. I’d even wake up in the middle of the night when their characters were excited to tell me what happens next.

S&S: Who is your favorite classic science fiction writer? Who is your favorite contemporary science fiction writer?

KC: Is Terry Goodkind a mix of both? If not I’m still going to use him for both.

S&S: I noticed from your Goodreads profile that there is a certain amount of association with religion. Did this making writing God’s Rogue, a story in which aliens created humanity, challenging in any way?

KC: This reminds me of a question a social science teach asked me at my old college. “How do you as a Christian, and an earth scientist coexist?” I told him “Religion tells us why, science tells us how.” I think there is a lot of good religion does, but it’s not the entire story. There are multiple accounts of the bible being changed. Gnostic Christians were hunted, because they could do various miracles, and believed differently than Paul. The biggest being reincarnation. Going through research, being able to see patterns, I don’t believe the bible and other religious texts tell the entire story. Instead, they offer a simplistic path. I still had a lot of holes when I read the bible, and doing some of my research has filled in the gaps. Yes, I do believe in Ancient Aliens, not quite to the level of extremism in God’s Rogue; but I do. Who knows that may change, as a scientist I have to be open to being wrong. So no it was not too difficult, it expanded my view and my mind.

S&S: Fancast the first 3 characters that pop into your head from your novel for me. Why did you choose those actors? Was it based on looks, attitude, etc.?

KC: A little caveat here, I purposely do not describe skin color as I want my readers to imagine it in their head,along with other features.

Kaden Hunt: Bradley James. He just fits it for me.

Raze Gron: Daniel Radcliff. I don’t know why, the energy, the craziness.

Aria: Abigail Spencer. Think Eragon, and I just watched Timeless.

S&S: Do you already have another novel in the works?

KC: The Travelers Tower is the next novel in the God’s Rogue series, and that’s started. I’ve got several more series planned, but I really enjoy these characters.

S&S: If you could partner with a famous author in your genre for a collaborative work, who would you pick and why?

KC: Terry Goodkind and Christopher Paolini.

Terry and I write and share very similar values (He helped shape my values). I read a quote from him where he says not everyone has the gift to be a writer. To me that reminded me of Wizards First Rule (I believe) where Kahlan and Richard are talking about Wizards and the gift. Kahlan is explaining how Zedd has the gift, and the others have the calling. To me, I believe Mr. Goodkind was also talking about writing, a lot of people of the calling, and can become pretty good writers. But not everyone has the gift. This is another belief I share with him.

Christopher – Eragon was the book that got me reading again, it set me on the path of a nobody becoming somebody. For years I would only read books where it started in a small village, where a kid just happened to be, and great things happened to him.

S&S: How many revisions did you go through with God’s Rogue?

KC: By myself 4, with my editor another 4.

S&S: How difficult was it to find a proof-reader / editor?

KC: I know a pretty good proof-reader, who has worked with me on Daughter of Time for two years. So it wasn’t that difficult. The difficult part was him trying to understand something I wrote, that made complete sense to me. We would spend hours discussing paragraphs as we tried to get the other to see where they were coming from.

S&S: How did it feel when you finally finished God’s Rogue and it was ready for publishing? Relief? Happiness? Wonder what to do with yourself?

KC: Nervousness, because now it’s out there for people to read. I would guess it’s like watching your child go off on their own, will they sink or swim.


God’s Rogue Synopsis

Kaden Hunt has been fighting a hidden war for humanity, alone. A war that changed one night when his oldest friend tried to kill him. Now Kaden the most powerful human in existence has drawn the complete focus of Enki and Shamash the two warring leaders of the Annunaki; the aliens who created humanity. Both are determined to stop Kaden from becoming what he once was, who he once was. For if he becomes the Traveler a more powerful enemy will be freed. – Goodreads

Check it out on Goodreads.

Want a free copy? Kevin is giving some away himself via this link.

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Indie Zone: Talking with J.B. Rockwell

Indie Zone J.B. Rockwell

jbrockwellJ.B. Rockwell is a New Englander, which is important to note because it means she’s (a) hard-headed, (b) frequently stubborn, and (c) prone to fits of snarky sarcasticness. As a kid she subsisted on a steady diet of fairy tales, folklore, mythology augmented by generous helpings of science fiction and fantasy. As a quasi-adult she dreamed of being the next Indian Jones and even pursued (and earned!) a degree in anthropology. Unfortunately, those dreams of being an archaeologist didn’t quite work out. Through a series of twists and turns (involving cats, a marriage, and a SCUBA certification, amongst other things) she ended up working in IT for the U.S. Coast Guard and now writes the types of books she used to read. Not a bad ending for an Indiana Jones wannabe… J.B.’s sci-fi novel SERENGETI (published by Severed Press) made its debut in February 2016, with the sequel, DARK AND STARS, due out in December 2016. Website:

Talking with J.B. Rockwell

S&S:  What was the first sci-fi book you read that made an impression on you? What about the first movie?

J.B. Rockwell (JBR): As a kid, all my sci-fi influences came from my father and his collection of books. He had lots of them and I used to walk up and down the bookshelves admiring spines and covers. I can’t say that I remember every book of his that I read and which order I read them in but two that come to mind are Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness (which, as I kid, I think I only half understood) and David Brin’s The Uplift Wars. I liked that second one because it had spacefaring dolphins piloting a ship filled with water. That’s cool. Really cool. As for movies, I’d have to go with the original Star Wars, which came out when I was just a wee tot and I’m pretty sure I later saw when it was re-released in the theaters. That movie was huge for the time and certainly a huge influence for young, little me.

S&S: We’re planning on reading Left Hand of Darkness next year for our Decades of Sci-Fi Challenge! I’ve only read The Lathe of Heaven by her, but I loved it.


S&S: What is so appealing about your chosen genre? (In other words, why should someone start reading sci-fi?)

JBR: I think it’s the freedom and the endless possibilities. When people think sci-fi, they tend to think hard science or space wars (both good things, by the way) but sci-fi has so much more variety than that. Sci-fi is spaceships and robots and far-flung planets, aliens and spacestations and all sorts of cool toys! Basically, with sci-fi, if you can dream it, you can have it. Even a trashy, schmexy romance (in space!) if that floats your boat. What you don’t have is the boundaries and limitations of the boring, hum-drum existence we experience here on present day Earth. Sci-fi dreams big and delivers big—that’s why you should read it.


S&S: Do any of your stories ever come from dreams or nightmares that you’ve had?

JBR: Not so much from dreams or nightmares (mostly those are about kittens, finding kittens and losing) but I definitely have thoughts of varied (and sometimes dubious) quality right before I drift to sleep. If I’m awake enough, I’ll scribble a line or three down in my little notebook and see if they lead anywhere. I’m pretty sure that’s how SERENGETI came to be. It definitely started as a scribbled line in my notebook, anyway, though I can’t remember now if that was a ‘half asleep’ scribble or a ‘random thought generated while running’ scribble.


S&S: Not counting publication, what do you think was the most difficult part of writing it?

JBR: Writing it! Seriously, when I start writing a book I usually only have a few ideas of what will happen so I’m always worried about whether I’ll be able to come up with a long enough (and interesting enough) storyline without throwing in a lot of useless padding. I’m not much of a plotter—I just write one chapter at a time and when I move on from a scene I sort of sit back and think, ‘Alright, brain. What happens next?’ Then my brain gets angry and starts whining about me being a lazy ass writer and it doing all the work and somehow I end up eating half a pound of chocolate before taking a nap…


S&S: So, from start to final daft, how long did it take you to write this one?

JBR: Something on the order of two years. I worked on other projects during that time, though, so it wasn’t two solid, unending years of effort. I wrote a draft and walked away. Edited that draft a couple of times and walked away. Betaed and edited, queried and subbed and entered contests, and edited some more based on feedback from everything before I finally got an agent who finally sold SERENGETI to Severed Press.


S&S: If you could partner with a famous author in your genre for a collaborative work, who would you pick and why?

JBR: Oh man. That’s a tough one. On the one hand, it would be an amazing experience to work with a big name author I really respect, like Elizabeth Bear or C.J. Cherryh or Stephen King. On the other hand, that’s terrifying because those are really big names and I’m just a little fish. I’d love to partner with one of my Inkbot writer friends (the Inkbots are my writer group—an awesomely creative and supportive contingent of writers who’ve helped me immensely with my writing over the years) or one of the newer big names in sci-fi. Someone like Becky Chambers, or V.E. Schwab, or Jen Williams.


S&S: What was the subject of the first story you ever wrote?

JBR: A dragon. Well, an Ice Dragon, specifically, who fell in love with a fox. I like dragons, you see. And foxes. A lot.


S&S: What’s the most constructive criticism you’ve ever been given?

JBR: ‘Too much!’ I’ve gotten that several times from writer friends who’ve betaed my work and it’s always a good reminder to simplify and avoid dragging out a scene. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re over-explaining, or when your book desperately needs a diet.

S&S: I can think of a few authors who need to learn how to tell when their book needs a diet. Sounds like you’ve got a great group you work with!


S&S: Fancast the first three characters that pop into your head from your book for us. 

JBR: I went with Gina Torres for Serengeti (Serengeti’s actually a spaceship, but when I was writing her character, I always heard Gina Torres’ voice in my head…also, she kicks ass), Karl Urban as Serengeti’s captain, Henricksen (he fits the gruff but loveable and ruggedly handsome mold quite well) and Ellen Page (who I love-love-love!) as Finlay, who’s one of the crew. She doesn’t quite look like Finlay as I’ve described the character in the book but she certainly has the attitude.


S&S: Do you have a favorite line from this book (that won’t spoil anything?)

JBR: Ack. I’m terrible at the ‘pick a favorite’ game, and I always panic when someone asks me to pick out one of my own sections of writing because I scan the doc and think ‘this is all crap!’.  That said, I settled on two small passages (I violated the one line rule and went with a short paragraph in both cases). I don’t think either is particularly spoilery, but…fair warning if you haven’t read the book!


“Humans craved planets, fought endless wars over rock and dirt and vegetation, but Serengeti cared nothing for those balls of water and soil. All she’d ever wanted was the stars. To explore the universe and drink in the endless black.”


“And there she slipped to sleep—peacefully this time, dreaming her dreams of days gone by. No fire this time, no destruction. Just Henricksen swapping pithy bits of wisdom, keeping Serengeti company in the dark.”


S&S: Do you consciously try to work in social commentary in your pieces?

JBR: Ha! No, definitely not. Things slip in—how could they not?—but this deep well is more of a shallow pool. I’m more Deep thoughts by Jack Handy than social commentary by big brain. I greatly admire those who really, truly are deep thinkers, but I find that the more I try to consciously include symbolism, themes and social commentary, the more wooden and fake it feels. So, I just let my mind slip things in here and there when I’m not paying attention and go with it.

S&S: I’m a “shallow pool” when it comes to my reading. Perfectly described!


S&S: What’s your writing routine like?

JBR: Chaotic. As I said before, I’m not a plotter—I’m just not good at it. Sitting down and trying to plot a book seriously stresses me out and I usually find a million ways to sidetrack myself and not actually do it. So, in the grand tradition of ‘fake it to make it’, I pants my way to success! Once I do start writing, though, I’m pretty disciplined and focused. I hate stopping before a chapter is finished so I typically write for as long as it takes to work the chapter through to the end. Same with editing—I guess I like to follow threads.


S&S: How much of you is in your main character?

JBR: Well, she’s a spaceship so…probably not a lot. That said, Serengeti is a sentient AI, which means she has her own personality—a very strong personality, by the way—and even learns to feel, in an AI-ish sort of way. So, I’m not sure there’s a lot of me in her—except the snarkiness that comes out once in a while—it’s more like Serengeti represents a lot of the things I’d like to be. She’s innovative and inventive and never gets up, even when the chips are down.


S&S: Will there be more of Serengeti in the future?

JBR: Great question! Thanks for asking! And, yes! Severed Press signed me up for a sequel that’s due out in December 2016—that’s more Serengeti right around the corner and just in time for the holidays!

serengeti by J.B. Rockwell

It was supposed to be an easy job: find the Dark Star Revolution Starships, destroy them, and go home. But a booby-trapped vessel decimates the Meridian Alliance fleet, leaving Serengeti-a Valkyrie class warship with a sentient AI brain-on her own; wrecked and abandoned in an empty expanse of space. On the edge of total failure, Serengeti thinks only of her crew. She herds the survivors into a lifeboat, intending to sling them into space. But the escape pod sticks in her belly, locking the cryogenically frozen crew inside. Then a scavenger ship arrives to pick Serengeti’s bones clean. Her engines dead, her guns long silenced, Serengeti and her last two robots must find a way to fight the scavengers off and save the crew trapped inside her.

Check out Serengeti by J.B. Rockwell on Goodreads.

Buy on Amazon.

Social Media Links:

Twitter: @Rockwell_JB
Amazon Author Page:

Author Interview: Danielle DeVor

Indie Zone: Talking with Danielle DeVor

Danielle DeVor is the author of, amongst other things, The Marker Chronicles. I first read Sorrow’s Point, the first book in the series, the night before Halloween. It wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever done.  The book itself isn’t exactly terrifying, but the atmosphere was fantastic, and her wonderful story-telling plus my over-active imagination meant I stayed up way too late finishing the book. I couldn’t go to sleep until I knew what happened to Lucy. So, I raved about it after I was done, connected with her, and basically spent the next year whining and begging to know when I could read the next book. She put up with my fangirling admirably, and a few days ago, I published my review of Sorrow’s Edge, second book in the Marker Chronicles. Now, you get to get inside her head with me! Thanks again, Danielle!

Keep Reading!

Author Interview: Talking with L.X. Cain

lxcainheader-1 LX CAIN

A while back, I reviewed L.X. Cain’s Bloodwalker novel and liked it enough that I wanted to do more to help her promote her work. So we decided to do an interview around the official release date. Bloodwalker was released on October 4th.  You will find a link to my review of the book at the bottom of this interview.

Author Interview with L.X. Cain

S&S: Bloodwalker was an interesting novel to read for a couple of reasons. What initially drew me in was how ‘real’ the Skomori clan seemed. Real enough, in fact, that I actually googled around to see if some sort of Bloodwalker clan existed that you might have based them off. So, I have to ask, where did the idea for Bloodwalkers come from?

L.X. Cain (LXC): I wanted to show an isolated community with very different morals and beliefs than those of the developed world, one that, by our standards, was repressive toward women. I studied the Roma (gypsies) and the Amish, researched strange beliefs, weird wedding rituals, and odd superstitions of the world, and also did historical research on the Black Plague. Then I let my imagination run wild! And I came up with the Skomori Bloodwalkers and their Bloodwalker Book, which is sort of a macabre Farmer’s Almanac for bloodwalker women who prepare bodies for burial.

S&S: Your writing of the Zorka Circus family was also very realistic. You didn’t paint them to be heroes or villains, but a believable mix of (extremely insular) characters. Was this something you researched? Were there any interesting tidbits you found out about Circus life you didn’t put in the novel if so?

LXC: I did a lot of research on circuses! I read every article I could find on performers, life in circuses, and traveling carnivals. I also watched a number of videos showing how traveling circuses set up, move from city to city, and what type of acts they employ.

Things I didn’t put in the book were detailed accounts of Freak Shows from the 1700s to the mid 1900s. I found info on how the performers couldn’t find work outside the circus and considered themselves lucky to be employed there. There were also histories of certain performers and what happened to them after they left the circus. None of this went in the book, but it helped me understand the psychology of people who work in contemporary traveling circuses.

S&S: According to your Goodreads page, you definitely like to write horror (though Bloodwalker is definitely more mystery/thriller than anything else). So, what drew you to writing horror? If it was a particular book or author, mind sharing the details with us?

LXC: I’ve loved Horror ever since “Dark Shadows” came on TV when I was a child! Since then I’ve obsessively watched every Horror movie I could find, from great ones like “Psycho” to awful ones like “Them!” (about giant ants) – makes no difference, I love them all. As soon as novels like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror came out, I devoured them. Then Herbert, King, and Koontz became popular, and I read many of their novels. I still prefer Horror novels when I’m reading for pleasure.

S&S: What was the most difficult part of writing this book for you?

LXC: Two things were hard for me.
1) The large number of action scenes. I’m pretty good at writing them, but I’ve never had to write so many. The hero, Rurik, is always fighting or chasing someone!
2) The hero’s characterization. I’d never written a man protagonist before. I love Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast series. I wanted my hero to have the same enigmatic persona and dark background as Pendergast. Easier said than done. My female crit partners kept saying, “More emotion!” My male ones said, “Cut the inner thoughts and get to the action!” Luckily, I managed to walk the tightrope between the two opinions and am very pleased with the reaction Rurik is getting from readers.

S&S: From start to final draft, how long did it take you to write Bloodwalker?

LXC: It took me almost two years. I started researching the summer of 2014, and then wrote from December 2014 to December 2015. (Yes, I write at the pace of a geriatric snail.) Interestingly, I then subbed the novel to the hybrid publisher Booktrope. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Then they announced they were closing! So I quickly subbed to a new hybrid (Freedom Fox) and they immediately accepted. I did a final line-edit for Freedom Fox’s editor in April 2016.

S&S: Taking a break from the serious for a moment: What does your primary drinking mug say about you? (Mine informs people that I hate morning people. And mornings. And people.)

LXC: Haha! I love yours! I’m afraid all my mugs were bought long ago and only have pretty pictures on them. Boring, huh?

S&S: Have any of your books ever been inspired by a dream or nightmare that you had?

LXC: I sometimes wake up thinking I dreamed the most brilliant novel idea! Later in the day, as I contemplate important things like character goals and plot, I realize my idea makes no sense and is basically random chaos. So no, I’ve never had a dream that remained coherent and clever in the harsh light of day.

S&S: How many editors/proofreaders/beta-readers did your book go through before you felt it was ready for publishing?

LXC: I have six excellent CPs, two who got agents (and I had one too) and three who are multi-published in horror, fantasy, or paranormal. After several revisions, I went to Absolute Write to find beta readers. I found four for Bloodwalker. Then my publisher and I had a round of line edits. Content-wise, the novel is done, but there are still some copy-edits/proofs to do before the publishing date, October 4, 2016.

S&S: Tell us about the primary location in your novel. What made you choose it?

LXC: The book’s main location is an abandoned town in the mountains of Romania. It’s based on a real town called Copşa Mică that I turned up in my research. It has a derelict carbon black factory along with a smelter that are responsible for dangerous amounts of pollution in the air, ground, and water. There are many real locations in the novel, like Istvantelek (a train graveyard), Obudai Island in Budapest, Hungary, and Mestsky Park in Slovenia. Almost all the cities where the action takes place are real, and I researched them using satellite maps and images from residents and tourists.

S&S: What’s the most constructive criticism you’ve ever been given?

LXC: When querying my first novel (an MG fantasy that’s unpublished and rightly so!), the authors on Verla Kay’s Blue Boards offered critiques of the query and warned me that the character goals and main conflict weren’t clear. My reply: “What are character goals? And what do you mean by ‘main’ conflict?” I was clueless. They explained things to me, and since then I write a “query blurb” before I start any novel and make sure the basics are covered by using Nathan Bransford’s query template:

[Protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal].

S&S: What are your taboo topics? Things you refuse to write about in your works.

LXC: I have a closed door policy when it comes to sex. There may be a kiss or two. No more than that.

For your information:  There are awesome pictures of the real Istvantelek Train Graveyard here:

Find my review of Bloodwalker HERE.

Indie Zone: Talking with Michaelbrent Collings

Michaedlbrent Collings

Michaedlbrent CollingsMichaelbrent Collings is an internationally-bestselling novelist, multiple Bram Stoker Award nominee, produced screenwriter, and one of the top indie horror writers in the United States. He is one of the most successful indie horror writers in the United States, as well as a produced screenwriter and member of the WGA, HWA, and several other writing groups with cool-sounding letters. He’s also a martial artist, and cooks awesome waffles (’cause he’s macho like that).

Find him here:

Talking with Michaelbrent Collings

S&S: I have to say, The Longest Con is the first book I’ve ever read where the premise revolved around ‘Cons, specifically. What got the idea for it percolating in your brain?

Mb C: Honestly, I just thought that writing a book with me as the “hero” would add some verisimilitude and another layer of suspension of disbelief that my audience might enjoy. And since a) I do a lot of cons, and b) my audience has a high “nerd ratio,” I thought this would be a fun way to do it. The really smart part was adding other authors in as characters, both to pay homage to friends and peers, and to mooch off their audience base. Ha!

S&S:What was the hardest part of writing this book for you?

Mb C: Trying to pretend that “Michaelbrent Collings” is a badass. Who ever knows what he’s doing.

S&S:How much of you is in the you that’s the main character of this book?

Mb C: Well, obviously the monster bits aren’t real (probably!), but nearly everything strictly about me and/or my family is real. I really do have back problems, I really do know a lot of martial arts, I really do adore my family. The stuff that reads like autobiography – sans monsters – probably is autobiography.

S&S:If you only had 2 sentences (run-ons don’t count!) to get someone excited to read The Longest Con, what would you say?

Mb C:. You know that thousands of people go to comic cons dressed up as monsters… but did you know that thousands of monsters go dressed up as people? My name is Michaelbrent Collings, and it’s my job to stop the monsters from killing you.

S&S:Favorite Supervillain or Monster?

Mb C: Gah! I love the monster I wrote in The Loon – just a fun, oogy monster with loads of nastiness. Supervillain… a toss-up between Lex Luthor (NOT the coked-up ferret version Jesse Eisenberg did – the bald uber-smart baddie… because BALD, right?), and a guy I wrote in This Darkness Light. He’s named Melville and is the world’s most dangerous psychopathic hitman. He will murder and torture you while singing songs from Disney animated movies.

S&S:What’s been the high point in your career as a horror writer?

Mb C: Actually HAVING a career as a horror writer! Seriously, there’s no one “perfect moment,” but the closest might be when my dad was voted the World Horror Convention Grand Master. Why was that a big deal in my career? Well, because I do okay as a horror guy I got to be on stage with him and got some really good pictures.

S&S: What genre do you think it would be a challenge for you to write in? Why?

Mb C: Two genres I refuse to write in: romance and porn. I won’t write porn because I think pornography is a terrible blight on the world that leads to women and children being harmed and trafficked. I won’t write romance because, to be perfectly frank, I have a perfect romance. Not an “easy” one, but my wife is my best friend, my best love. I can’t think of a book I could write that would top my reality, so I don’t even want to try.

S&S:Who is the most under-rated Superhero in your opinion?

Mb C: SUPERMAN. Wait. Lemme ‘splain.
Superman has been lost in a lot of “updating.” But what made him great was that he was so old-fashioned. He stood for good, pure, noble things. For virtue in personal and “professional” life. He was often conflicted – but only in that he had to figure out what the right thing was. And then he did it. Even though sometimes he didn’t know if he’d made the right choice, he did the best he could, and he did it with unwavering faith and a sense of pride that’s been utterly lost in recent years. In fact, I’ve started saying that the recent Captain America movies have the best portrayal of Superman in 30 years… he’s just pretending to be Captain America.

S&S:Have you already started work on your next novel?

Mb C: Right now I’m working on a screen version of my book Mr. Gray. It’s SO challenging because of the story in that book – probably the most complex thing I’ve ever written in some ways – but I’m having fun! Actually that’s a lie. It sucks and it’s a grind. But it’s good work and hopefully it’ll feed my family, so onward!

S&S: What horror book would you like to see brought to the big screen next? (and Stephen King’s works don’t count!)

Mb C: I would like to see a really good Dean Koontz adaptation done. Maybe Intensity, since that would lend itself well to film. DK has never had a really good horror/thriller adaptation – they’ve all been stinkers. The Odd Thomas book starring Anton Yelchin (rest in peace!) was good, but it was a supernatural comedy, so it doesn’t count.

S&S: Do you intend to write a sequel to The Longest Con?

Mb C: It always depends on how the audience responds. Meaning: if it makes money. I am the sole breadwinner in my family, which means that if my books don’t make enough money, my wife and kids suffer. So the choices about which books get sequels, what genres I will continue to write in, and what my publishing schedule is are determined by answering this one question: “How can I best support my family?”

All this to say: I love writing, and I wish that I could write book after book of your favorite characters. But if you do have a book or a character you want more of, then buy the book, get others to buy it, and then review that book and encourage others to do the same.

Bonus Question: How do you remain so virile, happy, rich and attractive, even though you are well over a hundred years old?
Answer: It’s a secret.
Obviously, this is more a question I HOPE I can answer someday. Hope springs eternal. Though, with my back problems (see The Longest Con – on sale today!), it’s probably going to be “Can you roll over so we can change your bedpan?”
We take what we can get.

The Longest Con - Michaelbrent CollingsThe Longest Con Synopsis

Larry Correia. Kevin J. Anderson. D.J. Butler. Orson Scott Card. Mercedes Yardley.

Would you like to know – I mean, REALLY know – what they’re doing when they go to those fancy comic-cons? Because it ain’t just writing.

See, every year, thousands of people attend comic-cons dressed as monsters.
Of course, you probably already knew that.
But did you ALSO know that…
every year, thousands of MONSTERS attend comic-cons dressed as PEOPLE.

Sure. Nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong there.

Luckily, the con organizers have placed Wardens throughout the conventions. These undercover supernatural troubleshooters are tasked with stopping mayhem before it starts . . . or solving the murders after they happen.

I’M MICHAELBRENT COLLINGS: author of this book, and one of the Wardens. My job is to go to the cons, where I sell books, make fans, and kill the occasional monster.

It’s not just me, either. Those authors I told you about, and even more . . . you’d never guess what many of your favorite authors are REALLY up to at the conventions.

Luckily, though, you don’t have to guess.


And get ready to have . . . your . . . mind . . . BLOWN.*

* Disclaimer: your mind may or may not be blown.

Check out The Longest Con now on Amazon.

  • I love Audible. Tons of books, fantastic narrators, good prices.