VP Profile #14: E. F. Kelley (Part 1)

Unusually, I’m going to break Eric’s interview into two parts. Eric was kind enough to answer my questions about self/indie/e- publishing very extensively, and they will end up in another entry that really helps define the differences for me. First, however, I’d like to introduce you to Eric and his work.

Tamago: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Eric: Must have been late teens. Trying to decide what to do with my life, I wanted a profession that would let me do more living and less working. I saw authors selling hundreds of thousands of books, knowing with the certainty of youth that they got paid five or six dollars a copy. I figured all I had to do was write one of those a year, and I could live like a king. And writing one of those isn’t so hard is it? And success is automatic, right?

I remember that version of me. Oh, the hilarity! That wet-eared youth discovered very quickly (and very painfully) the realities of the publishing world. I dropped out of the game for a while, but I always kept my place on the bench. Now that I’m back, I honestly wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Tamago: Can you remember your first writing project? Tell me about it.

Eric: The first time I sat down to tell a story was actually for a live-action roleplaying game. I was on the ‘plot committee’ who were responsible for crafting the stories for the entire weekend. In truth, it was a bit of adlib/live theater where I could only control the antagonists through a set of goals, motivations, and character traits. That was some challenging writing, let me tell you!

It was there that I first figured out (yes, on my own!) that conflict is at the core of a story. The good guys can’t just roll in and trounce the bad guys every time. It’s not fun. It’s boring and predictable. For great victory, you need great loss. Trouble was, I had no real control over what the protagonists did. Too much loss, and they just surrender. Not enough, and they’re bored. Quite the balancing act. Novels are easier!

Tamago: Where did you get your ideas for The Atlantean?

Eric: THE ATLANTEAN, for those that don’t know, is a portal fantasy wherein a modern Dallas Police K9 cop and his dog are transported to Arcadia, a realm of magic and fairy tales that exists alongside our own.

The idea came to me while reading HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS in the final confrontation between Voldemort and Harry. They’re deadlocked. Neither has the upper hand. Their magics completely cancel each other out. And I thought ‘You know, Voldemort can’t kill harry with magic, but I bet a .45 would do the trick. And vice-versa.’

It struck me that in most worlds where magic meets technology, the magic has the upper hand. Yet, look at what we techno-humans can do. We can create light. We can reproduce sights and sounds across vast distances. We can transport ourselves to nearly anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours. We can speak into a little box and have our words heard across the globe. We can heal grievous wounds. To an extent, we can prevent death itself. How are hand-waving and arcane mutterings superior?

The answer, to me, was that magic is just different, and, therefore, more interesting to us. In THE ATLANTEAN, I seek to highlight not only the entertaining aspects of magic, but the wonder our own technology holds for those not familiar with it. I hope to bring some of that wonder home to the reader, so that the next time you turn on a light in a dark room, you can think, ‘Heh. Behold my awesome power,’ and actually believe that!

Essentially, THE ATLANTEAN is an urban fantasy with a modern human (and his dog!) as the creatures of legend.

Tamago: As a Viable Paradise alumni, would you comment on the experience? How about your experience at Taos Toolbox?

Eric: Viable Paradise brought me out of the cocoon. Until then, my writing was primarily intuitive. I knew how to construct a scene, but I didn’t know the pitfalls. I knew how to craft a character, but I knew very little about why such a character would be interesting, or admirable, or hated, or feared. I had written five novels by that point, and two of them were ‘okay’, but I had no idea what made those two ‘better’ than the others.

VP taught me how to analyze my work at a high level, pinpoint errors, and correct them. I also gained very valuable contacts with the other students. These are people at my level of the game who can serve as qualified first- and beta-readers. Until then, I had friends and family to critique my work, but they couldn’t identify flaws any more than I could. It was always ‘this scene seemed too short’ or ‘this character is kind of annoying’. Having access to people that understand narrative, characterization, scene structure, and other writing concepts is vital to progressing work past the enthusiastic amateur stage.

Viable Paradise is a brilliant entry-level workshop. And it’s funny that it’s labeled as ‘entry-level’ when your writing must be nearly publication quality to get in. I barely scraped by, as I recall! (And rightfully so). I learned basic and advanced techniques, as well as getting a huge dose of industry reality from Patrick Nielsen-Hayden and John Scalzi. That doe-eyed, wet-eared teenager who could snap his fingers and produce a bestseller was long gone by this point, but those two brought him back, strapped a helmet to his head, put a rifle in his hands, and taught him to aim for reality.

Taos Toolbox was a more intense workshop since it doesn’t cover the beginner concepts. People attending must have completed one of the other residency workshops (Clarion, VP, or Odyssey are the three big ones I know of) or their writing must impress Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress. Pro sales count as well. As I recall, two of our attendees were MFA graduates, so, a big enough diploma can be sufficient, but, again, the writing quality must be there.

Taos helped refine many of the concepts I’d learned at VP. It’s a two-week course, so there’s more time to get into the details. I learned how to analyze a scene for problems, build realistic and interesting characters, and plot an entire novel from start to finish. I learned many writing techniques such as knowing when to use a formula and when to avoid one. I learned how to deconstruct my own work, and how to apply a critique to improve my work without drowning out my own voice (or writing by committee). Many of the lessons started at VP were completed at Taos.

And, again, I made some invaluable contacts. Many of the Taos students are already professional writers in their own right, with most being SFWA members, and at least one (Dr. Lawrence Schoen) having a fairly successful novel already in print (BUFFALITO DESTINY). Again, the ability to get expert peer review (and being able to provide the same expert advice!) is an absolutely vital skill.

It’s hard to compare and contrast the workshops. I feel that Taos was more valuable to me in the long term because I got more detailed instruction, but there is no way I could have attended Taos without having had the revelations at Viable Paradise.

The TLDR version: VP taught me what it meant to be a writer. Taos showed me how. (And even that’s not a big enough generalization to encompass just how important these workshops were to me.)

Tamago: Which writers would you say influence your writing?

Eric: Lots! And not all of them influenced me through their books.

The usual big names apply. George R.R. Martin, Steven Brust, and David Eddings would be my more classic influences.

I can’t leave out Star Trek TNG writers like Melinda M. Snodgrass, Ronald D. Moore, and Ira Steven Behr. Beautiful shows. Thoughtful, witty, and charming.

And then there are the writers who had a direct impact on my work through instruction and mentoring. James D. MacDonald, Walter Jon Williams, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, the Nielsen-Haydens, and part-time supervillain John Scalzi. In fact, Laura Mixon’s lecture at Viable Paradise completely altered my productivity, increasing it by more than 100%. That is no exaggeration.

And then there are my friends and colleagues, some of whom you may know, and most readers of this interview will want to know as more of their work is available. Ferrett Steinmetz, Sean Craven, Kris Herndon, Danielle LeFevre, Lou Berger, Dr. Miranda Stockett, Christian Walter, George Galuschak, Barbara Webb, Rich Baldwin, and, of course, the lovely and talented Catherine Schaff-Stump.

Starting to sound like an awards acceptance speech here, but, it is absolutely no lie that all of these people have had a significant impact on my writing whether that be through direct interaction, professional instruction, or their own superior work. I want to be all of these people when I grow up.

Tamago: What is your dream writing project?

Eric: One my readers are excited about. I want to write characters, beloved and despised, that people just can’t get enough of. The actual project could be anything. SciFi/Fantasy/Urban/Historical, whatever. I just love entertaining people, and I want to give people worlds to wander, friends to make, and foes to vanquish.

I recall reading Asimov’s Foundation series as a teen. And seeing The Hobbit in grade school. I walked the Caves of Steel with Detective Elijah Baley and fought spiders in Mirkwood with Bilbo Baggins. I want to give people worlds to escape to, and present new ways of thinking about the world we live in and the people around us.

Maybe that all sounds mildly pretentious, but any project of mine that gives any reader that same sense of wonder is my dream project.

Tamago: Where do you hope you’ll be as an author in ten years?

Eric: Oh hopes! The horror! Beside every dream is a nightmare waiting to happen. But, dreaming big, I want to be that wet-eared teenager again, publishing one or two books a year, bestsellers all.

More realistically, I hope I’ll have a readership large enough to continue supporting my writing habits. In all truth, I think five years is realistic for that. In ten, I’d hope to be even more successful than that.

Oh, now you’ve gone and done it. I’m thinking about casting for ATLANTEAN: THE MOVIE now. So much for my productivity today!

Tamago: Where can readers find more of your work?

Eric: At the moment, not many places, unfortunately. My first self-published novel is titled ‘I, DEMON’ and will be published on Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc… I am writing it under the pen-name Samuel T. Crown. The site will be up late June at www.samueltcrown.com, and the novel will be for sale this summer.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!


Work is full of little niggly bits today, which are the legacy of being absent last week. I have blocked out some time to disappear and work on the coordinator’s manual, which really needs to be whipped into shape before I am out of the office this summer for a real vacation. So…less office action and more business writing this week and next.

Meanwhile, I am happy to report that I have 201 Expertise Hours in for this year. I’m moving toward 624 a year, and I have 5799 hours left to go on my way to 10K hours. Woot! Still a little ahead of the 12 a week.


I should let you all know that I will be at Demicon this weekend in Des Moines. Sarah Prineas is their author guest of honor, so when I heard that, I thought I should go support her. Bryon and I may break out some costumes for Friday night.

Saturday, I’m supposed to fill an hour myself. I have a reading which lasts from 11:00 am -12:00 pm. Usually, I only ask for half an hour, because I’m not a main guest and modesty becomes me. However, the programming chair decided I could do an hour. As a teacher, I usually have content to hide behind, so I’ll be thinking about which thing (or two or three) to be reading, so I can keep hiding.

There’s also something called Speed Dating for Authors, where we get to sit down with groups of fans and chat with them. That happens from 3 pm – 4pm. I think this could be pretty fun. And autographing after that, from 4 pm – 5 pm. So, there’s a bit to get ready for this weekend.


If I have time tomorrow, I’ll write the sequel to the Lost in Space robot conversation from this weekend.



I’m sure most of you have seen this list, but for the two of you who haven’t, this year’s Hugo nominees.

Two points:

1. Look at the diversity. Yes, that’s a good thing.

2. Look at the people I know and know of. Yes, that’s a good thing too.
Mira Grant (AKA Seanan McGuire)
N.K. Jemisin
Rachel Swirsky
Aliette de Bodard
Erik James Stone
Kij Johnston
Mary Robinette Kowal
Liz Gorinsky
Saladin Ahmed

I think that we’re turning a corner in terms of both new writers and diversity. I hope so, anyway.

Congratulations to everyone on the list. There’s some good writing in there. I’m pleased.


What I Wish I’d Known as a New Writer: Growing into Your Writer Pants

And…I’m more or less back from my two day excursion into Illsville. Loving spouses share everything, including the colds that students give them, apparently. Yay, spouse gifts! *grumble, grumble*


Anywhoo, while I am still amassing my book and workshop suggestions for you all, I thought I would talk about the next thing that I wished I’d known as a writer starting out. I’m going to call this one growing into your writer pants.

So. We write a book, and we think we’re ready to send it out. Now, we’ve already talked about patience, and the reveal that things take a long time. That includes the development of your talent. I still believe that you need to send your work out. Early is best, because you learn about the market, who you’d like to work with, and so forth, and you learn about the process.


You must expect to be rejected. Now, Young Writer Me, I know you don’t believe you will be rejected. But you will. You don’t know the business, they don’t know you, and even if your writing is good, lots of good writers are knocking on the doors of publishers.


Young Writer Me, your writing is not as good as you think it is in your endorphine laden view of the world. We’ve already addressed that point with writer education and even more patience.

You see, Young Writer Me, it’s going to take time to develop your talent and make a niche for yourself. If you take the steps, eventually your work will get better, and things like publishing, agents, and even book deals will come. Sort of like a flower blooming, if you nurture your writing, you will see beautiful rewards.

Wait! What about the elements of chance? What about subjectivity? Publication is under the control of others, but what you want your writing to be is under control of yourself. I am now of the school that someone will want what you do if you do it well. Your job, Young Writer Me, is to develop what you do, and go from there.

The other piece of growing into your writer pants is setting some writer goals for yourself, so you know which direction you’re trying to grow in. The goals you have will be yours, and aren’t the same as those for others. No advice here, but these seem the best for me. I have a few goals now, and here they are.

Continue reading “What I Wish I’d Known as a New Writer: Growing into Your Writer Pants”

Body Image: Darryl Roberts and America the Beautiful

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for sending in their education links. I’m an educator. It’s the kind of thing I like. I’ll give it about a week, and then I’ll post the various workshops and make a bibliography of the books. Keep ’em coming!


As most of you know, I spent much of last week at a White Privilege conference in Minneapolis. Not white privilege as in Neo-Nazi, but white privilege as in a “we have it and how can we use it to be allies?” type of way. It was a very useful and educational conference, although it started sort of shakily because of a registration mess up which made me feel I was in a non-privilege simulation.

Anyway, one of the many highlights of the conference was the director documentary series. I went to three films in the evenings, and the one that seemed most relevant to me personally was the session with Darryl Roberts.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Darryl Roberts, he’s a film maker out of Chicago. Roberts has received some attention for some indie films, but in recent years he’s become an advocate for women and the messages they receive about body image with his film America the Beautiful.

Roberts’ message in the film is a powerful one, and if we know it, it does us good to hear it over and over again.

It’s probably best to hear Darryl talk about his purpose in person.

The film deals with fashion, make-up, plastic surgery, skin color, all sorts of stuff. It follows a 12-year old (OMG!) super model through a 3-month rise and fall. It discusses eating disorders and examines the way media undermines our self-esteem.

Up next for Roberts? America the Beautiful: Health for Sale, which explores body mass index and the health industry’s treatment of obesity. I’ll be there. As everyone knows, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

Also, thanks to Roberts, I’ve found the Association for Size Diversity and Health, which looks like an interesting group to explore. Certainly, the medical section has some interesting ideas.

At any rate, do check out America the Beautiful, which is quite available for purchase and rental. It was a great documentary.


What I Wish I’d Known as a New Writer: Writer Education

First though, a public service announcement on behalf of Benjamin Tate:


To cut to the chase, at the bottom of the post, I’m asking you to help me accumulate a list of workshops and books about writing. I’m going to put these up on the Tamago for writers who are interested. The more you can share, the better. Links are good too, as well as a little blurb about what you think and why you liked it. At this point, I’m brainstorming. Don’t worry about repeating other folks–just tell me what you know.

This is the part where I look back and I get embarrassed. My naivete is still more problematic than I would like it to be in the process of moving toward becoming an author, but I can remember thinking that I enjoyed writing because it was easy to do and it made me happy. What a great job that would be!

Continue reading “What I Wish I’d Known as a New Writer: Writer Education”

VP Profile #13: L.K. Herndon

Kris Herndon is a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction. The real world isn’t good enough for me, either, Kris, and I look forward to seeing your creations of a better one.

Tamago: How did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

Kris: Writing is almost like an involuntary thing for me. I think about it constantly. I think I decided to try and turn it into a paying career mostly to justify my existence on the planet. Also I’m super shy and when speaking, I tend to express myself poorly — so maybe I’ve learned to compensate in writing, being that everyone needs to communicate. If I didn’t write articles, short stories and novels I would probably send many more long tiresome emails to my friends and family and post many more long-winded posts on online message boards. And no one wants to see that happen.

Tamago: Do you see yourself as a novelist, a short story writer, or both?

Kris: At this point I’ve published only one short story, but I write both and my goal is to publish both.

Tamago: Which writers influence your work?

Kris: This is a hard question because I don’t want to come across like I’m comparing my work to a bunch of unquestionably genius-level stuff! That said, I read in every genre. I admire Kazuo Ishiguro, J.M. Coetzee, P.G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Ira Levin, Neal Stephenson. Some books that I re-read a lot are Watership Down, Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, and Brideshead Revisited. I’ll get laughed at for this one but I have a strange affection for Judith Krantz. I love Cindy Pon, Lisa Brackmann, and Gretchen McNeil, great writers and wonderful human beings — I met them through Absolute Write and they are all brilliant and super supportive of beginning writers. And quite honestly, some of my VP classmates, and other writers I’ve met through VP influence me tremendously every day — George Galuschak, Miranda Suri, Leonard Richardson, Ferrett Steinmetz, Christian Walter, EF Kelly, Sean Craven.

Tamago: How did you decide to write a story about wereflamingos?

Kris: There is a good story behind this one. During the VP trip to “The Bite” in Menemsha, I was sitting with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, eating fried shrimp. Teresa said, “Patrick always eats the tails” and I said, “To keep his plumage pink?” We riffed about it a little bit, and it was really funny. Later that night when I was struggling with about a hundred and one lame, lifeless first sentences for the homework assignment — the prompt was something like “Flawed hero saves the day” — the idea of a man with pink plumage eating tons of shrimp to maintain the rosy shade of his magnificent tail feathers gave rise to that rather silly story. It was very hard reading it aloud on the last day because I was dying of laughter through parts of it. Now that I see it in print there are million things I would change about it! It’s like re-reading an email after you hit “send.”

Continue reading “VP Profile #13: L.K. Herndon”