Author Interviews, Essays, Misc

Author Interview with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer Charles Barouch

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This Monday, we have the privilege of welcoming science fiction and fantasy author Charles Barouch to Dropped Pebbles. Charles has experience with many different forms of writing, including Manga and Children’s Books, so please stick around to discover what he has to say to say about his first creative love as well as what other projects he’s working on. 

Good Monday, Charles. Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Since, for me, writing is like breathing, I feel obligated to have something interesting to say. Combine that with my paranoia about holding just one job at a time (I’ve got 80 years experience on my resume) and I have a very wide array of experience to draw upon.

Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? Where does writing fit in, and why are you drawn to it? 

Interested, yes. Skilled, not so much. I am a good designer but I am not good at translating that into paint or clay or skyscrapers. For me, writing is more craft than art. I guess it ‘fits in’ to editing, layout, and teaching — writing as a technical skill with a strong artistic aspect.

What forms of writing and genres do you prefer and why? What can you never see yourself writing?

I write everything. Science Fiction, Fantasy…I have completed draft of book one of a Manga series (I just need an artist). I have six months of a Web Comic written (I just need an artist). I have over fifty print articles to my credit as a journalist. I just finished writing a Children’s Book (That one does have an artist). I used to teach poetry writing.

I can’t see myself writing Erotica or Romance. Otherwise, fiction and non-fiction are both wide open.

To you, what makes a good story? What’s one thing a ‘bad’ book taught you to not do in your own writing?

Almost everything I have ever written has started with annoyance. I wrote my second novel because Isaac Asimov wrote something about the rules of writing which ticked me off. I wrote one of my best short stories because a book set up a great scene and then simply changed chapters without ever taking us inside the ruins by the side of the road.

A good story has characters and situations which resonate with the reader. A great story compels you to read even when you have nothing in common with the characters and the events.

As a reader, pacing and continuity are really important.

As a writer, what elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My weakness, as my wife continually points out, is too little description. Defining my strengths is harder because it comes out like a brag. I am really good at managing the pace of my stories. I write runaway trains that drag the reader along, gasping for breath.

By the time they are edited, they are a bit slower and cleaner, but still have that underlying roar of the engine.

Who/what are the biggest influences in your writing? How do they influence what your write?

I’ve dwelt on the negatives enough. Positive influences: Nancy Kress — I want to be her when I grow up. Andre Norton. C. J. Cherryh. Robert Heinlein. So very many amazing writers. Aside from the known names: my mother, who encouraged my love of Science Fiction even though she wasn’t particularly fond of it. My wife, who pushes me to always do better. She reads a lot of what I read. We have a huge pool of common reading. My kids, who let me get away with NOTHING. They are very gifted beta-readers.

More recently, I’ve started a writing community on G+. The Theme-Thology folks have been a huge positive. Likewise, the communities run by John Ward, Traci Loudin, and others have been very helpful.

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What draws you to your preferred genre? What do you think makes your genre unique? And why is it so popular? (Or perhaps less popular than it could be?)

I have a lot of genres. I like Science Fiction and Fantasy because they free me to frame my ideas in the most amazing contexts. I can talk about racism, greed, power, relationships, spirituality — anything that speaks to the human condition — and it has a million ways to be expressed.

Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?

AF_Cover_1aHere’s the blurb for Adjacent Fields, which is available for sale (Kindle/Nook/Kobo):

The business of Teleportation.
Imagine if someone invented a teleportation device and their first thought had to be: How do I market this? What if you couldn’t use a teleporter because governments are still trying to figure out how to regulate it? Rama and Walter are standing at the cusp of changing the world – if they can just get the funding.

I should have the sequel to Adjacent Fields — Adjacent Memories — out by middle 2014.

Theme-Thology: Invasion will be on sale September 28th, 2013. Theme-Thology: Day I Died will be out in November 2013. Theme-Thology: New Myths will be out in January 2014. Reality Breaks, which is a shared universe, will have its first book out in early 2014. Tales of Kassa: Kraken (I’m an editor only on this one, Madre Knight wrote it) will be out early 2014 as well.

Why is social networking and the promotion of other writers important to you?

The reason I built a community on G+ was to help people tell their stories. I routinely promote projects that I don’t publish. Writers need readers. I do what I can.

What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?

The most difficult part is wrestling with my characters for control.

A good story requires continuity. I often find that my characters can’t follow the plot I expected to write without being wildly inconsistent. So, I sit down with a plot, lose all control to my characters, and then try to pull it all back together at the end.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

The folks I mentioned before, plus too many more. I read very broadly.

What advice would you give to new writers?

The best advice is: write, write, and write some more. Get a critiquing circle. PAY FOR REAL EDITING. Most of all: just keep writing. The first couple of novels you produce should probably never leave the drawer.

How can readers get into contact with you?

My contact information and my works in print can both be found here: hdwp.com/r/cdb

 

It was great to have you with us, Charles. Readers, I hope you enjoyed reading about our guest and will look him up on his site or drop him a line here. Thanks for reading!

 

Stories

The Purple Morrow Snippet: Clash of the Clansman versus the Beast-Man

What follows is a snippet from my upcoming book, The Purple Morrow. It’s taken from Chapter 14, Crossing Paths, where my fabulous men and bitter enemies, Jeru and Kelen, meet for the first time. And yes, they mean to fight.


Some images to stir the imagination…

And…

 

And lastly…


“You were supposed to be on a scouting mission to search out the lay of the land and to discover the strengths and weakness of our enemies. Instead, you have brought me back a woman!”

Olef pointed a grubby finger at the woman. “Not just any woman, Commander. The one we chased through the woods after she escaped.”

“I know who she is, worm!” Kelen shouted. He took a step towards the scouts.

Olef looked at his companion for support. But Gall, who was no fool, read the displeasure in Kelen’s face and he only shrugged his shoulders. “It was not my idea,” was all he said.

They are young and inexperienced and probably only wanted to please me and their friends, Kelen thought. But it doesn’t excuse that it was a stupid thing to do.

“Olef, have you lost your mind? Secrecy and stealth are our strongest weapons against our enemies. It means we take them by surprise, minimizing our losses and ensuring that our victory is swift and complete. Was she alone, at least?”

“Uh…no,” he answered, drawing out the last word. He shifted his feet, probably realizing where Kelen was taking the conversation. “There was another with her. She-she got away.”

In a flash, Kelen’s fist was in the air and swinging in a wide arc before it connected with Olef’s chin. “Idiot! Who knows how much time we have before her people come to claim her!”

Olef rubbed his chin. The blow had sent him back two steps, but he still stood on his feet.
“We don’t know that they will. She’s just a woman, after all.”

“She may be just a woman to you, but she may be more than that to someone else.” It was Olly who had spoken. He was seated amongst his brothers in arms and, until then, had remained silent. Though Olly had spoken in his favour, Kelen knew he was watching him, carefully.

“You two,” Kelen said, addressing the scouts, “take her to my tent upstream.”

“But that’s almost an hour away,” Olef complained.

Kelen turned on him, his face flushed with anger. “You, in your stupidity, have brought potential calamity on us, so assume the punishment like a man. And if I find you have spoiled her in any way, this may be the last day you lay eyes on the sun. You have failed me once today. Do not fail me again.”

Kelen looked at the woman. Her hair was a tangled mess and her arms and legs scratched and bloody. She had looked similarly the night they had tracked her down in the woods. He blinked, surprised by a stab of remorse. Heat, like the burn of shame, tore through him, and the longer he considered the woman, the more he found he wanted to say he was sorry. He wanted to tell her he was not really the man who had done those terrible things to her and to those she loved. In fact, he even imagined they were in a safe, beautiful place where she was not bound, but sat beside him by her own will, listening to him as he told her of his hurts and regrets. He pictured her reaching out a hand, touching his scarred, ugly face, and telling him none of it mattered, that she understood a man could change. That in fact, she saw he had changed.

“My kin will come for me.” She had managed to work the cloth back from across her mouth again. Her eyes gleamed at him with angry tears. “And when they do, I hope with all my heart they kill you! All of you!” She spat at his feet.

The words were spoken in the rhythmic, soothing tones of the Water Clan language, but its beauty could not shield him from her venom. The force of her hatred washed over him, searing his skin like fire. Kelen’s fingers tightened into fists.

“Olef. Take her now. And make sure she’s properly bound. Especially that mouth of hers.”

The scouts obeyed. Once again, the woman was hefted onto Olef’s shoulder, and the three of them headed into the woods. Kelen glanced at Olly who was still watching him. The second in command nodded curtly in return, indicating his agreement with how the situation had been handled. Kelen then excused himself and entered the trees in the opposite direction the trio had gone. As he walked, crushing the ferns and struggling saplings underfoot, his thoughts were filled with memory of the captured woman, pondering how strange it was that he felt so much for her, yet he did not even know her name.

****

A little while later, Kelen emerged from the stream, his body scrubbed clean and his mind partially at rest. Raised scars, morbid souvenirs from numerous battles, marked him, winding across his skin like pale snakes. He threw himself onto the grass, grateful that the ground had managed to retain some of the sun’s heat, though it had long passed the tops of the trees on its way west. He breathed slowly and deeply, letting the fresh air enter and leave his body in long, even streams while he rested by the water’s edge.

A sudden scattering of some forest animals caught his attention. Immediately alert, Kelen rose to his knees while scanning the tree-line. His eyes still trained on his surroundings, he dressed quickly, but before he could secure his armour, the sound of a footstep reached his ears. He spun around.

There, about twenty feet in front of him, stood a man. His long, black hair was caught up at the nape of his neck, and his green eyes blazed at him like living chunks of emerald. He carried a short sword in each hand.

In the few seconds it took for Kelen to take up his axe, he had already assessed his foe. The man was strongly built and was as lithe as a panther. He stood with his weight balanced between his feet, and from the stance alone, Kelen gleaned he was trained in some form of the fighting arts. The man’s breathing was steady, unhurried. He grasped his swords comfortably, ready to change grips at a moment’s notice. For a moment, Kelen concluded that the coming fight would not be fair. He knew he outweighed the other by at least fifty pounds and that a good, solid blow to the chest or head would quickly end the contest. But as he assessed the look in the other man’s eyes, Kelen checked himself. The clansman showed no fear. He is dangerous, either desperate and not caring about his life and is therefore ready to throw it away. Or he is a man that has something to fight for and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

Kelen liked these new odds.

“Beast-man of the North,” the man said in an even tone. He raised his right hand, pointing a sword-tip at him. “I have come to reclaim what you have stolen from me.”

Kelen smiled to himself, satisfied that his hunch had proven correct. He had come for the woman. Was he her husband? Her lover?

Kelen took a moment and formed a response in his mind. He had always been amazed that he could understand the Southernland’s languages and dialects with an ease that surpassed his brethren. To him, accessing the skills needed to understand and to speak to them was like delving into a long-forgotten chest which had suddenly sprung open, revealing its secrets to him.

“What have I…stolen…from you?” he asked with only a little difficulty.

The man advanced a step. “A woman. She was taken from our woods. I want her back.”

Nonchalant, Kelen lifted and dropped his shoulders. Then he swept a hand in a semi-circle, indicating they were the only ones in the area. “There is no woman here.”

The black-haired man advanced a few steps more, his sword still pointed towards Kelen. “You are a liar. I know she was taken by your people. You will return her to me.”

“Ah, yes. I seem to remember the face of a pretty, new slave. I was thinking she might make a good wife.”

“Release her to me!”

The Rover laughed. “If you want her, you will have to go through me.”

A thin, mean smile carved itself across the clansman’s face, and his eyes glittered. Green eyes, Kelen realized with some surprise. He did not have long to consider this, as the man flicked his wrists, propelling the swords into a series of arcs. The blades split the air with sharp sighs as they spun.

Kelen felt the thrill of the impending clash pulsing through his veins. He lifted his axe into position.

Yes, he liked these new odds very, very much.

Stories

‘The Eagle’s Gift’ is my heart and soul. One day I’ll see it in print. Here is a section of chapter 1

The Eagle’s Gift: A Fairy Tale
Chapter 1 (part 1)
 
From the realm of the clouds, the Eagle King looked past his great, curved beak to the face of the earth. He observed the familiar patches of blue, green and brown below with the greatest of interest. From where he was, circling high above and cradled by warm currents of pristine air, the world should appear peaceful, calm. But this was not so. Terryl blinked, pained at what he did see. The land was ragged, haggard, abused. In places, the earth had been torn up, exposing its bowels of rock, tree roots and dirt for all to see. In other places, entire lakes had been turned green or brown from filth, their surfaces lined with stinking scum. No fish or other aquatic creatures lived there any longer and all the surrounding grasses had withered away or turned to swamp. Laying over it all was a thin layer of shadow, making the world appear dusky, like twilight.
More like the skulking form of a spectre.
Men had done this. Fuelled by hatred and fear of their neighbours, they had scorched the earth with pollution and war machines, heaping insult and injury on the land as well as on their enemies. As he flew above, Terryl could sense the spirit of the earth writhing, and he was struck by an unshakable impression that time was running out. After all, how much more could it endure before humans strangled its essence from existence?
Having reached the end of his tour of the outlying lands, Terryl turned and began to fly back to Eagle’s Perch. The wind turned cold now that he was heading north, and it grazed against him, as cold as tempered metal. Above him, the sun shone, but even its golden rays could not fully penetrate the strange darkness that seemed to pervade the land. Worse, the shadow seemed to be darkening.
At last, the green, fertile lands of his domain, one of the few to remain untouched by the growing chaos, came into view. With a twinge of guilt, Terryl sighed with contentment. He circled around the Perch a few times, allowing the watchmen to take note of his arrival, and once satisfied that all appeared in order in the kingdom, he turned towards his aerie, also known as the Throne Aerie. It was a large but simple affair, made up of twisted, interlocking tree branches with leaves and mud tucked into the spaces, and it was perched in the crook of Eagle Land’s highest mountain, near its peak. Below, dotting the rest of the rocky ranges that jutted out from the earth, were found the many aeries which comprised the city of Eagle’s Perch. Cool spring air buffeted them relentlessly as it tore through the mountainous peaks, while dark thunder clouds threatened to unleash their cold, wet burden. Terryl looked up in surprise. He hadn’t noticed the clouds gathering for a storm.
When he landed in the Throne Aerie, he had only enough time to dip his head to tuck in a few stray feathers on his breast with his beak before Lorin, his chief adviser, suddenly dropped into the nest.
 “My lord, a few words, if you will?” He was breathing hard from exertion. A group of lesser advisors and a few scouts soon also arrived at the aerie after Lorin, and they also waited at its edges until they were bidden to approach.
“I have only just returned, Lorin. Can it not wait until I have refreshed myself? In fact, you also appear to be in need of some refreshing. What has caused you to behave with such hastiness?” Terryl gestured beside him at a hollowed out section of a tree stump where water from that morning’s dew had gathered. “Please, take some.”
“Forgive me, my lord,” Lorin said, shaking his head in refusal while backing up a pace. He ducked his beak towards his chest and averted his eyes. “I hope you do not think me impetuous, only I have only been anticipating your return for some time now.”
Terryl sighed. For Lorin to have behaved in such an uncharacteristic fashion, he knew that whatever troubled him must be important. He also felt compassion for him, understanding that Lorin’s pride of discretion and temperance must have made this an embarrassing scene for him. Terryl gestured with his wing, indicating that Lorin should enter the presence of his king. The advisor obeyed, and was followed by the small group of lesser advisors and scouts. They bowed before Terryl and then took their places at a respectful distance behind Lorin. King Terryl greeted the new arrivals with a nod.
“Master Lorin, you do not need to fear speaking your mind with me. I am your king, but I am also your friend of many, many years. Have we not earned these old, fraying feathers together?“
Lorin looked up, his eyes wide with horror. “Do not say such a thing, my lord! It is unthinkable that my king should suffer old and frayed feathers! Your groomsman should be ashamed to allow it!”
Terryl laughed. “Ah, Lorin. You never did have much of a sense of humour. You always see things clearly, as they truly are whether for the good or for the bad. I suppose that is what makes you an excellent advisor. I am ready now, old friend. Speak your mind.”
Lorin took a moment to settle himself after his outburst. “The world of humankind is dying, my lord,” he stated at last in a grave voice.  “If the humans expire–”
“I know,” Terryl said, interrupting. “It is true my weekly tour of our lands and of those neighbouring ours took longer than expected. However, the ravages to the earth grow increasingly extensive, requiring that I fly farther out each time. Today, I saw that the damage has almost reached the land of Nardin. I have always expected this to happen, only not this soon. It is quite troubling. Not only that, but something even more unsettling is transpiring, something I have never before seen. Have you noticed the haze?”
“Do you mean the layer of darkness that is spreading across the lands? Yes, this is what I was hastening to tell you. There are reports it is coming from Lozera.“ Those who had not known the news broke out in a flurry of exclamations.
“Lozera did you say?” Terryl’s voiced voice rose over the chattering.
“Yes, my lord. It was confirmed by the scouts.”
“This is not good news, Lorin.”
Everyone was silenced by Terryl’s statement. One by one, Terryl called on the scouts to share their reports concerning the troubles affecting the lands. Each report brought new depths of concern to the listeners. Eagle heads bobbed up and down with excitement, and squeaks and squawks could be heard punctuating the sound of the wind as it blew around the peaks of the Perch. Through it all, Terryl could sense their eyes on him, each of them eager to know how their king would respond. Would he finally act to save mankind in their time of need? But Terryl was not easily swayed by the expectations of others, and he dismissed the questions he knew they were asking from his mind. With an air of detachment he did not truly feel, he held his peace while carefully considering all the reports presented by the advisors and scouts. When he was satisfied, he indicated that Lorin should speak.
The adviser obliged. “As you know, Lystra is slowly wasting away from drought, and Orleans is nearly destroyed by civil war. Aside from Nardin, these are the only two realms populated by humans, and they are closest to us. There is little doubt that their troubles will soon breach our borders. Not to mention that the haze as you call it, sire, has been gathering for some time. I am afraid that if it is not stopped soon, it will consume us all.”
“I have only just seen it for the first time.”
“That is because it seems to have originated in Lozera.”
Lorin’s gaze met Terryl’s. “I see,” said the king. He did not add that he hadn’t known about the haze’s origins for the simple reason that he never went near that city, a fact they were both aware of. But the unspoken fact hung in the air between them.
Terryl returned his attention to the subject at hand. Both Lystra and Orleans were heavily populated, and at one time, wealthy Western kingdoms. The former had been rich in farming, while the latter had been a commercial centre, providing the neighbouring kingdoms with grain, textiles and lumber. He knew the world of men would be devastated by the losses of these important cities.
Terryl turned aside, away from the watching eyes of those gathered to allow him the privacy to think. Evil was spreading from nation to nation like a plague, weakening even the strongest kingdoms. Only a very few noble cities still stood against its onslaught, but for how much longer?
Evil. Humans could not know of its true origin, but he did. In fact, he knew the enemy’s face very well, for they had vied against each other many times in the past until his foe had finally prevailed. It was because Terryl had faltered that evil now ran rampant across the earth. It was his fault, yet he was bound against doing anything to cure it. He could only endure the consequences of his failure. He was an impotent king.
No, not entirely impotent. A bold, new idea had been germinating for some time, and in response to the fingers of despair which had begun to creep into his thoughts, it broke through to the forefront of his mind. Inspired, Terryl turned to face the eagles. “Friends, what the world needs now is hope. We have observed these unlucky events unfold long enough. The time for watching and waiting past; it is time to act. If someone could be found who can restore hope to humankind, perhaps then, the world could endure.”
Lorin looked off into the distance while he considered the statement. Eagle’s Land was still relatively unmarred by the darkness. From the Throne Aerie, the whole of it was displayed, from the roiling green sea in the east, to the red, sandy beach abutting it, to the wild, green plains that seemed to stretch on forever to the north. He seemed to find particular pleasure in observing the rolling beauty of the valleys in the west, stained green with lush vegetation, and the aged forests which on sunny days rang with the songs of birds. He sighed softly, but to Terryl who knew his friend well, the expelled breath seemed a manifestation of his growing fatigue. When the adviser spoke, the hollowness of his voice confirmed the impression. “But who could this person be? Why has he not already shown himself?”
Concerned, Terryl observed Lorin, finally deciding that the two must meet privately. He trusted and relied on his chief adviser implicitly, and it was unthinkable that he should fall into despair. More than that, the possibility that the fingers of hopelessness should finally reach his own people was unnerving.
“It is likely he is not even aware of his potential. He must be found and he must be convinced.”
The adviser nodded slowly, obviously still evaluating the proposed plan. “I perceive you have some idea as to where this person might be found.” His tone made the statement sound like a question.
“Nardin,” Terryl answered without hesitation. Lorin looked at him, surprise evident in his eyes. Terryl explained, “It was once one of the world’s most beautiful realms, and though it is on the brink of destruction, the world still looks to it as a beacon of hope. As long as it stands, hope remains.”
“To Nardin then.” Lorin nodded again, slowly, as though trying to convince himself that this was the most logical plan of action. He glanced at his king, whose massive figure was strong, immovable, and suddenly the adviser’s eyes regained their usual lustre. He turned briskly to the scouts and said, “Go and learn what you can of how the kingdom fares. Be wary and be wise. The fate of the world may depend on what news you bring back to your king.”
The team of five bowed, then took to the air and was gone. Terryl took Lorin aside to a quiet corner of the aerie where they talked together for a long time.
D. Forde (2011, revised 2013)