Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Discovering the Doctor

I thought I had run out of universes, but I was wrong!
            I’ve always been fond of discovering new fictional universes, vast spans of space and time filled with strange assortments of characters and seemingly infinite numbers of places to explore. I don’t mean worlds described in single books or movies, but universes that expand over time, guided by the imaginations of many creators, and become almost living entities of fiction, capturing the attention of generations of fans.
            I suppose Star Wars was the first thing to make me feel that way, as that galaxy far, far away and a long, long time ago caught my eye when I was just a small boy in the middle of the great Star Wars craze of the early 80s. Although I’m not impressed by the direction it took years later, and I’ve only seen the prequels once each, I still go back and revisit the original three movies once a year or so and the Star Wars universe is still a place that made my imagination grow by leaps and bounds in those early years of falling in love with science fiction and fantasy.
            Star Trek came next and I wanted to be part of that universe, wanted to board the Enterprise and sail the galaxies with Captain Kirk and crew. And not so long after I found Star Trek, that universe expanded quickly and joyfully, and I had a great time with the spin-offs, the novels, comic books, and all the other offspring of Gene Roddenberry’s glorious vision of humanity’s future.
            And I got much the same feeling of wonder when I fell into the world of comic books, finding the Marvel universe first and then the even older world of DC. It didn’t bother me that I was jumping into both worlds many decades after their genesis’ and I was fine with the fact that I’d probably never, in a million years, be able to read all the stories that had taken place in those universes. I loved that they were so vast, so full of possibilities, and bigger than my imagination could handle in one bite!
            Those were the big ones, the discoveries that blew my mind at the age when a mind is in the best condition to be blown, when I was still a child and still able to frequently get swept away in wonder. It happened several more times over the years, but rarely as dramatically. As I got older, read more books, saw more films, and began to write my own stories and eventually see them published, it became harder and harder to get lost in a fictional universe. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy many stories over those years, but it wasn’t so easy to put myself at the mercy of the magic that comes with setting foot in a big, awe-inspiring universe that’s been there for so long and accumulated so much history that it seems you might never learn all there is to know about it.
            So yes, I thought I had run out of universes to explore. I never again expected to feel the way I did when I was eight and realized just how big the Marvel Universe or the world of Star Trek are. But then a wonderful thing happened. I decided to visit The Doctor.  
            I’d been aware of the existence of DOCTOR WHO for most of my life. Reading comics and science fiction magazines as I grew up, I would often see ads for the show and its related merchandise, yet I never got farther than a quick glance at those images. I knew DOCTOR WHO was a long-running series on British TV, that it had something to do with time travel, and that the part had been played by a series of eccentric-looking English actors, with the one I saw most often in those ads being a long-nosed man with a wide-brimmed hat and a ridiculously long scarf. That was all I knew for years. Later, I was aware that the series had been revived sometime after the year 2000 and had gained more popularity than it had ever had before, but I still didn’t bother to investigate further. I don’t know why I hesitated for so long. Maybe it just seemed like too much work. When I was younger, I dove headfirst into those previously mentioned fictional universes, not caring how much had gone on before my arrival. But now, being in my mid-thirties, with less free time than ever before, perhaps the Doctor’s long history intimidated me. Sure, I could have given myself a quick crash course via the internet and caught up with several visits to various websites and Wikipedia entries, but I hate doing things that way. I want to experience stories, not research them!  
            So what changed my mind after all those years and made me finally decide to check out DOCTOR WHO? I think it was a combination of three things. First, the months of buzz about the upcoming 50th anniversary of DOCTOR WHO put the show on my radar. Second, Netflix put up some of the show for streaming, including a sampler of 18 stories from the original series stretching from the nineteen sixties to the eighties. And third, and probably most importantly, I began to notice that a great many of my fellow writers and other friends are fans of DOCTOR WHO. These are people whose opinions I trust and who share many of my interests in movies, books, TV, and other media. If their good taste in fiction had led them to the Doctor, I began to strongly suspect that the universe traveled by the TARDIS might be a place I’d enjoy exploring too. 

            So I took the plunge, beginning with the Netflix sampler, and started to watch DOCTOR WHO. I was hooked from the start! The first serial I watched was “The Aztecs,” from 1964, starring William Hartnell, the very first Doctor. The early science fiction TV charm of the show caught my attention immediately. I liked the eerie, pre-psychedelic opening credits, the storytelling that reminded me of things like the original Star Trek, and the Doctor’s stern, intellectual attitude. I breezed through that story and quickly moved on to the next one. There was only one Hartnell story streaming, so I was soon introduced to the second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, and his companions. Troughton’s Doctor, to be honest, irritated me at first with his panicked, jumpy personality and absent-minded professor style, but by the end of the serial I realized that it was all an act to hide his sly intellect, much the way my favorite TV detective, Columbo, exaggerates his sloppy eccentricity to annoy his suspects and throw them off guard.
            I soon moved on to the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, who was quite different from his two predecessors, getting in and out of trouble as a flamboyantly dressed, somewhat action-oriented character. I was treated to four stories with him, starting with his first, “The Spearhead from Space,” and ending with “The Green Death,” which remains one of my favorites.

            Next I watched a long stretch of nine stories featuring the Fourth Doctor, the extremely popular Tom Baker. He’s become my favorite and I can see why he’s so popular. I enjoyed the first two Baker stories, “The Ark in Space” and “Pyramids of Mars” (that second one was based around a theme I always enjoy, the merging of ancient Egyptian mythology and science fiction, similar to one of my favorite books, Roger Zelazny’s “Creatures of Light and Darkness”). 
            But it was the third Baker story I saw that made him my favorite. In “The Horror of Fang Rock,” a lighthouse crew is menaced by an alien monster. In one scene, the Doctor sits on the lighthouse steps and calmly chats with the creature, so casual and so confident, despite the deadly danger he’s in. I kept going through all the Baker stories that were available for streaming and came to appreciate his performance more and more. Baker was masterful at tossing out absurd lines casually and even politely in the face of dangerous situations or uncomfortable circumstances. “Would you mind not standing on my chest? My hat’s on fire.” 

            As I write this, I’ve just recently watched the ninth of those Baker stories, “The City of Death,” and I’m sad to have reached the end of what I have access to from the Fourth Doctor’s run. His stories were all entertaining and he was joined on his adventures by some of my favorites of his companions, characters like Sarah Jane Smith, Romana, and the robotic dog K-9.
            I still have three serials left on the Netflix sampler. When I next sit down to see the Doctor, I’ll be watching Peter Davidson in the role for the first time. When I’m done with that selection of episodes from the long-running original series, I intend to watch the newer series all the way through, beginning with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. I also plan to slowly find the time to track down and watch as many of the Doctor’s earlier adventures as I can, either by getting the DVDs from Netflix or maybe even buying some of them to own. I love the fact that I have literally hundreds of episodes left with which I can go back and see those earlier Doctors: Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, etc.
            So, yes, I seem to have become a Whovian! Now that I’ve described how I came to happily embark on my TARDIS-driven adventures, I’m wondering exactly what it is about DOCTOR WHO that appeals to me so much. I’m going to try to explain that.  
            The first reason is the most obvious. I’ve been a science fiction fan since I found Star Wars and Star Trek, both by the age of six or so. It makes sense that the time and space travel themes of DOCTOR WHO would appeal to me. I’d like to have the TARDIS almost as much as I’d like to soar through the stars aboard the Enterprise or Millennium Falcon.
            Second, the Doctor is the type of character I’ve grown fonder of as I’ve gotten older. He is what one might call the Eccentric Hero. As fans of fiction, I suppose we all often dream of being the most dashing or handsomest or strongest type of hero, the James Bond or Superman or Captain Kirk, but we don’t all grow up to fit that mold. I’ll never be 007 or that sort of man, the kind who can walk into a room and intimidate enemies and make women swoon and cause everyone to wish they were him. But I have my intelligence and my imagination and some people might even see me as a man with certain eccentricities. I can be a curmudgeon one minute and come up with a smart quip the next and sometimes be sneaky or sly or strategic in trying to get what I want. I’ve come to appreciate that sort of fictional character to a greater extent as I experience more of life. Sherlock Holmes has always been a favorite of mine, as have Hercule Poirot and Lt. Columbo and Gandalf. I think I have more of Obi-Wan than Luke Skywalker or Han Solo in me and I’m certainly more a Leonard McCoy than a James T. Kirk. The Doctor, in all his incarnations, is that sort of hero, a character who uses wit and knowledge and humor and unpredictability more than brute strength or irresistible charm to solve a problem or survive a sticky situation. So, on that level, I very much identify with the Doctor.            
            The third reason for my fascination with the universe of DOCTOR WHO is perhaps the most unexpected, and is something I realized somewhere in the middle of the Tom Baker episodes when I was really getting addicted. DOCTOR WHO is perhaps the most accidentally profound fictional concept I’ve ever encountered. I say “accidental” because I don’t think the creators of the show were trying to be philosophical. I assume they were just trying to make a decent science fiction show that people would want to watch. But I see more there than just fun tales of a traveler through space and time. The character and his experiences speak to me on a deeper level and maybe even become an analogy for some of the core concepts of being human (funny how we can often see more humanity in the alien characters than the Earth-born ones! I find myself thinking of Admiral Kirk’s words at Spock’s funeral in Star Trek II, “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most … human.”).
            Here are the connections I see between the Doctor’s exaggerated, fictional circumstances and the reality we all live with every day of our lives:
            We are all travelers through time and space. The time part is obvious. I will not be at the same point in time when I finish this essay as I was when I began it. It’s not as dramatic as leaping across centuries in a blue police box, but we do take our trips. And the space aspect of our lives might not seem as exciting as journeying to alien worlds, but the places we experience in our lives can be as different from each other as Mars and Neptune and Vulcan and Gallifrey. Different homes, towns, nations, schools, workplaces, etc. all impact who we are in one way or another. And we rarely end up exactly where we were trying to go, or at least rarely find the circumstances there to be precisely what we expected.
            And just like the Doctor, we regenerate often, probably more often than we know. I’ve been through many incarnations. All have had my name and my body, but I’ve been through many changes. I am not exactly who I was a year ago, or ten years before that. I change, as we all do, perhaps more than I realize at any particular point in time. And just as in episodes like “The Three Doctors,” when the Third Doctor teamed up with his First and Second versions, there do come times when more than one aspect of our lives collide and we feel as though more than one of us is sharing the same experience. I’ve been going through something a bit like that lately, as a new friend has reawakened some old interests of mine. Although I’ve changed since I last dealt with those subjects, it feels as if a past version of me is now working in cooperation with the incarnation of me that exists in 2013. There are many different variations of me stretched out across the 36 years I’ve lived so far in my life, just as the Doctor has worn many faces and personalities over the span of his TV series.
            And lastly, we come to the fact that although we will encounter many characters in our lives, we will, at different points in our existence, see different sets of people as our closest companions, as those who matter most to us at any given time.
            It seems as though the Doctor’s characteristics, the time and space travel, the regenerations, the changing cast of companions, are all fictionalized exaggerations of what real life is like. Maybe that’s the core of what makes DOCTOR WHO so popular, maybe that’s why generation after generation sticks with it and follows the TARDIS and its occupants on such a fascinating, unpredictable journey. At least that’s how I see it right now.
            So here I am, having discovered yet another fictional universe to explore, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m still catching up on the Doctor’s first fifty years, and I look forward to seeing what surprises await us in the next fifty!  


Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 So Far

2013 has been, by far, the busiest year of my life since I started writing. I thought I should put all my releases for the year in one blog post, making them easy to find for anyone interested. First, here's the link directly to my Amazon page, which lists all my books.

And here's everything so far for this year:

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Volume 4 was released by Airship 27 Productions back in the beginning of the year and contains my fourth Holmes story, "The Problem of the Coincidental Glance," along with stories by my friends I.A. Watson, Bradley H. Sinor, W.R. Thinnes, and Andrew Salmon. Holmes Volume 4 can be found on Amazon in print or for Kindle.

Shortly after the Holmes book, my second story featuring another classic pulp character appeared in Dan Fowler: G-Man Volume 2, which also includes stories by Derrick Ferguson, Joshua Reynolds, and B.C. Bell. Also from Airship 27, the second Fowler book can be found in both print and Kindle editions.

This summer, I saw a lifelong dream come true as Pro Se Productions published my spy novel, NOBODY DIES FOR FREE, featuring my character Richard Monroe. I'm very proud of this book and happy to see some of the wonderful reviews posted by those who have read it. A sequel will be published sometime in 2014. Here are links to the print and Kindle versions.

After Sherlock Holmes, of course, the next most famous character I've been given the opportunity to write about is Allan Quatermain. QUATERMAIN: THE NEW ADVENTURES, features two novellas, one by me and one by Alan J. Porter. Print edition. Kindle

My detective character, Lt. Marcel Picard, returned for his fourth case in "Beaten to a Pulp," in Pro Se Presents magazine's July issue. In print or for Kindle.

The vampire series that began with 100,000 MIDNIGHTS continues in the sequel, ACROSS THE MIDNIGHT SEA, from Musa Publishing. Available as an e-book for Kindle or Nook

And I wasn't yet done with pulp for the year, as I had a fourth story published by Airship 27, this one in RAVENWOOD: STEPSON OF MYSTERY Volume 2. "Agents of the Night" had occult detective Ravenwood teaming up with masked vigilante The Black Bat. Available in print or as an e-book.  

And finally, just in time for Halloween, Buzz Books released my full-length horror novel, CHICAGO FELL FIRST, which tells the story of how a group of strangers comes together to survive and hopefully help the innocent victims of a zombie infestation of one of America's major cities. For a limited time, CHICAGO FELL FIRST is only 99 cents for Kindle or Nook

I'd like to thank every writer, editor, publisher, artist, blogger, interviewer, and promoter who had a part in making this year such a success for me. And I'm especially grateful to everyone who bought and read any of my books! If anyone reading this hasn't tried my work and decides to give it a shot, I hope you enjoy it! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

And Then There Were Zombies!

It's Halloween week and that means the timing is perfect fort he release of my newest novel!
I'm happy to announce that CHICAGO FELL FIRST, my zombie horror novel from publisher Buzz Books is now available for Amazon Kindle and will soon be for sale in other places including the Barnes & Noble site.

I'm thrilled with the way this book turned out, thanks to the wonderful editing of Mari Farthing and the encouragement of publisher Malena Lott. CHICAGO FELL FIRST is being released at the low price of .99 for Kindle (so grab it now while it's a bargain).

Here's the official Amazon book description:

 After Brandon sees his mother save her water-logged cell phone in a bag of rice, he tries the same when he finds his little brother blue in the bathtub. At first he believes his brother is dead - no breath, bluish skin - but when his mother returns home and he opens his eyes, they rush him to the hospital where he stays overnight for observation.

A night nurse checks on the boy to find him sitting up in bed. Everything seems fine until that first bite...

Follow this harrowing horror tale as a city comes under siege by the Empty Ones. Told from alternating points of view between the main characters who end up converging in Chicago as the outbreak happens, this zombie novel has all the elements of a thrill fest: Pop science, gore, tension and a glimpse into what happens to humanity when humans transform into ravenous walking dead.

One medical student braves the chaos to search for a cure...

One former captain tries to right the wrongs of his past...

One serial killer in the making sees it as a chance to release his dark yearning...

One city battling for survival in CHICAGO FELL FIRST.

Here's the cover image:

And here's the link to buy the book on Amazon

I hope you'll all enjoy the book. I look forward to hearing what readers think of it! Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Every year, I promise myself I’ll enjoy October. I’ll hold onto that magical month, cherish it, let it caress me, make love to it until its conspiracy succeeds in leading me into the spooky, sentimental, spectacular orgasm of the senses and the mind that October is meant to provide. 
            All my life, it’s been my favorite month. October: when the school year’s been in session just long enough for a boy to begin letting go of the pain brought on by having to relinquish the glorious freedom of summertime, when the chill of autumn truly begins to creep in and surround us after the few teasing frosts that might occur in September some years, when the shifting of the shades of leaves promises the coming of November’s feasts and December’s gifts, and when Halloween crawls into view in its slow, steady stride with pumpkins becoming prominent on the neighbors’ porches and wax fangs showing up in the grocery store displays.
            This month has always been magical to me, and as I drown more deeply in adulthood with each passing year, I often vow, right around the middle of September, that this will be the year I embrace October, when I find a moment now and then to stop and breathe in the cool air, when I take a day or two to sit in front of the TV with the right discs in the player and voluntarily deny the jadedness of older eyes so Lugosi and Karloff can crawl under my skin again and frighten me as they did when I was a child and those old black and white images seemed so, so real, like shadows out of humanity’s collective archetypal nightmares. 

            But my twenties happened and I worked and pursued women and tried to figure out what path to take in life. And I hit thirty and tried to be respectable and fell into predictable patterns of work, save, work, save, buy, then work and save some more, and a job became a career and went on like clockwork day after day and season after identical season and now forty isn’t too far beyond the horizon, and now and then I spot a gray strand in my stubble when I’m too lazy to shave for a few days.
            Each year, I vow to hold October close, but she always manages to slip away. The precious month speeds by and soon it snows and I know I’ll have to try to keep my promise the next year.    
            I almost missed again this year, but I’ve reached out in this final week of the best of all months and I think I’ve got it now!
            The chill is in the air. It’s too nippy to venture outside without at least a sweatshirt. The leaves crunch underfoot. The coffee tastes sweeter because I need the warmth and not just the caffeine. The night air seems filled with just enough danger to bring back the feeling I had as a kid when I thought that maybe, just maybe, the ghouls and vampires and other delights from beyond the veil that separates worlds were real and bumps in the night are more than just wind-blown fence gates. Maybe that feeling has something to do with the pack of coyotes that ate one of my neighbor’s dogs a week ago, or maybe I really have, for now at least, rediscovered the October that I’ve been trying to catch again for close to twenty years.
            I made time to watch an old horror movie the other day. The great Peter Cushing was hard at work making monsters again, stitching the pieces together, transferring brains from one body to another, and the insanity of it all was a joy to behold. I still have time to fit a few more in before Halloween. The Exorcist, maybe, or a little marathon of the Universal classics? I’ll decide when the time is right.  
            I have a horror novel coming out very soon too, so maybe that’s pushed me a little closer to the proper mood for the season. But it’s more than just that. It’s a combination of things, a perfect recipe for the right blend of sentiment and optimism and creepy delight!  
            Whatever the reasons, I can smile now when I drive past the plastic Draculas and inflated pumpkins and fake gravestones that stand on yards all across the suburbs. I can feel the autumn air filling my lungs and it doesn’t bother me to know that it will only get colder over the next few months. Winter will be all right this year, because it isn’t rushing in just yet. This time, I’ve caught October, and I intend to hold her tightly until she finally fades away.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Good Intentions, Unexpected Results

I've been very pleasantly surprised lately by some of the things people have been saying about my writing ... and I swear I didn't do most of it on purpose!

When I write a story, I have one goal in mind. That's to entertain.What form that entertainment takes varies depending on the genre, but all I ever really want to do is tell a good story in the best way I can. I'm the kind of writer who takes an idea for a plot and bashes the words out quickly and by following my instincts. I don't do detailed outlines or obsess over every word. I take an idea, follow my gut, and run with it. Eventually, if I'm lucky, I end up with a finished short story or novel and somebody wants to publish it. The the readers get it and I hope they enjoy it. That's all there is on my end of the process. I don't try to do anything more than make those readers happy and keep them interested for the time it takes to read from Page 1 to "The End." 

But my last few releases have been getting comments that have shocked me, in a good way.

I wrote my spy novel NOBODY DIES FOR FREE with the intention of telling a story that thrilled readers the way I've always been thrilled by things like James Bond movies or Tom Clancy books. Based on what readers have said in response to the book, I seem to have accomplished that and I'm glad I have. But there's been more than that. I've had people say they've been amazed by the depth of character I've given to the protagonist, Richard Monroe, or been surprised by the twists of the plot. A writer I greatly respect, Trent Zelazny, went so far as to say that the writing is "mind boggling, slick and with a high polish, yet dripping with humanity and often poetry." I literally had tears in my eyes as I read that review. Good tears, because I seem to have accomplished what I set out to do and then more.

I also recently released my second vampire novel, ACROSS THE MIDNIGHT SEA (sequel to 100,000 MIDNIGHTS). My goal there was the same as it always is, to entertain. Now those books contain an element of romance and some sex scenes. The sex is there because it's part of the story, not for any other reason. To be honest, I'm not very comfortable writing about sex. It feels clumsy to me, slightly embarrassing, maybe too personal to be sharing with the world, even if it's the characters having the sex and, obviously, not me. I don't get too graphic with my literary depictions of sex. I tend to use metaphors and hints. It's certainly not outright erotica. So imagine my surprise recently when a reader reported being aroused by those scenes! I'll take the compliment, gladly, but it's not what I expected to hear.

Getting comments like those from readers and reviewers has caught me off guard and I take it as a sign that I'm doing something right, becoming a better writer. I won't try to duplicate those successes, but will continue to do what I've always done, which is write by instinct, put down the words that seem to tell the story best. If those words have deeper effects than I anticipated, good!

The lesson I've learned: trust myself, write what feels right. Experience, guided by instinct, and a hell of a lot of practice seems to be paying off.

As I said earlier, I swear I didn't do it on purpose!            

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Editor Speaks

Today's post is part of a bit of cross-blogging I'm doing with some of the people I work with at one of my favorite publishers, Buzz Books. 

In the past, I've had two short stories published by Buzz Books, both in the Young Adult genre, which was  a sort of story I'd never written before finding Buzz. The first, "A Kiss on the Threshold," appeared in the anthology Prom Dates to Die For, and the second, "Spectral Media," was in a collection called Something Wicked. I had a blast working with Buzz Books on both stories, so when it was time to look for a publisher for my upcoming horror novel, Chicago Fell First, I contact them. They accepted the book and it's now in it's last phase of preparation for an October release.

One of my favorite parts of my Buzz Books experience is the time I spend working with Senior Editor Mari Farthing. Mari is an excellent editor with an eye for tiny details, both in grammar and plot, and a contagious enthusiasm that makes an author feel like his work has even more potential than he realized when writing it. Perhaps most importantly, Mari knows how to make the long, sometimes tedious process of preparing a book for publication fun. It's not just about finding and correcting typos and improving plot elements. It's about the joy of the creative process. That enthusiasm reminds a writer that creating a story is supposed to be a refreshing experience and not the heavy burden it can sometimes feel like.

Mari was kind enough to answer five questions about her experiences as both an editor and a writer. I'd like to share those answers now with the readers of this blog.

Aaron: You've worked as both a writer and an editor. I'm going to assume the desire to write came first, but please correct me if I'm wrong. If I'm right, how did writing lead to the decision to go into the editing side of the publishing business?

Mari: I’ve always been a writer. You’re right, there. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing things down. I first started with poetry, horrific, horribly bad poetry when I was a tween (though we didn’t have that word back then). Very sweet, emotional stuff—but my family realized that I was good with words, I was able to evoke feeling and emotion through words even at a young age. Loved creative writing classes in school, but never really considered how to make that my career. Meanwhile, in all my jobs I would find ways to inject technical writing wherever I could, which scratched that itch. I also discovered that I liked editing and I sort of followed myself down that path. I’ve had a varied career background (moved around a bit with a military husband) and I’m easily distracted, so writing and editing, jobs which are always focusing on something new, was a great discovery.
            Magazine work was a great push in this direction—I began as a freelance writer and was brought on as an assistant editor and refined my skills under my wonderful former editor, Denise. I knew I wanted to be an editor when I saw her fix a sentence that had given us fits for an hour or more, we just couldn’t get the sentence to sound right. It was an amazingly simple fix, but something that none of us had seen, and it just made all the difference. That little sentence changed my life—though I’m sure the reader never even noticed! How intriguing it is, that hidden world that the reader isn’t privy to, the realm of editing. Sometimes when I see someone reading something I’ve worked on, I can’t help but think “oh, you have no idea!”
            I spent five years as the editor myself before leaving the magazine to freelance—which is how my current writing and editing work is structured. For me, it’s ideal, as it leaves me time for family and my own writing projects.

Aaron: How did you come to be the editor for Buzz Books?

Mari: I’ve known Malena Lott, Executive Editor at Buzz for many years through our shared connections in local media. When I heard about her new venture with Buzz, I let her know that I would love to take on freelance editing if she was in need. She took it one step further and asked me to come on as her Senior Editor. We worked well together from the start, our divergent styles complement each other and Buzz is such a creative atmosphere, so open to brainstorming and originality.

Aaron: What aspects of editing do you enjoy most? What are the worst parts of the job?

Mari: I love making words behave. It’s immensely gratifying to find the proper way to say something that’s giving you fits. And when you find the right combination of words, it can be such a rush. It’s also extremely tedious. There have been times when I’ve had to read the same piece upwards of ten times and by the time you get there, you just want to start the whole thing over again and nothing sounds right. It’s a process that takes a lot of time and sometimes as long—or longer—as the writing itself.
            I love working with writers, meeting new people (even if it’s virtually done) and helping bring books to publication. The worst parts of the job are dealing with rejection—either from us, when we have to reject a work that isn’t quite right for us, or from the writer, when our offer isn’t accepted. Rejection is never easy but it’s an integral part of the process.
            I hate to hear criticism. And it’s amplified as an editor—anytime a book I’ve worked on gets a negative review, I take it as personally as the writer does, I invest a lot of myself into these projects and feel a responsibility to the writer. I want their books to succeed as much as they do! I did read one harsh criticism in the past that was aimed directly at me, the book’s editor, and that was hard to take. But it’s just like writing, you have to roll with it because it’s a part of it.

Aaron: How has your work as an editor affected your writing? Do you find you're harder on yourself as a writer because you've been on the other side of the process too, or has it made it easier?

Mari: I occasionally speak about writing and editing, and I try really hard to practice what I preach—write through your first draft, never mind the rules or format when you’re just trying to get your story out, write daily, take your characters on adventures if you find yourself at an impasse, and so forth. But I also let my audience know about the absolute worst writer I’ve ever worked with, the one who can’t take criticism, the one who constantly rewrites those first few paragraphs, the one who can’t keep all of those names and places in order… and of course, I’m referring to myself.
            So I guess the one thing I try to impress upon other writers is to give yourself a break and just get on with it, which is the advice that I most need. And that’s how I try to treat the writers I work with—how I would prefer to be treated. Perhaps that’s one thing that first being a writer has allowed me to bring to the editing process.
            As for being an editor, well, I’ve gotten to read outside of my own chosen genre a lot, which is great, and I’ve learned what my own writing foibles are (overuse of that, the inevitable verb agreement issues) and I’m working to overcome them. Editing is the art of taking an intensely personal thing and presenting it for public consumption. Working in editing has taught me to be more open to criticism (at least a little bit) and respect that process a bit more.

Aaron: What books or writers have influenced you as an author? And, here's something I've never thought about before, are there any notable editors who you consider influences or role models when it comes to that profession?

Mari: Influential books and writers? I’ve got lots. This is a curated list. If you ask me tomorrow, I could come up with a hundred more:
·         In high school, I read Ayn Rand’s Anthem and was amazed by what she was able to do in such a slim volume. I wrote several chapters that continued the story (fan fiction before there was such a thing?), I wish I knew where they were.
·         Walden (Henry David Thoreau) and To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and most of both Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury’s titles are books in my recycle pile (meaning that I reread them every now and then and always learn something new). Anytime a book can do that, it’s amazing to me.
·         Stephen King. He’s absolutely brilliant. He creates worlds full of amazement that don’t challenge you to suspend belief—you just do. Those fantastic worlds become reality. I remember trying to explain to someone a King story I had read and the more I tried to explain it, the more confused the other person became. I couldn’t explain it. You can’t explain it better than he can. He elevates popular fiction to a new level.
·         Nora Roberts. Yes, she’s a romance writing machine who pumps out titles like a fast food restaurant pumps out cholesterol, but her books are smart and well-researched. She does her homework and if there is a cookie-cutter story (boy meets girl, sparks fly, a misunderstanding occurs, girl forgives boy, the end) in some stories, the details that are pumped into her narratives are rich and satisfying. Another example of a popular writer who takes fiction and elevates it.
Regarding influential editors… I don’t really know of any. But I think that’s the way it’s meant to be. Think of us as the nameless, faceless force, the quiet collaborators working behind the scenes like shoemaker’s elves. And that’s okay with me. The mark of a great editor is that you can’t see their mark on the projects they’ve worked on.

Sincere thanks to Mari for expressing her thoughts on the life of an editor and writer. Also today, on Mari's blog, which can be found at  are my answers to five questions Mari asked me, focusing on my work as a writer. I hope everyone will hop over there and read that next!

Chicago Fell First, my upcoming release from Buzz Books, will be available in October.