From a dystopian Earth of radical climate unlivable for humans, to a ghost exacting payment in the form of a child, these stories will plunge you deep and whip you back up into the air. Carr writes about the human condition while delving into fantasy, science fiction, and psychological horror, bringing readers to the edge and nearly dropping them. Neighbor fears neighbor in a world gone nuclear, an old man brings life back to the soil through magical wind chimes, and a neglected wife flies away on a hummingbird. Carr’s style is intense, lingering with readers. I highly recommend all of his books.
Ello. My name is Umair Mirxa. I live and write in Karachi, Pakistan. To be a published author is a dream I have long held and cherished, and it has finally, slowly come true over the past year or so. I have the honour of being published in several international anthologies, but there is much yet to achieve, including my first novel, and hopefully, an epic fantasy series. More recently, I have taken up drawing as a secondary creative outlet. When I am not writing, I spend my time on Netflix, reading, and watching football as an Arsenal FC fan.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc.
The greatest and most ever-present inspiration for me is, and forever has been, J.R.R. Tolkien. I read my favourite passages from The Lord of the Rings whenever I’m stuck with my own writing or even generally if and when something has me down. Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Christopher Paolini are just a few of the other authors who have inspired me.
I don’t really work to a strict schedule unless faced with a looming deadline. I do, however, make a point of writing every single day, even if what I produce turns out to be spectacularly ridiculous rubbish. If the muse is singing, I have been known to write for 14-16 hour sessions without food or sleep. There are, of course, plenty of days when even a 100-word drabble seems like the most horrible chore. I write digitally using a desktop PC, sitting at a desk which has a notepad, a pen-holder, an ashtray, several mugs of coffee, and snacks and smokes in a room which contains my bookshelf, a TV, a PS4, plenty of light, and a couple of extremely comfortable leather sofas.
Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product, including services hired as a self-published author, and marketing.
While I have been published in nearly three dozen anthologies recently, I have yet to self-publish a book. Once it is ready, and hopefully the day is not too far off, I plan on seeking out a couple of author friends to beta-read the final draft, and then upload the final product to print-on-demand platforms like Amazon and Lulu. I am lucky enough to have professional experience as a graphic designer and a digital marketer, thus eliminating the need for hired services. I hope to create a decent cover myself, and I will definitely be doing my own marketing, at least for a while yet.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.
I feel I have been truly blessed when it comes to having a support system as a writer. My wife does everything possible to facilitate my process and schedule, and has been the greatest, most constant source of motivation and encouragement. My mother, both sisters, brother, mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law and even their husbands have all cheered and spurred me on, and I have the greatest group of friends a guy can ask for in my corner, always. They have supported me, encouraged me, chastised me when necessary, and contributed ideas and advice for my stories.
Lastly, and most certainly not the least, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a rather remarkable group of author and publisher friends online who have beta-read my work with honest feedback, shown me submissions opportunities, encouraged me to write and submit, and given me excellent advice not only for writing but for life as well. They include, and I apologize in advance if I fail to mention someone I should, authors such as Steve Carr, Shawn Klimek, David Bowmore, Bruce Rowe, Mark Kuglin, Patt O’Neil, Mehreen Ahmed, Pavla Chandler, Aditya Deshmukh, Nerisha Kemraj, Ximena Escobar, Kelli J Gavin, Arabella Davis, and Dawn DeBraal, and publishers/editors Grant Hudson, Dean Kershaw, Zoey Xolton, Madeline L. Stout, and Stacey Morrighan McIntosh.
How does life influence your writing and vice versa?
In every way possible, I imagine. For most of my life, reading fantasy stories has been a way of escape, and now I write them myself, more often than not, for the very same reason. Yet no matter how fantastic a landscape I portray or how outlandish my characters, the essence of my own personal experiences permeates all of my writing. My characters, therefore, and much like I do myself, will generally hate racism and discrimination in any form with a vengeance, and they’ll tend to be quiet and introverted, with only a small group of close friends. They will have experienced loss and adversity, will enjoy books and food and travel, music and solitude, and the all the simple pleasures of life.
Simplicity is perhaps the greatest lesson taught to me by the art and practice of writing. Too often, we complicate our lives beyond reason by chasing after material and financial gain at the cost of all that is good and pure in our time on Earth.
What do you love most about your creativity?
The ability to bring to life characters and things and places, and entire worlds which I can visit and explore at leisure. To be able to have conversations with people I would never actually meet, to give them lives and loves, experiences and friendships. To dream of a world which has never been and might never come to be but still be able to envision and set stories within, and then to share them with the world that is.
I love how my creativity means I am never, ever bored and can comfortably be alone for days, even weeks on end if necessary. I enjoy discovering potential stories when I’m out at a restaurant, mall or park, and can create characters of the people I see and meet. More recently, since I have taken up drawing, there is the additional joy of studying light and shadows, form and shape and perspective, and then to try and apply all of it to a blank canvas.
Most importantly perhaps, and I know all authors crave an audience, but I absolutely love when someone tells me they enjoyed reading one of my stories. It is one of the greatest pleasures in life, I believe, when your work is the source of joy for another.
Connect with Umair:
Author Extra: Write a 50-word story right here, right now!
Brynhildr withdrew her sword from the fallen warrior’s chest, swayed, and collapsed herself. Slowly, the dark descended, and she felt herself ascending. Strong arms around her. A gentle caress. The weight, the pain, the fear. All of it, gone.
She opened her eyes, and with a smile walked into Valhalla.
Author Extra Extra: Art Gallery
In this second book of the series, Xanthe reluctantly succumbs again to time travel, this time to save her friend Samuel. A copper chocolate pot takes her to a 17th century chocolate house, run by a mysterious woman who seems to know all about her and desires to protect her. In this book, Xanthe learns more about her place in the time traveling world, receiving tools to learn how better to control her journeys. I received this wonderful story from the publisher St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. This publisher informed NetGalley readers upfront that the first book was the beginning of a series, which I don’t normally read, but the premise sounded too fun to pass up, and this second book is also labeled part of a series. Kudos to St. Martin’s Press for their forthrightness. A big thank you to Paula Brackston for introducing Dear Readers to chocolate houses, where you got a steaming cup of creamy, homemade on the spot hot chocolate, so much better than beer.
Tati, Ana, Tatyana, and Tanya are the same girl, whose DNA was split to create them in multiverses by their father. This story had such potential, but the characters could have been more clearly differentiated from the beginning, the adoptive parents more credible (wealthy hippies?), and the ending less rushed to wrap it all up. Having said that, this is a unique perspective and Berla a good storyteller despite the flaws in execution. This book requires a good imagination and concentration. I received a digital copy from the publisher Flux through NetGalley.
Mike Chen writes science fiction with feelings. His debut novel Here and Now and Then was part of Bookbub’s Best Science Fiction of 2019 and the Goodreads Choice Awards shortlist. His upcoming book A Beginning at the End (January 14, 2020 from Mira/HarperCollins) has received multiple starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and more. Mike also covers geek culture for outlets such as Tor.com, StarTrek.com, and more, and posts many photos of his dog on social media. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @mikechenwriter.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, magic tricks, etc.
Well, I have a day job and a feisty 5-year-old daughter, so my writing process is basically whenever I can around that. I write a lot on my phone (and I read a lot of ebooks on my phone) because Google Docs allows for anywhere/anytime access. This works in whatever block of time is available, so if I’m waiting at a doctor’s appointment, I can edit a short section, and if I’m in bed, I can draft for 30 minutes or so. At some point, I imagine I’ll have a little more structure to my schedule, but I think it’ll have to wait until my daughter is a little older and doesn’t want my company anymore! As for actual process, I just need quiet (only video game soundtracks or instrumentals if I have music), though someday I’d love to have a dedicated home office just for writing.
Walk me through your publishing process from “final” draft to final product, including who does what when, and marketing that you do as the author.
It’s pretty standard. There’s the editorial process with my editor; then the marketing/publicity side gets involved. I do a lot of freelance writing for geek and pop culture media (e.g. Tor.com, StarTrek.com, TheMarySue.com) so I’m always game if I need to write an essay or something specifically for publicity purposes, but it’s generally out of my control; I just nod and smile when asked to write something or show up to an event.
A few steps back from that, I find that I’m not one of those writers who can sell with just a sample chapter and an outline. Writing a full novel from that is far too daunting, but you don’t want to sink too much time and energy into a manuscript that won’t go anywhere. For my second contract, I’ve found a good happy medium to be writing a fairly polished first half and a detailed synopsis for editorial acquisition. That way I get a good sense of character and world but I haven’t worked through the time necessary for a full manuscript. And if/when they buy it, I’m in a good starting point to finish it off because so much of the groundwork is already done.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.
My agent Eric Smith is my biggest industry cheerleader. He’s probably the biggest cheerleader in publishing, honestly. He cheers everyone on, which is always good to have in those moments of self-doubt (there are many). He’s also very editorial, which I appreciate in an agent. He lets me bounce ideas off of him and provides early critique reads, even for projects he’s not involved with. Oh, and he lets me know when there are good sales on video games, which is very important!
My wife and non-writer friends are all very supportive but the logistics of this industry are so unique and weird that it’s hard for them to empathize with the specific minutia of it all. I think for all writers, it’s really important to get peers whom you can vent to in private, and I am lucky that I have those. There are too many to name, and I’m afraid I’d probably accidentally leave someone out, but if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see me interacting with a lot of them—cheering each other on but also talking about geeky stuff like Star Trek and video games.
How does life influence your writing and vice versa?
Well, I realized the other day that many of the relationships and characters I’ve written about are lifted unknowingly from personal experience. There are moments when you draw on that intentionally, like a scene that looks like the coffee shop you like or the character that tells a joke that your spouse did. And then there’s the realization that a shade of a character is totally someone you know. I think every writer deals with that, so everyday life certainly influences my writing. I think it’s impossible not to.
From a conscious perspective, a friend told me a few weeks back that my writing was “hopepunk,” which is a term I recently discovered. A lot of my worldbuilding choices and character demographics stem from crafting a world that I want to see. As creators, we have a choice to bring some level of normalization into the real world via exposure in our imaginary world—I think that’s very vital. Even if a story isn’t overtly political, the messages imbued in it are inherently charged with a political point of view.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I remember the first creative writing class I took at UC Davis. I’d already done some journalism at that point in my life, but I felt this strange sense of freedom creating a fictional world. That creativity was unlike anything I’d ever felt, and I ran with it. My teacher told me to keep writing at the end of that class, and obviously I did.
That teacher, by the way, is named Wendy Sheanin and she’s an executive at Simon & Schuster. She’s the first person I sent an advance copy of my debut.
Connect with Mike:
A time travel criminal shot Kin’s Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, stranding him in 1996. In the two decades it took his colleagues from 2142 to find him, he built a life with a wife and daughter. Regulations force him back to the future, where he’s been missing for only weeks from his work and his fiancee. His inexplicable disappearance, and her mother’s death, sends his daughter spiraling downward. He breaches protocol, reaching out to her digitally, endangering both. Chen brilliantly maintains time travel integrity, with its possibilities and limitations, placing his main character in an organization enforcing law throughout time, with strict safety policies for agents preventing him from aiding his daughter. This is a family drama that just happens to have a time travel element—a well-written, speculative suspense novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Arizona, and Maryland, Brian Barr resides in South Carolina and is the author of the Carolina Daemonic series, the 3 H’s Trilogy, the Nihon Cyberpunk collection (read my reviews of #2, #3, and #4), and the Brutal Bazaar collection. His stories meld fantasy, horror, and science fiction, with themes that range from the occult to the exploration of the human condition, art, music, societal issues and political concerns. As a small press and independent author, he is heavily influenced by DIY and punk culture when it comes to formatting and releasing his work. Brian has written novels, short stories, and comics. He co-created and co-writes the comic book Empress with Chuck Amadori, which features art by Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa, colored by Geraldo Filho. Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa have also collaborated with Brian to provide many of the art for his covers.
Follow Brian on his Amazon Author Page and purchase his works…
Carolina Daemonic: Confederate Shadows: The first novel of Brian Barr’s Carolina Daemonic series released in 2015, Confederate Shadows is an occult urban horror fantasy with steampunk elements set in an alternative dystopian world where the Confederacy rules America. Uncompromising and raw, Confederate Shadows takes us into a world of grotesque monsters, dark magic, and chaos.
Carolina Daemonomaniac I: The First Carolina Daemonic Short Stories Collection: This is the first collection of Carolina Daemonic short stories. Along with the steampunk war comic The Tamed Tiger, Carolina Daemonomaniac includes various tales of Voodoo/Vudon spirituality, necromancy, weird science and the undead.
The 3 H’s Trilogy: A mix of comedic bizzaro romance horror, cosmic horror, and occult dark fantasy, The 3 H’s Trilogy begins when a gardener discovers a disembodied head in her mother’s garden. What starts as an absurd love story turns into a gruesome inter-dimensional nightmare. Consists of The Head, The House, and The Hell.
Brutal Bazaar: A horror collection of short stories, Brutal Bazaar includes The 3 H’s Trilogy, The Bloody Writer’s Trilogy, Badlam Betty, and various other bloodcurdling tales penned by Brian Barr. From slashers to occult horror, these tales include gruesome scenes mixed with dark humor and existential dread.
Nihon Cyberpunk: Nihon Cyberpunk is a collection of science fiction stories set in Japan. Inspired by Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone,Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and various other sources, Nihon Cyberpunk explores the human condition and probes philosophical questions in a dark and dystopian Japan ruled by technology. Includes The Kage Majitsu Trilogy and An American Otaku in Neo-Nihon’s Underbelly as bonus stories.
Empress: Co-created and co-written by Chuck Amadori and Brian Barr, Empress is a comic book series that centers around Zia, a famous Hollywood actress who goes missing in the early 20th century. She returns to America as the embodiment of the chthonic goddess Hekate and ushers in a new age for the same world that oppressed her spirit and legacy.
Famous artist Masuto grows weary of digital painting in the mental institution where he lives only in his mind with his AI guide TOKI. Salvation appears in the form of Endo Ichiro hacking into his system and offering to free him and create a cyborg body for him to paint again in real life. Ichiro shares astonishing revelations to encourage cooperation, but salvation does not live up to expectations, and Masuto must seek release from his savior.
Barr creates a swirling, complex world of technology-enhanced living, developing memorable characters in a credible digital environment. Emotions bleed from this tale of harsh reality, deception, and eventual “homecoming.” Brian Barr is an exceptional storyteller; this is the fourth novella in the Nihon Cyberpunk series. Look for all of them on his website http://www.brianbarrbooks.com/, Goodreads, and Amazon.
In the not too distant future, at a Japanese high school, teenage android Shinobu purchases the trending drug Spacix. It’s news to the principal that androids can take drugs, downloading a program that simulates the drugs’s effects, including the side effects, which can be devastating for Shinobu and other adolescent androids, as the real life drug has been for human teens.
Barr creates a credible world of humans and androids co-existing, with all the messiness of human emotions and scientists with god complexes. Third in the Nihon cyberpunk series, this tale continues with the concept of programming robots with emotions, going a step further in the creation of realistic humanoids with upgrades to mimic growth to fulfill the dream of parenthood for infertile couples. Characters are complex and situations challenging as a teen does the stupid things that teens do, only in a—brilliantly created—world with constantly shifting lines determining what is digital and what is human.
Keep an eye out on laelbraday.com for a review of the next story in the Nihon cyberpunk series.
The second short story in his Nihon cyberpunk series, this tale tells of cyborgs gone rogue, culminating in a massacre of human co-workers by the cyborg Mannix. Dr. Nagai and the other Ashita Institute scientists create a program to instill empathy in cyborgs through fabricated experiences of pain and fear. Mannix is too cunning, however, and he is only interested in the officer who deactivated him at the crime scene, turning this digital tall tale into a warped love story.
Brian Barr is a natural storyteller, whose characters stay with the reader. His stories don’t so much twist and turn as they flow like a river around bends and past tall trees, sometimes shady, sometimes sunny. Mannix totally owns the ending in this cyberpunk short fiction. Look for my upcoming reviews for other short stories in the Nihon cyberpunk series.