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.
Sheriff Holston wants to go outside—outside of the underground silo system where people migrated after the world became toxic for humans. His wife went outside three years ago, after winning the lottery to become pregnant and failing to do so. Maybe her decision was based on digital records she discovered of the founders’ secret. In any case, Holston prepares himself to go outside the silo.
Howey depicts dystopia in a brutally honest way, exposing the deepest, darkest emotions of humans trapped like the animals they used to place in cages, with pragmatic regulations culminating in inevitable population control methods. Holston’s inner thoughts once he reaches the outside zig and zag, his emotions sliding low and soaring high, based on his observations and conclusions about why the people leaving always clean the cameras that let the people inside observe the devastated world.
There’s no mention in the story of what apocalyptic event sent them underground, or the infrastructure of the silo system, but only hints of hierarchy (mayor, sheriff, etc.) and attempts to limit reproduction through an annual lottery. Perhaps these are addressed in the following books of the series. This first one is free on Amazon for Kindle.
Science fiction and horror writer Brian Barr was my first writer Facebook friend. He sent me a friend request after reading my story in Storyteller, an online literary magazine that has accepted much of his work, and he invited me to follow Dark Chapter Press, who held contests that I entered. I didn’t win any of the contests, but I was welcomed into a supportive group of creatives, several of whom are also now Facebook friends. Brian’s friendliness and positivity launched me fully into an online writerly mindset, and now I’m in several writers’ groups on multiple social media. He inspires fellow writers online by being himself, with his personality shining forth gloriously. He also happens to be a brilliant storyteller. Check out the links, like this one The Head: Book 1 of the 3 H’s Trilogy, to his work and collaborative projects, such as Empress with Chuck Amadori, throughout this blog! Here’s his Amazon Author Page.
All writers must find a sustainable writing process of their own, learning from others for enlightenment and guidance. Brian Barr’s is straightforward, “I type nearly everything, though I may jot notes from time to time as ideas come to me throughout the day. I basically sit down and type in documents, then revise when I’m done and a little as I go along. I’m pretty free-flowing when it comes to writing, and though I have ideas that are planned and notes I reserve for my stories, I’m not a huge outliner or anything like that. So my writing approach is not rigid and I mostly like to have fun and enjoy what I’m writing. If my heart isn’t in it, then I let it go. I like to get invested in what I’m creating.”
He’s open in his social media use, mixing professional and personal on his Facebook account. He has professional sites for readers: www.facebook.com/brianbarrbooksdotcom and www.brianbarrbooks.com. He says, “I use social media to interact with other writers and readers. A few I know IRl. There are my local friends and a few I’ve grown up with. Most of the people I’ve met on social media are either creators or supporters of books and comics that I haven’t met in person. I also use social media to promote my work and let people know about my books. It’s a way that I can keep tabs on my favorite authors and buy their works as well. That’s the main thing I use it for. There are a lot of Facebook groups that have been supportive from Colors in Darkness to Grimdark Readers and Writers. The two groups I mentioned are my favorite groups at the moment. There is also Queer Sci Fi, which has done a lot to promote Carolina Daemonic [Brian’s dystopian alternative timeline fiction published by J. Ellington Ashton), and various horror groups that have allowed me to share my horror work.”
Independent and ambitious, Brian explains his working style, “I’ve done a few writing workshops here and there, but they’re not my thing. Whenever I’m at one, I feel I could be at home writing, or that it’s time I could use to do other things, like walking, going somewhere, visiting friends, etc. So writing is a very solitary and personal, intimate experience for me. I feel like people at writer’s workshops can be helpful, but it can also become a way that other people tell you how to write to the point that you lose your own voice, so on a personal level, it’s been a balancing act for me to avoid those groups and do my own thing. The last time I joined a writer’s group, I acted on someone else’s advice, and I’ve been learning to respect people’s opinions, but do what’s right for me. I always felt restricted in groups when it comes to my creativity, like it would make me waste time on unneeded rewrites to please other people instead of pleasing myself and whoever would like the stories as I genuinely write them, so I’m solitary when it comes to writing stories.”
When asked his preference for self-publishing, he states, “I publish with presses along with self-publishing, so I don’t do self-publishing exclusively. I have books published by presses. With self-publishing, I can hire my own editors and cover artists, then release work when I choose. So I like the independence more. I guess that’s also why I’m not a big proponent of writing groups and stuff like that. I like to see people create on their own and put their own experiences and individuality into their own work. I’m self publishing the next books though. They were accepted for publishing, but they wanted me to use in-house artists. I have a certain way I want all my covers to look now, and they use stock photos, so I pulled them. My friends I usually commission are doing the covers and editing. Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa are my favorite artists. For the first edition of Carolina Daemonic, a few people told me they saw the photo in other places. I want to have original art for all my books. I appreciate the publisher for accepting my work, but as I’ve been self publishing, I found I like it more. I get all the royalties and like the people I work with. It’s just been better for me.”
A highly creative individual, Brian is also a musician in a band called Pig Head Dog. Punk fans can listen to samples and follow the band on www.reverbnation.com/pigheaddog2 and www.facebook.com/pigheaddog. When asked about a connection between his band and writing, he tells me, “Not at this time. Music for now is a collaboration between friends, and I’m thankful to my friends for bringing me into my band. It’s a fun experience for all of us. I’ve written my own songs before in other projects, and I do come up with basslines for songs in this current band, but I’m not the singer or songwriter for the band I’m currently in. Bubbs Ruebella is the singer and songwriter of Pig Head Dog, and the band is his creation. I’m the newest member, and also pretty new to bass playing, which is what I do in the band. We practice on Thursday nights, or Saturdays. We’ll usually meet for 2-3 hours and work on either a set list or, most often, the newer songs we need to get down. I think we’re all fast learners and good collaborators, so after we get a song down, it’s drilled in our memory. Other than our weekly schedule, we do shows from time to time. I’ve only been playing bass for less than a year, so it’s all pretty new to me.”
With optimism, Brian says he’s doing, “pretty good. I’ve just been focused on my creative projects and freelance writing, recharging for the fall, and getting rested. I’ve been reading a lot, since I wrote so much this summer, though I’m still working on stories as well. For fun, he likes to, “write, make music, and travel. I like to watch movies, read books, and I like anything artistic or creative. So I like to look at art, interact with artists, things of that nature. I also like learning, and I study Japanese. I’ve always had a strong interest in Japanese culture, since I grew up in Hawaii, and there were a lot of Asian influences there.”
I haven’t met Brian Barr in person, but online, he’s a super nice guy, positive, and always supportive of other writers and artists. Follow him on his Facebook page www.facebook.com/brianbarrbooksdotcom and website www.brianbarrbooks.com. Feel free to ask him questions about his work, any upcoming projects, or his professional life. His illustrators, Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa, are also open for commission, so please do inquire if you need cover art. Even if you’re not hooked on his genres, I highly recommend reading Brian Barr’s work, as it transcends those genres due to his storytelling talent.