Monday, September 26, 2016


I met C.L. Werner, in the virtual world, while writing for FLASHING SWORDS EZINE wa-ay back in, eegad, 2006-ish. (When Howard A Jones was editor so...a while ago.) I had read some of his shorter works for Black Library, which led to picking up some of his novel-length works, the first being the Matthias Thulmann: WITCH HUNTER omnibus. Once I read that, I was hooked.

So without rambling like a fanboy, here is Mr. C.L. Werner...

Oh, and his most recent work is the image above: LORD OF UNDEATH



CL WERNER: The first piece of writing I can recall working on was in elementary school. I did a Sherlock Holmes story that ran over fifty pages of loose leaf. So I guess that would be the first thing I wrote. The 'bug' as it were didn't really hit me until I was finishing up high school. I tried my hand at horror short stories, submitting to any magazine I'd stumble on. Nothing landed and over the course of the next ten years the only things I placed were in small press magazines like Eldritch Tales and Cthulhu Codex. Not until I had a piece accepted into Black Library's Inferno! Magazine did I really get that sense of finally creating something that would have a wider reach.

CHB: What was your very first published piece?

CLW: My first published work was a scenario called 'The Old Dark House' for the Call of Cthulhu RPG which was published by Pagan Publishing in Alone on Halloween. That was in 1991. I didn't have another paying published piece until 1999 with 'A Choice of Hatreds' in Inferno! #22. That was the first piece of fiction that I was paid for writing.

CHB: There may be probably many obvious answers, but compared to that first piece, how has your writing, writing skill, writing focus changed?

CLW: I think any writer will improve as they continue to tell stories. The more you read, watch, experience – all of that will inform new ideas and characters. Any book or movie can teach you new things about style and pacing, tone and direction. What works to sustain a mood or what makes for an engaging character. To be certain, you can also learn a great deal about what doesn't work from these things too. A badly written book can be even more instructive than a well-crafted masterpiece, highlighting things to avoid and some of the pitfalls that can sabotage a narrative.

Over the years, I think that the biggest thing which has changed in my writing is an appreciation for different perspectives. To be certain there are rare instances of a character who is unabashedly evil, but for the most part everyone believes themselves to be justified in what they are doing. A thief rationalizes his robberies, a tyrant has a defined rationale for his manifold oppressions, a tyranid has – well – the expansion of the species. Each character, no matter how despicable, is something I try to approach as an individual, to make them more than just a one-note simulacrum of villainy. It makes the contrast all the more vivid and unsettling when a murderer has all these fine qualities yet at the end of the day is still the perpetrator of heinous crimes. And by the same token, it is equally disarming when the noble hero is endowed with some less than sterling attributes.

CHB: What is your writing routine? Tons of coffee? A full nights sleep then hit the keyboards?

CLW: Much of my writing is done at night, when it is quiet outside and the air is a bit cooler. The dark, I suppose, lends itself to some of the grim things I write about. Sometimes I'll have marathons where I write for nine and ten hours at a stretch. Other times it is difficult to stay at it for two in one sitting. The dreaded curse of writer's block can sometimes be mitigated by jumping ahead in the narrative and coming back to the problem spot, which is usually best approached after stepping away for a little while. I find if I try to jump without that break it causes a sense of disorientation – a befuddlement so far as the pacing of the piece goes. I'm always very aware of pacing and try to ensure scenes are neither too ponderous or too abrupt (unless of course that is the intended effect).

On the matter of coffee, I'll likely be branded a heretic but I can't stand the stuff. Even the smell of coffee disturbs me. In hot weather I resort to energy drinks and in cold weather it is lots of tea.

CHB: Are you a plotter or a pantster? (I hate that latter word for folks who loosing plot and fly by the seat of their pants, but, meh, guess it fits.)

CLW: Detailed outlines are something I always try to work from. As mentioned above, I find that having a map of where the story is going will allow me to jump ahead of any problem spot I encounter. When I start a new chapter, I'll go to the outline and break down each individual scene and then lay them out in sequence within the chapter. Then, as I write, I can see at a quick glance how much material is yet to go. I can judge the pacing more closely, so if a scene with a dragon eating goats runs into a thousand words I can then evaluate how much more story I'm trying to fit into the chapter. Except when I'm going for a particular effect, I try to keep chapters between 5,000 and 6,000 words, which I feel is the ideal size for a reader to tackle over their lunch break, riding the train home from work, or some other situation where their time is restricted. If I find that there's a bit more story than I still have room for in the chapter, I'll evaluate if a scene should be moved into the subsequent or preceding chapter. Working like this, I've come to attack a novel in blocks of three chapters at a time – which is fine early on but becomes a problem if your deadline is in arrears.

CHB: What is the best way to market one's written work, in your opinion.

CLW: To be honest, I'm not certain what the best way to market one's work is. There are so many options out there these days. The scope of anthologies and magazines to submit short stories to is much broader than it was in the days before the internet. There are a great many small and mid-range publishers out there that either have open submission windows or will have 'open calls' at set periods of the year. This includes some of the tie-in publishers as well, so if a writer is an enthusiast of a particular game or film series or what have you, then it might not be remiss to keep one ear to the ground.

Online retailers have made self-publishing a much more feasible enterprise for those of us without hefty inheritances to squander or wealthy relations to exploit. The pitfall of this route is that the onerous of generating buzz and advertising the book falls on the author, and not all of us are so skilled at marketeering as we are at composing. Beyond the time involved writing the book, there's usually some manner of fee for listing the volume with the retailer.

One thing that I was always advised against, and which I will pass along, is to be very wary of any business that wants you to pay them to publish your book. This is different from services that offer editing and formatting – in this instance we're talking about businesses that promise to do everything but write it. There's a reason that so-called 'vanity presses' have a bad reputation as they can be predatory and promise far more than they deliver. Approach anybody who wants you to pay them to be published with a wary eye and do your homework before agreeing to anything.

CHB: Words of advice for new writers?

CLW: The first and most important thing I'd advise any new writer is to look very long and hard into why you want to write. If it is for the passion of story-telling, if it is something you'd do even without a dime of remuneration, then I think it is something you have to pursue. Constantly improve your craft, when you read the work of someone else, analyse it like a mechanic taking apart an engine. See what makes something effective work and see how you can develop your own technique to be as effective. When rejection comes, and sadly it will, try to see if there is any hint to how to improve in the editor's feedback – but by the same token recognize when the fault is simply that it wasn't the kind of story that was right for that particular market.

If you are pursuing a career as a writer for the financial aspect, go in understanding that a great many authors have to maintain day jobs to make ends meet. The big celebrity authors who make a zillion dollars a year are very much the exception rather than the rule. It is a very fortunate creator who can achieve a degree of success where they can comfortably extricate themselves from the daily grind and devote all their resources to writing. A goal to pursue, but also a caution to bear in mind.

CHB: What does being able to write, to put the story "on paper" do for you? (Obviously put a little extra cash on the table, but what else. Myself personally, it often gives me something to look forward to when the day job and life are rough.)

CLW: For myself, personally, being able to write gives me a sense of accomplishment. It is the one thing in my existence that at all excuses it. I've seen for myself that my writing has helped carry readers through tough times in their lives, providing them with an escape from their troubles even if only for the briefest spell. I've had a few writers say they drew inspiration from my own stories and that helped them develop their own skills and pursue their own publication. It is a very humbling thing to consider having such an impact on somebody's life and ultimately makes it worthwhile. Even if you don't become rich, even if your work doesn't become famous, even if you fear there will be no posterity to leave it to, you can still help others through your work. Sometimes you're even blessed enough to find out about it. It's the old adage about the stone thrown into a pond – you don't always see the ripples or where they go, but the ripples are there just the same.

Thanks for your time, Clint.

C. L. Werner has written a number of pulp-style horror stories for assorted small press publications, including Inferno! magazine. Some of his Black Library credits include the Chaos Wastes books, the Mathias Thulmann: Witch Hunter novels, the Brunner the Bounty Hunter trilogy, and the Thanquol and Boneripper series. Currently living in the American south-west, he continues to write stories of mayhem and madness set in the Warhammer World.


Some other great interviews with C.L. Werner (not associated with this blog)
The Bloghole Interview
Interview on Snowbooks Site
MengelMiniatures Interview

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Johnathan Rand Talks Writing

During Grand Rapids Comic Con 2015, we had the distinct privilege of meeting Johnathan Rand. I knew he was crazy and liked him immediately as he was insane enough to have a photo taken with the crazy authors of Booth 529. (He's the tall one to the left...with hair. Not the middle guy or the talented writer/illustrator to the far right.)

As he has been writing for a while, and has quite the collection of Youth Horror titles (my kids have all read him during their time in elementary school) that  take place in Michigan and other states of the U.S.A., I thought it might be interesting to hear what this fine gentleman has to say about the writing craft and the passion of reading and writing.

So, I give to you, Mr. Johnathan Rand.

*bows, cracks head on floor, collapses in a pile, passes out*


CREATIVES HELP BOARD: When did you start writing? I started by being obsessed with filling the blank page. My downfall was wide-ruled 5 subject notebooks back in late elementary/early middle school.

JOHNATHAN RAND: I've always loved to write, ever since I realized I could put my imaginary worlds on paper and they would become 'real.' However, growing up, I never really saw myself as an author. I began going to school/college for Natural Resources Technology. At that time, I took a part-time job at a radio station and fell in love with it. Most importantly, I fell in love with the process of creating radio commercials, writing and producing them, along with news stories, sports, whatever. Although it was a bottom-of-the-barrel-paying job, I didn't care. I loved it, and in future years made a nice career out of writing, voicing, and producing radio commercials for agencies all around the country. In 1995, I began writing an adult fiction novel, and fell in love with the process. Of course, I didn't know what I was doing (and there could be a debate as to whether I know what I'm doing today!), but my love of writing and the creative process is undisputed.

CHB: When did you realize "Hey! It's fun to create!" Me... grew up with Heston and Eastwood movies, 1977 Star Wars viewing...then many strange dreams that I could only purge and regain my sanity by writing them down and trying to make some semblance of them.

JR: Yes! I think I saw some of those same movies. It wasn't until my first few years at the radio station that I truly realized I loved the process of becoming so involved in a project that time vanishes. Years later, when I started writing books, I marveled at the clock when I realized a couple of hours had disappeared. But I think I've always loved the creative process. When I was ten years old, I earned money tying trout flies for sporting goods stores, and I did this through high school. In my twenties, I taught myself how to make willow furniture . . . another wonderful creative outlet. I love the challenge(s) that creativity invokes, and enjoy finding the focus.

CHB: Did you want to be a writer, or was it all by chance? Alien abduction? Spurned from law school?

JR: When I was young, I had a voracious appetite for books and reading anything. Comics, scary stuff, the back of a cereal box. In middle school, I would hike up to Rochette's Party Store in Grayling and use part of my lunch money to buy the Detroit News or Free Press. I think there must've been a few times when I thought of being an author, writing books for a living, but it wasn't anything I took seriously. I did wonder from time to time what it would be like to create one of those wonderful stories that I discovered in the covers of my favorite books, but the idea of writing such a volume of work, such an enormous amount of material, was very daunting. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized the creative process is a slow one, step by painstaking step. I fell in love with the creation of radio commercials, and when I started writing books, I realized there was no turning back. It was just a logical progression in the creative path.

CHB: Thoughts on getting your work 'out there' or 'recognized':

JR: First of all, why are you even doing this? Why do you want to be a writer? And don't tell me it's because you "love to write." If you love to write, then write. Case closed, you're done. Simple.

No, the fact is this: you want to earn money from your writing. Nobody wants to say it, because they don't want to be perceived as "selling out," or "greedy." Well, you'd better get your priorities straight before you embark upon this "career." And it's a tough one. Just walk in to any bookstore and look at your competition. There's more competition in the field of writing than any I've ever seen.

Another question to ask yourself: "What is it that I'm not willing to do?" Wait! Stop right there. You've already shot yourself in the foot. You've read some great science fiction or fantasy or horror or whatever when you were growing up, and you've written what you think is a pretty good book. Well, so has everyone else. Doesn't make you special, doesn't make you different. Doesn't mean you're going to earn a nickel from what you've written. You've jumped into the same ocean that everyone else has, and now you're trying to be...different?

Don't jump into that ocean. Find your own pond or lake or river, a place where you can be unique and different. Find what others aren't doing, and do it. And work your butt off. Find your own uniqueness, and find your own unique way to market it. Keep at it, and never stop. If you're going to be a successful writer, you're going to have to also be a successful marketer and successful businessperson. There is no other way around it.

CHB: When do you write? Is there a BEST TIME for you personally? What is your writing routine/ritual?

JR: There was a time when I would write wherever and whenever I could. However, over the past four years or so, I've gotten into the habit of getting up right around 3 AM or so. Of course, this requires hitting the sack around 8 PM, so I really don't have an exotic, party lifestyle. But each morning, regardless where I am in the country, I am writing by 3:30 AM. The first thing I write is my
journal, and this is done with pen and ink and a classic quill pen. I do this to slow down my thoughts and my mind, and turn the process into more of a tempered, controlled, quiet art. When I am journaling, I'm not concerned with output, and I'm certainly not concerned with plot, narrative, style, whatever. No one is going to read this stuff, anyway, and it's very liberating. Addictive, in fact. I usually write in this fashion for 90 minutes or so before getting down to stories that I'm working on. Typically, I write four or five books at a time, so I jump back and forth, perhaps focusing a little bit more on the one that's pressing, the one that will be released next. When I am writing novels, I typically use my computer, as it is much faster (obviously!) than pen and ink.

CHB: Are you a plotter or a pantster?

JR: Plotting: in most cases, I almost always know how my story is going to end. Yes, I do create outlines/story maps, especially with the books I write in the Michigan Chillers and American Chillers. I do this in a storyboard fashion, and I rewrite the outline over and over until I'm happy with it. Then, when I sit down to write, most, if not all, of the plot problems have already been resolved. It becomes a matter of connecting the dots, following the roadmap I've already created. Naturally, I'll
get some different ideas from time to time and take a few detours, but having a destination assures that I'm going to reach it. Of course, I'm aware that there are many authors who feel that outlines are not only unnecessary but detrimental to the creative process, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King among them. But for me, knowing where I'm going is a guarantee that I will get there. Sure, the story might not turn out as I had hoped, but it will at least be finished.

One more note on that: I write short stories at the proverbial drop of a hat, and in most cases these are not plotted. They are simply walks in the woods, little adventures that I embark upon. Sometimes I'm surprised, sometimes not. But was short stories, I really don't care if the story is good, or even if I finish the story. They are just little journeys, short exploratory travels. I would dare say that most of my short stories aren't very good, and that's just fine with me. I will keep the bad ones under wraps and share the ones that I like.

Johnathan Rand has authored more than 90 books since the year 2000, with nearly 6 million copies in print. His series include the incredibly popular AMERICAN CHILLERS, MICHIGAN CHILLERS, FREDDIE FERNORTNER, FEARLESS FIRST GRADER, and THE ADVENTURE CLUB. He's also co-authored a novel for teens entitled PANDEMIA. Under his pen name of Christopher Knight, he's the author of six adult novels, included the psychological thriller entitled BESTSELLER, which was made into a movie in 2014. When not traveling, Rand lives in northern Michigan with his wife and three dogs. He is also the only author in the world to have a store that sells only his works: CHILLERMANIA is located in Indian River, Michigan and is open year round and receives over 25,000 visitors annually. He loves his wife, their three dogs, and coffee. He despises the publishing industry and stays as far away from it as he can.