Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Feature - Once Upon a Clockwork Tale

Welcome to day four of our four day author feature! Today, we talk to Matt Mitrovich, author of "The Enchanted Bean."

The Enchanted Bean - Matt Mitrovich

How do you reach a fabled land of giants without any magic beans? Build an airship, of course. A British adventurer takes to the skies seeking wealth and glory, instead he finds ancient gods ruling an oppressive flying kingdom. With the help of their allies, these former masters of men want to replant the World Tree and rebuild their war machines. To stop the sky from falling, our hero will have to do more than chop down a beanstalk.


Matt Mitrovich is a misplaced refugee from the multiverse. As he tries to find his home timeline, he passes the time by editing Alternate History Weekly Update, a group blog he founded dedicated to news and reviews on alternate history, and contributing as a blogger to new electronic version of the classic SF magazine, Amazing Stories. Sometimes he writes fiction about the worlds he visits, like "A Perfect Hell on Earth" from Jake's Monthly Anthology, which is based on a diary Matt found in a France torn apart by a century long war. Regrettably this earth requires you to be a "productive citizen," so Matt became an attorney to fulfill this social obligation while his search continues. He was lucky enough to take a native of this timeline as a wife and believes she is most beautiful when she becomes frustrated trying to convince him there is no such thing as parallel universes.

Find Matt at:

Twitter: @MattMitrovich, @ahwupdate

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure I love talking about myself. I lived in Chicago most of my life until after I got married to my beautiful wife Alana and now I live with her in Orland Park, a suburb to my favorite city. I have a B.S. in History from Bradley University, a JD from The John Marshall Law School and I have a license to practice law in the state of IL. Currently I work at a firm downtown, but things weren't always like that. After I graduated from law school I had trouble finding work and thus I had to do a lot of contract work just to get by. Feeling miserable about my work life, I turned to writing to ease my stress. I started Alternate History Weekly Update, a group blog about alternate history news and reviews, with the plan to blog at least once a week. During the one year anniversary I posted 10 times a week and kept that pace going for about two months. Now I am at a more sustainable five posts a week and it helps that I have an excellent pool of contributors and guest posters to pull from, which allows me to focus on other projects such as blogging for the relaunched Amazing Stories and my own fiction.

Blogging is great, but I always wanted to be an author ever since I read my first bad book and thought "I could do better than this." I wrote my first short story "Collapse Theory" in 2011, a thriller about an agent from a crosstime police force, but was never able to sell it to anyone. It still sits on my hard drive and I occasionally go back and revise it. Perhaps one day it will find a home. I had more success with later stories such as “A Perfect Hell on Earth”, a diary written by a Child Development Trooper fighting in a WWI that never ended, and "Revenants in Warfare", a fictional excerpt from a novel written in a world where zombies exist and are used as weapons. These stories, however, were in amateur publications and I only received a writing credit.

"The Enchanted Bean" is my first professional sale. I learned Echelon Press was accepting submissions for Once Upon a Clockwork Tale through my research for The Update. They were only looking for queries at the time and since I never wrote a query before I gave it a shot never thinking for a moment it would be accepted. Driving home from work one day I got an email that my story had been chosen for the anthology, but I didn't have a story ready to submit to them. Thankfully I had some time and working the hardest week of my life I managed to produce something I felt good about submitting. Luckily for me my editor liked it too.

Why did you choose Jack and the Beanstalk for your retelling?
Before writing "The Enchantd Bean" I saw a live showing of Rifftrax where they lampooned this 60s fantasy movie Jack the Giant Killer. It was a great show and the story remained stuck in my head. Turns out the film was based on a fairy tale as well, but distinct from Jack and the Beanstalk. A lot of elements from Jack the Giant Killer can be found in my story, but I focused on Jack and the Beanstalk because it is a better-known myth. Also it sort of makes sense that if you are trying to reach a city in the clouds and don't have any magic beans you would use an airship.

You created a fantastical steampunk world for your setting. Did you have plans to keep your story close to the original, or did you want to take it in a whole other direction from the beginning?
One of my favorite musicals is Into the Woods. It's a great drama featuring several Grimm fairy tale characters, including Jack, and ties all of their stories together. The second act, however, is where the musical really becomes remarkable when you see what happens after "happily ever after". For Jack, his ending is spoiled by the giantess coming down to Earth and seeking revenge against Jack from stealing from her and killing her husband. Sondheim and Lapine really captured something that always bugged me about the original fairy tale: Jack is kind of a jerk. So when I set out to write "The Enchanted Bean" I wanted to redeem Jack by creating a world where Jack actually had a good reason to do what he did, instead of just random robbery and murder.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?
Actually writing it. I'm not joking. Anytime people ask me for advice on writing I always disappoint them when I tell them they have to write. It seems silly but everyone is looking for a short cut and don't want to accept that there is nothing glamorous about writing. It can be hard work even at the best of times. It is especially hard when you are not "inspired", but to paraphrase Stephen King, writer's block only means you do not have anything interesting to say. There is no trick to writing. You just have to sit down and do it. Getting over that initial hump can be the hardest thing any writer has to do, but once you do, it is very rewarding.

What’s your favorite part of your story? Of the anthology?
I don't know if I have a favorite part per se. Everything about the anthology seems perfect to me because it represents the first time I could say I was a published author. The fact that I could do it with such talented writers like Ella, Robin and Kat just makes the experience even better.

You created a culture somewhat akin to the Morlocks and Eloi of The Time Machine (minus the cannibalism, thank you). What prompted that addition to the story?

Wow, I never thought of it that way. I am very familiar with The Time Machine. My Dad read it to me when I was a kid and I have a read it a couple of times myself since. I can tell you I didn't set out to reference The Time Machine in my story, but now that you see it I will call it a happy accident.

I guess you can see the similarities with two cultures living side by side with one growing lazy and decadent on the work of another. Perhaps if humans had never returned the thralls would have start eating the Great Master if they had several bad harvest, but knowing the personality of the thrall it would likely be the other way around.

You know another reviewer compared my writing to Jules Verne. Are there any other SF masters people want to compare me to? Haha.

If you had been on the expedition to the cloud city, do you think you would have joined with the downtrodden thralls or the Great Masters?

Of course the thralls. When I play a game with a moral system I am always good. I'm uncomfortable playing the bad guy. You ever play Sims? It was common for people who played the game to sometimes kill their sims by removing the ladder in the pool or starting a fire in the house and removing the door so they could never get out. I did some of those things once when a friend told me about it and afterwards never did it again. There was something sick about it and although I know its just a computer program it did not sit well with me that someone had created a game where you could torture something and watch it suffer.

Sorry for going so dark, but yeah, I would tear down the Home of the Great Master with my own bare hands if I had too.

What plans do you have for the future?  

I have a new short story coming out soon in Forbidden Future, a time travel anthology from the good folks at
The Masquerade Crew. The story is called "Road Trip" and follows the adventure of four teens driving to a college party until they take an unexpected detour through time. I am also working on a new short story called "Haunted Places". I don't like to talk to much about unfinished stories, but I might change this into a script for a full cast audio drama. There is also that elusive novel that continues to bounce around in my mind, but that could be a few years in the making.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Feature - Once Upon a Clockwork Tale

Hello, happy people! It's day 3 of our four day author extravaganza! Today, we talk to Kat French, author of "Bitter Cold."

Bitter Cold - Kat French

Childhood friends, Kit and Greta, live in an extraordinary place powered by alchemical magic and mechanical wonders. Just when life might offer him favors, Kit is captured by the Snow Queen, a ruthless industrialist, bent on developing her Eternity Engine. Greta must risk everything to save Kit. Can a stubborn young lady best the most powerful woman in the world, with a little alchemy, a lot of luck, and a clockwork reindeer?


Kat French lives in southern Indiana with her husband, two kids, and a pug named after Rocky Balboa. She's been writing professionally for over twenty years, including a stint writing social media content for a famous bourbon (hint: they really like red wax). A long time science fiction and fantasy fan, she's become obsessed with Steampunk in the last two years, possibly due in part to her unrequited crush on Firefly's Nathan Fillion. Free time has been merely a theoretical construct to Kat for a while now, but if she had any, she'd probably enjoy reading with a wee glass of fine whiskey, preferably while lounging in a hammock.


Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure! I've been writing professionally in marketing and advertising for as long as I've been married; over 20 years. I got married at eighteen and my first job out of high school was at a local radio station where, among other things, I wrote and produced all the commercials. I put aside fiction writing for a long time, but about two years ago I joined a local writer's group at my library and started doing flash fiction and getting really interested in steampunk. Bitter Cold is my first commercially published piece. Aside from writing and reading, I love kayaking.

Why did you choose to retell the Snow Queen? 
When I found out about the project, I wanted to steer clear of fairy tales that have been reworked to death already. I briefly considered Beauty & the Beast (with a clockwork cyborg beast!) But in the end, I loved the redemptive themes and sense of wonder in the Snow Queen. I loved that its the girl gets to ride to the rescue, even in the original tale. And when I re-read it, I could see how a lot of steampunk tropes and themes would fit really neatly into Andersen's story.

I love how you kept details of your story close to the original tale—even down to the clockwork reindeer. Did you have difficulty coming up with science to back your technology?
Well, it's definitely a story I couldn't have pulled off as hard science fiction, or anything remotely resembling it. I made a decision early on that this was a world with a functional magic system, alchemy, which basically boils down to "magic potions." Then I tried to stay internally consistent with the rules I'd set up for that world. That meant I didn't have to explain the science of how an anti-gravity formula or a machine that grants eternal youth worked. Because let's be honest, there's no scientific explanation for a flying Christmas decoration or a doomsday device that reverses aging.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?
The time constraint! Echelon accepted my query without the story being completed. In addition to that, I misread the contract and thought I had to get a draft done in a month, instead of three months. But that also ended up being for the best. With it being my first published work, I didn't have time to second guess myself or procrastinate. My marketing experience just kicked in and I worked like I do when on a project with a hard deadline. I barreled through and got the draft written in about three weeks. At about 20,000 words, that was a lot of writing! And then when I realized I had more time, I got to set it aside for a while, send it to a few beta readers, and send a much stronger draft to my publisher.

What’s your favorite part of your story? Of the anthology?
My favorite part of my story is probably the end, but I won't say more to avoid spoilers. In a general sense, I like the humor throughout my story. I think it came at a nice point in the anthology. As far as the anthology itself, I think my favorite part is how different all the stories ended up being. Between the four of us, I think we covered a pretty broad swath of styles while staying pretty close to the heart of steampunk.

If you were a part of the world you created, do you think you’d have been an alchemist, a tinker, or something completely different?
My entire family will attest I have no mechanical skill whatsoever, but I did want to be a mad scientist for a little while as a kid. So probably an alchemist. Blowing things up is more fun than fixing them. If not that, I'd have been one of those intrepid lady journalists because I think I'd be writing in any alternate universe.

What are your plans for future projects?
I was really inspired by the whole concept of steampunk fairy tales, and the world and characters I created for Bitter Cold. I've written two other shorter stories set in that world. One is called Big Teeth, and is a retelling of Red Riding Hood. It's a prequel of sorts, featuring Lulabelle and Evelyn's mechanical wolves from Bitter Cold. The other is Blowhard, which is the Three Little Pigs set on a Kansas homestead with three brothers named Hamm and a steam-powered cyclone machine. I just finished the draft of Broken Mirror, which is novel length and takes place about twenty years after Bitter Cold. It's a Snow White tale set in a turn of the century traveling circus. Kit and Greta make a brief cameo. In all, I have at least three more steampunk fairy tales planned.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Feature - Once Upon a Clockwork Tale

Welcome to Day 2 of our four day feature!

Hands and Grater - Robin Wyatt Dunn

Hands and Grater don't understand their mother's unique love for them. For how much love can a machine truly give? As Grimm originally intended, this is a bildungsroman, a tale of two young people coming of age in a time and place filled with danger and joy. The time has come for brother and sister to leave the nest, and learn their true nature, and the nature of their mother.


Robin Wyatt Dunn lives in The Town of the Queen of the Angels, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, in Echo Park. He is thirty-three years old.


Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Born on a ranch, I learned early the value of a cow: as smart as you, she knows when to run away from an unscrupulous publisher.

What interested you in rewriting Hansel and Gretel in a steampunk setting?

It's scary.

I have to ask. Why did you write it the way you did? I found it to be very interesting.

It's a modernist form;  deconstruction calls attention to the seams and absences in what we understand as narrative.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?
The deadline; I had to write it in 3 weeks.

What’s your favorite part of your story? Of the anthology?

I like when Grater turns into a robot.  She's like a Reverend Mother, inheriting her ancestors' wisdom.

If you’d been a part of Hands and Grater’s world, what do you think your role would have been?

I probably would have been the crazy guy with the mechanical dogs.

What plans do you have for the future?
Burroughs had it right: happiness takes struggle. It's not a state of being like nirvana.

I think happiness is the pursuit of it: you never attain it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Feature - Once Upon a Clockwork Tale

All this week, we'll be featuring the authors from Once Upon a Clockwork Tale, an anthology featuring steampunk re-tellings of fairy tales.

Wings - Ella Grey
Born into a world where the fairer sex hides coyly behind fans, Winifred is nowhere near the stereotype. She is fearless and passionate about her father’s scientific work. When the King summons him, Winifred is worried. The arrival of her six brothers and the mysterious Amelia and her silent brother offers distraction, but Winifred's entire world is about to change beyond recognition and it’s up to her to save everyone she loves.


Ella Grey has always loved to write. As much as she loves being a mum and eating strawberry ice cream. She can't picture her life without it. 'Wings' is her first story in the Steampunk genre and it isn't going to be her last. Ella has tackled a lot of different genres and doesn't plan on settling on any particular one. It makes life interesting and keeps it varied. The next project is still being decided but she's leaning toward a YA trilogy that's been bugging her to be written. Her family are used to seeing her bent over a computer and muttering conversations with the people in her head. It's okay, since she's perfectly happily with not being normal.
Thanks for joining us!

Thanks for having me.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Hey, I've been a writer for about as long as I can remember but I've only been published for the last three. I've always wanted to be a writer, well it was this or a librarian and there was a time I wanted to be a brain surgeon.

I'm the kind of writer who likes a challenge and if an idea comes through strongly enough, you can find me writing multiple genres.

Why did you choose The Wild Swans for your retelling?

I actually had quite a few ideas for the anthology. I ended up focusing on the Wild Swans because I liked the idea of Clockwork wings and a girl saving her family. The perfect blend of steam and punk.

What prompted your interest in writing steampunk? 

The first Steampunk story I ever read was Lady Dorn by Sean Hayden. It was one of the first eBooks I ever read and I think as a genre, Steampunk can go anywhere. It still took me a few years though before I penned my first Steampunk story.

With this being your first story in the genre, was the transition from fairy tale to steampunk tale difficult to make, or did you find that The Wild Swans actually lends itself to a steampunk kind of world? 

I thought that the story was perfect for a Steampunk retelling. There were a few tweaks to the storyline but at its heart its still the same. A young girl wanting to save her family from a curse.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing “Wings”? 

Making sure that I stayed faithful to the original idea and still giving it a fresh twist.

What’s your favorite part of your story? Of the anthology? 

My favourite part of the anthology is in my story. The climax of Wings needed an epic moment built on the trust and the hope that Winifred has made the choice. That she's reached her twin William, whose been brainwashed. It involves St Paul's Cathedral and a storm. I won't say more than that.

If you’d lived in the London of your story, what do you imagine you’d have done if six black-winged angels had attacked? 

That's a very good question. I like to think that I'm a little like Winifred, a woman with a curious nature. I'd want to find out who they are, try to figure out if they were actually angels.

What plans do you have for the future? 

As I said before I write multiple genres. I have a sequel to an adult story releasing soon and a trilogy of paranormal romance e-shorts with another publisher hopefully out by the end of the year. There is also a urban fantasy series with the same publisher but that will probably not be out till next year. I also need to finish the sequel to Wings as well and I have several ideas for more Steampunk stories. It's going to be a busy few years but I'm doing something that I love, how many people can say that?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Punk

If you’re looking for a specific list of rules to bring out your creativity, you won’t find them here. You won’t the perfect tips for your personality style either. Writing punk requires that you find your individual voice, lest your stories become a knock-offs of your favorite writers. While it may be tempting to look at what your favorite writers do because you like their stories so much, their actual words won’t help you to find a voice. All good writers have an attitude of a personal voice that is so important to punk, to be sure, but to be a punk writer, that voice is essential to its themes. If you’re any like me, you aren’t tapping into your thoughts and emotions about where society is heading and its implications to one’s life; you’re tapping into your thoughts about how to succeed as an individual even if society seems to be ruined already. With such a subtle difference, how do I manage to bring out the themes while I’m writing?

As any writer knows, even copious amounts of notes don’t translate directly to the page when writing the story itself. I never find myself slowly and laboriously with a dictionary or thesaurus trying to find the perfect word. I type the word, and move on. At the same time, these words aren’t picked randomly – I’m ready to type the words as though they were waiting to be uploaded, in order. Despite all this automaticity, I still need to prepare myself mentally. Notes may help in this preparation, but there is more to a mental state than preparing what I want to include any more than I plan how I’ll feel when reading cyberpunk. So, not only do I need to understand in abstract terms what my punk themes are, I need to bring out my emotions on my themes.

The frame of mind I have alters how I write. I’ve written non-punk stories that I’m proud of. As I wrote them, I implicitly asked myself what someone else would do with a different set of beliefs than me. Other times, I’ve written stories where I consider what I would do in a given situation. Over time, I realized this other style was my preference. Later on, I realized this ‘new’ style of mine deserved a unique name, and I found it most consistent with all the punk books I read. In other words, I wrote punk before I even knew what it was, besides just a prefix!

The truth is, the only tip I can give for writing punk is to think about your values and your goals.