Thursday, March 16, 2017

 Happy Saint Patrick's Day from One and A Quarter Irishmen! 

An Interview with acclaimed author Thomas McNulty

I first met “The Last Outlaw,” Tom McNulty, and his lovely wife Jan back in 2011, I think it was. We were at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention here in Lombard, IL. We were already Facebook Friends, and we hit it off even more in person. They are two of the kindest and warmest people you could ever hope to meet, and we have so much in common, too. I traded one of my books for Tom’s The Life and Times of Errol Flynn, which is, IMHO, the best biography of that great movie star of Hollywood’s Golden Age that I have ever read. Tom and Jan had a table, you see, and were selling autographed copies of his books. So after trading books with him, I bought his fantastic Werewolves: A Study of Lycanthropes in Film, Folklore and Literature. Thus, I became a fan at once, and have read almost everything he’s written, and look forward to reading more, especially his westerns. Novels such as his Trail of the Burned Man, Coffin for an Outlawand Wind Rider are all excellent, and highly recommended to everyone, especially to those who enjoy a fantastic story set in the Old West. Tom is prolific, diverse, and a master of prose, character and setting. And now we share a publisher, Airship 27 Productions, since he’s entered the world of New Pulp. He’ll tell you all about that and his other work in the wonderful interview, and at the end of it I provide not links to his website and Amazon page, but links to the reviews I wrote for his books and posted right here, on my blog. So sit back, relax, pour two-fingers of rotgut, make sure your guns are clean and well-oiled, and enjoy. 

So who are some of your influences and inspirations?

 I grew up in the 60s reading comic books. I’ll always have a soft spot for the classic Silver Age titles followed by the Marvel titles. Jerry Seigel, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Buscema, and so many others. Back then, publishers like Whitman or Grosset & Dunlap had multiple titles and series available for young readers. I thrived on The Hardy Boys and Superman comic books. Troy Nesbit, whose real name was Frank Folsom, had a series of six books out from Whitman that had a strong influence. Those books today are known to collectors as the “Wilderness Mystery Series.” I was lucky to grow up in a household that promoted literacy. That changed my life.       

How and why did you decide to start writing?

I wrote my first stories in the mid-60s. They were mostly one page things influenced by Universal’s horror films or by The Twilight Zone TV show. I still have some of these and they make me laugh. I started writing “nature poetry” in High School which was all laced with sugar. I was a “peacenik” back then. That was the early 70s. Writing was a natural extension of becoming an avid reader. Here’s  fun bit of trivia, I sent Alfred Hitchcock a story proposal when I was about eleven years old. It was about these kids that discover and old pirate ship in a cave and gangsters are after the treasure chest. His secretary sent me a kind-hearted rejection letter with an autographed photo. The funny part is that years later, and unrelated to Hitchcock, I saw a film called The Goonies that had a similar plot. I console myself with the fact that even as a kid I had a marketable idea.

What genres and/or literary style do enjoy writing in the most?

I love adventure stories. Any fiction I write needs to have an adventuresome slant to it. I am obviously quite fond of Westerns and I am a huge Zane Grey fan. He’s out of favor these days and his work is considered dated. Well, it is dated, but there is so much to his fiction that amazes me. Take a look at Wanderer of the Wasteland. That is one damn amazing epic novel, dated or not, and he tackled some heavy themes. I am also fond of the personal essay, and I post those on my blog now and again.

Tell us about your latest published book, short story or novella.

I am thrilled and humbled that Ron Fortier at Airship 27 Books found merit in my sea adventure story called The Adventures of Captain Graves. That’s the best I can do as a writer at this point in my life. I love sea stories and this one had been percolating for some time. Ron sent me an email and called it “a damn good read.” That’s high praise from a man that knows literature. This will be the one piece of fiction I’ve written to date that I believe has some merit. Of course, I’m my own worse critic like most writers. I love the Westerns, and I believe that my Westerns are entertaining, but The Adventures of Captain Graves is special. Elliot Graves is a man with secret, and I hope readers find the story as fun to read as it was to write. I think the book will be out later this year.

Besides the “entertainment factor,” what do you strive for in your writing?

I strive for clarity. I want the writing to be smooth. I don’t consider myself an expert at anything, but I know what I like. I don’t want to confuse the reader with jumbled prose.

Would you say that your stories are more plot-driven or character-driven?

My stories are all character driven. My characters should all be complicated people, such as US Marshal Maxfield Knight. He survived Shiloh, but it left a mark on him. I’ve written three books with him as the central character, and more are in progress. I’ve outlined his life and I know what he’s in for. He first appeared in Showdown at Snakebite Creek, then in Gunfight at Crippled Horse and most recently in The Gunsmoke Serenade. The one I’m writing now will also leave a mark on him. He’s angry, compassionate and trustworthy, but also a man to fear. He is plagued by nightmares. In the end, he will remain a man intent on doing the right thing.

What can you tell us about your latest work(s) in progress?

I have several Westerns lined up, and a detective novel. I’m also writing some short stories. I have a Wyatt Earp short story, a Sherlock Holmes short story, and a few others. I’m always busy.

What are some literary goals you’d like to achieve?

I have outlined several additional Westerns and some other books, and I need to finish them. I’m not short of ideas, I’m short on time. With my far-too hectic lifestyle it’s often a challenge to find quality time for myself, but somehow I’ve managed to get things done. Now I want to do more. I’ll be pushing myself a little harder. I need to promote this stuff more, too. I don’t do enough of that. I have at least six books on Kindle now.

What genre of fiction have you not yet written for, but plan to in the future?

Science fiction. I have outlined and begun drafting a science fiction novel, and I am working on several short stories. I love science fiction. I’m preparing a list for my blog of my all-time favorite science fiction novels.

Name a few of your favorite literary characters and tell us why they are your favorites?

Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, James Bond by Ian Fleming, and Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. There are so many more. Growing up in the 60s I was exposed to the best of everything, and I dove deeply into the ocean of literature that was in front of me. I don’t regret a moment of it. Of course, Superman is my favorite comic book character and always will be. For me the top ones are Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man. I still read Superman and Batman comics. These are all characters that inspire us to be better people, to stand against tyranny, and to push aside the darkness and seek the light. I just realized I forgot to mention Doc Savage and The Shadow. I guess this list could get long.

What are some of your all-time favorite films and TV shows?

The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn is my number one favorite film. That movie represents what a film entertainment should be. The cast, music, cinematography, script and overall production are fantastic. Other films I rate highly are Casablanca with Bogart, all three of Karloff’s Frankenstein films, The Searchers with John Wayne, and so many more. My number one favorite television show is Gunsmoke, especially the first ten years. No finer western series was ever made. Great films and great television programs are equally as inspiring as literature and music. The last 100 years of our culture has been a real renaissance period.

Tell us about your writing habits, such as: Do you outline extensively? Do you create your characters first, or your plot? Do you listen to music while writing, and if so, what kind?

I outline, but loosely at times. For example, I create the title followed by the character names. Then I write the first paragraph followed by the last paragraph. I like to know where my characters are going. I make notes on the sections in between, and as I write based on that, I discover what happens as I go along. If a scene I know will happen later in the book is nagging me, I jump ahead and write it. Music is always present. As I’m writing this I’m listening to “Blue & Lonesome” by The Rolling Stones.

What else can you tell us about yourself and your reading habits?
Since the mid-1970s I read at least one book a week, so I hit no less than 52  a year, although I usually average at about 65 books a year. I stockpile books. I haunt bookshops and antique shops and e-bay and Amazon. I’m always on the hunt. My blog, “Dispatches From the Last Outlaw” covers a lot of this. I write my blog posts in advance, and I usually have about 40 posts already written. That way I can pick and choose, or insert something new that I enjoyed. I cover some diverse territory on my blog. I refuse to discriminate against any author or genre, and negative comments are screened and deleted. We live in a world of haters. I’m not a hater. I’m glad to be here doing all of this. This week I’m tracking down the latest from R. L. Stine, I just bought Neil Gaiman’s latest, and I have your book, too!

Tom’s website, “Dispatches from the Last Outlaw” — (where you can find all sorts of articles and book reviews, including Tom's reviews of my books!)

Tom’s Amazon Author page:

Reviews of Tom’s books on my blogsite:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


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Valdar is a city of swordslingers and necromancers, witch cults and halfhuman races. It's a city in a world of darkness, black magic and creatures of the night . . . a city where demonic entities serve the needs of any witch or magicman who can open a doorway into their domain.
This is my city. This is my world.
With a special dowsing rod, I can detect the ectoplasmic residue of any supernatural presence or demonic entity and sense the vestiges of odylic power and vile sorcery used in the commission of crimes. I hunt anyone and anything that poses a threat to the people of my city. My name's Dorgo. Folks call me the Dowser.
From infernal depths where lost souls mutate into hell-spawned devils, from the other side of the veil that separates the earthly from the unearthly, from an ancient land whose borders cross into other dimensions, Mad Shadows-The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, will transport you to a world where sentient shadows, vengeful vampires, malevolent puppets, and raging werewolves haunt the night . . . a world where life is cheap and souls are always up for sale.

"Joe Bonadonna describes his fiction as ‘gothic noir’ and it is entirely appropriate. As much as 'Mad Shadows' succeeds in carrying on the tradition of 'Weird Tales,' the brooding, darkly-humored Dorgo could have easily found a home in the pages of 'Black Mask' if only his (dowsing) rod shot lead rather than divined spirits. The six stories in 'Mad Shadows' offer a mixture of traditional sword & sorcery necromancers and demons as well as werewolves, vampires, witches, and bizarre half-human mutations that H. P. Lovecraft would happily embrace." --- William Patrick Maynard, Black Gate Magazine.

Dorgo the Dowser returns in a new novel of Heroic Fantasy!
This time around, Dorgo falls in love with a witch known as The Girl Who Loved Ghouls, battles creatures from another dimension, and meets one very special cat named Crystal. It’s also the first time he hears about the ancient death cult — the Order of the Serpent. Then, after a young woman is murdered and a mysterious book of arcane lore is stolen from her, Dorgo comes closer to learning more about the snake-worshiping Order. But first he must battle both humans and demons in order to find and destroy The Book of Echoes. Finally, when called upon to help a young girl trapped inside an evil spell, Dorgo must confront fiends born of dark sorcery as he tries to save her and destroy the undying warlock who is the leader of the Order of the Serpent. Magic, murder, mystery and mayhem all await you in "Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent." 

“Bonadonna balances the human and the grimness in such a way that one never becomes suffocated. Instead, the humor and wit make the characters seem more real, as some of the characters, including Dorgo, use the humor to deal with the darkness they confront.” — Keith West, Amazing Stories Magazine.

 On the distant alien planet of Rhajnara a conspiracy created by the facist Khandra Regime is set into motion to overthrow the rightful Rhajni Republic and instigate a policy of ethnic-cleansing. The conspirators are cunning and it seems nothing in the universe can derail their mad apocalyptic scheme. Nothing that is but three rambunctious Space Marines from the Third Regiment Company E of the United States Space Marines assigned to Rhajnara with the Terran Expeditionary Force. Sergeants Fernado Cortez, Seamus O’Hara and Claudia Akira are the most unlikely trio ever to don jarhead camouflage and become military heroes. To their superiors they are wild, reckless and incessant troublemakers always in the thick of things. Yet their courage, loyalty and devotion to duty prove them to be the toughest Devil Dogs in the Corp. Now, with the aid of a Medical Corpsman named Makki Doon, a young Felisian native proto-feline humanoid, these three futuristic musketeers are about to become the one factor capable of exposing the traitorous Khandra coup. But to do so they will have to put their lives on the line one more time and risk all to save the day facing off against incredible odds. To save an empire they will truly become…"Three Against The Stars."

“THREE AGAINST THE STARS is a rollicking space novel that follows the adventures of three marines who refer to themselves as ‘The Three Musketeers.’ A plot against Earth is the main driving narrative force, but the true fun of this novel comes from the well-conceived alien life and the overall lighthearted tone of the book. Don't be confused however, this is a gritty, military/space novel. But somehow Joe Bonadonna, much like Alexander Dumas, manages to place the focus on the joyous ‘esprit de corps’ rather than on the horrors of war. For a quick, enjoyable read look no further.” -- Walter Rhein, author of "The Reader of Acheron," and “Reckless Traveler.”

The time is circa 1640 AD. The main character is Angus “Bloody Red” Buchanan, a pirate of the West Indies who sails east across the Atlantic, to the Indian Ocean and the island of Madagascar, in search of new plunder and loot. With him on his Spanish galleon, the Raven, is his first mate and closest friend, Mose Cooper, an educated runaway slave from the American colony of Louisiana. Sailing alongside them aboard her own ship, the Witch of the Indies, is Buchanan’s partner and the love of his life, Katherine O’Toole, also known as Crimson Kate. During their voyage they encounter the Servants of Dagon, an ancient ship of zombie sailors, and tangle with a 1000 year-old Persian sorcerer who serves the aforementioned Philistine god of the sea. Man-eating phantoms, a beautiful demoness, assorted devils, dinosaurs, and creatures from the bowels of Hell will all threaten Buchanan, Kate and Cooper before their tale is done and told.
"Waters of Darkness proceeds smartly . . . and as the horror grows ever grimmer and more triumphant, the plot takes several surprising twists and turns. But even their final, unexpected journey through a remote jungle of South Africa may not save the few surviving pirates. If you’re looking for superior swashbuckling pirate adventure Waters of Darkness to be just the red meat and heady rum you’re craving." -- Cynthia Ward, Amazing Stories Magazine.
 Spooky and funny, a heroic fantasy adventure for middle-grade children. Nikki and her impish cousin, Jack, find a mysterious black pumpkin in the forest on Halloween. A wise talking skeleton, Wishbone, tells them that the ghosts of the Trinity of Wishmothers are trapped inside the pumpkin and can’t be freed without their wands. The children offer their help, so the skeleton takes them on a journey to the world of Creepy Hollow to retrieve the three wands he hid long ago in Red Crow Forest, the Tower of Shadows, and the Cave of Spooks. Ghoulina, the beautiful vegetarian ghoul, and Catman, who was once a man, join them on their quest. They must face danger and conquer evil every step of the way as they search for the Wands before the wicked Hobgoblin and his henchman, a Tasmanian Devil, can get their hands on them. This is a fun, humorous and touching story for kids, with plenty of character interaction woven into a backdrop of scary danger, heroic action and lessons to be learned.
 “Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin: A Creepy Hollow Adventure by Erika Szabo & Joe Bonadonna is a Halloween Howling Hit! I loved this action packed scary tale from beginning to end and it will certainly engage young readers at home or school. This is book one in a series and I am already wondering what ghoulish adventures await this heroic team. As a teacher, I look for books that teach a good lesson and this one will not disappoint. I recommend this book for home or school libraries for children from ages 6 to 12. I gave it 5 Howling Halloween stars!”  Children’s author Janet Balletta 

The art of dragon killing: Dragons have been eating humans for centuries. Now heroes throughout history stalk their legendary foe. Learn how to hunt, kill, and eat the wild dragon. Never before has revenge tasted so good. A literary feast for the bloody-minded. In Janet Morris' anthology on the art of dragon killing, seventeen writers bring you so close to dragons you can smell their fetid breath. Tales for the bold among you. Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters, an anthology of heroic fiction edited by Janet Morris, features original stories by Janet Morris and Chris Morris, S.E. Lindberg, Jack William Finley, Travis Ludvigson, Tom Barczak, JP Wilder, Joe Bonadonna, Milton Davis, A.L. Butcher, William Hiles, M Harold Page, Walter Rhein, Cas Peace, Beth W. Patterson, Bruce Durham, Mark Finn. Includes my story, "The Dragon's Horde."
Myth, folktales and legends. Historical fantasy. Literature. The best, the worst, and ugliest bards in perdition vie for Satan's favor as poets slam one another, Satan's Fallen Angels smirk up their sleeves, and the illiterati have their day. Find out why the damned deserve their fates as Hell's hacks sink to new poetical depths! The first Bible writer drafts a deal with the Devil. Attila the Hun learns his punishment's just begun. Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein make a monstrous mistake. Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp get their unjust deserts. Hell's Undertaker goes on holiday. The Damned Poets Society slams away. A nameless soul shows Dorothy Parker that fame is a bitch. In the underworlds, injustice always reigns: Join us and our damnedest poets for the crookedest poetry festival in perdition where language comes to die and no rhyme goes unpunished. Includes my stories, "We The Furious," and "Undertaker's Holiday" (w/Shebat Legion)

Damned souls wail as plagues wreak havoc, doctors up their fees, snake-oil salesmen make a killing, and Satan turns his hit-man loose. Be there when Erra, the Babylonian plague god, and his seven personified weapons, spread terror throughout the underverse! Rookie authors write prescriptions for perdition, while veteran hellions diagnose the damned: Deborah Koren, Andrew P. Weston, Janet Morris, Joe Bonadonna, Matthew Kirshenblatt, Chris Morris, Michael H. Hanson, Rob Hinkle, Jack William Finley, Bill Snider, Richard Groller, Paul Freeman, Nancy Asire. Victor Frankenstein and Quasimodo develop a vaccine -- with diabolical results... Satan looses Daemon Grim, the Devil's personal hit man, and damned souls cower... Bat Masterson finds himself caught between plague victims and Wyatt Earp... Judas learns you can't teach an old dog new sins... Calamity Jane and her Sinchester carbine defend hell's last uninfected outpost... Nietzsche and Lilith, Adam's first wife, face the Beast and come to fiendish accord... Doc Holliday tries one last gambit, and unleashes all hell's fury... And there's worse to come, even an excerpt from bestselling author Andrew P. Weston's forthcoming Heroes in Hell novel! If you think life is tough, try the afterlife, where the doctor is always wrong, sinners never win, misery runs amok, and all hell's damned get their just deserts -- eternally. Includes my story, "Hell on a Technicality."

Griots: Sisters of the Spear picks up where the ground breaking 
 Griots Anthology leaves off. Charles R. Saunders and Milton J. Davis present seventeen original and exciting Sword and Soul tales focusing on black women. Just as the Griots Anthology broke ground as the first Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear pays homage to the spirit, bravery and compassion of women of color. The griots have returned to sing new songs, and what wonderful songs they are! Includes my story, "The Blood of the Lion."

They are the most daring, courageous, fool-hardy crew ever assembled under one flag. Chief among them are Henri Delacrois, the French archer; Ralf Gunarson, the blonde Viking giant; the lovely but deadly female samurai Tishimi Osara; Omar, the cantankerous first mate; and Haroun, the eagle-eyed youth who mans the towering crow's nest of the magnificent Blue Nymph.
All pledged to follow their captain, the most famous seagoing adventurer of all time, Sinbad El Ari. Now they return in four brand new fantasy tales by Joe Bonadonna, Ralph L. Angelo, Jeff Fournier, and I.A. Watson. Thrills and danger await on colorful exotic shores as the crew of the Blue Nymph search for the Golden Fleece, battle a Scorpion God, and Sinbad alone must defeat an evil djin in a game of chess for the life of a beautiful princess. Here are epic tales worthy of this legendary hero, Sinbad the Sailor! Includes my story, "Sinbad and the Golden 

Azieran Adventures Presents Artifacts and Relics: Extreme Sorcery is an anthology of fantasy stories which revolve around powerful, and in some cases, world changing magic items. The tales are masterfully written by veteran storytellers such as: Joe Bonadonna of Weird Tales: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, and Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent fame, plus Christopher Heath, John Whalen Bill Ward, David J. West, Clark Ashton Smith, and many other new pulp writers. Includes my story, "The Book of Echoes."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

In the Hot Seat: The Reviewer Gets Grilled. An Interview with Fletcher Vredenburgh

Fletcher is no stranger to the readers and fans of Black Gate. His articles and reviews are not only well-written, insightful and entertaining, they are extremely popular, as well. He is the “reviewer extraordinaire,” and his reviews have led me to read many books. I trust his opinion and his taste in what makes for a good novel. Fletcher is also one of the most voracious readers I have ever met; even in my prime, when I was reading about 2 books a week, I couldn’t top him. Tireless and energetic, Fletcher amazes me with his wonderful reviews, which are also very well written. He is not a “book critic,” however, as you’ll find out when you read my interview with him. He is a reviewer of books. A Master Review Writer. I’m happy I met him through social media, proud to call him my friend, and grateful to him for his great reviews of my books. So let’s begin, shall we? Let’s see if we can find out what makes him tick, what he likes to read and his whole process for reviewing a book. 

So, my friend  . . . why don’t we start off with you telling us a little about yourself?

I’m a born and bred Staten Islander, New York’s forgotten borough. I grew up in the local library, getting my first library card at age five and my first legal job there at age fourteen.

I grew up in a house surrounded by thousands of books, particularly sci-fi, fantasy, and history (non-fiction). My parents, and the local librarian, Ms Herz, are responsible for making me an obsessive reader. I blame them as much as I thank them.

At what age did you really start getting into reading? Did you start off with reading comic books, children’s books, pulp magazines, etc?

As I said, I grew up in a house packed with books and got my library card (an all access one) when I turned five. My earliest memories of reading, outside of Dick and Jane, are of fairy tales, assorted children’s adventure books, and kid’s comics (Richie Rich, Hot Stuff the Little Devil, etc.).

We had a Folio Society edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales with really scary pictures that I was almost obsessed with. As I got older I just grabbed whatever looked good. Both my parents read sci-fi and fantasy and I soon gravitated to that. My dad was someone who should’ve been a history teacher instead of a systems analyst. He had hundreds of history books (the best of which sit on my shelves now), and I started looking at them when I was pretty young, as well.

Why did you decide to start writing book reviews? Have you written any fiction or non-fiction? If so, tell us about it. If not, do you have plans to start writing? In what genres?

Six-plus years ago, I set out to be a better writer. I always wanted to write, but never forced myself to be disciplined. At the same time, I was getting back into swords & sorcery. There was a ton of great, new stuff coming out — James Enge’s Morlock books, Jason Waltz’s Return of the Sword anthology, for example. I decided to put the two things together and just write about books and a genre I really dig, and it’s worked out really well. Surprisingly, people were interested in what I had to say. I became part of a community of critics, commenters, and writers, dedicated to heroic fantasy. Eventually, it led to me being asked by Black Gate’s editor, John O’Neill, to contribute to his site.

I’ve tried my hand at fiction, with little success. I suspect I lack the patience and work-ethic, and probably talent, it demands. Nonetheless, I may try again.

What genres and/or literary style do enjoy reading the most?

I grew up reading only sci-fi and fantasy. Today, I mostly read fantasy. For all sorts of reasons I read almost no sci-fi anymore (though I did just buy Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem). I also read a fair amount of history (all sorts), crime, and horror. I also read some literary fiction (man, I hate that term - all literature’s literary!). Right now I’m making my way slowly through Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov.

I’m a devourer of magazines and newspapers. I still have print subscriptions to the NY Post and the NY Times (talk about cognitive dissonance!). I also have four or five magazine subscriptions going at any given time. My background is in public administration and government, and as distanced as I am from that these days, I still spend a lot of my time reading about politics and public affairs.

Short essays are my favorite sort of non-fiction reading. If a writer can hook me in the first paragraph or two, it doesn’t matter much the subject — geopolitics, theology, government corruption — it’s all good.

What are some of your literary “guilty pleasures?”

I have no literary guilty pleasures because I don’t believe any reading is guilty. Since we read for a host of reasons — escape, insight, etc. — we all need different things to read at different times. So, while I’ll probably never pick up a Harlequin-style romance, I could never look down on someone who buys stacks of them in a used-book store. 

Besides the “entertainment factor,” what do you look for in a book? What draws you to a certain book: Title? Subject matter? Characters?

I’ll hedge and say “It depends.” Sometimes it’s for the strange beauty of the prose like Clark Ashton Smith’s or Cordwainer Smith’s. Other times, like with Philip K. Dick, it’s for the madness of their storytelling. Then there’re characters, such as in Glen Cook’s Dread Empire series. So many different things can attract me to a book.

Heck, I have a friend who used to read certain books just because they had a DK Sweet cover, and I totally got that. It’s all a question of mood, or timing. Or how cool the books look.

What type of stories appeal to you most as a reader and reviewer: plot- or action-driven, or character-driven? Or doesn’t it matter, as long as the story grabs you?

I suppose I prefer plot-driven fantasy. Even in a short story, I want some depth of background and atmosphere to give resonance and meaning to the action. Action isn’t really a requirement if those first two things are done well. There’s not a whole lot of action in Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane story, “Undertow,” and it’s one of his best.

When I write, I strive to make people feel. I write for the heart, first, and the brain, second. Now . . . what type of books affect you the most — stories that pack an emotional wallop? Or stories that are more cerebral, stories that make you think?

I’ll stick with S&S, and there I definitely want an emotional wallop. It can be fear, adventure, even sorrow, but the story’s got to deliver. If cerebral is what I want, there are plenty of other things I can read. When I’m reading swords & sorcery, I want to feel the adventure and danger. S&S should drag me out of the mundane world and shake me by the neck.

Touching back on the previous questions, name a few books you found highly emotional, a few books you found to be extremely cerebral? And a few books that you think found the perfect balance between the two?

Wow, that’s a tough one, but I’ll try. Again, I’ll stick with fantasy and sci-fi, it’ll be too hard if I don’t.

On the emotional side, I’ll go with the original four books of Glen Cook’s Dread Empire series. Things he did to Mocker and company still hurt thirty years later. There’s some real, gut-punching stuff in those books that really stand out after all this time.

For the brainier side of things, Larry Niven’s Known Space books, especially Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers. His characters are alright, but it’s in the realm of big, brash ideas that he excelled.

As for a great mix of the two, well, I’ll say C.J Cherry’s Chanur books. Space freighter captain Pyanfar Chanur is one of the best sci-fi heroes I’ve read. She’s a dynamic character, roaring thru the stars, enmeshed in plots that’ll leave you dizzy trying to follow them, and fighting space battles to thwart threats to her race. At the same time, it’s one of the best hard SF series, packed with discussions of physics and truly alien aliens.

What genre of fiction have you not yet read or written about? Are there genres you aren’t interested in reading?

I’ll go back to romances. I have no real interest in them, though I have read and enjoyed some Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. I do have fantasy romance by Carole McDonnell; Wind Follower, I’ve been meaning to give a go. After that, nothing comes to mind. 

Name a few of your favorite literary characters and tell us why they are your favorites? Among my favorite literary characters are:

Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita): She is the heart of this tale of the devil coming to 1920’s Moscow. She’s an embodiment of true and self-sacrificing love.

Andrew Vanbergen (James Blaylock’s The Last Coin): More than a little self-deluding, a brain filled with half-assed schemes, and a wife he’s not always deserving of, he reminds me of myself way more than I like to admit.

Captain Sam Vimes (Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books): Vimes is the toughest cop to ever walk the streets of Ahnk-Morpork, a city that could swallow Lankhmar whole and grind its bones to flour. As a lifelong New Yorker from generations of New Yorkers, I love Vimes’ total dedication to his city and its people. It’s what I wish more New Yorkers were like. He’s funny as hell, to boot

What are you reading now? What books are you looking forward to reading in the future?

Right now I’m reading Cixin Liu’s mind-blowing The Three-Body Problem, M. John Harrison’s A Storm of Wings, and Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire. I’ve also got a Charles Saunders’ story, “The Return of Sundiata,” and a new magazine, The Audient Void that I need to get to in the next day or so.

I’m already looking forward to the next two books in Liu’s trilogy, The Dark Forest and Death’s End. I’m also itching to get at Jim Cornelius’ Warriors of the Wild Lands, a collection of pieces about a dozen frontiers — a “volume of twelve bios of the most badass Frontier Partisans in history, from North America to Africa.”

Your reviews are very in-depth. Tell us about your review process, such as: Do you take notes? Highlight certain sentences, paragraphs or whole sections of a book?

Thank you for calling them in-depth. That’s my always my goal, but the reality for a lazy man like me, getting a book read a reviewed in a week isn’t always easy.

When I read, I mark out certain passages. It’s why I prefer reading e-books. It’s so much easier to just highlight something with my finger instead of having to attach a dozen post-it notes that are always falling out.

I try to understand where the author’s coming from and where he or she hopes to take me. I’ll always give the writer the benefit of the doubt. By which I mean, if they wanted to do X and accomplished it, even if I don’t like X, I’ll give them credit for it.

Then I write. Sometimes, it comes quickly and I crank out 1100 words (the average length of my reviews) in a couple of hours, other times it takes a day or two (or three) to find the right way to describe the book, what makes it work, and explain my reaction to it. If I get it done fast, I go back over it to see if it makes sense.

The real secret to my reviews is my editor; my wife Hallie. Each Monday night, she subjects my new piece to close scrutiny. Since she’s not a big fantasy reader, so her editing is really valuable for making sure it makes sense to anybody who reads it. When something is illogical or expressed poorly, we go over it together until it’s fixed. It can’t get pretty heated at times, and it’s worth every moment of it. There’s a good bit of her writing in some of my reviews and they’re all the better for it.

Since I see my role at Black Gate as a promoter of the best in heroic fantasy (AND historic adventure, and whimsical fantasy — see my reviews of James Blaylock and Jeffrey E. Barlough for that last one) more than a critic, I avoid writing about books I dislike. I don’t want to write mean things about writers. I appreciate the effort that goes into writing even a bad book. I don’t need to denigrate their work. The only writers I’ve been mean to are dead: Lin Carter and Sprague de Camp — and neither one’s reputation is going to be effected by me.

I guess where I’m toughest, and try to be a serious critic is in my monthly Short Story Roundup. In addition to letting readers know what’s good and bad out there, I want to engage in a serious investigation of each story. I want to get under the hood and figure out what makes them run (or seize up), and where they fit into the larger scheme of heroic fantasy. I hope I’m providing help to the authors by giving one more round of feedback.

Even though short stories are the heart of heroic fantasy, where it works best, it doesn’t get all that much attention, so I try to do my part. I really need to thank John O’Neill for a platform at Black Gate - thanx, John!

Thank you, Joe, for doing this. Your essay How I Met Your Cimmerian (and other Barbarian Swordsmen) and your loving enthusiasm for S&S had a substantial role in helping me find my own voice as a promoter of this stuff we love. It’s also where I was first hipped to Ted Rypel and his Gonji series so thank you for that as well. 

You’re welcome, Fletcher . . . and thank you for your kind words and for reviewing not only my books, but the books of so many deserving authors. And thank you for taking the time to participate in my new “interview” program. This has been an interesting and most fascinating interview, and I appreciate it. 

You can find Fletcher's wonderful book reviews and articles pretty much every Tuesday over at Black Gate online magazine.

You can also click here or doing a Search for Fletcher's reviews.

                                                       *  *  *  *  *
Fletcher and I both highly recommend T.C. Rypel's heroic fantasy, the Gonji series, which consists of  The Deathwind Trilogy and two sequels:

                    Book One:
Red Blade From The East

          Book Two:
The Soul Within The Steel

                     Book Three:
Deathwind of Vedun



  Fortress of Lost Worlds                            (Book Four)                

A Hungering of Wolves 
(Book Five)

And there's more on the way!

You can find out more about T.C.Rypel and his work by visiting his Amazon Author Page at: