Anime, Asimov and Alternate Realities – an Interview with David Tallerman

PatchwerkDavid Tallerman is an author of science fiction, fantasy and many other things. I’ve written previously about his books Giant Thief and Patchwerk. Over the past couple of years we’ve become friends, mostly through the shared bond of convention bars. So with several new books from him in the offing, I abused my position to get an interview.

And here it is…

AK: Let’s start with the obvious question – tell us about your latest book.

DT: Actually, it’s more books at this point! January saw the release of my novella Patchwerk and, if all goes well, February should bring my fully-illustrated collection of horror and dark fantasy short fiction The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories.

But going back to Patchwerk, it’s the story of a scientist named Dran Florrian whose solution to the many problems of the near-future world he inhabits has been to create a machine called Palimpsest that’s capable of repairing his own reality by patching in elements copied from others. Dran, being the sort of overly-focused individual who would build a thing like that without fully thinking through all the implications, is just now waking up to the fact that he’s created something of apocalyptic power in the wrong hands, and has decided to smuggle himself and Palimpsest to somewhere safer. The only problem is that he’s already too late, and when an attempt to steal it leaves Palimpsest damaged, Dran begins to discover just what his creation is capable of.

The idea was very much to write a kind of high-concept action movie, the sort of thing that would only really work in a novella format. And Patchwerk is also a love story of a sort, though one set after the actual love story is over. That seems to be the aspect that’s getting the least attention in reviews, but it’s perhaps my favourite part.

– You write in a wide range of genres – fantasy, science fiction, horror, crime – and a range of formats – novels, comics, novellas, short stories. For you as a writer, what’s the advantage of doing so many different things rather than focusing on one?

In many ways, I think it’s proved more of a liability; I suspect that I’d have had more success by now if I’d stuck to one or even two genres. Still, I hope there are a few people out there who are excited by the notion of a picking up a book by a writer knowing that at the very least it will be completely different to what they’ve read before from that person.

Whatever the case, I’m convinced that I’m a better writer for it. Every new thing you try teaches you something that’s applicable elsewhere and helps to keep your ideas fresh. I’d hate to ever feel like I was repeating myself, and if that means I tend to over-steer the other way then I guess it’s a price I’m happy to pay. But mainly I do it because it’s fun and it keeps me interested, and I suppose because I want to get to play with all of the writer toys.

– Your novella Patchwerk deals with alternate realities and the desire to change them. If you could step into an alternate reality of your choice, how would it be different from our own?

I think that one of the inevitable morals of this kind of story is that we live in the best of all and the worst of all possible worlds, and your only option as an individual is to do whatever you can to make it more the former than the latter. Having said that, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at any reality where I got Crouching Tiger style Wushu flying powers. I mean, that would be pretty cool.

Giant Thief– Easie Damasco, the hero of your Thief novels, is a selfish loner reluctantly pushed into doing good deeds. We shouldn’t like him, and yet we do. Why did you choose a protagonist so inherently hard to like? How did you make that work? And what foul deeds did you commit to get into his mindset?

I don’t know that I chose Easie as such, he just kind of came along. Because Giant Thief was my first proper novel, it never occurred to me that it might be problematic to have a protagonist who was basically pretty obnoxious and by no definition a good person. Easie was a bad guy because the setup I had called for a bad guy, and I suppose I figured that because he was funny – at any rate, because I found him funny – it wouldn’t be much of an issue.

The thing is, to me, Easie is a fairly realistic character, within the bounds of the kind of story that Giant Thief is; he’s not some cartoonish rogue, he really is a criminal and he’s led the life of a criminal, so of course he doesn’t simply begin doing the right thing at the first opportunity. He has his good side, he’s capable of kindness – he treats animals, as a rule, better than he does people – and he even has a kind of lopsided sense of right and wrong. Again, I suppose I just hoped that those qualities might be enough to allow readers to turn a blind eye to some of his less savoury behaviour!

As for any likeness between him and me, the most we have in common is a propensity to talk to horses. I can honestly say that I’ve never once stolen a giant, a crown or even a prince.

– Other than your own books, what have you really enjoyed reading recently?

That implies that I sit around all day reading my own books! Whereas in fact I tend to wait for the audio book to come out.

I’m just right now getting to the end of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ten book Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy / sci-fi series, and it’s been a hell of a ride. I normally avoid doorstopper books due to limited time, but once I finished the first I just didn’t want to stop. I also went back and reread The War of the Worlds for research on a short story and it was a reminder of just what an incredible, ahead of its time book it is. To anyone who hasn’t read it, or whose memories have been muddied by the films, I’d recommend coming to it with fresh eyes, it’s a true masterpiece.

– As your blog shows, you’re passionate about anime. What’s special about the genre that appeals to you? And if someone doesn’t watch anime why should they try it?

Well, you know, we’re talking about a vast body of work here and what’s visible in the West, especially here in the UK, is only the tip of the iceberg. It sounds like nitpicking but its actually a crucial point: anime is a medium and not a genre. So in that sense to say “what’s the appeal of anime” is a little like saying “what’s the appeal of film” or “what’s the appeal of books.” If you enjoy art or entertainment then there will absolutely definitely be something in the world of anime that will appeal to you, and it’s easier than ever these days to track down something that fits your tastes. Certainly if you’re into just about any subgenre of fantasy or science-fiction then you’re doing yourself a huge disserve not to.

For me personally, though, I would say that, firstly, I love animation; I love the artistry of it and, although I like Western animation too, there’s the obvious fact that it’s been dominated by a company that gears their work predominantly towards children for the better part of a century. On top of that, anime tends to handle genres that I like, fantasy, horror and sci-fi, in a manner that’s more thematically diverse and, at its best, more sophisticated than what tends to come out of Western film and television. I suppose the relative lack of budgetary constraints is a big part of that: even if you had the impetus to make something like the Ghost in the Shell TV series, that kind of smart, adult-focused science fiction, the costs would be prohibitive. But for whatever reason, I think that the best anime tends to be a little more daring in its story-telling and the kind of places it’s willing to go to.

Oh, and in the spirit of absolute honesty, I’ve come to realise that I’m kind of a sucker for J-pop.

– Who would win in a fight – Isaac Asimov or J R R Tolkien?

Are they armed? What’s the field of combat? Are they in the back of a moving vehicle? Has Asimov had any opportunity to slip nerve toxin into Tolkien’s tankard of ale? Did they bring their writing possies?

But actually, none of that matters. The correct answer is Isaac Asimov.

– Where can people find you on the internet? And what terrible things will befall them there?

I am in many places on the internet, but a good place to start would probably be my website at There’s nothing terrible there at all, it’s a place of innocence, beauty and quietude. Kind of like a Zen garden, if Zen gardens were full of people ranting lengthily about anime.

Writer interview with W Lawrence

Today I have the pleasure another author interview. This time it’s with W Lawrence, writer of the science fiction novel Syncing Forward.


Could you please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your books.

I’m a married man with two daughters who spent most of his life moving from place to place, but now live in Pennsylvania working as a corporate investigator. I like reading, shooting, and I’m a huge game fanatic. I’m often accused of being a pessimist, although I believe that label sells me short.  I consider myself a realist who just happens to be able to see bad things coming before most people.  And given my profession, I don’t always get to see the best in people.

My first venture into writing started several years ago when I put together a game supplement for the (now unsupported) game of Epic: Armageddon.  I was recovering from a painful surgery, had some down time, and realized that as a game player I didn’t want to wait for Games Workshop to publish their next supplement rule book.  I coordinated several dozen volunteers to produce a book called Epic: Raiders.  It’s derivative intellectual property, so we could never profit from it, but we did print it at cost and it’s still available for a free download.  The artwork is wonderful, the models were well painted, and the story was written (mostly) by me.  If you aren’t a Warhammer 40,000 fan, it probably won’t resonate, but it was a fun venture regardless.

Skip ahead to 2012 and I found myself writing Syncing Forward after an odd bit of inspiration.  Framing the story into one genre has been difficult for me because it covers so many; it’s speculative fiction, it’s a bit of a thriller, a bit of a mystery, most certainly dystopian, and it’s sci-fi.  There are a lot of twists and the story will take you in directions you weren’t expecting.  Most importantly, however, is this is a love story of the family, about how far we are willing to go for our children, our parents, our spouses.  It deals with the cold truth of consequence and how we deal (or struggle) with our decisions.

The main character’s life is altered forever after he pushes a suspect for information on why equipment is being stolen from their company.  One phrase, Tell me about the rat, sets him moving forward relentlessly through time.  He is able to stake out moments with his family before he is carried forward again.  His wife grows older.  His children grow up. And he becomes a man increasingly out of place in the world.

Why did you pick that particular idea to explore in Syncing Forward?

 I had a dream the likes of which I haven’t had since I was a child.  No surreal mango fights or living in a swamp cooler with an orange pet chicken named Pepe.  This was a vivid dream, tangible, substantive.  I dreamt the plot of what is now my book, from beginning to end.  When I woke I was so inspired I roused my wife to tell her about it.  She told me, “You should turn that into a book!”  Although in retrospect I believe she was placating me so I would let her get back to sleep.

Looking back, there are some changes to the storyline, some parts I simply couldn’t make work, other parts that I couldn’t recall.  However, it’s pretty darn close.

You deal with both the positive achievements and the dark consequences of technology. Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about where it’s taking us, and what are you hoping for from technology in the next couple of decades?

I was listening to National Public Radio one day and a guest –my apologies but I don’t recall who- made the bold comment that the internet is the greatest invention since language.  While the automobile and a handful of other inventions might arguably take its place in the pole position, the fact is our world is forever changed due to its invention.  We share information, commentary, art, desires, instruction, and finance in a way that could never be predicted 30 years ago.

And yet so many people are feeling increasingly detached from their neighbors, their spouses, their world.  We make some of the vilest comments to complete strangers for one sole purpose: because we can. We text instead of talk. The internet has the dubious honor of simultaneously bringing us closer together and further apart. And this is just one technology.

We genetically modify foods with the hope of feeding more people (and making a buck), but the end result is the destruction of heirloom crops.  We build smarter machines to help our dumber kids.  We teach math with a calculator, not caring about the basics anymore. We are a world constantly propping itself upon the most recent developments, with very few people ask the question “Do we need this?”

There is a quote at the beginning of my book from Isaac Asimov: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”  I know all of this comes across as awfully hypocritical as I type this in my word processor and send it off at the speed of light to another computer.  However, I’m not suggesting we give up electricity.  I am saying that technology on every level -genetics, communication, nanotech, robotics- is evolving so rapidly that either human beings will falter or we will have to make incredible sacrifices to adapt.  Syncing Forward’s plot explores the price of our technological successes, amongst other arcs.

One technological advance I am looking forward to seeing is Mars-One being a success. Sounds crazy, but I love the pioneer aspect of sending people on a one-way mission to a different planet.

You describe yourself as a part-time Catholic, and religion plays a part in Syncing Forward. Even as an atheist I find the appearance of religion in science fiction fascinating, so I wonder, what role do you think science fiction has in debates about and within religion? And what do you think religion brings to the science fiction table?

Religion definitely has a place in sci-fi. For one, the majority of people in the world believe in some type of higher power, something that can’t be explained by science.  But religion makes for great science fiction stories too, be it Robert Heinleins’ Stranger in a Strange Land or Battlestar Galactica.

To clarify, Syncing Forward’s main character -Martin James- is a part time Catholic.  I’m a full time Christian, but I have been exposed to Catholicism enough to write the character as such.  He is a man who –like many people in the church- is bound more by tradition than faith.  He relies on prayer as a last ditch effort, becomes angry with God when his pleas are ignored.  It takes up a small portion of the book and doesn’t preach.  For non-believers, they will find Martin to be trapped by social aspects of the church that are unnecessary.  For believers, they may find the faith aspects to be lacking.  I’m fine with that though.  The purpose of the book is to tell a story, not rewrite the bible.

People frequently take the approach that science and religion are mutually exclusive topics.  I feel comfortable both sharing a faith in God and loving all the cool aspects of science.  I frequently tell my daughters that math is the language of God himself.  There are several scholars who have theorized that our entire universe is a simulation. I won’t bore people to death, but one example is Planck length (the smallest measurable length), which alludes to the fact that we live in a digital environment.  None of this is in the book, by the way, so if you think this is all nonsense you can still read the story.

You’ve worked as an interviewer/interrogator, which sounds absolutely fascinating. Could you please explain a bit about what was involved, and what if anything that experience has contributed to your writing.

I was trained by the U.S. Army Reserve as Counter-Intelligence Agent.  They used to call it a 97B, although they may have changed it since then.  There I was trained in interview and interrogation techniques.  I found myself years later working for a large corporation in their security department and that skillset has proven invaluable.  Sometimes it isn’t so fun when you are enthusiastically telling somebody about your day and you can tell they have zero interest, but so goes the hazards of reading faces.

Interviews for me are an art, and I’ve done well over 1,200 in my career – that’s more than most police detectives will ever do.  It involves setting the interview room, how to speak, how far to position yourself from your subject, what tone to use, when to shut up, when to monologue, reading body posture, facial expressions, eye movement, micro-expressions (an interesting topic by itself), even counting a pulse rate on a person’s carotid artery. There are some great books out there on the topic of lie detection if you’re interested, as well as some excellent internet sites.  Paul Ekman’s website is the best place to learn about micro-expressions.

The main character in my book is a corporate investigator. Hey, you write about what you know! Although his skills are on par with mine, the book doesn’t delve too deeply into the topic. It isn’t a detective novel.  I just give the reader the highlights.

How did you go about getting published, and why did you pick that route?

I self-published, mainly because I am lazy and impatient.  Writing Syncing Forward was a labor of love, but after two years I simply wanted the baby out of me.  The idea of writing query letters over and over was unpalatable.  My editor C.S. Lakin advised me to self-publish to maintain control of my work, so I took advantage of the technology we have (cry hypocrite here) and put it out to the world.

Last question – what have you read recently that you’ve really enjoyed, and what was so great about it?

I love non-fiction, and there is no better historical writer than Richard Zacks.  While my favorite book of his was Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805, I just finished Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York. It is an opportunity to meet Teddy Roosevelt before his Presidency plus a fun look at the so-called debauchery of New York. And if you think the bickering between Republicans and Democrats is something new, read this and you will see –not similar, but- identical arguments from a hundred and twenty years ago.  Zacks is a brilliant writer and if you email him, he will respond!

Currently I am reading Steven R. Boyett’s Mortality Bridge.  So far, it is very well written and more than a little creepy. We shall see how it goes.

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Thanks to W Lawrence for the fascinating interview. You can find out more about him and his work over on his website.

An interview with Victoria Randall

Among the most fascinating things about books are the people who work with them. Whether they’re writers, collectors, publishers, librarians, or any of the many other people whose lives connect with this wonderful art and the business around it, I’m endlessly intrigued by how people think about books and writing. To explore that further I’m going to be publishing a series of interviews with people who deal with books in different ways – I’ve already lined up a couple of indie authors, a bookseller, a slush pile reader who’s studying the short story market, and a collector of antique editions. If you’d be interested in taking part as an interviewee then please let me know and I’ll get in contact.

Today I’m kicking this off with an interview with Victoria Randall. I discussed Victoria’s novel Get On Board Little Children in a post on science fiction and the population ‘problem’, but today we get to learn a bit more about Victoria and her writing.

After all the preamble, here’s the interview…

Tell us a bit about yourself and your book

I enjoy writing but take long hiatuses between books. My first book, The Witchstone, came out in the seventies; then I got busy raising kids and pursuing a nursing career. My next, The Ring of the Dark Elves, was published in 2003; and the Children in Hiding trilogy from 2013 to 2015. Obviously, look at any library or bookstore and you will see stacks of books, multitudes of them worthy of reading,  many very valuable. We have to pick and choose, so adding dreck to an already about-to-topple pile never appealed to me.

Get On Board Little Children

 Why did you choose the idea of population control as the one to explore?

This idea found me. I read the news frequently, and I noticed that whenever a news story came out about child abuse, many commentators would say “we really ought to require a license to have a baby.”  It’s a reasonable stance.  We need a license to drive a car or motorcycle, get married, start a business, and of course bringing a new human into the world is a much more complex and important project.

The problem is that then you get the government involved, and the notion of punishment. And you might end up with a situation such as in China, which is deplorable. So I thought I would explore what might happen if a license were required here in the US.

 How did you go about developing the idea and working out details?

I’m still working on that, with the third book, City of Hidden Children. I decided to take it in stages: Book One is about the challenges faced by a woman who is pregnant with an unlicensed child. Of course if it were set in China, it would not end well. But in the USA, we still might have possibilities; partly because even in my dystopian future, the dream of America as a land governed by and for the people is still alive in people’s minds. Book Two is about a small child who is seized by the government, and her mother’s struggles to reclaim her. Book Three is about that same child, grown to adolescence, and the struggles she faces in coming to terms with her status as a non-citizen.

How did you go about getting published, and why did you pick that approach?

My first book was published by Pyramid. It was nice; the advance was enough to buy five acres in Oregon to start a homestead. That didn’t work out, but I still have part ownership in “Bird Farm.”

I tried working with an agent to publish subsequent books, but that did not work out. So I published the second book through a POD company. Expensive, and the book cost too much to buy. So now that self publishing through Amazon is available, it seems ideal. Of course you have to market yourself, and I don’t have time to do that, but at least my books are out there. And it’s been fun learning how to create books for myself, both ebooks  and paperbacks on Createspace.

What’s next for you writing-wise?

I’m working on book three, City of Hidden Children. My cover artist, Brandon Graham, suggested that I publish the trilogy as one volume, so I might do that. Brandon is my second son, and he’s a graphic artist, two time Eisner award nominee and the author/illustrator of King City, Multiple Warheads, and the Prophet series.  I’m  pleased that he agreed to create my covers because he’s a very busy guy.

Last question – what have you enjoyed reading recently?

I usually read several books at once. I just finished Syncing Forward, by W. Lawrence, and David Robbins’ The Empty Quarter, both excellent.

On my to-read list is Andrew Knighton’s Riding the Mainspring. [interviewer’s note – look at Victoria’s impeccable taste! or blatant pandering to the interviewer – who can tell?]

Currently I just started Second Chance by Dylan Hearn, which looks very good, and am wading through a splendid 900 page book titled Team of Rivals, the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Abe Lincoln is my hero, and it’s fascinating to read about what he had to face during the Civil War. Did you know that a member of his cabinet was accused of being a “fanatical bigot” because he opposed slavery? And that the Emancipation Proclamation was called “a fatal mistake,” a “radical step,” because it freed the slaves, who were considered less than human?

First, in my books, I try to tell an exciting story. But beyond that, they are about the inestimable value of each person, in the hope that some reader’s heart, somewhere, will be touched to appreciate anew the intrinsic worth of her unborn child.

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Thank you to Victoria for taking the time to be interviewed. I’m totally with her on being a huge Lincoln fan, though I haven’t yet mustered the courage to tackle all 900 pages of Team of Rivals – one of these days. And while I don’t share all of Victoria’s views, it’s always good to see authors using fiction to explore the issues that concern them. You can find out more about Victoria and her books on her webpage – please go have a look around.

Interview at Alt Hist

I’ve recently been interviewed for Alt Hist. This is the first time I’ve been interviewed for anything other than a job, and it felt strange to answer questions that weren’t about my administrative experience or people management skills. But that made it a far more enjoyable sort of interview to do.

Unrelated to that, yesterday I sent off the final assignment of a non-writing related course that’s kept me from creative writing for most of the summer. Now I’m trying to get my brain back into a writing gear, trying to think in literary rather than academic terms.  This should be liberating, unfettered by needing to write about facts in an essay format. But instead I’m finding that the creative gears have become rusted, and are slow to grind back into action. It’s an enjoyable challenge to get them going, but more of a challenge than I’d like.