Interview: Simon Strantzas

Hold onto your hats, because it’s time for this month’s Interview! For the uninitiated, every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. For this month’s interview, I’m speaking with strange story specialist Simon Strantzas!

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Hello Simon and welcome! I like to start my interviews off with the world’s toughest simple request: tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s your author origin story?

My origin story is rather mundane, actually. I didn’t originally start out wanting to be a writer. I thought, for a good number of years, I’d be a comic book artist. Then, as I got older, as someone who wrote and drew his own comic. After a failed attempt at selling one I realized I wasn’t all that good at it, and put everything away. During these years I read a lot, and I had a notebook I’d write flash fiction ideas in, but nothing serious. Just before I turned thirty I realized I needed more than a nine-to-five job, and asked myself what it was I really wanted to do. The answer was to write, so I dedicated myself to it and haven’t really stopped since.

Over the course of your career you’ve put out five collections and edited three anthologies. You clearly have an affinity/love for the short story. What draws you to this form?

I like the short story for aesthetic reasons: primarily because it encapsulates and explores a single idea or concept, allowing for the sort of deep dive a poem couldn’t, and the sort of focus novels rarely allow. A short story can be a beautiful crystal in that way, opening a specific dialogue with the reader. But I also like the form for a practical reason: I can start and finish one in a short period of time, which provides the sensation of forward momentum. Whenever I’ve tried writing something longer than a short story, I inevitably feel lost in the weeds at some point, and somewhat stuck in place. The idea of extending that sensation further in an effort to write a novel doesn’t much appeal to me.

And following up with the previous question, I want to talk about the anthologies you’ve edited. Do you enjoy doing that kind of work? And what are some of the challenges of editing?

Do I enjoy editing? Frankly, no. I have no deep love for it. Well, perhaps I should clarify: I enjoy brainstorming the idea for an anthology. I enjoy reading stories written aickman's heirs.jpgspecifically for me, for the anthology I’ve proposed. I enjoy putting together lists of writers not everyone has heard of or yet read and enjoy it when the anthology allows new readers to discover those writers’ work. I enjoy putting the anthology together, finding a rhythm for the story order, and determining how the book will present itself to its readers. And I enjoy seeing people read and like the anthology I’ve assembled, and share that like with others. What I don’t enjoy is the time it takes to do all this, time I could be using to work on my own writing. And I don’t enjoy telling established writers, some of whom are friends, that their work isn’t quite right for the book. I empathize with everyone who gets a rejection, and I dislike being the cause of that. For these reasons, and a few others, I don’t intended to edit any further anthologies. But, as they say, never say never.

A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. As an editor and writer, do you have any general advice for any writers looking to get published?

The grind will never go away. It’s a constant grind for every writer, no matter how big or famous. The grind just changes as time goes on. But that’s life, isn’t it? Everything is a grind, from cradle to grave. The only question is whether this particular grind is worth it to you to continue suffering. Because you don’t have to, and you probably shouldn’t.
But you’re asking for encouragement, not discouragement. What advice to have to impart? Lots, but for those looking to get published, the biggest mistake I see young writers making is playing it safe and aiming low. Striving to too little. Accepting mediocrity. A writer owes it to her or himself to write the best story they can, and then send that story to the most professional markets that might publish it.

Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?

My reading has slowed down tremendously this year, but unfortunately my book buying has not followed suit, so my stack of unread books now threatens to topple and crush me beneath its weight. This year so far I have books by Helen Marshall, Nathan Ballingrud, and John Langan to read, and expect books from Paul Tremblay and Brian Evenson over the next few months. And that ignores books from previous years I haven’t had a chance to read yet, like the new Jean Ray collection and books from Lafferty and Enriquez. I’m looking forward to reading all of them at some point before I die, and maybe for a short time afterward.

Last question: where can people find you online?
The best place is Facebook, where I’m the most active and engaged. The next best place is Twitter, where I don’t say much, but I’m often lurking. Otherwise, my blog contains longer thoughts on my own fiction, as well as occasional recommendations for books by other writers. If you’re interested in what I write, that might be the most interesting of the three (though least often updated).


This was a tremendous interview! Thank you Simon! It was a great end to the month of May. If you’re interested in reading more interviews like this one, you can read them here.

 

Monthly Review: April 2019

Apparently, April was an unofficial Star Wars month for me.

I had two Star Wars specific pieces come out this month, but more on that later. We have other business first!

Story Submissions:

Submissions: 2

Stories Still Out in the Wild: 3

Acceptances: 1!

Rejections: 0

Acceptance! That means it’s time for a Nic Cage GIF!

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My story ‘The Eldritch Film Club’ has been picked up by Weird Mask Zine! Weird Mask Zine is doing a Lovecraftian issue, so I thought I would throw my hat in the ring. And luck has struck again! More information to come as I get it.

I submitted a slasher story for a ‘Axe Murderer’ anthology. It’s a little wild, but I have a good feeling about it.

What else have I been doing?

An interview with game journalist and writer Alex Kane!

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This was a very cool interview. Video games are one of my many passions, and my recent obsession has been focused on the creation of video games. The entire process is completely insane. I spoke to gaming journalist Alex Kane about some of his favorite games and his new book, Knights of the Old Republic. Speaking of which…

I reviewed Boss Fight Books’ Knights of the Old Republic!

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See my thoughts on the link above! I’ll say this: I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan ever, but I found this book fascinating. Bioware went through hell to get this RPG masterpiece made, and this book draws attention to it.


And that’s it for April! Next month I’ll be interviewing strange story author Simon Strantzas. I’ll also be talking about my Favorite Horror Movies Released in the 1990’s! It is… kind of slim pickings.

 

 

Book Review: ‘Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’ by Alex Kane

Set an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away, BioWare’s 2003 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic wowed players with its compelling characters, lightsaber customization, complex morality choices, and one of the greatest plot twists in both video game and Star Wars history. But even for veteran studios like LucasArts and BioWare, the responsibility of making both a great game and a lasting contribution to the Star Wars canon was no easy task.

Featuring extensive new interviews with a host of KotOR’s producers, writers, designers, and actors, journalist Alex Kane weaves together an epic oral history of this classic game, from its roots in tabletop role-playing and comic books, to its continued influence on big-screen Star Wars films. Whether you align with the light or the dark side, you’re invited to dive into this in-depth journey through one of the most beloved Star Wars titles of all time.

Plot summary taken from Amazon.

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If you made a list of the best RPGs released before 2010, what would be on it? Post-apocalyptic masterwork Fallout 3 late in the decade. Space-opera shooter Mass Effect? Of course. But there is one more RPG that belongs high up on that list. And it just so happens to be made by Mass Effect developer Bioware.

2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (or KotOR) is a masterpiece. Praised by both Star Wars fanatics and the general public alike, it has lived on in the minds of gamers for nearly two decades. Alex Kane and publisher Boss Fight Books have taken a dive into the history and creation of this beloved game. Game development is a tricky business. Developers and studios are hammered by brutal crunch times, budget problems and expectations. Now include the protective gaze of Lucasfilm, and it gets even worse.

With a quote from Ben Kenobi to get the book started off right, Alex Kane puts us directly into the early days of KotOR’s development. From there we are pulled through the day to day, the E3 crunches and different colored light saber drama. If you enjoy the nitty gritty details of game development, this is the perfect book for you. Alex Kane presents the story of Old Republic’s creation in a sharp, clear manner. The new interviews shine light on some of the lesser known aspects of the game’s production.

If you love video games or Star Wars, this book is a fascinating read. Books like this give me a true appreciation for the entire process of video game creation. I think I’m going to have to find more Boss Fight Books to read.

 

 

Interview: Alex Kane

It’s April 3rd, which means it’s time for this month’s Interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. For this month’s interview, I’m joined by game critic and video game Jedi (or Sith Lord!?) Alex Kane!

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Welcome Alex! I’m so happy to have you on my website today! Interviews can be a little scary sometimes, so I’ll start with an easy one: tell us a little bit about yourself! What are some of your first video game memories? And have you ever heard of a little thing called ‘Star Wars’?

Super Mario Bros. 3 with my dad was a big one, and Mario 64 not longer after that. I remember many hours of GoldenEye against my sisters growing up, and Halo at friends’ houses. One of my favorite gaming memories, for sure, is the time my brother and I built a portal to the End in Minecraft and slew the Ender Dragon. Crazy as it sounds, that was probably the closest I’ve ever come to having a mystical experience, and it happened in a video game.

There was a period of my life where a lot of big events were coming at me in a hurry, and the games I played in that timeframe will always mean a lot to me. They helped me make sense of things. I became a father just as I was starting to write game reviews, and I played Night in the Woods the same week we brought my son home. Then I played through the Morrowind
expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online with him sort of napping in my lap shortly afterward. I treasure those memories.

Star Wars, like games, is something that’s been a part of my life almost since I was four or five years old, but it really started to become an obsession in ’97, when I saw The Empire Strikes Back during its special-edition run, at the Rivoli Theatre in my hometown. That was when I started begging for the toys, and watching them over and over on VHS and so forth.

You’re the first gaming journalist I’ve interviewed here on my website. I saw that you’ve written for Variety, Polygon, USGamer and others. How did you get into game writing? And, more importantly, what are some of your favorite games of all time?

I’ve been writing for ages, and publishing stuff since college. When I went freelance in 2014, I spent my second big check on a Wii U bundle with Wind Waker, and then Bungie’s Destiny
landed a few months after that. With this newfound freedom of being my own boss, I fell pretty hard for Destiny and the social experience it offered; I spent like two thousand hours in that world over the course of three years. When an editor for Kill Screen — which used to be a really hip publication full of brilliant games journalism — put out a call for freelance news writers in 2016, I jumped at the opportunity, and he took a chance on me. I worked hard to make a good first impression, and that led to gigs with Rolling Stone and some other places. I got very
lucky.

Some of my favorite games — outside of KotOR, obviously — are things like Super Mario
Bros. 3, Skyrim, Halo 2, Night in the Woods, Star Fox 64, Pokémon Red, the new Spider-Man.
Wind Waker was a big one for me, too, when I picked that up in 2014. It sort of helped me mourn my grandparents in the midst of this wild career transition; I loved that Link had a grandma, because I’d just lost mine six months prior. And it’s also probably one of the
three best Zeldas.

Your first book comes out via Boss Fight Books this month. It’s a deep dive into the 2003 RPG classic Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I just finished reading it and I loved it! This is a game that deserves this kind of exploration. How did this book come to be?

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For one thing, it’s ultimately the result of me learning how books are written. I think I emailed my editor the KotOR pitch in May of 2016, and then he called me up in late October of that year and offered me a contract. That’s a day I’ll never forget. That wasn’t long after I started getting paid to write about games, actually, but I already had a lot of publishing experience
as an editor, and from doing short fiction and acquisitions and various little contract projects.

The truism in writing and publishing is that it’s all about persistence, in some ways, and that was definitely true for me in terms of establishing a relationship with Boss Fight and getting on their radar. Knights of the Old Republic wasn’t the first pitch I sent them,
and I think my editor, Gabe, admired my tenacity a little bit.

Do you think you’ll ever write a book like this again? And if you would, what game or facet of the gaming world might you look at next?

I definitely think there’ll be a book two, and I know what book I want to write next, but it’s gonna take another big stroke of luck to make it happen. I think there’s a good chance that I’ll be writing about either Star Wars or video games, or something very closely related to those, but it’s hard to say exactly when that might materialize. I love the official guidebooks and things like that — the DK Publishing Star Wars line. I’d love to do a bit of Star Wars fiction, if given the chance. I’m doing some behind-the-scenes copywriting for Lucasfilm, so there’s always that sense that maybe if I keep my head down and my fingers crossed, some of those things could happen. One day.

I’ve spent most of the last three years writing about people who make games and other forms of entertainment, and I just love telling those stories. I hope to do it for a really long time.

As a game critic, I’m sure you play lots of games. What games are you currently playing? And what have been some highlights of the year so far?

There’s a ton of games coming out later in the year I’m excited about, like Control and Jedi: Fallen Order and The Outer Worlds, but so far my big hits of 2019 have been Apex
Legends and The Division 2 — neither of which I saw coming. I’m always fiddling around with several games at any given time; right now I’m playing Oblivion,Division 2, Battlefront II, and Anthem.

Lastly: where can people find you online?

I mostly live on Twitter, at @alexjkane.
Or on Xbox! And my publisher, of course, can be found at bossfightbooks.com.


Alex Kane’s book Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is up for preorder! If you liked this interview and want to read more, you can see the Archive here.

Monthly Review (March 2019)

March ended up being a busy month for me. Granted, I found time to do things I love, just writing wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t a complete slouch though! I’m editing several stories and hope to have some more out in April.

Story Submissions:

Submissions: 0

Stories Still Out in the Wild: 2

Acceptances: 0

Rejections: 0

No new submissions this month. But fingers still crossed!

What else have I been doing?

New story publication!

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My story ‘The Matron in the Wood’ is featured in Pete Rawlik’s new anthology! My story is a delicious mythological blend of Lovecraft/Chambers/Clark Ashton Smith. It’s also set in my home state of Michigan! The link to buy is included above.

An interview with horror author (and birder!) Carrie Laben!

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Carrie Laben’s debut novel came out with Word Horde this month! I enjoyed my interview with Carrie, and kind of learned a lot about birds! Her book is near the top of my TBR pile.

April’s interview will be with game critic/author Alex Kane! We’ll be talking about his book outlining the history of the RPG classic Knights of the Old Republic.


That’s it for this month! Thank you for stopping by!

 

New Story: The Chromatic Court

‘A court of partisans crowned out around him, a wrong-angled spread of scattered colors.’

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New story alert! My story ‘The Matron in the Wood’ is featured in this incredible anthology ‘The Chromatic Court’. This anthology is edited by Lovecraftian master Pete Rawlik, who I interviewed last July. Each story is focused on a other-worldly deity from horror fiction. I’m proud to be featured alongside so many authors that I respect and admire.

Enter The Court here! I hope you enjoy the stories featured within.

Curious Fictions: Two Free Stories

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Note: No original article this week. I’m off visiting with family. But have no fear! I have two free stories for everyone!

Curious Fictions is the new hotness for authors like myself. It’s a website that allows us to post free stories and cultivate a followership. The website is clean and very easy to navigate. I’ve joined Curious Fictions to encourage me to write and get stories out into the world. I plan on using the platform to give attention to stories that I love, but may not be right for most markets.

I’ve put up two stories, both of which can be found here.

My first story, ‘The Eldritch Film Club’, is a weird little story written in the 2nd person. I love this thing to death though, so please take a look.

The second is called ‘Manifesto: Abnormality at Z33.1’. This story came about after I spent a couple of days outlining a novella idea. I saw the skeleton of a fun little story and this is what came of it. If this novella ever sees the light of day, this will serve as a perfect little prequel.