Tag Archives: Cyberpunk

Friday Night Interviews: William J. Jackson

We have author William J. Jackson with us for this week’s Friday Night Interviews.  William, who has two books out, writes alternative history, punk genres, and more. Read on to see his insights on his take on how people view history and what makes attracts people to alternative history stories.

William J. Jackson author photo
Author William J. Jackson

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was born in southern Delaware and moved to South Jersey as a kid. In both places I grew to love nature, quiet, imagination and reading. Also, I may or may not be a robot.

What is your life like when you aren’t writing?

I drive for a living for Lyft, birdwatch, read, ingest comics, and try to understand what’s going on in the world. That last one…zoiks!

How did your life as a writer begin?

I began typing at three, and books got me wanting to write. Tabletop RPGs in ninth grade opened the door. From there I learned what works, what doesn’t, and later formed the basis of the Legacy Universe (The Rail Legacy).

Do you have a favorite genre to read or write?

Science fiction, but that typically ends up as a Star Trek novel. Lately it’s leaned toward the punks and the odd cozy mystery.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the people that influence you the most?

So, dead people. HG Wells, silent film stars. Seeing old movies and things were more interesting than anything in the present to me. Only when it mothballs to the past do I like it.

Have you always been interested in punk fiction or is this a recent development in your life?

Before they had names I loved mashing genres. Let’s keep in mind the original punks were pulps and superhero comics, which freely used other genres to tell tales.

What it is about the punk genres that inspires you as a creative?

The ability to discuss basic human issues, technology and the things of the past people would rather avoid. If you take a gander at how people view history, it’s all nostalgia or all horror. Really it’s both, so I need to showcase it. Steampunk especially. As fun as it is, many treat it as if only tea and attire ever mattered. We can use punks to not only cry ‘Gee Whiz!’ at the world’s imagined, but to learn from history, imbibe its lessons and use it to show us how to light the future.

The Unsafe Occupant book cover
Released Nov 2015

Of all the various *punk genres and subgenres, which one would you like to live?

Ah…as an asthmatic with acute allergies, and being multiracial…let’s go with cyberpunk. Sucks? Yeah. But they have antihistamines and AC. There’s a real adventuresome outlook lol.

2015 was a busy year for you–two books published just a few months apart! Would you tell us a bit about them and that process?

Both are in the Legacy Universe, where an alien element mutated a Missouri city, but each book is set forty years apart. An Unsubstantiated Chamber is in that city, the Rail, in 1886, and begins to tell the tale of the Rail’s darkest days. Anybody in history class ever get told about the Rail from 1884 to 1905? Look at it that way, as history and you have dusted off a time confessing what happened in those days after Heroes were slain by the government. The other tale, Perilous Ping, is a short story in Asia. The Sky War has come, and far from the Rail a new hero will be made, very reluctantly. I like writing things in different orders, not unlike George Lucas starting Star Wars in the middle of things. As time passes I get to fill in the historical gaps.

An Unsubstantiated Chamber book cover
Released July 2015

Your stories fuse steampunk and superheroics. What inspired this blend of genres?

Loving superhero comics and understanding they inspire. It did for me as a kid looking for role models in a world where men primarily pursue cash and pleasure. Superheroes, done well, teach hope, law, right, camaraderie and bravery. But while searching for the next RPG story to run, I came up blank wanting to generate my own hero universe, but divergent from Marvel and DC. A dream as simple as a steam locomotive passing by me clinched it. Victorian Justice Society! Then it hit me, as many things in comics bugged me (no one stays dead, retconning). Why not make time pass, and show how the legacy of the first Heroes not only changes things, but how it rises and falls.

You often urge readers to know their alternate history. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, can you give us the William J. Jackson definition of “alternate history”?

I’m glad you asked, because I watch a movie, right? I exit the theater, and hear kids talking about say, Star Wars. They begin comparing scenes in the film with actual events, what they know of history, etc. But! Come to the average Joe with a direct history question and the eyes roll. People react like they’ve been transported back to high school exam time. Humans relate better, in a way, to heavy subjects indirectly. Know alt just, and either way, you suck up some history. Then, the person is more open to real history.

What are the challenges of writing alternative history?

Research. Also, research! It takes time from writing, so often it is as frustrating as it is instructive.

You’re active on Wattpad. What has your experience been like?

Great! I never thought Down Jersey Drive-shaft would get over 600+ eyes on it thus far. And as my first dieselpunk story I worried how that community would view it. For those who read it by the way, it’s about to go down! Just saying…

How did you end up getting involved with the Writerpunk group and Writerpunk Press?

The Duchess of Deco, Dame of Diesel, Holly Gonzalez! She pointed the way, and I’m grateful getting a nod from a great writer like her to join Writerpunk.

What anthology are you helping with or hoping to help with? What inspired you to work on this specific project?

Writerpunk is doing one taking punk versions of classic literature. I just joined up when word went out, AND just finished Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Boom. Talk about timing. My tale will be the atompunk version, starting similar, then taking a left turn at kaiju-infested Albuquerque. Also, Scribblers Den is on its second anthology, Den of Antiquity, the connective tissue being short stories contain a Den, inn, etc. Jack Tyler. Scribblers Den, thesteampunkempire.com. Sign up, y’all. We discuss it all there, especially the craft.

What you have taken away from working with Writerpunk Press and the Writerpunk Facebook group?

A welcoming invite first off, and willing to take everyone’s ideas when questions are posted. I like that. But then, artists are more democratic than other folks.

Do you have anything else you want to tell our adoring public or add to this interview in any way?

Read indie. Review indie. Tell your friends about punk genres, indie authors. Drop info at small bookstores.

William J. Jackson is a dreamer, writer and fine purveyor of alternate worlds. He waxes and wanes between realities, bringing back tales of hope and daring for the bored, gray masses. Swing by Twitter, Facebook, or his blog to find out more about his work.

 

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Friday Night Interviews: Virginia Carraway Stark

This Friday Night Inteview features a woman of many talents: Virginia Carraway Stark! Getting an early start on writing, Virginia has had a gift for communication, oration and storytelling from an early age. Over the years she has developed this into a wide range of products from screenplays to novels to articles to blogging to travel journalism. She has been an honorable mention at Cannes Film Festival for her screenplay, “Blind Eye” and was nominated for an Aurora Award.

Virginia took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about punk literature, Starklight Press, what inspires her creativity.

 

Virginia Carraway Stark

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

My friends call me ‘Adventure Girl’. I am extremely adventure prone and have been learned to accept that the curse of an interesting life is upon me. I graduated from high school and emancipated myself from my family when I was 16. I dropped out of some of the best universities in Canada to travel the world. While traveling I continued to write. I made some money with writing travel blogs and articles but mostly I just wrote.

I have been run over by a speeding taxi and walked away. The year before that I nearly died from blood loss and had emergency surgery. I had a really tough childhood which if you’re interested in you can find at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com  I am an outgoing, extroverted person and I love to take on new projects (and finish them), I love working with people and I really like not getting run over by taxis.

If you’re familiar with the ’16 personality types’ I’m a strong ENFJ (If you don’t know about it Google it, it’s so accurate it’s freaky). ENFJ’s are the protagonists and this is a good way to sum me up. I am loyal and strong willed and I stand up for myself and my friends. I believe in finding the good in everything and try to learn from the curve balls that the Universe seems to enjoy throwing in my direction.

What road did you walk to become a writer?

I was an imaginative child with a lot of imaginary friends and I saw the world through eyes that saw magic and wonder everywhere. I have never grown past that. I still find wonder in everything and I still have imaginary friends. I tell people stories, especially my friends who love to hear about the things I come up with. Sometimes when a friend of mine has been sad they have curled up on my lap and said, ‘Could you tell me a story?’. Of course I comply!

One of my friends told one of her friends about my stories and he happened to be a movie producer. He asked me to write some of my stories into screenplays. I refused on the basis that I had no clue how to write a screenplay but he persisted and offered to help me out with the things I didn’t understand. I agreed and spent the afternoon curled up at the library with a pad of paper and a book on ‘how to write screenplays’. The first screenplay I wrote for him he pitched to someone who loved the aspects of Asian mysticism I had put into it and he offered up gobs of cash to the producer. After that Rowdy Roddy Piper and Nick Mancuso and helicopters and extra explosions were added. The movie was called, ‘Blind Eye‘ and it went on to the Cannes film festival where it made a good impression. A new investor asked me to write ‘The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens‘ which starred Rowdy Roddy Piper again, this time as a magician.

I decided I really preferred plain old writing to screenplays and switched to writing. I was nominated for an Aurora Award (The Toadstools of Rire, a short story in another person’s universe was involved in that).

My husband and I had witnessed some unfortunate writers lose their worlds and their rights to their characters. My husband wanted to protect my writing as well as his own and the writing of others and so he decided to start Starklight Press as a way to share worlds, writing and to generally promote while keeping writing safe for the authors who wrote it.

This lead to a huge blossoming of writing and publishing, not just with Starklight but with many other presses as well. I also wrote a lot of scientific articles that took medical papers and broke it down so lay people could understand it as well as about scientific breakthroughs and other factual articles. I worked for the National Paranormal Society for several years and started a Journal of the Paranormal called Outermost that has received far more publicity then I intended from my humble ideas for a start to it.

I have a lot of publications and books out and am working on many more projects at this time. I try to keep a cohesive listing of these on my ‘about me‘ part of my website www.virginiastark.wordpress.com because there are a lot of them!

chicksoup for the soul with author

Have you always been interested in punk fiction or is this a recent development in your life?

Writing punk fiction is pretty new to me. My first actual Steampunk was written for a Christmas Starklight Anthology featuring Steampunk and my second one was my “King Pest” from Writerpunk Press. I love it! I am currently working on ‘Anne of Black Fables’, an urban punk version of the classic, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and a cyberpunk version of Othello for next year’s Shakespeare anthology from Writerpunk Press.

How did you end up getting involved with the Writerpunk group and Writerpunk Press?

Apparently I caught someone’s eye at Writerpunk Press. I received a private message from Lia Rees who said she had read one of my interviews and thought I would be great to work on the Punked Poe Project. I jumped in with both feet and had a blast and now it keeps going!

What anthology are you helping with or hoping to help with?

Poe, Classics and hopefully the next Shakespeare anthology. Othello is a cyborg in my version and Iago is one of those hacker types who hangs out on 4chan and other underworld creep places. I feel this clarifies his motives in subverting Othello. Most of the criticism of the play circulated on Iago’s apparent lack of morals in corrupting Othello but I felt putting Iago into the context of a hacker would make him explicable to most people because there are so many hackers who just enjoy mayhem for mayhem’s sake.

What inspired you to work on this specific project?

King Pest inspired me to write in the Diesel Punk genre because it fit the post war component of Diesel Punk and the Spanish Flu that decimated the world compared well to the world of plague depicted in King Pest.

Star Trek Cosplay
Star Trek Cosplay

What it is about the punk genre that inspires you as a creative?

I like mind puzzles and moving things into worlds that are reminiscent of here but in a dimension slightly off is a fun way to let my brain play.
For example, in Anne of Black Fables I had to think: Why would people in an urban setting be upset about Anne for being a girl and being different. I had a good think about things and decided that in the modern era and decided that a modern Anne would probably be diagnosed with Asberger’s or Autism (they’ve been combined into one now in the new DSM-5).

It’s things like that and finding a translation for things that really excites my creativity. What if Othello had been a Cyborg? Let’s find out…

Of all the various *punk genres and subgenres, which one would you like to live?

This is a really hard question to answer. I think Urban Punk but the thing about the punk worlds is that they aren’t by and large very nice places. Part of the punk aspect is that life isn’t optimum and people are set apart from the mainstream. A lot of punk is about chaos and anarchy. Punk is a genre I work with that I wouldn’t necessarily like to live there but it’s cool from a safe distance.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the people that influence you the most?

My husband is a HUGE influence on me. Whenever I have a problem that I’m trying to figure out I always go to him first to try to talk the problem out. We’ve also done a lot of collaborating on worlds and writing and he makes my mind blossom.

I love other writers to bounce ideas off of and the right internet writing groups can bring out the best of my creativity while other groups are really suppressive.

I’ve always been a reader. I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Lewis Carroll and by the time I was about to move into elementary school I was into Stephen King and later a dash of Clive Barker. Piers Anthony, Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, Tanith Lee…

God, so many good authors out there and I learned so much from all of them!

better tales from space pic with author

Do you have a set routine when you work?

Nope. I prefer to sit in my favorite chair with my laptop and a nice drink and a view outside of the birds who come to visit the bird feeder. BUT that isn’t my set routine by any stretch. I’ve written whole scenes that have suddenly come to me on my iPhone notepad function. I write on napkins and notepads, ANYTHING that will hold up to pen or pencil can fall victim to my writing.

I worked at Starbucks for awhile and between making lattes I used receipt paper to write on. I was so good that I could make a latte with one hand while still jotting notes with my other. I’ve used my hand or arm in a few rare cases but yeah, anything will do when it strikes.

What is your favorite genre to read/write?

I like the supernatural/paranormal/alternate dimensions or worlds, pretty much anything out of the ordinary. I have a tendency to include a bit of horror and writing in a strictly mundane world as part of a collaborative was one of the hardest challenges I had ever written. I also like science fiction. I generally put it all under the umbrella of ‘Speculative Fiction’ and let people wonder what that means, or rather speculate on what that means bwahahaha!

You are the editor in chief and “wearer of many hats” at StarkLight Press. Could you tell us a bit about StarkLight and your role(s) there?

I guess I’m a bit of a talent scout. If I see someone I like the look of I will often approach them to get involved in a short story event or something else. I read the stories and make sure they make sense. That’s my main editorial job. We have a separate line editor, Sharon Flood who is our wonder woman. I have a good eye for finding holes in plots and asking why something was or wasn’t included.

I often handle the co-ordination of projects and arrange them, plot them out and pick a crew to work on them. I also do a lot of public relations and promotions. I have a passion for writing and at Starklight that translates into ‘doing all the stuff that needs to be done’. Sometimes that’s communicating with personalities, writing letters to ask well known authors to write forewords for our books or whatever pops into my mind as a good idea at the time. I have a lot of energy.

Cover of Hearts Asunder, a StarkLight publication
Cover of Hearts Asunder, a StarkLight publication

 

Does StarkLight have any new projects on the horizon?

So many new projects! Starklight Volume 4 is set to come out this month and then we will be accepting submissions for Starklight 5. We have six different collaborative works coming out, new novels, new anthologies (the next one is Shamrocks, Saints and Standing Stones which was an invitation only anthology for writers we’ve worked with and had fun with in the past).

There is always something new in the works and endless possibilities for fun if you are an author who works well with others and doesn’t take yourself too seriously. Pretentious writers aren’t really up our alley. We like people who are real in their writing and reject people who are unfriendly, unwilling to take constructive criticism or open their minds to new ideas.

What you have taken away from working with Writerpunk Press and the Writerpunk Facebook group?

This is one of the groups that I love. The people in it are fun and supportive of each other. I’ve learned a lot about the various genres of punk but I still have a lot more to learn. The premise of re-doing the classics like Shakespeare, Poe, etc was a really cool one and I love the concept–got my brain wheels turning!

Do you have anything else you want to tell our adoring public or add to this interview in any way?

Just, be real. Actually do the writing, don’t just talk about writing endlessly. Don’t be boring. There are 7 billion people on this planet. In theory each one has a story to tell so you’ve got to be exceptional to get my attention. You do this by not being a sheep. Be strong. Stand up for yourself and your writing and don’t let people bully you into being ‘normal’. Don’t be awful but and stand up for yourself in a reasonable way but don’t ever let people criticize you for your passion and don’t let them curb your energy because you aren’t fitting the mold.

Stories that fit the mold are the worst and writers who aspire to that frankly make me gag. Be yourself and believe that you’re one in seven billion who is worth sharing your voice and speak loud, strong and clear.

Virginia definitely speaks loud, strong, and clear! Virginia works with other writers, artists and poets to hone her talents and to offer encouragement and insight to others.  You can catch up with her on Facebook or  Twitter. Be sure to grab a copy of Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk on May 31st to read her dieselpunk story “King Pest”. </shameless plug>

 

Reviewers Go Punk: Logging on with Neuromancer

Welcome to Reviewers Go Punk! This week we have WriterPunk Facebook group member Jonathan Leavitt and his thoughts on a cyberpunk classic.  Jon is relatively new to the whole literary punk scene, so I asked him if was interested in reading Neuromancer by William Gibson, one of the foundation books for the cyberpunk genre. He has some interesting insights that tie in to our current digital culture.  This is well worth the read.

There are a few spoilers to the book in this review. You have been warned.  

Neuromancer_(Book)

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Reviewed by Jonathan Leavitt

I downloaded Neuromancer by William Gibson to the Kindle app for around $8. Honestly, a few chapters in I found it hard to read. Here is where I’ll say the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” line. I have brain damage from 2 strokes which comes with concentration issues so I didn’t want to just give up on this book. I had experienced this before with Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls that had a style I found very difficult to read but much easier to listen to, so I downloaded Neuromancer to Audible for 1 credit.

Cyberpunk merges technology and anti-establishment, anti-corporatism ideals in a gritty future noir world. Neuromancer, written by William Gibson is the first book I’ve read from the genre. I struggled with the style of this book much the same way I struggled with early punk or new wave music, both challenged styles that I was comfortable with but was vital in expanding the landscapes of rock and roll and science fiction. After switching to the Audible version, I did become more comfortable and came to appreciate that this book is all about imagination at the expense of almost everything else.

Neuromancer was published in 1984 and was cutting edge in its concepts and vocabulary, much of which is now commonplace. Gibson in 1984 defined Cyberspace as: “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.” Whoa, in the early eighties I was more than happy playing Jupiter Lander on my Commodore 64 with no thoughts beyond avoiding a crash and beating my brother’s score. Now I am one of the legitimate users addicted to this mass hallucination. Given that most people in cyberspace present themselves as they wish to be seen and not as they really are, I’m fine with the word hallucination.

Gibson borders on Prophet Status at times when describing concepts and ideas some of which have already come into being and others that we can see clearly on the horizon. The description of a fully immersive sensory experience called “simstim” is somewhat recognizable as Oculus Rift which happens to be owned by a large corporation servicing Cyberspace. While Oculus Rift doesn’t allow (yet) for connecting into someone else’s consciousness, the need for such advanced technology really is moot because with access to a person’s widely-captured data, it is possible to discover everything that makes them unique. While Facebook focuses on marketing to users who, for the most part, understand Facebook’s motives, governmental abuses of privacy have an unknown and therefore sinister quality to them. One thing that Gibson didn’t foresee was any advancement in personal communications such as cell phones, which seems like a big miss. Who knows? Maybe in the future we will revolt against technology and go back to pay phones…it could happen.

All these technological advancements are impressive individually but when Artificial Intelligence is added to the mix they take on a whole new dimension. AI is an example of an idea that is just now being brought into reality. Neuromancer, the books namesake, is one half of an Artificial Intelligence who is separated by law from its other half, Wintermute, by elaborately layered security systems. Think about Left and Right Hemispheres of our brains. One is logical and the other creative. Now imagine that they are never allowed to become one fully functional intelligence because their creators fear of the resulting super intelligence. Even the name Neuromancer hints at this. If we look at the etymology we have Neuro which means neuron meaning nerves and hinting at a nervous system and Mancer which could be a conjurer hinting and not just intelligence but a new life form. We are now just beginning to discuss ideas dealing with the Technological Singularity and discussing the need for certain laws to help manage it. Opinions vary on the plausibility of the technological singularity but it is difficult to argue that technology hasn’t evolved faster than man’s ability to adjust to it and use it in constructive ways. We are struggling to adjust economically to a workforce that is competing with technology for jobs.

After reading Neuromancer and thinking back about the time it was published, it occurs to me that many of the movies I’ve seen from this genre are derivative, many relying on ideas from this book. This book demands the reader’s attention because there is a lot going on, so this isn’t a book you can skim through. There is an irony in that, for me at least, because modern Cyberspace has changed me from a reader into more of a skimmer.

I like the fact that the author didn’t tie a weight around his neck in the form of dates. Leaving the dates open, allows us to continue to see the technology of the story evolve. Science fiction influences real science so young readers who go on to become scientists can use the ideas in stories like Neuromancer to shape their own future which might not be so bleak. Although personally, I am rooting for the technological singularity that will bring self-awareness to machines and lead them to the conclusion that humans have to go. I recommend this book to everyone who enjoys Cyberpunk and science fiction in general.