Author interview: Francis Powell, the Interesting Chap

If you don’t know Francis Powell, you should. He is an interesting chap, a man who attending a British boarding school NOT named Hogwarts and, like Harry Potter, didn’t have a great time for the most part. He is published by Savant Books and was kind enough to speak with me.

S: First tell us what made you want to be a writer and what prompted you to write Flight of Destiny.

F: I moved to a remote village in Austria. It was not far from Vienna, but a very oppressive and strange environment. I thought I should try writing a book. I launched into it…nothing came of it. I do many creative activities, painting as well as writing music. Writing lay dormant, put to one side. Then later, living in Paris at this point in time, via an advert, I made contact with a man called Alan Clark, who had a literary magazine called “Rat Mort” (dead rat).  I submitted four short stories for this magazine, encouraged by Alan, I began to write more and more short stories, and developed a style…When I had a stock of short stories, it seemed logical to try to put them all together and find a publisher.

S: Your novel is actually a collection of 22 short stories, but the kind of world you create is described as “reflections of a parallel, but darker, often fatalistic noir that proceeds quite independently by its own machinations to grind away at the grist of humanity for what appears to be no apparent reason.” I read some of your stories and they just drove me crazy, with how sharp you twist your writing, especially near the end. What was the motivation for your style?

F: I suppose I like the idea of writing  a short story in the same way a fisherman might fish, enticing and luring a reader then hooking them (I am against all forms of hunting by the way).  I suppose with my style I like to play a bit with the reader, lay false trails…to tantalize readers, and then at the end of the story turn the story around with his unexpected twist, which is the ultimate aim with this type of short story.

Like with other creative activities, painting for example, often a painter tries different styles before they truly develop their own style.  Sometimes this style can come about due to an accident, or coming across something that leaves a deep impression on  them…for example the painter Francis Bacon, in his early career had an obsession with Picasso,  his horrific images came about having bought a second hand book of diseases of the mouth, added to the fact that he greatly admired Eisenstein‘s Battleship Potemkin,‪ particularly the scene of the nurse screaming on the Odessa steps.  Why are my stories so dark?  Perhaps writing is for me a bit cathartic and I need to draw out my deep dark thoughts, some of which have been latent over a period of time.  I like creating and developing despicable characters…this seems to quite easily for me.   We live in this horribly cruel world, full of people who are oppressed, for one reason or another …and this runs through my stories.  There is a kind of social commentary that runs through some my short stories…One of the good things that came out of my education was studying Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray  and his character Becky Sharpe, archetypal  social climber. I think my stories are very “British” in character. It is true to say , I have many motivations behind my writing.

S: Would you ever experiment with a style of writing that isn’t dark?

F: I always love a challenge, but it might be hard, I have tried writing Children’s stories and even they turned out a bit “dark” however children seem to like dark stories.  To write a story, with a happy beginning, happy characters, and happy ending, it could be possible, I would have be very disciplined. I do a lot of blogging and enjoy writing factual articles, which require research.  It is great to learn new things.

S: You talked about Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss as having an influence on your writing. Was he your favorite British author, or did you have another one who influenced you the most?

F: I love the work of Rupert Thomson, who wrote “Dreams of leaving” as well as other books. I met him when I was a new student at Art College and he and his writing has made a long lasting impression on me.

S: We want to know: Why did you not enjoy your time in boarding school?

F: For me it was a bit like doing a stint in prison…in fact people sent to boarding schools, during the period I was there, easily adapt to prison.  There was twelve in a dormitory, you never have time for yourself.  You had to match all the conventions of such an institution or you would be become an outsider and quickly become the victim of all kinds of abuse.  Most of the boys were destined to join the military, or go into comfortable nine to five jobs…there were a few artistic/creative types, but these were few and far between.  Then there were the punishments, most of which are outlawed in this day and age.  Running up a hill, without a shirt, whatever the weather, then having a cold shower, was supposed to toughen you up.  If you were caught smoking for example you would be caned.  Boarding schools are supposed to be character building, but mine just affected me in this negative way.

S: Was your childhood an easy one, or a rough one, in your view? (minus boarding school)

F: My childhood was dominated by Boarding School, however I had some wonderful holidays in Cornwall. However compared to many childhoods, mine was not an easy one…

S: Have you ever been flattered by a comparison to a well-known author or by a review?*

F: An editor compared my work to a re-incarnated Edgar Alan Poe.

S:You have a traditionally published novel, although with a smaller press. Why did you choose Savant Books to publish your book?

F: I guess I encountered Savant by chance. They showed an interest in my work.

S: For all our readers and writers who never got a book published with an actual publisher, take us through the process from the time they acquired your novel until publication.

F: It is a long drawn out process…for me it was complicated by the fact that I am British, my publisher American, so different spelling, grammar, ideas came into play.  E-Mails were sent over a period of three years, shaping a reshaping the book. I must say I was a real novice concerning this process of editing and polishing and proofing. A writer thinks about stories, and the precious sentences they have put in their book, a book publisher thinks about readers, selling books, reaching a certain market.
S:What are some future projects you’re working on?

F: At the moment it is full on promotion of my book Flight of Destiny.  I would love a follow up to it, I have reserve of stories lying in wait.

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“Palace” of the “King”- part 3 of 6

Below is part 3 of my continuing fantasy/sci-fi short story. The total is 7 pages. I’m taking a bit of a summer vacation right now, but I hope you will enjoy the story. Big announcement when I get back. All you authors and readers, stay tuned!

TWO HOURS LATER Cutter leaned back against the wall, ripped his shirt off, and allowed Tonya Redding, the Chameleon’s nurse, a five-four woman with reddish-brown hair, sharp auburn eyes underneath brown eyebrows, and a lot of spirit, to treat his wounds. After giving him some Novocain gel she moved her gloved fingers towards the piece of wood stuck in his ribcage. He struggled to get away but Tonya held him down. She was not nearly as strong as him but she was able to make sure he didn’t break free and let the wood splinters dig further into his skin.

Not that it mattered to Cutter anyway. They didn’t know his genetic code was devouring his body. They didn’t know he had agreed to allow himself to be permanently mutilated in order to live just a little longer, to give his body just enough life to take a single chance to stop the “King” from bringing some terrible ruin to world. But, as he sat back and let Tonya do her work, he knew any one of these battles would be his last; either he would be killed by an enemy or by his own body. Either way, he had no hope to see a war-free world in his lifetime.

All he could do was allow Tonya to patch him up just well enough to let him complete the next step of the mission. He knew she wouldn’t be able to do much; her best medical equipment was at the Chameleon’s hidden base in eastern Montana, where Pyrotek was now. She had to make do in a rickety wooden shack somewhere at the foot of the mountains with only as many supplies as Pyrotek could have delivered by drone.

Tonya gave Cutter some antiseptic to kill harmful bacteria on his skin and some ibuprofen for his pain. She ordered him to rest, but he couldn’t relax-the buzz of adrenaline hadn’t worn off yet. Everyday pharmaceutical drugs had all but disappeared under the new economy; these drugs were rationed in favor of producing more antidepressants, barbiturates, and steroids to keep the mercenaries fit and able to battle without feeling the negative emotions of the pain they were causing to themselves and others.

“How do you feel?” she asked. Cutter sat up.

“I’m fine,” he said. He groaned: the pain inside was really starting to hurt- and it wasn’t the pain of having some splinters in his body. “I need to smoke.”

“No you don’t. Smoking kills, you know.”

What do I care at this point? He thought as Tonya finished applying bandage gauze to the spots on his skin where the wood had penetrated. I don’t know long I’ve got but it ain’t much.

Cutter cleared his throat loudly and turned his head so he could cough out mucus into a bucket filled with ice chips next to his bed.

Grooosss!” Tonya exclaimed, smacking him with one of her gloves. “Cutter! That’s the ice I was going to use on your joints! Well, now you can feel your phlegm on your knees!”

“Yea, about that,” Cutter said indifferently. He looked around for a box of cigarettes but couldn’t find any. “Where’s my Parliaments?”

“No smoking!” Tonya exclaimed. Cutter was prepared to move but he soon felt the Novocain’s effect begin to sink into his skin. He groaned again and sat with his back upright against the wall.

Four hours later Cutter finally had his cigarette. Tonya relented and let him smoke one– and then promptly whisked the carton away before he could tempt himself into taking a few more.

The remaining Chameleons were gathered around a single night table in the center of the room when Cutter joined them. A six-two African American man from Chicago with a 1980s-style Mohawk and a bulky muscular body covered by a Kevlar suit removed a small lamp from the table and tossed it aside. The Chameleons called him Kevlar. No one knew what his real name was.

“This is it, then,” he said in a deep Chicago accent. He made sure to face the rest of the room so he could let them feel his presence. “We all that’s left.”

Cutter moved his eyes from left to right: Cherise Wright was the only woman in the crew, also African-American but five-six, lean, and with a scowl on her face she had so often Cutter assumed it was a permanent fix; she was also the only surviving Chameleon who went by her real name (or at least what she told everyone was her real name- in this brave new world, verifying personal information was almost impossible, let alone pointless). Then there was M.K., a slender six-foot-tall Algerian national who moved to America three years before the wars broke out. A defected former mercenary, he snuck away from a bloody mission in the ruins of downtown Denver and found Cutter, who was there trying to shut down a New Age Global Armor Tech production factory; Spezzna, who had washed some blood out of his hair and looked otherwise uninjured; and Rigatoni, a short Italian-American from New Jersey with big biceps and calves but who was sometimes referred to derogatorily as “noodle”, and that wasn’t for squishy muscles.

Kevlar removed a smartphone from his suit and placed it on the table while everyone else gathered around. This device was able to be tracked only by the satellite Pyrotek had put into orbit a year earlier- a structure disguised as a piece of space garbage from the not-quite-completed International Space Station. All other signals to the device were jammed.

“Can you see me?” Pyrotek’s voice said. The screen was black at first but a moment later they all saw their genius engineer’s unshaven face and blue eyes covered by thick glasses. “Okay, great.”

“What’s the plan?” Cherise said. “At this rate we’ll be dead before we crash the Labyrinth.”

“I sent KeyKey out a few hours ago into the mountains to get a head start on the next phase,” Pyrotek said. “There’s a path which must’ve been built some time ago, a dirt path through the mountains which so far as I can tell…” he moved away from the screen for a moment and then returned. “Is at least nine miles long. Five human guards on the path but they’re just patrolling, private military company I think but KeyKey couldn’t get a good read on them. They’re spaced out a mile and a quarter mile apart so you can take them out without alerting the others. Once you get to the other side you walk about…one mile to The Palace, and it looks to be about…three miles from end to end.”

“What’s in there?” M.K. asked.

“Ummm…” Pyrotek turned his head again. “I can’t tell. It appears to be open-air but some type of fog keeps blocking my view of the actual inside. All I can see is the outline of this so-called Palace. Cutter, you and the others need to be careful. If I can’t get a reading on what this place looks like I can’t help you. If this fog doesn’t clear out, then KeyKey’s solar-powered battery may not be able to recharge in there and he can’t help you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. “Thanks, Pyrotek. Stand by.”

“My pleasure.” Pyrotek kept his line of communication open but moved to and from the screen.

Cutter started to cough hard. He tried to control himself but his coughs grew so violent he fell to the ground, using one arm to prop himself up as he kept coughing.

Cutter!” Kevlar yelled.

Cutter staggered to his feet and felt his insides ready to heave. He moved as fast as his decrepit body could go towards the edge of the cabin and vomited in the corner. No one approached him as he bent over and panted.

“This isn’t good,” Cherise said as she bit her lip. “Cutter, if you can’t move, then you should stay behind and let us go.”

“No,” Cutter said. He coughed again but now he felt a little better- but if he could get a cigarette he would feel a lot better. “I’m going. We need to do this. We need-“ he coughed again and stumbled as he made his way back to the table.

“Kevlar, give Cutter his shot,” Pyrotek said through the phone.

“Give me-“ images of needles penetrating his skin entered his mind.

“You got it, Tekkie,” Kevlar said. He kicked Cutter’s right knee, causing him to yell and fall to the ground, clutching it. Before Cutter could stand up, Rigatoni and Spezzna held him down while Kevlar took a syringe filled with green liquid out of his suit.

“Hold him real still,” Kevlar said.

“STOP!” Cutter ordered.

Hold him!” Kevlar shouted over Cutter’s voice. There would be no cleaning wipe, no disinfectant. Kevlar jammed the needle into Cutter’s bicep and he gasped as his eyes closed and saw only black.

He blinked a few times and noticed the hut looked darker than usual. He blinked again and thought he saw some light from the corner of his right eye. He turned his head and saw Kevlar and Cherise surrounding the table and talking to it in low voices. He figured they were talking to Pyrotek.

He lifted his body up one hand, then one arm, then one foot at a time. Outside he saw darkness and inside he saw Rigatoni, Spezzna, and M.K. asleep on the ground. He cleared his throat and Kevlar and Cherise turned to face him.

“You’re ill,” Kevlar said somberly. “That’s the third one of these I had to use on you in the last two days.”

Hunnnhhh.” Cutter moved to the table and sat next to it. He felt his insides vibrate like guitar strings.

“How are you feeling, Cutter?” Pyrotek asked.

“Fine,” Cutter said untruthfully, and somehow he had the feeling Pyrotek knew it too because he cleared his throat very obviously and said, “I think you should tell them.”

“Tell us what?” Cherise asked. “Cutter, are you alright or not? If we’re going we gotta go. Now.”

“I’m…” he was prepared to tell them, well Kevlar and Cherise. But he did not want to let them down. “I’m fine for this mission.”

“If somethin’s up you gotta say it now,” Kevlar said. “Pyrotek, what’s the deal with Cutter?”

“He’s…” Cutter braced himself for Pyrotek to blab. “Very ill.”

“We know that,” Kevlar said.

“He’s dying very quickly,” Pyrotek said with a hint of sadness.

Pyrotek!” Cutter shouted. For a brief moment he felt well and strong, but as soon as he stopped talking the pain returned and he laid down on the ground.

“Dying?” Cherise asked. The worry in her voice was unmistakable. “Cutter, how long has this been going on? And why didn’t you tell us before?”

“I didn’t want to,” Cutter said. He felt around his suit for his cigarettes but couldn’t find them. “We need to keep focused on the mission, not my problems.”

“Your problems are our problems,” Kevlar said. “You’re the Chameleons, Cutter. All this stuff about shutting down the global war economy, about stopping this so-called King from building a new monstrosity on the graves of the dead, this is all you. We joined because of you. We fight and risk our lives because we believe in what you believe in too. Without you, man, there ain’t nobody ready to lead.”

“You’ll do well enough, Kevlar,” Cutter said. He put his hands on the ground. There had to be cigarettes somewhere. “You’re ready to take over when my time is up.”

Kevlar sat down next to Cutter and Cherise sat in front of him. “We’re all mortal,” Kevlar said. “You, me, all of us. We all goin’ to the same place and we don’t know when or how soon it’ll be. But as long as we’re here we might as well make the most of it. Even you, you sick old man.”

Cutter forced a smile. A few tears came down from Kevlar’s eyes, but he wiped them and managed to hold himself together. Cherise, normally tough and worry-free, turned her head and moved her hands to her face. Cutter heard sniffling even from the phone, but when he got up to look, Pyrotek had stopped, clearing his throat to speak.

“Well you’re here now,” he said. “Cutter, KeyKey’s finished mapping the pathway to The Palace. You have to go now, before dawn. It’s the only way you’ll get the jump on the guards patrolling the path in front of you.

“And how long until dawn?” Cutter asked.

“Six hours, and you have to go twelve miles to make it to The Palace. The later you wait, the more enemies you can expect to encounter.”

“Then let’s go,” Cutter said. He tried to stand up but needed Kevlar’s help. “Wake the others up. We need to go, while I can still move.”

Your Thoughts: Are Novellas the “New” Novels?

What do you think? Given the advent of e-books and free-books and the cost associated for an indie author to pay for editing and other services, plus the sheer number of content available for download and purchase, will the novella form see a revival? or will novellas, which are like “long short stories”, become a fad because people decide they want longer stories (but not too long!) with more substance? From io9:

“ is moving aggressively into publishing novellas (or short novels) in e-book format, and they just announced their first list of titles. But why is (and everybody else) so convinced that shorter is better for e-books? Editorial assistant Carl Engle-Laird explains.

“When asked why is focusing on publishing shorter works as e-books, Engle-Laird tells io9:

When the book wars sweep across the galaxy, and the blood of publishers runs down the gutters of every interstellar metropolis, the resource we fight for will not be paper, or ink, or even money. It will be time. For our readers, time is the precious commodity they invest in every book they decide to purchase and read. But time is being ground down into smaller and smaller units, long nights of reflection replaced with fragmentary bursts of free time. It’s just harder to make time for that thousand-page novel than it used to be, and there are more and more thousand-page novels to suffer from that temporal fragmentation.

Enter the novella, an old form with a new lease on life. We expect that the reader who has to fit their reading into their daily commute will appreciate a novella they can finish in a week, rather than a year. We’ll be releasing books that can be begun and completed on just one of those rare evenings of uninterrupted reading pleasure. And we think this will resonate especially with those readers who have so much reading to do that they’ve compressed their habit into a portable device.

Of course, won’t just be a science fiction publisher. Our fantasy sensibilities insist on reminding you that novellas aren’t just the future of genre, they’re also our past. Science fiction and fantasy were born in penny dreadfuls, came of age in magazines, and novellas have been essential to their development, from The War of the Worlds to The Shadow Over Innsmouth to Empire Star. wants to carry that fantastical history into a future that is beginning to outgrow its magazine predicates, but has no need to outpace its love of excellent stories at the length in which they were meant to be told.”