Friend Friday: Annie Bellet

Annie Bellet is a great writer. She has the sales and the fans to prove that. But that’s not why I picked her for Friend Friday.

No, what impresses me so much about Annie is her work ethic. She has built a self-publishing operation from the ground up, through persistence and hard work. A few years ago, when I first knew her, she was at a low point, a mix of work and health problems that combined to knock her down and keep knocking her down.

But she refused to stay down. Rather than give in to despair, Annie studied the market to find niches she knew readers wanted and she could write. She studied the business practices of successful self-publishers. And in the face of discouraging advice from established pros, bestsellers, she made a plan. It was a lot of hard work, but she followed it. Despite ups and downs, she stuck to it.

And she pulled it off. She built a readership. She built sales. She built a reputation. No plan is guaranteed; but her plan, her drive, and her hard work have built her career to a major level, and she’s still growing.

If this were fiction, the next line would be, “And she did it all herself!” Yay! Inspiration! The author beats down all challenges, single-handed!

But that would be a lie. Annie’s not alone. She has her husband Matt, and Matt is very much a part of every step in Annie’s plan. He markets books. He gives feedback. He schleps books to cons and works the booths. He pushes Annie when she needs that extra push. And he believes in her, which makes it easier for her to believe in herself. Writers (and artists and musicians), I can’t emphasize this enough: a supportive spouse can make all the difference. (And a spouse who puts you down can be poison. Sadly, I’ve seen those stories, too.)

I’ve discussed Annie’s plan with her, and I realized: I couldn’t do it. I’m not driven enough, not hard-working enough. I have a long way to go before I can say I work as hard as Annie.

Annie’s top-selling series, the one that made her reputation, is The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, a series about magic, gaming and nerds. Check it out!

But… I said Annie is a great writer. I don’t say that because she’s a friend, and I don’t even say it because of The Twenty-Sided Sorceress. That’s great, but it’s not my favorite. No, my favorite of Annie’s books is Dusk and Shiver, a series she says she’ll get back to “someday”. This is my favorite book of this century, so I hope someday is soon! Let me finish with my Amazon review:

I’m going to start this review in a roundabout way, by looking at the Kevin Bacon film Stir of Echoes, which came to mind as I read this book. I don’t think it’s a great film, but I always watch it if it’s on. Why? Because it has moments of greatness, moments of pure supernatural dread when the mysterious feels like it’s just about to reach out and grab you. During those moments, that film is palpably chilling.

And I bring that up because “Dusk and Shiver” gave me that same palpable chill; but where “Stir of Echoes” had it in moments, this collection has the chill throughout. As I read it, I worried what I might touch if I weren’t careful.

Because that is Remy Martin’s gift: he touches things, and he reads their past, and sometimes a little of their future. He’s a psychometrist, a reader of emotional echoes. And while he thinks this is more of a curse, his REAL curse is this: he can’t let well enough alone, and he can’t let injustice go unrevealed. When he touches these echoes of horror, he could easily run away. He knows he should. But instead he’s compelled to run toward them and find out what lies behind the echoes.

And what lies behind is human weakness and venality. There are villains here, but there are no grand villainous masterminds. Instead, there are weak, petty people who let their weakness seduce them step by step from small, careless evil into dark, tangled traps.

In the first story, “Til Human Voices Wake Us”, we meet Remy as he investigates a string of strange killings. But is he looking for a killer, or a victim?

In the second story, “Dusk and Shiver”, Remy has a visit from a former client turned zombie; and thus he find himself in a twisted family tragedy that he unwittingly played a part in.

In the third story, “Flashover”, Remy’s client is an unwilling arsonist. He must find why who compels her to burn down seemingly random homes. This story is different from the other two in that Remy has found a sense of humor. Amid their darkness, there were moments of humor in the other two stories; but this one literally had me laughing out loud — when it didn’t have me shivering in dread.

In my last month of reading, this collection is the one bright star that shines above the rest. I hope we see more Remy Pigeon stories!

Friend Friday: Kevin Ikenberry

When Kevin Ikenberry learned he would be my Friend Friday subject this week, his response was, “Who, me?”

I understand why. Kevin is a great guy, and I always enjoy his company, but we probably only interact (online or in person) a few times a year.

But while I might not be talking to him that often, I’m always watching him. And learning.

First, Kevin is the real deal. I write science fiction stories with orbits and trajectories, and I try to make them plausible. Kevin calculated orbits and trajectories for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Command. (He has since retired.) If Kevin tells me I got it wrong, I’m gonna believe him.

Second, I don’t know if it’s his Army training or if it’s the secret of his Army success, but Kevin is driven. He has always impressed me with how he pursues his writing career. Constantly learning, constantly working, constantly finding new challenges. He works not just at the writing itself, but also at the business, and at strategies for growth and marketing. He has good humor, but he’s 100% serious about the work.

And that determination has paid off. He’s building his career, one achievement at a time. Besides his Protocol War series and his military science fiction novel Runs in the Family, he has a number of other works. And his determination led to two opportunities to work in established worlds that he loves: Vessel in Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga, and Friends in High Places in the G.I. Joe series. These aren’t the sort of projects that will make a writer famous, but some projects you do for the love.

My personal favorite of Kevin’s works is one of his short stories, Shipminds and Ice Cream. It uses a couple of familiar SF tropes to explore issues of family, aging, and loss. It’s very moving.

Kevin is in this business for the long haul. He’s thinking about more than just the moment, with a focus on his long-term career. He takes his time to evaluate a deal, rather than just grab the first thing that comes along.

And lastly, Kevin is supportive of the community. He teaches. He encourages. He helps. He’s part of multiple workshops, including now being a guest instructor at the incredible Superstars Writing Seminars.

So yes, Kevin, you. You inspired me last week without even knowing it, so I’m proud to share your story.

Friend Friday: Joshua Sky

It was less than a year ago, at the Volume 32 Writers of the Future Gala and autograph session. I was there as a returning past winner, which meant I was out of the spotlight. I could simply enjoy the festivities, congratulate my V32 brothers and sisters, and meet people.

Yeah. Meet people. All these writers, predominantly introverts, and we’re supposed to spontaneously meet people. Why came up with this idea?

But then suddenly this guy starts asking me questions about the contest. And about short fiction. Really good questions.

And that’s how I met Joshua Sky, a real kindred spirit. Joshua is a screenwriter, as well as working other roles in Hollywood; but he has a real passion for short fiction, science fiction especially.

More than that, Joshua is fascinated with the history of the field, and the culture. He has the fortune (?) of living in Los Angeles. On the downside, that means long, frustrating commutes. On the upside, that means he can attend the famed Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, where he has access to their fantastic archives… and also to some of their fantastic, famous members. For Joshua, that’s a true treasure trove.

And he has put his research (both there and elsewhere) into a project: interviews with science fiction authors for Omni Media. I was honored to be one of his interview subjects, and it was the best interview I have had so far. Joshua doesn’t just ask a stock set of questions. He makes a point to read some of the author’s best works as well as their bio and web sites, and then he creates unique questions for each author. It’s a very personal interview every time. Here are his interviews so far.

It’s a short list, but he’s adding to it. Keep an eye out for more.

But Joshua is more than a science fiction historian, he’s also a short fiction author. Two of his stories have appeared in Omni, and I expect we’ll see more and in more markets soon.

And he’s an essayist. The House Had Eyes falls on the edge between memoir and fiction. It’s a tribute to Ray Bradbury, and it perfectly captures the wistful nostalgia and sense of loss of a great Bradbury tale. This one’s special. I give it my highest recommendations.

So that’s my friend, Joshua Sky. I hope you enjoy his work!