May 4th is the third anniversary of the Dragons, Zombies & Aliens blog. I have been truly privileged to be able to share my passion with the world, and I want to thank everyone who's been with me on this journey with free ebooks!
Through May 30th, everyone who enters the giveaway will have the chance to win four of my digital stories:
The Minnesotan Witch: a novella
"Tower of Dragons"
Diary of the Green Snake: "Tithes and Offerings"
How to Enter
To enter, all you have to do is sign up for the weekly Dragons, Zombies & Aliens newsletter. That's it! If you're already subscribed to my newsletter, then you're already entered to win!
Ten winners will be randomly selected from my newsletter list, and they will be contacted and announced on May 31st, the day after the giveaway closes. So make sure the email you enter is one you check.
C.T. Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular reviewer at The United Federation of Charles and the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, The Red Room series, Lucifer’s Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga.
DZA: You’ve dabbled in almost every speculative fiction genre: horror, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, superhero, etc. Is there any genre that’s your favorite?
C. T. Phipps: I love coloring outside the lines and it's been one of the keys to my success, I think. If you throw enough darts at the wall then you're bound to hit the bullseye eventually. You're also likely to develop a fanbase who is willing to follow you round from multiple fandoms.
If I had to say what my favorite genre is, though, I'd probably say humor. No matter which universe I play in, I tend to have a lot of fun making fun of their conventions as well as history. I may not be the Mel Brooks or Terry Pratchett of genre fiction but I do consistently tell a funny yarn. Yes, even my horror novels are funny (See Straight Outta Fangton, Cthulhu Armageddon). I once referred to Cthulhu Armageddon as my “serious” novel and David Niall Wilson (my publisher) said, “It’s one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read.”
What have been some of the greatest inspirations for your work, and why?
I have to say the biggest influence to my writing is Joss Whedon, but also Terry Pratchett, Stephen King (his On Writing is something every aspiring writer should check out), George Lucas, H.P. Lovecraft, and plenty of comic book creators. Really, my influences are expansive and myriad like all writers.
I think the best influences on my writing are closer to home, though. The first was Jim Bernheimer, indie author of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, who advocated that I try to write the kind of books I wanted to read versus what I felt would succeed. The second was David Niall Wilson; he introduced me to a lot of tricks that raised the quality of my books considerably. He also showed me how to reach a much larger audience. I credit him with helping turn me from someone dabbling in writing to a writer.
Much of your work is indie-published, and all of them digital and audio. Why did you choose to go this route instead of traditional publishing?
The market is not what it was twenty years ago and the entire way we interact with books has changed. Amazon and other online booksellers mean that the "shelf life" for books no longer has a set limit as long as you're able to keep it in the public consciousness. Books that went out of print decades ago can stay "in print" on Kindle and in warehouses forever. This has been a big boon to independents, self-published authors, and small presses. Audiobooks have also gone from a joke about "something blind people read" to the preferred method of reading for large chunks of the reading audience.
Given the difficulties of making a living as a writer at the best of times, seriously don't quit your day job. Even awesome heroes of mine like Tracy Hickman have struggled to make ends meet. Still, independent publishing is a big chance to take control of your literary financial destiny. I especially got good results working with Crossroad Press. I feel audiobooks, especially, reach an entirely different audience from traditional publishing.
A lot of your books are collaborative, working with one or more authors on the same story. What are some of the challenges and benefits of working with another author, and how did you choose who to work with?
My experience with co-authors has been mostly positive, but the two I primarily work with--Michael Suttkus and Frank Martin--are both seasoned professionals who have done a great job balancing the workload with me. The trick is to be very clear about what you're going to do and carefully planning each chapter ahead of time. Usually, I alternate with them on the writing while also brainstorming the concepts. If you’re not clear about matters then you can easily run into differences in style, characterization, plot, and ideas.
One of the biggest issues I’ve also run into is that it can be very easy to prioritize your own work over collaborations, and that’s unfair to everyone involved. Don’t do that if you decide to collaborate on a book.
Let’s talk about your Supervillainy Saga. Most writers, when working in a superhero world, obviously choose a hero or anti-hero as their protagonist. But your main character decides to be a supervillain. How did that happen?
I felt like I was competing against the past hundred years or so of superhero storytelling. Despite doing this in novel form, I was still competing against the well-trodden storytelling history of comic book history. Instead, I looked for a new angle to explore the superhero-supervillain dichotomy, and it occurred to me that the origin of a supervillain might be an interesting one. I also liked the idea that Gary had a very romantic and idealized idea of what being an superpowered outlaw was in his world--an idea I gradually peeled back. Also, I think having a character gain great powers and deciding to abuse them for his own gain is something that automatically puts the audience in a somewhat sillier mood, which is great for a comedy like the Supervillainy Saga is.
I’ve also discovered that I prefer writing antiheroes to straight up good guy characters. Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer’s Star, and Wraith Knight all star protagonists who lean on the gray side of morality at best. I think it’s a great idea to use characters with extreme emotions and backstories to press the limit of what the audience is comfortable with. I think a lot of us are perfectly willing to go along with heroes who are not lily white and may even do the wrong thing when push comes to shove.
You’ve done some editing, too, including the Blackest Spells anthology. What are some of the challenges of editing versus writing? Which do you enjoy more?
Editing is my personal bugbear when writing as it's the least creative part of the creative process. However, every author needs to be able to do their own editing if they want to succeed in this business. As much as I advise every author to get a second, third, and fourth pair of eyes for their work--it is something that is fundamentally necessary. But editing anthologies is a different sort of beast. Maybe even fun. I love gathering together people's stories and choosing which ones to publish in things like the Blackest Knights and Blackest Spells books.
Of all of your books, which has been the most fun to write?
That's a very tough call, as all of my books are fun to write in different ways. If I had to choose I'd have to say The Rules of Supervillainy, I was a Teenage Weredeer, and my upcoming Psycho Killers in Love were my three favorites.
The Rules of Supervillainy because it's a zany deconstruction of superhero tropes ranging from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the so-called Dark Age of Comics. I was a Teenage Weredeer because it's a work that lets me talk about rural America, coming of age drama, and being a misfit in a small community that hits close to home. Psycho Killers in Love just because I'm a huge fan of 80s slashers and I enjoyed deconstructing horror tropes as much as I did superheroes.
What can we expect in the future from you?
As stated, I have an upcoming book called Psycho Killers in Love which is a loving homage to 80s slashers and horror movies in general. It's the story of the son of an immortal murderer who feels the same compulsion to kill, except he's decided to use it on other slashers because why not. He runs into a lovely Final Girl survivor of another killer's murder spree, now out for revenge. Such a fun pairing.
I'll also be releasing The Horror of Supervillainy, which is the last of my "crossover" books for The Supervillainy Saga. Gary Karkofsky has decided to become a superhero and he's terrible at it. However, he gets the chance to prove himself by investigating the kidnapping of a prominent politician's daughter that takes him into a region full of cults, summer camps, mad swamp monsters, and more. It's an homage to 70s horror comics, meaning I'm in a bit of a mood.
Finally, there's A Nightmare on Elk Street that is the third and final Bright Falls Mystery book. Jane Doe the Weredeer is invited to provide security on a movie set when the Boogeyman starts menacing her dreams. Is it just a lone monster or is she the center of a plot to take out Bright Falls, Michigan's only protection?
A huge thank you to C. T. Phipps for taking the time to come to my blog! You can find him on his website here.
The damsel in distress is not a bad trope. It's just written badly. This month's podcast is how to do it right.
This is what happens when I watch too much Disney: I watch Cinderella (again) and wonder, "What if the Fairy Godmother said 'Fuck it' and just murdered the entire evil stepfamily?"
This is the result of that psychotic brain child. Cinderella has been officially welcomed into my ongoing collection of short stories: Twisted Tales. Enjoy!
"The Black Slipper" by Christina "DZA" Marie
Editor's Note: This story is longer than our usual fare, contains mild violence, and addresses some adult themes. It's worth every juicy minute for readers 11+.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
The City in the Middle of the Night is a book that needs to be digested after reading it. It covers a lot of ground with a lot of different themes, bad guys and good guys swap roles so often it's like they're playing hop-scotch, and it pulls directly from real-world issues and re-examines them through a science fiction lens.
What I'm trying to say is, it's awesome.
First, a crash course on astronomy. Not all planets rotate. Earth rotates, allowing almost every part of our planet to be warmed by the sun and then cool off. This allows us to survive, not being burned alive or frozen to death. But when a planet is tidally locked, only one side of the planet ever faces the sun. That side of the planet is literally on fire, as the surface temperature is hot enough to cook anything less sturdy than a rock. The side of the planet facing away from the sun, meanwhile, is a total frozen wasteland. The only way human life could survive is by staying in that thin habitable layer between the two extremes, and that's where the people of January make their homes.
The story is told through two different perspectives: Sophie and Mouth. Sophie's chapters are all first person POV while Mouth's are third person POV, and I have no idea why Anders did it this way. (Honestly, it's my only real complaint. Just use third person POV for both so we don't get confused and move on.) Sophie's a student who is executed for stealing a few dollars, the police tossing her out into the night. Luckily, she runs into a "crocodile"--a creature of the night a lot more intelligent than people assume--who saves her and takes her back. Sophie is traumatized by her execution and spends the book trying to heal and move past it. Problem is she can't, because she keeps getting dragged into social uprisings and revolutions. (Damn politics.)
Mouth is a smuggler, and the last survivor of a race of nomadic people called the Citizens. When she's not moving questionable goods and people between the cities in the habitable zone, she's working through a whole cocktail of issues centered around the ghosts of her past. One of the other characters accuses her of valuing the ghosts of the dead more than people who are alive, and that sums her up pretty well.
The emotional core of the story is the relationship between Sophie, Mouth, Bianca, and Alyssa. Sophie has a huge crush on Bianca, who is a radical revolutionary roping Mouth and Alyssa into her schemes, while Mouth is trying to use Bianca to get a lost artifact from the Citizens even though she knows it'll get Bianca killed, and Alyssa just wants to retire but she's Mouth's best friend and also really believes that Bianca can make positive change, and it's all a big, beautiful mess.
Despite the fact that it opens with Sophie's execution, the story itself is relatively slow. Act One is spent in Xiosphant, Bianca and Sophie's home city. Tidally locked planets don't have sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight, etc. So Xiosphant created their own time system and makes everyone stick to it religiously. It's so strongly enforced that even uttering the phrase, "Sleep when you're tired, play when you want" is enough to get you executed. Through various shenanigans, all four characters get kicked out and go to the city of Argelo, which is the exact opposite. There is no time measuring, and there is no authoritarian government, so the entire city is run by crime families.
While the characters are running around from various authorities, building and re-building their lives as fugitives, Anders also has them deal with really harsh themes of grief, trauma, extremism, authoritarianism, poverty, hope, environmentalism, and our responsibility to other people. It's not a happy story, but it's not a tragedy, either. It's a bittersweet tale with the moral of the story being, Horrible things happen, and they will continue to happen unless you break the cycle.
Welcome to the Favorites List, City in the Middle of the Night!
The Star Wars franchise evokes a lot of emotions from its fan base, so making an episode about it is tricky. This is my (probably unsuccessful) attempt at an unbiased approach.
The winners from the F*ck COVID Giveaway are:
Kelly Danielle Houk
Congratulations, guys! If you haven't yet been contacted by me regarding the details of shipping you your goodies, contact me right away!
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!