Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.


Interview with Jeff Doten

Jeff Doten

Jeff has been drawing, painting and sculpting things since he arrived on the planet. So far he has been unable to stop. He studied animation and illustration at the Alberta College of Art and Design as well as zoology at Mount Royal University. A few projects include: design work for Angelic Pictures ‘Pirates of Venus’ movie, life sized horses carved from foam for Spruce Meadows, murals for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed pub and lots of dinosaurs for the Royal Tyrrell Museum. He is the creator of the illustrated ‘sword and planet’ collection ‘Strange Worlds’ and owner of Quick Covers book art. He also continues to buy new copies of books that he loves if they have a new cover that he likes.

Interview by Sarah Trick

Can you tell us about how you came to do the illustrations for Shepherds of Sparrows?

Last summer I was photographing some old artwork when I came across the work I had done for ‘Throne Price’, which I think was the first book written in the series. The book was shelved at the time (I’m guessing for a rewrite) but I had tons of artwork. I hadn’t been working on just a single image; I had multiple cover concepts, environments, characters and costume ideas. The sketches filled my studio floor. I had met Lynda a few times at conventions, so I showed her the artwork on Facebook. She was pretty enthusiastic about it and showed some of the work on the Facebook site. So I have a sort of history with the series already.

How about the concept behind each individual illustration? Did you choose which scenes to illustrate and if so, which ones spoke to you?

Often I will read a book and come up with ideas of my own if the client doesn’t have something in mind. Hal sent me a list of scenes that they wanted illustrated, which was really helpful as I was just reading the book at the time. In terms of the scenes speaking to me, I think his choices were pretty bang on. I produced quite a few takes on my first image, the Spaceport, as I was getting a handle on the overall look that I was going for and was acceptable to Hal and Lynda. The next one was just about how to illustrate the scene with a large number of characters. Too far away and it’s a mob and farmhouse, too tight in and I’m painting fifty brawling people in the kitchen. The drama was there but I had to find a way to visually present it and hopefully in an interesting way.

When you are illustrating a long project like this, how do you connect with the author's characters and the story?

The process of putting pencil to paper and starting to design what things and people look like adds more layers to the world than I usually get on my first read. Once drawing, I have to pay attention to things like ‘what does a chair look like?’ or how a character is dressed even if they are just in the kitchen baking. It always has to reflect their culture, time and place. I look for specifics from the text as well as basing it on what seems reasonable and logical. Once I’m drawing them, the characters open up for me through their costume and body language. It can be quite an enriching experience of the text for me, and I view it as a collaborative effort between myself and the writer even if they don’t know it. Doing several pieces makes it more like film production art than when I just do the cover.

You have a business called Quick Covers, where you design covers for indie authors. How did that come about? What are the challenges of designing covers so quickly?

Quick Covers came about while I was working on my own project, an illustrated collection of Sword and Planet stories called “Strange Worlds Anthology”. I was working with a large group of writers and became aware of how many people were printing their own books. Usually their covers were some photo snagged off the web and photoshopped. This can work for mundane subjects, but for science-fiction or fantasy titles it usually isn’t enough. I hung around on some forums for a while and gained an idea of what a realistic budget for self-publishers might be.

What I like about the short turnaround is that it allows me to focus and ‘just do it’. It makes me much more decisive and sometimes I feel like these are my best work.

Quite honestly I’ve had very few challenges with these commissions. I get very little fussing or changes. I did have one where I was asking specifics about the appearance of a creature because the writer didn’t really know to the degree that I needed to illustrate it. So I influenced him on that in the long run.

What are some future projects you have coming up?

I don’t usually know future Quick Cover projects, but I am locked into a couple long term series which I’m not complaining about. Other than that there is more Reality Skimming, perhaps a second Strange Worlds Anthology collection and I’m presently rewriting a heavily illustrated novel of my own.

And finally: at your job for the Royal Tyrrell Museum, you dress up as a dinosaur once a week. Is this awesome, or totally awesome?

I was working as an illustrator for the museum, but I was hired by the education department which included weekly theatrical performances. I also played paleontologist Charles Sternberg for a few brief lines. After Charles, I would race into the back and put on a furry dinosaur costume. That role involved a lot of dancing and hopping around, so I just wore shorts under that costume. The museum is in the Badlands and it was hot even with air-conditioning. This led to a birthday striptease in the cafeteria for one of the cashiers one time, but maybe I shouldn’t bring that up...


Interview with Gary Caruso

Gary Caruso

Gary Caruso lives in northern Virginia with his wife Jill, but their favorite place is in Ohio with their three beautiful grandchildren. Although Gary is exhilarated when he sits down to write, teaching middle school science is his first love. He’s passionate about empowering students to make thoughtful decisions and positive choices in life. Gary enjoys reading, especially fiction that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy. He never imagined becoming a writer until an ordinary car ride on a spring day jolted an unlikely thought into his head. Gary’s early experience writing is a reminder that no matter how intimidating the challenge, action and determination are the foundations for fulfilling any dream. Gary has an insatiable love for writing, a blessing he’s excited to share with his readers.

Interview by Lynda Williams

Your book, Our Souls to Keep, has enjoyed lots of action on Goodreads in just the two months it’s been out. What's the best thing anyone's said to you about it? And do your students review you?

After hundreds of hours alone at the computer, I can’t even begin to describe how humbled I am by the generous comments Our Souls to Keep has received from so many readers. It’s probably corny to say, but their enthusiasm for my story has touches my heart. So choosing the best comment is like favoring one child over another. If I have to choose the comment that gave me the biggest sigh of relief, it was when readers called Our Souls to Keep an original story. Over the last few years, there have been so many very good paranormal novels published. When I started outlining the first draft, I thought it would be impossible to create a story that was truly different. Then I saw the very last scene in my head and wrapped the rest of the story around it, making Wake and Annemarie come alive. Throughout the writing process, I was happy that the deep emotion and complex themes made Our Souls to Keep refreshingly unique. I’m glad readers think so too. As for my students, I’m fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with them. They have been excited and encouraging since Our Souls to Keep was released. Their positive comments about my book have been more of a personal interaction than through public reviews. I prefer it that way. You can’t see smiles and joy on a website review.

You say you like fiction that blurs the line between real life and fantasy. How does Wake's predicament in Our Souls to Keep parallel a real life for you?

What I enjoy about Our Souls to Keep, is that the story takes place in present day Arizona, but Wake’s world is driven by the paranormal, and an impending conflict between Heaven and Hell. These two very different environments aren’t in conflict. They seamlessly flow within each other, creating a world that may exist around us, if we only had the vision for it. Also, too often in fantasy novels, good is good and evil is evil, but reality is much different than that. In real life, strong motivations for success can lead people or organizations to make questionable decisions. These actions are then justified as being beneficial for the common good. Wake’s world blurs that line, asking the question, Is there such thing as absolute good or absolute evil? But for me, the most interesting connection between fantasy and real life is the difficult choices Wake must make. Wake isn’t just a character of fantasy. His choices define him as a person of courage and honor. He gets swept away by love, yet he doubts that he will ever be fully loved in return when his flaws are revealed. Most importantly, he searches for acceptance within a complex, human world. Wake is you and me.

In order to protect the lives of Annemarie and her unborn child, Wake must kill many demon-possessed people. Can you discuss the ethics of the Wake’s decision to take the lives of so many innocent people?

The first innocent life that’s lost in Our Souls to Keep is Wake’s. Because his mother commits suicide, Wake kills himself to save her soul from Hell. By stripping his memory and human emotions, Hell ensures that Wake will be a productive collector of souls. More like a machine, Wake does his job, convincing the weak to commit suicide. As his emotions begin to return, it’s regret for his actions, and his refusal to be Hell’s puppet that begins his path toward redemption. Unfortunately, his journey is littered with death. When I wrote Our Souls to Keep, I wanted to make sure that Wake and readers weren’t casual about the loss of innocent life. The victims I chose were people Wake and readers might recognize like a mother and son exercising together, friends watching a football game, a young boy playing in a park, or an elderly couple taking an evening walk through a quiet neighborhood. In order for Wake to kill the demons inside them, they too must die. So Wake has a choice, kill innocent people in order to protect Annemarie and her unborn child, or save the innocent by stepping aside and allowing Hell to consume her soul. Wake isn’t a ruthless murderer. Nor is he immune to the guilt of his actions. I believe Wake would like to modify the circumstances so that fewer people would die. He even considers alternatives, but in the end, there is nothing more important or powerful than the love he has for Annemarie. I wonder if many of us would make a different choice.
Our Souls to Keep

Interview with Darrin Grimwood

My name is Darrin Grimwood. I am a technical writing student and I have a degree in history (with an emphasis in English). I love to read and write and I will discuss my appreciation for reading and writing below.

Interviewed by Anthony Stark

Describe your life path that led you into writing professionally.

I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, ever since I can remember. My first experience of writing was when I used to make home-made Super 8 movies with my brother Nick when I was about 12. I discovered an old manual typewriter in the loft and used to bash out these short film scripts. I found one of these scripts the other day actually, they were pretty meticulous given there was no sound or dialogue. I couldn’t afford an editing splicer, so all the shots had to be filmed in sequence. But writing these scripts gave me as much pleasure as actually filming them. I left school with no qualifications and tried to continue writing, but nothing of worth came out of it - I guess I didn’t have enough life experience to have anything to write about. I drifted into care work which I did for fifteen years, ending up doing night-shifts in a care-in-the-community hell hole in Whitechapel. The experience was so horrible and surreal I felt like I was starring in my own one-man play. So I decided to write it up as a play, a black comedy called Black Aspirins. It got picked up and was produced for the London stage in 2004. It got pretty good reviews and gave me the confidence to continue writing.

What is your favorite genre to a) write, b) to read? Could you tell us a bit about your reasons.

The genres I most enjoy writing in is horror and sci-fi. I love the idea that anything is possible in both of these genres. I was thinking about this the other day actually - I love reading all sorts of stuff, classics, contemporary fiction, plays, but when it comes down to writing it’s always horror and sci-fi (and occasionally fantasy and adventure.) It’s probably because I get a kick out of trying to create characters and situations that I can pretty much guarantee have never been dreamed up before. It’s a wonderful feeling sitting at my desk on a rainy Monday morning in London and really allowing my imagination to soar.

What were your chief inspirations in creating Destroy all Robots?

Destroy All Robots is a love letter to all the great 50’s sci-fi movies they used to show on the BBC2 late night double-bills. I got the idea for the book a few years ago when I was living in Southeast Asia. There's a toyshop in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo that I used to walk past every day. It always caught my eye as the shop logo was a giant 1950's toy robot.. One day something clicked in my mind and I realized I wanted to write a story that married my love of all things robotic with this exotic country.

What do you feel is the greatest benefit of science fiction to society?

You’re hitting me with the hard ones now! I guess great sci-fi allows us to dream. Our horizons expand revealing any number of possible futures. From this elevated position we can glimpse the potential for humanity, the greatness we are capable of. With the drudgery of everyday life it’s easy to lose sight of that.

How do you feel the internet changes science fiction as a genre?

The internet brought us together as a species and to great extent made us more susceptible to social engineering. The very name World Wide Web implies entrapment and control. So I think dystopian fiction such as 1984 became easier to envisage. Don’t get me started on Facebook!

What differs about your creative process between scriptwriting and your science fiction work, if anything, and what are the relative draws to each.

Screenwriting is all about structure, it’s like carpentry, making a solid table without any wobbly legs. You start with a title and logline, then expand it to a one page outline detailing what happens in Acts 1, 2 and 3. Then you expand it to a detailed synopsis, maybe twenty pages, all the time you’re checking that the story beats are happening in the right places. It’s only when you’ve nailed the structure that you write the screenplay. With novel writing it’s a more organic process. There are rules but you’re allowed to be more flexible. Although I must confess, screenwriting is so hardwired into my psyche that I write all my novels as screenplays first, then adapt them into novels!

With which character in Destroy All Robots do you most identify, and why?

I guess I most identify with Toby. He’s a well-meaning guy, but so obsessively driven that he veers into dangerous waters. I can identify with that.

What drew you to the Okal Rel Universe and its related websites?

I’m a fan of the Clarion blog, there’s a wealth of interesting information there. I love reading about the nuts-and-bolts of how writers go about creating fiction. I often dip into that when I should be writing!


Campfire: Excerpt from Without Bloodshed by Matthew Graybosch

According to official records maintained by the state of New York, I was born on Long Island in 1978. I also troll people by telling them I am in fact Rosemary’s Baby, the result of top-secret DOD attempts to continue Nazi experiments combining human technology and black magic, or that I sprang fully grown from my father’s forehead with a sledgehammer in one hand and a copy of The C Programming Language in the other — and that I've been giving the poor man headaches ever since.

Bad jokes based on obscure allusions aside, I'm the author of Without Bloodshed, a Starbreaker novel coming soon from Curiosity Quills Press. I'm also a generalist software developer with over a decade of professional experience earned at such companies as TEKsystems, Deloitte Consulting, and Computer Aid, Inc.

My thoughts on optimistic SF.

I don't claim to write optimistic SF for the same reasons I don't call myself a hacker or a feminist. I think "author of optimistic SF" is a title which must be bestowed upon me by others, rather than claimed. To do otherwise seems presumptuous.

Despite my reluctance to apply the term to my own work, I don't write dystopian fiction. While the backstory for my invented universe contains what I promised my wife I wouldn't make my characters call a "nanotech-induced zombie apocalypse", Nationfall is part of the backstory for Starbreaker. The series itself takes place later, in the society the survivors rebuilt after learning from the past. It's an open society where people are free to live, work, and prosper without unnecessary fear of violence or discrimination. It's a world where liberty, justice, and equality under law for all aren't just empty words or hollow ideals.

However, it's not a utopia. Corruption and abuses of power remain a problem, and must be opposed by those willing to uphold their rights and those of their fellows with diplomacy and force of arms. Reform and further progress are still necessary, but in my imagined society both are possible, and can be set in motion by individuals. And my own tendency towards cynicism and misanthropy results in a tone which might be more appropriate to film noir.

Why do I write such fiction? I do it as both an act of rebellion against the current popular trend towards the depiction of dystopian societies, and for my own sake. I don't want to write about real life in real America as I understand it. I don't want to depict a society in which corruption, discrimination, inequality, widespread poverty, and perpetual war for nothing of lasting value might as well be part of the status quo. Depending on where you get your news, dystopian SF might as well be a new form of realistic literary fiction.

I refuse to be part of that. I refuse to write such fiction. Instead, I choose Romanticism; or, if you prefer, optimistic SF. .

Introduction to Excerpt

Naomi Bradleigh is one of the central characters in my Starbreaker sequence. Her exotic coloration (normally pale skin, white hair, and scarlet eyes) is not a result of albinism, but of her ancestry. She thinks of herself as human after growing up in human society and participating in human culture. She lives in London, is a classically-trained dramatic coloratura soprano and pianist, and until recently one of the driving forces behind the progressive metal power trio Crowley's Thoth. It is her association with the band's deceased founder, Christabel Crowley, which places her in a delicate situation nobody should have to face.

Excerpt from Without Bloodshed

Naomi Bradleigh pressed a hand to her belly, hoping her empty stomach's snarling remained unheard. Two constables took her from her home and brought her to MEPOL before breakfast, which meant her only food today was a handful of hothouse strawberries eaten before her shower. She refused all offers of coffee or water, afraid of a ruse to get fingerprints or genetic evidence without a warrant or her consent. "Do you make a habit of starving your suspects into submission, Inspector?"

She considered the office as she waited for her captor to deign to answer her. The constables who came to her home did not bring her to one of the bare interrogation rooms she expected from watching the occasional police procedural drama, but directly to the office of Inspector Alan Thistlewood. Thistlewood's right hand trembled as he held the phone to his ear, and his gaze lingered on her in a manner which made her wish for a weapon. "No, not yet. I got evidence of motive and opportunity. She'll incriminate herself if we keep up the pressure. Everybody does."

Thistlewood hung up, and studied Naomi until her urge to draw her cardigan tight around herself threatened to overwhelm her. "Hungry, Ms. Bradleigh?"

"Lunch would be pleasant, Inspector. I would also like to speak to my attorney."

"Why do you keep mentioning your attorney? Trying to hide something?"

"I would hide everything from you, Inspector." He leaned towards her, as if sharing a confidence. "The more you tell me, the more I can help you."

I used to be an Adversary. How can I just sit here and wait for rescue which might not come? I should be my own savior. Naomi eyed Thistlewood's revolver, which rested in a shoulder holster under his right arm. The belt holding his service gladius hung from a coat tree by the door, out of his reach. She entertained the notion of overpowering the inspector, taking his weapons, and using them to force her way to freedom. The revolver held only six rounds, but the short, broad-bladed sword suffered no limitations save those of her own strength and stamina. Let violence be my final resort. I can do much to resist before resorting to arms. "I will tell you nothing without my attorney, Inspector."

"You were Christabel Crowley's neighbor, which afforded you opportunities to get close and kill her." Naomi shook her head, unable to believe Thistlewood insisted on beating this hobbyhorse of his into the ground. "Crowley kicked you out of the band, and believed you seduced her boyfriend, which gave you motive. I bet she hated sharing the spotlight with a freak like you."

Thistlewood wasn't the first to call her a freak. Life with congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder, or CPMD, meant she grew up around people who called her worse names. Her eyes had slit pupils, her ears resembled a cat's despite being flat against her head like a normal human ear, and her fingernails curved over her fingertips to create claws. "Now you're just being tiresome." She kept the rest to herself. You think I seduced Morgan? I count the days to every Winter Solstice and an excuse to kiss him.

Naomi ignored Thistlewood's questions, for she deflected each of them half a dozen times already. Morgan would call even the deflections a mistake. So would Edmund and Sid. They kept telling me I should treat the police as my enemy and give them nothing but name, rank, and serial number if I ever found myself in their custody. His aftershave reeked of alcohol as he leaned over her, staring into her eyes. "You might be a freak, Ms. Bradleigh, but you got a hell of a body. Do you work out?"

She suppressed a shudder, and considered Thistlewood's revolver again. The weapon waited within her reach, its polished wooden grip a dull gleam beneath the antiquated florescent lights. No. This is just a new tactic. He hopes to use my revulsion in his favor. Naomi narrowed her eyes as his hand gripped her thigh too tightly to be a mere caress. "When did groping a woman become an acceptable interrogation technique?"

Thistlewood loosened his grip, and smoothed her skirt with a lover's delicacy. However, he continued to lean over her. His hand trembled through the layered chiffon and the silk of her stocking. "I hoped you'd incriminate yourself, but we can convict you on the evidence alone. Juries hate women like you." The hand slid up a bit. "But I can suggest a plea bargain which will get you a very lenient sentence if you cooperate."

"For your sake, Inspector, I hope you don't use that line at pubs." She slid her hand behind his head, and gently pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear. "You don't need a line with me. I'm in your power, right where you want me. Morgan Stormrider never had me like this." He wouldn't want me this way, which is why he's a better man than you'll ever be.

Naomi held her need to fight back at bay as Thistlewood's creeping hand slipped between her legs. I dare not kill him. His death would bring rest of them down on me, and he might stop me if I go for his gun now. I need to lower his guard. I bet Claire would seduce him, or at least let him think she was seducing him. She shifted in her seat, parting her thighs a little, and arched her back. "Am I the reason your hand trembles, Inspector."

"Are you telling the truth?" Thistlewood's voice was lower, rougher. He strained against the seam of his uniform trousers, and for a moment Naomi wished Morgan was leaning over her, his lips inches from hers. "Stormrider never had you like this?" "He never had me at all." Naomi let her voice settle into a seductive purr as she slid her other hand along his waist, before letting her fingers curl around the revolver's grip. She slid the weapon free of the holster, and dug her nails into the nape of Thistlewood's neck when he tried to pull away. Smiling as he yelped in pain, she ground the muzzle of the revolver into the soft flesh beneath his jaw while thumbing the hammer back. "Neither will you, Inspector." She kicked his feet out from under him, and her claws, which she filed so that they would not interfere when she played a keyboard, tore into Thistlewood's flesh as he fell. She sprang out of the chair and retreated before he finished collapsing to the floor. She adjusted her grip as he rose to his knees, glancing at the sword; she held the weapon in both hands, as Morgan taught her, despite her insistence on needing only a sword for self-defense. I should have told him I was an Adversary.

He stared at the weapon, stared at her, and could not get the words out right away. "You stole my gun, you treacherous bitch."

"You violated my rights and tried to extort sexual favors from me, but you insist I'm the villain here? You certainly think highly of yourself." She smiled behind the iron sights, and put her teeth into it. "I can be reasonable. If you do as I tell you, I might forget this ever happened." "That's blackmail."

She shrugged, and the revolver pointed at his belly instead of his groin. "Now you have cause to arrest me. Try not to make a complete botch of it."  


Interview with Gordon Long


After 30 years of teaching, 40 years of theatre, and 20 years of playwrighting, I think I’ve paid my dues, and it’s time to become a novelist.

I also adjudicate Speech Arts Festivals, and direct two different Seniors’ performance troupes. Sometimes I teach ESL in Korea. My latest fun job was supervising the medal ceremonies in Speed Skating for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. I crew on a 32-foot racing sloop called “Planet Claire” out of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, and I’m starting to compete in Agility with my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Josh. (Actually, he competes. I run around and look like I’m contributing).

What constitutes "young adult" fiction for you?

The YA genre was created for two separate reasons. The first and simplest one is the decency rating. Just like for movies, parents and librarians and other censorious types want to know that their children aren't corrupting their minds with nasty stuff. So a YA novel is supposed to be sort of a "PG13" rating. Nowadays, of course, it's more like "PG16" or more.

The other reason is for marketing, and this one falls down in an even bigger mess. In fact, the reading abilities and preferences of teenagers vary so widely it's hard to pin down what the group is reading. As a writer, targetting these people is a very chancy affair.

In general, I suppose you could say that teenagers are less sophisticated readers, so they will probably like a straightforward plotline, lots of action, and usually simpler characters. As do a lot of adult readers.

My observation of young people is that they seem to like stories about people about two years older than themselves. Remember how in high school you always knew all the kids in the grades above you, but you didn't care too much about those below? That applies to the main characters in YA books as well.

Marketing-wise, you can always look at what's selling, and try to jump on the bandwagon. Paranormal is big right now, but it will go the way of the hula hoop. Probably too late to jump on that one.

I wrote "A Sword Called…Kitten?" with YA in mind, but I know from talking to customers that one of my main markets is mothers and grandmothers picking up presents for younger members of their families. Who knew?

As an author, I think you're much better off just writing a good book in your specific genre. If it's a genre that teenagers are reading, they'll pick it up. Unless you're the kind of genius that knows what the next hula hoop is going to be, and can get everyone jumping through yours.

Gordon A. Long  

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