Friday, May 31, 2019


Last month I purchased two books that I probably won't read.

Of course, I might read them. The chances are about 30% to 40% that I will.

These were books I bought at author's events. Both of the authors are friends of mine, but they don't really write in genres that I think I can learn from.

I just don't have the time to read everything that I get. I couldn't if I tried -- there are just too many books our there. 

Also, once I became a working author, I had even less time to read. I can see it in my journals. I used to read a book a week. Not a remarkable rate, but it worked for me, especially since I read newspapers and magazines as well. (Most of that's on the internet, now.)

Once I started to get published, I struggled to read half as much. A month in which I finish two books is good, now.

So: here I am, buying books from friends, just to be supportive.

What do I expect in return? A book, of course. And an inscription. Not just an autograph. I don't give a damn about autographs. I want at least one meaningful sentence that indicates that this author knows me.

Let's take the female author first. When she entered the room, she immediately came over to me and gave me a big hug. She asked about my health and commented on how we haven't seen each other for two years. She kept speaking to me until the organizer came over to tell her where to set up.

Later, I went over to buy a copy of her latest book. I hoped for a personalized inscription, so I waited until no one else was waiting to buy a copy. She asked if I wanted my copy signed, and I said "yes -- and make it out to me."

Which she did. She signed it "To Tony," followed by a one-word hashtag, and her autograph!

I didn't complain...but I was not impressed. She greeted me earlier with a hug, and now I don't even get a salutation?

Two weeks later, I bought a book from a male friend. He did not hug me. (I don't think he's a hugger. Neither am I.) But did seem glad to see me. 

I'd been thinking about how to procure a personalized message. I decided that the easiest was was to make it a condition of the sale. (Again, I waited until there were no other buyers in line. It wouldn't be fair to ask an author to risk losing a sale just to spend extra time writing a message. Nor did I want to give others the idea that they could demand a personalized message. That would be a nightmare at a busy signing: fifty buyers all demanding individual messages!)

I told the author: "Hey, I'd like to buy a copy of your book. But I used to have 3,000 books at home, and they were a burden just to dust, let alone store. So I got rid of them. Now, I read almost everything on Kindle. The only paper books I keep are the ones the author has put a message in -- a message to me. So I'll buy a copy if you sign it and write something personal. I don't care if you write that you hate me and think I'm a pretentious snob. Can do?"

He did. Problem solved. (He didn't write that I was a pretentious snob. He was very complimentary.)

One other note: when I do a book signing myself, I also add the date. I figure the buyer can brag, "Hey, see the date? This was just before the author died. He was walking in the park with a Nutter Butter in his pocket, and he got attacked by squirrels. They nibbled him to death! It was on the internet, so it must be true."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ken Lozito: Each Book Is More Successful Than the Last!

--> Today I interview a fellow member of the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, novelist Ken Lozito. Ken is now a full-time author specializing in military science fiction. Ken is the author of several well-received and successful series. His latest release in his First Colony series is Discovery: First Colony, Book Five. This series continues the adventures of Colonel Connor Gates, which began in Genesis: First Colony, Book One.

1)  Let me start a little differently than usual. The recent death of short story writer and screenwriter Harlan Ellison brought this to mind.
Many of us were inspired to become a writer by someone. It might have been another writer, or a teacher, or even a parent. For me, it was discovering the work of Harlan Ellison as a teenager. I wanted to do what he did!
Was there one person in your life who inspired you to become a writer?
That's a tough question to answer. My first thought was, not really, for me being a writer was something of a pie-in-the-sky idea that people much smarter and more talented than me achieved. A friend of mine introduced me to Piers Anthony, which got me hooked on reading stories in middle school. I started writing in high school. I always had ideas for stories churning along in the back of my mind, but I never made a serious effort at it until much later in life.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is one of my favorites, and when he died, it was heartbreaking. This massive series was going to be left unfinished. Most fans of the series know this, but a new and up and coming writer at the time, Brandon Sanderson, was brought in to finish the series based on Robert Jordan's notes. I was a bit skeptical at first but when I read, The Gathering Storm, I was pleasantly surprised. I googled Brandon Sanderson and read and watched videos of his interviews particularly his journey to becoming a published author. We're pretty close in age, and I kept thinking that if I'd made different choices or took my desire to be an author more seriously, then I could have achieved the dream of becoming an author. All this was going on around 2010. I'd just finished my master's degree in Business Intelligence while working full-time and raising kids. While I was putting in all this extra work, I kept thinking that I could be putting this effort into writing. I'd even considered applying to Ph.D. programs with the intention of becoming a college professor because I thought it would afford me more time to write fiction on the side. Those plans didn't work out and thankfully so. Toward the end of 2012, I'd decided to make a change. I was going to finish the story I'd been tinkering with for nearly twenty years. This isn't the part where I say I finished it and that story became a massive bestseller and champagne fell from the heavens. But I did finish that story and then wrote another one. One of the driving forces for me to finish that first book was my kids. I'd been telling them the story, and I needed to finish it. Plus I also wanted to show them that you can pursue your dreams.

Back to your question of who inspired me to become a writer. I guess you can say it was a couple of people and experiences that inspired me. What started as something to show my kids what was possible blossomed and grew to what I've accomplished today.

2)  Ken, tell us about your First Colony series, which began with Genesis: Book One.

The First Colony series is about our first interstellar colony. The story is set over two hundred years in the future. There is no FTL or wormholes.

Genesis is a military science fiction story about Connor Gates who wakes up to find that he's been smuggled into a stasis pod aboard a colony ship that is now sixty light-years from Earth. Unable to return home, Connor must find his place on this new world, but he soon learns that this world wasn't the original destination of the colony ship.

3)  You like to write books in series. How many series do you have out now?

I have four series out now. Two of them are complete (Safanarion Order and Ascension series are complete.) First Colony series is ongoing.

4)  Unlike a lot of authors, you have created a business plan for yourself. Would you like to tell us what’s in your plan?

I've found that most successful authors have a plan that is clearly defined so I chose to emulate that.

At the top of my plan are the words "Pay Mortgage". When I discussed changing careers to become a full-time author with my wife I knew I needed a plan. I'd been writing and publishing for four years at this point and had a record of increasingly successful series.

My business plan has things that you'd find in any plan I would think:
·      Mission - Provide literary entertainment through writing fiction & Pay Mortgage
·      Description of the business - Similar to the mission but more clearly defined.
·      Products (Current and Future) - Books I'd written and future series I'm planning.
·      Pricing strategy - Based partially on the models created by successful self-published authors.
·      Financial plan - Income and expenses are tracked monthly. Monthly metrics will show individual books and series incomes to help align marketing strategies within budget, determine series solvency, and planning for new series.
·      Production schedule - Books I will write and the publication of those books. This one is actually a challenge to put together and I didn't really do this until I'd transitioned to become a full-time author.
·      Target Audience - I write in different genres and each of those have a specific audience I'm writing for.
·      Marketing - This can be a complex one to explain, but at its core it's how I get my work in front of readers. Everything from advertising to my release schedule can be tied to this.
·      Long Term Goals & Solvency Determination - Each of these things have their own level of importance, but I added the last one (Solvency Determination) on my own. I need to earn a living so I thought it was important to include in my plan, actions that I would take if I wasn't earning enough money to make a living. This will vary from person to person, but for me this is what I measure against. If my income falls below a certain point then something needs to change so I can do things like pay my mortgage and buy food.

I think it's important to be able to define what success is so you can strive to achieve it. Most people have their own definition of success so it's important to define what success means for you.

5)  I downloaded the ebook version of Genesis: First Colony, Book One, and I notice it’s priced differently from the others in the series. Have you experimented with different prices for your books?

Yes I have. Genesis is currently priced at $0.99 cents for the ebook and the other books in the series are priced at $4.99. Most ebook prices range from $2.99-$5.99 depending on genre. Genesis is discounted as part of a promotion to help bring new readers into the series. Not much risk for a potential reader at that price point and they might find that they enjoy the series.

6)  The majority of your sales are as ebooks, although hard copies of your books are also available. Since most of your readers buy the ebook version, do you hold a book release party for each new book?

No I don't. I announce new releases to my newsletter and on Facebook. I mostly celebrate when I finish the first draft of a story with a Guinness or bourbon. By the time I release a new book I'm already writing the next book.

7)  Anything else you’d like to add?

Bottom line, you have to put in a lot of work to get your writing to a professional level and even then you'll still have a lot to learn. Read a lot of books especially those from authors in your chosen genre whose success you'd like to emulate, but also read outside your genre. You might find that your writing is better suited to a genre you hadn't expected. Keep writing and don't just tinker with the same story for years. If it's a series, write the next book. You will improve. This is the best time to be a writer and the barrier to become an author has never been lower.

Thank you for your time, Ken.  You can follow Ken on social media here:

Facebook Group -

Facebook Author page -

Website -

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Here's the Deal: An Interview with Chris Bauer


I met author Chris Bauer at a Noir at a Bar event in Oxford, Pennsylvania, where both of us were reading from our work. (I can tell you from personal experience that Chris is a good guy to share a beer with!) Chris' new novel, Jane’s Baby, has just been published by Intrigue Publishing, LLC.

--> The title Jane’s Baby refers to the landmark 1971 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, first argued in 1971 and decided in 1973, which legalized abortion in the United States. This thriller takes place in the current day, when sinister forces conspire to tilt the U.S. Supreme Court towards overturning that case. The characters include a bounty hunter, a newspaper reporter, and a newly-appointed Supreme Court justice – targeted by an assassin bent on killing anyone who gets in her way!

1)  Let me start a little differently than usual. The recent death of short story writer and screenwriter Harlan Ellison brought this to mind.

Many of us were inspired to become a writer by someone. It might have been another writer, or a teacher, or even a parent. For me, it was discovering the work of Harlan Ellison as a teenager. I wanted to do what he did!

Was there one person in your life who inspired you to become a writer?

Answer: No one person, but one author did give me so much pleasure with his wonderful but little-known novel about baseball: Steve Shilstone. His novel Chance, about the greatest (fictional) baseball shortstop to ever play the game, helped me identify and take command of my voice. The unreliable narrator in Chance remains nameless, calls himself “an old weird guy poet.” Here’s the novel’s opening paragraph:

Okay, here’s the deal. This is a book about a baseball player. Do you care? If you don’t care, read it anyway. There’s some other stuff in it too. Chance Caine. Recognize the name? Well, he wants me, an old weird guy poet, to write his story. Why? I’ll tell you why. He has made rhythmic marks on paper himself. Some of his efforts aren’t even dreck. You can judge for yourself in a minute. He took a class. I gave him an A. So one day he comes to me with a load of scrapbooks, diaries, videos. He says, “Here’s my life. How would you like to write my book?” I say, “The thing I make will be the thing I make.” I talk like that on purpose sometimes.…

And I was hooked. The cadence, the tight sentences, the confidence, it’s all there. I stole that last bit of dialogue (“The thing I make, etc.”), paraphrased it, and often use it to lead my writing bio. Mr. Shilstone now writes fantasy. I think Chance (Breakaway Books) was his only published non-fantasy effort. I’ve read the novel multiple times. I’m paging through it right now. Damn, now you’re in trouble. When did you say you wanted this interview back?

2)  Your new novel, Jane’s Baby, is published by Intrigue Publishing. How did you come to work with them?

Answer: Because they were one of only two publishers willing to take a chance, on me, as under-published as I am, and on a controversial topic like women’s reproductive rights. The characters have biases on both sides of the argument, but the novel does not try to solution it. It’s a crime thriller with plenty of action (explosives, flamethrowers, and something called a “smart rifle,” a real-life firearm that makes nearly everyone a sharpshooter from long distances), and it uses abortion rights and its politics as a backbone, rather than having it be a heady abortion rights treatise with a crime story as chaser. But let’s be honest about this process. I have an agent. She saw this novel as having great potential, something she felt the Big 5 traditional publishers and the major independents should have jumped on, except they didn’t. I dunno; there’s humor in the novel, the two main characters playing off each other, a kind of love/hate buddy friendship that grew out of their respective dislike of each other’s pro football teams. Maybe the humor and the gunplay around such gravitas was something these larger publishers struggled with. Maybe I was too cavalier about it. Or maybe I flew too close to the sun, using too serious a topic for perceived reader demographics. Or maybe none of them had the balls to take a chance on an unknown author, even though the premise was a good one, i.e., what happened to the Jane Roe baby, the subject of the controversial Supreme Court decision. Thank goodness for small presses. If they see something they like, they take chances and go for it.

3)  The action in Jane’s Baby ranges over half the United States, from Texas to Washington, D.C. You also give very complete descriptions of those locations. Did you actually travel to these sites to research them?

Answer: To Texas or the locations between Texas and Virginia, no. Google Earth, Google Maps, websites like Planned Parenthood provided enough detail to get it done. I’ve been to Falls Church, Virginia and DC enough because my daughter and her family live near there, but no visits were made there specifically for research. Gotta love the Internet. For research, it’s the writer’s best friend.

4)  Your book features characters of diverse backgrounds. While your protagonist is a white male, about half your characters are female, and you have African-American and Native American characters. Did you have any concerns about writing characters of different races and genders?

Answer: Yes and no. And you didn’t mention that two of the major characters have significant physical challenges to overcome. My former enlisted Marine character has a mild case of Tourette Syndrome (coprolalia, obscene language; copropraxia, obscene tics). His sportswriter sidekick is an African American male dwarf who carries mental and physical scars from his childhood, but is relatively well adjusted now that he’s in his forties. The Native American characters were appropriate for the novel, considering Norma McCorvey, who died in 2017, the real Jane Roe of Roe v Wade infamy, was part Caddo-Comanche. I had no resources regarding indigenous people, although I did communicate directly with iconic singer-songwriter-social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, born on a Piapot Cree reservation, regarding her Sesame Street appearances in the 1970s, asking for and receiving her feedback on some of my prose. She was most gracious. Hopefully my Native American characters ring true. Regarding writing female characters: I have writer peers in two writers groups, many of them women. I’ve been chided many times for not getting it right. We learn from our mistakes. Hopefully that education takes place before the work gets published. These characters will be seen in two more (hopefully published) novels. One comment I did receive from my request for feedback is that people who are not white, not male, not average-heighted, and not heterosexual do not want to be called/labeled by their differences. They simply want, and should, be called “human beings.”

5)  You have some nicely cinematic scenes in Jane’s Baby, from an abandoned Segway thumping around in a trash dumpster to a bloody grand finale. Did you write this book with a film version in mind?

Answer: I love movies. Always have. I see as many as possible. Tons. In theaters, via Netflix, Roku, even HBO when my provider runs free promotions; too freakin’ much to subscribe to everything available, know what I’m saying? I can’t say I write cinematically on purpose, but I’ve often heard that scenes and plots and topics and characters I choose to write about do seem to grab readers much like a film does. So I’d say it’s more the choice of material that puts me in a cinematic way when developing scenes. I do admit that when I’m writing I’m always of the mindset that I want it all on film. A confession: I’ve tried to no avail to find a way of interesting my namesake the very durable actor Chris Bauer (True Blood, The Wire, The Deuce, 8MM, etc.) in my novels and short stories as properties for sale. Add to that, I’m Facebook buds with an excellent local musician named Chris Bauer. So the way I see it, making movies that would have the name Chris Bauer in the credits multiple times (“Starring Chris Bauer, Directed by Chris Bauer, Novel by Chris Bauer, Music by Chris Bauer”), all different people, would be a hoot. So yes, I want that, a lot. So if you have friends who know actor Chris Bauer, tell ’em I’ve got some stuff I’d like him to look at.

6)  You’ve been doing about one public event per week to publicize Jane’s Baby. Do you feel they’ve been successful? What advice can you give for holding a publicity tour?

Answer: Absolutely they’ve been successful! First, you’re there to sell some books. You never sell as many as you’d like, but it’s all good. I did well enough at two Barnes & Noble signings for each storeowner to a) tell me that I did do well and b) say they’d love for me to come back. It wasn’t a Tony-Conaway-fiction phenomenon kind of well, and it never will be –  you’re a machine, Tony – but it was a respectable start. I have a few more signings and readings set up, and I’m looking to book more, of course, anywhere someone will have me. Second, I hand out a flyer about the novel to interested but shy folks at signings, perhaps getting a sale later. One outlet I’d love to tap is the book club circuit. Book clubs are quite popular, and are overwhelmingly populated with female readers. So if any of your readers have book clubs, I’d love to contact them. Have books, will travel… and will answer questions, listen to feedback, comments, even debate topics. (Case in point: My new WIP is sure to cause controversy because it’s about gun control and the gun lobby.) I want to hang out wherever the book club organizers hang out, to let them know Jane’s Baby the novel is out there, as well as Jane Roe’s real baby might also be out there, now forty-eight years old, with perhaps a personal story that’s even more exciting and thought-provoking than the one I tell in the novel.

7)  One last question: Do you, like your protagonist, prefer Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks? (Personally, I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing and editing in Starbucks. I’ve never managed to work successfully in a Dunkin Donuts.

Answer: Dunkin Donuts coffee forever! Starbucks coffee? Nope, nope, nope. IMO – I know this won’t endear me to some readers – it tastes like motor oil laced with tobacco, and you have to pay more for the agony of that experience. But your question is about DD coffee shops vs. Starbucks coffee shops. There’s no contest. Starbucks as a writing venue is pro level, DD is more like a high school cafeteria. The only problem is that the Starbucks folks frown when I bring my delicious savory cup of DD into the shop. I haven’t been tossed out because of it… yet. But I do live near Philly, and based on a recent, well-documented event in my fair hometown, where some non-paying customers were asked to leave a Starbucks, the environment became a bit less accommodating to non-Starbucks customers. (In fairness Starbucks did address this poor behavior and has attempted to correct it. But I still Like Dunkin Donuts coffee better.)

Thank you for your time, Chris.  You can follow Chris on social media here:

And this Facebook page for Jane’s Baby:

Saturday, June 30, 2018

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison

Most writers can trace back their desire to write to one person.  It could be a teacher or parent who encouraged them.  It could be a bad writer, which made a reader say "I could do better than this!"

If they're lucky, they are inspired by a good writer. We lost Harlan Ellison, a very good writer, this week. Harlan was the one who inspired me to become a writer.

I'm not blind to Harlan's many failings. But by and large, he's an admirable role model. He wrote hundreds of published short stories. He moved to Los Angeles and became a highly-paid script writer.  He won more writing awards than anyone else I can think of.  While many writers are rather dull speakers, he was a raconteur -- people paid him to talk on the lecture circuit.  And he rarely (if ever) backed down from a fight, either physical (despite his sort stature) or in court.

Work long enough in this business and someone will screw you over.  I once wrote an article on beer for a magazine that never paid me.  I sighed, made a note never to deal with those people again, and moved on.  Harlan told a story about being stiffed by a magazine in New York City.  He claims he stormed into their office, created a distraction, then stole a typewriter to cover his lost fee!

Of course, Harlan Ellison never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  I have no way of knowing if he really did steal a typewriter.  Harlan was a fabulist.  I once heard him talking at a college for two hours, and during that time he contradicted himself at least three times.  But if people are going to pay you for public speaking, you damn well better have some good stories.

Look closely at that photo of a young Harlan above.  (He was 84 years old when he passed.)  Harlan is writing at a typewriter (as far as I know, he never upgraded to a computer).  But look at where he's writing: in a store window!  Yes, for publicity, Harlan sometimes wrote in the front window of a bookstore, in full view of passers-by!

Now, I can concentrate and write in a library.  I can write in a cafeteria or coffee shop.  But a store window?  I don't know if even I could do that.  And it's academic now...there are so few bookstores left.

I wish there were more bookstores left.  (Hell, I wish automats were still around, too -- I loved those places.)

But most of all, I wish Harlan Ellison was still with us, healthy and writing and fighting the good fight. And I bet the scores of young writers he inspired feel just the same way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Creature of Impulse and Instinct: An Interview with Kate E. Lore

Kate E. Lore and I have stories in the upcoming 2018 Spring into Sci-Fi anthology, which is due to be released on March 20th, 2018. It’s available for preorder here.  Kate is both a writer and cartoonist. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications and sites, including Orsum Magazine, Panoply, Weirderary, Sailing to the Moon and Portage Magazine. She has won numerous awards, including first place in creative writing at the Bodies Symposium at Texas A&M Corpus Christi University.

1) Welcome, Kate. Many writers began as a child. Others come upon writing late in life. When did you begin writing?

I was in second grade when I started taking writing seriously. I attempted my first novel in a notebook when I was in second grade. I never finished any until my senior year of high school, though.

2)  You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. Do you prefer one over the other?

I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. Essentially, both of these are just playing with words. I think doing both keeps you flexible, versatile. You learn more by doing more. I’m all about growth. It’s the same way for me with cartoons/general art. It’s all equally important. It’s all an expression of something I was feeling or trying to convey at the time. It’s just that I switch up my mediums. I suppose I feel like I have more fiction in me than nonfiction. You can only live so much life.

3) How long have you been drawing your cartoon, Melancholy Evil Poptart?

That was actually just a three-year period of my life. I “finished” it back in 2014. The whole thing started as a sort of practice web-comic. I didn’t plan to do anything with it. It’s inspired by a running comic me and my two best friends in middle school would pass around and take turns drawing/making up stories. Poptart was our villain. The whole thing was nostalgic throw-back that turned more therapeutic and, dare-I-say-better, than I expected.

4)  I see you’ve done public readings of both your fiction and non-fiction. Many good writers have a hard time reading their work in public. Any advice on how to do a successful public reading? 

Breathe. If you make a mistake just improv and roll with it. People can tell when you’re being real and they respond better to that. It’s your story, you can’t miss-tell your own words. Maybe think of it as the live version; it’s ok if a few words roll out different. Remember you weren’t asked there to read for no reason. You earned your right to be there. They already like your work. Convince yourself. (I can have a bad habit of going too fast. “Stop and breathe” helps me with that.)

5)  Let’s finish up with a process question. You channel your creative energies into both writing and cartooning. All of us have only limited time to create. How do you split up your creative time? Is it something like cartooning on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and writing on Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday?

I wish I could create that regularly. I’m not one for a set schedule. What I make is really dependent on what mood I’m in at the time. I’m a creature of impulse and instinct. I have noticed that I can draw on days that I work (my day job) but I cannot write on the days that I work. I think writing is more mentally consuming for me than two dimensional art is. While I can produce much greater quantities of written word, it drains me more mentally. It requires a deeper focus. Art tends to feel more therapeutic for me because it feels lighter. If that makes sense? I go through phases, spurts, and marathons. It’s a poorly balanced chaos that I could probably do better at.

Thank you for your time, Kate!

You can follow Kate E. Lore on Twitter @KateeLore and Facebook @writerlore

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Brutalism in Chester County, PA

Chester County's Only Brutalist Building: New Main Hall in West Chester University

The following is an article I wrote for the spring issue of the Chester County Historic Preservation Network.

Brutalism in West Chester
by Tony Conaway

West Chester University is one of the oldest institutes of higher learning in our county with many of its buildings designed in the classic Collegiate Gothic style.  West Chester’s campus is most notable for its use of Serpentine, a greenish stone quarried locally, which was used in the construction of several of the campus buildings.  But the University has grown considerably since it became West Chester Normal School in 1871.  Now educating some 16,000 graduate and undergraduate students, its expansion sometimes requires that old buildings be replaced by newer ones.

For its first one hundred years, most of the classes were held in the four-story Main Hall.  In fact, during the school’s early years, this Second Empire-style edifice was the only school building.  At various times, Main Hall housed not only classrooms, but the cafeteria, a dormitory, the library, and an auditorium.  Built in 1871, this voluminous serpentine building had become obsolete by the 1960s.

The decision was made to tear down the building (today referred to as “Old Main”), and replace it with a modern structure.  The rubble of the old building was valuable, as local Serpentine was no longer available at the original source, Brinton’s Quarry.  The usable stones were carted off and repurposed.  Some of it was reportedly used to build an extension of one of the famous Serpentine “Four Sisters” mansions on West Virginia Avenue in the North End of West Chester.  (Coincidentally, both Old Main and the Four Sisters were designed by the same notable architect, Addison Hutton.)

Cash-strapped colleges often look for a cheap building material that could be erected as quickly as possible.  Consequently, in 1971, New Main Hall was constructed of reinforced concrete.  It opened in 1973.  As far as we know, it is the only building designed in the Brutalist style in Chester County.  Today, it would be hard to name an architectural style as divisive as Brutalism.  In vogue for only a short span of years (mid-1950s to mid-1970s), it evokes disdain among many for both its execution and its philosophy.

The term “Brutalism” comes from the French for béton brut, meaning “raw concrete.”  In its simplicity and honesty, it was seen as a reaction to traditional architecture that was based on historical precedents.  Perhaps because it is intertwined with outmoded social theory, the very concept of Brutalist architecture angers some.  Brutalism was seen as an expression of socialist utopian ideology, widely promoted in the communist countries of Eastern Europe.  Aesthetically, Brutalism is difficult to execute properly.  All successful buildings are designed by talented architects, but the majority of Brutalist buildings seem to be uninspired.  The lack of ornamentation means that Brutalist buildings must be appreciated as a whole, not in pieces.  The balance and geometric lines of Brutalist buildings are best appreciated from afar.  However, the crowded WCU campus affords few clear views of New Main.  The only clear view of New Main at a distance is from across “the Quad,” which is the large grassy area in the center of the Main Campus.  If you look at New Main from across busy High Street, you have to crane your neck to look up at it.  Other sightlines are often obscured by buildings or the leafy trees that WCU is well-known for.

One characteristic common to Brutalist buildings is the “inverted pyramid” design.  That is, the base of the building is narrower than the top.  Standing at ground level near the entrance, the bulk of such Brutalist structures looms overhead.  For example, the well-known Boston City Hall, with its inverted pyramid design, tends to inspire unease in observers --; possibly because it hangs over people, making them feel small.  Thankfully, this effect is muted in the five-story New Main, which is basically a simple tower with the boxy addition of the auditorium on its South side.

The typical Brutalist characteristics --, including the inverted pyramid design, the use of oversized concrete elements, and the display of service elements, such as air ducts --, are muted or non-existent on New Main.  Only the top floor is broader than its base, which is easily overlooked from ground level.  The use of over-sized concrete elements are minimal and include the main stairwells (which also house the main entrances) on the East and West sides.  A brick façade relieves the dull concrete walls. Perhaps the most playful features of the building are the extruding windows, three of which flank each side of the stairwells.  They are placed only on the second, third and fourth floors, with the fourth floor extrusions larger than the two below. 

Unfortunately, reinforced concrete does not age well.  The metal rebar inside the concrete often rusts, dribbling rusty stains on the concrete.  In some cases, moss grows on the concrete walls.  Thankfully, the exterior of New Main has been kept in good repair.  However, New Main had other problems at the outset.  Students recall that the building had notoriously bad climate control.  If one side of New Main was too hot, the other side (usually the side in the shade) was too cold.  Frustratingly, the windows of New Main do not open, so temperatures cannot be modulated and fresh air let in. 

In short, almost no one loves New Main.  However, someday, New Main will be obsolete.  The design of Brutalist buildings makes it difficult to adapt or remodel them.  West Chester University then will have to decide whether or not to tear it down and construct a New New Main.  When that happens, will preservationists rally to save our only Brutalist structure?

Only time will tell.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Nick Korolev, Author and Part-Time Commodore

Author, illustrator and naturalist Nick Korolev is a New Jersey native now living in West Virginia. He’s also a very interesting guy! Nick and I both have short stories in the upcoming SPRING INTO SCI-FI anthology.

1)  Welcome, Nick. You’ve been a writer for quite a long time. Am I correct, that your first short story was published when you were just 14 years old? How did that come about?

I started writing for my own pleasure when I was 12 and discovered the power of words and joy of story telling.  I was always an avid reader.  By that age was reading adult novels and short story collections in a variety of genres, mostly scifi by Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, plus the classics from Melville and Jack London to Conrad and Hemingway. 

I was put ahead in an honors creative writing class a month after that short story was published in the fiction section of the now defunct national publication Popular Dogs.  The creative writing teacher, Mrs. Engle, advised I should become a writer.

2)  Your bio says you were born in New Jersey, but you now reside in West Virginia. I live outside Philadelphia, so I’ve spent a lot of time living and working in New Jersey. What do you miss most about the Garden State? (Personally, I’d miss diners and Taylor Pork Roll -- much better than Pennsylvania's Scrapple!) And what do you have in West Virginia that you’d miss if you moved elsewhere?

That is kind of a long and crazy story.  I moved from NJ to Sedona, AZ to help care for my mother who had a developed nasty crippling disease called polymyositis that affects the muscles.  I spent nine years there.  It was great in that I am both an artist (mostly wildlife, portraits, cartoons and illustrations) as well as a writer and found Sedona to be a great arts colony.  I learned both play and screenwriting for which I have won awards.  I ended up in West Virginia because my mother wanted to spend her last years closer to my sister, who lives in Jefferson County.

The thing I miss most about the Garden State is the shore, canoeing the Pine Barrens and really fresh seafood. As to what I would miss in West Virginia, it would be the mountain wilderness, my friends and the people I work with at schools and the state park.

3)  Well, anyone who misses the Pine Barrens might enjoy this excellent collection of crime stories by Jen Conley.  I also interviewed her, here.

Nick, you’re also a student of the U.S. Civil War. Is West Virginia a good state for Civil War aficionados? And what is the Federal Generals Corps about?

West Virginia is a great place for Civil War history.  The state was born during the war, from counties that wanted no part of the Virginia lowlands, which sided with the Confederacy.  The mountain counties were also tired of their tax money supporting the rich planters and their road systems, with nothing for the western counties. So they seceded from VA, becoming an official state June 20, 1863. There were quite a few battles here, like the Union victory of Droop Mountain that ended major Confederate attempts of control of the new state.

The Federal Generals Corps is a group of living historians that portray famous military officers, politicians and civilians from the Union side of the Civil War.  It involves picking a historic person you resemble, studying their biography and their place in the war, gathering up the proper clothing, etc.  You essentially become that persona for the public, which involves a little acting.  It is a way of teaching history that is far better than what you read in school history books.  We camp out at and present programs at historic sites in PA, VA, and WV. 

I now only portray Commodore John Winslow who commanded the USS Kearsarge that sank the Confederate raider CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France.  What most people are not taught in school is that, for the US Navy, the Civil War was essentially a world war. The Union could never have won without the US Navy gaining control of the coasts and the Mississippi River, plus sinking the Confederate raiders that attacked Union merchant ships at sea.  Studying maritime history and the politics of the time will also prove that slavery was the cause of the war.  I can make my talks very real having grown up in a boating family and having been out on a tall ship.  I portray the only naval officer in our group.

4)  Let’s get to your books. What is your latest book about?

My latest book, Ghost of a Chance, is a bit of a departure from my usual maritime historical fiction, fantasy and scifi. It is a political satire and ghost story all rolled into one. It’s about a young West Virginia progressive freshman senator, Frank Barnes, who is running on a third party ticket for President against a corrupt Republican incumbent and a not-much-better Democrat contender.  He is running last in the polls when his friend gives him an antique book for his birthday. The book was once was the library of Theodore Roosevelt, his favorite president (and mine).  The book comes with Teddy’s ghost, who is bound and determined to help Frank in his run for POTUS. This, of course, results in a wild ride.  The book is either hilariously funny or scary depending on the politics of the reader.  Every chapter starts with a famous quote from TR.  I do not belong to any political party but always vote.  If there is a message in this novel it is to get out and vote. 

This novel was originally a screenplay that I wrote back in 2011 for competition in the 2012 Appalachian Film Festival competition (I won with entries in 2005 and 2010).  With the results of the last election, I decided to turn the screenplay into a novel and remarket it.  Mockingbird Lane Press, a small independent traditional publisher, contracted for it last spring and it was just released in Dec. 2017.  So far it has gotten 5 star reviews on Amazon for both paperback and e-books.  I am doing everything I can to get it marketed but can not afford a publicist to get it out there. I am hoping it gets 20 reviews so Amazon helps in marketing.

5)  Well, perhaps this interview will result in some more reviews for Ghost of a Chance – just click on the link!

Nick, your work spans a number to historical periods: the Civil War, the life and presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, the sinking of the U.S.S. Lusitania in 1915, and modern day. How do you keep the historical aspects straight? I’m currently working on a detective novel during the Great Depression, and I’m always having to check as to the price of goods and services, what people wore, and even how they spoke.

I learned a long time ago that when you write anything historical you must research everything on the era to make it believable and bring the era alive from politics to living expenses to clothing and more.  This should be done first along with developing your basic plot.  It is the same attention to detail you need to do in world and technology building in scifi.  If you work on a historical fiction that takes place in the not too distant past, talking to people who lived through the time also helps.

6)  West Virginia is not known for having a lot of writers. One of my nieces attended the University of West Virginia, and I decided to send her a gift of books by West Virginia authors. At the time, all I could find was the sole collection by the late, great Breece D’J Pancake. Do you have a community of writers out there to bounce ideas off and critique your work?

I am sort of the resident alien in that I was not born here.  There is a West Virginia Writers Association, but that is way down near Charleston, WV, too far for me to go for meetings so I have not joined yet.  I sometimes use beta readers but I am my own critic most of the time and am very fussy what I think will work. I always ask myself, has this been done before? Is it best as a novel, short story or stage or screenplay? Would enough people be interested in the story? Sometimes I bounce ideas off friends.  I have a file of aborted projects in different genres.

There are a few local writers, but they work alone with relatives as critics and most self-publish. To me (and agents) self-publishing is not much above using a vanity press and cannot be used as a credit when looking for an agent or publisher if one is serious about a writing career. 

New writers are lured in by keeping more of the price, but that is quickly eaten up by costs of more printing and marketing.  Besides, they have not “paid their dues,” proving the quality of their work through competition, being printed in literary journals and anthologies, etc.  Most “newbies” want to get around rejections and the (often) years of honing their skills to start breaking into print. 

Everyone today is in too much of a rush.  I have always believed you don’t serve a good wine before its time and you must be prepared for a batch to go bad now and then and realize sometimes work is not worth publishing -- especially a first try.  People will not like this opinion, but I have observed enough to know it is true and have a sister who is a professional editor who used to work for an independent traditional book publisher (now defunct) and told me many stories on what crossed her desk.  The fiction she dealt with included knock-offs of existing books with different characters, and poor writing that was not edited for grammar and consistency.  One was down right plagiarism of the Harry Potter characters!

7)  Looking at your books on Amazon, I don’t see any science fiction. Is your story in SPRING INTO SCI-FI a departure for you?

I have two existing full scifi novels.  The Cat Who Fell To Earth, rewritten a couple of times over the years, is presently being marketed on Inkitt and has been there for a year.  It has gleaned 5 star reviews but their data analog has not collected enough data on it yet from their readers for them to come to a decision to publish it.  I sent it off to Angry Robot’s open call for submissions in Dec. and am waiting to hear if it has done anything.  The novel deals with the same race of leonine aliens that appear in the story in the 2018 SPRING INTO SCI-FI.  It is set in the contemporary United States in Sedona, AZ, and is a quirky first contact story involving a covert alien plot to make it happen while anti-contact and pro-contact factions argue it out in their Confederation of Planets council.

I also have a YA book I have not finished illustrating titled Bob’s Planet: A Journal. It is a heavily illustrated journal by protagonist Robert Carusoe, 17, on the first expedition to colonize the habitable planet Echo 48 discovered by the Kepler telescope long before he was born.  With him are his engineer father and teacher mother.  He is to be an exobiology intern while he finishes his schooling. 

His journal begins after the massive sleep ship Pilgrim 1 he is on meets disaster only two weeks after all were brought out of hibersleep as they enter the planetary system.  Caught in a dangerous meteor storm all are forced to evacuate the ship in escape pods.  Alone in a pod designed for four people, Robert survives his journey knowing not all made it.  He quickly finds himself forced to meet the challenges of life on a new world much like Earth’s Carboniferous age. The life forms are more hostile than expected, but he searches for his parents and other survivors while awaiting the arrival of Pilgrim 2, which is still a month away. 

A student of biology with a gift of drawing, Bob records his experiences and observations in his written journal in the tradition of Audubon and Darwin long before him. The journal itself covers twenty-one days with each section illustrated with plants, animals, maps and sketches of spacecraft in ink and pencil drawings as if done by Bob.  This is presently with an agent who handles books only by writer-illustrators and asked to see it.  Waiting to hear on this project, too, at this writing.

8)  Let’s finish up with a process question. Most successful writers get into a regular pattern. Some write in the morning before they go to work, others at night. What’s your writing schedule?

My writing schedule is crazy and I write any chance I get. Being single with no present commitments helps as my time is my own interrupted only by work around the house.  I write on weekends when not going out with friends or working in the yard etc.  I write when I do not get a substitute teaching assignment for the day.  It must share time with any illustration work I am doing be it for my work or on assignment from another author. In the summer I get more writing done. 

I am the naturalist for Lost River State Park and part of my job besides nature programs is to keep the historic Lee House open on certain days during the week.  While waiting for visitors I get a lot of writing done sitting on the front porch and back at my cabin at night where I stay on site for part of the week since I do not have a TV at the cabin. As much as I like my “Day Jobs,” I would like to do the writing and illustration full time.

Nick, thank you for your time. Best of luck with your new novels!

Nick Korolev can be contacted via his website.  He can also be found on Facebook or Linkedin.

His books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble  or Books-a-Million

Both Nick Korolev and Tony Conaway have stories in the soon-to-be-released SPRING INTO SCI-FI anthology.