Mauled by Grizzlies: Matthew P. Mayo on Writing the West

Matthew P. Mayo has a keen eye for the absurd.  Sure, his Westerns are steeped in authenticity and boiled in action, but it is Mayo’s skewed vision of the world that lingers long after the final page.  He shows us the mythic West with the sharp, clear eye of a realist looking through rippled glass.

Mayo is the author of the novels Winters’ War, Wrong Town, and Hot Lead, Cold Heart, and the editor of Where Legends Ride:  New tales of the Old West.  At his finest, Mayo captures the surreal and very human quality of everyday life in the 19th century West.  His protagonists meet whatever comes their way with nonchalance; they struggle in a world of misperceptions and uncertain realities, come what may.  Time and again they must sort out the mythic from the mundane, the weak from the strong, the bizarre from the necessary.  Yet, even deep within the most tangled cases of mistaken identity and the darkest of back alley nights, Mayo is always in control of his craft. 
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Every Session Tells a Story: Colin Moulder-McComb on Gaming & Writing

Colin Moulder-McComb writes Now, the Twist, a regular column for Kobold Quarterly.  He recently contributed an essay on the game Hive to James Lowder’s Family Games: The 100 Best.  Moulder-McComb is also the founding CEO of 3lb Games.  I’ve been thinking a lot about 3lb Games’ mission statement this holiday season as my family and I spend many glorious hours playing games, writing, drawing, and reading.  The first paragraph reads as follows:

When learning is fun–and learning should be fun–it awakens in us our natural curiosity. With computers at our fingertips and our daily pace moving faster all the time, we have a unique opportunity to transform learning into a lifelong journey of joy and wonder.

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Escaping & Reinventing: Altered Fluid on Speculative Fiction

The writers from Altered Fluid are back!  Below, five of them tackle a question at the very heart of what they do as writers. 

Brief bios of the authors appear after the interview.


Why is speculative fiction important?


PAUL M. BERGER: Because asking “What if?” is the best way to examine where we’re going and where we are.  And not just in terms of shiny things that light up, either.

DEVIN POORE:  I recently read an interview with Dr. Robert Ballard, the archaeologist of Titanic fame, and he said that he became interested in sea exploration after reading 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I think someone being inspired to go outside of himself by a story, to follow a path he might never have otherwise, is where the importance lies. 

MATTHEW KRESSEL: Speculative fiction can often comment on the world in ways that other fiction can’t.  For example, Ursula K. LeGuin often comments on feminism and gender issues in her writing.  China Miéville comments about social structures and governance.  Science fiction considers the future and all its nasty and beautiful ramifications before it comes to pass.  Science fiction in some ways has invented the future.  The creator of the cell phone took his idea directly from the Star Trek communicators.  We view the world through the window of stories.  
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Between Good & Great: Russ Pitts on Taking Risks in Writing

Russ Pitts is a little funny about his dice.  To read the opening pages of his essay “The Dice They Carried” in Will Hindmarch’s The Bones: Us and Our Dice, you’d think he’s more than a little funny about his dice bags, too.  The essay opens with Pitts describing, lovingly, the bag he used to carry his dice in as a young man and ends many years later with a different bag resting next to the computer he uses as the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist magazine.

Pitts has his dice and dice bags.  And I have my office supplies.  I have boxes and boxes full of pens, pencils, paper-clips, tape, and notepads – especially notepads.  Pads of blank paper drive me nearly mad with possibilities!  Every now and then I delve into the piles and see what I can find, see what I can do.  See what I can make.

I’m not crazy, I remind myself, I’m just… prepared.  These are the tools I need to do my jobs – teaching and writing.  Yet, one of the most important tools we, as writers, have is the willingness to try new things, to take risks, to roll the dice every now and then.  Below, Pitts talks about the pros and cons of taking risks in writing.


What is the importance of taking risks, of rollin’ them bones, in writing?


Russ Pitts:  Well, that’s the difference between good work and potentially great work, isn’t it? The work I have done that has been most rewarding (and usually best received) has been uncomfortable for me in some way–creating it. Sharing it. How much do I have to give? How much of my soul am I willing to share on the off chance my feelings about a certain thing will ignite a spark in someone else’s soul and have them say: “Someone else who gets it!”

For me it comes down to a choice: How much am I willing to risk to succeed? Am I willing to take the chance that someone somewhere will think less of me for what I have done–or thought about what I have done–just so that that same person may appreciate me for doing so?


Can you tell us about a time when you rolled the dice in your career and won?  Lost?  Were utterly baffled by the results?

Russ Pitts:  I’ve had several careers at this point, and most of them have involved some measure of chance. One of my previous careers involved the production of live television–a dice-roller’s wet dream. I rolled the dice on my way out of that job and lost–big time. I behaved badly. I took out my frustration with myself on other people, betting that the things I said and did would not come back to haunt me but they have. The hardest part about that episode was that I was gambling with something that belonged to other people: their trust and faith in me. I’ve won some of it back, but it’s been a hard road. I cherish it more now. That’s the silver lining.

My current career began when I decided to throw everything I owned into a van, drive for 14 hours to a state I’d never been to, to live in an apartment I’d never seen and work for people I’d never met. This was not the first time I’d done something like that. Most people can’t bring themselves to do it once, but I live for those moments. 

When I was younger I made most of my major life decisions based on whether or not I could imagine the most likely outcomes. If I could, I would do something else, something less predictable. I’m falling out of love with that idea of “fun,” but being able to take that kind of risk has given me a lot to write about. Now if only I had the time…


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.