Author Robert Kroese on his successful DIS Trilogy Kickstarter and new novel City of Sand

Author Rob Kroese is a prolific novelist who operates in both the independent and traditional publishing worlds. Today I’ll ask him about his recent DIS trilogy Kickstarter (it was fully funded in a lightning flash but ongoing so you can still support it and get free copies of his novels and other cool rewards!) and his latest novel City of Sand, which is something of a genre-departure for him.

Richard: Welcome to the blog, Rob! First I’d like to discuss your latest Kickstarter project which has already topped its funding goal but is active with reward goodies through Thursday, April 9th, 2015. Please tell us a bit about the DIS Trilogy, which your kickstarter is fueling.

65b573b5c3247db1671cbf49545af0a8_originalRob: Thanks, Richard! In 2012, my satirical epic fantasy novel Disenchanted was published by 47North, Amazon’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint. It was a lot of fun to write, and it was well received by readers and reviewers. I’ve been meaning to publish more adventures set in the land of Dis for a while, and finally decided it was time. I’m doing two sequels, Disillusioned and Distopia. Both books will be independently published, which means I’ve got to handle the editing, cover design, marketing, etc. all myself.

The Dis trilogy is made up of three vaguely related novels that take place in the mythical land of Dis. Disenchanted tells the story of Boric the Implacable, an undead king who must travel across Dis to rid himself of an enchanted sword and finally get some peace. I’ll be following up Disenchanted with Disillusioned, which tells the tale of Wyngalf the Bold, a young missionary who realizes that he is the only one who can save the land of Dis from the scourge of dragons. Distopia, which completes the trilogy, follows a knight named Vergil who wishes he had been born during Dis’s heroic age, when men fought monsters and dragons–but soon has more adventure than he ever wanted.

53fc8c371a1ee5d9e89690fd5781ab2c_originalRichard: The speed of your DIS Trilogy kickstarter funding was blinding—fulfilled in what, three days? How do you explain such quick success?

Rob: Honestly, I’m a little shocked myself. It took just over three days to meet my goal of $3,000. Currently the project is just over $3,500, and we might actually hit $4,000 by the target date of April 9. Maybe the recent death of Terry Pratchett has left people craving more humorous fantasy? Whatever the explanation, it’s very gratifying to see this level of support for a project.

Richard: R.I.P Terry Pratchett. As an aside, a number of my readers have compared my writing (in a small way) to Terry’s over the years and I’ve quietly worn that as a little badge of honor. It’s tough to lose him so early. But enough about my ego and back to our discussion at hand. If you had an advice for Kickstarter project newbies, what would that be? What elements of your project were fails, in your opinion, and which elements proved the biggest successes? *(By the way, Rob’s DIS Kickstarter is still running and you can check it out by clicking on the graphic link just below.)

DisBooks-300x211Rob: Beyond the basics of making a clear, convincing pitch for your project, I’d say it’s Cover_Kindle-267x400very important to offer compelling rewards to backers. I don’t necessarily mean expensive rewards; often the best rewards are intangible. For example, with the Dis Trilogy, I’m giving higher-level supporters the chance to have a geographic feature in the mythical land of Dis named after them. Ideally, you want each level to seem like a slightly better value than the one below it. For example, at the $5 level, the supporter gets a single ebook. At the $10 level, they get not two, but three ebooks (the two Dis books and an additional bonus book). So a $5 pledge is a reasonably good value, but the $10 pledge seems more attractive. And the higher you go, the more you get for your money.

Richard: Last but not least, let’s discuss your latest novel, CITY OF SAND (disclaimer: I was one of the development editors on the manuscript and I think it’s great, so there) from indie author collective Westmarch Publishing. It’s a mix of old gumshoe noir (Chinatown) and mind-bending Philip K. Dick, as you have described it. Can you give us a brief introduction to the novel?

City of Sand Cover - KindleRob: As you mentioned, the idea behind City of Sand was “Chinatown as told by Philip Dick.” I’ve always loved stories where the protagonist’s own perceptions and memories of reality are called into doubt. I worked for several years in Silicon Valley, and I only found out afterwards how badly the groundwater is has been polluted in that area by tech companies. It was a disturbing sort of realization, that this supposedly “clean” industry is responsible for some of the most polluted groundwater in the country. It reminded me of the insidious corruption that characterizes noir movies like Chinatown. I thought it would be interesting to combine those two elements: a detective is trying to solve a conventional murder, but the truth is more horrifying than he can even imagine.

Richard: City of Sand is very different from your previous books – such as the humorous Mercury series – what was it like for you playing in this new ‘sandbox?” (canned laughter, applause)

StarshipGriftersCover600x900-266x400Rob: To be honest, it was HARD. I like writing fast-paced, silly novels with a lot of explosions and jokes. Writing a novel like City of Sand is almost like work. I think it turned out pretty well, but I’m going to stick to jokes and explosions for a while.

Richard: You (and I) are both participating in a new (2014) author publishing collective called Westmarch Publishing. How would you describe your experiences with Westmarch so far, as compared to your fully independent and traditional publishing house (47North) projects?

Rob: There are advantages and disadvantages so independent publishing. The advantages are mainly that you have more control over the product and you net a higher percentage of the sales price on your books. One of the big disadvantages is that publishing a book is a lot of work, and requires several different skillsets, such as developmental editing, WestmarchFinal_greenproofreading, and graphic design. Most people don’t possess all these skills, and it’s always a bad idea to try to edit or proofread your own book. A collective like Westmarch ameliorates those disadvantages by allowing us to take advantage of other authors’ talents and abilities. I’ve done two books with Westmarch so far, and both Dis books will be release as Westmarch titles as well. I think it’s a fantastic way to publish.

Richard: Now, just a few of my Actor’s Studio questions you need to answer, and then you may escape back to your writing desk. 1) What is your favorite restaurant? 2) If you could be reincarnated as an animal, which one would you choose? 3) If you could pick one line from one of your novels as your tombstone epitaph, what would it be?

cover1-266x400Rob: 1) Waffle House. Well, maybe not my favorite, but it did sustain me on a motorcycle trip across the country last year.
2) Is this like on The Wire, McNulty’s boss asks him where he doesn’t want to be transferred, so he can screw him by putting him on harbor patrol? I don’t think I’m going to answer this one, because I’m afraid you’ll pull some strings and prevent me from being a fox. I mean ostrich. I want to be an ostrich. Not a fox.
3) “So it turns out my linoleum installer is in league with Satan.”

LOL! Thanks, Rob Kroese!

Author BIO and Contact Information

Author Rob KroeseRobert Kroese’s sense of irony was honed growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan – home of the Amway Corporation and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the first city in the United States to fluoridate its water supply. In second grade, he wrote his first novel, the saga of Captain Bill and his spaceship Thee Eagle. This turned out to be the high point of his academic career. After barely graduating from Calvin College in 1992 with a philosophy degree, he was fired from a variety of jobs before moving to California, where he stumbled into software development. As this job required neither punctuality nor a sense of direction, he excelled at it. In 2009, he called upon his extensive knowledge of useless information and love of explosions to write his first novel, Mercury Falls. Since then, he has three more books in the Mercury series; a humorous epic fantasy, Disenchanted; and a quantum physics noir thriller, Schrodinger’s Gat. His latest book is Starship Grifters.

Email Rob at

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Lots of Goodies (and my stuff) in “IMAGINARIUM”

Hey, if you yearn, YEARN for a boatload of short stories (6) and a couple of novels from accomplished authors all for the low, low price of $1.99, go ahead and pick up Imaginarium: A Collection of Westmarch Fiction.  It’s an eclectic grouping of tales from an eclectic bunch of brains, and it includes my Romulus Buckle short story “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Find it on Amazon by clicking on the cover image below.

Imaginarium coverImaginarium houses works from authors Denise Grover Swank, Cynthia Moyer, Melissa Olson, Joseph Brassey, Angela D. Mitchell, Stant Litore and Robert Kroese as well as myself. If you do pick it up, please consider leaving a review when you’ve absorbed the bon mots and verbal escargot contained within. And thanks for supporting our little Indie press, Westmarch Publishing!


I’d Like to Introduce You to Westmarch Publishing and our FREE Book Giveaway!

This past year I joined Westmarch Publishing, a new indie publishing house/author collective designed to help member authors bring their books to print. Here is the webpage blurb:

Founded in March 2014, Westmarch is a fiction writers’ collective. We offer each other cover, design, editing, marketing, and other publishing services, taking the place of a publishing house. We are passionate about each other’s work and believe that readers benefit when the writer owns his or her own creative product. We aren’t looking for new members right now, but may in the future.

WestmarchFinal_greenIt’s been a good place for me so far, and since 47North has decided not to continue my Romulus Buckle series past book 2, I am forging ahead with my new short story and Book 3 (Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether) as indies with Westmarch. And while my agent still handles all of my new manuscripts, anything that isn’t purchased by a traditional publisher will probably find an indie life under the Westmarch banner, such as the soon-to-arrive first book of my kid/young adult action/adventure series, The League of the Sphinx: the Purple Scarab.

The League of the Sphinx

The League of the Sphinx

And, right now (for about 5 more days), Westmarch is running a Book Giveaway on Twitter: 13 paperbacks signed by Westmarch participating authors, and my two Romulus Buckle books are in the pot. You can enter the raffle by clicking on the link below and following @WestmarchPub or ReTweeting the raffle message. Head on over and enter the raffle and thanks for supporting Westmarch!


A Conversation with Author Stant Litore

I’d like to welcome fellow 47North author Stant Litore to the Bag of Good Writing Blog today. Sir Stant LitoreStant’s series of The Zombie Bible novels, such as Strangers in the Land, litore_sitlare set in ancient world environments and his haunting, deeply-realized tales always get great reviews. He is also currently publishing horror sci-fi with a brand new imprint, but I’ll let him tell you about that. What follows is an informal conversation between Stant and I. It includes, among other things, zombies loose in biblical times, steampunk origins, Jesus as a character, the most difficult things to write, unbidden motifs, tiger traps to avoid, a peek at Stant’s new sci-fi horror short story Ansible 15715, the new Westmarch Publishing imprint and what’s coming up next for both of us. Expect a few dabs of general commentary and random grousing. I hope you enjoy this chat with Stant as much as I did.


Richard: Okay Stant. Let’s begin.  Why zombies, man? Why Zombies?

Stant: Zombies are cool…

Seriously, though, I was into zombies before they were cool. It just took me years to finish the project. Most zombie stories are set in an apocalyptic setting; mine aren’t. Mine are set thousands of years ago. I use zombies as a way of unburying our past, looking at history, religion, the way we’ve come to live the way we live and feel the things we feel. What has fascinated me ever since first seeing Romero’s Night of the Living Dead Romero NOTLDis the idea of a body emptied of everything but mindless hunger, a body that can only interact with others by devouring them. That makes me clutch the arms of my chair and shiver, and it makes me think deep thoughts. What separates the living and the dead? I mean, really? All around us, we see people devouring people. We see people reducing others to mere objects to fear or feed on.

In my fiction, I place zombies in distant historical moments – and not medieval Europe, either. Think Rome or ancient Mesopotamia. I look at how we never succeed in truly burying our dead. I look at how encountering mindless eaters forces us to confront our own hungers. I look at what we have to hope for, in a world, past and present, that wants to eat us. While we’re on the subject, why steampunk? There’s almost as much steampunk out there as there are hordes of ravenous dead. Yet your Romulus Buckle is beautiful. What drew you to this kind of fiction, and how are you making it fresh?

Richard: Firstly, I agree that zombies are cool. Yes, steampunk seems to really be coming into its own lately. I discovered it as its own genre about three years ago. At that time I was wanting to write a pulpy adventure action series about a ship crew in the tradition of Indiana Jones or Horatio Hornblower, but I’d been having problems finding the proper setting. I wanted strong female characters and some zebra-striped aliens tossed in. Modern submarines didn’t work. 18th century pirate ships didn’t work. Space ships didn’t work. When I hit upon steampunk and the idea of a zeppelin crew operating in a post-apocalyptic environment I knew I had found the roots of my world.

City of the Founders CoverSince I was new to steampunk (although I am a huge fan of British history and the Victorian/Edwardian era) I wanted to make it accessible to people who had just discovered the genre, so while the story has a steampunk brain and organs, the skeleton is pure adventure tale.  I tried to make the series unique by placing it in a frozen southern California and by introducing a strong ‘purer’ sci-fi element to it. It all makes sense in the end (I hope) but readers will have to stick with it to the end to get all of the answers as to how this world came about from the one we know now.

But here’s a question for you, Stant. How does a writer tackle the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, as you do in No Lasting Burial? How did you approach writing him? Were you afraid of any backlash, most certain to result, from expressing your vision of him?

Stant: I definitely found Yeshua of Natzeret to be the most difficult character that I have ever written. For one thing, there is an enormous weight of past depictions, from stained glass to Hollywood. No Lasting BurialAll of those past images are like an enormous pressure at your back, a locomotive driving your story toward a cliff. The joy and the challenge of telling this story was to tell it new and tell it raw. My novels are works of “weird fiction,” exploring the ways in which we become strange to ourselves and to each other. In the zombie story, our own flesh is made weird, is made strange to us. The story of the God-made-flesh is a truly strange story, and we forget that because so many generations of storytellers and sermon-writers have domesticated the story for us, made it safe and tame. When you read the original stories, you don’t encounter a domesticated, safe character.

My approach to this old, old story was to focus on two things. First, I focused on how people reacted to this enigmatic figure. You read the stories of ordinary people who are confronted with someone who doesn’t make sense, someone who is magnetic and inspiring and disturbing, all at once. Someone who flips your traditions on their head. Someone who tells you to invite beggars into your house or sell all your possessions. Someone who claims to know things no one can know, do things no one can do. Someone who is moved to tears at things that you don’t even notice. Someone who might be a madman, or a witch, or an incarnate God, or demon-possessed. At first it is very hard to tell. He is utterly strange, and the world you know appears to bend around him.

Second, I wanted to try to imagine what it would be like to be a mortal man in a mortal body and yet hear the suffering, the prayers, and the screams of all people, living or dead, across all of time. What would that do to you? Would it drive you mad? Would it drive you to extraordinary acts of compassion? Would it do both?

I wanted to make this story strange again, make it dangerous again. I don’t know if I was afraid of backlash, but I certainly anticipated it. This is not a stained-glass Jesus. This is a sweating, weeping figure who walks into your world and rewrites its fundamental architecture, or gets you to, despite yourself. I expect backlash. If you try to tell a Jesus story and you don’t get backlash, you’re telling it wrong; you’re telling it badly.

There’s a beautiful sculpture that an artist just revealed this month of a homeless Jesus lying on a park bench: Some people are disturbed and affronted, and some people tried to call the cops to come remove this homeless man from their upscale-neighborhood bench. And some people were moved and rebuked and inspired. I think I was going for a very similar effect, but the artist with his sculpture achieved it much more directly than I can do in mere words.

Stant Litore Eyes Cover A question for you, Richard, while we’re on the topic of characters and stories that defy domestication. What scene in your own novels proved most wrenching to write, most difficult?

Richard: That was a great answer, Stant, and it provides a wonderful glimpse into the environs of No Lasting Burial.  Your question is interesting because my adventure novels run in the vein of the old adventure serials—so far in the first two books there has been a tremendous amount of swashbuckling and action and catastrophe-escaping. The series takes a dark, tragic turn in upcoming books and when I sit in the quiet and think of some of the specific events approaching I want to cry. I can’t spoil what is coming by describing it, of course, but let me say that when these (hopefully) powerful and soul-wracking scenes must be put to paper, they will be awfully hard to write.

I’d say that one of the hardest scenes I’ve written so far is the hero’s (Romulus Buckle) flashback to injuring his adopted sister, Max, when they were young. Max is half alien with zebra-striped skin and struggles against prejudice every day of her life. For a number of reasons, Romulus is cruel to her in their childhood, always tormenting her. One day he chases her down a hallway and grabs hold of one of her long pigtails. She jerks loose and ends up hurtling headfirst into a doorway jamb, cutting her forehead open and leaving a scar. Romulus’ actions are terrible (his father lets him have it for this) and it is difficult to witness an injury to a child when writing the scene as it unfolds in your head. But it is an important moment for both characters. Max fights back against Romulus for the first time earlier in the scene (she stabs his shoulder with a geometry compass) and also Romulus carries a sadness with him into adulthood, a deep-rooted guilt, about how he treated Max when they were children (Max has always loved him and has long forgiven him, by the way, although her despair at her strange appearance was exacerbated by the way he abused her back then).

That was a difficult sequence to write because so much pain is folded into it, a pain which both characters still experience in their adult lives, though in different ways. A question: I have a handful of images and items, subconscious denizens of my mind anchored deeply in the unknown reaches I suppose, which seem to always find their way into most everything I write. Some come from dreams I have and some come from nowhere, as far as I can tell. Instead of fighting their intrusion, which is always organic, I let these little bubbles surface inside the stories I write. BubblesOne of these motifs is wind chimes. Wind chimes were ringing in one of the most vivid, haunting, profound dreams I ever had. I love the sound of them. And they appear, unbidden in the background, in most every story I write. In fact, I’ve come to expect it. I don’t think anybody would notice this constant element without my mentioning it because it is so small, but there is something comforting about always having that little tiny bit of my dream in all of my stories.

Do you have any recurring items, motifs, themes, etc. like that which your brain seems to always want to blend into your writing?

Stant: I love wind chimes; I love listening to them. They are comforting. But I also love it when a storm comes up and the wind chimes burst into musical panic.

There are definitely recurrent images or moment in my writing. It’s not something I really think about except when I’m writing the scene itself and I run into them almost by accident and say, “ah!”

Grass-in-wind-LWind in the grass. That’s one. In No Lasting Burial, Bar Nahemyah thinks the sound is “like God weeping in the grasses.”

I think a recurrent moment is the discovery of something small and alive and beautiful after great catastrophe. A flower growing out of the side of a sand dune, or a gazelle stepping through the remains of a dead camp.

A character alone, looking up at the stars.

For whatever reason, these moments are written into me.

Now a question for you. What is the one thing you avoid most, as a storyteller?

Richard: I love those themes and images you identified, bubbling up out of your subconscious. Ah, avoidance! I love your examples above, by the way. One thing I try to avoid is having two characters tell each other things that they already know, which I call “redundant ridiculous exposition.” I do this a lot in early drafts where I may not have a good handle on how I am going to structure a scene, so I just spill out the facts that I may want my characters to communicate to the reader. Of course, then I have a scene where two people who were sitting beside each other in a plane crash are having this weird conversation where they are explaining things to one another that they would instinctively know the other knows, just so I can give the reader the information. The trick is, of course, to create a dialogue transfer that both avoids this weird exposition and still provides the reader with the backstory and facts they need. The easiest way to do this is to introduce a character who wasn’t there at the event and thus needs a full description, but there are lots of more subtle ways to defeat that clunk-machine as well. But, because I know I do it as an early crutch, I am frantic to avoid it wholesale in later editing.

Now, Stant, I’d like to hear about something you avoid in your writing, and I’d also like to have you introduce the story and environment of Ansible 15715 which is your newest short story release. And Ansible is also coming from the brand new Westmarch Publishing imprint – I am familiar with it – but you can also perhaps tell our readers about Westmarch as well. Ha, that’s THREE questions!

Stant: Three questions in one? You’re trying to kill me…  

What do I avoid: Doing the same thing twice. I am very restless as a writer, constantly wanting to try a new challenge or technique.  Ansible 15715 is a frantic distress call from a woman marooned in time, a researcher desperately trying to warn humanity of an unexpected and terrifying threat. It’s unlikely anyone will hear her. Unless possibly you. Litore Ansible  

It’s a work of weird fiction and it is deeply unnerving—not a story you will soon forget.

Westmarch is a writers’ collective, a network of writers who barter services with each other, in lieu of a publisher. This allows the writers to retain more control over their own work and a higher royalty. For those who got their start in self-publishing, as I did, it’s a welcome environment.  The intriguing thing about today’s publishing landscape is that the skills traditionally located in a publishing house are increasingly available for direct, writer-to-provider contracting. A savvy independent writer, for example, can contract individually with an established and well-known developmental editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, a cover designer, a formatter, and even a publicist. That amazing cover for Ansible 15715? That was by a Westmarch author, Roberto Calas, ( who has 25 years of experience in design.  

Of course, it’s much easier to simply contract with a publishing house that can provide all of those services under one roof, and a publisher may have marketing reach far beyond what the majority of writers have. That’s where writers’ collectives come in. They’re a third way, where writers tap into each other’s resources and networks in an organized way to assemble and promote their books, paying membership dues rather than a percentage of revenue.

Westmarch is a smaller collective, new and active and exciting, and made up of writers I respect deeply.  

Last question for you, Richard: what’s next from you? What should readers be watching for?

Richard: That’s awesome info on Westmarch, Stant – and best of luck with Ansible 15715! Up next for me is the release of my third Romulus Buckle novel in November, along with a short story set in the same universe that will be used for promotional purposes. It is all going to come out in parallel with the release of Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk User’s Manual in which some of my steampunk work is featured. So, November will be a big month for me. 

This has been an awesome chat, Stant! Thanks so much for having the conversation. I’d like to leave the reader with an idea of what you have coming up next, so please fire away!  

Stant: My birthday’s in November, Richard, and I foresee what will be on my wishlist.  What I have coming up next:

  • A novella entitled Dante’s Heart, in which every time a young man falls asleep, creatures burst out of him intent on doing violence to the world. In hunting them down, he has to face humanity’s longing for violence.
  • I Will Hold My Death Close, a novella in The Zombie Bible, coming out in August. You’re really going to like this one. It is a retelling of the Old Testament story of “Jepthah’s daughter.” Fleeing into the hills from a father intent on sacrificing her, she has to face the hunger of a deity, the hunger of the rising dead, and the devouring hunger of her people’s traditions and their past if she is to survive.
  • Finally, I am working on another Ansible story. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. It looks likely to be just as unnerving and just as tragic as Ansible 15715.

My workshop is spewing out black and purple smoke as I work busily on all this. Lots to look forward to this summer! Thank you for this great conversation, and I am looking forward to November!


Thanks so much to Stant Litore for taking the time to chat! You can find Stant and his awesome, haunting works on Amazon and check him out his BIO below and where he is on social media:

Stant Litore 2Stant Litore is the author of The Zombie Bible series, Ansible 15715, and the novella The Dark Need (part of the Dead Man series). He has an intense love of ancient languages, a fierce admiration for his ancestors, and a fascination with religion and history. He doesn’t consider his writing a vocation; he considers it an act of survival. Litore lives in Colorado with his wife and two daughters and is at work on his next book.