Shells chats with Melissa Conway author of XenoFreak Nation

In writing what do you find the most difficult?

Shutting out the rest of the world in order to concentrate. As a wife and mother with pets, I often have to ask my muse to ‘hold that thought’ while I get up to take care of my family.

Where did the idea of XenoFreak Nation come from?

Probably, it began with a single, simple notion - perhaps I saw a tattoo of an animal-skin pattern and thought, “What if that were a skin graft?” But I don’t recall the exact moment the basic premise of the story occurred to me. It would have certainly begun slowly, and my imagination would have built upon it over time. At some point, it would have struck me that there might be a story there...

Bryn Vega is a really strong character, where did the idea come from for her?

Because I plot as I write, my characters develop as I go. Like all the people populating my stories, Bryn began nebulously and gained form and function as the story took on momentum. She is an ‘imperfect heroine’ because she makes mistakes. Those are my favorite characters to write, so I can show how they learn and grow by the end of the story.

How important is the relationship between Bryn and Scott in the story?

To me, it’s essential. I think romance is the stuff of life, and I make sure all my books have it in some measure. But in order to accommodate my male readers, I avoid treating it with a heavy hand.

XenoFreak Nation hits on politics, moral dilemmas, and discrimination, how do you feel this story relates to problems of today's world?

Today’s world is incredibly complicated. The average person is on the ‘user’s end’ of technology and politics, with a vague, conflicting notion that bureaucracy is a bloated but necessary evil to ensure checks and balances. If you dig into any system, you’ll find the history behind why it functions the way it does. And sometimes that function is tied to an outdated catalyst - why the system was set up in the first place. Xenofreak Nation is set twenty years from now and attempts to depict what will happen if today’s world maintains status quo. Whenever a system, like the one in the book that regulates how and why bio-engineered animals can be used, is caught between debating factions - some believe it could benefit from a good overhaul - others think it’s fine the way it is (generally because it benefits them) - any potential improvements are stalled until one side gains a majority of the power. The checks and balances can effectively halt progress.

Tattoos are either considered body art or something disgusting, you brought that into your story in such a new way. How important was that for you to showcase it in XenoFreak Nation?

By nature, tattoos make the body a billboard, saying either, “This image is important enough to me to permanently affix it to my body,” and/or “I enjoy using my body as a canvas for these images.” They are often used to stake a cultural claim, “I belong,” even if it’s just to say, “I belong among those who flaunt society’s expectations of me.” In Xenofreak Nation, the new tattoo consists of an animal skin graft, and there are ethical arguments for and against the practice. On the ‘against’ side, is the animal cruelty argument. On the ‘for’ side are those who insist that, just like using all parts of farm animals raised for food such as leather for our shoes, all parts of the animals bio-engineered to provide organs for human transplant should be used - and why not for decoration, like a designer pair of shoes?

What do you wish readers will get from XenoFreak Nation?

Hopefully a rollicking good read! But also a unique perspective on cultural tolerance - there is more than one side to any given story, no matter how abhorrent it may seem.

Where can readers buy XenoFreak Nation?

It’s available from all major ebook retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords).

In one word how would you describe XenoFreak Nation?


Where can readers learn more about you?

From my blog.

27 Likes For My Abandoned Towers Story--Keep 'em Coming!

Recently I decided to go back to my roots and find some markets on Ralan that wanted some short stories.  I still think it's a good idea to get your work out there in as many venues as possible, so on the days you don't have energy to work on a whole novel, rattling off a short story can be fun.

Hey, who knows?  Sometimes I find that you start going on what seems like a throw-away story and find yourself not stopping until you've ripped off 50,000 words.

Anyway, I shipped off a fun little fantasy story titled "Quillon's Quarry" to Abandoned Towers, and they've just thrown it up on their blog.  Please do me the favor of giving it a read and hitting "Like" or "Retweet" or giving it a shout-out on whatever social network you prefer.

I'm already sitting at 27 likes, and the more I get, the more likely Abandoned Towers is to pick up stories of mine in the future.  I've got a special affection for them because they were the first ezine to interview me when "The Bone Sword" came out.  Incidentally, the kindle version of "The Bone Sword" is still sitting at ninety-nine cents, so give it a look if you enjoy "Quillon's Quarry."  The story is free to read, I hope you like it!

Words with Ernie Laurence Jr., Author of of "Islands of Loar: Sundered"

Can you tell us a little bit about "Islands of Loar: Sundered?"

The setting for Sundered is twenty chunks of a planet that exploded a couple of millennia in its past. These "Islands" are roughly the surface area of Oklahoma to Montana. In the world of Loar, the gods are said to have left before The Sundering, the great cataclysm that tore the planet apart, which is part of why it happened. The legend goes that they grew upset with the growing dependence on technology and left the mortals alone with it. Technology is alleged to be the direct cause of The Sundering.

Magic, specifically elemental magic, saved those Islands and life on them, though the raw energy from the cataclysm warped a lot of things, especially the flora and fauna. The Geomancers have disappeared after creating these gigantic gates called pulons that allow travel between the Islands. The Hydromancers are river rats and treated as third class citizens. After the War of Wind and Fire, the Aeromancers nearly wiped out the Pyromancers and enslaved the rest. Now the Aeromancers dominate and many fear to rebel against them since they still maintain the atmosphere around each Island.

There are a number of forces attempting to finish the destruction of Loar, from within and without. Three groups of heroes, unknown to one another, are set on paths to address these issues. In a world that is withering away in body and soul, crushed by despair, these heroes and a few others who will join them later, are all that stands between total annihilation for the world.

What's your background with writing?

I've been writing since the 6th grade. I have a lot of novels written, but never published. You can visit my wiki  to see more of them. While in college I was hired by a gaming company to help design a Lord of the Rings game. I was in charge of the design of Barad Dur, all of the romantic interests, and designing quests, layouts, and a host of other things. After the company had its funding pulled, I went to work for Sony Online on the Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG as a quest designer.

Through it all I've kept writing. Islands of Loar is the latest series I've written but will be the first published because it is the most mature and refined.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

Heh. That list is so incredibly long it's hard to mention here. I have a Goodreads page and anyone who wants can look at it. Tolkien, certainly. Madeline 'Lengle "A Wrinkle In Time" was my first science fiction/fantasy book ever. (I was into Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew before that.) Terry Brooks had a very large influence throughout my writing career.

Of course I would be remiss if I did not state that my biggest influence, especially in those earlier books, is the Bible. I do my best to be a devout Christian. One of the biggest inspirations for me in that vein is that I am what is known as a preterist with regard to eschatology. My earlier books are built directly from that belief.

Some of the newer authors that I have loved are Brent Weeks (Night Angel trilogy), Brandon Sanderson (Elantris, Mistborn), and George Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire). I've also been reading a number of indie authors that have some really good stuff.

What was it like working with "Hero's Guild Publications"?

The owner, chief editor, and staff are all a bit crabby and work too long. They are slave drivers and are on me constantly, 24/7 and never let up!

Hero's Guild Publications is my company, and I am sole proprietor, chief editor and dishwasher, marketing executive, etc. Though I will be considered self-published for a while, in a couple of years the plan is to begin publishing other authors as a full, small-time press. I want to make sure I work out the kinks of publishing on my own novels before I start working with others whose book's I'll be responsible for managing.

Who was responsible for the cover/book design?

A man named Alex Broca. I found him on I gave him the layout I wanted and he fulfilled it exactly. Also, a fellow author named Ray Mauritsen designed the title and author name parts and did a fantastic job. Alex will be doing all four covers for the series and possibly the rest of the novels as well if our relationship continues as well as it has so far.

What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

At the moment I'm doing the social media thing, Facebook ads, word of mouth and blog interviews like this one. As income flows, I'll be looking into other forms to reach a wider audience. I'm still learning like a lot of others. I'm not afraid to listen and learn if others have advice that has worked for them.

Where can people learn more about you?

I tend to post up a lot more information on my author page on Facebook. I also have a digital appendix for Sundered and all the other novels at the wiki.

I'm not as in to blogging yet as some might advise me to be. I imagine as time progresses and I learn more worth posting I'll post more. For now, I'm content to read others' blogs and stick with writing/editing novels. If some want to add me, I guarantee they won't get inbox spam from goodreads on my blog posts for the next few months. Here it is.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

I have three more books in this quartet to polish and publish. Then I will consider going back to my very first works and bringing them up to date and publishing those. I also have three more trilogies planned in various time settings in Loar that are as of yet unwritten. There is definitely no dearth of material for me, just the time needed to get them all out and done.

Is there anything else about you we should know?

I'm happily married to my wife, Heather, who is the one motivating me to publish instead of just write. I have twins that are two right now. Kade Auren is my son. He is named after one of the characters, well, maybe the character, in my novels. Gwynevere Anne is my daughter. I'm a Physics teacher. I suppose if one wants to know more than that, they can look me up on the wiki or like my author page on Facebook.