Guest Author: T. Eric Bakutis

Big Happenings in the Baltimore literary SFF scene starting with this weekend.

Balticon is four days of  conference programming featuring authors, publishers, editors, artists, scientists, musicians and other creative SF luminaries beginning Friday, May 22nd.  I’ll be there on Saturday — let me know in the comments if you plan to be there.

Also, the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Amateur Contest is currently underway for Maryland residents now through June 19th. No entry fee AND cash prizes for winners.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to my fellow Critique Circle partner and author:

T. Eric Bakutis.  (He will also be at Balticon this weekend, so make sure to order his book or buy it there and ask him to sign.)

Author T. Eric Bakutis

Author T. Eric Bakutis

Bio: Eric Bakutis is an author and game designer living in Maryland. The staff of Balticon selected his first novel, Glyphbinder, as one of eight finalists for the 2014 Compton Crook Award, and his short fiction has been published in a number of anthologies and small markets. When he’s not writing, he’s playing or designing videogames, hiking with his wife, daughter, and cowardly dog, or flying spaceships in virtual reality. You can find a complete list of his published works as well as links to his blog, social media accounts, and some really cool artwork at

  1. Eric, thanks for stopping by TasteofSherri. First question. What does the title of your novel mean? 

Glyphbinder was the title I arrived at after my first editor (at McBryde Publishing) shot down a much longer title I’d used for most of my book’s life cycle. They pointed out (correctly) that I needed something short, catchy, and memorable. After trying out a number of titles, this one stuck.

I settled on Glyphbinder because that’s the school of magic the book’s main character, Kara, pursues at Solyr, her magic academy. In my world, magic is taught in much the way you would teach programming students a “scripting language”. Instructors teach students how to paint unique “glyphs” (basically complex patterns) on the air or themselves that, when correctly scribed, accomplish a specific purpose. Like a function in a scripting language, they either do exactly what they are intended to do, or, if entered incorrectly, don’t do anything at all… which makes it less likely students will accidentally blow each other up during training.

Solyr teaches a number of different magic disciplines (Bloodmenders, Beastrulers, Firebrands, Lifewardens, and so on) and each discipline uses its own style of glyphs – think of them as different written languages, like French or German. Only a small number of students become Glyphbinders because that discipline involves learning glyphs from multiple disciplines and combining them together. It could best be described as learning to write long sentences using words from four or five unique languages at once!

Kara is a prodigy with glyph magic, one of the few Glyphbinders at Solyr, and since she’s the book’s protagonist, that made sense as a catchy title. As a bonus, choosing that title also introduced an excellent naming scheme for the whole trilogy. My second book (coming in December 2015) is titled Demonkin, because its main protagonist uses glyphs from that school, and the third book will be (tentatively) titled Bloodmender, as its main protagonist uses that glyph discipline.


2. Which of your characters did you find the easiest to write?

Once I’m far enough into a book, all of my characters develop their own unique voice and writing them becomes second-nature, so I wouldn’t say one character is easier than another. However, I do think Trell (a character who loses his memory under mysterious circumstances) was probably the most fun to write, simply because he got to serve as my “newcomer” character (the person everyone explains things too) and also because he got some of the best lines. Trell is a rather reserved and taciturn person, but every so often he would say something that literally made me laugh out loud while reading it.

Also, Jair was a fun character to write simply because I loved his glyph discipline (Soulmage, which involves conjuring and even allowing oneself to be possessed by the dead) and because, while he remains in the background of many scenes, I knew as the author there was a lot more going on with him than evident on the surface. So in many ways Jair operates as the tip of an iceberg (for those familiar with that writing metaphor).

3. How has the BSFS helped you to grow as a writer?

One of the things the BSFS Critique Circle does that’s unique (so far as I’ve seen) is allowing each person to read their writing out loud, at the circle, and have it critiqued immediately after. I had never encountered any critique group that did this before I started attending, but I now believe this approach improves the quality of writer critiques. In my opinion, it’s in some ways superior to the traditional “read and comment ahead of time” model, even though it takes more time.

Rather than getting feedback from people who either read my piece weeks ago (and can’t remember some of their comments) or getting feedback from someone who rushed through all the pieces at the last minute (also not useful) getting feedback immediately after my critique partners have heard the piece gives me raw first impressions, which are very useful. It’s the same mindset as a reader who just read my book! The Critique Circle’s unique approach ensures each critiquer can take the time to give good feedback, and also allows me to dig deeper into feedback that I find useful before it’s forgotten.

So, the largest way the circle has helped me improve is simply by providing a sounding board for just about anything I bring in, catching all the little logic and plot points I miss and improving each story I write. It’s also a great way to see if the ideas I’m hoping to express are coming across—essentially, if the plot in my head is remotely clear on the page. Finally, I feel like I learn as much by critiquing the work of others as I do having my own work critiqued.

 4. What advice do you have for other writers?

Write, but more importantly, exchange critiques with writers who write the same genre as you do. I operated without a critique group for many years and I only reached what I consider a “professional” level in the last few years or so. I owe the majority of this progress to my great critique partners and feel a critique group is indispensable to a writer.

Part of this is because without constant critiques (especially as a relatively new writer) you have no way of knowing what’s working and what’s not. It’s like trying to learn to code without ever attempting to run your programs. You don’t even know if they work! You can spin your wheels forever and end up with stuff that simply isn’t publishable or interesting to anyone but you. That’s what I did for many years and what too many writers still do, so I believe writers should join a critique group as soon as they decide they want to write professionally.

Yes, critiquing can be painful at the start. I remember when I first joined my Texas critique group, it would hurt every time my critique partners pointed out all the ways my beautiful, perfect story wasn’t actually beautiful or perfect. Yet once I took their advice and saw how much the story improved, the discomfort of having places I could make my stories better changed to excitement about feedback that would allow me to make them great.

As a writer, think about critiques like this. Why wouldn’t you want your story to be the best story possible? Why not take advantage of the experience and knowledge of other writers to make your own work even more amazing? Once a writer stops seeing critiques as a comment on them or their writing ability, and instead sees them as free opportunities to make their writing and stories even more awesome, I think they’re on their way to writing what most consider “professional” quality stories.

5. You write in several categories of speculative fiction. Can you discuss any challenges or benefits to this approach?

In recent years I’ve actually been experimenting not only with different genres (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery) but also with different styles of writing. For example, my adventure fantasy (such as Glyphinder) has always been relatively reserved, like much of the fantasy I read growing up. My author’s voice was there, but in the background, with most of the focus remaining on presentation of characters and action… not distinctive flourishes of prose, odd sentence structure, or humor through word choice.

By comparison, in writing my recent paranormal mystery (which I’m currently shopping around) my style is far different, using conversational prose, run on sentences, sentence fragments, word-based humor, and all sorts of elements of my author’s voice to tell the story. I wrote it after expanding my reading list to genres I’d never touched before, like traditional mysteries and thrillers (the Jack Reacher books, by Lee Child, and John Grisham’s work are great examples). This opened up a whole new style of writing I’d never considered.

So, the advice I’d offer to any author in any genre is to read things you DON’T write. After I branched out into mainstream thrillers and mysteries and really paid attention to the author’s writing styles, I was able to develop an entirely different style of writing that’s just as fun and serves my stories in a different way. Some of this has bled over into my recent fantasy and sci-fi as well… while it may only appear in small doses, it adds unique flavor that simply wasn’t there before.

Terry Brooks (one of my favorite fantasy authors) and Lee Child (one of my favorite thriller authors) write *very* differently, yet both write great fiction. So I think the biggest advantage of reading and writing multiple genres is latching onto the best elements of each genre-specific approach, and using elements of all styles as necessary in your own writing regardless of genre.

Glyphbinder Kindle version is currently on sale for $0.99

Thanks, Eric, for your hints and insight and I wish everyone a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.



Author Interview: Rob Ross

Alright, my friends,

If you’ve just sent kiddies back to school, then you know all about filling out forms.  This year I’ve filled out in quadruple because the twins kindergartened (yes, I just made that a verb).  Diana has NOT missed the bus to middle school, but she did tell me not to walk her to the bus stop anymore (insert raspberry noise).  I did, apparently, give permission for Chance to play percussion in the school band and now I have to go over to MusicLand to sign more forms to bring his kit home.  And there are Evelyn’s medical forms to figure out.  Much like a Seinfeld episode, she RECEIVED the vaccinations, we just don’t know if she KEPT the vaccinations.  You know, through 2.5 years of chemo and 20 transfusions.  Many calls exchanged between pediatrician, oncologist, and school nurse.  It will all work out.  So, while I’m dealing with that….I have a GUEST.

Rob and I connected through the beta-reading program of the Maryland Writers’ Association.  After I finished reading Juggler’s Blade, I asked him to pop by here for a chat.

Rob Niccolini 1


1)      Tell us a little about your book and the intended audience.

Juggler’s Blade is a fantasy adventure for all ages, built upon a question: what if the gift of magic marked you as damned?  The novel tells the story of Ian, a young juggler apprenticed to his uncle, who develops powers that mark him as Accursed.  Hunted by the immortal Heralds, he is take underground by other Accursed with the ability to manipulate the forces of shadow, motion, cold and even gravity itself.  Forced to live as a thief, Ian learns to harness his blasphemous powers, and is ultimately given the chance to strike back at the Heralds, and to expose their thousand year old lie.

Juggler's Blade Cover


2)      What made you want to write Juggler’s Blade?

I have been writing since I was in high school, and have loved fantasy and science fiction even longer.  Over the years, I have written several novels, and was lucky enough to win a few awards through the Maryland Writer’s Association, but Juggler’s Blade is the first book I felt strongly enough about to try publishing.


3)      What 1-2 things surprised you about the publishing process?

The entire process (from seeking an agent to talking with publishers to editing) can be difficult, and is definitely not for the faint of heart.  Most surprising for me, though, is what comes after publication.  I was under the naïve assumption that, after having your book published, readers would just magically appear (sort of a “if you write it, they will come” belief).  The truth is that trying to build interest in your book is hard work, and a career unto itself.


4)      Did you already have a platform in place?  What are you doing to build a readership?

My publisher helped me with ideas for my website, as well as with getting my book on,, and several other sites.  Since epublication in June of this year, I have also moved onto goodreads, and have been reviewed by several fantasy/science fiction blogs, as well as a number of fantasy writers I know.  But it’s definitely a slow and on-going process.


5)      What are your future plans with Ian and the world you’ve created?

I am already well into the planned sequel to Juggler’s Blade, called Juggler’s Oath.  Ultimately, I hope to complete the trilogy in Juggler’s Crown.  I know how the story ends, but getting there is what takes the time!


6)      Best piece(s) of advice that you’ve received as a writer?

John Steinbeck once admitted that, even after a long career as a Nobel prize winning writer, starting a story still scared him to death.  I always try to remember that when I’m confronted with the terror of a blank page.  That, and the words of the great Ray Bradbury: “You fail only if you stop writing.”


7)      Something personal about you that readers would be surprised to know?

I’m a practicing attorney in DC, specializing in employment litigation, with over 20 jury trials under my belt.  I’m also a member of the Society of American Magicians.  Most of the magic I do, however, is for children through my church, as well as some volunteer performances at local Hospitals and organizations.


Thanks, Rob, for stopping by.  His book is available at Amazon and I wish him luck as he continues writing this exciting trilogy.


Have a wonderful weekend!!!!!


Those Crazy Germans…

Part of being a convincing actor or writer is understanding not only character motivation, but WHERE that character is coming from — both internally and externally.  It may not seem like much, but these details can make your art authentic in a way that glibly using stereotypes never will.  For example, my mother gave me a glass pickle as a Christmas ornament.  There was a note card attached with a story about how Germans all have a pickle ornament and hide it on their Christmas tree every year.  More than just a family tradition, this was a NATIONAL TRADITION.  Only problem?  None of my German au pairs had heard of this.  None of my German friends.  Not even the weird guy at my post office who occasionally speaks German to me.  Myth #1 DEBUNKED.  Here’s some real differences as outlined by my friend Isabel Florian.

Izzy is uniquely qualified to comment on differences because she is fluent in both languages, has attended college in both countries, and has created a life in both places, switching back and forth at will.

    Izzy blog pic

We first met “Aunt Izzy” when she worked as an au pair for us in 2009.  Since that year she has been back twice for extended visits.  Here are her every day observations:

I grew up in a small town in the far south-west of Germany. It’s only a 10min drive to France and my dad drives to Switzerland everyday for work. So I grew up knowing that  things work differently in other countries. However, knowing that and actually experiencing it are “two different pairs of shoes” as we would say in German.

I hope you will all enjoy reading this, no matter if you are German or American. I might have exaggerated a little sometimes, but be assured that I don’t want to offend anyone with this. I love them both – Germany and the US!!

  1. 1.    Birthdays: Let’s say it is Wednesday and next Tuesday is gonna be your birthday. You’re at work, the gym, the mall or where ever you like to spend time and you run into a friend. Here is what you think if you are….

….American: “Oh cool, I haven’t seen that dude in a while!! Maybe I should invite him to my birthday party this weekend? Celebrating on my actual birthday would’ve been nice for a change. But this weekend was just so much more convenient and who even cares if it’s a little early?! As if something could happen – haha!! Look at that, he remembered that it’s only a few days until my birthday and congratulated me. I’ll totally invite him to the party, it’ll be a blast!!”

….German: “Oh cool, I haven’t seen that dude in a while!! Wait, I think he knows that it’s gonna be my birthday soon. Don’t wish me a happy birthday!! DON’T!!!! It is not my birthday yet!! Something terrible will probably happen if you do!!!! Aaaaah!! Oh, good thing he remembered to make sure to ask first if it already was my birthday. I’ll invite him to my birthday party in two weeks. This weekend would’ve been so much better, but there’s no way I’ll ever celebrate before the actual day!!”

2. Chips (and BBQs): No matter if Lays or Chio, they come in all kinds of flavors and are an all time favorite in both the US and Germany. Yet they’re treated very differently….

 America: “We’re gonna have a BBQ later. Ribs, Hot Dogs, Cheeseburgers – can’t wait!! Let’s check what we got here – potatoes…, lettuce….screw that. Oh yeah and chips. That’s perfect for a BBQ (and lunch)!! I gotta remember to go to the store though  tomorrow to get something for movie night…. maybe popcorn? Or nachos?”

Germany: “We’re gonna have a BBQ later. Steak, all those different sausages and grilled feta cheese – can’t wait!! Let’s check what we got here – nothing but chips. Not like they’re gonna help me with a BBQ!! At least that’s perfect for movie night. But now I better go to the store and get some potatoes and lettuce so I can fix some salads for the BBQ (and lunch)!!”

3. Staying/Leaving: You’re at the movies and just saw a really good film. Or you’re at a restaurant and just had a great dinner. Different location, same reaction. If you are…


….German you will stay in your seat. The thing was great. Why get up and leave right away? Then it’ll be over. It’s been great, so you should totally keep sitting for a while and savor it. What’s the rush anyways?!

….American you will get out of your seat. Immediately. The thing was great. But it’s over now so what’s the point of staying anyways?! It’s not like anything else will happen.

4. Bumping into people: You’re at the grocery store and you’re concentrating on picking out one of the thousands of tooth paste flavors. (You’re wondering why there are so many different flavors, a total of 5 would be more than enough for you.) But anyways, you’re standing there thinking about nothing but toothpaste when a random stranger, bumps into you. As….


….an American YOU say sorry even though the other person ran into you. (They’ll probably apologize, too.)

….a German you stare at them until THEY apologize. (And if they don’t you mutter something under your breath about how rude people are nowadays – just loud enough so you can be sure the person who ran into you can hear you. A glare always helps, too.)


5. Silverware: No hot meal without the help of fork, knife and spoon. Right?! If you are….


….German you don’t really need the spoon. Well, except for soup maybe. But other than that there is no food you can’t and won’t eat without a fork and a knife.

Pizza, salad, mashed potatoes,… you can and have eaten all of them with a fork and a knife. Ever since you we’re a kid. And you will keep doing it!! Why else would silverware even have been invented?!

….American you don’t really need the knife. Well, except to cut meat maybe. But other than that you can eat every food with only a fork or a spoon. What the heck – if you’re not at a restaurant you can just put your meat on the fork and take bites of it (at least if you’re under 16). What’s the big deal?! You’ve done that ever since you we’re a kid and you’ll keep doing it. Why did God give you ten fingers anyways?!?

6. Socks: Everybody wears them, no one really thinks about them. But….


….if you are German there is absolutely no way that you would ever pull your socks any higher then to the top of your shoes. If you know nothing else about fashion – for you that is the ultimate fashion faux-pas. Socks should never be seen!! (Except maybe you’re older than 35. Then apparently something seems to change and for some weird reason you decide that it’s okay to wear socks with sandals.)

….if you are American (especially if you’re a guy) you pull up your socks as high as you possibly can. It doesn’t matter that you’re wearing shorts and that it’s summer and 100F/37C outside – you pull those socks all the way up to your knees. That’s how they were made and that’s how you wear them. (But under no circumstance you would ever wear them with sandals!!)


7. Summer heat: It is summer and it’s hot. Could there be a better place to spend time than the pool, the lake or the beach? If you are…


….American your air-conditioned house is a where you feel best in the heat. But you can’t stay inside all day long, so you pack everything up and go swimming. If you’re a girl and younger than 16 you’ll probably wear a one-piece. Maybe even a swim shirt, also if you’re a boy. That way you don’t even need sunscreen. You swim for a little while but when it’s going towards the late afternoon you can’t wait to get back to the coolness of your air-conditioned house.

….German you got up early in the morning to close all the windows so the nights coolness won’t be pushed away by the outside heat. You decide to go swimming. On the way there you stop by the store to get something but you try to get out of there as fast as you can, because you’re just too cold with the air-conditioning running. At the pool you’ll probably where a bikini, no matter how old you are. If you’re an adult and you try to get a nice tan it’s totally okay to sunbathe topless. Swim shirts? Only surfers wear those. You stay as long as you can. At home it’s hot too and here there’s at least the water where you can cool down.

Do you agree with Izzy’s observations?  Comment below and let us know.

Author Interview: Amanda Hart Miller

Amanda Hart Miller’s debut children’s book SUPERDYLAN AND THE POWERS OF JUST RIGHT came out in July 2013.  My kids have reviewed the book and it’s HILARIOUS.  She has graciously agreed to be interviewed.

Amanda’s previous credits include short stories and poetry.  You can read more about her publishing experience at:  Find SUPERDYLAN at in both print and kindle editions.

Post a comment in the section below and you’ll automatically be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right.

coverAmanda Hart Miller

1)      Tell us a little about the book and the intended audience.

Like most children’s books, SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right has a dual audience. Since early reader chapter books are usually tandem-read by a parent and child, a good book needs to entertain both readers and encourage discussion. SuperDylan is narrated by 5 year old Dylan, and his insight comes straight from my own sons’ interpretations of the world around them. Dylan is trying to find his place as the middle child in his family–he doesn’t know as much as his older sister, and he’s not allowed to get away with as much as his baby brother. When his baby brother shows up with a superhero cape like Dylan’s, Dylan goes on a crusade to prove his brother isn’t a true superhero. After a few mishaps and a rescue mission, Dylan learns what it means to be “just right.”

2)      What made you want to write SuperDylan?

The current market offers a lot of great chapter book series for boys, but most of these books are either for a slightly older audience (like the Wimpy Kid series) or they are based on fantasy (like the Magic Tree House series). I was surprised to find a dearth of early reader chapter books that use humor to explore real family situations.

 3)      What surprised you about the publishing process?

I’ve been very pleased, and perhaps a little surprised, by the ease of the self-publishing process. It takes less than a half hour to “self-publish” a book. However, the most important part of the publishing process, whether you’re self-publishing or going the route of traditional publishing, is the first step: create something good. That’s the step that can take years. Then you just have to believe in your product and do what’s necessary to get it into readers’ hands.

4)      Did you already have a platform in place?  What are you doing to build a readership?

I’m lucky to live in Hagerstown, MD, a community that supports its authors. My local newspaper, the Herald Mail, is running a profile on the book, and several local bookstores have contacted me about selling the book and hosting readings. I’m also lucky to have a strong online network of fellow writers, readers, and parents. I’m thrilled to be here at TasteofSherri and I hope to visit a few other blogs in the next few weeks.

5)      What are your future plans with SuperDylan?

Grant and I are already at work on the second book, SuperDylan and the Night Horse, which we are hoping to release in time for Halloween. As Dylan’s family prepares to move to their new home, Dylan is troubled by nightmares about making new friends. After receiving some unique advice from his big sister, he works to control his nightmare (Night Horse) and use it to his advantage. The first SuperDylan book is a story about sibling rivalry and identity; this second book focuses on self-confidence, positive thinking, and imagination.

6)      Best piece(s) of advice that you’ve received as a writer?

I recently read an article entitled “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge.”

It breaks the writing process into 4 stages, and I can’t stress how much this article rang true to me. So many people either let their amazing ideas be silenced by their inner critic, or they go to the other extreme and feel like whatever they write first should make it into the final draft. By the final draft, I’ve usually cut about 80% of what my “Madman” writes, but if I never let him write it in the first place, I’d never have the fodder I need to create the final product.

Amanda, thank you so much for stopping by!