by Jesse Cole Jackson

John Towler wears a couple of different creative hats. As an author he writes in a variety of John Towlergenres, but prefers Science Fiction and Fantasy. As a videographer he writes, films, produces and edits a variety of segments from Public Service Announcements to Documentaries. His day job as a police detective pays the bills and frequently provides fodder for his fiction.
His favorite authors are John D. McDonald, Larry McMurtry and George R.R. Martin. For examples of his video work he recommends his documentary on local lifeguards.


You mention in your bio that you typically write speculative fiction, but “Punch Buggy” is pretty far from SFF. What inspired you to write this story?

With the exception of the annual string-of-ten contest held by FFC I had done very little creative writing since becoming an editor with Every Day Fiction. That was a five year drought I was coming off of! You’d think slipping back into a SFF-genre story would be the easy path but I can tell you from experience as a writer and from reading hundreds of SFF submissions that SFF in a flash format is tough to pull off. You must introduce sufficient world-building narrative to create that SFF environment without going overboard and still give your story characters the reader can relate to. In addition, I was aiming to write a “targeted” piece for the 4th of July (EDF is always looking for targeted stories for special dates like the 4th, Thanksgiving, Bajram, Passover and what have you). So, I went with a coming-of-age sort of piece that is usually easier to relate to and from the reception I guess I pushed the right buttons for a number of readers.


What is your typical writing process like? How do you come up with your ideas? Do you have any rituals or superstitions attached to your writing process?

Let me first say that the writing-advice/tips/suggestions that appear in the pages of FFC from people like Gay, Walt, Rumjhum, and Jim (just to name a few) have been invaluable in helping develop a process that works for me. I’ve taken bits and pieces of their wisdom and found what fits with my “writing personality”. First, I do best when I have the finish line in mind. So often I think of the end of my story then figure out how to get there. I am not one of those writers who can spew a first draft onto the page then go back and shape the raw material into something more refined. I write and polish as I go along. My “first draft” is usually fairly presentable, but like all first drafts, it’s far from ready for submission. One of the most important habits I’ve developed is the patience to walk away from the manuscript, let it marinate a few days, then revisit it and read it with “fresh” eyes. Inevitably I’ll catch mistakes or figure out ways to communicate with the reader more effectively. I’ll do this until I feel the manuscript is ready to release into the world.

Most of my ideas come when my brain is in a kind of idle mode, just toying around with things going on in my life or stuff happening in the world. I hate it when ideas come when I’m trying to to go sleep because then I have to jot a note somewhere lest I forget them. I don’t know how many stories I’ve lost thinking “oh, I’ll remember that in the morning.”

I don’t have any rituals or superstitions, but I have a very hard time writing when there are distractions (ie. somebody else in the room) or when I don’t have a block of time set aside for focusing on writing. If I have a half hour to kill before an appointment, I can’t just shift into a writing mood and hammer out some prose.


I believe that until recently you were a long-time editor at Every Day Fiction. How did reading and working with your peers’ words impact your own writing?

Yes. I was an editor for just over 5 years at EDF. It was a good run and I know I’m a much better writer today for that experience, but the main reason I left EDF was that I just could not shift gears and write fiction on a consistent basis while I had that editorial hat on.

We’ve had some very sharp minds lend their talents to EDF’s editorial staff and so I was constantly gaining insight through their comments on the stories submitted to the magazine. I saw what worked and didn’t work in stories we reviewed and I’ve been trying to keep those lessons in mind for the stories I submit to EDF.


I loved the juxtaposition of violence in “Punch Buggy”–the giant reaction to the accidental too-hard punch against the quiet, near-acceptance of the domestic abuse happening between James’ parents. Were you hoping for a particular reaction from your readers to these somewhat similar (but also vastly different) situations? Was there any specific reason you wanted to explore these two different violences?

This is a little bit of my day job as a police officer peeking through in my fiction. I have worked with countless victims (many prefer the term “survivors”) of domestic violence and too many of them have been children. I’ve been a cop 20 years now and so I’ve seen kids that I met early in my career grow up and become adults. One thing being in that environment does is age you beyond your years. But too many of them have been altered in other negative ways by their childhood experiences and they are now either DV offenders themselves or they’ve followed other destructive paths that involve drugs and alcohol. But a few of them have seen a bigger picture and realized they do not want to turn out like their mom or dad and they have become what I guess you’d call “model citizens.”

In the story, James is one of those sorts of kids. He sees a bigger picture than his peers, a world-view shaped by his experiences at home. It doesn’t necessarily make for a happy ending–he doesn’t get the girl, after all–but he makes a decision based on an unusual maturity for his age.

The juxtaposition of the violence, the punch during the game vs. the domestic violence in James’ home, was done to (hopefully) elicit a thought on the reader’s part about where we draw certain lines. Clearly, James’ parents physical violence would unacceptable to most people but how did most people react to the punch in the game? Karl’s response was very much in line with how domestic violence offenders often react: not a sincere apology for the assault, but trying to either downplay it or make it sound like an overreaction on the victim’s part. So who does the reader feel sorry for? Does the reader see TKarl as a likeable lunkhead or a bit of a brute? Do you feel sympathy for Liz or is she just pissing and moaning?


Would you talk a little bit about your favorite authors? What draws you to their work? Do you find inspiration in their pages?

John D. McDonald is one of my all-time favorite authors. He writes with incredible eloquence and even in some of his not-so-great stories you could use up an entire highlighter on the prose that stands out. Larry McMurtry creates the most vivid characters. Whether Gus and Woodrow from Lonesome Dove or Sonny from The Last Picture Show, his characters are always memorable and bigger-than-life. George R.R. Martin for his imagination and the audacity of his work. Things happen in his stories that make you squirm and he doesn’t mince words


What projects are you currently working on? Could you point readers to other stories, either forthcoming or already published?

Between my day-job in the cop world, my second job as a videographer, and my main job as a father and husband, I am only finding time to squeeze out a story for Every Day Fiction on a regular schedule. Over the years I’ve finished three novels and have one more about 3/4 done that I need to get back to polishing and finishing. I know none are ready for prime-time yet. All my other stories were published pre-2010 so they may be floating around out there or not. I will drop a little spoiler and say I’m going to be trying to do something with my EDF stories that I don’t think has been attempted before. If I get another story-of-the-month recognition, I’ll drop another hint.


Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she buildsJessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150 costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at

by RK Biswas

Pamela Painter, the adjudicator of the 9th Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest, in her
introduction to the prize-winning book, says: “Rosie Forrest’s
Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan evokes a startling, often dark, self-contained world. And each intriguing title sets a new tale into motion, unspooling with a mysterious languid intensity.”

Two points of note here, which immediately give an insight into the chapbook. First, “self-Ghost Boxcontained world,” and second, “intriguing title.” Rosie Forrest’s tightly woven stories are independent microcosms that begin to move from the story titles themselves. Taken as a whole they resemble polished spheres in the firmament. When you draw back, after scrutinizing each (and each story calls for close attention), you can see a larger pattern. Much like an astronomer’s figure of constellations. Or a child’s join-the-dots activity book. The latter comes to mind, because the protagonists of each tale are children and adolescents.

In the first story, Bless This Home, “something is forbidden,” and therefore “the four winds conspire like a pack of wolves.” A young girl at odds with her mother and her mother’s lover defies rules set down (by her mother) both for her and the tenant. But is she really being defiant or is her behavior an imitative response? And who does she really want to share her “brokenness” with?

In the second, the title story in the chapbook, a disquieting scene unfolds where innocence is supposed to run free. Three boys claim three abandoned box stores, creating rules about play, about use of play-space. This “space exceeded them, billowing against cinder blocks. It was hollow inside and this hollowness dwarfed their ruddy boyhood…” Space they create with their boyish imaginations, but end up diminishing their childhood.

The third story, Moonbone, is about siblings, Forrest’s own Hansel and Gretel, except that in hers, it is the girl who tries to show her angry older brother the way. A tender story of two lost children (lost, because of who and also what they have lost), and a grim, but benign mother (as against the evil stepmother of the fairytale) and the woods. Something shines, though, not a white pebble or stone, but a “moon bone,” something they must “never let go.”

In Where We Off To, Lulu Bee? A rather ridiculous scene unfolds around a mother with an age-wise inappropriate gift for her daughter. Except for one thing, the underlying pathos, which bring forth a wince; not a smile. The fifth story We’ll Go No More A Rowing has two friends from two distinctly dysfunctional families hiding away in an abandoned Church, with sinister possibilities.

Unmoored is one of the longer stories with a longer narrative arc. It’s a heartbreaking story, because the protagonist, a little boy, doesn’t know what the reader understands straightaway. The child tries to make sense, create new relationships, but in that still boat, he “feels naked, like a thrift store trinket on display.” Paper /Boy is an unusual story, more for its format than style.  On the surface a boy has written a note to a girl he likes. But the paper knows more about his actual thoughts than she will ever know, and like a mischievous ally lets us have a peak. What Happened On Wednesdays (As Told By Someone Who Probably wasn’t There) is a story about a game, a ghastly game, so cruelly adult that only the wild imaginations of children could think it up and make the rules. The sinister element begins from the title itself and doesn’t let go even after the story is told.

Gun Moll appears to be a make believe game carried over from Halloween, but its effects last far longer than normal. The Field, A Religion is a poignantly beautiful history of two families, one usurped from its home and the other not quite the usurper. Taps is about three adolescents in the snow, in the cold, on the shore of a frozen lake, but three is a crowd. Possum Kingdom is a story of two young girls who are sent to spend a summer with a distant relative and his wife, a couple living in impecunious circumstances, and how they cope with their disappointment. The last story He Showed Us a Road, is a touching, and yet also almost brutal picture of escape. It is at once every child’s nightmare and dream. One cannot help but wonder if our own parents too “had held opposite ends of a rope, and moved about…ensuring a taut line.”

The sentences in this collection are sharp. Chiseled to impale poems. There are recurring motifs and images, like lake and grass, road, and children left to fend for themselves, find their way through or back, which form a subliminal link between stories. One can read a story and then sit down with it and contemplate, at times returning to retrieve a meaning not observed at first. Like poetry, these prose pieces unfurl layer by layer. Projecting pictures in the air between eye and book. The pictures are not always clear. Often I felt the need to peer closely, and came away frustrated. There is an elusive quality to many of the stories, adding to their already weighty mystery. This is not a chapbook one can or should run through. The stories demand keen readers; those who are willing to give back to the narratives, sift them in their heads and make something new of the characters and the situations. And finally I am left with a quiet breathless feeling, as if I have been there and come back with the burrs of certain truths clinging on to me.

*          *          *


RK Biswas’s novel Culling Mynahs and Crows was published by Lifi Publications, India in January 2014. Authorspress, India published her short story collection—Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women—in December. Another story collection from Lifi Publications, New Delhi is due out in mid 2015. Biswas’s short fiction and poetry have been published in journals and anthologies, both in print and online, all over the world. Her poem Cleavage was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2006 and also was a finalist in the Aesthetica Contest in 2010. In 2007, her storyAhalya’s Valhalla was among Story South’s notable stories of the net. Her poem Bones was a Pushcart Nominee from Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010. In 2012 she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest. She blogs at

Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats.  He holds Christopher Owen FFC
a degree in English  from the University of Texas system and has been
writing since childhood.  He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writing Program.  After retiring from a long career in aviation, he now writes full time.  His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Mirror Dance, New Myths and many other places.  Other than writing, his interests include cooking, photography, filmmaking, video editing, homebrewing, playing guitar, world travel, skiing and hanging out with cats.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  To begin: why a cigarette?


Cigarettes appear in A Cigarette for Lester because of the story’s origins in reality.  When I was a kid in the 70s my grandfather did live in a nursing home, and there was this old man residing there who always asked you for a cigarette.  That’s as far as the reality goes, though, but when I sat down to write one day, that memory popped into my head, so I decided to turn it into a story.  In the original draft, the story was about nothing more than the kid sneaking off and giving Lester what he wanted, a cigarette.  But through various rewrites the cigarette became a symbol, maybe even a totem representing forbidden fruit to both Lester and the kid.  The kid sort of takes a chance stealing the smokes from his dad, and thus he both pulls himself up into the adult world briefly, and brings a bit of it back for Lester, who is now an outcast from that world.  Initially the kid didn’t get caught and the ending was pretty flat, but through rewrites (via editorial suggestions from Every Day Fiction) I managed to ramp up the dramatic tension by having the nurse catch the kid and Lester smoking.  This also allowed me to bring the father back into the story, first with anger toward his son, but then having him do what possibly no father would do nowadays: give his young son a cigarette.  Thus at the end of the story the cigarette continued to have meaning as a sort of rite of passage between father and son.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  One of my favorite aspects of “A Cigarette for Lester” is the frustration running through the story. The frustration of the other people that Lester only says one word; Lester’s frustration at only wanting one thing in life and being denied it. Was that an intentional goal for the story? Did you have specific things you set out to do?

I usually just free write when I begin a story, sort of let it go where it wants to.  Then through rewrites I try to add depth and meaning.  In the initial draft, when the kid gives Lester the cigarette, Lester just spouted a bunch of senile old man gibberish.  But this felt quite flat to me.   Having Lester become coherent while he smoked may be a bit unrealistic, but I believe that such a thing is a possibility–a familiar object drawing out cohesive thoughts for a moment.  It also gave the story a great deal more depth, rounded out Lester as a character, and perhaps emphasized that people like Lester, despite being institutionalized, still have some life to live.  I think institutions like nursing homes have the best of intentions at heart, but in the name of healthy living they deny people things that make such a life bearable.  Some of the things that make life worth living are not always the best things for us, but they can be part of a rich and rewarding life, whether they be a drink and a smoke or the danger of climbing a hazardous mountain.  My own father spent his final months in a cancer hospice where he couldn’t drink or smoke, and I’ve always thought that, with his death immanent and unstoppable, denying him those things was unnecessary.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  What is your writing space like? Do you have any habits or rituals that you must do in order to write? What’s your typical process like?

I have two writing spaces.  The first is my office, which is cluttered to the gills with books and notepads and files and pictures and a lots of places for one of our cats to hang out.  I’ll straighten it out and that lasts for about a day, then the clutter returns, but I seem to work well with clutter.  I work there in the mornings, and in the afternoons I’ll move to my second space, taking my laptop outside for a change of scenery, and perhaps a cigar now and then while I work.  As to rituals, I really have none, but I have a few techniques that I use to get going when I don’t have a story in mind.  Some of them include taking five random words from the dictionary and seeing how they associate, seeing if by linking them I can form the kernel of a story.  I also sometimes listen to music, and sometimes the words of a certain song or just its music will inspire a story.  I’ve got over ten thousand songs on my iPod, so lots of possibilities there.  I think at least three of my stories up at Every Day Fiction were inspired by songs.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  If you were stuck in an institution, what would you hope someone would bring you?

Like most people, I hope to never end up in a nursing home or similar, but I guess if I were there, I’d want what the kid and the dad brought the grandfather, a visit.  I wouldn’t turn down the beer and smokes, though.

Jessi Cole Jackson:  What are you reading? Who are some of your influences/favorite authors?


Reading is very important to me, and I try to read for at least an hour every morning before I start my writing day.  If you read any book on writing, or listen to a successful writer speak, they’ll tell you that reading is very important to the craft of writing; you really can’t write well without reading a lot.  Luckily, I love to read and my reading interests are all across the board.  I read a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy because I like it and also because I write a great deal in that genre.  Some of my favorites of that ilk are Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Tad Williams, Anne McCaffrey, Theodora Goss, George R.R. Martin, Pat Cadigan, Robert V.S. Redick, Tim Powers (particularly The Anubis Gates and Last Call), and of course my favorite writer, John Crowley (Little, Big, The Aegypt Cycle, etc) who I was fortunate enough to have as a writing teacher at Yale.  Some of my mainstream favorites include Joanne Harris (Chocolat, Coastliners, Holy Fools, etc), Kurt Vonnegut, John Gardner, Raymond Carver and many others.  I also revisit the classics a great deal.  Hemingway is one of my favorites (and one of my heroes), as is Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Aristophanes and Homer.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  On your blog and in your bio you mention attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop. What were some of your favorite aspects of the workshop? How did it help you improve your writing? Would you recommend Odyssey or other workshops to beginning writers?

Odyssey was at times a grueling, soul-crushing experience, but it was well worth it.  I would recommend it for anyone who has been writing for a while and seriously wants to take things to the next level.  It’s sort of a six week long writing boot camp, but it is amazing to spend that much time dedicating yourself solely to your craft.  It features a rotating staff of top flight writers and editors (some past instructors have included George R.R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Elizabeth Bear, Gary Braunbeck, John Joseph Adams) that bring a great deal to the experience, but the heart and soul of Odyssey is its director, Jeanne Cavelos.  Jeanne is a writer but she is also an editor (she won the World Fantasy Award for her work at Bantam Doubleday Dell, and is nominated for another this year for the Odyssey Workshop itself).  Being taught writing by an editor is an immensely valuable experience, and Jeanne knows more about the craft of writing and storytelling than anyone I’ve ever met.   I learned more about the nuts and bolts of writing in those six weeks than I did in the thirty some-odd years I’d been trying to write beforehand.  As for beginners, Odyssey really isn’t a beginner workshop.  It is, like the Clarion Workshop, highly competitive to get in, based upon writing samples and an interview, but for intermediate writers, it is often a fast track to success.  Odyssey graduates have gone on to win or be nominated for Hugos, Nebulas and World Fantasy Awards, and some have ended up on the New York Times Best Sellers List.  You’ll also end up being a part of an ongoing writing community that offers lots of support and encouragement.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  What projects are you currently working on? Could you point readers to other stories of yours, either forthcoming or published?

I’ve got almost forty stories published, from short flash fiction like my stories at Every Day Fiction to longer works, including a few Novelettes and Novellas.  My blog has a publications page with links to many of them.  I’m currently working on a few different novels, and I sort of switch back and forth between which one I’m working on to keep from getting burnt out.  These include Faith, a mainstream novel about the romantic relationship between an atheist and the very religious daughter of a televangelist; a science fiction novel,Behavior, about an unorthodox rehabilitation method in the future; and a fantasy novel, The Fairies of Maine, which follows the supernatural exploits of a group of people at an inn in Maine during the week of Midsummer’s Eve.  Finally I’ve got a Civil War novel called Fentress that is based on some of my own ancestors that I learned about during genealogical research.  So, obviously I’ve got enough to keep me busy for a while.  I still try to write short fiction as well, and I’m deeply in love with flash fiction.  I think I’ll always write flash, as I love the format, and the way one can craft an entire tale in a single sitting.   I’m infinitely grateful to Every Day Fiction for providing a venue to feature so much of it.


Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she buildsJessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150 costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at

by Jessi Cole Jackson

Steven L. Peck

Steven L. Peck is a university biology professor and teaches classes on ecology, evolution, and the consciousness of the human mind. He has published over 50 scientific articles. Creative works include three novels with mainstream publishers, including  A Short Stay in Hell and the magical realism novel The Scholar of Moab, published by Torrey House Press and named AML’s best novel of 2011 and a Montaigne Medal Finalist (national award given for most thought-provoking book).  He has been published in Abyss & Apex, Analog (Fact Article), Daily Science Fiction, Journal of Unlikely EntomologyNature Futures, Pedestal Magazine, Perihelion, and many others.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind “Tales from Pleasant Grove”? 

Pleasant Grove is the small town in central Utah where I live, and it is so ordinary as to be rather unexciting sometimes. I began to imagine short vignettes about a much stranger city. I wanted a Pleasant Grove that was weirder and more exciting. I started writing these down, and soon I had an entire collection of Pleasant Grove stories that portrayed a world where anything could happen. I tried to keep the small town feel, but mixed it with far more magic and adventure.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  What is your typical writing process look like? How do you come up with your ideas? Do you have any rituals or superstitions attached to your writing sessions? 

That’s a great question. I usually try to write at night at a given time, but I have to admit I’m not very consistent. Sometimes, though, especially when I’m really excited about a story, it takes over my life and I can’t put it down. Usually, so much that I’ll lay awake at night running through the story in my head. Several times this has produced new characters or even new plot lines.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  I love the details of your story. They are specific and telling, making each moment feel real and immediate. At the same time, your protagonist is an everyman who could stand in for any one of us. Do you think most people would swap out their fears, or be like Hal, comfortable with the devil(s) they know?

Steven L. Peck: I think I’d be more the Hal type. I like the devils I know. And there is a slight streak of superstition that runs through me whenever there is a change, for example when I have to change seats on an airplane there’s always this discomfort that I’m not where I was supposed to be. I don’t take it too seriously (I’m a scientist after all), but it’s still there putting a little pressure on something that really is silly to worry about.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  Is there a fear you would get rid of? Which jar would you choose to take its place? 

Steven L. Peck:  I wish I could lose the fear of pickpockets. I travel a lot, and I have this irrational fear I’ll get pickpocketed. I never have been, but I’m always on the lookout. It’s completely crazy. It’s almost as if I think pickpockets are magical beings that can get through any defense and that I’m helpless to their tricks. I’d take a jar with some fear I was absolutely sure that I was never going to run into, like a fear of deep sea angel fish that live so far down in the ocean depths that my chances of ever running into one are almost non-existent! (But as the story shows, these things have a way of backfiring).


Jessi Cole Jackson:  The voice of your protagonist is very distinct. Did you work on cultivating his voice or did it come to you? Do you do anything to ‘find’ your characters? 

Steven L. Peck:  It seems to me that it’s almost as if my characters find me. They just appear whole-cloth as if we meet by accident. One of my novels (The Scholar of Moab) was about an ordinary kid working in the mountains for a geology company. I didn’t expect it, but one day in my mind’s eye a conjoined-twin cowboy road up and started talking to my main character. It changed the entire book, and I never saw it coming. Characters are like that when I write. They seem to exist almost independently of me and I am only a kind of medium that encourages their visit from another world.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  I’m always interested in what people do when they’re not writing. You’re a scientist, philosopher, and professor, correct? Where’s the intersection between those passions and fiction for you? 

Steven L. Peck:  It seems funny to say, but in being a scientist and a philosopher of science I’ve found that my imagination the most critical talent I have. I’ve always loved discovering things, and I’ve found that the real art of good science is the ability to ask the right questions. The hard part of science is looking at the world and trying to discover what’s the next question to ask. Answering them is usually the easier part. Find good questions and discoveries follow. I think it is the same in fiction. Asking questions of our characters and settings are what set up the magic that follows. Trying to see what motivates them and what situations will best draw out the question you are exploring in your fiction, I think are the hardest parts of all. I honestly believe that my being a fiction writer and a scientist really play on the same strength.


Jessi Cole Jackson:  What projects are you currently working on? Could you point readers to other stories of yours, either forthcoming or published? 

 Steven L. Peck:  A lot of my previously published short fiction can be found on my website, including my Daily Science Fiction short story and myNature Futures story, including a number of others. In addition to the collection of Pleasant Grove stories I’m working on (and my hope to find a publisher soon!), I have a book of short stories coming out later this summer, called Wandering Realities, published by Zarahemla Press, which I’m very excited about. It’s about one half speculative fiction and half literary fiction. My most popular book is A Short Stay in Hell and a volume of short stories set in the Hell of this novel is going to be published soon as well (with one by me, too!). It’s got some best selling horror writers contributing (I’d name them but contracts have not been finalized—watch my website for news). The book also is going to be made into a full-length feature film by David Spaltro (Director of the just released horror film, In the Dark) and filming starts at the end of this year. I’ve also got a couple of novels I’m putting the final touches on and hope to start shopping them soon. One is a follow-up to my book, The Scholar of Moab, called Gilda Trillim: The Shepherdess of Rats, and the other a young adult fantasy called, The Airships of Gumpta.



Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at

by Jessi Cole Jackson


Brian Toups lives part time on Earth, part time in the multiverse of fantasy. When not telling stories, he enjoys meeting new characters, both real and imaginary, and counts Aragorn, Kvothe, Pi Patel, and St. Thomas Aquinas among his confidants. He has a background in philosophy and quotes Aristotle frequently, to the dismay of his few devoted friends. His favorite sport is Ultimate Frisbee.

Jessi Cole Jackson: Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind “The Unwinnable Fight“? Do you have experience with soldiers coming back from war?

Brian Toups: I’ve often been told: write what you know. Never having been a soldier myself, I focused primarily on the emotions and memories I have in common with the main character, Isaac. I also relied heavily on the experiences of friends and family. My uncle Joe served in WWII with a glider division. It was a hard job because mid 20th century gliders would often lose wings and crash into forests. They were called flying coffins. My uncle Francis served with the marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima. I have also paid close attention to the stories of my peers who are currently in Berlin, Baghdad, and Okinawa.

The bit in “The Unwinnable Fight” about Isaac painting C-130s with a tiny paintbrush is real. I’m told, when a marine’s paint sprayer breaks, he or she just keeps on painting.

JCJ: You mentioned in an email you’re primarily a speculative fiction author, what drew you to Isaac and this literary story in particular?

BT: It’s true, most of the stories I write are speculative fiction, and I feel at home in that genre. I knew it would be difficult to write a literary story, but I never realized how much it would stretch my imagination. Every time I wanted to introduce immortal gods or a few good-natured dragons into the plot, I had to resist.

Some say that returning-from-war stories are worn out as an old combat boot. I wanted to write a story that treated a character, not so much as a soldier, but as a man and a son. The story, as a result, does not have much to do with the war itself. In a lot of ways, it’s easier for Isaac to risk his life overseas than risk his masculinity and his emotions facing his father. He prefers to serve and follow orders, rather than traverse the truly dangerous terrain of his own insecurities and his mother’s absence, the ever-present lack that deceives him into thinking he has no home.

JCJ: Would you tell me a little about your writing process?

BT: I always start with a character. It’s usually something vague at first, like a name or an odd habit or unusual job. In this story, I started with Isaac. At first, he was just a guy standing on a sidewalk with a bag over his shoulder. He looked more like a runaway than a soldier. Next, I figured out who he was and what he wanted, and then I went from there. Isaac’s identity as a soldier has shaped him profoundly, but not so much as his identity as a son.

JCJ: According to your blog, you’re going on a roadtrip at the end of the summer! Where are you headed? What’re you most looking forward to on your trip?

BT: I’ve spent the last four autumns in Tallahassee, FL studying creative writing. I’m excited to wake up in a different city every day and write. Changing places, seasons, and faces always get me inspired. I write every day, no matter how poorly, but when I’m traveling the quality of my work is much better.

I am ready to be spontaneous with this trip, so my current destination is west of here, the obvious limitation being the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of friends and family along the way to keep me sane.

As a writer, sometimes I feel burdened with glorious purpose and think I have something meaningful and profound to offer the world. Other times I realize, with no small measure of humility, I am just making things up and writing them down.

I think this road trip is about doing something and hoping for something I know not what. “Chasing the wind” as Kvothe would say in Patrick Rothfuss’ incredible book The Wise Man’s Fear.

JCJ: I loved the tension in your story, particularly that it’s primarily internal–Isaac’s not fighting with anything or anyone but himself in the moments we see. What do you think it is about Isaac that readers, even those of us who have never been in the military, can relate to in his struggles and indecision? What is it about returning home that can be so very hard?

BT: He is deeply wounded by loss and by his childhood experience with being powerless. He is afraid of things he can’t control. I think, in that sense, Isaac could be anyone. There are specific details of his struggles, how he runs away from home by going to war, how he tries to break out of the crippling sameness of his town.
I think there’s another reason, too. When he’s out there, the adrenaline is kicking, he doesn’t think too much about home, and it’s easier if he thinks he has nothing to go back to. But he needs a home, and he can’t keep telling himself his home is the war, or else he’ll die inside, having nothing good and noble to fight for.

I pray for our soldiers every day. I think being a warrior or a protector is a noble profession, and it’s important to remind our men and women in the armed forces that they are invaluable, even when certain members among them make mistakes. No amount of paper or ink will ever do justice to those who serve, to those who preserve freedom on the battlefield while peace remains elusive. There is not a breath of mine that they can’t claim as their own.

JCJ: Based on twitter retweets, it appears you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis (I am as well!). Does Lewis’s work influence your writing? Who are some of your other favorite authors or thinkers?

BT: It’s good to meet another Lewis fan! C.S. Lewis is my favorite author. He beats out J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin by a lion’s whisker.

C.S. Lewis is a superb example of a man who was both an artist and a philosopher. I’m inspired by his life, partly because he was so honest about his faults and failings. Whenever he had struggles, he wrote about them. He was open about his ideological shifts: his journey from childish belief to agnosticism, through atheism, back to the Christian faith. He knew how to evoke emotion with the simplest language, and I think the use of a child’s words to explain complex ideas is the mark of true genius.

I read every day, usually fantasy, but I try to keep that balanced with philosophical, religious, or moral works, and I even inject some secular Vonnegut or Hemingway every now and then. I’m inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy of art, and what it is to be an artist. I never make it two years without re-reading Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.

JCJ: Do you have any writing projects currently in the works? Could you point readers to anything else of yours, either forthcoming or published?

BT: I am currently seeking representation for my debut novel Star Kin.

The plot follows Ava, an evening star, after she is taken from the sky as a child. Human in appearance and raised in the wilderness by a dragon, she has legitimate identity issues. She meets Oberon, a renegade angel, and together they have to stop a mysterious enemy who is draining the light from the world.

I never stop writing. I can hardly spend three days editing my older novels without feeling the desire to invent a world or sketch a character. I hope to have more stories published in the future with Every Day Fiction and others.


Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at

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