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An Interview With Tone Milazzo

I had the chance to talk with author Tone Milazzo (Picking Up The Ghost, The Faith Machine) about urban fantasy, graphic novels, and coding. Check out the links to his work below!

Congratulations on your release with your YA urban fantasy, Picking Up The Ghost. Can you share your writing process on any aspects of this?

It started as an act of hubris. The YA wave was rising. I'd tried and didn't like the first Harry Potter book (I still believe the series doesn't hit its stride until the 3rd book). After looking at some of the knock-offs I reflected on the fantasy literature I'd been given as a child, and figured I could do better. YA was hitting some tropes really hard: An orphan, blessed with a destiny, crosses paths with the wizened guide, who leads him to the magic sword, which turns him into a mighty warrior and fights the elemental evil. It's Star Wars. It's King Arthur. It's even in Beastmaster.

So I invert those tropes to see what happened: A boy, with a family, struck by a curse, is used by the ghost of a con-man, steals a magic wand, which turns him into a shaman and faces down a spirit created by his sorcerer father.

What are the most fun aspects of writing urban fantasy for you?

There's nothing fun about writing, Austin. Not one damn bit of it.

That said, in urban fantasy the bulk of the world building's been done for you by history. Picking Up the Ghost takes place in East St Louis. I just renamed it after the patron saint of lost causes, St Jude, and added the ghosts and voodoo. The real world's more lush and complete a setting than any fictional world. This is my personal bias. I don't have the patience to read epic fantasy anymore. I'm not choking down hundreds of pages of fake history, fake botany, and fake geography again. More character development, less magic crystals.

You have been a Marine, a taxi driver, a teacher, a scientist, and a coder. How does this influence your writing?

Being a veteran has ruined most military fiction for me. If it's inaccurate then I'm like, "Oh jeez." If it's accurate then I'm like, "Not this crap again!" But I was in garrison units during peacetime. The Marine Corps is probably a completely different experience after almost two decades of constant war.

Bobbing around all these different fields as I have has given me a wide experience with personality types. Call it typecasting, but certain personalities are drawn to certain types of work for a reason. I keep that in mind when developing characters.

Coding is a lot like writing: You keep adding stuff until it's functional. Then you tidy it up, refine it, and get where you want it to be. Sometimes that means throwing the whole thing out and starting over. At least when writing you never have to worry that the documentation on an API straight up lies about its functionality.

Your short story, The Ginger Jar, was just featured in Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 2. What are a few of your favorite short stories that have influenced your writing?

That's a tough one. While I've liked and loved plenty of short fiction, the titles don't stick in the head like novels do. Everything in David Brin's collection The River of Time. I read that one as a kid when it first came out. Then again twenty years laters and was amazed that I remembered every story.

I'm still getting my head around the structure of short fiction. There's an economy of storytelling in there that I battle with. Brevity is everything these days, and I long for something a bit more unpacked. But for my writing career it helps to have a few of these short pieces floating around out there.

You’re currently working on a graphic novel. What is your writing process for this like?

Expensive. As the writer I'm also the producer. I'm writing the checks until a publisher steps up. Submissions require 6-10 pages of finished art. Even at 6 pages, the combined page rate for the illustrator, colorist, and letterer ain't cheap.

The current project is Dead Women: 'Seven Samurai, but instead of swordsmen the heroes are undead women; a ghost, a vampire, a zombie, a skeleton, etc.' It's a familiar trope and a simple story. My agent's trying to sell it to publishers of graphic novels and I'm submitting it to comic book publishers.

You also host and produce podcasts. Can you tell us more about this?

Like everything I do, it's a desperate cry for attention. For God's sake, someone acknowledge my existence!

When I was included in the Running Wild Press Anthology of Stories Vol. 2 I wanted to do my share in promoting it. Since I'm a web developer, learning the podcast technologies were fairly easy. (Except when iTunes is involved. Screw you, Apple. Screw you and your bloated, half gig, virus with an mp3 player attached.)

I received a lot of positive feedback on the podcast,, and decided to record a few episodes of another one to see if it takes off. Big Talk/Small Business is interviews with small business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs about how they got started, what they’ve learned along the way, and where they’re going next.

Ideally, this will take off and support me financially, so I can continue writing fiction. Fingers crossed.

What are you working on now?

Ostensibly, I'm working on my third novel while my agent shops around my second novel. Don't tell her, but I'm working on an RPG of the unpublished second novel instead. Just for a little while.

The Faith Machine is my second book, finished and ready to go. It's an international, psychic-espionage thriller. As part of the pitch, I outlined two follow up books because, "Stand alone novel with series potential" are the magic words.

My friend Dan suggested that we write up The Faith Machine as an RPG because there weren't that many spy games on the market at the time. It's actually pretty easy, since I have all these notes on characters and set pieces that were, will be, or will never be in one of these books. It's also organizing my thinking in ways I hadn't before.

For example, in the novel spy jargon for a psychic is 'Card.' Okay, that's fine. But the game needed more words for the lingo to feel complete, so I built on the poker reference. A team of Cards is called a Hand, an agency with multiple teams is called a table, a nation's intelligence agencies are called collectively a House, and the worldwide psychic espionage scene is called the Strip.

Writing a game book is a lot of fun. It's all characters, set pieces, and inciting incidents without having to follow through with an actual plot.

You can check out more of Tone’s work at

Or not. Don't let Austin tell you how to live your life.

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