Creative Colleagues: Howard Tayler

Howard Tayler

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Before we met, I knew Howard Tayler’s name on account of his podcast, Writing Excuses, in which he joins Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells to dispense 15 minutes of advice each episode. We first crossed virtual paths when we both wrote fiction for Skull Island Expeditions.

We finally met at Gen Con 2013, where we played a game with Lou Anders, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Howard Andrew Jones. A couple of weeks later at Worldcon, I watched him collect a Hugo for Writing Excuses. He was also nominated for his comic, Schlock Mercenary. In person, Howard appears to be the soul of charm and wit.

Don’t let that fool you. He’s got some funny ideas about punctuation and spelling.


1. Can you tell us how much the creative process differs in writing prose fiction from creating your wildly popular comic, Schlock Mercenary?

How much? LOTS. Once I’m past the outline, they’re completely different… right up until the point that I’m writing dialogue, and then it’s kind of similar because of, well, words. But only kind of similar. The “beats” that are so useful in prose appear in Schlock Mercenary as panel borders and “snapshots” of facial expressions.

Also, when I’m writing Schlock Mercenary I have to remember that an establishing shot that features (for instance) a cityscape will mean more time at the drawing table than a series of shots of faces and hands. I have to pace myself. My art budget is not unlimited.

2. You were one of the three best-dressed men I saw at Worldcon. How much of that is your natural flair, and how much is business presentation? What tips would you offer other writers for making a great impression at conventions?

At this point it’s natural. A few years ago I decided to upgrade my look, so I ditched the billboard t-shirts and the baggy jeans, lost a few pounds, and started shopping for crisper shirts and trousers. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but I noticed a change in the way I walked, and in the way people treated me. I took that as a proof positive that the look was working for me, so I stuck with it.

Advice? Be comfortable, be yourself, but don’t think that those mean “grubbies in public.” Upgrading your attire a notch or two may change the way people see you, and whether or not you think that affects how you see yourself, you’ll notice what’s happening if you pay attention.

3. Like some of the other Skull Island Expeditions authors, you were already a Warmachine player. How often do you stop and think about the mechanics of the game when writing? Or do you leave all that knowledge to your subconscious and focus on other aspects of the story?

I had the cards in front of me a lot when I wrote Extraordinary Zoology, and “Heartfire” (from Called to Battle). But I already owned cards for all of the models in question, and knew what I was getting in to.

4. For those who’ve not yet read Tales from the Monsternomicon: Extraordinary Zoology, what’s your version of the back cover copy? In the Iron Kingdoms, what exactly is The Monsternomicon?

The Monsternomicon is Professor Viktor Pendrake’s magnum opus. For some reason, prior to his work nobody had attempted a comprehensive catalog of the more fantastic (and fantastically dangerous) denizens of the Iron Kingdoms. In our universe it’s the IK answer to the Monster Manual. In the IK Universe it’s a real tome that is just as likely to be found cluttering the coffee-table of the well-to-do Cygnaran as it is to be found weighing down the satchel of the enterprising adventurer.

Back cover copy?

“Lynus Wesselbaum would follow Professor Viktor Pendrake to the ends of Immoren if given the chance. When the Professor gets word of a mysterious village-smashing monster, Lynus and the Professor’s other companions assemble an expedition and set off in pursuit. On the one hand, it would be wonderful if this was something new, something exciting, and something reasonably easy to dissect. Unfortunately it’s far more likely that this is something ancient,  something terrifying, and something legendarily impossible to kill.”

5. The Skull Island Expeditions imprint has three subcategories: Warmachine, Hordes, and Iron Kingdoms. What’s the difference between the stories in those categories? The first two seem obvious, but what’s the difference between those two and Iron Kingdoms?

This question is probably a better one for our editor, Aeryn Rudel, but in my estimation the Hordes and Warmachine stories put meat on the bones of the playable models in the game, while the Iron Kingdoms stories galvanize the reader to collect some friends, roll up characters, and set off adventuring in the IK RPG.

Cover by Carter Reid

6. You sold me on finding one of your short stories at Worldcon. Which of your short pieces would you most recommend to readers of Schlock Mercenary or Skull Island Expeditions? 

Well, if you love Schlock Mercenary and have not read Extraordinary Zoology, that’s probably going to be the most like what you’re used to getting from me. If, however, you’re willing to branch out a bit, pick up Space Eldritch II: The Haunted Stars, and read my military-sf-horror novella “Fall of the Runewrought.” It’s a little bit like the movie Aliens, only with less Dumb Lieutenant and more Absolute Badass.

7. You’re also rare among my colleagues in that I have no idea of your literary influences. Can you name a few from both comics and prose fiction, telling us what you love about each of them?

Tolkien, Donaldson, and Niven on the SF/F front. Watterson, Breathed, and Claremont on the comic strip and comic book front. That takes you through me at about age 20, at which point both lists become far too long to be manageable.


You can peruse the essential dossier on Howard Talyer at his website. 


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