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Author Spotlight: Brian Yapko

Brian Yapko

Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.

Today: Brian Yapko is a lawyer who tries to make up for it by writing narrative fiction and poetry. His debut science fiction novel, El Nuevo Mundo, was published in 2022 by Rebel Satori Press. His novella San Damien and the Red Daggers was published in serial form by Bewildering Stories in Spring, 2023;  his short story  Paradox of the Twins was recently published by The Ancible and his novella  Erica Victor will be published in late 2024 by Gypsy Shadow Publications. His poetry has appeared in over fifty publications. He is the first place winner of the Society of Classical Poets 2023 Best Poem prize. He lives in Wimauma, Florida with his husband, Jerry, and their canine child, Bianca. 

Thanks so much, Brian, for joining me!

J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

Brian Yapko: When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I studied English Literature at U.C.L.A.   When I  actually tried my hand at writing original poetry I liked it and thought my work was pretty good. But I put creative writing aside when I went to law school and spent the next 35 years doing legal research and writing legal briefs.  When Covid brought my law practice to a standstill, I returned to creative writing – poetry, short stories and science fiction. Since the start of my creative writing renaissance in 2020, my writing has received a surprising amount of love and acceptance for publication. I’m 63 years old and in these four years I’ve now two novels published, several short stories and over 250 poems. So there’s hope for any late  bloomers out there!

JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it. 

BY: My first novel was “El Nuevo Mundo” published by Rebel Satori and which told the story of an alien-invasion of Earth as seen through the eyes of two gay men living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That work holds a very special place in my heart as it shows how a relationship can be challenged more fiercely than one can imagine and yet survive. 

JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?

BY: I have two preferred genres: fantasy/science fiction for prose and classical meter and rhyme for poetry. Although writing poetry is more demanding in terms of form, I’ve had hundreds of poems published at this point. Fantasy is harder for me but if I can write a story as a first-person narrative it practically writes itself. I want to get inside people’s heads and that seems to be the best way to do it. 

JSC: How did you choose the topic for Bleeding Stone?

BY: “Bleeding Stone” came to me shortly after I had read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” I found it strangely moving and it made me contemplate what it would be like to be an immortal non-human. This inspired me to consider what it would be like to be an immortal who inhabited the world I’m most familiar with, Los Angeles, California.  

JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?

BY: My favorite character in “Bleeding Stone” is the narrator, Edmundo “Mundo” Lopez. He’s a screw-up of the highest order and he ends up paying a pretty hefty price for his screw-ups. But he is able to make an enormous sacrifice for love and, in doing so, finds redemption. His story makes me very emotional. 

JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?

BY: I had to learn a great deal about the Mayan god of war, Buluc Chabtan, and the god of death, Ah Puch. I also had to learn a bit about how human sacrifice took place in ancient Tikal. That old chestnut. 

JSC: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it. 

BY: This very novel, “Bleeding Stone,” was inspired by my trip to Guatemala. The Mayan ruins of Mexico and Central America have always intrigued me. So my husband and I traveled to a number of Mayan sites throughout Guatemala and Honduras. Of these sites, the most intriguing was Tikal (which you would recognize as the rebel base in the original “Star Wars – A New Hope.”)  Tikal is monumental and has the added mystery of being surrounded by rainforest. It’s beautiful and terrifying. I had to feature it in one of my stories and if there is verisimilitude in my descriptions of this amazing place it’s because I was there. 

JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time? 

BY: No matter where I am I usually have the ability to text myself. Just one key word will usually be enough to jar my memory when I get home and can write something more meaty on my computer. 

JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?

BY: I sure like Astronaut Mark Watney from “The Martian,” who is extremely resourceful and resilient. It would be fun to have coffee with him and find out how he handled spending years as the only living being on Mars, facing death daily, and yet never giving up hope of rescue and never going insane. I have the feeling he’d have a lot of interesting stories to share as well as some wise advice about how to live with yourself and never give up. 

JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!

BY: I continue to work on a space opera which takes place on Mars in the late 30th Century. It involves an evil empire, a time machine, terraforming and some unexpected relics from 21st Century Earth. It has two protagonists – one straight, one gay. They have some interesting adventures together and both learn a lot about what it means to be both human and humane. Keep your fingers crossed – I’m hoping that will come out in a year or so! 

Bleeding Stone - Brian A. Yapko

And now for Brian Yapko’s latest book: Bleeding Stone:

Mundo Lopez, a minor player in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, has killed a man of unexpected importance to the Mayan gods of war and death.

After his release from prison, Mundo journeys with his lover, Pedro, through the jungles of Guatemala to steal a fortune in sacred gold from the Pyramid of the Dead. It is there among the ruins of Tikal that the dark gods, in their quest for vengeance, force him to make a monumental and horrific choice.

Will Mundo accept a fate worse than death that his lover might live?  

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The second day started out without incident and most of the morning was much the same as the first day – Carlos leading with his machete, Pedro and I taking turns leading the burro, avoiding mud and snakes. But then as we continued to trek northward, something strange happened. I started to hear suspicious noises in the jungle – the snapping of branches, the rustling of ferns. I got the distinct impression that we were being followed.  I said something to Carlos. He looked backwards to where I was pointing and just muttered to himself. I could hear slurs against me under his breath. I warned Pedro as well and he said that he didn’t hear a thing – that I was probably just tired and hungry. 

Carlos raised his machete high and sliced through a sapling that blocked our way. “Whatever you imagine you hear, pendejo, we do not stop until we reach the Rio Gordo. We continue.” And he moved forward slashing at vines. 

Quietly, I gave the burro’s reigns to Pedro and whispered to him to keep going. I would stay back just for a few minutes. Just to satisfy myself that I wasn’t crazy. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be fine.” Pedro looked at me with concern but I grasped his arm to reassure him and he moved forward.  I patted my waistband where I carried the secret pistol.

After only two minutes or so, I heard it again. The rustling. I hid behind a mahogany tree and watched to see who – or what – was following us. More rustling and I could see the brush sway with movement approaching the clearing I had just vacated. Then there was a final snapping of twigs, and slapping away of leaves and I saw.. nothing.  Impossible, no? But there was literally nothing there. That or else what was there was invisible. I spoke to it. I said “show yourself!” I heard nothing but the wind in the trees. Then, out of nowhere, I heard the roar of a jaguar! It was loud, and it was coming towards me! I pulled the gun out from my waistband but had nothing to aim at. There was nothing there! I stumbled backwards in terror and landed on my butt. I dropped the gun and lay there shaking as I felt fur brush against my arms and the feel and smell of a hot animal breathing in my face. 

“Are you coming, pendejo, or not?” Carlos yelled out from a quarter mile ahead.  For the first time in my life, I was glad that he was here.  

The invisible jaguar rubbed its fur against me again and then left. I could see where the bushes and vines were pushed aside and I could hear the twigs and branches break as it ran off. I stared after the jaguar I could not see. 

“Mundo, are you coming? It was Pedro’s voice. 

“Don’t make me come back after you, pendejo.” That was Carlos. 

“I’m coming,” I shouted, hoping they didn’t hear the trembling in my voice. “I just slipped and fell on some wet leaves.”

Still shaking, I picked up my pistol and put it back in my waistband.  I decided not to tell what had happened to either Pedro or Carlos. I didn’t want them to think I had gone loco

But then I looked down at the mud where the phantom jaguar had been. There were prints there alright. The prints of bare human feet. 

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