An Interview with Author Jack McDevitt

Nasa Jack

This series of author interviews has allowed me to speak with some incredible people and I’m very grateful to everyone who has participated. This interview is with author Jack McDevitt, who has been a writing inspiration to me since I read his novel Polaris. His Academy series and Alex Benedict novels are original and consistently optimistic in their view of humanity’s future. I’m very happy I had this opportunity to speak with him and bring this interview to you. I recommend everyone get their hands on his novels and give them a try.

Jack McDevitt has been described by Stephen King as “the logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.” He is the author of twenty-two novels, eleven of which have been Nebula finalists, and more than eighty short stories.  Seeker won the Nebula  for best novel in 2007. In 2003, Omega received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel. He won the Georgia Writers’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. His first novel, The Hercules Text, won a special Philip K. Dick Award in 1986. He has received various other honors. Most recently, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid for him.

      A best-of collection of his stories is available in Cryptic, published by Subterranean Press.

      McDevitt’s most recent books are Coming Home, an Alex Benedict novel, and Thunderbird, both from Ace. Alex and his partner Chase Kolpath are antiquity dealers living in the far future. They specialize in solving historical mysteries. Another popular character has been Priscilla Hutchins, a starship captain during the tempestuous early years of interstellar flight. She is usually caught up with unexpected discoveries.   

       A Philadelphia native, McDevitt had a varied career before becoming a writer. He’s been a naval officer, an English teacher, a customs officer, and a taxi driver. He has also conducted leadership and management seminars for the U.S. Customs Service. He is married to the former Maureen McAdams, and resides in Brunswick, Georgia, where he keeps a weather eye on hurricanes.

You have an impressive bibliography that includes the popular Alex Benedict/ Chase Kolpath novels and the successful Academy series, both of which are a hit with readers. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes each series appeal to your audience?

I’d have to ask readers about that to be reasonably sure of the answer. I suspect though that it has something to do with the fact that both series deal with discovery, rather than confronting bad guys in starships. For example, Priscilla Hutchins, in Deepsix, is on the scene when artificial structures are discovered on a world that is about to be sucked into a gas giant. (The approaching collision is the reason scientists are there.) She joins a landing team with only a few days to investigate. But unfortunately the changing gravity causes an earthquake which destroys the landers and leaves everyone stranded. Worse, there’s no one close enough to help.

In the Alex Benedict novels, he and Chase live in the distant future. Alex is an antiquarian who solves historical mysteries, like what really happened on board the Polaris, a starship found adrift with everyone missing. There were no aliens anywhere in the area, and no place where the crew and passengers could have gone (Polaris). Or why the mission report of the Tenandrome, on its return from an interstellar flight, was immediately classified, and the crew directed to speak with no one (A Talent for War).

A recurring theme in your Alex Benedict series is the future archeology that each novel is built around. It’s a fascinating theme that draws readers into the wonderful worlds you have created. Does this come from a personal interest in history and historical artifacts?

It does. I got drawn into the world of the classical Greeks when I was still in early grade school. I’m not sure where it came from. It might have been the Trojan Horse. Or Achilles and Hector. In any case I enjoyed the stories of Greek heroes and gods and I became increasingly intrigued by a civilization that was so advanced. I can remember wondering what the modern world would look like if Greek culture had survived the ancient world intact. Eventually it led to an interest in archaeology,

Many of the authors reading this interview work full time in addition to writing. Your biography reveals an extensive list of jobs, from joining the Navy, to driving a cab to a host of other positions. What advice can you give those writers who are burning the candle at both ends?

The job that pays the rent while one is trying to break through into a professional writing career should probably not involve an emotional drain. For example, I suspect being a teacher doesn’t help. Nor being a physician. Better to be employed as a supermarket cashier or a mechanic or a taxi driver. If we want to put a reasonable level of emotion into our fiction, we have to carry some passion with us when we sit down to start writing. If you’ve spent the day in a classroom with energetic students, you probably won’t have mush left at sunset.

Priscilla Hutchins and Chase Kolpath are both strong women and fully realized characters who function as the narrators within their respective series. That’s more common in science fiction today than it was when you first started both series. Indeed, Chase was not the narrator in the first Alex Benedict novel, A Talent for War. Can you discuss the process that led you to choose those particular characters to give readers their point of view? 

My career as a novelist was just getting started when I received an assignment to conduct leadership seminars for the Customs Service. One of the exercises we developed was to introduce a virtual problem and assign five-person teams to confront it. It usually required life-and-death decisions. For example, a group are traveling across Arizona in a plane when everything shuts down and the plane crash-lands. Nobody hurt, but there wasn’t time to get a message out and the radio is dead. The question: How to survive? It’s mid-July, around 10:00 a.m., hot and getting hotter. Do we stay with the plane? Or head out and hope to find a town? Basically we were looking for communication skills. Talk it out and get to a rational decision. We had a wide range of similar exercises. The teams were sometimes composed of inspectors, other times of agents, of administrators, and so on. It didn’t matter. They all lived and died at about the same rates. With one exception: there was only one area where composition of the group seemed to make a difference: gender.

There were three groupings, naturally: All male, all female, and mixed. Most people seem to be surprised to hear that the teams that most often survived were the women. And that usually prompts people, when they are asked who they think died most often, to come up with the wrong answer again. It wasn’t the guys. It was the mixed groups, which rarely made it home alive. Why? When males and females were together, they behaved differently. The guys became more aggressive when women were present. They took chances they would probably have avoided had the women not been there, And the females became more submissive, less inclined to argue for their views, more inclined to accept the risks their compatriots were advising,

Women also seemed to be better at listening to one another. The result of all this led me to conclude that, when I fly, I prefer a female pilot if I can find one.

Your list of works includes dozens of short stories. What attracts you to the shortened written form? 

The short story is the natural format for SF. Science fiction is about discovery and impact, which are most effective in the short form. Ask any group of SF readers to name, say, their five favorite pieces of science fiction and the vast majority will come up with titles like “The Star,” “The Green Hills of Earth,” “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” “Nightfall,” and “The Cold Equations.” All are short stories. We need a little imagination to come up with a novel that can join this crowd..

You have had great success writing in the science fiction genre. What do you enjoy about it? Have you ever written or thought about writing in another genre?

What do I enjoy about it? I can go places no one’s ever visited before. When I was five years old. my father took me to see movies at a local theater, and they were running a  Flash Gordon serial. I was disappointed because all Flash and his friends did was get into fights with Ming. These people had a spaceship. Why don’t they put this nutcase away and let’s go see what else is out there? I’ve never thought seriously about writing in another genre because I just don’t care, e.g., who murdered the millionaire, or how the legal case would play out. No, ma’am. Take me to Mars. That changed in the 1960’s when I found out there was nothing of much interest there. So I headed for Alpha Centauri.

A common theme in your work is contact with alien races, whether it is the Mutes in the Alex Benedict series or the Monument Makers and Moonriders in the Academy series. What are your thoughts on our current efforts to look for extra-terrestrial life, such as the SETI program or the Breakthrough Listen initiative?  

We’re obviously doing what we can. Are there other civilizations? It’s by far the most intriguing scientific question confronting us. And we have no idea whether intelligent life is relatively common throughout the universe or, the more riveting possibility, we are alone. If there are others out there, I’d like to live long enough to get confirmation. But that occurrence, which seemed likely back in 1960 when Frank Drake and SETI were just getting started, now looks as if it will remain a mystery, possibly, for centuries.

In my stories I sometimes find myself struggling with hard science getting in the way of the story. It can be difficult to match the science with the fiction successfully. Can you describe your writing process with regard to making that balance work?

There’s only one way to do it: Go back, if necessary, and reset the story line to keep the science correct. Fiction only succeeds if the reader feels he’s there on the bridge of the starship, or on the beach at night watching that ringed world rise in the east. Nothing takes the reader out of the experience and puts her back in her living room more quickly than getting the science wrong. That’s even worse than bad spelling or blown grammar.

Are you writing anything now and if so, can you tell us a little about it?

I’ve just finished The Long Sunset, another Academy novel.  There’s a lot of resistance to star travel in Priscilla Hutchins’ 23rd-century world. You never know what might come back with you. Hostile aliens. Lethal diseases. We should stay home and keep our heads down. Priscilla is on board for the last mission, which barely gets out of the space station. They encounter a friendly species on an ocean world where the civilization is spread across a few dozen islands. Their technology ends with phones and boats. They welcome the visitors. But unfortunately there’s a black hole approaching, with a projected arrival in a few decades. They don’t know about it, but the humans do. And the humans are also aware that the last thing anyone wants back home is more talk about reviving their interstellar capability.

Do you maintain an online presence and if so, where can readers find you?

My website is at www.jackmcdevitt.com. There’a also a fan page at www.facebook.com/jackmcdevittbooks/ —

Thanks for the opportunity to do this.

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Author L.M. Nelson

0314161504 (1) (2)

L.M. Nelson is certified teacher and CPR/First Aid instructor. She enjoys poetry, music, photography, gardening, and nature walks. Aside from her Scrubs series, she has written several poems, some of which have been selected for literary magazines and published in poetry collections. L.M. Nelson grew up in California and the Pacific Northwest, but currently resides in South Central Texas with her husband and two children.

You’ve written three installments in your Scrubs series of novels. Can you tell us about the books and the series?

Writing the Scrubs series was a project I began before I started college. Over the years, the series evolved into what it is now. As I grew and matured as a person and a writer, my characters grew right along with me. As college students and new graduates, my characters worked to build their careers and establish themselves in the adult world, all while struggling with relationship issues and trying to overcome other adult-related problems. Throughout the process, they discover who they are and learn that they are stronger than they ever thought they could be.

Life is full of ups and downs, and various stages of life come with their own challenges. My goal with Scrubs was to make the books as realistic as possible. I wanted the characters to have real lives with real problems people could relate to. Each book was written during a different phase in my life, and each character represents a bit of who I am. My characters have to overcome obstacles, many of which, I, or someone close to me, also had to navigate through. So in a sense this series is a reflection of the stages of growth I went through during my life.

Because this series is medical themed, I had to do quite a bit of research. Luckily, I have a cousin who is a trauma surgeon, and I was able to gain insights from him about his experiences as he progressed through medical school and residency. Although challenging at times, this series was fun to write. The first two books focus on my main character Randy Hanson, and his friends. The last two books, one of which is still in the revising and editing process, focus on the second generation of Hansons, who encounter a whole new batch of problems associated with growing up.

Why did you decide to tackle medical romances?

I’ve always been fascinated with the medical profession. It’s a career path I once considered before I chose to be an educator. I am remotely involved in the medical field in a sense, in that I’m a certified CPR/AED/First Aid instructor and have been for about ten years now.

I wasn’t planning for the series to be a romance per se, it just turned out that way. Let me clarify here that although the series has romantic elements throughout, it’s not a typical romance. The story focusses more on the ups and downs in the lives of a group of friends. There are romantic scenes within the series, and each book has its own love story embedded in it, but the emphasis is on the lives of the characters and the challenges they face.

Can you share with us how far out you’ve plotted your series and how many installments you expect to write?

Scrubs is a four book series. The first three books are already available. The fourth and final book is still in revision, but is scheduled for release by March 1st. That final book will end the series.

 Are you working on any projects other than your Scrubs series?

As soon as Scrubs is complete, I’ll return to the other projects I’ve been working on, namely a Young Adult fantasy book and an adult crime novel. I have a few other book ideas brewing in my head, but haven’t put any of these ideas on paper yet.

 Which author(s) inspire you and why?

You know, I’m not sure how to answer that question. I’ve always been a writer. I am a fan of Robert Frost’s poetry, however, and when I do write the occasional poem, I find myself writing about seasons, nature, or life choices, similar to Frost’s style. As far as fiction writers go, I don’t migrate toward one particular author. I read from a variety of authors from various genres. Several books over the years touched me in various ways. The compelling characters within those books inspired me to create my own characters and tell their stories.

 Can you describe your writing process?

Is random an appropriate answer here? I write by the seat of my pants. I have a notebook full of story ideas, poorly drawn maps, character descriptions, and dialogue. When an idea hits me, I write it in this notebook (or a sticky note or napkin or I text it to myself.  I use whatever I have available at the time). I then take the ideas I have and build characters and dialogue around them. Once the general idea is conceived, I start typing and see where the story takes me. I’m not a plotter or outliner and don’t like storyboards or formula writing. I write from the heart and let my characters drive the story. Eventually they get to where I want them to go.

I spend a great deal of time revising and editing, looking for different things with every round. The first stage usually entails reading for content and plot elements. During this stage, I adjust content, move things around, cut sentences or entire chapters, and add details as necessary. The second round of revisions involves checking accuracy of information. Round three is reading aloud of dialogue to make sure it sounds realistic and fits the character’s personality. Each character has their own voice, and I don’t want their words to sound scripted. Word choice, sentence structure, redundancy, and dialogue beats come next, followed by grammar and spelling. In the final stage, I read the manuscript backwards to catch anything I might have missed in the other rounds.

My writing process is chaotic and disorganized, and it usually requires quite a bit of revising and editing to get the story the way I want it, but the craziness works for me.

Like many writers you maintain a blog (at https://lmnelsonscorner.wordpress.com/). Can you tell us why you like blogging and how it helps you as a writer?

I’ve only been blogging for about a year and a half now. Blogging helps me clarify my thinking, dig deeper into myself as a writer, and analyze my own writing. My blog consists of writing tips, character traits, information about my books, motivational quotes, and pretty much anything else I feel like writing about. Writing is my stress relief.  It helps me relax and escape from the demands of my day job. Blogging allows me to express my thoughts while practicing the writing craft, which always needs refining.

What are some obstacles authors face achieving sales in the current market and how have you overcome them?

There are millions of writers out there publishing thousands of books a day. How do you make yourself stand out in a sea of authors, all of whom are trying to accomplish the same thing you are? With the busy lifestyles people lead these days and the digital age we live in, the number of people who read for pleasure has decreased significantly over the years. Nowadays, people are more interested in checking their Facebook newsfeed and posting selfies than reading a book. Engaging potential readers and sparking their interest long enough to pull them off social media is the key to selling books.

Marketing is a pain. It is time consuming and often frustrating. When I published Scrubs, I knew NOTHING about the publishing industry or marketing. But over the last year and half, I’ve taken several marketing courses from various experts and have increased my knowledge of this topic exponentially. Throughout my training, several key elements have remained constant.

First, you have to write for myself. Not every reader is going to like your work, and trying to please everyone is a waste of time and will lead to many days of wanting to throw your manuscript in a bonfire. I write what I want to write then find my target audience.

Criticism is the nature of the business. You have to have thick skin to be an author. Naysayers will continue to be negative no matter what you do. Naturally, someone who prefers action adventure books is going to trash my New Adult romance novel because it’s not their preferred genre. I’ve learned to consider the source when dealing with negative feedback. I don’t respond to reviews and never defend what I do. I take criticism with a grain of salt and use the comments to work toward improvement. If I feel overwhelmed by negativity, I look up my favorite book on Amazon. Even that book was trashed by someone. Every once in a while, when the voices of doom ring in my head, I dig into my ‘oh, wonderful me’ box and focus on the achievements I’ve made and the positive reviews I’ve received.

Marketing requires authors to throw themselves out there. For people like me who are introverts, exposing ourselves and our work is scary business. But if we don’t make our presence known, no one will know our books exist. Throwing myself out there requires engagement, interaction, and doing something that will turn people’s heads. I go to author events and book festivals as often as I can. I have joined local writing groups, scheduled book signings, and have a social media presence. I have to pull potential readers in by gaining their trust. To stand out in the sea of authors, I have offer potential readers a personal connection, a reason to follow me, a reason to come to my table and talk to me.

Most importantly, failure is part of the process. But you won’t grow as a writer if you don’t pick yourself up and carry on. Failure isn’t fatal. I accept failure and have learned not to compare myself to other authors. I surround myself with family and creative friends who support me.

I didn’t publish my books expecting to make a ton of money. If any writer goes into the publishing industry with that expectation, they will be sorely disappointed. I write because I love to write. I published the Scrubs series because my characters needed to be heard. Although I write for the love of the craft, it is nice to gain a few sales in the process.

What can readers expect next from you?

The final book in the Scrubs series, Center Stage, will be released by March 1st. Once the series is complete, I’m going to finish the YA fantasy book I started about two years ago and continue working on an adult crime novel I’m about four chapters into. I have a few book signing events scheduled between now and June and am planning to attend a writing retreat and author’s marketing conference over the summer.

Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online?

My books are available in e-book format, Kindle, Nook, and paperback. You can find them on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, or Createspace. For more information visit my webpage.

You can find me online through my website (which is also my blog), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Goodreads. I look forward to connecting with all of you.

An Interview with Author Dayton Ward

daytonward-bw_headshot-01

Dayton Ward is a New York Times bestselling author or co-author of more than twenty novels, often working with his best friend, Kevin Dilmore. His short fiction has appeared in more than twenty anthologies, and he’s written for various magazines including Kansas City Voices, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Star Trek and Star Trek Communicator, as well as the websites Tor.com, StarTrek.com, and Syfy.com. Dayton lives with his wife and two daughters in Lee’s Summit. Visit him on the web at http://www.daytonward.com

You have an impressive bibliography, consisting of original novels, short stories and tie-in properties like Star Trek, 24, The 4400, Mars Attacks and Planet of the Apes. You’ve also appeared on the New York Times best seller list. Can you tell us a little about how you got your start?   

My first pro story sales were to the first three Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contests sponsored by Pocket Books. Once I got to the point where I couldn’t submit to future contests, I was offered a contract to write a Star Trek novel. I’ve been writing for them ever since, along with working for other clients.

 The Star Trek universe means many things to many people. The stories told through TV, film and novels encourage exploration, rational thought and a boldness for life. What attracts you to it?

 Its optimism. Sure, there are a lot of Star Trek stories that take a dark turn, but in the end Star Trek is about what we can do to better ourselves and the universe we live in and share with others. Within that framework is a lot of room for telling a wide variety of stories, from action-adventure to character studies to political thrillers, but the best takes always find a way to tie back to that basic Star Trek tenet of an optimistic future.

 Many of our readers are independent authors who hold down day jobs while writing at night and on weekends. With your similar experience, can you provide some advice on how to balance life and work?

 It can definitely be a challenge, trying to balance everything. Some writing advice books or seminars say you have to write so many words per day or so many hours per day, but I’ve never put much stock in such rigid “rules.” The secret to success is to balance your writing in a way that makes sense for you and everything else you have going on. Job or school, kids and their activities, keeping up a house, working out, and so on. Somewhere in all of that, you have to carve a slice of time to write. If it’s thirty minutes in the morning before your kids wake up, or on your lunch break. Maybe it’s every day, or every day your kids have gymnastics after school. Find that window, and stick to it.

 Is your writing process different when you create original works than when you work on tie-in properties?

 The review and approval process is different, because with tie-ins there’s an extra level you have to navigate, in the form of the property’s licensing representative. Somebody on that end gets to give your outline and your manuscript a thumbs-up or down. As for my end of things, the process tends to largely be similar. For novels, I develop an outline, but it’s a guideline rather than holy writ. My outlines tend to be “high level” instead of dwelling on a lot of details, so that gives me room to maneuver as the manuscript starts to take shape. I almost always stick to the outline’s broad strokes, but if I’m writing and I find that something I proposed in the outline isn’t working, or I just have a better idea about a particular plot point, then I’ll go with that. The trick of succeeding with this approach for tie-ins is not to introduce something that the license owner will find objectionable. For Star Trek, I’ve been doing this long enough and I have a solid working relationship with my editors and the licensing office that I have a good idea of what will and won’t pass muster. I won’t send them something unless I know (or at least I’m pretty confident) that they’ll go for it.

 You’ve edited science fiction anthologies. Can you tell us what you look for in a story when considering it for inclusion?

 My editing experience is limited, but obviously it starts with stories that fit the anthology’s theme. That said, I also liked it when I was surprised, or had my perceptions about the theme challenged or expanded. Beyond that, I looked for something that grabbed me from the first page and hung on, refusing to let go until I reached the end. The trick with short fiction is that you have to get to the point pretty quickly, or else the editor will start skipping ahead in search of the part where your story gets interesting. More often, they’ll just move on to the next story.

 After collaborating with other writers on a number of projects, can you describe the process you use when working with someone else on a book?

 The process is never the same from book to book. That’s true if it’s me and my friend and frequent co-writer, Kevin Dilmore, working on something, or collaborating with other writers for different entries in a mini-series or other larger, joint project. Sometimes it’s just communicating to make sure our respective stories stay in sync with each other, or it gets more involved as we help each other develop characters or a plotline. The main constant across all of those experiences is that I really do enjoy the collaborative aspect of such projects. The brainstorming calls we have or the emails we exchange never fail to amp up my enthusiasm for a particular project, and we seem to feed off each other’s energy as we figure out all the twists and turns for a given story.

 With your success writing short stories, including one included in a Rush anthology inspired by their music (which is mighty cool!), can you describe what attracts you to the shortened written form?

Short fiction gives you the chance to really run with a single idea, without having to worry about how it folds in with the other plotlines you need to flesh out a complete novel. Indeed, sometimes you get an idea that works much better within this structure, and expanding it to novel length alters or even removes the spark that struck you in the first place.

Like many writers you maintain a blog (at http://www.daytonward.com/). Can you tell us why you like blogging and how it helps you as a writer?

In theory, the blog is the foundation for my “author social media platform,” where readers and fans can come to learn about my writing, find out what I’m working on, catch announcements of new projects, catch the odd piece of fiction, and so on. So there are plenty of posts to address those points, but I also use it to just ramble a bit about something that interests me. It could be books I’m reading or movies I’ve watched, bragging about my kids, or taking a look at issues of the day (though I actually tend not to get too political there, or write about too many hot button topics). It’s a place where a lot of “free writing” happens, as I try to get the juices flowing so that I can get on with the current novel or short story in progress.

Can you tell us about your next project?

My latest publications are a short story in the Titan Books anthology Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone, and Headlong Flight, a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel from Pocket Books. Projects in various stages of development include a “travel guide” to the Klingon Empire, another ST:TNG novel that’ll be out in May, and another novel that I should probably get started writing here fairly soon. Beyond that, there are always discussions or queries about the next thing. Such is the life of a full-time freelancer.

 Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online?

 My books are available at your local bookstore, or at the various online merchants. As for where I’m lurking online, it all starts at DaytonWard.com. There, you’ll find my blog, A.K.A. “The Fog of Ward,” along with links to the rest of my “author platform” such as my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, and all that good stuff. Bring your own beer.

 

An Interview with Author EM Kaplan

em2016

EM Kaplan grew up in Arizona where she was once chased home from school by javelinas. The Chinese side of her family settled in Deadwood, SD in the 1880s. The other side of her family makes a mean matzoh ball soup. She lives in northern Illinois with her family and dog, Max.

Your Josie Tucker mystery novels seem to hit all the right notes with readers. Can you tell us a little bit about the series?

Thanks. I appreciate that. I have to admit I get a few haters and trolls just like everyone else, but I’ve been lucky so far that my fans are vocal enough with their support that I don’t want to break all my pens and bury my laptop in the backyard (which is frozen right now, so that’d be tough).

I think the thing that keeps people coming back for more Josie Tucker is her sarcastic but hopefully likeable personality as well as those of her friends. I’m much more interested in how people interact and react in weird and interesting situations than in the mechanics of a traditional mystery with piles of clues and a big chase scene—or an Agatha Christie style parlor scene—at the end.

It’s like the Mary Tyler Moore episode about Chuckles the Clown. Nobody cares that it’s a funeral. What makes it hilarious is Mary laughing.

 You make a great effort to build up Josie and her group of friends which helps immerse the reader in the world you are building. Can you give us some insight into how you created Josie and the rest of the cast of characters? 

 Josie is partly wish fulfillment for me. She’s who I’d like to be if I cared less about what people thought—more id than ego. Her boyfriend, Drew, represents everything that’s settled and acceptable. Benjy is whimsical and rootless.

Susan is still a little bit of a mystery to me even though she’s been in two of the books. She’s a beautiful nerd who doesn’t know where she belongs. She was there from the beginning when I created Josie because Josie usually has a running internal monologue in her head, she needs an external foil.

Will we see more from Josie Tucker? If so, how far out have you plotted the series?

I’m about a third of the way through a draft of Josie #4. It’s a barbecue tour of Austin, TX. I’m revealing the cover this week. In fact, here it is…

Texas. Barbecue. Shenanigans.

full_slab_dead

Location plays an important part in your Josie Tucker series, whether it’s Arizona, San Francisco or the East Coast. Do you like to travel and gain first-hand experience that can be used in your books or is some intense Googling going on?

Google is a beautiful thing, especially Google Maps Street View. However Josie’s mysteries are pretty much a roadmap of the places I’ve lived, including the new one coming out that’s set in Austin, where I lived for about eight years. I grew up in Tucson, went to college near Boston, lived a couple different times in the Bay Area. Now I’m in northern Illinois, which is cold. Very cold. Josie might visit Chicago in the future, who knows.

You’ve also written in the fantasy genre with your Rise of the Masks series. Does switching genres like that allow you to stretch a different set of writing muscles?

Definitely. Fantasy writing—in this case, epic fantasy—takes a lot more world-building and descriptive writing. The other realm in this series of books requires a more flowing, poetic language. There’s more action—what the game makers call “fantasy violence”—and a hint of an old language that’s based partly on Portuguese with some derivations.

To help switch gears, I listen to a lot of music. The Game of Thrones soundtrack was the backdrop for book 2 of this series. I get a little obsessive and I’ll loop one track for days.

Like many writers you maintain a blog (at http://justtheemwords.com/). Can you tell us why you like blogging and how it helps you as a writer?

Blogging helps with a few things. First, it says “Hey, please don’t forget about me” to readers, especially if there’s a big gap between book releases. I sometimes post short Josie Tucker holiday-themed stories. A blog can help new readers find you, if you’re entertaining enough in your posts.

It also helps with writer’s block if you’re stuck. Each blog post is a little writing prompt or exercise. It can help you feel productive when you’re not having significant gains with your work in progress.

As an independent author, you have the freedom to pursue the stories you want to write and have complete control over your work. What do you find most enjoyable about the creative process?

People say reading is escapism. I think writing is the ultimate form of escapism. Not only are you somewhere else, but you’re in charge of the whole place. There are no limits except common sense…and maybe not even that.

You have great trailers for your books. Can you give us some insight into how they were created?

Thanks. My husband, author JD Kaplan, makes my book trailers. He’s done some on commission, too, for other writers. (You can find him at @jedeleh on Twitter.)

When he’s making a trailer for me, I tell him a list of images I have in my mind. Then sometimes I find video clips or stock photos for him. He puts it all together and chooses the music. He’s a musician, too, so sometimes he creates the music.

What are you writing now?

My plan for this year is to release Josie #4 and then finish the Rise of the Masks trilogy. I have a few real-life commitments that have been messing with my schedule, but it’s all good. Later this month, I’m headed to Atlanta for the ALA Mid-Winter Conference. The Bride Wore Dead won some recognition from the indie part of Library Journal. I’m pretty excited about that.

 Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online?

I’m pretty easy to find. Here are some of the ways…

Website and blog:   www.JustTheEmWords.com

Facebook:   www.facebook.com/emkaplan.author

Amazon:   www.amazon.com/author/emkaplan

An Interview with Author Joshua Faltot

jcl

Joshua (J.C.L.) Faltot is an author and speaker. His first published work, Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Good Thoughts, was released in 2012 and was a satirical take on the video game generation Joshua grew up in. Since then, Joshua has shifted his focus from satire to science fiction; a change he attributes to his desire to be “more than just another angry voice.” His most recent book, The Road to Mars, is the first in a series of books that will chronicle a future where a fully colonized Mars and the Earth are in conflict.

Faltot has also done a variety of short fiction including The Scientist’s Dilemma, The Color of Soul, and Spirit, Run. This and other books by Faltot can be found through most all online retailers. 
Joshua is married with two children and resides in the state of Ohio.

Your novel, The Road to Mars, begins an ambitious trilogy. Can you tell us a little bit about the series? First off, thanks for asking me to be interviewed. The Road to Mars, as a series, follows a family in the midst of a conflict between Mars and Earth. In the not-too-distant-future, the society living on Mars is aiming to colonize the rest of the solar system. But, in their pursuit they have crippled the Earth and left mankind divided between planets. Now, the question is: push onward and leave Earth behind? Or try to save the planet mankind first hailed from? I’m not finished with the second book so there’s plenty I’d like to say, but can’t just yet. However, what I can say is that there is lots of interplanetary travel and fun with genetically enhanced humans. You know, because that’s cool and stuff.

Do you strictly write science fiction or do other genres appeal to you? Other genres do appeal to me. I started out as a satirist, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I suppose that part of me will have to come through in other ways! I’ve written some fantasy, psychological, and spiritual stories too.

You’ve written short stories and novellas. As a writer, what attracts you to the shortened written form? The challenge. Some might see a short story as the “poor man’s novel”, but it’s more about learning how to tell a story. Learning how to be more intentional and so on. Not every story has to 300+ pages to be good.

Like many writers you maintain a blog (at https://jclfaltot.com/). Can you tell us why you like blogging and how it helps you as a writer? I enjoy sharing what I’m up to, but I like to use blogging as a reflection tool and keeping myself accountable. When you put things down in writing you attach some accountability to whatever it is you are doing. If I’m talking about it, writing about it, then I ought to do it too. And it’s interesting to hear from people I’ve never met, but may be going through similar things.

Does living in the Midwest influence your writing? Honestly, I never thought about that, but I’d have to say the people here inspire me. The more people you talk to, the more you can absorb new experiences and apply them to your writing.

Which author(s) inspired you and why? Orson Scott Card is someone I consider to be my “virtual mentor”. Never met him in person but his style and storytelling techniques convinced me I could have a voice in publishing. But, then there’s Frank Herbert – the one who first opened my eyes to sci-fi so I have to give him some credit too. Thank you, Muad’Dib (little Dune reference for you).

As an independent author, you have the freedom to pursue the stories you want to write and have complete control over your work. What do you find most enjoyable about the creative process? Setting my own pace. I read and write everyday so I don’t always need someone looking over my shoulder. I bounce ideas off of my wife a lot because she can give a 10,000 foot view of whatever it is I’m doing. So whenever I’m too involved in a story I’ll ask her something and get a good reality check. It pays dividends to be with someone who doesn’t think exactly like you.

On your website you mention speaking at schools about being a writer. What do you enjoy most about such appearances and book signings? Encouraging others. Writing is a passion of mine, but not a lot of people know what that means or what it looks like to pursue a passion. Giving my testimony helps others, I feel. It doesn’t even have to be about writing; just be something you’re willing to work hard for and not necessarily see results right away.

What are you writing now? Lots! I like working on more than one project at a time (keeps those creative juices flowing), but my main project at the moment is finishing up The Road to Mars’ sequel, which I expect to release sometime later this year. Its title will be The Shadow of Mars and will continue to explore Mars’ involvement with colonizing the rest of the solar system. So less time on Earth this time around and more time on foreign worlds. And again, that’s all I’m saying for now! In addition to that, I’m doing a story about a fictional dictator and another about a dystopian society that enacts horrible punishments on its criminals depending on the level of their crime. Both of these I’d love to finish and release this year, but we’ll see how 2017 goes.

Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online? My website, jclfaltot.com, is a great resource for updates, blogs, etc. And I do have a Twitter and Facebook page too. Whenever I attend a signing or give a presentation, my content can be found in either of these places. Thanks again!

An Interview with Author Scott Burtness

033

Scott Burtness lives in the Midwest with his wonderful wife, Liz, and their pitt-boxer mix, Frank. Scott has always enjoyed reading horror, sci-fi, thrillers, and comedic takes on all three genres. For him, reading is a fun escape, a chance to live vicariously through someone else’s adventures. He decided to start writing with the hope of entertaining readers like himself.

Your body of work includes horror and horror-comedy novels. Is there anything in particular that draws you to these genres?

 I’ve always enjoyed supernatural horror. The monsters, especially the classics like vampires and werewolves, embody so much – our greatest desires and most terrifying fears, our very best and very worst qualities. They make for some pretty fun characters to write, especially when you want to take those extremes and find the ridiculously funny aspects of them.

Your Monsters in the Midwest series seems to have caught on with readers. Do you attribute that success to the mixture of horror and comedy or some other reasons?

I tried to make the characters and their struggles relatable. My hope was that people would connect with Herb, Dallas, Lois, Stanley, and the others on a more personal level. Someone doesn’t need to be a vampire to get what Herb is going through. They just need to know what it’s like to wrestle with their self-esteem, be envious of a friend, fall in love, have a rotten boss, and so on.

Herb and Dallas are well developed characters who come across as authentic Midwest Everymen while the setting in your series is Trappersville, Wisconsin. Is there anything about the Midwest in particular that lends itself to your series?

Setting is so important when defining a character and their journey. The vampire Lestat in Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” wouldn’t be who he was without the influence of Paris and New Orleans. Selene, from the film “Underworld” would have been an entirely different creature if she lived in Boise, Idaho.

When I decided to write about a well-intentioned but bumbling vampire, beer-guzzling werewolf, and alien abductee-turned-zombie, a Midwestern town was the perfect fit.

One, it helped to raise the stakes and create some wonderful tension for the characters. It’s a lot harder to keep a secret in a small town, compared to a big city. Like the tagline for “Wisconsin Vamp” says, ‘Midwestern nice’ is hard to pull off when you’re a bloodthirsty monster.

Two, it set up some wonderful jokes. Vampires and werewolves and zombies are scary things. Vampires in flannel, werewolves that drool when they smell beef jerky, and zombies that love reruns of “Columbo” are funny things, and you’re more likely to find those in small-town Wisconsin than New York City or Los Angeles.

Finally, by picking a small town instead of a big city, I was able to ensure that my characters really were the center of the world. I wanted my vampire, werewolf, and zombie to be the big fish in a small pond.

Humor can be difficult to get right yet you seem to pull it off well. Can you describe your writing process?

When I write funny scenes and really want to make sure the humor comes through, I read the scenes out loud over and over again. Each time, I imagine I’m talking to someone different. My mom or my dad. My wife or my boss. The postman or the cashier at the grocery store. Then I try to put myself in their shoes. Would they laugh? Would they roll their eyes, or just give me a strange look?

Deciding for myself if something is funny will only go so far, though. The other part of the process is getting feedback from beta readers. When I ask people to beta read my books, one piece of feedback I ask for is what jokes fell flat, or what sections that *should* be humorous weren’t because they were overwritten or felt forced.

Reading the scenes out loud and getting beta reader feedback really helped me get the humor to where I wanted it to be.

Which author(s) inspire you and why?

I’m inspired by a lot of authors, but I like to list James K. Morrow as a big inspiration. He’s the author of satirical novels like, “Towing Jehovah” and “City of Truth.” Morrow does a wonderful job of taking some pretty heavy subject matter, like, ‘What would happen if God died and fell into the ocean?’ and making it funny – really, really funny – but also making the stories very insightful and thought-provoking.

My books are pretty light on the surface, but in each one, the main character is wrestling with some pretty heavy stuff. Sense of self and self-worth, defining their purpose and place in the world, and so on. I often refer back to Morrow’s works when I’m trying to find the right balance between humor and gravity.

As an independent author, you have the freedom to pursue the stories you want to write and have complete control over your work. What do you find most enjoyable about the creative process?

I love the first draft. I always plot out the main story arc and summarize the story before I start that draft. Then, after I get started, my earlier plans go out the window. The first draft is a chance to let my brain surprise me. Over the years, I’ve learned I have some pretty odd stuff in my brain…

Are there any drawbacks to being an independent author and how do you overcome them?

There are lots of drawbacks. Lots and lots and lots.

First, indies tend to lack some really important resources when they get started. A decent publisher will usually have good editors and cover designers to work with, a platform to promote and market the work, established distribution, etc. Indies don’t have any of that… at first. But over time, you can develop those relationships. If you’re diligent, you can find an editor you really enjoy partnering with, a cover designer whose work you love, book stores that will happily sell your books, and more.

Second, indies have no name recognition, and no publisher to help get them that recognitions. As I like to say, writing a book is easy. Self-publishing a book is easy. Getting people to know that you wrote and published a book…? Really, really, really hard. The only way to overcome the disadvantage of being unknown is to become known. Write more good books, get them into people’s hands however you can, and then write more good books. Be active on social media and engage with your readers. Attend conferences and conventions and book fairs. Each new fan you find will be there – ready and waiting – when you finish that next book.

What are some obstacles authors face achieving sales in the current market and how have you overcome them?

 Any creative person is competing for an ever more precious share of a person’s interest. The average person has maybe 4-5 hours a day to do things they enjoy. Going to the gym or a restaurant or bar. Playing a video game. Watching a movie or TV show. Listening to music on their stereo or going to see a live band. Taking a drive or riding a bike or walking the dog. Having sex. Rock climbing. Spanish lessons.

Reading.

I’m not just up against other authors. I’m up against all the ways people spend their free time.

How have I overcome that? Ha! I haven’t. It’s a daily struggle. Every book I sell, every review that shows up on Amazon or Goodreads, is a hard-won victory. More than that, though, I always appreciate that when a person chooses to read my book, they’ve chosen that over a hundred other things they could be doing. That’s serious, and authors need to recognize that by putting out the best work they possibly can.

What are you writing now?

I’m finishing up the third book in the Monsters in the Midwest series, Undead Cheesehead. Once that’s complete (late January), I’ll be staring a new series.

Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online?

My books are available on Amazon in ebook and paperback format:

https://www.amazon.com/Scott-Burtness/e/B00HZO7REG

I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/swbauthor

Twitter at www.twitter.com/swbauthor

Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/swbauthor

An Interview with Author Jack Castle

tortora_trainbg

Jack Castle loves adventure. Labeled by Coeur D’Alene Press as the, “Man of Adventures”, he has traveled the globe as a professional stuntman for stage, film, and television. While working for Universal Studios, he met Cinderella at Walt Disney World and they were soon married. After moving to Alaska, he worked as a tour guide, police officer, and Criminal Justice professor. He has been stationed on a remote island in the Aleutians as a Response Team Commander and his last job in the Arctic Circle was protecting engineers from ravenous polar bears. His first science fiction novel, ‘Europa Journal’, released in 2015 and became the #1 bestselling book on Amazon. His second novel, Bedlam Lost, has been called by the Spokesman Press, “A creeeeepy novel that brings back memories of early Dean Koontz…”, and his third novel, White Death, was inspired by actual events while working in the Arctic. For more on Jack, his adventures, and his books, visit:  www.JackCastlebooks.com

 Your biography shows that you’ve lived a life of adventure. Among your past jobs you list stuntman for stage, film and television, tour guide, police officer, Criminal Justice professor and certified weapons instructor. Can you tell us how leading such an exciting life has influenced your writing?

 When I was a young stuntman I was fortunate enough to meet June Lockhart (most will remember her as the mother on Lassie and Lost in Space). She asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and to my surprise I said, “A writer.” She tilted her head to the side, thought about it for a moment and then said, “If you want to be a writer, you need to go out and experience the world, have lots of adventures, and only then, should you sit down and start writing about it. So that’s what I did. Many of those experiences; traveling the globe, working law enforcement in a creepy little remote town in Alaska and nearly getting eaten by a polar bear in the Arctic were all inspiration for my books.

 What was your first book and how many books have you published since the first one?

 Europa Journal and Bedlam Lost were both published in 2015 and White Death was published in 2016.

 What genres do you write and why do you enjoy them so much?

Europa Journal is Science Fiction

Bedlam Lost is a Supernatural Thriller

White Death is a Thriller Mystery

I usually don’t think about genre when I start writing a story. It usually begins with some adventure and then asking the “What if?” question.

 Which author(s) inspire you and why?

I’m a big fan of Michael Crichton because he liked to write in multiple genres and most of his stories have the perfect blend of adventure while teaching us a little something.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King because I love how he makes us care about his characters right before he starts killing them off.

 Can you describe your writing process?

  1.  I write every day, even it’s just journaling the day’s events.
  2.  I’m always asking the “What if…?” question wherever I go. For example: What if our plane crashed right now and we discovered a hidden monastery that led us on a path to Shangri-La?
  3.  I begin my research which usually culminates in an adventure in the region that I’d like to write about.
  4.  If I haven’t already, I start scouting for characters.
  5.  Then comes my personal favorite, CLUMPING scenes and dialogue exchanges. Sometimes this stage can take years; with Europa Journal it took nearly a decade of traveling the globe.
  6.  Once I have my big box of notes and scenes (usually written down in notebooks, legal pads and napkins) along with a very loose outline, I sit down and right the first draft.
  7.  Last: Multiple Edits, Beta-Readers, a second-third-fourth draft, More Editing, Professional Editing, Copy Editing, Proofing

You do many book signings at various events. Do you enjoy those kinds of in-person events where you get to interact with your fans?

 Even before getting published, I have always loved meeting new people. I still do.

 Given your success, which includes recently achieving the number one spot in several Kindle categories, can you describe some of your marketing ideas?

Taking a page from the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” authors, I try and do a bit of marketing every day: Radio interviews, book signings, and literary workshops and of course lots and lots of social media.

 What are some obstacles authors face achieving sales in the current market and how have you overcome them?

There are over 12 million books available for purchase on Amazon right now! Quite frankly, even with all the marketing I’m doing, my publisher is doing, I am amazed anyone finds my books.  You have to be prepared to go at it every day.

 What are you writing now?

I’m finishing up another Sci-Fi novel (I’m about 225 pages in), but over the past year I’ve been secretly working on a straight up Horror Novel. Despite the fact that Horror doesn’t sell unless you’re King or Koontz, I’m pretty excited about it.

 Where can readers find your work and where can they find you online?

www.JackCastlebooks.com

All three books are available in print and in all e-book formats. You can find them at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, i-Tunes, Kobo, Kindle, Nook.

Thanks for having me!