Author Interview – J.J. Green

Breaking cover during NaNoWriMo to bring you this conversation with J.J. Green.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I write under the name J.J. Green, but that’s only because I think it sounds cooler than Jenny Green. I’m British/Australian but I’ve been living in Taiwan for six years and plan on being here for another two at least. I’ve also lived in Laos. I write space opera and humorous sci-fi, and I’m hoping to begin writing thrillers under a pseudonym later in 2018.

How has living abroad impacted your writing? 

The simpler, cheaper lifestyle has made it easier to find time to write compared to living in the UK when I needed to work a full time job to support myself and my family. On the other hand, I find it much harder to go to conventions and conferences so my networking is confined mostly to the internet. I recently went to the 20 Books to 50 K writers’ conferences and it was great to finally meet some fellow writers face to face.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I recently finished my second sci-fi series! Called Shadows of the Void, it’s a ten-book space opera that progresses from a mysterious life form discovered on a remote planet to an all-out galactic war. The protagonists are a Martian security officer and an Australian starship pilot. The two characters are made for each other but it takes them a while to realize it.

Now that Shadows of the Void is complete, I’ve begun a new series, a space colonization saga. The prequel to the new series appears in an anthology called The Expanding Universe 2 under the title, Space Colony One: Night of Flames.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Science fiction has been my favourite genre since I first encountered it when I was around eleven. I love everything sci-fi from H.G. Wells to Neal Stephenson, so it was the obvious choice when I decided I was going to take the plunge and write novels. I also love mysteries and thrillers, though, so I’m kind of torn. I like to include some elements of both of them in my science fiction.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I try to have a plan but often the ideas don’t flesh out until I begin to write, and then they may change shape. Sometimes I re-read my plan after I’ve finished a book and think, oh, so that’s what I wanted to write.

I generally try to write as much as I can as often as I can. I aim for 3000 words a day as a minimum, but if something breaks my routine I usually miss that target.

After finishing the first draft, I go over the story again, correcting mistakes, filling out thin parts, checking for consistency, adding items I needed to research and improving the flow of the language. Then the manuscript goes to my editor, who finds more mistakes and gives me her gut-feel feedback as a reader. I fix the extra mistakes and tweak things according to how she’s seen them, then I publish.

How did you go about finding an editor that you trust and could develop a good working relationship with?

I’m very lucky in that I got to know a very good editor through my writers’ group. I knew from firsthand experience that she has an eagle eye for writing errors and because she’s a writer herself she has a good feel for what works and doesn’t work at sentence level. What’s more, she reads science fiction and fantasy, so she’s my target audience.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favourite character is in my first series. Her name is Carrie Hatchett, and she’s a Transgalactic Intercultural Community Crisis Liaison Officer. What she lacks in smarts she makes up for in enthusiasm and effort and she usually saves the day, though she manages to get herself into quite a few scrapes along the way.

Carrie’s like a female Doctor Who in what she does, but she isn’t anywhere near as intelligent as the Doctor and she has only one—very big—heart.

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What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

That’s a hard one to answer as I love to read about strange things that have no bearing on my life whatsoever, so I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have researched something if it weren’t for the fact I was writing about it.

Having said that, probably the most esoteric subject I’ve ever researched for writing purposes was Ediacaran life forms. They were organisms that evolved very early on in Earth’s history and they were soft-bodied, so little information about them has been gleaned from their fossils. The reason I was researching them was because I polled my readers on what animals to include in my Shadows of the Void series, and that was one of the suggestions. The Ediacarans went on to become the alien creatures called Paths (due to their telepathic/empathic abilities).

How did you poll your readers? Are there any other ideas you might leave up to their whims?

I’m afraid my polling skills are very amateurish. I simply ask my readers questions and ask them to reply on Facebook, Tweet me or write me an email. My method isn’t very scientific, but it helps me build a rapport with my readers, which I love.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

There are so many to choose from! I would say, understand book covers before you shell out hundreds of dollars. I paid a couple of hundred for a nice, well-made cover that didn’t fit my genre at all. As a result, I received some negative reviews from readers whose expectations hadn’t been met. After that experience, I spent hours looking at covers in my genre and learning what elements were similar and what made a cover look good. I also learned the names of famous designers in the genre.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

It wouldn’t stop me from writing, that’s for sure, but I would finally be able to invest seriously in my self-publishing business. A little extra cash to pay for amazing covers and promotion might give me the kick start I need to progress to the next level. Bootstrapping is hard sometimes.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I recently began reading M.D. Cooper’s Aeon 14 series, which is pretty awesome and very useful for me because it’s full of hard sci-fi tidbits.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

As well as the space colonization series I mentioned above I’ve also begun work on a space fantasy series. I’m not so sure on the format that will take yet, but it involves a star mage who’s searching for the rest of her clan and the origin of humankind. The magic is based on the Chinese Wu Xing system, which describes interactions and relationships between objects through classification according to five planets or elements. I’ve written the prequel but the rest will have to wait until I’ve wrapped up the space colonization series.

Get in touch with J.J. on the Web, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Author Interview – Timothy Ellis

For this interview we go (back) down under to talk with space opera writer Timothy Ellis.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

Timothy Ellis. I live on the Gold Coast, in Queensland, Australia. I write Space Opera, with a spiritual underscore, a love of cats, and dabbling mix of other genres.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My current project is the A.I. Destiny series, which is a spin off from The Hunter Legacy series. Book 3 was Snark’s Quest, co-authored with Elspeth Anders. Snark is a centaur like Cat, in my Gaia galaxy, introduced in the previous book Queen Jane. While the series is called AI Destiny, Snark takes on a journey through a galaxy coming to grips with humans suddenly appearing, and being the strongest species around. Book 4 is Destiny Stone, continuing the quest. Book 5, Talisman of Tomorrow is currently in editing as I write this. All 3 are co-authored.

The series is a reversal for most Space Opera where humans are the underdog, and must save the universe. Here, humans, unknowingly led by AI’s have what everyone else wants, and Snark’s Quest begins a 3 book arc about the consequences of being top dog, instead of underdog. Especially on a cat world.

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 In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Space Opera is my first love. I didn’t actually choose what to write. It had been haunting my mind for twenty years before I first sat down and attempted to extract it. The first few books wrote themselves.

Spirituality, (without religion) has become my way of life, and so I decided to mix Space Opera with a spiritual main character. This introduces an aspect missing from many space military stories, where mine has a main character struggling to cope with a death toll he can’t avoid, and doesn’t want to be part of.

I also added in cats in space, since I love cats. Some of my funniest moments are cats doing in space what cats do naturally.

The last aspect of my writing is the Artificial Intelligence, and what happens when one is side kick to an eccentric human, and a group who accept who she without any need to justify anything. I took this is another level in the spin off series, where the AI goes from side kick to Queen.

In your mind, what sets space opera apart from other science fiction that’s set in space? Later on you mention a “spectrum” of space opera – what is that?

To my way of thinking, Space Opera is about people. It’s character driven, and is about them being put into situations, somewhere in space. Military science fiction on the other hand tends to be event driven story, populated by people doing things. Characters who get thrust into events, verses events where people have to deal with them. You can still have military based Space Opera, but the characters come first. In Military Sci-Fi, the events come first. For example, in Space Opera you meet Joe Bloggs having an ordinary day on his ship, and things go pear shaped. In Military Sci-Fi, your star system is invaded, and Joe Bloggs is the nearest who/whatever to deal with it. It may sound like the same thing, but remember, you’re in my mind here, a most dangerous place to be I assure you, and just about everyone has a different perspective on the distinction.

On one end of the Space Opera spectrum is pure life in space. There are no galaxy wide problems, no save the universe as we know it situations, and definitely no hero to the rescue. It’s about living in space, and the day to day events which make up real life. The best of this end can still be compelling reading, even if nothing actually blows up.

On the other end is the more traditional expectation of Space Opera. The system/political entity/galaxy/universe has been invaded or is about to end, and some hero type has to save everyone. The stakes are big, the problems seem insurmountable, and there is a great deal of handwavium, and pulling rabbits out of orifices at the last second. The movies get made at this end of the spectrum because of all the high stakes jeopardy for the characters, and everything going boom.

In the middle are series like my own, where life in space is the core, but there is a steady building, ebb and flow, and rebuilding towards the end of humanity situation. I have gone with the hero theme, but my hero has a daily life, and it’s not always about saving anything or anyone. He goes shopping, eats dinner in restaurants, throws up in the bathroom, gets drunk, showers, and goes naked in the spa. Sometimes alone, sometimes not. Most of my books cover somewhere between one and three weeks in time, and you live those weeks with the main character. The Christmas story for example, is one day in space, where the main character is losing his grip on the day, while everyone else thinks it’s all his doing. It could be anywhere, but it’s on a ship, and things happen which can only happen on a ship. This is Space Opera at its best for me. Life in Space. It’s not about where they’re going. It’s about what happens on the journey.

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Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

 I’m a ‘pantser’, so I start with an idea, usually knowing where the end is, and simply begin. The characters talk to me as we go, and I write about what they want to say, where they want to go, and what they want to do.

In some books I’ve need to meticulously plot time against multiple actions, so everything happens in the right order.

I edit what I write the day before first, and continue on writing.

Once complete, aiming for 85k words, I do a reading pass on the computer looking for anything wrong, and tidying things up. I usually add more than I delete.

Once the story is there, I throw it to my Kindle app, and start reading it as if it was someone else’s book, editing as I go. Rinse and repeat until I can’t find any errors.

Blurbs tend to write themselves during the editing process, and the cover is defined, commissioned, and completed by the time the editing process is complete.

I release as soon as I consider the book is polished well enough.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Jane is my first AI character. She starts out as a ship computer AI, gains a robot body, uses tech to appear human, and learns how to be so human, no-one can tell she’s not. She’s a fiercely protective side-kick, but has a sense of humour which produces some very funny dialog. She’s done disco dancing, fleet control, bait for a serial killer, killed the bad guy when the main character decided not to, and eventually becomes a Queen of her own Kingdom.

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What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

 Dismembering a corpse, within a combat suit, in the vacuum of a space hulk, using something resembling a Japanese Katana sword.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

As distasteful as getting editors to cover your first novel in red is, it’s really necessary. I’ve seen too many authors release their first book with so much ego involved, having not had a good editor, or even a proof-reader look at it. They crash and burn, and that first book haunts them ever after.

All first time authors have blinkers on as far as their writing is concerned. Successful authors fall into 2 groups. Those who had their first books edited and learned how to do it themselves to a higher level, and those who still get their books edited by professionals. No matter how good you are, your first book needs a professional editor, and multiple proofreading passes, in order to polish it to a good enough standard to be acceptable to readers.

The process is hard to go through, since an editor will most likely gut what you think is your ‘voice’. But that is what they’re supposed to do. The first book is a learning journey on a steep slope. But it is necessary.

The other part of this is letting go of ego. Too many first time authors think they are the second coming, and their work is perfect as it is. They fail to listen to experienced authors trying to help them improve the book, blurb, and cover before they launch it, and crash and burn spectacularly. Help is out there on author forums and groups, and the authors who utilize the experience of successful authors who help new ones, do a lot better out of the gate.

The first launch is a matter of parking your ego, getting the best advise you can, using professional services to polish your story as much as you can, and producing the best possible story, presented in the best possible way, before you present it to readers. What happens then depends on how well people like the story, not on what was wrong with the presentation.

You mention the need for a professional editor for a first book, which implies you’ve moved past using one. What did you learn from initially using an editor that you’re able to use now and avoid going that route?

The first thing everyone learns is to hate the red which comes back. It’s a good motivator for learning how to edit yourself. What I did was looked hard at what the red was about, and I set down on paper all the common corrections. When my editor wasn’t available for book 3, I methodically used the find function in word, to check a long list of things I usually had wrong. These included two words where a contracted word is better, a list of words I over used badly and could easily be replaced by a better one with just a little thought, and typical spelling mistakes I make all the time, which the spell checker won’t pick up because they are real words.

There are two parts to editing. Looking at the story itself, and proofreading the words used. I tend to write fairly clean first drafts, so I don’t rewrite very much on the first editing pass. If anything, I add in new ideas, and clarification. While writing, I keep notes on what needs to be covered later on, so I rarely miss anything important, and pick these up on the first full read pass.

Proofreading is where most authors fail, as far as the final product is concerned. But learning to proofread is first a matter of learning about yourself. What do you always do wrong? Where are your blind spots? These are where editors and proofreaders will show you what you need to concentrate on when self-editing.

One of the tricks to proofreading is putting it on your reading device, and reading it like it’s someone else’s book. So much becomes obvious this way, which you never saw on the PC, no matter how many times you read there. I do most of my editing from my device, reading like a reader, and changing on the PC version as I go.

It’s a skill. You will either learn it or not. Editing and proofreading are separate skills, but they can be combined with writing. You just need to change hats a lot.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

Not much. 1 Mill isn’t all that much these days in the scheme of things. It won’t buy me a decent sized apartment on the beach, which is where I’d like to be living.

It would allow me to travel without needing to worry about those months where you don’t release, and so your income drops like a stone. I’d do the American Comic-con circuit for a while.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

 The two authors I wait impatiently for the next book are Nathan Lowell and Glynn Stewart. Both have series on the go where the end of each book is always way too soon. Both write Space Opera, but on opposite ends of the spectrum.

I can’t say I’ve discovered a new author in recent times. One of the disadvantages of being in editing mode so often, is reading other people’s books is difficult, because you also edit them as you read. Hence, I only go looking for something really new, between releasing a book, and beginning writing the next one. Sometimes there is no gap, so I don’t even look.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

I have 4 on the go at the moment.

Editing the next A.I.Destiny/Snark based book is the primary focus right now. The fifth is in editing for release in the second week of October. The series finale is in planning.

I’m also developing a sequel to my original series, setting it up to be a core for more books in the original galaxy.

I’ve already begun something completely new as well. Crossing genres much more than I already have. For now, I’m not sure if it’s a standalone book, or the first of a new trilogy.

As well, with a co-author on the current project, I’m working towards co-authoring in my universe with other authors. I’ll soon have a universe with 2 galaxies, and separate characters and species, sharing technology with Humans and AI’s at the center of them. A second co-author is currently working on a backstory to one of my characters.

How do you keep track of your many ongoing projects? Do you try and prioritize one at a time or do you just work on whatever strikes your fancy on a given day?

I’m a fairly methodical person, so I work mainly on one thing at a time. Ideas come and go, I take time out to make notes, but I keep going on what the current book is. This doesn’t stop my head from going off track, but deadlines help keep you focused. Once a book in a series is released, you need to focus on 4 to 6 weeks later being the release date for the work in progress. You can deviate a bit, but too much makes your release date slip.

I do allocate some time each day to working on other projects, but come writing time, you work on only the current book.

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Author Interview – J. David Core

From one JD to another . . . and from next door in Ohio, to boot.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

 I’m a fifty-five year-old grandfather from small-town Ohio. I’ve worked as a traveling photographer, a newspaper photog, a freelance writer, a cook, and a whole lot of retail. I write mysteries and crime thrillers mostly. I set most of my stories in the tri-state region of the upper-Ohio valley which is the stomping ground I call home.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My most recent release is called On the Side of the Angel. It’s intended as part of a multi-author project. I contacted several writers and together we brainstormed a character and back story with the intention of each using the character in a shared capacity in our assorted projects. The stories would have no other connection except that the same character would feature prominently in each. When we began the project we had no idea who or what the character would be. Eventually we settled on a young, multi-racial woman who has been forced to fake her own death and is working as a fixer for the mafia in an effort to farm information for her vendetta against the person who murdered her family and forced her into this new life.

The character uses a different assumed identity in each iteration of her freelance career, and as she cleans the messes she’s tasked to clean, she curries favors to call in as needed. Because of this habit she is known in the underground only as the Bartering Angel.

My story is set early in her career just after she has faked her death. She shows up in Pittsburgh and is asked to help the son of a local drug dealer to escape the country after he and his girlfriend accidentally killed a store clerk in a botched thrill robbery. The Angel devises a scheme to misdirect the FBI with a dupe who is trying to cash several dozen winning lottery tickets without paying any taxes.

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I’m really intrigued by the project that led to the Bartering Angel. How did you get involved in that? How many authors were involved? How do you ensure that all the different stories don’t take the character in conflicting directions?

I was listening to Simon Whistler’s podcast, and he was interviewing a romance author who mentioned that she was involved with a multi-author project with a shared character. In their case, it was a matchmaker. I thought it was a great way to cross-promote, and wondered if a group of thriller and mystery writers could do something similar, so I wrote a bunch of writers I have had previous dealings with and composed a post about the idea on a popular writers’ forum. To be honest, I doubted many writers would be interested, and one suggested that the idea of keeping all of the writers interested would be like herding cats, but I was tenacious. Eventually we wound up with a core group of around seven authors, and two of us besides me have already outlined and partly written their own stories. The others in the group are waiting until those stories are all released to begin working on their own stories. My story is set in 2005. The third story will be present day.  And a second story falls somewhere in the middle of that timeline. Once they are all released, I’ll create a wiki which we can use as a sort of story bible to keep consistency.

Meanwhile we are all working on the prequel story, so we are all familiar with the origin story. Beyond that, none of us is writing from her POV directly, so even if the stories have different voices, the character’s voice can be kept ambiguous enough. In a sense, it’s the same as when multiple authors write in – say – the Star Wars universe. Or when different directors make a Spiderman movie. We all know who the character is, and we all have our own spin on her, but the reader will still recognize her as the Angel just like they recognize Han Solo or Peter Parker.

Are there things about the Bartering Angel that would have changed if she was only “yours”? Might those things find their way into a future work of yours?

Frankly, I would never have thought to give her a fatal flaw. That was a suggestion by one of our writers, HN Wake. Then as a group we decided to give her agoraphobia, which she is struggling to overcome but which sometimes gets the best of her. So if she was just mine, she’d be less interesting in that regard. Also, I had originally suggested calling the character Betty Barter. Sometimes committee decisions are better.

As for whether I’d ever work my vision of the character into my own story; in my story about the angel set in 2005, On the Side of the Angel, I introduced a middle aged, gay, fixer with a stoic personality called “the painter” who gets involved on the case temporarily. He was how I envisioned the character before we began development. So in a way, I guess I did work my vision for the character into my story.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Most of my stories involve crime. Some are thrillers. Others are mysteries. I have also written a handful of time travel stories which also involve crime as a central focus. I have no idea why I am so drawn to crime stories. I’m the most honest, milquetoast dude I know. There must be a dark corner in my psyche that wishes I could seek vengeance and embrace anarchy and sociopathology.

What’s the difference between “mysteries” and “thrillers”? Isn’t there a mystery at the heart of any good thriller?

I think a thriller certainly can have a mystery at its heart, but so can a romance or a science fiction novel. And a mystery is thrilling, but so is a horror story. Genre lines are vague in some ways, but like Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, when it comes to the distinction between mystery and thriller, I know it when I see it.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I get ideas for stories every day. Sometimes I have completely forgotten them by day’s end. If I haven’t forgotten an idea by the next morning, it begins to stick with me and I know I have a hold of something with a life of its own. I tend to let the idea fester and marinate for a while. Finally I’ll sit down and write out a rough synopsis. I then turn this into an outline, and then I flesh that out into beats.

By this time, I’m ready to write, so I draw in the chapter breaks and do whatever research the story requires, and they all require some research. Then I start writing. A 50,000 word novel usually takes about a month. A novella takes around a week. Then I let it sit for a month or so before going back in for rewrites. I like that break to give it freshness when I return to it. I find if I try to edit or rewrite just after I finish that I’m too close to what I’ve written. A month later though and I can read it like it’s something I’ve never seen, and it’s a lot less precious.

After the rewrites, I send it to my beta team. When I get it back, I make my corrections or rewrites. Then I’ll get one or two people who haven’t seen it yet to give the latest draft a read, then I do a final polish after they give their feedback. That’s it. I hit publish.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

I’m pretty impressed with the Bartering Angel. She was raised in Alaska on a secluded homestead by her parents who homeschooled her and taught her survivalism until they were murdered. After that she lived with her scientist aunt in Anchorage who taught her chemistry before she joined the military where she learned spec ops techniques until a bout of agoraphobia (brought on by unresolved issues resulting from the murder of her parents) forced her to leave the military. She sought therapy and joined the police academy as she tried working through her issues, but when her aunt took ill she left the force and studied forensics and computer science on her own from home. Then, when her aunt passed and she learned that she was going to be charged as the killer when poison is found in her system, she fakes her death and goes underground.

All of this gave her all the necessary tools to be the perfect fixer for the mob, a job she never wanted, but was forced into due to circumstances. It’s such a rich and perfect back story. But…

The problem is I didn’t develop all of this by myself. As I said earlier, she was created as part of a group project.

Then there’s Lupa Schwartz, a genius detective who loathes religion and loves classic cars and women and good food, and came to America from the Balkans as a Jewish refugee after the fall of the Soviet Union. He’s a rich and interesting character too, wearing only green shirts and black pants, insisting on releasing the air from the tires of parking violators so they can’t flee before the police have a chance to ticket them, vigorously denouncing the beliefs of others while holding to what some would consider ludicrous conspiracy theories involving shadow governments and corporate conglomerates. But…

If I’m being honest, most of that came about because the character is pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe. I just took existing tropes and twisted them into something recognizable and new but fully formed and informed by what came before.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

One of my characters is a pedophile being brought to justice by a bounty hunter. On the trip they have a conversation, and I decided the child molester would try to make excuses for his behavior. I had to research countries with no age of consent or a very young one that he could use in his argument. I researched the history of consent in our country. It was a weird rabbit hole with a lot of very disturbing facts. And it left me with a very ugly Google cache I’m sure.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

That’s a good question. I’d say I probably wasted way too much time trying to get an agent to shop my mystery series to traditional publishing houses. Of course this was long before the kindle revolution, but even so. Back in those days, an agent would ask for a query with a synopsis. If they liked that they’d ask for a manuscript. For this whole process they wanted non-simultaneous submissions, aka exclusivity on spec. This tied up the project for months and almost always ended in a rejection and they never even sent back the manuscript even though I sent a SASE. It was a giant time and money suck for no return.

Even today there are those who are still playing that game. Do not get sucked in. Even if you are one of the lucky chosen few, they own your labor’s fruit lock-stock-and-barrel. They decide after a month to pull it from shelves and take it out of print and it’s basically gone forever. You don’t own it anymore.

Be an indie publisher.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

Well, for one thing, I’d invest it in a start-up ebook retailer idea I have to compete with the likes of Kobo, Nook, and Amazon. I’d take a smaller cut on each sale letting authors pocket 80%, set sales or free days as they see fit, and run a discovery tool similar to the Netflix model. “Based on your like of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, we recommend these indie authors.” Something like that.

Other than that, my own writing would be unaffected. I already write what I want when I want the way I want.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I really enjoyed The Coelho Medallion by Kevin Tumlinson and Revelation by Carter Wilson. They are two very different kinds of stories by very different authors, but each was enthralling and smart and fantastically researched.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

I have an idea for a science fiction series that I’m hoping to treat in a way similar to the Bartering Angel series in that it will involve several different authors writing in the same universe. I don’t have a name for the concept yet, but it involves an alternate version of our world where scientists in the 80s discovered a way to inject nanobots into our spinal columns that would create artificial stem cells that would replace all of our cells with improved robotic cells. What kind of world would we have today, 30 years later? There’d be luddites who refuse the operation, maybe some of them even working in an underground opposition. Some of the perfected people would figure out ways to use the technology to commit crimes. Each story would explore the universe from a different perspective. Some small and personal in scope, others more epic.

I’m working out the fine points before opening it to other writers.

Meanwhile I have a few more Lupa Schwartz mysteries to write and I’m putting out an audiobook of a noir collection I published last year.

Get in touch with Dave on the Web, Facebook, or Twitter and check out his podcast.

Author Interview – JD Weston

This time it’s off to the Middle East to talk with suspense, thriller, and hybrid writer JD Weston.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I am a Dubai based author and photographer, I find the sunshine helps my creativity (smug grin). I have lived in Dubai for close to ten years now and enjoy the central location to the rest of the world. Since being here, I have traveled to Africa, Asia, America, and all over the Middle-East, to places that from my home city of London, would have been slightly more difficult to get to, and likely would have never crossed my mind.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I have just finished a duology called, The Alaskan Adventure Series. The second part, From the Ocean to the Stream, was published on the 7th September. The story outlines the memoirs of a young man called Jim, who picks up from his father’s story in the first part of the series, during which time the family travel to France and undergo the horrific experience of their ship sinking. With the family split, each of them take on their own battles with the ocean and struggle to survive any which way they can before returning to Alaska.

From the Ocean to the Stream, sees Jim take on Alaska, his father’s birthplace in their log cabin on a lake deep in the Rocky Mountains. The horrors of the experience on the ocean and the things that Jim had to do to survive continue to haunt him through similes that lie in the shadows of the woods. His battle to overcome the memories and to find solace and peace in the wilderness, and to truly find himself are put to the test as the greed of man seeks to destroy all his family have ever worked for.

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Alaska has an important place in your work. How did it become such a key feature of books written by someone born in London and living in Dubai?

That’s a great question. I am a country boy at heart and a lover of the outdoors. I have family in Montana, where nature rules and the landscape and wildlife aren’t too dissimilar and as a result I’ve spent a lot of time there. Alaska is not far to travel from Montana and had always been on my list, so during a trip to Montana, I went further into Alaska and was blown away.  Once I’d been there and had stood deep in the silent wilderness; fully aware that I was far from the apex predator on so many levels; it left me feeling humbled and totally appreciative of the balance of nature. I was awed by the stories of the frontier; tales of men grunting their way through the hard winters, foraging and hunting and much like early man, constantly aware of the dangers. This is something that I think appeals to many people, it’s a sense that has evolved in man within the confines of the cities, where the dangers are still there but in a different form. Life in the remote parts of Alaska is not easy. Everything you do requires effort and planning. Boiling water requires wood, fire and effort. Finding food often involves patience, hiking and danger. I grew up in London, where many things are a phone call away, or the flick of a switch or remote control. I think that exposure to both the big cities and those remote wild places really gave me the holistic perspective I needed to identify life in the wild in a way that someone who has never experienced it could appreciate.

I used the trips to Montana to sit and reflect on the Alaska trip and to fill in the gaps in the flora and fauna that flavoured the books. I spoke to men who through experience were able to add substance to my own knowledge of the way things are done in the wild. Above all, in both Alaska and Montana, the feeling of sitting by a lake, high in the mountains with no other people for miles around is something that not everyone gets to experience. The silence of nature and the smell of the wilderness is captivating. It had such an impact on me, I had such a powerful connection with it all, I simply had to put it down in words.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Perhaps like many authors I find my genre is a hybrid of many, with flavors of others. I enjoy the graphic detail and suspense that I am able to spin into a thriller, and the wild places that beg for action adventure. But yes, there’s a hint of romance in most of my books, just to spice it up a little.

You mention that your books tend to be hybrids, crossing genre lines. Has it been difficult finding a audience for such works? How have you connected with readers without being able to hang a clear genre label on your work?

In short, yes it has been difficult. The first book has received some fantastic feedback, but as I mentioned, it was a story that was inside me and I just had to write it. When I started, I had no intention of publishing it, I was simply enjoying writing; I loved the faraway places the story took me and at the time was unaware of writing to an audience, I was writing for myself. That first book was like lighting a fire beneath me; I had to write a second, which as I mentioned, followed more of a plot, and actually is channeled into a thriller genre more than any other, although it would still appeal to readers of adventure. Perhaps rather selfishly, it also gave me another excuse to visit my favourite place.

Now that I have the first two books complete, I am working on a new series with six books planned for the next year, all of which are specifically crime thriller and are written for that particular audience.

The Alaskan Adventure series was written with fluid, empathetic descriptions that convey the smells, the sounds and the feeling of being in the wild. Whereas the new series contains much more concise sentences, with the sharp dialogue of London’s east end organized crime scene, (think Snatch meets Jack Reacher). As I am writing, the voice in my head takes on the dialect of the character. So, while writing the Alaskan Adventure series, I spent a huge portion of the time with my own thoughts talking in that loveable, wild, North American slang which I adore. The new series sees me going back to my roots, with my head in full cockney mode, which the dialogue benefits from hugely. I think the audience of the crime thriller genre will identify with this accent, and it will become an underlying tone across the entire series.

One of the benefits of the east end/cockney language is that it can be written in plain English and the reader can still hear the cockney tone through the use of language and dialogue. Whereas I found with the Alaskan Adventure, the most effective way to really give the reader a sense of language, was to write in the actual dialogue, which raised some issues with the writing application during editing, but enables the reader to quickly slip into the tangle of trees and sit by the lake with the tastes and smells that the characters describe far easier than if they were written in plain English. In the end I compromised and changed the story to plain English, and kept the dialogue in the slang dialect, but I still prefer the original. It takes me away to some very special places.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways of the first two books, was indeed, identify the audience and then write for them and not for myself. I am a huge fan of Lee Child, Mr. King, and Wilbur Smith’s African themed Courtney series. I think my stories will always have a taste of the outdoors, it’s something that has been close to me for as long as I remember, but my experience of the cities allows me to focus on my audience now. As I mature as writer, and begin to find my feet, I feel I can channel the experience of city life into the thriller series, and throw in realistic tones of the outdoors.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

The first book I wrote started out as a chapter that then became two chapters, then three; pretty soon it was a book. The book that followed had a plot, aha, I’m learning new things. Since then my approach has differed.

The series I am working on now saw me outline an entire series on an A0 piece of paper, with individual story arcs and the full series arc. So now all I have to do is fill in the gaps with words.

I typically start writing at 0530 am for two hours and then again at midday. The break allows me time to digest what I have written, compare it to the story and series arcs and develop some ideas to follow it.  I aim for around 3,000 words per day, so around 8 weeks for a finished story, sometimes less. I’ll get the covers done halfway through the book, and try to do a book trailer as early as possible, these give my story a feel and of course allow me to shout about the book before it’s done. Once complete, I’ll fire off the manuscript to the editor, which is then butchered and the remains are then returned for me to do a final draft and send back for a final and edit and format.

It sounds like you edit as you write, rather than finish one draft then go back and take a next pass on it. How do you balance the editing with the need to push forward, getting plot on the page?

I do like to revisit the previous days writing to clean the phrasing up and improve the flow, and then by the time I pick where I left off, I am fully in the zone and ideas are already bouncing around. Once complete, I read the book through aloud and make changes before sending it to the editor.  I set myself a target of 2,200 words per day, which I normally smash. The series I am working on has the series arc laid out, with individual story arcs, so often the words are itching to get out before I even sit down. As a writer who is new to fiction, I am still finding my feet; the more advice I listen to, the more I understand the need to spew the words onto the page and edit later…but I can’t help myself, I love to go back and read what I wrote the previous day, if anything, for continuity of writing style and feel.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

The first character I ever created in my first novel, Where the Mountains Kiss the Sun. Sonny was born and raised in the wilds of Alaska. There was nothing he couldn’t do, hunt, fish, trap, fell trees, start fires, and boy he could shoot. But one day, when he was just 18, his family had died leaving him alone, so he set off into the new world seeking adventure. He meets people for the first time, learns about civilized life, and goes to war with his nation where he experiences hell. His naivety and innocence find him a loving wife but also sends him to prison. His loyalty and devotion places him on a ship to France that sinks, and his courage and tenacity help him find his family again, where he can return to his home, Where the Mountains Kiss the Sun. Sonny is loveable, adorable and naïve in the city, but in the wilds of Alaska, he’s the king.

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What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

I have had to research many weird things, often sat in a café’ where people who may be looking over my shoulder would see me frantically trying to understand what life was like in a New York prison in 1930, or how big the ships were that carried troops across the ocean and how many funnels they had. Or they may see me learning how to field dress and skin a deer. At number one on the weird list though, I would have to say is the long term effects of cannibalism on the human mind, and what the best parts of the human body to eat are. I probably got some odd looks during that phase; in fact, I probably shouldn’t go back there. Ever.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Patience. Plan, prepare and execute only when you are ready. There’s hundreds of blog posts and articles on release strategies and target audiences and all the other marketing elements, and don’t get me wrong, these are crucial to success. But before all those elements, you need to write a good book. Close off loose ends, spell check, edit, proof read, edit, proof read and format well. If none of those things are done and the book isn’t your absolute best, then it doesn’t matter what advertising, or keywords you use.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I’d like to think I would continue to write and photograph, but I’d be doing it in various parts of the world, where the variety could influence both of my passions in a positive manner.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I personally like to read long books, or series. I bumble around from author to author, and often listen to audiobooks in my car as I drive to work. I recently found Jeffrey Archers, As the Crow Flies. He somehow manages to interweave story lines and timelines into a jumble of superbly written chapters with such vivid characters, that I almost feel I know them by the end of chapter one. He is of course, an extremely talented man, and I have read many of his books, usually in awe of the detail he provides the reader.

I have to give credit to the narrator also. John Lee is one of my favorite narrators and can throw his voice in so many different directions. He bounces from accent to accent in the midst of Jeffrey’s heavy reams of dialogue, and yet he does it such dexterity and grace, barely pausing for breath, that I often sit in my car waiting for the end of the chapter before heading into my office.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

I’m actually currently working on a thriller series based in my home town of London. It’s based around the story of a man who was raised to be a killer for a crime family, who strives to escape the life that accompanies such a vocation. During his efforts to escape he turns his talents to better purposes, cleaning the gene pool has never been so much fun.

When I write, I tend to think in the accent of the person; kind of like a bad movie going on in my head. The last series was based in Alaska, so I had two years of speaking like a backwoods hillbilly. The new series as I mentioned, is based in London, so I’m allowing my cockney self to run free and colour the dialogue that spills out daily. I find it’s a great way to actually put myself there at the scene, see the details and provide imagery that takes the reader there.

I aim to release books 1-6 every four weeks starting in May 2018. And right now, as well as writing like I’m possessed, I am working on campaigns, covers, book trailers, keywords and all the rest.

Author Interview – John Triptych

This time we’re headed to Asia to chat with science fiction & thriller writer John Triptych.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

Hi, I’m John and I write science fiction and thriller novels. Right now I live out in Asia because I’m planning to settle here permanently. I’m a semi-retired businessman who decided to write novels because it’s always been my dream to be an author.

Why did you relocate to Asia and do you think your new surroundings will impact your fiction?

I worked as an expat, traveling and living in different parts of the world for almost 20 years so the area was pretty familiar to me. I also found the cost of living is much, much lower, and I didn’t have to work as hard yet still maintain my lifestyle if I stayed in the US. There’s plenty of American retirees living in the Third World and they live like kings!

As far as my surroundings having a say in my writing … it’s very strange in that I actually write more about the US ever since I’ve moved away, so while I’m in another part of the world, I still write about things I’ve experienced before.

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I ask writers to send me a picture – John sent me a picture of a genuine Roman pizza!

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I’m currently finishing up the first book in a new series called Alien Rebellion. Its set a few hundred years in the future, and there’s a human colony on an alien planet that’s undergoing some … drastic changes to put it lightly. It’s sort of like a cross between James Cameron’s Avatar movie and the anthropological science fiction of Ursula K Le Guin, and a bit of James Clavell too.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I primarily write science fiction. I like writing in this genre because there are no limits to your imagination. You can create entire worlds from scratch and I love doing that. I have a background in tabletop role-playing games and even as a kid I loved to create my own little worlds, sort of like a self-centered demigod.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I start out with nothing more than a concept. From there I think of an initial scene and start writing. I don’t plot in advance and I just create the story and characters on the fly. I’m a two-finger typist so it takes me a long time to write (and I stop every now and then to do research on the internet too whenever an idea pops up) but I still somehow get it done!

Once the manuscript is finished I go through it a few times before submitting it to the editor. After she sends it back to me I go through it again to see if we’ve both missed any errors. I also contact the cover artist and give them my idea on what the cover ought to look like.

The moment I am happy with everything I send it to the formatter to put it all together.

How deep does your “concept” go? Does it include the universe in which you’re going to tell the story, or just the basic 1-sentence hook? The idea of writing sci-fi off the cuff without a lot of preparation gives me hives!

The whole concept revolves a lot on instinct and feel for me. My background in playing RPGs and constant daydreaming seems to have affected a strange sense of deja-vu when I write, and everything just comes together somehow. I can’t fully explain the process, but I try to imagine myself living in that world, down to the smallest detail, and everything starts to gel to the point where I am overwhelmed by details.

It’s almost like a strange awareness of being able to project yourself into a whole different universe. You start to imagine what a table looks like in that place, and how stuff works, as well as the other little things that add to it.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

The protagonist of my Ace of Space series: Stilicho Jones. I like writing him because he is my alter ego. Stilicho is a mercenary who is out for himself and he’s a smart aleck to boot. Some readers get turned off by his smugness but I love writing him since he jokes around a lot, and it helps because I felt my earlier novels were all too grim.

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What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

My Wrath of the Old Gods series is a mythological post apocalyptic storyline about the ancient pagan gods returning to modern day earth and causing all sorts of mayhem, so I had to research some very obscure deities because I wanted to get to the root of all these mythological stories and strip away popular misconceptions in order to get into what the old pagans gods were really like.

One of these gods I stumbled upon was a Hebrew god (or demon) named Peor (or Ba’al Pe’or, depending on the sources), literally the god of defecation! I added him into the third book of the series since there’s a subplot with one of the main characters trying to escape from hell. Great fun!

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What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Hoo boy! I’ve learned a lot of things. One is you have to find a good editor. It’s not easy, but it will save you a lot of hassles in the end. Don’t be cheap, because good editors cost money.

Could you give an example of a time where an editor’s feedback really improved your finished work?

One of my editors is very good- she does a two step editing process. The first is that she just reads through the story, much like a beta reader, and looks for inconsistencies with the plot, characters, etc. and then sends me back the manuscript for rewriting. I go through her list of suggestions (like why would a character do this when he did this before, or that was a bad line, change it, etc.).

Once I’ve made my changes, then I send it back to her- after which she looks for grammatical errors, spelling and stuff. Once all that is done she sends it back to me again. All in all, she makes me realize about things I didn’t think about the first time over, and it has dramatically improved the quality of my work, though I still have a ways to go!

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

Not much, to be honest! I’m semi-retired in the tropics and I live a fairly easy life. The books I’ve written have given me enough earnings to take care of my daily expenses so money isn’t too much of an issue. I guess one change would be is that I will probably take more international trips to do field research lol.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I don’t read a whole lot of indie books, and I always make it a habit to browse in the nearby used bookstores for some old tried and true stuff. A recent good book I’m currently reading is A Stranger is Watching by Mary Higgins Clark. It’s a classic suspense thriller that’s been made into movies more than once. I read a lot of books in different genres because of my varied tastes.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

An epic space opera series with some hard sci-fi elements. I’m currently doing research to make sure the space battles will have a bit of realism to them, but at the same time I’ve thought up an epic storyline that should interest most readers. Hopefully I will finish the first book sometime next year!

I am also writing more sequels to my hard sci-fi series Ace of Space, and my planetary romance series The Dying World. So plenty of the new and the usual too. I like variety.

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Catch up with John on his blog, Amazon, Twitter, or Facebook.

Author Interview – Diana Pishner Walker

For this interview we hop down the rabbit hole with children’s author Diana Pishner Walker.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

 I am a WV author from Fairmont, WV originally from Clarksburg, WV.I have been writing for about 5 years now and have 4 published books. The first was a self- published memoir and the last 3 have been children’s books with an Italian American theme.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My latest book is the second in a series entitled Hopping to America,  A Rabbit’s Tale of La Befana. It is going to be a play at the Vintage Theater Company in August and performed also at the WV Italian Heritage Festival over Labor Day weekend on the children’s stage. The first in the series is Hopping to America, A Rabbit’s Tale of Immigration and is now being sold on the shelves of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty gift shops.

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What is “Le Befana”?

Diana answered with a quote from her book:

La Befana has been an Italian tradition for centuries. La Befana, an old witch, was too busy cleaning her house to go with the three wise-men on Christmas Eve. When she realized the mistake she had made, she gathered up a bag of gifts and set out in search of the baby Jesus by herself. Even though she followed the same star as the wise men, she couldn’t find the stable with the Christ Child and to this day, Italian legend states that she still travels the world on a broom stick, wearing tattered clothing still searching. On January 6th the feast day of Epiphany, Italian children believe that La Befana will reward them with candy and presents or lumps of coal if they have not been on their best behavior by coming down their chimneys and filling their stockings.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Children’s books primarily and it’s a great story as to how it all began.

What’s the great story of how you began writing children’s’ books (you knew I had to ask)?

I began to write children’s books after I received a phone call from a woman who is very involved with literature of all sorts and lived in my home town. I had already self- published a memoir. The phone call encouraged me to write a story about my childhood and growing up Italian. I just began to write about my life as a child and came up with Spaghetti and Meatballs Growing up Italian. This book has won several national and a few international awards.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

Basically on paper..type ..edit …type. The ideas are all family oriented and based on personal experience. So it just comes out of my head whenever a memory comes to me and then onto paper.

My children’s books are all published by the same publishing company Headline Books. So after I submit my publisher, illustrator and I work together.

How does your collaboration with your illustrator work? Do they produce their own images based on your words, do you have specific instructions for what things should look like, or something in between?

My illustrator is amazing! Her name is Ashley Teets. It’s almost as if I picture it in my head and she draws it. We work very well together and just seemed to click from the beginning. She has illustrated all 3 of my children’s books. The first one she drew from family pictures that I had taken her. The cover picture of Spaghetti and Meatballs really looks like me! When I first saw the pictures she drew for that one I went to tears.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favorite character is a young bunny named Joby. The why is because he was first created by my mother.

Tell me more about Joby and how he or she came to be created by your mother and wind up in your books.

I came across a few lines at the bottom of an old Christmas card list that belonged to my mom after she had passed about a rabbit named Joby. I have no idea where she came up with the name. No one in the family is named Joby. My mom always wanted to be a children’s book author but did not pursue it. I took this as a sign and created the story for her.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

Weirdest subject? Pepperoni rolls!

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

The one thing that I have learned the hard way is that you can NOT edit enough.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

A million? I would move my family near the beach, which I think is a great place to write. I would also love to be able to help young talented writers get a start…it is expensive starting out.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

The last great book I read is The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone. It takes place in the coal mines in Sicily.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

My next project is already started, third book in my Hopping to America series. The bunnies in my stories have come to America and experienced their first Christmas and next I would like to write about a wedding.

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Author Interview – Brhi Stokes

This time we head all the way down under to talk with urban fantasist Brhi Stokes.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

My name is Brhi Stokes, I’m an Australian author with an upcoming novel to be released within the next month or two. I write short stories and novels, predominately.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I am currently finalizing a novel for release, Caligation.

Caligation follows the story of Ripley Mason, university dropout and newly-fledged hitchhiker, as he travels north from his home. When he awakens after a car accident, he find himself in a strange city filled with horrific beasts and a population of people with strange abilities. In a desperate attempt to figure out where he is or how he can find his way home, he becomes embroiled in the dealings of the Cavanetti mob; an organization of dangerous men and women with preternatural powers. He quickly finds himself in over his head and his search for home becomes a race against time.

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 In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

My favourite genres are sci-fi and fantasy, both modern and traditional, and I’ve written stories that fill both. I definitely have a soft spot for urban fantasy and thoroughly enjoy writing it; the idea that there’s something hidden away in our mundane world absolutely fascinates me. However, I have also been dabbling in young adult fantasy (a more traditional medieval-style fantasy setting) lately, as well.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I’ve tried several different writing processes. My first novel-length work was written from scratch and I found it very difficult to go back through edits without a guide. Caligation was a setting I had in my head for years and had been struggling to find a proper narrative for. Eventually, I came up with the idea and made use of the Snowflake method, so that I had everything ready to go (including an excel spreadsheet of every ‘scene’ before I tried writing it). I found that I quite like this method as you start small (at one sentence) and work your way up so that, by the end of your process, you already have your summary and blurb.

For my latest endeavour, however, I used a combination (and I think this is my preferred method). I put pen to paper and wrote out the first few scenes, letting ideas form naturally as I wrote. Then, I began to jot down a few ideas I had for the world in a separate document. As I wrote, more ideas for plot came to me so I had, essentially, two documents to work on simultaneously: the story itself, and a separate file with information. In the information file, I wrote down a brief summary of every scene as I wrote it, along with the plan for the plot. That way, it was much easier to re-arrange scenes, figure out what was going on and generally be able to keep track of a plot outline.

I go through several editing phases, preferring them to take a year or longer as I find that taking long breaks from a finished work really helps my editing process. I usually do a general read-through for plot and consistency, then a line edit (for style and form), and then a copy edit (for grammar and spelling errors). Then I hold off for a bit, maybe a month or so. After that, I re-read and see if it’s still up to par and ensure every line sounds perfect. Then, I get other authors and readers to give it a read-through (ideally, one general read for cohesion and plot, and then a copy edit). There’s a few more of those edits (me, then other, then me, etc) until I’m completely satisfied.

That’s when I start organizing publication.

What is the “Snowflake method”? I’ve seen that referenced a couple of times here and there but never gotten a good explanation.

The snowflake method was developed by a man named Randy Ingermanson. The basic concept is that you write it out like a snowflake – you start with a very small idea and you grow and expand it out in each direction until you have a completed work. It consists of ten steps where you start very simply: step 1 tells you to write out a one-sentence summary of your book, for example. Then, as the steps progress, you add to that. You build on the sentence until you have a paragraph, that moves into three paragraphs with each detailing the classic “problem, characters make problem worse, characters resolve problem” dynamic as it suggests. I found it interesting because you really end up with a well-planned book – one of the steps involves making an excel file of every ‘scene’ in the book that you use when writing. It also suggests character-building exercises and so on. It’s a hard topic to delve into without me explaining the entire process, but I hope that helps clear it up a little.

I probably won’t use the entire method again, myself, and it definitely doesn’t work for everyone. However, it is a great place to start if you’re completely lost, and I will definitely incorporate some of its method in my future book-planning.

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You mention having the setting of Caligation for a while before you found a proper narrative for it. I think that’s a common issue with sci-fi/fantasy writers – you come up with a nifty idea for a world to set a story in but no actual story. Is the story you wound up writing for Caligation something that you decided to stick in that world or did it derive from the world itself that you had built?

I had to alter the setting a bit to work as a book, rather than a roleplay site, but I definitely ended up making a story for Caligation, rather than making a story to insert into Caligation. I actually struggled a little bit at times because I would use the main character, Ripley, too much as a vehicle for showing off the world, rather than engaging with his emotions and feelings. It took a lot of thought and editing of the first draft to remedy this, but I am definitely glad I recognized the problem early on.

It was a difficult task, trying to make a compelling story that fit into the world and interacted with it in a meaningful way. Originally, I was thinking of just having a story in the world, but then I didn’t get to explore some of the stranger aspects of the place, because a character in the world would be used to them. It was a lot of fun having someone unfamiliar with the world there and able to question it, and I think it serves to assist the reader in answering questions that never would have been answered if the main character was from Caligation.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

This is tricky question. A lot of the characters I have in Caligation were based on an old role-playing site I created (and from where the idea formed) so a few of them have been sitting in my head for eight or nine years.

I’d say at the moment, though, I’m having the most fun with one of the characters in the YA fantasy I’m playing around with. The story follows a young woman who is placed in the tutelage of one of the five masters of the magical domains: Master Adimai. Adimai is a cold, stern and generally rather unfriendly man with a dark sense of humour. He fits into your general haughty, jerk mage trope and I’m very fond of writing him. The story is from the perspective of the young woman so I have a lot of fun writing their interactions because a lot of what Adimai says and does is not really very well understood by her. Having a bit more insight into his mind, for me, makes it very amusing when she gets the wrong idea, or is generally just confused or upset by him. Plus, writing jerks is fun.

I’m intrigued by the city of Caligation. Since you mention urban fantasy I’m assuming it’s a modern place? Or is it a kind of “lost city” in the middle of the outback? Or is it in some other place completely?

As the tagline on my site describes, Caligation is “…a city where spiraling gothic towers meet modern glass monoliths. Where the slums of the South are stalked by indescribable beasts.” Ripley notices that it seems to shift from being reminiscent of the 20s, to the Victorian era. It’s a wild mix of both, with technology not quite as advanced as ours and strange fashion. Modern towers mingle alongside old factories and gothic churches, while cars drive down cobbled streets and rotary phones hang in old street boxes.

It’s unclear to Ripley where the city is, but he seems to realize quite quickly that it’s not in his homeland. He actually considers it being some ancient, lost city in the outback (as you queried) but dismisses the thought.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

Nothing too exciting, I don’t think. A lot of anatomy stuff for the things I wrote when younger. Nothing out of the ordinary, I’m afraid.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t be afraid to put down a piece of writing you’ve spent years on and just let it go. It sucks, and it’s hard, but sometimes you just need to move on from it and start again with something new. I did that with my first novel, one I’d written as a teenager (and gotten halfway through the sequel). I tried very hard to beat that dead horse, to the extent that I rewrote the entire 100,000+ word book to try and fix it. It didn’t work and, in the end, I had to move on. I actually stopped writing for a few years after that, but I’m back into it, now. So, that: learn when to let go and don’t let it put you off writing.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

To be honest, I’d probably keep doing what I’m doing as far as work and writing amount goes. I’d get a little more experience in publishing then probably use the funds to set up an indie publishing company. I love editing other people’s work, so I’d probably offer those sorts of services, too.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I love anything by Neil Gaiman, and I recently finished Norse Mythology, which I would definitely recommend. But if you’re looking for an urban fantasy that’s not quite as well known, I would definitely recommend the Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko. He’s a Russian author with a fantastically translated writing style and a great setting.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

I smashed out about 30,000 words at the end of last year in the space of about a month (the YA fantasy). It’s not my usual genre, and certainly not something I had expected to write, but I would love to be able to get back into it and finish it. If it does end up being published and becoming a series, it will focus on five young men and women who have recently graduated from the royal university of their kingdom and are placed in the tutelage of the five masters of the magical domains. Unfortunately for the young graduates, their plans are sent awry when the king decrees that they will be taught by the master of their weakest domain, instead. Neither masters nor students are particularly happy with the arrangement and the year of study will be both a trial and a great learning experience.

Ideally, each of the five books will focus on a different student, master and domain. So far, I’ve been  writing book one: The Element of Chaos which follows Seraphine as she struggles to hone her acuity with the chaotic domain, under the teachings of Master Adimai.

Visit Brhi online here.

Author Interview – Chrys Cymri

This time I head overseas and talk with English fantasy writer Chrys Cymri.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I’m Chrys Cymri, and I live in England. I mostly write fantasy.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I’m working hard on my ‘Penny White’ urban fantasy series. Penny is a rather flawed Church of England vicar, a science fiction geek, who stumbles across the magical parallel world of Daear when she is asked by a dying dragon to give him the last rites. I’ve written three books thus far, and I know I need to write at least another three to tell the entire story.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

Humorous fantasy. I think we have enough serious stuff going on the world to worry about, so I want to give people something to read which makes them laugh.

“Humorous” and “fantasy” aren’t words you often find together. Beyond the obvious Terry Pratchet, what are some of your favorites in that genre?

Actually, I’ve never read any Terry Pratchet. I think I’d reach back to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, which I discovered when I was fourteen years old. I know the series are meant to be science fiction, but there’s very little science and a lot of hilarity between the pages. I’d put ‘Doctor Who’ into the same category. My preference is for humour which comes out of the situation and the characters, and I feel ‘Doctor Who’ sometimes does this very well.

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Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I usually have a particular scene that’s in my mind, and this drives the writing forward. I always have a small notebook and pen with me, so I can scribble down ideas when they come to me. Then I write, doing my best to get something done most nights (after work). After I’ve completed and done my own editing, I have several people who then do a beta read for me.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

Morey, the small, sarcastic gryphon who has come to live with Penny. He is highly intelligent, and very witty, but also feels things deeply and will always stand by his friends.

Your series has (at least) dragons and gryphons – where do you look for inspiration for these and other kinds of beasties? And do you feel like you can do your own thing with them or do you keep fairly close to the traditional understanding of them?

I like to look into the traditions around dragons, unicorns, gryphons etc and then think how I could tweak them. So my dragons still love gold, and the gryphons lay eggs. But the dragons also have a culture based on the Vikings, and the unicorns prove to be less trustworthy than people might think. And the gryphons belong to clans and hunt in packs.

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What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

How snails reproduce!

All right, I have to ask – why did you have to know how snails reproduced? And how do they?

Around six months ago, there was a new story about a ‘leftie’ snail who was looking for a mate. Seems most snails are ‘righties’—their whorls are on the right side of their shell. A ‘leftie’ needs another ‘leftie’ due to the positioning of the sexual organs in snails. So I decided that Clyde, the snail shark in my books, is a leftie. We find out the significance of that in the fourth book, ‘The Vengeance of Snails’, which I’m currently writing.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Watch out for all those who will find out that you’re self publishing, and will email you with all sorts of offers to market your book or to sell you schemes which will supposedly teach you how to sell lots of books. I’ve known some people to fall for the pitches made by vanity publishers.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I’d probably go part time at work, so I could write part time. Sadly, I don’t think even a million gives enough to provide a good pension!

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

The best book I’ve been reading is on line. It’s a fanfic based on Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. ‘Dragonchoice’ is superior to McCaffrey’s novels, and I’ve been devouring the weekly chapter releases. You can find it here: http://www.dragonchoice.com/

What do you think you’re next project will be?

When I’ve finally finished Penny’s story, I have a space opera I’d like to get back to. But Penny will keep me busy for awhile longer.

Find Chrys on the Web at http://chryscymri.com/

Author Interview – Lisa McCombs

Join me for a discussion with award winner (and superhero!) Lisa McCombs.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I have always been a writer and can prove that by the five unfinished Harlequin-type romance manuscripts in my closet. The YA genre really speaks to me, though, now more than ever. After teaching teens for years, I retired two years ago and miss my young people. By writing about them, they are still in my life and because of my past relationships with them, I feel that I know what they want/need to read.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

Bombs Bursting in Air was published in the fall of 2016 after winning first place in novel length fiction at the West Virginia Writer’s conference. To this day I have no idea how this story evolved so effortlessly, but I finished a completed first draft in less than two months. My goal is to create a young adult Christian series set in the same (imaginary) town of Ellison. All stand-alone novels are told in first person but will alternate between female and male perspective and will share references to characters and events in previous stories.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

My main writing genre is young adult primarily due to the fact that I taught teenagers for 33 years and have a strong relationship with that age group. As a language arts teacher I had the opportunity to share my love for books with many reluctant readers who taught me how to write for them.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I have kept a journal since diaries were the rage so my collection of ideas is never ending. When I latch on to a writing topic I am totally consumed and find myself looking at the world through my character’s eyes. The first thing I do is something Cheryl Ware (a successful WV children’s author) presented at a state conference years ago and which I continue to use in my own presentations. First I name my main character and assign the following attributes to that character: physical description, age and gender, at least one bad habit and/or fear, and an interest. I develop a setting to include geographic location, physical format, era, and time of year.  Next I make a list of possible conflicts faced by the main character as well as a complementary list of possible resolutions. Then I do a timed free write similar to what is done during NaNoWriMo (November is National Novel Writing Month and is an awesome way to jump start a writing project.) I am lucky to have several people in my life who usually agree to peruse my writing project(s) after I clean it up enough to share.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

This is difficult because once I start writing about a character I pretty much become that character. I really relate strongly to Abby in my first YA novel by that same name. She attends the same schools as I and her life reflects a lot of my young years. Right now Lilah Rose is my favorite character. Probably because she is my newest character and we spend a great deal of time together.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

Ironically, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001 and began a fourteen year quest to learn as much as possible about this disease. Since I never thought to be in the position of living with an incurable situation, I would never have thought to become as invested as I am in what I refer to as an alphabet disease: MS, MD, ASL. The more I read about my condition the more fascinated I became. I kept a journal of my daily life with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. When a dear friend actually died with complications due to MS, I realized that I needed to share my knowledge with other folks suffering from the MonSter. This resulted in the publication of I Have MS. What’s Your Super Power?: A Common Sense Guide to Living With MS in 2016. As an advocate of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, I continue my research daily.

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What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Proofread, proofread, and proofread. Ask someone you trust to look at your work and proofread again.

Do you have a proofreading strategy that you’ve honed over the years to catch most mistakes?

I always read my work out loud to myself. I have done this for years, even back in undergrad school. Drove my roommates crazy. Fortunately I have a couple of people I can trust to read over my work and be honest in their critique. Proofreading is monotonous, yes, but obviously necessary. After I have edited my own work several times and a second/third party have done their part, I read it again. Then…I put it down for a few days before reading it again.

[back to things you’ve learned – JDB]

Learn as much as you can about self-promoting. I am NOT a business person but writing is a business so this is an evil necessity in publishing. Even Stephen King self-promotes.

Okay, these are TWO things I have learned the hard way, but they are so, so important.

Promoting often seems like the hardest part of being a writer (the actual writing is easy by comparison) – have you learned any particularly effective way to promote yourself and your work?

You are absolutely correct in stating that the actual writing is the easy part. I am not and never have been a sales person. I don’t even like to shop! Retail is not my specialty in any form. The best promotion tip I can give is be relentless in sharing your work, but do not threaten your self-respect in doing so. Reading a chapter or favorite passage from your work when in a public setting is the most effective promo I have found of late. Know your audience and cater toward their needs.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I would start my own writing retreat in the hills of Randolph County, West Virginia. I already have the location selected (It is for sale right now!).This would be a year round sanctuary for artists (writers, musicians, painters) seeking an inspirational setting for creating. I would hold writing camps and instructional opportunities for writers in the provided cabins. And, of course, I would reside there as well.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

There are so many gifted hidden secrets in my little state of West by God Virginia. I am constantly discovering new writing talent. Danielle DeVoris probably my current interest. She lives and writes (long-handed!) in Morgantown. I love her character (defrocked -priest – turned exorcist) Jimmy Holiday.

I recently read Summer Haze by Michael J. Tucker and became totally infatuated with his story-telling prowess. Tucker is not from WV, but his story is definitely Appalachian. He isn’t really a new author, but new to me.

I could never recommend a favorite book, though. My favorite book is usually the last one I read. Fortunately I work closely with a West Virginia publishing house (Headline Books), so I get to rub elbows with many fantastic state authors.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

Right now I am working on what will be the third novel in my YA Christian series. This is kind of out of order, but the second book told in the male perspective is a very rough draft on hold because I have fallen in love with my new character, Lilah Rose, and cannot seem to get back in the head of that last character right now. But, he’s still there…and actually has been for years. I just want to get him right, so he is marinating for a while.

Did you envisage Lilah Rose as a major character when you created her? Or did she develop into one as she went along (to the point of taking over your next project)?

Lilah Rose has been the main character in my current project from the beginning, but as the story develops so does one other character. I like to bounce secondary characters off of the main one, experimenting with their dynamics, kind of testing their relationship. My plan is to develop my latest YA novel, Bombs Bursting in Air into a series of stand-alone installments that encompass an entire community. The characters will change, but they will also have a bond with familiar characters from other novels. For instance, Sacred Sanctuary (aka the Church of Go) has a HUGE role in all the books as the focal point of the town of Ellison. All of my characters attend the same schools and know the same town landmarks. The novels will alternate between female and male perspective in an attempt to attract all young readers, regardless of gender. (This means Lilah Rose is not the next book in the series. I am just stuck on her right now.)

Visit Lisa online at https://lisa-mccombs.blogspot.com/

Author Interview – S J Brown

This time I talk with an author who shoots first and writes stories later (mostly) – S J Brown.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

I am S J Brown, a writer, wildlife photographer, grandma, wife, mother, spouse, and tree hugger. My home base is in West Virginia, but I tend to cross the state line constantly. I write about life, about me, and about critters.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I am currently in the finishing stages of a project my sister and I embarked on together. It is a memoir that covers 12 years of our lives. The working title is Sisters. It has been quite a journey that we can’t wait to share it.

How did you come to write a book with your sister? Were there any major squabbles you had along the way?

Our Mother wrote a book for family.  It accented the difference between her childhood and mine. So that got me thinking about writing a memoir.  Then at a Writers Conference I took a workshop on collaborative writing.  When I returned home I called my sister and learned that she had been thinking the same thing.

There weren’t any squabbles while we worked on the book.  We did most of our squabbling when we were younger. I admit from time to time I got impatient waiting for her to respond to my emails.  We live about 250 miles apart so much of the writing was done through e mail and over the phone.  We also spent a few weekends together just focusing on the book. There were times when we laughed until we cried.  There were serious discussions and agonizing about how much to share, where to end the book and if there would be another book to follow this one.

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I primarily write memoirs. Early in my writing career a trusted soul told me to write what I know and I took that to heart.

I was at an exhibit talking to a patron about the story behind getting one of my photos. After our conversation a fellow writer tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, “girl you have to write this shit down.” I went home that evening and put aside the manuscript I was working on and began Close Ups & Close Encounters, my first full length published manuscript.

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So what, in brief, was the story behind that picture (and do you have a digital one you could share)?

As you can see it is a pretty close shot. I was using a 300 mm lens. I stood behind some bushes and snapped a picture of the bear. Normally I would take a shot and then take a step closer to the critter I am photographing.  However each time I clicked the shutter button this bear moved closer to me.  We did this several times before my spotter got nervous and whispered that we needed to back out of there.  Of course I took a few more shots including this one before I backed out of the area. I used film when photographing wildlife.  I think the bear could hear the camera advancing the film and he was curious about the sound.

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Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

My writing process is a bit different than most writers. I begin with a photograph. My goal is to take the reader to that time and place. My first draft generally is just notes to myself. The second draft is actually sentences and paragraphs. The third draft I tweak the descriptions and emotions a bit. Then I set it aside for a few weeks before giving it one more read through before I place it into someone else’s hands. I always want a fresh set of eyes on the work. A fresh set of eyes will spot typos, and places where the story skips or lags a bit.

Since you start, generally, with a photograph, does that mean when you’re looking for good shots you try to get something that might make for good writing afterwards? Or do you just get lucky sometimes?

When I am in the field I’m not thinking about stories to write, I am concentrating on the critter in front of me. In the field the encounter is as important as the resulting photograph.    It is important to pay attention to the animal’s behavior so that I don’t get in trouble.  Wildlife photography involves skill, research, and a bit of luck  every time I go out in the field. To get the shot that I eventually used for the cover of “Close Ups and Close Encounters” I had to climb a tree and wait.  Sometimes I lay on the ground, other times I need to climb, or get into a boat to get a good shot. Since every picture tells a story the writing comes later.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

I can’t really give you an answer to this question since I don’t create characters. I write about real people. Life truly can be stranger than fiction.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

I haven’t really researched anything weird or strange for my writing. I do most of my research before photo trips. It helps to know as much as possible about my wild subjects before I encounter them in the field.

Before my first trip to Florida to photograph critters I researched alligators, manatees and a few other wild creatures. However when I was on the ground face to face with an alligator all that knowledge just disappeared when I knew I was too close to him.. I couldn’t remember how far he could lunge, how he would warn me to back off, or how fast he could move. So I took a few photos and began talking to him as I backed away.

Okay so I have gotten off topic here but your next question is probably what do you say to an alligator when you are close enough to hear him breathe. It doesn’t really matter he can’t understand what you are saying. You just have to keep your voice calm and pleasant so he knows you aren’t a threat.

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How do you select the subjects you photograph?

My spotter often says I will photograph anything that moves.  What critters I photograph depends on where I am.  I have traveled from Maine to Florida and as far west as Colorado  to capture critters on film. The extreme northern United States have Moose, and Puffins can be found at certain times of the year.  The extreme south eastern states have alligators. When I head west I can find Big Horn Sheep, and Prairie Dogs. Then there are white tailed deer, wild horses, raccoons, and a huge variety of birds, so I guess he is right I will photograph almost anything that moves.

Photographing wildlife has led to doing things I never dreamed I would do.  I have flipped horseshoe crabs, tagged Monarch Butterflies, and banned ducks.  I have met some fascinating people and been to incredible places.  Every time I return home I am ready to go out and do it again.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t let life get in the way. There is always something else you need to be doing, or somewhere you need to be. Make the time to write, write often, and get your thoughts down. I began writing in High School, had my first piece published when I was 18 and then life got in the way, my writing was put aside and it was decades before I got back to writing.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

I would get a laptop and write from the road.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This book grabbed me from the first sentence and didn’t let me go. To me that is the true meaning of a great book. The words should put the reader in the scene and compel them to turn the page.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

My next project is already in progress. I am writing a follow up to Sisters. The working title is The Little Middle Sister. The select few that have read Sisters asked how I got from there to where I am now.  It has definitely been a journey I wouldn’t want to repeat, but I am happy to share the details.

This was fun. Thanks for having me here.

S J Brown on the Web