Time-Traveling with Kelsey Clifton

A Day Out of Time cover

Among the most popular “what-ifs” in our culture is the theme of time travel. What if you could go back in time and prevent a tragedy like Titanic? What if you could go forward and find out what kind of smart money investments to make in the present? What if you could take back words and actions which hurt a loved one’s feelings or choose a different career path than the one you once thought was perfect?

Or what if your quest as a member of an oddball group of misfits was to save your world—and each other—from the perils of time travel run amok? Right. No pressure. All in an afternoon’s work.

Such is the premise of Kelsey Clifton’s debut novel, A Day Out of Time. Enjoy what she has to share about the angstful anomalies and vexatious vagaries of thinking outside one’s (comfort) time zone.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: What’s your attraction to the genre of time travel?

A: It just has so much potential for chaos! That was one of the questions I got to ask myself when I was writing these books: “How can I ruin this character’s day next?” Sometimes the answer was with renegade colonial soldiers, and sometimes it was with aliens. What other genre gives you that kind of versatility?

Q: If you had the chance yourself to travel through time (and knowing everything you do in the present day), would you rather go backwards or forwards? And why?

A: In a way, I address this exact question in the Day Out of Time sequel, After/Effects. There’s such a danger in either direction; when you travel to the past, you might feel helpless to stop events from unfolding, but when you travel to the future, you might find out things you were better off not knowing. Either way, you have to worry about the burden of knowledge. For me, I think I’d want to visit some ancient civilization or lost site, just to see what it was really like.

Q: Was the theme of time travel something your adolescent and teen self was interested in when it came to favorite bedside reading? Or was it something entirely different?

A: I didn’t really become interested in time travel until I started watching Doctor Who in my early twenties. It’s probably not a coincidence that Doctor Who and its spinoff series Torchwood are two pieces of media that I often compare to A Day Out of Time. I was always more of a fantasy reader, which still holds true to this day.

Q: Which authors in this genre do you most admire and why?

A: Although Becky Chambers writes other worlds sci-fi and not time travel, she’s far and away my favorite sci-fi author because she focuses so strongly on individuals and cultures in her stories, and those are the parts that fascinate me the most. You can see a bit of that fascination in my Day Out of Time series; while there’s a lot of action and humor, they’re really stories about people relying on each other. The time travel aspect is more of a really entertaining way to explore that concept.

Q: Tell us about some of the themes inherent in A Day Out Of Time and After/Effects.

A: The main theme in A Day Out of Time is this idea of broken things and how they can be mended. Gamma Team itself is mostly made up of misfits and “broken” people who are made whole by being together. In that same vein, we have the subtler theme of the power of a group. A lot of the problems that Gamma faces can only be solved with other members.

As the title suggests, After/Effects deals with the consequences of our actions, both negative and positive. The idea that gets bandied about a lot is that nothing we do is isolated; every decision causes ripples, some far larger than others.

Q: Writing and editing a series vs. a standalone title is not without its own rewards and challenges. What has your personal experience been in this regard?

A: I think the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I’ve gotten to see these characters grow and develop over two books (soon to be three) into better, fuller versions of themselves. There’s also a lot of fun in linking stories and plot points across multiple books, even though A Day Out of Time and After/Effects can be read as standalone novels. One of the challenges that I’ve found in both this series and another that’s currently in-progress is consistency. Changing a key detail in a world can unravel a lot of threads, which is what I’m currently struggling with. Depending on how long you think a series will eventually be, I think there’s a big advantage in having at least a first draft of every book done before you start publishing.

Q: Tell us about the characters in the series. Were some of them easier to write than others (and why)?

A: Cat and Darwin are the two easiest characters to write because they more or less appeared in my head fully formed, like Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. Cat is a force of nature – specifically a tornado. When she’s angry, she can touch down and do incredible damage in a very specific spot, while leaving everything else around her untouched. She’s one of the few things that can cow Darwin, who’s otherwise completely uncontrollable. Every scene with him in it automatically becomes 150% more fun to write.

Specs and Helix provide much-needed ballast in the group by acting as the moral and emotional centers. Specs is the steady ground to Cat’s whirlwind, making him invaluable as her lieutenant. On top of being their geneticist, Helix is the team’s medic, which suits her caring personality. She takes the team’s physical and emotional well being very seriously, even when she’s technically off the clock.

Cushioned between these wildly different personality sets, we have Millennia, Grunt, and the New Kid. Millennia was the easiest of the three to pin down because she has all the best qualities of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which makes her so vivacious and fun to write. The New Kid acts as our “guide” through the world of the Dogs, and at first he seemed deceptively easy because of his mild nature. Over the course of the first draft, however, I discovered all kinds of unplumbed depths to him! And Grunt, of course, is the most enigmatic of all. I think he’s the kind of character you just instinctually understand, even if you don’t know all that much about him.

Q: Over the course of your publishing journey, you tried the traditional route. What prompted you to make the switch and become self-published?

A: I had grown a bit tired of querying, honestly, but I’d never really given self-publishing much serious thought. Then a friend sent me a link to an author who had completely funded her novel on Kickstarter within 24 hours or something. And even though it turned out that she was a fairly well-known comic book artist with an established following, it really got me thinking about it for the first time. I started doing research into the market and my different options, and I decided that I was tired of waiting around for the chance to tell my stories.

Q: Going the DIY route, of course, requires authors to don multiple hats. What do you like the best (and least) about managing your intellectual property from start to finish?

A: I’m a bit of a control freak, so I do really enjoy the creative control that I have over everything. I like that there’s no one pressuring me to change the title or the ending. The part that I like the least is the constant need to seek out potential readers. I’m a casual social media user at heart, so I’d almost always rather be working on a new project instead, but I have to put my writing aside sometimes and dedicate an hour or two to promoting myself and my work.

Q: What surprised you the most about navigating the ropes of self-publishing?

A: How easy it is to look up and say, “Oh my God, I haven’t posted to [X] in so long, I haven’t updated the website, I need to schedule a signing, etc.” You just get caught up in one aspect, and before you know it you’re getting reminders from your Facebook page about posting.

Q: If Marie Kondo were to visit your home, would she applaud your embrace of minimalism or be alarmed by your unabashed clutter?

A: Marie Kondo would just look around and say, “Oh my goodness” on repeat. I have a hard time getting rid of things anyway, but I also have a habit of collecting little trinkets or memorabilia that I leave strewn across every surface and tucked away in memory boxes. There are definitely things I could get rid of, but plenty of others that fill me with joy. Basically, I’m a dragon at heart and I cannot be reformed.

Q: Authors often picture their finished works as taking on another life as, for instance, a television series, a stage play or a movie. Is this the case for you with your time travel series?

A: I think A Day Out of Time would make an incredible TV series. There’s plenty of potential for “Problem of the Week” episodes, along with more complicated story arcs. I’d be open to surprise casting for all but two characters: Cat and Specs. I will accept Robin Wright and Mike Colter, or nobody.

Q: What is the thing you enjoy most about the creative process of writing?

A: Honestly, editing. A lot of writers gripe about the editing process, but it’s my favorite part. Writing a first draft is messy and grueling and magical, like metaphorical childbirth. But editing is like helping your story grow up. I’m also a big fan of “Aha!” moments, when the threads of a plot come together – especially if it turns out that I was subconsciously working towards a certain concept all along.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on the final draft of a standalone sword & sorcery novel called Fire and Lightning, Ash and Stone. It’s like a snarkier version of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I’m hoping to release it in early or mid-January. Fans of A Day Out of Time will find a similar mix of humor, action, and heartbreak.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

A: In spite of what I said earlier about social media, I really am very approachable! Feel free to find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr and say hello. I may not enjoy trying to market myself, but I do enjoy engaging with readers.

 

Gravity Waves

 

Scott Skipper Cover

What if you were charged with the responsibility, and given the power, to correct all that you perceive as evil in the world, maybe even the universe? Such is the compelling premise of author Scott Skipper’s latest novel, Gravity Waves.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

*********

Q: A lot of authors who identify themselves as voracious readers discovered the joys of reading at a young age. Was that the case for you?

A: Absolutely. I think it was in the third grade I started getting serious about reading. The Bookmobile’s arrival was a life-changing event. I lived in a rural area and wasn’t allowed to cross the street, so going to the library was not an option.

Q: What books might we have found on the nightstand of your 10-year-old self? Your teenage self? Your current nightstand as an adult?

A: At 10, it would have probably been Robert Heinlein. Around that time I remember starting Gulliver’s Travels, but it was so long I had to return it to the aforementioned Bookmobile after having read only the first three voyages. To this day I love the concept of the flappers of Laputa. At my father’s suggestion, I segued into Edgar Rice Burroughs and finished his Martian and Venusian series before tackling Tarzan. Burroughs wrote a lot of books, so he occupied my nightstand into my teenage years. Around that time, Ian Fleming struck it rich with his series about a British spy named James Bond. During my late teen rebellious years, I developed a fondness for Aldous Huxley and Anthony Burgess. Today there’s no book on the nightstand; instead there’s a tablet, and on it, you will find all manner of things. I read quite a lot of history, including biographies, and I lean toward self-published authors. When I run out of something to read, I browse Smashwords and download half a dozen samples.

Q:  Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did this passion develop over the course of doing something else to earn a living?

A: At age 13 I wrote a short story called The Happiest Man in Hell on a 1910 Underwood with a broken ‘p.’ I submitted it to a fledgling sci/fi magazine and was dumbfounded to receive a letter from them a few weeks later saying they had sent it to an illustrator and would get back to me about the details of publication. Naturally, I figured this writing thing was a cinch and started thinking about renting a garret on the Left Bank. A few more weeks passed, and I got a letter from the magazine telling me they had landed a serial deal with Harlan Ellison, and my story was no longer required. My aspirations were so cruelly dashed I didn’t submit anything for publication for 35 years, during which time I was engrossed in that making-a-living thing. In the mid-80s, I had an opportunity to not work for a year. During that time I wrote like a fiend. I knocked out a novel, which was terrible, and managed to publish a few short pieces that earned about enough for a bottle of gin to ease the pain. Needless to say, I went back to my career in the metal fabrication business. When I retired, I didn’t immediately start to write. It was the advent of self-publishing that motivated me. At my age, I don’t have enough years left to run the traditional publishing gauntlet. In June, I published my 13th novel, and I’m 10,000 words into number 14, so don’t get between me and the keyboard.

Q: What was the first project you ever published?

A: The very first, after that above-mentioned aborted flirtation with the sci/fi magazine, was a travelogue about a trip I made to visit two very remote Mayan ruins near the Mexico/Guatemala border. As was common then—and probably still is—I was paid in copies of the magazine. Around that same time, I sold a story to a magazine that was devoted to basket weaving of all things. Somewhere, I still have a copy of their check. I think it was $25. From that era, I also saved a file full of rejection notices. Those can be funny sometimes. I remember one that was a form letter with checkboxes. The reason they checked for rejection was ‘wrong shoes.’

Q: How many works have you published since then and do you feel your writing has changed from what it was initially?

A: In addition to 13 novels, I have five short stories, and I’m in two anthologies. The short stories are for promotion. They are permanently free at Smashwords and their distribution network. How has my writing changed? Well, it’s evolved quite a bit, in fact, I’ve recently begun doing a re-edit of my earlier works. Today, I’m much more aware of point of view and taking more care to shift viewpoint with a logical break. Also, I’m looking for plots that I hope have a broader appeal. I wrote several political satires, which gave me a great deal of enjoyment, but we live in such a politically polarized time that whichever side one takes, eliminates half the potential audience.

Q: What genre(s) do you write?

A: My first two endeavors were historical fiction, and that’s because I had a trove of source material from 15 years of genealogical research. While researching In the Blood, I stumbled upon an obscure piece of history, namely the Mexican War of 1845. That inspired an alternative history. When I finished The Hundred Years Farce, I went looking for more source material and found it in my garage. It was a folder filled with brittle, yellowed newspaper clippings I had saved from the 80s when the grave of Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, was discovered in Brazil. The story intrigued me, so I wrote about Mengele’s 40 years on the run. After that, I fell into my political satire mode, and I followed it with a science fiction story inspired by a serendipitous visit to the Roswell UFO museum. Alien Affairs was so well received I followed it with two sequels. By then, I was tired of beating a dead alien, so I switched directions with a story about a woman who, as a young reporter for an underground newspaper, witnessed the Kent State shootings and was harassed by the right-wing government for her outspoken views. As she matured, she grew conservative and became a successful novelist, but she was once again hounded by the now left-wing government. That’s A Little Rebellion Now and Then, which in my not too humble opinion, may be the best thing I ever wrote. Megalodon is a novella about some soldiers of fortune’s quest for a sixty-foot prehistoric shark. Following the shark, came an apocalyptic love story and then the tale of a California real estate agent who had to recover her estranged husband’s body from a Mexican morgue. While negotiating Mexican bureaucracy, she turned to a life of crime. That one, Artifact, may defy genre. I don’t know what to call it. Maybe it’s action and adventure. Finally, we have Gravity Waves, which is the fourth in the Alien Affairs series. So, I’m clearly a writer with genre identity issues.

Q: Agents often advise aspiring authors to pick one genre and stick with it. Do you feel that writing in multiple genres makes it more of a challenge to build a readership?

A: Actually, I do believe that. So, why don’t I try to be a little more focused? Well, frankly, I suppose that I’m a bit of a scatterbrain. I get tired of writing the same thing time and again; although, no one could truthfully accuse me of being a boilerplate writer. I don’t write with the expectation of huge success, which is a good thing, not that I don’t hold dear the belief that someday one of my books will be a bestseller. In the meantime, I’ve developed a new business model: if I can never write a book that will sell a million copies, I’ll write a million books that sell one copy.

Q: What was your inspiration for your latest release, Gravity Waves?

A: Stephen Hawking who died two months before I released Gravity Waves. I even read A Brief History of Time for the third time before I started working on Gravity Waves. It’s rather hard-science oriented, but it’s not technical mumbo-jumbo, it’s about people dealing with extraordinary situations. In it, I believe that I have not asserted anything that is out of the realm of possibility from the viewpoint of physics.

Q: Do you see yourself in any of the fictional characters you create?

A: Ha! In another interview, I declined to answer this question on the grounds that it would get me in trouble with my wife. Truthfully, there’s some of me in most of my characters. Adam Peyton, the protagonist of Golden State Blues, is a younger incarnation of me. Eric Day in Half Life is me, and there’s perhaps some of me in Vicky Rice, the real estate agent turned criminal in Artifact—maybe I’m even Terrie Deshler in Alien Child and Gravity Waves. Why? It’s because I want my characters to be real, and to be real, they have to have flaws. Since I’m the most flawed creature I know, I’m a logical model.

Q: If you yourself could be an intrepid time-traveler, would you rather go to the past and be minus the conveniences you have enjoyed in the present or go the future and face the challenges of a steep learning curve to catch up with everyone else?

A: Once we learn how to warp space-time sufficiently to allow us to travel through time, I would go both ways, to the past to correct wrongs, and to the future to see how the consequences of what we do today effect things to come. See, I’m a lot like Terrie Deshler.

Q: What do you suppose your parallel self in the multiverse is doing while you’re here answering interview questions?

A: I certainly hope I’m sitting at a seaside bar in the south of Spain drinking gin with Ernest Hemingway and my late writer pal, Burt Boyar.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I try to write every day. The first thing in the morning, I take care of whatever chores or annoyances that reality thrusts upon me, then I deal with email and social media nonsense. Around lunchtime, I settle onto a comfortable chair by a large corner window with a view of the San Gabriel Valley—and frequently with a Yorkshire terrier beside me. I write on a laptop until around four in the afternoon. My goal is 2,500 words, which sometimes I achieve and sometimes I don’t. At four, I reward myself with a cocktail.

Q: Writers are sometimes influenced by things that happen in their own lives. Are you?

A: Of course. Sometimes a reader will say to me, “Nobody would ever say a thing like that.” Then I have to tell them that I said that, or that the person who was the model for the character said or did things that I wrote. A Little Rebellion Now and Then is told partly in flashbacks to 60s. A lot of the experiences of the character, Katie, are based on things that happened to me or that I saw happen to people around me. In Half Life, the character is invited to bid on a project at a nuclear power plant, so he checks his briefcase to make sure he has a pencil, sketchpad, tape measure, and a draftsman’s eraser. Someone challenged me about that. He said, “Why would he take such simple things to a nuclear power plant?” I informed him that those were the exact tools I took when I called on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. We often hear we should write what we know. I tend to agree.

Q: Critique groups: helpful or a distraction?

A: Critique groups are enormously helpful. I participate in two, the La Verne Writers’ Group and the California Writers’ Club. Feedback is essential and the input of others helps shape what I write. It’s an organic process, after all. It’s also a great way to get help spotting typos.

Q: If you could invite five of your favorite authors (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be and what would you most like to ask them?

A: Well, Hemingway would be the guest of honor, and I’d ask him what the hell Gertrude Stein said to her lesbian lover that embarrassed him so that he ran out of the house?

Tom Robbins would be on the guest list, and his question would be: What were you on when you wrote Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates?

I’d ask Robert Heinlein what gave him the idea for the waterbed. I’d also ask him how he predicted the current tattoo mania.

Arthur C. Clark I would ask what it was like working with Stanley Kubrick.

Finally, Winston Churchill, I’d have a lot of questions for him, but I guess the most pressing would be: How did it feel to be in a mounted saber charge in Sudan and live long enough to be the leader of a nuclear power?

By the way, I’d serve paella.

Q: Like many authors, you’ve chosen to go the route of self-publishing. What have you learned from this experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Many things, but first and foremost, I learned how to format a manuscript. That’s the essential first step to being a success in self-publishing. I know many people who self-publish but don’t know how to do it themselves, so they find it necessary to pay somebody pretty large chunks of money to format their books. The chances of them ever breaking even is almost certainly nil. The most I have spent to publish a book was $15 for the cover image of Gravity Waves. I thought I had a bargain at $5, but when I got the receipt, I realized the price was in Euros. It was worth it, though. I’m proud of that cover. Okay, that was a practical answer. A more philosophical response is that I have learned marketing is a sort of voodoo, and almost nothing is effective. As a corollary to that, I’ve learned it is incredibly hard to get people to spend $3.

Q: What’s the greatest compliment any reader has paid you about your work?

A: I’ve gotten some really head-swelling compliments. There are two aspects to that question, what was said, and who said it. Burt Boyar, who spent a considerable amount of time in the number one spot on the NY Times Best Seller List called Alien Affairs a “Fabulous Must Read” and Golden State Blues “Fabulous Page Turner.” Burt was a personal friend, but he said those things with no prodding from me. Alien Affairs has gotten the most compliments: “Absolute gem,” “It’s different, it’s wonderful,” “…the entire Alien Affairs series is nothing short of magnificent.” I could go on, but I’m beginning to feel my head swell.

Q: Conversely, how do you handle personal criticism and/or negative reviews?

A: One of the first things I learned as a writer—and this was a long time ago—is that no matter what you write, someone won’t like it. Take Hemingway for example, I think he walked on water, but he is considered an overrated hack by a lot of people. I find that the majority of negative reviews that I get are because I offended somebody not with my writing but with the content of the story. One of my favorite reviews is a one-star for Alien Affairs—it even sells some copies for me. The guy said it was a good story until I started making fun of President Obama. Now, I did not mention Obama. It’s amazing what readers project into the things you say. Something to keep in mind is that there infinitely varied readers out there. Just because I couldn’t connect with one doesn’t mean I won’t connect with another.

Q: How would you define “success”?

A: The easy answer is runaway sales, but that’s too easy. When I do my proofreading and self-editing, and I can say to myself at the end, “That was pretty damned good.” I consider it a success. There’s a chapter in A Little Rebellion Now and Then that I can’t read without getting emotional. I’ve never read it at an open mic or a critique group because I can’t get through it without being reduced to tears. I doubt if anybody else reacts to it so strongly, but I captured something there, and I know it.

Q: If someone came to you for your top tips on the craft of writing and the challenges of publishing, what would you tell them?

A: My stock answer sounds flippant, but it is what I really think about good writing, and it is what I look for in the books I read. Do your damnedest to give every preposition an object, except in dialogue, and if you’re tempted to use a metaphor, think about twice, then don’t do it. To that I would add, only inhabit one character’s head at a time. As for the challenges of publishing, learn to do it yourself. You can read the Smashwords Style Guide in one afternoon, and it will tell you all that you need to know about formatting and self-publishing—it’s also free.

Q: When you read for pleasure, what do you prefer?

A: Historical fiction, real history, and quirky stories with good characters, preferably self-published, in that order.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Hmm? Well, how about I’m a high school dropout? Or maybe that I live in a place frequently visited by bears and mountain lions. Oh, here’s a good one, I don’t have a Smart Phone.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m 10,000 words into a story about a man experiencing so many strange occurrences he begins to think he’s slipping into dementia, but some of the things might be coming from an external source.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: www.ScottSkipper.com is where to find out about my books and stories. As of this writing, Facebook has locked me out of my account, and they don’t respond to my requests for help. Hopefully, I will get back in someday. In the meantime, email me at Scott@ca.rr.com. I occasionally tweet a thing or two, that’s @sskipperauthor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat With Freddi Gold

Freddie Gold

One of the great joys of speaking engagements with writers’ groups is not only making new friends but also hearing about their personal journeys to publication. This time around I’m happy to welcome Freddi Gold, the inventive author of a trilogy she defines as, “Soft Sci-Fi in an adventure, thriller, romantic setting or Romantic Suspense in a science-fictional, adventure, thriller setting.” Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride!

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Tell us what inspired you to write Dimension Norræna.

A: I had written and published a non-fiction book and except for the leeway I took by inserting scenarios to hold the attention of the reader I found it a lot like writing a thesis. Consequently when I had completed the book I didn’t want to write another in that category. Because the fictional vignettes were a lot of fun to do, I thought I would try fiction. I didn’t prepare much, just started with the idea that I was interested in metaphysics and really enjoyed dystopian novels. I guess you could say that I was inspired by the lure of a new adventure.

Q: Did you always envision this work to be a trilogy or did you reach the end and decide you simply couldn’t let go of your characters?

A: I had just finished reading Hunger Games, followed by Divergent, then Red Rising, 50 Shades of Grey and a host of single dystopian novels so I planned from the beginning to write a trilogy. I didn’t really know how to go about it so I just plunged in. For the first book, I used Al Watt’s, The 90 Day Novel and was motivated to write every day. The characters however, came alive for me and the length of the books gave me ample time to get to know them exceptionally well. At the end, in truth, I hated to leave them. I’d learned so much during the process though, that I looked forward to writing my next book with more discipline, time spent and in a much more studied way.

Q: What are some of the positives and negatives you’ve encountered in penning a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: I’m a very positive, optimistic person, so the negatives mostly seem like learning to me. I tend to turn them around into something beneficial. I realized at the onset that I needed to entice the reader to come back to the story when it ended in the first and second books while I was writing the next one. Because I was so interested in the book, I assumed everyone who liked the first one would be happy to dive right back in—much like how we wait for our favorite series on TV to return for the next season. Waiting a year in between each of them was an extraordinary request. In retrospect, that was asking a lot. If I ever do it again, I’ll release the trilogy once all the books are completed and ready for promotion. Since the romantic suspense aspect was included, I had to find a way to give the reader some satisfaction, without letting them know how things would end. I had to do this again in book two. Some people didn’t want to wait. A positive was that writing each book was exciting because I had to come up with adventures and twists while still heading for the eventual finale. I was able to languish in developing the characters, dreaming and fantasizing about directions to go in. I’m a “pantser” obviously, so I had no idea how the story would end and I found that both alluring and challenging.

Q: You define your book’s genre as “Soft Sci-Fi in an adventure, thriller, romantic setting” or “Romantic Suspense in a science-fictional, adventure, thriller setting.” Why did you have difficulty narrowing down to one genre?

A: Because the story is about a young woman who teleports to another dimension, my critique group and I originally thought the genre would be science-fiction. Once they learned, though, that this happened without the use of a vehicle, it flew in the face of physics. I was using bits and pieces of astrophysical terminology while introducing U.S Intelligence and criminal cartels, a sociopath and a romance or two. Add to the recipe the human-like species on Norræna and another more frightening class of aliens from Møhrkhavn, transhumanism, kidnapping, murder and a dog and soon it was labeled as a fantasy-thriller. Although it’s listed on Amazon under Sci-Fi, for many readers their main enjoyment is the romance and adventure. Verbally I like to say it’s soft sci-fi with a healthy dose of adventurous romance. I do like the term science-fictional which I read in one of the other interviews on this site, though. I think I may use that more.

Q: If your book were to be sold in a traditional bookstore, the obvious question to be posed is what shelf would it go on so that prospective buyers could find it?

A: Good Question! I’ve been looking at reviews and listening to verbal comments from the readers and I was surprised that both men and women really liked the romantic suspense aspect. I was sure most of the women would but surprised by the men. Many of the men sided with one of the males being chosen over the other. Interestingly, many of the women chose the other male. That prompts me to consider including it in the Romance genre. However there isn’t a sub-category for other-dimensional romance and it’s not alien or ghost romance or sci-fi erotica either. Is there a Metaphysical Romance shelf?

Q: Norræna means Nordic and you borrowed most of the Norrænder language from Iceland. How did that play for your readers?

A: I needed a language for the Norrænders. My own efforts looked like gobbledy-gook. I went to Google Translate and looked at translations of some of my lines from the book in a number of foreign languages. I was drawn to Icelandic. It was so unfamiliar to me. I thought it might be to others also. Initially I sought help with the syntax from a wonderful friend in Norway with an Icelandic neighbor to get the syntax right, more so than you could get from Google. I did realize since it was the language of a fictional people, that it did not have to be a hundred percent correct, so I took some liberty to leave out letters or add some or in some cases make up my own words just because they came to me as I was writing. Happily the readers found it both plausible and realistic. I will say it drove some of my critique group-members crazy trying to pronounce some of the terms. I used Dragon Naturally software to convert from audio to type and after a while Dragon learned to spell all the names and words correctly which I found quite humorous.

Q: Do you have a personal connection with Scandinavian countries or ancestry? In other words, what governed your decision to choose that orientation for the storyline?

A: No, I don’t. But I’m drawn there in a kind of mystical way. I’m sure I might have initially lingered in the stereotypical, romantic lure of Viking warriors and it fascinates me archaeologically, but the fact that the novel just poured out of me and leaned to the far north was as much a surprise to me as the next person. The more I wrote, the more natural it felt.

Q: Like many authors, you have gone the self-publishing route. What have you learned from this DIY strategy that you didn’t know when you started?

A: Everything! Being a member of the High Desert California Writers Club and having had the opportunity to listen to a wide selection of authors as invited speakers, I learned that the traditional publishing route was fraught with disappointment, long waits, and rejection. Like the way I wrote the series, I was eager to get the books published. I read The Fine Print of Publishing, by Mark Levine which provided a list of self-publishers in categories from Outstanding to Pretty Good, to Just Okay to Publishers to Avoid. I went right to the “Outstanding” publishers, read their reputations, fees, royalties, printing costs, contracts and other services. I selected Dog Ear Publishing for all of my books.

I found that my out-of-pocket costs could range from roughly $1100 for the least expensive package to $9,000. The packages were very attractive—so many areas to publishing I knew nothing about: interior and cover design, registration with online booksellers and national distributors, Books in Print, ISBN numbers, Library of Congress control number, a webpage for the book. There were add-ons, all for a cost, of course, like, e-book distribution, return policy options, integrated blogs and optimization for Google and others.

Some of my friends were using Create Space, but at the time it not only seemed too technical to me, but as I was teaching college courses every semester and summer classes as well, I just didn’t have the time or the inclination to do all the work it looked like it would be. I spent a lot. While I always had a very attentive author representative and have been more than happy with Dog Ear, I am re-considering the Create Space option to see how much effort might really be involved as the cost is far less, but there are sacrifices to consider as well.

Q: What are you doing to market your work?

A: Looking back there is much I could have done, but didn’t. First I think I should have celebrated the achievement, but I didn’t. I think everyone should reward themselves after writing their first few books, or heck, after any book is published. It’s a Big Deal! I never did a real book launch or did a tour to promote and sell the books. I might still do that. I used some social media, like Facebook and Twitter, but I didn’t keep the latter up. I had a website and I included it on any and all online work I did. I did publicity releases, was in the local paper several times. I did public speaking for a variety of organizations. My non-fiction book was used as a supplementary read for one of my classes and other instructors used it as well. The college bookstore sold it. I do as many book signings as I can work in. I’ve been on panels and been interviewed for blogs. I taught the Artists Way and promoted it there. I have a blog for Dimension Norræna (http://dimensionnorraena.com) and a Facebook page. I have run advertisements in the club state bulletin and locally.

Something new for me is to increase my reviews on Amazon and I plan to try advertising there also. My mind is geared to look for promotional opportunities. It’s a learning process.

Q: It’s rumored that you have an eclectic background. Tell us about it and how this background has influenced your interest in exploring a multiplicity of genres.

A:  When I was twelve I lived in Puerto Rico. TV had not been introduced so I read a lot and one day decided to write a book.  It was very short, about a group of kids who survived a plane crash, completely unscathed on an island in a vast sea, who set up a Robinson Crusoe-like existence and were rescued by page fourteen. I was quite proud of my achievement and wish I had kept it for a good laugh today. As a freshman in high school, I wrote an essay on my desire to become the first female Special Agent for the FBI. My teacher said it would never happen until I learned to spell special. My father wanted me to go to college to find a man who would support me. I majored in Drama my first year in college because my high school drama teacher was very cute. Imagine my surprise when my first instructor was in his eighties. I made my heroine in Dimension a college theatre instructor.

I stayed with my major. It was fun. I hadn’t a clue about how I would support myself or what to do with the degree. I became a flight attendant after my sophomore year, then finished my degree and moved to California. Coming from a long line of teachers, I became one and simultaneously picked up a Masters in the same field. Metaphysics drew me to a Psychic Research Society meeting one night in Los Angeles where I listened to a speaker talk about hypnosis. This led to my taking several years of training in the field of clinical hypnotherapy. I opened up a private practice and soon took an interest in psychology. All of these elements supplemented my character descriptions.

Earning another Masters in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in Human Behavior enabled me to leave high school teaching and become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. With these credentials and my experience as a Clinical Hypnotherapist, I spent a lot of time doing public speaking, offering classes training other professionals in the health field and giving seminars related to hypnotherapy. A local radio station invited me as a guest on a talk show. This resulted in my having my own radio talk-show until I segued into having my own television talk show.

During all this time I continued with private practice and teaching college classes. I was published in several journals, and magazines and often cited in newspaper articles.

I travelled a bit to Europe, South America and most states, married, had kids and ultimately decided to write the nonfiction book. Joining the Writers Club encouraged me to pursue becoming a writer. I used all of my experience to color the events used in the series.

Q: Your first book, Adultery is Universal But I’m Getting Married Anyway, was nonfiction. What caused you to segue to fiction?

A: Almost all of what I’ve written is from an academic or professional perspective. I wanted to explore other possibilities, but I didn’t think I was creative enough. I also didn’t think I could generate any ideas for a story. I actually dreamed about an out of body kind of experience, and wrote the feelings and visual imagery down. Later when I began the book it occurred to me that it could be an interesting beginning. I altered it as ideas flowed and used the actual memory for another chapter later.  Honestly, it was much more fun to write fiction. I felt excitement to write every day, to create characters, to let my imagination roam free. I still write academic stuff daily. I teach all my classes online.

Q: Was there a purposeful shock element in giving this book a controversial title and incorporating vignettes to illustrate points made throughout the chapters?

A:  Yes. I took a two year program from a company called Mission Marketing Mentors. Among many wonderful ideas and valuable training in marketing a book related to a field I was in (Marriage Counseling), they provided a formula for creating a title that would attract attention, draw in the target audience and provide something that others in my field were not providing. The complete title of this book that was about the evolution of marriage and women’s roles, couple communication, infidelity and statistics was: Adultery is Universal, But I’m Getting Married Anyway: What to Know Before You Do or Already Have. It’s still selling after six years.

The book contains historical information, biological aspects of human beings, belief systems, gender orientation considerations, digital relations and statistical information. So it wouldn’t read like a straight textbook, the writing is casual and the vignettes help to paint a visual for the areas being discussed. My target audience was actually other therapists, but the general population buys it.

I should mention something that crushed me when the book first came out on Amazon. The day after it appeared, someone on a global website called Reddit, wrote that his girlfriend had cheated on him and wrote a book. Then he listed the name of my book and indicated it was on Amazon. A hoard of people then jumped in on the post promising to bash the book so nobody would buy it and they did—about fifteen of them. I didn’t understand what was happening and was devastated. My first book and it was receiving these horrible reviews. After a day or two, a subscriber to Reddit from England e-mailed me to tell me what had happened. I didn’t know him— he just thought I should know. I called Amazon and told them about the situation, but they would not remove the negative reviews. It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating.

Q: Have you been published in other formats besides books?

A: Yes—a little, in clinical journals, magazines on a variety of topics, business newspapers. I wrote for AOL on alternative medicine, and created a booklet for a Parks and Recreation Department for an Arizona city on Creative Drama. I wrote online communication courses for two different colleges and professional courses for the California Board of Behavioral Science and the Board of Registered Nurses. I’ve been published in three anthologies and recently wrote the prologue to a short book of women’s poems.

Q: As still a “newish” writer, where do you aspire to take your writing in the coming years?

A: I plan to focus only on writing novels. I might write a few speeches.

Q: What are the five most recent books you’ve read and how have they contributed to your knowledge base and skill set as a writer?

A:  The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: Interesting formatting and revealed a different style of writing.

Stephen King/On Writing, Stephen King: I’m in progress-have read the memoir portion so far. Wonderful down to earth, solid advice on improving skills and the crucial importance of reading all the time.

Scotland Forever, Bonnie Watts: a lengthy historical novel set in the highlands of 1600s Scotland. I relished the detailed descriptions of the land, the characters and the story of everyday life in those times. It featured an emerging powerful woman. I learned more about the value and art of story-telling. (I can’t wait for Outlander to return).

The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy: My own books include CIA and FBI characters and operations. I wanted to read about earlier events and operations that would give me insight for my scenes. I did learn about roles and chain of command and a lot of technical terminology relative to that story’s situations.

The Kommandant’s Girl, Pam Jenoff: I enjoy historical novels from a wide variety of time periods and countries. Again the art of story-telling, this one about Poland and the Jewish community during the Nazi occupation. I feel that it broadens my intercultural knowledge and understanding.

Q: Besides reading, what else would you suggest to new writers to get them to take the plunge?

A: I believe that if you’ve thought about it, or if people have ever said to you. “You should write a book,” it means you have a story to tell, people like what you are telling them, find you interesting and think you should share it. If you have the itch, the dream, the desire—just do it! Give yourself permission to write badly, too. You can re-write later. A good way to start is to write every day. From more than one source, I learned to write three pages every day. It does not matter what you write about; just write. Write about a dream you had the night before, write about what you have to do and did instead, write about how you feel—about anything. But write every day. Join a writer’s group, a book club. Visit blogs on writing and also the blogs of authors whose books you’ve read and like. Read this blog site! Write a letter to an editor of a paper. Write to a magazine about an article you liked. Write letters or keep a journal. The key thing is to write. Read about or go to meetings to learn about writing and publishing and promoting and if you can, join a critique group. Don’t be afraid—it’s your story or book—other people just make suggestions from their perspective. Use what feels good to you and let the other advice go or keep it for future reference.

Q: What interests or pursuits have you added to your own writing skill?

A:  I like to add a number of different locations in my books and if I can, I use it as an excuse to go there. In addition to using many locations in California and Arizona in my books, I’ve taken the Amtrak Coast Starlight from LA to Canada, gone on a petroglyph tour and another to underground Seattle by Pioneer Square and stayed in the Ecuadorian mountains for a week. I visited an archeological dig there and travelled to different cities. I’ve been to Cabo San Lucas and utilized Google Earth to provide me with imagery for several different descriptions. Not sure if I’ll ever write about the early days of the West, but I subscribed to a couple of magazines (Cowboys & Indians, Wild West) that illustrate a variety of info in case I try that. I plan to get into sculpting again and use it in a scene. I try to stay current on science and new technology and rely on Discover, National Geographic and Archaeology magazines and news stories a good deal. I’m exploring a wide variety of writing aids online, utilize other writing blogs and learn from reading many club member and speakers books.

Q: Tuning out distractions when one is in the midst of wordsmithing is one of the biggest challenges that writers deal with on a regular basis. What’s your own secret for successful coping?

A: Well it’s not music. I tried that, but found myself too involved with the rhythm of the music and the imagery it created—even when I tried different kinds of melodies to help with a scene.

I write when my mind is most active and I am energized which is the first thing in the morning. I feed the dogs and myself, curl up on the couch or sometimes sit on the patio surrounded by trees while the dogs take a second nap. For me—it’s quiet. I don’t look at my cell unless there is a call, which at six am is seldom. I have a loosely constructed map in my mind re how to break up the day to take care of obligations so I’m not worrying about getting other things done while I’m writing. If I need to let the dogs out, or answer the door, I do it and get right back to writing. I try to write at least a chapter at a time. I use the re-write time to edit my work so when I’m writing, I’m just focusing on using my energy to pour out the story, the characters and tone that I want to keep intact.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A:  I’m about 150 pages into a new novel: Name of the Game. It centers around an intuitive-sensitive roughly ten years in the future who assists the CIA with her gifts on a case that includes a covert alien presence among the human population. (I’ve had the good fortune of working with UFO researchers and alien abduction). I’m “pantsing” it, but taking my time to work on the craft in greater depth as well. As soon as summer session classes are over, I’ll start a blog for this book. I’ll likely try writing in other genres as time goes by and I look forward to seeing how I transition to that. I’m also embarking on launching more specific promotion for the Dimension Norræna series. The website is http://freddigold.com. I can be reached at freddigold3@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven’s Gate

Jan Dunlap

Science fiction, spirituality and a dose of suspense describes author Jan Dunlap’s first book in her new series Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I. Jan spins a tale of intrigue when a physicist inadvertently proves the existence of heaven and all hell breaks loose. Be the first of your friends to read what one reviewer called “a mind-blowing experience”!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

**********

What or who inspired you to begin this whole journey?

The first time I stepped into a public library – I think I was about five years old – I decided then and there that some day, I wanted to have my name on a book on a library shelf. That led me to become a ferocious reader; I earned a communications degree in college and worked in PR and advertising for a few years as an account executive/writer. I wrote a family humor column for our local paper while I raised my five children, and then one day, I decided to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery just to see if I could do it. That turned into my first Birder Murder Mystery, of which there are now seven in the series.

Your previous books of memoir and cozy mystery have all employed humor. Have you always had an interest in scientific subjects that led you to switch genres?

I’ve been a closet science geek my whole life, and especially loved astronomy. When PBS aired their series on string theory many years ago, it renewed my interest in cosmology and the mysteries of quantum physics. About the same time, my oldest son took a college course from the author of the Afterlife Experiments, and he urged me to read the text, which I did. That book sparked a landslide of ideas in my head for a suspense thriller that combined speculation about life after death, religious faith, and cutting-edge physics. I thought about it for years until I realized I had to write Heaven’s Gate (the first book in my new Archangel series) or I’d never quit thinking about it! It was a huge leap from comic cozy mystery, but writing those books helped me hone my skills at suspense and character development which are key to Heaven’s Gate.

And what was Jan Dunlap, successful author, doing before exploring the publishing world?

Raising five children as a stay-at-home mom, volunteering at their schools, writing my weekly humor column and eating chocolate.

Since this book incorporates topics of spirituality and faith in God, do you have a personal backstory to share?

My children and I often discussed spirituality as they were growing up, or at least, I spent a lot of time explaining why people practiced a religion. The older my kids got, the more interesting the questions they asked! In particular, a lot of contemporary scientific discoveries seemed to diminish or contradict faith, rather than strengthen it. It made me really explore my own belief in God, and I wrote Heaven’s Gate almost as an argument for faith in God that incorporates science, rather than taking sides in a faith OR science debate.

There are those people in this world who truly believe in psychic abilities. How do you feel about that?

I totally think that we have yet to discover/document the full potential of the human brain. We all have déjà vu, compelling instincts and even snippets of prescience. I think those are types of psychic abilities, and that some people are more skilled at using those abilities than others. As my Heaven’s Gate medium Khristina reminds my hero Michael, Shakespeare was right when he penned the line that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If we think we know everything about life, that’s our pride talking, because only God knows everything.

Which leads me to of course to ask, have you ever had a psychic experience of your own?

I’ve never had what I’d term a classic psychic experience. I can’t move objects with my mind, I can’t forecast the winning lottery number, and I can’t find lost items by picturing them in my head. (Actually, I can’t find lost items no matter what I do…) But there have been a few times in my life where I could feel that something was about to happen, or I see something and I recognize it even though I have no recollection of seeing it before. Whether that’s psychic or not, it reminds me that there is more in the universe than we know.

Fill us in on some of the research topics you explored to write this manuscript?

I read extensively about Albert Einstein’s later years as he searched for the One Theory of Everything, and I poured over the PBS transcripts of the Elegant Strings series. I read about psychics who work with detectives to find lost children, and I reread the Afterlife Experiments, along with material about mediumship. I even researched survivors’ eye-witness accounts of tornados and reviewed my notes from grad school in English studies about William Blake and the Grand Narrative concept of literary criticism. I spent hours online looking up everything I could find about archangels in the Bible, as well as contemporary religious cults. I read about Russian icons and Jesuit scientists and reviewed what I remembered about a Rubik’s cube.

You’ve developed a great story! What’s next in the Archangels series?

Book Two is already finished, tentatively titled Heart and Soul, and it deals with medical science, neurobiology and the power of prayer. The hero is Raphael, or Rafe, as he’s known to my cast of characters, and his story is another roller coaster of deceit, betrayal, murder, forgiveness and redemption.

Lastly, let’s switch gears a bit. If you could attend a meet and greet for any writer living or dead, who would that be and why?

Dr. Seuss, hands down. He was unbelievably creative. I’d love to talk with him about the risks he felt concocting such wacky stories that influenced generations of children and writers.

Where can readers delve into more info about your series? Any social media or websites?

I have a Facebook page dedicated to the Archangel series at https://www.facebook.com/Archangelsseries/ and readers can get a deep look into my research and writing process on my Pinterest board https://www.pinterest.com/jandunlap/archangels-book-one/ . I’m also on Twitter @BirderMurder, on Facebook at Birder Murder Mama, and my author website is jandunlap.com. I write a blog on Goodreads now, too: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2100500.Jan_Dunlap/blog

 

 

A Chat With Jeffrey G. Roberts

The Healer - Cover Art

What happens when a 22nd century doctor working on Mars is suddenly stranded 168 years in the past on a violent and primitive world – ours! Such is the premise of author Jeffrey G. Roberts’ SciFi novel, The Healer. With an inventive muse that regularly zips around at the speed of light and an imagination that constantly asks “What if…,” the fun of landing Jeffrey for a feature interview this week is a treat for anyone who has ever wanted to (1) understand how time-travel works and (2) appreciate the therapeutic value of chocolate cream pie.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When you were growing up back in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, what is the weirdest, oldest or most sentimental item we might have found in the bedroom of your younger self?

A: I guess the oldest would have been two particular books I bought – Stoddard’s Practical Arithmetic, copyright 1853, and Appletons School Reader, copyright 1886. And the most sentimental: my aircraft books! I’m an airplane freak!

Q: What did you dream of growing up to be?

A: My Mom liked to recall a story about how my Dad once went on a business trip. I was about five and he told me I was now man of the house until he got back. And I burst into tears. When asked why, I told him I didn’t want to be man of the house – I wanted to be a horse! Luckily, I have no recollection of this bizarre incident. This is a good thing. But as I got older, and had given up the dream of changing species, I believe I wanted to be a test pilot. Never happened, but I did solo in 1968, and my Mom, Dad, my dog, and I had many happy times flying all over the country in my Dad’s plane. He was a great influence on me, as he was a decorated Spitfire fighter pilot in the R.A.F. during the Battle of Britain.

Q: Were you a good student in school?

A: I was a fair student in High School – because I hated it. I was an excellent student at Northern Arizona University – because I loved it. No brainer.

Q: Your current repertoire includes SciFi, Horror, Fantasy and Comedy. Among the authors who pen works in these popular genres, who do you most admire and what influence have they had on your own style of storytelling?

A: Probably Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Douglas Adams, and Kenneth Grahame have inspired me most. And, of course, my Dad, who wrote radio drama after WW II.

Q: With a degree in American History from Northern Arizona University, you’ve no doubt spent a lot of time pondering how even the slightest nudge of Fate (including “outside” intervention) could have rewritten the outcome of major events. Were it left up to you, what single historical event would you like to have seen come out differently so as to impact future generations in a profound way?

A: I would have hoped General Douglas MacArthur could have gotten the green light from President Truman, to rid the world of the scourge of Russian and Chinese Communism, when the “infection” was small and weak, thus saving tens of millions of lives.

Q: In 1978 you decided to get serious about your writing career. Was there something significant about that year which fueled your enthusiasm to put your stories in front of an audience?

A: The work I had put into my undergraduate degree in writing, the fact that I wasn’t getting any younger, and my Dad telling me to get a job!

Q: What genre is the most fun for you to write?

A: Probably fantasy/comedy.

Q: Do you typically work from an outline or let the thoughts come naturally as your fingers fly around the keyboard?

A: I work from an outline, hand writing my stories in a black and white composition book, like our parents used. Then, after I’ve “bled” all over it, I put it into the computer.

Q: Does anyone get to read your chapters in progress or do you make them wait until you’ve typed “The End”?

A: Only my two closest friends.

Q: Favorite SciFi movie or TV series?

A: Sleepy Hollow, and the original Star Trek movie. Sleepy Hollow, because even though its premise diverged widely from the original story, I love Washington Irving. And Star Trek because its original premise was based on hard theoretical scientific principles. And many of its devices are actually in use today, not 200 years from now! It also showed a world where global problems have been solved.

Q: In both The Healer and Cherries in Winter, your respective protagonists find themselves thrust into another time period. Speaking for yourself and as an accomplished man of the 21st century, would you rather time-travel to the distant past or the distant future? Why? And what do you feel would be the greatest challenge to deal with?

A: I would prefer to visit the distant future; say, 2100; because I want to experience interstellar travel. I suppose my greatest challenge would be assimilation and understanding of the world of the 22nd century.

Q: If you had to live permanently in whatever time period you suddenly found yourself transported to, when and where would it be?

A: I suppose, as above, the 22nd century. I cannot know if the world will have changed for the better or worse, but that’s the chance you take in the world of time travel!

Q: Time-travel plots often emphasize the dire risks of changing the future through even the most minor acts. (In Back to the Future, for instance, Marty rushing to push his father out of the path of a car delayed his parents’ meeting and required the rest of the movie to get them together by the night of the prom.) What’s your own theory on this; specifically, how can one not change the future by going to the past?

A: It has been postulated that the universe has a governing mechanism to prevent such horror: what I call the Reality Tree, where an infinite number of branches represent all possible realities. If you tamper with one, it vanishes, to be replaced with an alternate, thus preventing reality from exploding!

Q: Speaking of theories, who is your favorite or most annoying “ancient astronaut theorist” on Ancient Aliens?

A: My most annoying – even though he is a Facebook friend – is Giorgio Tsoukalos.  And my favorite is John Greenwald – but not because he published my article on “The Face on Mars Controversy”. No, of course not.

Q: Who or what inspires you to come up with your storylines?

A: Basically what you’re asking me is – what is the nature of creativity? And I haven’t the slightest idea, to tell you the truth!

Q: When and where do you get your best writing done?

A: At my desk, right here. And when? When an idea, or the muse hits me.

Q: Like many authors, you’ve gone the self-publishing route. What is the most challenging aspect of wearing so many hats in order to get your work into circulation?

A: Marketing and promotion, without a doubt. It’s brutal. In comparison, the art of writing itself is a piece of cake, easy as pie. Now I’m hungry!

Q: What are you doing to promote your books?

A: I’m on Facebook, and have a Facebook fan page – A Talespinner – and I’m on Goodreads, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, about 300 Facebook book promotion group pages; I have a website (http://Atalespinner.weebly.com),  and I also promote my books on dozens of book promotion websites, such as Story Cartel, Reader’s Favorite.com, Promocave, Reader’s Gazette, and many others.

Q: In a perfect world, there’d be no such thing as bad reviews. Alas, but they’re a fact of life, even for writers that are seasoned. When someone leaves a snarky critique about your own work, how do you react to it?

A: Thus far, aside from story rejections, which every writer gets, I’ve gotten good reviews, for the most part. What do I do when I get a bad one? I go in my bathroom, put my face in a pillow, and scream obscenities in three different languages. Then I find the biggest piece of chocolate cream pie, and a glass of cold milk. Works for me!

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors?

A: Never accept the opinions of naysayers or dream breakers. There are always going to be people, who for whatever reason, take perverse delight in skewering your most sacred hopes and dreams. Ignore them, and press on! Individuals like that are attempting to blow out your candle, to make theirs appear to burn brighter. Carpe diem!

Q: What do you know now that you wish you had known much earlier?

A: If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: A horror novel, The Horror on the H.M.S. Cottingly.

Q: Where can readers find your books and learn more about you?

A: For Cherries in Winter:

Barnes & Noble – http://bit.ly/1LEdUSh

Amazon – http://amzn.to/1NpBvU8

Kellan Publishing – http://bit.ly/1nPHRp1

For The Healer:

Barnes & Noble – http://bit.ly/1uw2YbA

Amazon – http://amzn.to/ZDv24p

Booklocker – http://Booklocker.com/books/7244.html

Also i-tunes and Kobo. And to find out more about me, you can read my bio at http://Kellan-publishing.selz.com or

http://Booklocker.com/books/7244.html.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Nothing, other than this has been a very enjoyable exercise.

 

 

Windstalker: Awareness

baginski

The soul that has conceived one wickedness can nurse no good thereafter. -SOPHOCLES, Philoctetes

Science fiction, fantasy, romance and inhuman creatures all blend together in author K.M. (Kisa) Baginski’s debut series Windstalker. In Awareness, the first book Baginski introduces, she spins a tale that introduces a force of evil that preys on a group of unsuspecting young adults sucked into a world of chaos. Note to avid fantasy fans: Be prepared for a lot of suspense, with a little nail-biting thrown in!

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

**********

Great title by the way! Tell us a bit about Kisa the author and your debut novel, Windstalker: Awareness.

I’m just getting started in the world of writing and look forward to producing much more. For me there was always drive to get particular stories out of my system. I haven’t been in training like many authors I know and respect. In terms of my educational profile, I was always science matriculated. I’ve just wanted to share stories as they come to me. Storytelling is such a beautiful art form. I hope to grow and continue learning as I tell more of them. Awareness is about the Windstalker creature, an evolved Nephilim- half angel and half human. It’s set in New York City and the creature has an impact on a group of unassuming, nonspiritual and emotionally dysfunctional friends. They try to cling to reality for much of the story, ignoring or avoiding the presence of something they can’t rationalize, until they are forced to accept events and circumstances that defy logic. They become aware of the presence of a supernatural force. A Windstalker.

What was your inspiration for writing a supernatural thriller?

I have these amazing vivid dreams from time to time that are a lot like watching a film. They are usually open around the rising action of the story to its climax. The calm just before the storm and, of course, the storm. Windstalker began as one of these dreams.

It came about because as a teen I dreamt from the perspective of a pair of creatures that hovered in an abandoned lot next to a building. The creatures were disguised as swirling wind but could also morph into men, so human beings did not notice them at all. The building was isolated on a dark corner of the street and only significant because of a woman who lived there. She was a sweet, gentle single mother of an infant. Though she was not a particularly noteworthy citizen, one of the two creatures stalked her. And you have to remember the dream was seen from the perspective of the creature. The woman reminded him of a life he had known previously, when human, a life to which he desperately wanted to return. He didn’t say as much to his formless partner as he knew the partner didn’t want to be alone. The longing creature led a sort of tug-of-war among the three as he searched for and tested ways to permanently revert back to human form. Almost ten years later, I hadn’t forgotten the intensity of that dream. So I thought it would be a great start for a novel-writing future. I have many stories that began that way, waiting to surface.

Introduce us to your main characters. What are some of their struggles throughout the story?

Mitchell Geathers is an ambitious young man. He is a leader in his family and maintains a certain level of control. He’s really driven by fear that he will lose control and endanger his loved ones. Chelsea Easton is lost in the real world. She often feels out of place and thinks she has to divert attention away from herself. But being the product of a broken, dysfunctional family, she actually craves love, affection and validation from others.

What makes your novel unique from other paranormal novels out there?

I would say the creature itself. A windstalker isn’t just a shapeshifter. It is a very difficult creature to destroy and can also be reverted into a human being, given a special set of circumstances the reader will have to discover throughout the series.

Were there any authors you read for inspiration while preparing for your first book?

I read a few Victorian Gothic horror novels such as Dracula (Bram Stoker) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde). I also read Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov); for a while I toyed with making the character Chelsea younger. I read Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) for Tolstoy’s panoramic scenes allowing the reader to understand the same incident from another character’s perspective. I thought if I was going to try writing my own novel, I needed to wrap my mind around some of the most celebrated masters of prose and the horror/fantasy genre.

Is this volume one of its kind or will it be part of a series you are developing?

Awareness is the first in the Windstalker series. There are at least two more parts I’m working on now.

In that case, what can your readers look forward to in the next book in your series?

The next book is geared toward discovering the levels of hierarchy within the Windstalker culture. There is a major division within their inner world. An alliance with the peace keepers among them and the stronger group for the time being and a rogue organization seeking to overthrow the peace keepers and establish themselves as supreme leaders of the species.

Fans of science fiction thrillers that touch on romance will easily devour a story like Windstalker. If you could choose a couple of famous folks to play your characters, who comes to mind?

It’s funny but the only character I could see having a famous actor doppelganger is Eli Roberts. I see Eli being played by Charlie Hunnam for some reason.

Give us a few of your favorite films or television shows that might compare to the theme of Windstalker.

I’d like to think Windstalker: Awareness could very well resonate with True Blood, Dexter, Dead Like Me or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV fans; or fans of the movie Fallen – for the Grigori Angel mythology. Most of these projects had a dark premise, complex characters and a good mix between horror, romance, thriller and comedy genres.

There are so many online resources today where readers can learn all about their favorite authors. How can readers stay connected to you and any future book projects?

Windstalker stories are available on Amazon and my Windstalker books website. I’ll be announcing any new Windstalker projects as they surface. There is currently a short story prequel (Windstaker: The Fall of Samyaza) and novella about a character named Drew Royce (from Awareness) in development. Both will be released before the second book in the series.

Can you provide your audience with any retail and/or review links as well?

The series website is www.windstalkerbooks.com.

An Unsubstantiated Chamber

Jackson cover

If through some celestial twist the future had not only arrived sooner but brought with it an airship full of technological gizmos and gadgets as well, the past would clearly reflect today’s popular genre called “steampunk.” The clever mash-up of science fiction, alternative history, romance and even a smattering of Victorian “penny dreadfuls” were certainly flirted with in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne – two icons who’d find plenty to chat about – and applaud – with William J. Jackson, author of the Rail Legacy books. Set against a backdrop of 1886 Railroad City, Missouri, An Unsubstantiated Chamber finds two unlikely allies working together to track down a paranormal killer. Looking for a page-turner summer read? We recommend hopping Jackson’s fast train to a race against time. Just fasten your seat belt first…

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Congratulations on the debut of the launch title in a new steampunk series! Since you’ve indicated that the Rail Legacy books will appeal to audiences 14 years and older, we’re curious what the 14-year-old self of William Jackson might have had on his nightstand.

A: I was coming out of my Stephen King phase then. But comics, mainly DC and Marvel. LOTS of comics.

Q: What are you reading these days?

A: Indie! I gave up on ever changing Dc and Marvel – popular books just based on what’s hot and read indie. Try Kara Jorgensen, Jack Tyler, David Lee Summers and many more!

Q: Who (or what) inspired you to start penning your own books?

A: I always wanted to write but couldn’t find the words or the self-esteem. Both came gradually.

Q: Do you begin with a formal outline or do you allow your muse to guide you from one chapter to the next?

A: First the muse, then an outline. Slowly, the outline gives way to how the characters should naturally behave. Then back to the muse.

Q: So what attracted you to the popularity of steampunk fiction?

A: Childhood, long before it had a name, there was H.G Wells and Jules Verne. The rpg Space:1889 really got me back into it again.

Q: For readers unfamiliar with the rudiments of a steampunk story, give us a 101 primer on the types of characters, plots and settings one typically finds in this genre.

A: While many see goggles, top hats and airships (mine has those) steampunk is more of an archetype of advanced steam technology and the historical mess of imperialism to which any time period or other genre can be merged. It’s really quite open once you know those basics.

Q: When YA novels initially hit their stride in the 1970s, the majority of their themes revolved around the misfit experiences of high school and the pangs of unrequited crushes. YA titles today have dramatically left that suburban comfort zone and plunged readers into the midst of dark paranormal and dystopian worlds. Yet, in your view, have the teenage quests for love, acceptance and survival really changed that much?

A: Regardless of the type of world built, the emotional and maturity struggles remain. The only real difference is how hard said world makes life and growing up.

Q: A lot of these YA stories of escapism and empowerment appeal to adults just as much as they do to teenagers. Why is that?

A: Adults have the monster called Responsibility, and thus also crave escape! It’s more a human factor than one of age.

Q: What was the inspiration behind “An Unsubstantiated Chamber”?

A: My love of superhero tales, but wanting a deeper one about justice to go with the battles and splashy powers. My love of Victorian scientific romances, but hating the vapid racism/sexism of the era. Let’s combine the two, but add what I felt was missing.

Q: Which came first for you – the characters or the plot?

A: Plot. I dreamed of Railroad City back in 1993! Steam trains and a city of heroes really gave me a kick in my rpg days. Then it was a game, but I said back then that if I ever became a writer, the Rail, the Legacy Universe as a whole, would be first.

Q: Any special meaning behind the title?

A: It is very self-explanatory, but I wanted words that I wouldn’t find in another title. I’m anal that way.

Q: How is the series steampunk and how is it not?

A: Goggles, airships, top hats, imperial militant takeover, steam power…check! The basics are there, as well as the bad effects of the military rule. But add to it powers (talents) caused by an alien element. Oh, and there were aliens, too, at one point.

Q: Which character in the series do you most identify with?

A: Flag Epsom. He loves history, is a loner, and is very sarcastic. Sarcasm was how I got through being picked on in school. Now I’m trying to get rid of it and be more calm.

Q: What governed your decision to craft Rail Legacy as a series? (beyond the obvious reason that many of us simply hate to say goodbye to our characters by the final chapter!)

A: The story is a chase. But the things uncovered will unleash a cacophony of secrets, lies, and drama that most of the characters in the book and those to come will find hard to accept, and to handle. Thus, it would take more than one or even two books to tell it.

Q: One of the challenges of writing a series is the fact that readers might not read the books sequentially. How do you address this insofar as giving your new readers enough back-story to be brought up to speed while not boring your fans that are all ready for the next adventure and don’t need a recap?

A: Each book will remain its own, while connecting to the next one. So, it really shouldn’t hurt not to read in order.

Q: Any book(s) written over a long stretch necessitate great organizational and time management skills so as not to lose track of who’s doing what where and why? What’s your insider secret about this?

A: Lots of note paper! Truly, I write tons of little notes that look frantic on the table but help to organize my thinking. In one book I have the overall timeline, and reference that. All together, it works.

Q: What’s a typical day of writing like for you? (i.e., setting, time of day, music in the background, quirky habits)

A: Early morning, put out hopefully a thousand words in the quiet. If TV is on, I use headphones and listen to jazz/dubstep. Not exactly steampunk music, but it works!

Q: Are there any “rules” of writing that you steadfastly never break? Any that you always break?

A: I hate writing rules. No adverbs. No ending in a preposition. Bleh! If it’s in the English language, I use it. If it fits the story, I write it. There are the rules.

Q: As with many aspiring authors, you chose to exercise control over your intellectual property and go the self-publishing route. What do you know now that you didn’t know when this publishing journey began? Any advice to writers considering a similar path?

A: That KDP Select makes you unable to sell your ebook elsewhere for at least 90 days. If I had known, I would not have enrolled. I suggest trying Direct2Digital, Smashwords and more first. They are more lenient.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: Alerts on Facebook and Twitter. I have the ad program on Goodreads, tweets via BookWerm. I guess they’re helping.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for the Rail Legacy to make it a movie or television series, who would comprise your dream cast for it?

A: Wow. Flag Epsom – Christopher Eccleston. Aretha Astin – Gina Rodriquez. Sergeant Powell -Sam Neill. Madame Amberson – Meryl Streep. And I guess for the role of the elusive killer, Michael Keaton.

Q: And would you want a role in it yourself?

A: I want to be in the green suit, playing any of the oddest paranormals in the background!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Finishing Book Two, writing a dieselpunk chapter every week on Wattpad,

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work (and buy your book)?

A: They can buy it at…http://www.amazon.com/Unsubstantiated-Chamber-Book-Rail-Legacy/dp/1502714353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433966474&sr=8-1&keywords=an+unsubstantiated+chamber&pebp=1433967675551&perid=80B0C8398D324B8E8D08

I also blog about my book and the genre at therailbaron.wordpress.com.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I’m excited to talk to steampunk and all punk fans online. Email me at andorian9@gmail.com or find me on Facebook. Let’s come together and build up the indie scene!

Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown

What happens when a girl enters a city with no name, and a plan to change the future for all of its citizens? Dystopian fans who love mystery, action and a heroine who manages her own army will enjoy a journey Into the Unknown, the debut novel from German author Alice Reeds. The first in a series to come, Into the Unknown takes readers into the life of Bexx Kajan, a seemingly ordinary young woman who, as it turns out, isn’t so ordinary after all as she sets out on a dangerous mission to avenge the death of her sister and defeat enemies along the way.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

**********

Tell us about yourself and how you decided to become an author.

My name is Alice Reeds, I’m from Europe and I started to write and read around the age of eight or nine. I started off with little, quite naïve stories, which mostly never got finished, but I somehow always knew that I wanted to do something with writing. Three years ago I wrote a twenty five page long novella as a Christmas gift for a friend of mine – more as a joke and not as serious novella – but now I think it was my first step into really getting into writing. I also wrote a story that has around one hundred seventeen pages in length but I never finished it as I came to the conclusion that it is too simple and too naïve. But as I started to write Into the Unknown, the dream of one day becoming a known author seemed real and so I decided that I really want to go down this road and prove myself in the writers’ world and show that my novels are worth reading.

Into the Unknown is your first novel. When did you come up with the idea to write it?

According to my first Word document that I created in order to write Into the Unknown, I started writing on the December 29th 2012. I remember that it was a gray day and I was walking down a street while listening to an electronic song by David Guetta and then it suddenly hit me. I had this whole picture in my head which in the end turned out to be the first scene in Chapter One. From that day on, the whole story started to come to life in my head and later also on paper.

Why did you decide to write a novel set in a dystopian world?

After I read Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky in 2011, I think, I started to really fall in love with the genre and this way of seeing the future, which just fascinated me from the beginning. I enjoy seeing how different authors see our future and how it all looks in their novels. This led me to think of my own vision of the future and as my ideas for Into the Unknown started to grow, a vision of a dystopian future in which my characters would live, started to form and develop.

In Into the Unknown you also talk about genetic engineering. How did you come up with the idea for that component of the story? 

I would say people in general always had this idea of manipulating animals in order to clone them. During the Olympic Games there were all those news stories saying that athlete XY is much too good he/she has to be on steroids or be somehow genetically different. Besides that, people also always had this thing for superheroes, like Superman who’s incredibly strong and so on.

I came up with the idea to actually make gene manipulations a thing in my novel. Of course, as I came up with the idea I had totally no idea of genes and all that, as I actually don’t take biology in school, so I had to do some amount of research on the Internet to find what I could more or less understand.

Your blog was first written only in German and later on also in English. Why did you decide to write a novel in English?

That’s a good question. For years I’ve been writing in German, as I feel I can express myself better in German, but then I started to be around people who only spoke English. Slowly but steadily my preference changed and now I feel like English is my writing language. I knew that if I wrote my novel in English, I could reach a bigger audience as there are more people who speak English then German.

In one of your chapters you talk about a song by Queen and its meaning. Is there a particular reason why you chose Queen and not another band or singer?

For me it was important to choose a band that would really stand out, as they are the band that represents the culture of the past in my novel. So I was thinking about it and one day “I Want It All” was playing on the radio and that’s when I knew it had to be this song and this band. Queen comes from a time when music was made due to passion and not predominantly because labels wanted to make music and singers really had to be able to sing as they didn’t have auto tune back then (so lucky). Besides that, Freddy Mercury was a wonderful, one of a kind singer with a voice that no one will ever be able to imitate or “out sing” and so I felt that it was the right choice, instead of musicians that people listen to today, who mostly just sing about how they want to party or have sex with someone.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing a novel?

As a student I always had the problem of finding time for writing between school and homework, but another thing that was quite challenging was finding the determination to really sit down and simply write. The first 20,000 words took me around seven or eight months because I had very long periods where I couldn’t get myself to write. I just didn’t quite know where I wanted my story to go. Yet the last 25,000 words, more or less took me between three to five days, which I still cannot believe. Somehow inspiration just hit me together with the determination to really write this novel and have it done. So I just sat down and wrote it all.

As a new self-published author, what are the things you know now that you wish you would have known before? 

For one, I wished I would have known just how expensive it is in terms of getting a professional editor/proofreader to go over your work. Another thing that I wished I would have known before is that if you want to get published the old fashioned way and you want to get published by the big ones like Katherine Tegen Books or Penguin, you need to have an agent. At first I thought okay that surely isn’t that hard, right? Wrong. The process is extremely long and nerve-racking and so it led me to self-publish because I decided that I just don’t want to go down that road. I wish I would have known that before in order to just save myself from all the sleepless nights and anxiety waiting for an answer.

Tell us about some German authors whose work you admire and why.

To be honest, I don’t read many German authors but the one I really love, and who is my favorite author of all, is Sebastian Fitzek. He’s a psycho-thriller author whose books always managed to surprise and fascinate me. I still remember the nights I read his book called Seelenbrecher (Soul Breaker would be the most accurate translation in English) and I was torn between I have to know what happens next and No, no, no! Put that book away, this is way too scary so you won’t be able to sleep. I was around fourteen years old when I read it and it’s quite a scary and gory book.

What genres do you enjoy reading?

Quite obviously I enjoy dystopian and post-apocalyptic books, but I also like to read books like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, which are the type of books that will make you happy and cry and just give you this constant roller-coaster of emotions. I really love that.

When I was younger, I loved vampire books. I have a ton of those, but right now I cannot even look at them anymore as I’m just so fed up with vampire stories. They seem to be all the same, in a way.

You’re only nineteen years old! What are your plans for the future when it comes to writing?

Well, after high school I want to take a year off and just relax and give myself the time to write and do fun stuff. After that I’m planning to go to University in order to study journalism. My dream job would be to work as a journalist for one of the bigger music magazines, like Kerrang! I’ve always had a passion for music, and it’s also related to writing, so I could really picture myself in such a job. Besides that, I want to continue writing and maybe one day be able to call myself somewhat of a successful author. Right now, during NNWM (National Novel Writing Month) I’m trying to reach the goal of writing 50,000 words in less than thirty days, which I want to use in my second book for my Hunting Freedom-Trilogy, so we’ll see how that’ll go. Of course, I know that going down this road of being an author and publishing books will be a very long process, but I’m willing to take my chances and just see what will happen!

Into the Unknown is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

Visit Alice Reeds’ blog at http://www.alicereedsbettgeschichten.blogspot.de/

Earth Girl Trilogy

DIGITAL CAMERA

Ms. Janet Edwards is an English author whose debut novel (Earth Girl) made waves across the world; she has managed to combine her love of make-believe with her knowledge of science to craft a marvelous style of writing that stays with the reader in many more ways than one.

In my book review for Earth Star (http://blogcritics.org/book-review-earth-star-by-janet-edwards/), I wrote this about Ms. Edwards’ work: “It reminds me a little bit of why I love Doctor Who, because while it is full of things that are brilliant and fun, it has an undertone of what makes humanity human, and gives us both sides of the coin. It manages to convey socially important messages in marvelous wrapping, and I am very glad that it is one of the pieces of literature to be welcomed both sides of the pond.”

Ms. Edwards is as warm and generous in person as her writing is witty and deep, and it was a treat to connect with her for this interview. You may find out more about her and her “Earth Girl Trilogy” on her website (www.janetedwards.com). You may also contact her via her Twitter (@JanetEdwardsSF) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JanetEdwardsSF).

Interview by Joanna Celeste

**********

Q: Your debut novel, Earth Girl, was the first in the “Earth Girl Trilogy” and it garnered much acclaim, including being named as among the best Young Adult books of 2012 by both Amazon.co.uk and Kobobooks.com; did you know, starting out, that this would be a trilogy? (If so, how did you pitch something that you had not yet completed?)

A: I wrote Earth Girl to be a book that would stand alone, but by the time I finished it I had ideas about how it would fit into a trilogy, what would happen in book two, and what the end of the third book would be. I pitched Earth Girl as a single book without mentioning sequels. When my agent suggested trying to sell it as a trilogy, I spent a couple of days trying to turn my rough ideas for the next two books into something more detailed and coherent.

Q: Smart! How did you deal with the double-edged sword of so much acclaim?

A: I don’t think it’s exactly acclaim but I was certainly lucky that Earth Girl got some attention and some praise. The biggest problem for an unknown debut author is that people have no idea that you or your book exist, and it’s wonderful when people help by spreading the word.

Q: That’s a great way to look at it. What were you most concerned with, when dealing with the trilogy as your debut?

A: I’d actually written two more unrelated books in the nine months between finishing Earth Girl and getting publication offers. That meant I was fairly confident I could write more books. The big difference was that I’d written Earth Girl without any real expectation that anyone would read it.  Now I knew I’d be writing books that people would read which was a bit of a scary thought.

Q: Yes, writing something that you actually know will be read changes things. Will you publish the other books?

A: I haven’t any immediate plans for publishing those two books, but I may do if the opportunity arises.

Q: Do you have any plans for other series or genres?

A: I’m working on some ideas for series which would be science fiction like the Earth Girl trilogy, set in future worlds and walking the grey area between Young Adult and Adult. I’ve also some ideas which are a bit nearer to fantasy.

Q: That sounds wonderful! You mention in your guest post on world building [http://shusky20.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/guest-post-on-world-building.html] that you created an alternate timeline for the “Earth Girl trilogy”, imagining each of the steps as Earth fell from grace—how did you organize this? (Did you storyboard, or keep a notebook, or have a huge chart on a wall?)

A: It’s actually just a timeline in a word document, a list of dates and what happened on them. I did it that way because if I wrote on a chart or in a notebook it would get incredibly messy when I kept adding things. There are also individual timelines for each book with the date and time of each scene.

Q: I love that about Word; it cuts down on so much of the mess from when we had to do everything by hand or typewriter or index cards. What was your process for writing the trilogy?

A: It was different for each book. In Earth Girl I just journeyed along with Jarra discovering the story as I went along. I have to be careful how I say this not to give any spoilers, but there’s a point nearly three quarters of the way through the book when she walked towards a portal and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. For me, a lot of the writing process happens on a subconscious level, and it was only when Jarra walked towards that portal that I found out what my subconscious had planned to happen, and exactly why I’d written several earlier scenes.

Earth Star was rather more consciously planned in advance, but there were still several points where Jarra did things that surprised me. The final book, Earth Flight, has taken some serious planning of plotlines to bring everything in the trilogy together for the conclusion.

Q: I think I stopped breathing when Jarra walked towards the portal. Do you have any books you would recommend to new writers that helped you through the different processes?

A: The book I’d recommend to other writers is Stephen King’s On Writing.

Q: Your second novel, Earth Star, was published this month in the UK and around the world (Those in the US, sadly, have to wait until April of 2014). What resources do you find you have now, that you didn’t have with Earth Girl?

A: With Earth Girl I was a complete unknown. This time round there are some bloggers and reviewers who have already read and enjoyed Earth Girl and are interested in Earth Star. That’s a big help.

Q: With writing like yours, it’s a pleasure, and you’re a lovely person to work with as well. Could you please share with us your experiences working with traditional publishers: was it what you expected, why or why not?

A: I knew very little about the publication process beforehand. As the author, I was mostly involved with the text of the book, working with my editor to improve it as much as possible. I’d expected that, but I hadn’t realized how many other things had to be done when a book is published and how long in advance they have to happen. Long before the release date for the first book, various people were quietly doing their jobs and making things happen. I was constantly surprised by things like my book appearing on online bookshops for various countries.

Q: That’s a neat way of putting it—like it takes a village to raise an author. In your experiences working with UK publishers and having your work also sold across the pond, what has been the most challenging?

A: Earth Girl was published in the UK in August 2012, and in the USA in March 2013. That meant most of work on the text had been done for the UK launch and I really only had to check the proofs for the USA. I had interviews and blog pieces to do for the UK launch, and then there was a sense of déjà vu doing more interviews and blog pieces to launch the same book in the USA.

Q: It’s almost too bad you can’t keep up a Word document with all the questions and blog posts so you can just tweak and recycle them. You mark Earth Star (and indeed the trilogy) as for Young Adult and Adult. What do you consider the strong points of a YA novel, as opposed to an adult novel?

A: I think the distinguishing thing about YA novels is their theme. Their stories involve first experiences, and characters discovering not just their world but the person they are themselves. That theme can appear in a huge range of stories, and many YA novels tackle very challenging subjects. There’s no strict boundary wall between Young Adult and Adult books, and many adults of all ages find a lot of the books they enjoy are labeled YA.

Q: Yes! Some of my favorite books are YA, but I have never seen it phrased quite so elegantly. In your guest post about becoming a writer [http://authorallsorts.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-journey-from-fan-to-author/], you shared with us your love for reading as a child. Since your first publication, have you had anyone contact you to thank you for being their inspiration to write?

A: It would be delightful to have that happen, but my debut Earth Girl hasn’t really been out long enough to have been the inspiration for someone else to take up writing. I have had a few deeply moving messages from people with disabilities, including invisible disabilities, who’d really identified with the book because they’ve been the target of insults in the same way as Jarra.

Q: Please elaborate on what you mean by “invisible” disabilities.

A: Invisible disabilities are ones where someone couldn’t tell you have a problem just by looking at you. Disabling illness, deafness, agoraphobia, epilepsy, there are a huge range of these that can have a damaging impact on someone’s daily life. A person with an invisible disability can find themselves in something very like Jarra’s situation, because they have to decide whether or not to tell people they meet about their problem. If they’ve told someone about it in the past and met with a bad response, disbelief, insults or jeering (sadly this really does happen with some disabilities) they may be wary of risking that again. However, not telling someone about their problem may be a risk too, because they can get into embarrassing or even dangerous situations when they can’t do something or need help. I’m sure there are more detailed and expert explanations online.

Q: Ah, Jarra faces a couple of those in Earth Star. I liked your portrayal of both sides of those “handicaps”—the socially labeled and the invisible—and the realistic limitations and potentials for overcoming them, even if by compromise. I also enjoyed your futuristic military, which are featured much more in Earth Star. How did you build up that aspect of your world?

A: My ideas for the military in the Earth Girl trilogy came from their history and the work they did. In the year of 2789, humanity lives on 1200 colony worlds spread across six sectors of space. There hasn’t been a full scale war since before the exodus from Earth started in 2310, though humanity came close to one during Beta sector’s split from the rest of the sectors during its Second Roman Empire period. There are, however, occasionally small scale conflicts limited to one planet. The separate army, navy and air forces of the past have merged into one military that’s cross-sector, recruited from every planet. These military aren’t fighting wars, they’re peacekeeping, they’re running solar arrays, but their biggest job is opening up new colony worlds.

So when I was thinking of this future military, my ideas were coming from peacekeeping forces and emergency services. I felt the future military would probably take more ideas from the air forces of the past than other forces, though I’ve deliberately used a mix of ranks from a variety of forces. I threw in a couple of other factors from the military of today. Many career soldiers in the armed forces come from families with a tradition of military service, and people leaving the armed forces can sometimes have problems adjusting to civilian life or because of the aftereffects of traumatic events. I gave my future military a strong family tradition, with most of them born into military families, and made joining the military a lifetime commitment. This is a military with its own culture, operating as both a professional force and a family, so conversations can be formal including ranks, or informal casually using first names.

Q: Awesome! It can be so fun, imagining futures and playing with current realities. What brings you the most joy as a writer?

A: Hearing that someone, somewhere, has read something I’ve written and enjoyed it. All my life I’ve had great joy in reading books and it’s wonderful when someone says that I’ve given that same feeling to them. If you ever read a book and love it then consider letting the writer know by sending them a message or writing a review. Positive feedback helps inspire authors to keep writing. Reviews spread the word to new readers, which helps authors get more books published.

Q: That’s very true; I have experienced that as a writer and as a reviewer. Your writing was quite inspiring to me, and I’m glad that we will have the chance to read more of your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I’d like to thank you for doing this interview, and to thank everyone who takes the time to write reviews. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on individual reviews to say thank you, so I like to say the occasional general thank you when I get the chance.

 

Writing the Science Fiction Film

IMG
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE! IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA! IT CAME FROM THE PRIMEVAL WORLD! IT CAME FROM THE LABORATORY OF A MAD SCIENTIST!

Whatever its origins, there’s nothing quite like a good Sci-Fi flick to get us wondering, “Could this really happen?” In his new book, Writing the Science Fiction Film, Robert Grant not only dissects what makes this genre so popular with audiences of all ages but also provides aspiring screenwriters with the tools, insights and allegorical viewpoints they need to create their own plots that are out-of-this-world.

In addition to his accomplished background as a filmmaker, screenwriter, critic and script consultant, Grant is Literary Editor for SCI-FI-LONDON and serves on the jury for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature, the UK’s most prestigious award. If you’re going to be warding off alien invasions, disabling evil robots, battling mutant crab monsters or tweaking around with time-travel, this is the go-to guy you’re going to want in your corner.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Were you a fan of science fiction flicks when you were growing up? If so, what are some of the movies that have stuck with you to this day?

A: Absolutely, I watched lots of Sci-Fi, some early favourites being Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Time Machine, Day of the Triffids, Sleeper, Dark Star, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run… I could go on forever! And it wasn’t just films because, of course, there was lots of Sci-Fi on TV – Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Space 1999, Thunderbirds, Star Trek and even The Jetsons!

I do think that I started to take it more seriously as I reached my mid-teens. Films like Fahrenheit 451, It Happened Here and A Clockwork Orange started to resonate more as I understood the subtext and what the stories were actually trying to tell me.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about the influence that the Cold War had on Sci-Fi movies during the 1950s; specifically, using aliens from other planets as a metaphor for Communist invasion.

A: Well the influence of the Cold War on science fiction is undeniably huge. It was the time when the military-industrial complex came of age. Rockets and rocket power became more and more important on the battlefield and at the same time the proliferation of nuclear weapons brought the possibility of horrors like Hiroshima and Nagasaki to everyone’s doorstep along with the dangers of exposure to nuclear fallout. Science fiction used all kinds of horrors from shape-shifting aliens to giant ants to represent foreign invaders taking over the US and destroying everything that Americans hold dear and audiences were happy to take it all in.

Q: Flash forward to the 21st century. Who’s the enemy that the themes of current Sci-Fi films want to keep us paranoid about?

A: I think right now we are our own worst enemy. If you look at the current crop of science fiction films there’s a huge tendency to depict apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios, usually triggered by our own wanton hubris. Films like Children of Men, Splice, Contagion, 28 Days Later, The Road, I Am Legend and so on explore what happens when technological advance goes on unchecked and unmonitored, and how much of a knife edge we’re on when it comes to the difference between success and disaster.

Q: Sci-Fi and Fantasy are two genres in which plots unfold in alternative universes/realms and with characters that possess non-mortal looks/abilities. What elements and distinctions should a writer consider in deciding which category his plot best fits?

A: Well science fiction and fantasy are two entirely different and separate genres and the clue is in the name. A good science fiction story will rely on the ‘science’ part of that moniker in order to work, and the closer to present day your Sci-Fi is set, the more your science has to make sense. Ultimately if the science isn’t coherent, cohesive, and at the very least feasible then your story will very quickly fall apart. Very crudely – and there are exceptions to the rule on both sides – fantasy doesn’t need an explanation for why something is the way it is or how something happens, it’s just ‘magic’, but science fiction demands explanation.

Q: What do you feel Sci-Fi offers to both writers and audiences that other genres do not?

A: Science fiction is known as “the genre of ideas” and that really does sum it up. Sci-Fi lets us examine big issues and pose difficult questions, putting a spotlight on them and saying “Look at this! Look what’s going on!” in order to get people to start talking about it, but importantly, it can do this without pointing fingers directly at any individual or group.

Think about what currently keeps people up at night. Global warming? Environmental damage? Terrorist threat? Erosion of civil liberties? CCTV and the lack of privacy? Rampant corporatisation? The poverty gap? GM crops? More than any other genre, science fiction deals directly with these kinds of changes and the effects they have on society. It flips us out of our own cosy existence and forces us to think about society in different ways, showing us that the usual way of doing things might not be the only way, that there may be a better way, but – and it’s a very important but – science fiction rarely gives us the answers or preaches any kind of solution, it just gets the conversation started. Solutions are up to all of us to work out.

In the end it comes down to this; if you want to write about the nature of humanity and its relationship to the world around it, you pretty much have to write science fiction.

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that beginning Sci-Fi writers make (and how can they fix them)?

A: Unlike any other, science fiction is both a genre and a setting and unlike other genres it comes in all shapes and sizes. Romantic Comedies are romantic and funny, horror films are horrifying, dramas are dramatic and thrillers are thrilling. But science fiction can be all of those things and be science-fictional. For example:

Star Man (1984) is a romance and a science fiction film
Alien (1979) is a horror movie and a science fiction film
ET (1982) is a family movie and a science fiction film
The Terminator (1984) is an action movie and a science fiction film
Never Let Me Go (2010) is a drama and a science fiction film
Logan’s Run (1976) is a thriller and a science fiction film
Sleeper (1973) is a comedy and a science fiction film

You can see the dilemma straight away. What exactly are you writing? Are you writing a western set in space (Firefly) or a noir detective story set in the far future (Blade Runner) and, as you might suspect, the truth actually lies somewhere between the two.

All genres have their particular story beats, a romantic comedy has to have the “cute meet”, action movies have their “hamlet moment”, thrillers generally have a compressed time frame and those things must be observed. When figuring out your story, you will save yourself a whole lot of time and trouble if you figure out your primary genre and then write to the beats of that genre to start with. If you’re writing a science fiction revenge thriller then I would suggest that you actually plot a decent revenge thriller first and then as you re-write – and assuming the science is crucial to the story – build up the science fiction elements slowly, revealing your world through action and character rather than trying to build a Sci-Fi world and shoehorning a revenge thriller plot into it. You’ll be rewarded with a far better screenplay if you do it that way, believe me.

Q: Give us some examples of Sci-Fi movies that embrace similar themes but are totally different from each other.

A: Good question! The easiest examples of this are how we typically represent ‘the alien’ in Sci-Fi and the two polar opposite approaches here. One way is the simple alien people, living their lives in peace and of no threat to anyone until we show up – usually to colonise their lands and exploit their resources – in films like Avatar (2009), Planet 51 (2009) or Terra (2007). The flip side of that are the films where we are attacked or invaded by aliens that are bent on wiping out humankind, which we see in everything from The Blob (1958) to Independence Day (1996) to Mars Attacks (1996). The themes are the same in both versions, the taking away of liberty and of freedom, loss of identity, the destruction of a way of life in pursuit of advancement, the loss of control to a dominant power, the ‘win at all costs’ mentality. These kinds of films rose to prominence during the paranoia of the Cold War but they crop up time again, regardless of whether we are being invaded or doing the invading, with the same warnings. They point to suspect foreign policies, global corporatisation, erosion of civil liberties and just basic greed whether the method is stealthy and insidious (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) or brash and uncaring (War of the Worlds).

Q: There’s no question that technology (and especially 3D) has given Sci-Fi movies a completely different look and sense of realism that didn’t exist decades ago. Has all of this high-tech eye-candy, though, come at the expense of weaker stories, poor dialogue, and characters that aren’t fully developed?

A: That’s a complex question and a difficult one to answer, in some ways yes and in some ways no. Around the world a lot of smart, challenging well-written, engaging, science fiction films come out every year but don’t make it to the local multiplex and that’s where festivals like SCI-FI-LONDON do a lot to showcase Sci-Fi you won’t see anywhere else on the big screen. In a number of cases the money to make those smaller films has come from studio funds raised on the success of some blockbuster hit – the one paying for the other – and so we need those big films to help prop-up the industry at all levels. A director of photography, gaffer or post house will often look more favourably at working for basic fees on small projects coming off the back of a big project that was a success.

I think people forget that this is the film ‘business’ – with ‘business’ being the operative word. Box office earnings are up – mostly due to the escalating cost of seeing a film, especially one in 3D – but audience numbers aren’t growing as much so the big studios have to find different ways to maximise the revenue streams they can get from a property in order to make the most profit they can. This is why adaptations these days come from everywhere, not just novels but toys, comic books, video games and even theme park rides, because any way of leveraging profit from a film has to be explored. The downside of this is that if the decision makers don’t understand the audience properly, their ‘films for teenage boys’ get dumbed-down by sacrificing character, plot, dialogue and so on in favour of pretty girls and explosions, films that are expensive to make but are filled with eye-candy. Great if they’re a hit, very costly if they are not. But it doesn’t have to be that way, love him or loathe him Christopher Nolan has shown that if you treat the property with respect and credit the audience with some intelligence then science fiction films can be well written, complex, nuanced and challenging while still being filled with eye-candy and turning a big profit.

Q: A common cliché in movies of this genre is that as soon as the supreme bad guy is killed off, his minions always scatter. A wounded – or even dead – good guy, however, has loyal followers who will continue to fight. Is it that evil minions aren’t all that vested in the cause/outcome or that they just can’t function without a leader?

A: I’m not sure that it’s a common cliché of Sci-Fi movies or just a common cliché of movies in general, you could equally be talking about a James Bond film or Lord of the Rings. The practicality of writing is that minions don’t get any more screen time than they need and films are generally about the good guy vs. the bad guy so they stop once that story has been told. There are probably exceptions to the rule but….

Q: How much do you have to know about science, math and physics to write a plausible Sci-Fi plot?

A: In reality, nothing, but if you want your film to stand up to scrutiny then it at least has to be plausible and that’s where research comes in. Start online and Google the relevant science that relates to your story, then find a scientist and ask them if they’ll answer questions for you. Use Twitter or Facebook to track them down – they’re out there, they’re usually nice as pie and love to chat about their work. The trick for the writer is to figure out how much of the science the audience needs to know or understand for the story to work. If the answer is ‘absolutely nothing’ then great, don’t get bogged down in it, but if the story depends on the science to work – which is true for a lot of things that centre around contagion, genetics, environmental change, space flight and so on, things close to home – then you owe it to your audience to make sure you understand the basic mechanics and get it right. The mantra though is “only as much as is necessary”, you don’t want to be boring, but it’s worth pointing out that quite often you’ll find that the research conveniently helps with plotting, turning up things you might not otherwise have thought about.

Q: Aren’t Sci-Fi movies awfully expensive to make these days? What if someone is passionate about making an indie Sci-Fi film but has a really small budget?

A: Go ahead and make it! The world has changed and it’s never been easier or cheaper to get the technology at your fingertips to make any film, not just a science fiction film. But the best Sci-Fi is not always the big budget extravaganza. Primer famously cost just $7000 to make but other notable low-budget Sci-Fi films include Mad Max, Cypher, Pi and more recently, Moon, Attack the Block and Monsters. If you have a great story and a great script, then good costumes, interesting locations and great acting will take you a long way before you have to think about special effects, and these days there are a plethora of crowd-funding/crowd-sourcing sites to showcase your project and get help or raise extra funds. Be brave, be bold and go for it.

Q: In a Sci-Fi tableau, which villain would you personally rather do battle with – a mortal without any conscience or a computer that is sentient?

A: I think that a mortal villain would be easier and more predictable. We are creatures of habit and if your villain has no conscience they can always be relied on to do the wrong thing. This makes them emotional, vulnerable to manipulation and thus defeat. Additionally physical strength and mental agility would play a part and I would take my chances on both counts. An AI on the other hand would not be susceptible to tricks or manipulation and physical strength doesn’t apply. An AI would only ever examine the data and take the most advantageous course of action regardless, making it almost impossible to beat in terms of mental agility. All in all I think I’d rather take on the mortal.

Q: How do you find ideas for out-of-this-world Sci-Fi plots? Hasn’t everything already been done?

A: We will never be all done with telling stories! Whatever idea you can think of can always be told in more than one way with more than one outcome. As most writers will tell you, ideas are all around us; you just have to start looking for them and you’ll be amazed at how often you’re turning them away rather than struggling to find them. I use news channels online or RSS feeds to track the types of stories that I’m interested in and then file them away with a clipping tool to re-use later. I also read a lot, watch documentaries and find new people to chat with – all of these are fuel for story ideas. Once I have my basic ideas I use several of the techniques that I outline in the book to flesh those out into outlines and eventually complete stories. I’m never short of ideas!

Q: In your view, would it be harder for a Sci-Fi time-traveler to go back in time or to go forward?

A: I think forward. Projecting yourself back in time means you are placing yourself into a physical space that did exist so you know the size, shape, conditions etc. and your biggest issue would be not displacing any of that and changing anything. Going forward in time means trying to predict the shape, size, condition and location of the physical space and hoping you get it right. Like trying to fire a bullet at a moving target while blindfolded and with no idea what direction the target is, how far away it is or how big.

Q: What’s the best Sci-Fi film you’ve ever seen?

A: Couldn’t possibly say, I like so many. There are perennial favourites, films I’ll watch whenever they’re on but even then it depends on my mood and whether or not I want action, adventure and derring-do or quiet, introspective contemplation. I’m probably far more likely to reach for something new to watch though than go back to something I’ve seen.

Q: And the absolute worst?

A: There are many, many candidates, and I’m not that cruel…

Q: What films do you recommend aspiring Sci-Fi filmmakers watch in order to understand the craft?

A: I would start by watching the AFI’s top 50 science-fiction films, first to see what you’re up against and to learn the themes and tropes that crop up time and again. But I’d also watch the top films of the type you want to write be it thriller, action, drama, comedy, romance etc. because as I said before, if you start by writing a terrific thriller and then work on the SF aspects, you’ll get a better thriller than if you build a Sci-Fi world and then try to shoehorn a thriller into it.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I have two feature scripts I’m working on currently and I’m just about to start on a very exciting web series with a Director/Producer team here in the UK.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

A: I’m a big fan of cake.