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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.