Interview with Cora Buhlert

Published 2014-09-26.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a semi-rural suburb of Bremen in North West Germany. However, I had a Dad whose job required a lot of travel, so I spent a year in Biloxi, Mississippi, and a couple of months in Singapore as a child. As a teenager, I also spent a lot of time in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
How did this influence me? On the one hand, I grew up in a very traditional and conservative area, which was also rather isolated. The last bus from the city went at 8 PM and you couldn't get anywhere without a car. On the other hand, by the time I turned ten, I'd also seen a lot more of the world than most people in my semi-rural neighbourhood and lived in countries that were very different from each other and from my home. As a result, I never really fit in, which is probably a part of the reason why I started writing.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
My Mom read bedtime stories to me and told me fairy tales long before I could read. Did they have an impact on me? Well, the fairy tales my Mom read to me and sometimes told me were Grimm's fairy tales in their original bloody versions as well as Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, which aren't exactly happy stories either. So I was exposed to some harsh stories at an early age. Maybe that's why I occasionally write bloody and violent tales.
One childhood favourite I remember is a German picture book called "Mecki on the Moon" which chronicled the beautifully illustrated adventures of a hedgehog and his cat friend on the moon. I loved this book to bits and even had a plush toy of Mecki, the heroic hedgehog. I guess it contributed to the fact that I grew up to write science fiction.
When did you first start writing?
I've been making up stories for as long as I can remember. I first started writing them down in elementary school and scribbled blatant Enid Blyton pastiches. In my teens, I wrote an opera libretto (yes, I know I was weird) as well as a mercifully unfinished science fiction novel and some short stories. However, I didn't start writing in earnest until my second semester at university.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The very first I think was a Enid Blyton pastiche I wrote at the age of nine or ten. The first I remember in detail was an unfinished science fiction novel I wrote at the age of approx. fifteen. It started with two teenage girls getting kidnapped by a flying car piloted by humanoid aliens and then taken out to the alien mothership which was hiding out above San Francisco Bay. Not that I'd ever actually been to San Francisco at the time, I merely thought it sounded cool.
What do you read for pleasure?
I'm a multi genre reader and will read pretty much anything. My first love will always be science fiction, but I also love fantasy (both urban and epic), romance, crime fiction, historical fiction and even the occasional work of literary fiction.
Who are your favorite authors?
Jane Austen, Isaac Asimov, Lois McMaster Bujold, Thomas Pynchon, Simon R. Green, Magda Trott, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Rob Thurman, really too many to mention.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I get just five? Oh, that's going to be difficult.

1. "The End of Eternity" by Isaac Asimov, because it blew my mind when I first read it as a teenager and also because it resonated with some concerns I had about the political and social trends of the mid to late 1980s.
2. "V" by Thomas Pynchon. I read it at university and it showed me that it's possible to break all the so-called "rules" of writing and still produce something amazing.
3. "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen, because it's just brilliant.
4. The Vorkosigan series (yeah, I cheated) by Lois McMaster Bujold, because it's not just the ultimate feel-good space opera, but also a lot more subversive than many people realise.
5. "Blue Moon Rising" by Simon R. Green, because it turns every fantasy cliché on its head, tells a wonderful love story and seamlessly oscillates from comedy to tragedy and back.
What is your writing process?
Most of my stories either start with a single scene I see clearly in my head or with a character showing up on my mental doorstep to tell me his or her story. If I'm lucky, the scene I see in my head is the first scene of a given story and the character actually starts at the beginning. Most of the time, however, I'm not that lucky, so many of my stories are written out of order.
I usually have at least a vague idea of what's going to happen and how a story is going to end, but I don't plot out my stories in detail.
I write every day and set myself an absolute minimum goal of at least 100 words. This is great for motivation, because 100 words is so little that you can even manage it on very busy days. However, these days I aim for 1000 words a day.
Describe your desk
I've got an L-shaped desk set right in front of a first floor window. On the desk, there is a laptop, a desktop PC, a printer, some pens and notepaper, a chunk of orange calcite, which is supposed to further creativity (plus it looks pretty), a lucky coin (a defunct German Pfennig coin) and a toy spaceship. Next to the desk, there is a shelf with reference books and on the window sill behind the desk there are some model ships.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love creating characters and worlds and making up stories to go with them. Writing allows me to immerse myself into those worlds and stories and spend time with my characters.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I had some success selling short stories and poems to traditional magazines. The first time I heard that some writers were indie publishing e-books I was sceptical. However, I was also an avid reader of the blogs of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. They both seemed to consider indie publishing a viable path, so I thought, "Maybe there is something to this indie thing after all."
Since I already had a backlist of published short stories to which I had gotten the rights back, I decided to test the indie waters with a few of those stories. I published my first three e-books, all backlist short stories, in July 2011 and found that I really enjoyed the process, so I gradually published my entire backlist as well as new stories.
How do you approach cover design?
I design my own covers. I usually start by considering what sort of look and imagery would be appropriate for the story in question. If the book is part of a series, I also consider the branding of the series. For example, the covers for the Silencer series are styled after vintage pulp magazines, while the covers for the Shattered Empire series use digital science fiction art and series banners with a weathered metal look. Once I've decided on a basic look, I go looking for suitable stock art and fonts. In a few cases, I've even shot my own cover photos.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I don't really do a whole lot of traditional marketing and no paid advertising at all. What has worked for me is distributing my books as widely as I can and translating some of my stories into German (I'm a professional translator in my day job, so I could do this myself). I also like doing interviews and guest posts and run a group blog with two other writers of indie speculative fiction. Occasionally, I also tweet about my books. Not a whole lot, just maybe one or two promo tweets a day.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I own a Kobo Glo and love it very much, though about eighty percent of my reading is still print.
What do your fans mean to you?
I don't really think I've got fans per se, but I've got a handful of regular readers who buy my books, follow my blog, sign up for my mailing list and otherwise support me. These regular readers mean a lot to me, because they are the foundation of my success.
What's the story behind your latest book?
That would be "Debts to Pay", book 4 in the "Shattered Empire" series. The story behind this novella is rather unusual, because it started its life as a short story called "The Nighthuntress", which I wrote during my second semester at university some twenty years ago now. At the time, I submitted it to a few magazines, got rejected and promptly forgot all about it for almost twenty years.
When I started indie publishing, I dug up all of my old stories, including "The Nighthuntress". Initially, I set the story aside, because it was so old and part of a defunct science fiction series I had created as a teenager. However, as I looked at the old story again, I noticed that there were some things I still liked about it even twenty years on. Plus, I had just started writing the Shattered Empire space opera series, so I wondered whether there wasn't some way to salvage "The Nighthuntress" and turn it into a Shattered Empire story.
The basic plot – a young woman is hired to take down a drug lord on a remote planet – is still the same, though "Debts to Pay" has been vastly expanded from "The Nighthuntress" and most of the details have been changed to fit the Shattered Empire universe. Most of the story has been completely rewritten. Only a handful of lines survive largely unchanged from the original story I wrote back in 1993.
What are you working on next?
Shattered Empire book No. 6, which has the working title "Lovers and Partners", as well as a Christmas themed Helen Shepherd mystery entitled "A Bullet for Father Christmas".
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