Interview with Erik Christensen

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I'm not sure I can remember the first, but I have vivid memories of books I read at a relatively young age. My mother gave me science fiction and fantasy books, like "The Hobbit", "Lord of the Rings", and pretty much every Heinlein book ever. My dad had me reading "Dale of the Mounted", the Hardy Boys series, and all manner of non-fiction sports and science books and magazines. Between them it's no wonder I gravitated toward sci-fi adventure, because they all lit up my imagination like the beacons of Minas Tirith.
Even earlier than that was Winnie the Pooh, which may be the first books I read on my own. My very first attempt at writing was essentially Pooh fan-fic, which has thankfully been lost.
How do you approach cover design?
My foremost thought is to convey a conflict, preferably an internal one. With my first book, the protagonist is a librarian who desperately wants to follow his late father's footsteps in the Guard. Forced to give up his sword for a pen, he struggles to find his "true self" throughout the book. From this, I decided I wanted the cover to depict a "battle" between a sword and a quill.
My next step was to hire a professional, and boy, was I right to do that. Not only did she come up with a brilliant depiction of my idea, she did such a good job that I was forced to come up with a better title for my book, one that conveyed the same level of action that her art-work did.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
This changes from time to time, and often varies with the last thing I read. Lord of the Rings (along with The Hobbit) remains my favorite fantasy story, despite its (now) obvious flaws, for its intensely satisfying world-building. Stranger in a Strange Land continues to make me think about the nature of humanity, and even reality. The Handmaid's Tale first turned me on to how much meaning can be conveyed in a simple sentence, if you know what details to focus on. Pride and Prejudice was a recent read for me, and among other things, taught me the value of having a ridiculous character or two, not only for comedic effect, but also for surprises. Dragonriders of Pern is still a source of inspiration for me, with its wonderful inventiveness and "what if this could be real" approach to fantasy.
What do you read for pleasure?
I'm lucky to have an English professor for a partner. She has introduced me to genres and eras I had no idea existed. So my pleasure reading has recently evolved to include classics like Jane Austen and Margaret Cavendish, something I would not have attempted without her expert guidance. Not only do I enjoy them much more than I expected, but I've picked up writing techniques I might not have discovered otherwise. My next foray into the classics will probably be Aphra Behn.
Still, I find myself returning time and again to sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. Even though these stories diverge from reality on the surface, there's something honest and simple about their story-telling. I've taken to finding free books on Amazon to try out new authors. Some books I don't even finish, but others times I find a new author I enjoy, and buy the whole series. (I did this recently with a Robert J. Crane collection.)
Margaret Atwood, for me, bridges the gap between sci-fi and "literature." While she isn't quite sci-fi, many of her books are definitely in the speculative fiction category, so satisfy my desire for something "otherly," but her writing and storytelling are inspirational.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Kindle, since it was given to me as a gift. I would definitely buy one I had to start from scratch. I'll also use my iPad for PDF and .epub books, but only by necessity.
When did you first start writing?
I have vivid memories of writing stories at the age of six, and stapling the pages together to make "books". Later in my school years I would amuse myself by writing over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek stories, some of which also amused my friends. I look back on these now with both pride and regret, because I was clearly creative enough to write, but I was copping out by making deliberately second-rate stories, almost mocking the concept of writing itself.
It wasn't until my forties that a friend suggested I could, and should, write a "real" story.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Like so many authors, I first tried to get published traditionally. The motivations for this were mixed. First, having someone else do the marketing meant I could spend more time writing. Second, I wanted validation from some one professional that I was good enough to be considered a "real" author.
I have a collection of rejection emails from agents. Some are simply form responses, but one or two gave me real encouragement, even though they chose not to represent me. It became obvious that acceptance and rejection were subjective, and not based on quality alone. Still, I was impatient, so I investigated what it would take to self-publish.
What I learned changed my life. I would never consent to leave the marketing in someone else's hands now, unless they offered such a large advance that it wouldn't matter whether the book sold or not. My first real understanding of the indie publishing world came from Smashwords, but I continued to learn from successful authors like Nick Stephenson, Joanne Penn, and others.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The simple fact of having created something that now exists independent from me. It has a life of its own, and will still exist when I am gone. I'll never enjoy the agony of childbirth, but writing is a good enough substitute.
Beyond this was the surprising therapeutic benefit of writing. My first protagonist shared some of my own "damage," and it became necessary for me to share his own epiphanies. You can't write a convincing character progression without understanding it internally, and in healing my hero, I ended up healing myself in some ways too.
What are you working on next?
First, I am finishing some short stories to go along with the first book. These stories are not related to the main plot, but are intended to be snapshots of other parts of William's world, and how life has changed for them since William's discovery.
After these are completed, I will work on the sequel to The Defender of Rebel Falls, which will continue William's story, carrying over some unfinished business from book one.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Writing, mostly. My daytime and evenings are so busy that early mornings are often my only uninterrupted quiet time. I can do some writing-related activities during the day, but I need silence, or at least quiet, in order to create.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Some are recommendations from friends, others are free books from Amazon that I selected randomly. I pick up a lot of junk that way--my Kindle is full of books at the three percent mark, because they're too crappy to read--but once in a while I find a gem. I don't think I would have found the Sanctuary series by Robert J. Crane any other way.
Giving away the first book of a series is a tried and true marketing technique, and I'm forever grateful for it, both as a writer and a reader.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I both laugh and shudder at the memory. It had conflict; it had legal drama; it had horses; it had guns; it had pictures in crayon on colored paper, and was stapled together like a book, and my parents thought it was great. Years later my stepmother found it and mocked it for hours, effectively burying any desire to share stories, at least for the next thirty years or so.
Ironically, this event serves as inspiration for the sort of "baggage" a character might be carrying around. From such damage, great redemption stories are born--or perhaps revenge.
Published 2017-08-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Defender of Rebel Falls: A Medieval Science Fiction Adventure
Price: Free! Words: 121,630. Language: English. Published: September 3, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
William wanted to be a hero like his father. He wanted adventure. But no one told him there would be dragons.