Well, I suppose I'd have to start with Stephen King — he's the biggest influence I have in terms of style. Secondly, I'd have to name Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. For me, it's all about their individual styles, the way they *tell* their stories, not what's in them, that reaches me the most. In terms of science-fiction, I'd have to say that my three biggest heroes are Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5. Now, with these three, it's definitely all about the subject matter — robots, time travel, space travel, aliens, etcetera. I've also been greatly influenced by various other filmmakers and musicians — particularly the music of Jim Steinman, the guy who created Meat Loaf's two best albums and some of Bonnie Tyler's biggest hit singles. What I love about Steinman in his ability to take a simple melody and inflate it to Wagnerian proportions, which is what I try to do . . . only instead of simple melodies, it's ideas.
What's the story behind your latest book?
When I was in my twenties, my friend Joe — who is now deceased; he committed suicide some five years ago this year — took me to a sci-fi convention called RiverCon, here in Louisville, at the Executive West Inn. I remember thinking at the time, "Wouldn't it be cool if while we were here, aliens landed at the hotel, and we all got caught up in some wild high-tech adventure!" I remember being in such heaven, drunk off my ass, and constantly thinking, "I've come home. These — these are my people!" Well, ten or eleven years later, here we are, and "The Reality Engineers" is, well, a reality. Interestingly enough, this book started out as the *backstory* to another book starring an earlier iteration of this same cast of characters; I liked it so much that I decided to expand it into its own book, and then retcon (read: rewrite) the other story so that everything would make sense (that book is coming next year). In fact, that's where the name of the convention in the book came from — RetCon.
When did you first start writing?
I first began writing when I was just 13 years old. Even then, I knew I wanted to tell stories. I wrote a novel about me and my best friend and all of our wondrous adventures on other worlds — I even remember the title; it was "Andy and Lester's Hyperlight Journey Through Spacetime." I suppose I was the stereotypical nerd growing up. Whereas other guys were really into cars or sports or girls, I was into Transformers and quantum physics and vampires and robotics and even a little cosplay (though back then it wasn't called cosplay; it was just called "being weird"; later on, when I got into theatre, I would find it a liberating experience). Other kids thought I was weird and crazy, which wasn't helped by the fact that since I was an undiagnosed bipolar, I actually *was* a little crazy! All of this went into my writing — the whole thing with being a geek surrounded by "normal" people, exaggerations or extrapolations of what I saw in movies and TV and on album covers . . . and music. Gods how I loved music. I remember one of the most galvanizing experiences I had as a kid was listening to Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell II - Back Into Hell" all the way through. It was mesmerizing. Like listening to the music of the gods. That became an influence on my early efforts as well, that surreal Wagnerian world that Steinman managed to create on those records. And of course when I discovered Star Trek and Robert A. Heinlein, those things became influences, too. But it all began with that first manuscript that I wrote when I was just 13 years old. Man, I really wish I still had a copy of that! (If only I'd met my friend Kenny just a few years earlier . . . Kenny has, for the past fifteen or twenty years, kept a filing cabinet full of my writing, archiving my various manuscripts. Sadly, I don't think he has that one.)
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Well, my book didn't really fit into any established pigeonhole. It's too artsy, literary, and niche for the big boys, and it's too genre, plot-driven, and device-riddled for the literary houses. So I decided to go it alone, and maybe make some money in the process. (Hey, at least I'm honest about that part of my motivation, right?) In my view, there's nothing wrong with the commercialization of art, so long as said commercialization acts to *improve* the quality of art produced. And I think that this Indie process does that for me — drives me to improve, to do better, to reach higher. I haven't made a ton of money yet — which is okay, because I'm really not in it for the money anyway; I'm more about artistic expression and personal validation through a tale well told — but if I did manage to do so, it would only encourage me to put out something even better next time!
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Well, Smashwords' very existence is an awesome boone to Indie authors everywhere, I think. If it weren't for Smashwords being there and luring me with the promise of Indie publishing, I probably wouldn't have even finished my first book! So thus far, Smashwords has contributed a lot to my success . . . I doubt I would still be driven to publish if it weren't for services like Smashwords. And that's the really important thing for me — keeping going. Smashwords enables me to do that, and I'm eternally indebted to them just for their existence alone.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
For me, the greatest joy of writing is watching someone else read my finished work. I can tell by their facial expression — and whether they laugh or tear up or frown or smile — what the material is doing to them, whether or not they like it. In many ways I think it's like being a scientist, and toiling for hours to create some new drug or serum or formulae, and then anxiously testing it out on lab rats and nervously watching for a reaction in them. I know i probably shouldn't compare my beloved beta-readers to lab rats, but that's kind the truth . . . I love seeing what my writing does, what kind of reaction it gets, what sort of commentary it inspires or draws forth from the reader. And most of all, I love feedback — of any kind — whether it's positive or negative. Why? Because feedback — of any kind — indicates that the reader has absorbed the work and processed it, thought about it, and is now responding to it; again, I invoke the scientist metaphor. Whenever I get an email from Smashwords telling me that someone has reviewed my book, my heart goes up into my throat and I'm like, "Oh God; they hated it . . . they think I suck." But then once I read the review — maybe it's a good one, maybe it's a bad one — I'm able to sit back and parse out logically, "Okay, where can I do better next time," or maybe, "How can I do more of what this reader liked?" For me it's all about the relationship between the author and the reader, that special bond they share that's so abstract — yet concrete — that it's almost mystical. That's my spirituality right there, in a nutshell.
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything. Without my fans, I am nothing but a lame duck, ferociously quacking at no one. My fans are who I write for — everyone else is just along for the ride. I love each and every one of my fans with all my heart. It may sound cheap, cheesy, or even cliche, but that's the absolute truth. By the same token though, I try to not let my fans run the circus in my head that produces the work in the first place; that is, I try to steer my own creative ship, and let the fans enjoy the results. My fans are the whole reason I keep on writing; when there's no reasons left to keep going, when there's no motivation to drag myself to the keyboard — even in the throes of the depression that bipolar can inflict on me — my fans are the reason I push forward, persevere, and keep on writing.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on a sequel to "The Reality Engineers: Volume I" of course! I've also got a couple of spin-off short stories in the works (though those may wind up absorbed into the new novel), and I'm also working on an essay about rock music and how it's influenced me as a writer (generally, I don't do a lot of creative nonfiction, but in this case, I'll make an exception). I'm also trying to get my blog up and going, writing a few posts here and there. And of course, there's always marketing this book . . . which is a whole other job in and of itself!
Who are your favorite authors?
Oh God, this is a hard one. Hang on, circuits frying. Okay. Here we go. An incomplete list . . . Stephen King, Robert Jordan, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore,Stephen Baxter, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, Harlan Ellison, and many, many more!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I wish I could say, "The thought of finishing the last paragraph or sentence that i wrote the night before," but usually it's the thought of a good cup of coffee and that first drag off my electronic cigarette! But after that, definitely that other thing. My writing has been there for me when I had nothing else; it's one of the main reasons I continue to draw breath. If it weren't for that? I have no idea. None. It all comes back to my writing, because that's what I love doing more than anything else.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I read a lot, and I watch a lot of movies and TV shows. Right now I'm re-watching the entirety of "Fringe" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with my friends Tonya and Greg, respectively (Greg and I just finished "Babylon 5" not too long ago). I also play with my cat, Kitty-Boy, and of course I visit with friends and family. I've been known to play a video game now and then, go to the odd con, or take the occasional class . . . by which I mean attend school half-time at Indiana University Southeast. This coming semester, I'll be taking Spanish and Chemistry. So not only will I know how to blow things up, but I'll be able to cuss out the authorities when they arrive at the scene of the crime. It's good to have reasons to do things.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Generally, through Amazon or the Apple iBookstore, sometimes through Smashwords. It depends, really, on what I'm looking for.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Yes. I remember it well. The first story I consciously remember reading was an illustrated children's version of Frankenstein (if you flipped the book over, you got Dracula). It had a big impact on me . . . and probably is what cemented my love of science-fiction. Because that's really what Shelley's tale is . . . it's straight-up sci-fil, not horror. So yeah, that really stuck with me for a long, long time. The next thing I consciously remember reading — and loving — was H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine." There are a dozen other experiences I could relate, but the biggest one of my youth has to be Stephen King's "It." I remember it had such a *huge* emotional impact on me. I cried my eyes out — happy tears, to be sure — at the end of that book, and that immense, powerful feeling of raw emotion rising in me as I came to those final words has stuck with me all these years. It's a benchmark I try to shoot for in my own writing . . . if I can write something that makes me cry the way the end of "it' did, then I'll know I'm doing something extremely, exceedingly right.
How do you approach cover design?
Generally, I don't. I leave it to the artist to come up with their own interpretation. The only exception is the temporary cover for my first book here on Smashwords; I designed that one myself. It's not my best Photoshop work, but it ain't my worst, either. The experience of creating it, though — and the resounding "meh" it evokes in pretty much everyone — has taught me two things: (1) always leave art and design to the professionals, and (2) stick to what you're good at and let everything flow from that. Lucky for me, I had a fantastic artist to work with — Jeanine Henning — and she did a smashing job of designing me one hell of a kick ass cover. I'm planning on having her do all three books, once the other two are done (should be sometime next year).
Describe your desk
Let's see. Cherry wood finish. Seven feet wide. Four feet deep. Curved at the front. Enormous 27-inch iMac and two hard-drives sitting on top, along with white Apple Time Capsule (router and backup device) and black cable modem with green flashy lights . . . stack of books leaning over about to fall — the "Sandman" series by Neil Gaiman and "Tolkien's Middle-Earth For Dummies" are the books my eye is drawn to first. A black ceramic coffee cup, half-empty; plastic cup of ice-water, nearly full; actual glass of soda, almost empty. Black and orange telephone handset. My glasses. A white iPad connector cable. Big green Yoda doll wearing a brown Jedi robe. Aluminum keyboard, trackpad, white plastic mouse. Cup full of pens and pencils and erasers with pewter dragons on the sides. White and yellow electronic cigarette. Big, fat, lazy black tomcat named Kitty-Boy taking up an obscene amount of real estate with his butt. Is that everything? Did I leave anything out? No? Good! On we go . . .
What do you read for pleasure?
Pretty much everything, though I specialize in fiction. My favorite nonfiction subjects are science and philosophy, especially books on evolution, string theory, and other dimensions, and insofar as philosophy is concerned, I love the "Pop Culture And Philosophy" books by Blackwell Press. I also have been known to read the odd comic book or graphic novel, although I'm very OCD about buying ALL the books in a particular series ALL AT ONCE! I MUST COLLECT THEM ALL! AAGGHH!
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My iPad. Not only can it do books from the Apple iBookstore, but also Kindle books and any number of other e-reading platforms that there is an app for. I like the weight of it in my hands — it reminds me of a real book — and I like the skeumorphic interface that feels like you're actually flipping pages in a book.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
This question is literally impossible for me to answer. Let's see, a short list: I love Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series, Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" books, Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, the "Harry Potter" series, Arthur C. Clarke's collected works (not including 2001 and 2010, which are marvelous), Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" and "Robot" novels, The works of H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft, and those of A.E. Poe. Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Anne Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles." Stephen KIng's "It" and "Stranger In A Strange Land" and "Number of the Beast" and "Time Enough For Love" by Robert A. Heinlein. "Watchmen" and "From Hell" by Alan Moorre. "The Sandman" series by Neil Gaiman. Terry Goodkind's "Wizard's First Rule." I'm fairly certain that will have to do, as I could go on listing my favorite books all day long.
What is your writing process?
Generally, I sit down with an idea almost-fully-formed in my head, though the edges and details haven't all been filled in just yet. Then, I start the process of discovery — whose story is this? What makes their story interesting, or unique? Why would anyone want to read it? Then I start filling in details, crafting character bios, and doing a lot of general worldbuilding. Then, I go back and try to integrate my characters with the world I've created (oftentimes, creating the characters evolves out of the worldbuilding; for The Reality Engineers, though, the original concept began with Dizzy and moved forward from there). Then I ask myself two questions: One, what is the larger story being told, the context for this story? And two, what IS the story? Next, I ask myself, What's the plot going to be about? Drawing from details of the worldbuilding, I usually can come up with something interesting. The plot will probably be expanded, contracted, sliced, diced, and Julianne'd before I'm done with it, though; I have sort of an "everything but the kitchen skin . . . and then the sink for good measure" style of storytelling. Once I get going discovering the universe the story takes place in, then I really kick things into high gear. I almost always save thematic and literary concerns for the final drafts of the manuscript, once I know everything there is to know — or close to it — about my characters. They're what drive home any message or central idea, and are what wind up slowly taking over as being most important, the worldbuilding eventually falling in line with whatever my characters need to complete their journey. Brandon Sanderson once beautifully distinguished between two types of storytellers — Architects and Gardeners, the latter of whom prefers to grow their story organically. Generally, I'm an architect on the large, macrocosmic scale but a discovery-writer — i.e., Gardener — on the smaller, more character-driven scale.
What book made you want to be an author?
Without a doubt, it would be Stephen King's "It." That book scared the bejeebus out of me,; it elated me, thrilled me, intoxicated me with pure storytelling. and made me pump my fist in the air rooting for the good guys. I've never been the same since the tears I shred during its final pages, and after closing that book, it was then that I knew that I wanted to do that, too; I wanted to bring people into my world — or worlds, plural — and show them the same grand time that King showed me in his; I wanted to tell stories like that, that's when I knew I'd be doing this for the rest of my life. And loving it.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Well, mostly I use Facebook, Tiwitter, and various author promotion sites like Fantascize.com and Indie Author News. Truthfully, I haven't really delved into marketing just yet, because I'm still working on the book series, and want to get at least the first three volumes online before I start doing any really heavy marketing. I do plan on making the first book free as soon as Books 2 and 3 are ready, though, so that's something to look forward to, right?
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and New Albany, Indiana. There wasn't a whole lot to do and there weren't many other kids who were operating on the same level of imagination as me . . . so I mostly entertained myself. I build space-stations and time machines and warp drives out of my Legos and Construction toys; I read novels way above my reading level, because in many cases, I simply loved the beauty of the language; I read countless books on quantum physics, string theory, genetics, anything science-related I could get my hands on, really. And of course, I read lots of fantasy and horror . . . I had few friends, so I played a lot of pretend with what few friends I did have. And of course, I wrote; man, I wrote like a mo-fo; I wrote short stories, novels, plays, song lyrics, you name it. I kept myself busy with it to stave off the loneliness and isolation. My best friends were Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and I had a weekly playdate with them.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I've been writing creatively since I can remember — ever since I was old enough to hold a pen and to know what to do with one — but the first "big" story I ever wrote was called "They Came From Transylvania High." It was a story of a doomed romance between a teenage mad scientist and his ex-girlfriend whom he brings back to life after a fatal car-cash. I may revisit that world again someday, you never know, but for now, "Transylvania" occupies a special, hallowed place in my memory. I still remember where and when the bulk of it was written — over at a friend's house, on his dad's PC, in Microsoft Word 4.0, and printed on an HP LaserJet. I used to much toner that my friend got in trouble, and I had to pay his dad back for it! Good times, good times.
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