I like simple, artistic, and compelling covers. Before the Internet, it seems to me that the best covers for science fiction and fantasy were paintings showing several characters, perhaps a castle, and perhaps a beautiful outdoor scene. Not anymore.
Now, the first time a reader sees a cover, it usually as a thumbnail. The cover has to be something eye-catching at a small size. I've learned that images of people usually work best. The author's name and title should also be easy to read. A thumbnail that grabs the reader's attention will get more clicks, and if they like what they see on the main page, more sales.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Give me an easy question, why don't you!
This is a tough one. To make it easier, I'm going to consider one particular series as one book.
My very favorite would have to be "The Dark Tower" by Stephen King, which encompasses eight books. It also includes many graphic novels and at least one novella about the main character. "The Dark Tower" is the story of Roland Deschain, a gunslinger from another world, where gunslingers are knights, and descendants of Arthur Eld, also known as King Arthur. As the last gunslinger, Roland's quest is to save the entire multiverse by protecting the linchpin of existence, which, in his world, manifests as a literal tower. In his adventures, he travels to different versions of Earth in different time periods, trains new gunslingers, and faces villains that have appeared in other Stephen King novels, including The Stand, Eye of the Dragon, and Insomnia.
Another, also by Stephen King, but so far as I can tell not directly related to "The Dark Tower," is "The Green Mile." It's one of the best woven stories I've every read. King wrote it in eight parts, released as a serial, and Afterword sections of the early books, claimed that how it would end was far from certain, even for him. However, it becomes clear that, even though he was releasing it as he was writing it, he knew very well what was going to happen. The first part, "The Two Dead Girls," covers the entire timespan of the novel and gives clues about what's to come, without giving anything away. It even misleads readers in some ways, though without lying. The characterization throughout the book is excellent, and the ending, while sad, resonates powerfully.
Next, "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin, meaning all of the "Game of Thrones" books. People have pointed out how this reads like a history, and it does, but Martin brings us deep into the psyche of many major characters. When history gets personal, it becomes story, and this epic story is amazing. I like how there is magic in his world, but the world is also gritty and realistic. The magic grows as the story continues. This is sword & sorcery, but with serious rough edges
Have you heard of the bizarre genre? It fits within fantasy and science fiction, but is far crazier than any other speculative fiction out there. One of my favorite authors is Carlton Mellick III. His writing is straightforward. He doesn't go for fancy prose (and I do often like fancy prose), but the thing is, his stories are just so weird and compelling! For this top five books list, out of his work, I'm choosing "Zombies and Shit." Take a world that has suffered a zombie apocalypse, where the remnants of humanity live on zombie-free islands according to their level of wealth. Next, take reality television competitions, and imagine what would happen if the richest people watched a show in which the poorest people had to fight for their lives on a zombie-infested island. That's "Zombies and Shit," and it's brilliant.
The last book I'm going to share is non-fiction, and I love this book because it has turned around the way I market myself as a writer. "Your First 1000 Copies," by Tim Grahl, covers how to build a platform as a writer. The basics: share great content and build an email list of people who appreciate what you do. Of course, the book helps get you started.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Currently, I have a $50 Kindle that works great, and I love it. However, I also have a Samsung Galaxy tablet that I love. If I had the money to repair the screen, I'd probably read off it more often.
Describe your desk
My desk has a lamp on the left, my computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse in the center, and cosplay patterns, comic books, and paperwork all over.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Santa Cruz County. My first creative writing teacher influenced my writing a lot. I really learned all the basics from him, and have continued to write and study writing since then.
In time, I decided to use Santa Cruz as a full-blown novel setting. There's a twist, though: it's an alternate version of Santa Cruz, California, in 1876. In my steampunk universe, Santa Cruz closely resembles the modern day city in attitudes, street layout, and more. There are a few historical figures from that time in the book as well. That novel, "Bodacious Creed: a Steampunk Zombie Western," is due out in August, 2017.
When did you first start writing?
I have been writing for a long time! The funny thing is, I didn't start reading until I was nine years old. So, how long did it take for me to start writing after that? I was ten or eleven. One thing led quickly to the other.
Some of my early influences were Madeleine L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander, as well as J.R.R. Tolkien with "The Hobbit." That should explain why I write fantasy for many years before eventually falling in love with steampunk.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Oh boy. Got a minute?
Honestly, I've talked about this a lot in various interviews, so if you want the long version, look for my interviews on the YouTube channels "Old Dog, New Tricks," and "Radio Retrofuture."
To sum up, in graduate school, I majored in Animation & Visual Effects with a focus on 3D modeling. For my thesis (all A&VF grad students create a demo reel thesis), I came up with this idea of a steampunk zombie lawman, a brothel madam who is secretly an inventor, and a cyborg coyote. The title for this collection, "Bodacious Creed," came to me in a dream. I knew when working on it that it would make for a great book, or book series.
I graduated from Academy of Art University in December 2011, with the demo reel finished. In mid-2013, I came back to the idea of writing the novel, and had another idea. What if I made it a Kickstarter project? That would allow me to get reader interest as well as involvement and could lead to something amazing. The Kickstarter did great, and I began writing the book.
As of June 2017, the novel, much longer than I expected it to be, is nearly finished. I just need to do some polishing, and will publish the book in August. You see, I need to set up a proper book launch, seek more interviews, and get the word out.
So yes, that's the basic story behind what I believe is my best, and most ambitious, novel to date.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I love writing. I enjoy coming up with characters and seeing what they'll do when I put them in conflict.
But you mean indie specifically! I realized that traditional publishers, as gatekeepers, were keeping a lot of great stories out of readers' hands. Why send a book to a traditional publisher or agent when, odds are, even if your book is fantastic, it will get rejected? Why send it when it will take months or even years to hear back, and even then, you'll probably just get a form letter? I'm not immortal. I want to write books, polish them, make them amazing, and then publish them my own way.
Here's another thing many don't know about traditional publishers. They make most of their authors market themselves. If you have to do that part of the job anyway, why not self publish?
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I have one book on Smashwords, a free ebook detailing how I ran my Kickstarter campaign. It's there for two reasons. First is to help other people who want to Kickstart a novel. When I did it in 2013, some people actually told me you're not supposed to do that! As if it's somehow unethical to Kickstart a novel, but it's fine to Kickstart a video game or a graphic novel. More people have followed my, and other writers', lead since then, which I think is great. Second, it helps spread the word, a bit, about my upcoming novel, "Bodacious Creed: a Steampunk Zombie Western," which the Kickstarter funded. Third, at the very end, it mentions my newsletter, so hopefully if people appreciate the help, they'll sign up for that, allowing me to share more steampunk and writing content with them.
Since Amazon doesn't allow people to create free Kindle books anymore, Smashwords has been the perfect distribution channel for this ebook. Will I use Smashwords for books in the future? I just might.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans mean everything to me! I've met some and love it when they contact me and tell me they've enjoyed my books. They're free to email me via my website or respond to any of my newsletter posts as well.
What are you working on next?
Well, "Bodacious Creed" is just about finished. Let me put a date to this answer: June 23, 2017. The next step for this novel is to read it aloud and make final tweaks. Those will mostly be grammatical fixes, word choice changes, and the like, and that step shouldn't take long.
1. I'm seeing out influencers in the science fiction and steampunk spheres who might want to interview me. That will help me get the word out about the book, but it will also help the interviewers. I have a large Twitter following and a growing email list, so it will get the word out about their blogs and podcasts. I'm all about those win-win situations.
2. I'm going to write some Creedverse short stories! The Creedverse is the world in which "Bodacious Creed" takes place. This may include some prequel stories to the first novel. I also have an idea for a prequel story to the sequel novel. All these short stories will be freebies for my newsletter subscribers.
3. At some point, James "Bodacious" Creed, the main character of the series, gets this incredible gun, unlike any they actually had in the 1870s. Of course, they didn't have thinking robots back then, either, and those exist in the series. This is steampunk! The only thing is, I don't know if he gets this gun in the first book, or in the sequel. Or maybe in a "post credits" type scene. That last could work. It works for Marvel movies. My uncle John and cousin Rita know a thing or two about gunsmithing, so they designed a gun that they had enough scientific know-how to create in the 1870s, but didn't. It would also take more power than they could have generated to work, but that's not a problem for my steampunk world. So, they created some schematics, and I'm creating a 3D model of Creed's new guns, which I will use to create new schematics. That will be yet another newsletter freebie.
4. I'm thinking of using NaNoWriMo this year to crank out the first draft (or maybe half of the first draft) of the sequel, then finishing it at the same pace after that. NaNo takes place in November. I used previous NaNoWriMos to write the first 30,000 words of "Bodacious Creed," then the last 60,000 words.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are some wonderful authors out there. Some of these I've just read, others are personal friends, and I just love their work.
Stephen King, Carlton Mellick III, George R.R. Martin, Steven Savile, Kevin Andrew Murphy (who I must thank for being really tough on my early writing, which helped me improve greatly), Clive Barker, Rayne Hall (who is not only an excellent fiction writer, but has a fantastic series of writing instruction books for journeyman to master level writers), Neil Gaiman, and many others.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have a full time job... writing. So there's that! I'm also a single father, so there's taking care of my son or going out and taking him to dinner, to Disneyland, or to other fun places. I also read every day, mostly for an hour or so before I go to sleep, watch some really good television, mostly speculative fiction related, and play a few rounds most days of Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
When I was very young, in Kindergarten or preschool, I drew pictures of myself traveling and meeting a series of monsters. I believe my teacher at the time wrote the text for me. That's the earliest story I remember writing.
What is your writing process?
Once again, got some time? Does this refer to how I write on any given day, or the process of creating a work of fiction?
I'll cover the basics, the absolute basics, of writing a novel.
It may start with an interesting character, a setting, or a "what if" idea. I then brainstorm, coming up with the missing parts, so that I end up with characters in conflict in a specific setting. I may tweak it further, seeing if I can push the ideas into something even better.
Next, I outline a beginning, keeping in mind character motivations and personalities. What does each character want and what will he or she do to get it? How does that pit them against each other?
Before I write each scene, I brainstorm about that scene. One thing I like to do is run Dragon NaturallySpeaking and to talk out what happens. I come up with what the characters will do, how they react to each other, and so on. When finished, I can then actually write the scene.
I do the same for the next scene, also taking into account everything that has come before.
And basically, this is what I do for the rest of the book, until the first draft is finished.
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