Interview with J. Kirsch

Who are some of your favorite authors or books?
The first science fiction or fantasy book that really captivated me was David Gemmel's The King Beyond the Gate. It was this epic adventure story told with grit, where ideals had to strive beside the ugly side of human nature. It had this ragtag group of people coming together around a common purpose not by some divine prophecy, but because of a combination of history, personal choices, and dumb luck. It was high fantasy, but without the vanilla themes or lazy storytelling you sometimes expect. That's the kind of richness which draws me to a lot of amazing authors and books.

This is a sampling of some of my favorite picks for anyone who wants to read great fantasy or science fiction:

C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series
Guy Gavriel Kay's books
Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy
Impulse by Steven Gould
Neanderthal by John Darnton
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Not knowing what in the real world is going to inspire the next idea for a story so that I can get at some truth that, just maybe, people in the real world don't want to acknowledge. I think the best authors can be inspired by the smallest things. Maybe a simple idea snowballs into something incredible.

J.R.R. Tolkien began The Hobbit with a few scribbles at his teaching desk, never knowing what it would become. I guess that's what inspires me. Knowing that each day I write something new, there's no telling where it might end up or who's life might be touched by it.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love to dream, to run or take walks, to watch movies that make me question things. I especially enjoy listening to music and traveling - local spots or far away, doesn't matter.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
You mean, besides Smashwords? *Wink* *Wink*.

I try to read a sample on Smashwords, see if it pulls me in. If it doesn't have a significant sample so that I can get a good feel for the author's writing and the character's mindset, I'm not likely to take a chance on it. But when I discover an author whose ebook I like - then I'm loyal to a fault. I use Amazon to find ebooks too, and I'll usually download ebooks to my iPad.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story I truly remember writing was an alternative take on The Birds. I was just a freshman in high school, and the intrigued optimist in me thought 'How cool would this be, if dogs became sentient and helped humanity against the rampaging mass of birds?' It probably came off as a silly idea to some of my classmates, but it gave me my first real thrill of power -- taking a 'classic' work and making it my own, putting a different spin on it, and by doing so, changing the whole tone and underlying philosophy of it.

If you've ever seen Hitchcock's The Birds, you have this sense of dread throughout. But as I reworked my version of The Birds with a sentient variety of man's best friend, I was going after something different - focusing on courage, other virtues, and what it means when humans don't have a monopoly on them.
What is your writing process?
I take intriguing concepts and people, smashing them together in this contraption we call a 'plot' and then seeing what happens. Often when I write I have a general idea of where things are headed, but I deliberately don't outline more than a few chapters ahead. If I don't know what's going to happen, the reader is going to hopefully take away that same sense of urgency and anticipation.

Often I'll start with the characters and develop a back story for each one before starting to write the story itself. If it's in the back story, sometimes that helps me NOT include as much explanatory information in the story itself. If I use that back story as a motivator - to get me excited about the characters and conflicts in the world I'm molding into shape, then I'm able to let all those back story details go when it comes to the actual storytelling. That lets me have more respect for my reader. If you have to tell your reader everything, then you take away the reader's engagement with your story, and that's usually fatal.

I tend to have to rein myself in sometimes - to not over-tell things - and this is where I've grown the most as a writer.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
This may come across as a bizarre way to answer, but the first "story" I remember vividly interacting with was actually a computer game called The Summoning. Although it was a game rather than a book per se, it was like an interactive book because of its awesome storytelling and well-drawn people. Here I was trapped in an underground dungeon, trying desperately to solve puzzles and make alliances to get out - while trying to save the world, no less. What sane human being wouldn't hunger for a little more of that adrenaline-pumping goodness?
How do you approach cover design?
I'm relatively new in this area, but I'm all about learning from others. I've noticed that the best covers often have focal points with a 'wow' factor. I go for covers with a central figure or feature. I'm still developing my own style.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
This could fit an entire book, but I'll settle for a few paragraphs.

Overall my favorite books - Impulse by Steven Gould being a perfect example - have these elements 1) Adventure/Conflict, 2) Special Ability/Concept, 3) Family Dynamic, and 4) Romance.

To me all of these are so crucial to reality, or at least to living in an interesting reality, that for fiction to be interesting it has to have all of these. I actually get impatient with some of the science fiction / fantasy canon for failing to include some of these aspects. Sometimes family relationships get neglected. Sometimes romance is totally absent. That's fine if we're talking about aliens, but not usually so much with flesh and blood people.

The best books - and I'll mention Camouflage by Joe Haldemann as another prime example - can do it all. They can integrate those elements into a story and make it work. In Camouflage you have this alien from another planet who can shape-change, where matter is just 'stuff' it regards like clay, to be used and reused -- but at the same time "it," the alien, learns affection for others and eventually, even, this idea of love. How the alien gets there - that story has all the elements that hook a reader in and make a story universal rather than narrowly oriented.
What do you read for pleasure?
First, definitely fantasy and science fiction. I also have a big crush on paranormal fiction, urban fiction, and even historical romance occasionally. In the nonfiction area I gobble up biography, especially about political or military figures. I enjoy historical nonfiction as a general rule too. I've found that reading outside of the genres I typically write in is also a great way to get out of my bubble or comfort zone and always keep experimenting. For me that's 90 percent of what writing is.
Published 2018-10-26.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Princess Who Tamed Demons
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 53,950. Language: English. Published: February 9, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General, Fiction » Mystery & detective » General
(5.00 from 6 reviews)
She may be as tough as dragon scales and recently ascended to the status of Queen, but that doesn't mean Najika's hardships are over. Barely surviving a horrific assassination attempt, Najika befriends Linn, a fellow foreigner. Together they discover that the attempt on her life was part of something bigger. Can they unlock the mystery and piece together hidden motives before it's too late?
Rebel Girl of Mars
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 38,010. Language: English. Published: July 11, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Adventure
(5.00 from 1 review)
How do you save a doomed Martian colony when your father's been kidnapped and your supplies are cut off? Zayna has no idea and the clock is ticking. Can the help of a new boyfriend and a best friend still nursing a grudge make the difference? The answer might depend on beings not exactly human.
Crysalis: Vira's Tale
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 43,380. Language: English. Published: August 22, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Fantasy » General
(5.00 from 1 review)
Vira is a young woman hunted in a post-apocalyptic underground society, and there's only one rule: people are expendable. Luckily Vira's not the fragile, glass slipper wearing type, and she's not entirely human either. What's in her brain might just get her killed, but not if she and a young bouncer named Damian have anything to say about it.
The Princess Who Defied Kings
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 57,280. Language: English. Published: July 13, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General, Fiction » Adventure » General
(4.78 from 9 reviews)
Betrayed by justice, what would you do? Princess Najika of the White Kingdom is no pampered princess, but when her wedding night with the Red Knight leads to a terrible crime, it shatters her world, banishing her to a place ruled by a man known to be mad and cruel. With pluck and courage Naji is determined to survive, but with a queen wanting her dead, she'll need all the friends she can get.
Crysalis: Beginnings
Price: Free! Words: 18,350. Language: English. Published: May 17, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
In the distant future, the last remnants of humanity huddle in fragmented societies deep below ground, struggling to stay alive while threatened with inconceivable dangers. Three strong women from three different cultures are on intersecting paths, heading towards a fateful meeting which may well be mankind's only hope for survival…
Souls of Fate
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 15,460. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
Kuan Shano thought he was just a cold, calculated killer, but the more he starts to think for himself, the more he considers the unthinkable. Will he be willing to risk everything to save a girl marked for death by the same government who created him?
The Human Insurgency
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 14,060. Language: English. Published: January 26, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
(5.00 from 3 reviews)
Skye is just an ordinary young woman, but after an alien invasion shocks the world she and a disillusioned Chinese politician may be humanity's best hopes.
Tales from Omega Station: Omnibus Edition
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 56,960. Language: English. Published: December 22, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
Omega Station, the Rock. A barren, airless asteroid on the outermost edge of the galaxy, home of the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. The upper levels are safe, comfortable, secure or as secure as anyone can be on Omega Station. The lower levels, now; are home to the detritus of numerous alien species, all living in uneasy juxtaposition, fighting, loving, eating - and being eaten.
Tales from Omega Station: Betrayal
Price: Free! Words: 4,000. Language: English. Published: December 9, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
(5.00 from 1 review)
They're getting ready to blow him out the airlock, but Esric has other plans.
Tales from Omega Station: Abduction
Price: Free! Words: 8,010. Language: English. Published: November 28, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
What starts out as innocent adventure takes a brutal turn when corporate enemies of Kyrena's father decide to use her as collateral damage. Kyrena gets more than she bargained for, but she meets a guy who just might make the difference...and steal her heart.