Interview with Richard X. Ellison

What is your writing process?
If you'd asked me this a couple of years ago I wouldn't really have a decent answer for you...now :) Hmm... I guess I've settled in to something of a routine, of course that's subject to change quite regularly. The only constants have always been sitting in the dining room with a cup of coffee. Sometimes I like listening to weird music to get the juices flowing and change my brain waves. Most of the time I prefer that it's quiet so that I can hear myself think!

An idea can come from anywhere, especially when it's a short story...like "Always tip your waitress" started because a friend and I were having a little back and forth over email just talking about stuff and then he gave me that line about 'mental communism' and that's when I thought, 'hey, let's turn this in to a story'. Then sometimes it's a little more profound like with "The price of metal". I'd got some really terrible news and I was just really restless. I thought about the coin that's on the cover of that book and the whole story just kind of evolved from there. I didn't start that one knowing how it ended, it just evolved on its own and I wrote all day and night till it was done and it was out of my system.

"Purgatory Blues", was by far the biggest killer for me because I'd spent about 8 months writing that. I knew exactly what story I wanted to tell...in a broad sense...I started in the middle, went back and did the beginning and then edited through and THEN wrote the end. I couldn't afford an editor and it was my first book so I ended up taking 12 passes at it all by myself. Sometimes I'd get horribly blocked because I knew what was supposed to happen but getting from one moment to another and joining everything together was quite nerve wracking at times. To put myself in that character's headspace was one of the biggest challenges of my life. I literally had to live certain moments FOR the character to understand his perspective. Trying to put myself in the character's mind made me a very depressing person to be around. I would have to literally 'be' that guy to feel what he was feeling and describe what he was going through.

Then there's stuff like "Jane8086", which is pretty much my happy place. When I'm feeling good I'll try to write some of that...and it's not that difficult either because it's all 'pretend' and everyone enjoys that kind of stuff. She's got the potential to become a great character.

Essentially...what's my process? Coffee and bleeding fingertips!

Oh, but then there's research too. I've had this sci-fi thing that I've been conceptualising because everyone wants a novel based in the "Xyggy and Church" universe...so I'm having to come up with the technology and time frames and characters...the hows and whys and create a nice road map for myself before I even start that. I've got the first few chapters penciled out but it's nowhere near ready just yet.

Sometimes I sit by myself at a bar or something and just scribble down notes. I suppose we're always thinking about something so that's what I do. I think Andy kind of rubbed off on me a little more than I'd have liked!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Wow, my first book? I don't know if I could remember what it was exactly. I think the first thing my dad bought me was a "Knight Rider" book, "Trust doesn't rust", but I was probably like 5 or 6 years old and comic books were a little more appealing at the time because they had pictures in them. I think I just liked the cover with the car on it so that's why I asked him to buy that for me. The book didn't do anything for me at all, I think I read one page and tossed it in to my toy box!

I think I first started reading heavily when a friend of mine from the neighbourhood gave me a copy of the "Dragonlance" series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Yeah, that was it...I totally devoured those books and then another friend of mine introduced me to "The deathgate cycle", which I enjoyed even more and then from that point on I was just a maniac. My mom would take me to the library, it wasn't really close so we had to drive, and she'd leave me there for a little while...or sometimes we'd go together and I'd take maybe 5 or 6 books with me at a time and clean them out, more during the holidays.

Ah, wait...the impact it had on me? I suppose that reading books that were part of a series introduced me to the grandeur of world creation with words. The fact that it was fantasy and then sci-fi started me thinking outside the constraints of reality from a really young age.

And now I've just noticed that the question wasn't about my first book, it was my first story!

That would have to have been...I think my grandfather bought me a comic book from the local store. Same thing...saw the cover, it looked cool and I had to have it! It was a Batman comic book...back when they used to draw him like a ballerina and the boy wonder wore skinny shorts!

Of course the only impact that had on me was that I wanted to be Batman!
How do you approach cover design?
That's a good question...and I have a really bad answer for that. I guess if I went through a traditional publisher and they read the book...they would obviously get someone to convey the mood and the story and as much as they could with the most eye catching stuff imaginable. I mean...professional as hell, but I've actually done every one of my covers myself.

Most of the time I never take more than a day and you know what? I think maybe having the person who wrote the story doing the cover is great because I have a deeper understanding of what it is that I want to say with it. The cover's got to set the mood and really drive home the tone of the book to the prospective reader. I know all the rules behind it...it's like French cuisine, you eat with your eyes first right? I like to keep it clean and elegant but also tell the reader what mood to expect.

"Purgatory Blues" has a guitar, a bottle of whiskey and a gun...all sitting on a bridge at night. Those were the core elements that had this sense of noir-ish elements. There was decadence, violence, indulgence and the unknown. The telephone poll with the cross at the top and the whole martyr thing was just a happy accident, someone pointed that out to me later, but it works. It's by far the most complex cover I've ever done. The weird filter that's on it was a design choice I made just because it was telling the reader that this is purgatory - AND - because photoshop can only do such a good job when you butcher and paste so many things together! :) I think I did that more to cover up my mistakes! That's my guitar and whiskey though!

Stuff like "Xyggy and Church" - Xyggy is a playful clowny type of guy so I was thinking about party balloons. It's a wacky story - you read the synopsis under the cover at you're thinking "What the f!@#" is this about?" - and that actually worked well.

"Always tip your waitress" - that had the relaxed and playful kind of font and the line is absolutely killer, because it sounds so 'out there'...then you add the gun on to a nice clean background and that just took off like a rocket. I'm sure most of the people who read that did it because they liked the cover and they wanted to see what it was about.

"Demonicus" - I wanted that to look kind of like the grand grimoire - that sort of vibe - so all you really need for that is the scary gothic font.

With "Jane" - because that's my most relaxing project and it's more just to have a good time...and since she's an A.I. and can basically look like anything she wants to...I'm thinking about having a different hot girl on the cover for each subsequent episode. Let's be brutally honest here...hot girls on the cover sell books. It's like what Bill Hicks said about advertising...the commercial has this stunning babe running on the beach or something like that and then it's just fade to black and 'buy coca-cola'...nuff said. :)

There's other covers to talk about but let's get to the next question. If you reeeeeaaaally want to know what I was thinking - email me and I'll tell you!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Jeez, to tell the truth I don't really know if I even have any 'favourite' books. I'm more of a movie and a comic guy. I have a thing for visual story telling. I think that even kind of comes out when I write. Don't get me wrong, I've read a lot of books and I mean A LOT...but not so much these days because I'm writing all the time and I don't want to have something in my head that contaminates the way that I write my own stuff.

You might end up picking up someone else's rhythm or something and then you end up sounding like someone else.

If I absolutely HAD to though...wow, I still don't know. I could maybe point to authors and appreciate a body of work but I suppose that's still not answering the question.

Okay, off the top of my head and this is in no particular order....maybe:

1. Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake - it's an awesome story and perfectly told. This was the one book that I could never find time to finish as a kid and I had my heart set on nicking it from the local library by my mom wouldn't let me! :) I used to keep borrowing it and giving it back and borrowing and giving it back...over and over and over.

2. The Killing Joke - Allan Moore - the graphic novel was amazing and I just read the new re-colored version. That book is what Mark Hamil based his interpretation of the Joker on for the Tim-Verse animated series and that's like...one of my favourite characters of all time. I even practiced the laugh! I've nailed it!

3. Maybe...hmm....Altered Carbon? I can't remember the author but I read that a few years ago and really enjoyed it.

4. As a kid I read a lot of Dean Koontz...I can't remember a book right now but I do remember that he was SO good with horror that I would literally NOT be able to look into the dark for weeks after reading one of his books.

5. I've read a lot of Stephen King as well...I couldn't point to a title but I've read most of his stuff.

There's tons of great writers and books and when you've read so much it's really difficult to point to something in particular. I mean, some of the best writers out there are working in television..."Breaking Bad"...you know?

I read Hugh Howey's "Wool" the other day and that's just a short story but he rocked my world. That was an absolutely amazing story. You know what? I've probably forgotten like 85% of everything I've read and it's just buried in my subconscious now...next question!
What do you read for pleasure?
Hahaha...for pleasure? The news! Especially celebrity gossip and stuff that you find on yahoo. 9gag is funny...well...the internet man! I read the most random stuff on a daily basis.

But, like I mentioned earlier I do love comic books quite a bit and a few years ago...maybe like ten or 15 years ago I gave my entire collection away to a friend of mine. I was kind of cleaning my mental space. BIG MISTAKE - I miss them so much...but recently I've been getting back in to it and now with digital comics and stuff there's so much that you have access to.

I've kind of just been gorging myself on stuff like "The Flash" and "Green Lantern" and well...everything that I can get my hands on.

Oh wait, I'm also reading a lot of independent writers from Smashwords. There's some great stuff out there...but it's really needle the haystack kind of stuff. So, you've got to be picky about it. Some of the best stuff hasn't even been reviewed...so to everybody reading on Smash - if you like it - review it. Heck even if you don't like it - tell the author why so maybe he can get better!
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Ipad!
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
This is a tricky one. I always thought that facebook would be the way to go and then recently I started using google + and I was also on goodreads ... but when you get right down to it. None of that stuff seems to make a lick of difference.

My readership grew because I just kept writing. And the more stuff I put out the more readers discover everything else that I've done before. So, I guess the only marketing technique is to keep writing and keep sharing your work with people. If its good then people tell other people and before you know it you're getting hundreds and then thousands of followers in no time at all.

So, Smashwords...that's all you need...and the proverbial pen of course.

What's weird is that you can feel the excitement when you put something new up and you see how many people are downloading your stuff...but for every hundred downloads you'll MAYBE get one person that takes the time to write a review. It takes 30 seconds...come on people! :) :)
Describe your desk
Macbook Pro - mug of coffee
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Durban, South Africa. I think it probably influenced me quite a bit because I grew up during apartheid...so I was able to see that struggle unfold and how that affected the world. We have a tip-top education system here compared to many other parts of the world so we tend to think more in a global sense instead of the way people in other less developed countries might.

We have a huge mix of racial diversity so the hero in the story doesn't have to be a blue-eyed, blonde, American cheerleader or quarterback. Haha, I think Flash Gordon just popped in to my head.

Oh...we have British English here...but I've learned to put my punctuation INSIDE the quotes...I think everyone is just used to reading it that way. Hahaha.

Other than that, I think the world has become a considerably smaller place since the internet grew up - so right now one place is just as good as another. Global village and all that stuff.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing when I was 7 or 8 years old. There was a competition at school to write a little story for the SPCA - that's a thing we have in South Africa for the prevention of cruelty to animals....as you sharp witted readers have no doubt gathered...it is a SOCIETY ... take THAT acronym police!

Anyway I wrote that and I think I won the competition in our province or something like that and then I kind of always wrote little things like poetry and little shorts and stuff like that.

I remember that I stayed home from school a lot when I was in high school. It was really boring so I would stay home to write and I'd eventually done half a science fiction novel. It's probably somewhere on an old hard drive tucked away in a closet that will never see the light of day.

Good times!
What's the story behind your upcoming book?
Well, I'm still thinking about what to do next. As I mentioned I've been making some notes on a "Xyggy" book...it'll be set in that universe and I'm thinking about addressing some political issues and maybe war and some other big ideas like that...set, of course...in a sci-fi setting. Maybe even alternate universe...I'm still working out the kinks.

Then there's Jane, which will be an ongoing kind of thing. I'm not going to give away any secrets about that though, you'll just have to wait and see.

But, you know...I still haven't really 100% committed to another big project yet. I'm doing shorts and episodic stuff at the moment so I'm still looking for something that's going to grab me by the throat and say "WRITE ME!"

That could be anything in any genre. I don't know if you've noticed by I really don't have a preference when it comes to genre. Whatever comes out is what comes out. That might seem a little directionless at times to other people but a good story can come from anywhere.
Any final words?
Keep reading! If you like something, don't be afraid to drop me a line and tell me about it! Come chat to me on facebook or google + or whatever else I'm on!

Oh, and thanks to everyone who's been reading my work so far, if it wasn't for your support I don't know if I'd have kept going! Thank you!

I guess that's it. Catcha l8r!
Published 2014-03-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Jane 8086 Part Five
Series: Jane 8086. Price: Free! Words: 5,340. Language: English. Published: January 31, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
(5.00)
The mysterious strangers have finally confronted their quarry but Remi hasn't even had his dinner yet! Do Remi and Jane have what it takes to get out of this one alive? Will Remi's insurance cover the damage to his apartment? Does Remi even HAVE insurance? What happens when these assassins from the future go one on one with our favourite nanite wielding super-heroine? Find out in Jane 8086 Part 5!
Jane 8086 Part Four
Series: Jane 8086. Price: Free! Words: 5,820. Language: English. Published: December 29, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
(4.50)
Jane gets to taste for the first time when she and Remi go to dinner with Allison and Mark! There are after dinner antics at a nearby nightclub as well when a bunch of guys end up hitting on Jane! Will Jane enjoy the food? Will Remi have enough money for the bill? Will the shadowy strangers finally reveal themselves? Find out in Jane 8086 Part Four!
Jane 8086 Part Three
Series: Jane 8086. Price: Free! Words: 5,740. Language: English. Published: November 30, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
(4.67)
It's finally time for Jane to go outside! Remi soon realises that showing her the ropes is not as easy as he thought it would be when they find themselves in one hilarious scenario after another. Allison is back as well...and this time with an offer that can't be refused! And, a mysterious presence, yet to reveal themselves, seems to be tracking Jane.
Always Tip Your Waitress - The Orion Job
Series: Always Tip Your Waitress, Book 2. Price: Free! Words: 3,020. Language: English. Published: November 14, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
Book 2 of "Always tip your waitress" - Evette is now part of the crew with Billy and Frank...but Frank isn't too happy about the situation. His misgivings are going have to wait though because they're about to pull another job...and this time...Evette is a key player! Find out what happens in "The Orion Job"
The Price Of Metal
Price: Free! Words: 2,430. Language: English. Published: November 6, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Plays & Screenplays » American
(4.33)
A poignant look at the consequences of war and capitalism in an economic recession
Jane 8086 Part Two
Series: Jane 8086. Price: Free! Words: 5,380. Language: English. Published: October 29, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
(4.50)
Part two of "Jane 8086". Jane has just undergone some major changes! But figuring out exactly what's going on has to wait when Rembrandt receives a surprise visitor at the worst possible moment. Will Jane be exposed? Will Rembrandt finally manage to have dinner? Will Jane ever learn to use conjunctions? Find out in Part two of Jane 8086!
Jane 8086 Part One
Series: Jane 8086. Price: Free! Words: 5,310. Language: English. Published: October 18, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
(4.00)
Part one of "Jane 8086" Rembrandt is an unemployed artist who finds a strange talking box in the middle of the woods. He takes the box home with him and they become fast friends. Little does Rembrandt know that there's more to the little box than meets the eye!
Demonicus Misanthropicus
Price: Free! Words: 2,210. Language: English. Published: October 11, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
(5.00)
Just another day in the lives of two chaos demons, Necroloogeus and Morghoulus, having a conversation while they're on the job. Darkly comedic and slightly disturbing.
Always Tip Your Waitress
Series: Always Tip Your Waitress, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 2,330. Language: English. Published: September 20, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mashups
Frank and Billy discuss the media celebrating mediocrity before they hold up the diner they're at.
You Know I Think This Line 'O Work Might Agree With Me
Price: Free! Words: 2,110. Language: English. Published: September 9, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Crime thriller
(4.00)
A short tale about the aftermath of a mob robbery that didn't go as well as everyone thought it did.
Xyggy & Church
Price: Free! Words: 2,270. Language: English. Published: September 1, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
Xyggy and Church is the short story of two assassins who've been contracted to eliminate all of Gonzo Goldstein's competitors in the settlement called Newtown before an influx of newcomers arrive…just in time for Gonzo to hold the monopoly on sin.