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Oct 24, 2011 - Interviews    3 Comments

Interview With Craig Hansen

Today’s interview is with Craig Hansen, an author who was fortunate enough to turn the horrible situation of losing his job into the positve outcome of becoming a full-time writer.

JGA: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?

CH: Well, I was born on a rural farm in the Deep South in abject poverty, was responsible for my brother’s death, and was blinded at the age of seven. But I loved music, and… wait a second. That’s not my story! That’s the plot of Ray. And Walk the Line, for that matter. That’s not me at all.

Okay, let’s start again. I was born in Duluth, MN, and was put up for adoption. The people who chose me lived in southern Minnesota, though. I grew up in Rose Creek, a town of 350 people, just east of Austin, MN.

My mom read to me as a child, I became a voracious reader far earlier than I was “supposed to,” and had my first story published when I was around the age of 14, in eighth grade. It didn’t appear until a year later, and I was 15 by then and in my freshman year of high school.

Inspired by John Irving’s The World According to Garp, I briefly tried the sport of wrestling, but it wasn’t for me. After my story was published, I focused more on creative, rather than athletic, pursuits. I centered my college degrees around becoming a great writer, but fell into journalism and won some awards, and tried a lot of off-focus careers before finally coming back to writing.

That’s the quick overview, anyway.

JGA: How do you go about the actual process of writing?

CH: The process varies. When I’m brainstorming, I typically start with a college-ruled notebook and a pen and just start putting ideas on paper. I usually focus on who my characters will be, moreso than the plot itself. The plot may start with a basic concept at the idea stage, but it’s the characters I cast during this stage that will ultimately determine where the plot goes.

Eventually, I collect these notes into an MS Word document, as a sort of “bible” of the story. Something I can refer to when I’m trying to remember character names or what so-and-so’s Dad does for a living. A catch-all.

Over time, I get to know my characters well enough that I’ll write out a rudimentary plot. If there’s a mystery element to the novel, I’ll call this page, “What Really Happened,” so I can build in all my red herrings and misleads around that, utilizing my cast of characters and why they might seem suspicious or involved, when they’re actually not the real culprit.

If it’s more of a suspense story, like SHADA, I tend to jot down what the touchstones are for the plot. I’m not a meticulous outliner. I’m definitely more of a “by the seat of my pants” sort of writer, because any time I’ve ever meticulously outlined anything, within fifty pages of writing, so many better ideas have occurred to me that the outline itself is no longer relevant.

That happened with SHADA. I even wrote a blog entry about it. I had a very vague idea of how I wanted the climactic scene of the novel—the séance during which Ember attempts to speak to her Grandpa Normie—to be resolved. As I was writing, however, a very different and entirely organic resolution occurred to me. This idea became so much better than what I had planned, I just rolled with it.

Anyway, more about the process: I do my first drafts in a freeware program called Focus Writer 1.3.3. It’s not a program that’s full of deep features and novel-writing shortcuts and all those bells and whistles. I don’t need those because I have my notebook and my “bible.” What Focus Writer 1.3.3 does very well is wipe away all distractions so you can concentrate on forward progress, not revisions. Love that. I don’t even worry about what I want to put in bold or italics or anything. It’s just pure writing.

Once I’m done with the first draft, I import the file into Microsoft Word 2007 and go through a series of revisions and read-throughs, and in the process I can do anything from adding in italics and other formatting, all the way to fixing typos, cutting material, adding detail, fixing contradictions. Whatever needs to be done.

Eventually I run out of ideas for how to make the manuscript better, so I send it off to beta readers thinking, “It’s bulletproof,” and then get the feedback I need to bring me back down to earth, reminding me it’s not bulletproof yet and there’s still work to be done.

I’ll go through more revisions and once I’m sure it’s flawless, I’ll send it off to my editor, who’ll once again bust my chops and remind me I’m human by showing me all the stuff that needs to be fixed or improved, though by then it’s generally stuff like spelling, grammar, sentence construction and not oversights on the level of statements like, “You idiot! You said Ember’s tall on page 10 and short on page 76! And you call her Becky on page 110!” Because by the time it gets to the editor, my beta readers and I have hopefully caught all of that sort of bone-headedness.

So I enter the editor’s final changes, put it aside briefly, do a final read-through and try to find the things everyone still missed. And then I let it out into the world. Fortunately, in this eBook era, it’s never too late to make corrections, but I do make every attempt to ensure as many are caught as humanly possible before anyone pays for the book. I hope that my track record has been at least above average for an indie author.

As for my schedule, I’m a huge night owl. I generally get up around noon. I write some, or do social media marketing, or contract editorial work, during my afternoon shift.

I then go on my health walk with my wife, enjoy supper with her and my father, who lives with us, and spend a few hours of family time out in the living room. I then go back to either my desktop or laptop and do another long graveyard shift of writing … from around eleven at night to maybe four or five in the morning, depending on my energy levels. This is when I do most of my best writing, creatively-speaking.

I then read for a while and fall asleep, usually before six in the morning, and then repeat the process again. So it’s not a typical schedule that’s for everyone, but it works for me.

JGA: How do you personally like to read books you buy these days?

CH: Ever since discovering the Kindle, it’s the way I read all my fiction. If I’m reading for research purposes, such as some of the religious writing I’ve done, I have a lot of print materials I use. But for entertainment? I’m almost a pure Kindle user.

My one disappointment with the Kindle Fire is that I can’t see using it as a reader, because it’s backlit just like iPad and the Nook Color. Once my K3 grows shaggy around the edges, maybe I’ll go with a Kindle Touch, but I have no interest in a backlit anything if I’m using it for intensive reading.

JGA: Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?

CH: Everything I’ve ever read has probably influenced me in one way or another. I think the writer who has been the most formative for me, though, over the years, is Stephen King. And not because of the monsters. Anything I do well, from how to build character to how to write a smooth narrative or craft a compelling story, I will credit to what I learned about writing well by reading Stephen King’s novels.

Those things I don’t do well are all on me, by the way.

There are a number of other writers I admire, but Stephen King is my top influence, even though I don’t write in the same genre as him, generally speaking. SHADA is actually the exception to that, though. SHADA was inspired by my deep appreciation of his novella, “The Body,” which became the movie STAND BY ME. I like to say that SHADA is my take on “The Body,” but with a female cast.

Not slavishly, not in detail, but in general tone and inspiration.

How do you go about planning your writing?

A Round of Words In 80 Days, known as ROW80, created by the talented Kait Nolan, has become an invaluable form of accountability for me. It helps me set and meet my goals on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis throughout the year. Before getting involved in ROW80, I had no published works. Since getting involved, I’ve completed and published two projects, the most recent of which is SHADA.

I set goals and report my progress toward those goals twice a week, to a group of fellow writers doing the same thing. It keeps me on task and gives me that handy sense of “get it done” that helped me in my journalism career.

JGA: Why did you decide to write your novel, SHADA?

CH: Well, I was actually working on EMBER as 2011 began. Then I lost my day job. My wife and I discussed our options and she challenged me to take my writing seriously enough to commit to it full-time, rather than doing another job search and finding a career that would only keep me away from writing for ten hours a day. Fortunately, we found a way to make that work financially.

As a result, I wanted to get a couple things out as quickly as possible, and since EMBER is a longish novel, I knew it would take too long to continue going in that direction. So first I resurrected a novel I’d written in college, MOST LIKELY, and got that out there.

Then I thought about all the time I’d be investing in EMBER, and how long it would be, and I didn’t really want to short-change myself and charge only $0.99 for a novel of that magnitude. But I knew a $0.99 read would be a better way to launch the series. So I started playing around with ideas for a prequel, something shorter in length that I could charge only $0.99 for and feel I was still delivering a value to the reader in terms of the story.

SHADA became that prequel. It is set in the summer months before EMBER begins. It introduces you to a lot of the characters who will appear in EMBER, but tells an entirely different story, complete in and of itself.

My hope with SHADA is that people will read this story, and come to love the characters they find there, especially Ember Cole. When I finish EMBER and release that, hopefully people will be ready for it as the answer to that inevitable question, “So, what happens next?”

JGA: Can you tell us a bit about the main character, Ember Cole, and some of the challenges she has to face as the story progresses?

CH: Ember Cole is a girl who has a lot on her plate. In SHADA, we find out that she’s dealing with a lot of loss in her life. A year before SHADA takes place, she saw her grandmother’s boyfriend, Grandpa Normie, die in a car accident. Since that accident, her grandmother has changed, because her Alzheimer’s has become complicated by depression-induced dementia, and so her Grandma Char isn’t fun to be around anymore. She’s increasingly delusional and confused. For a young person, that’s not easy to cope with or understand.

It’s made Ember more withdrawn and less fun to be around, too. But she has a small group of friends who care about her enough that they want to bring her out of her funk. So Jeni suggests a séance as a way to give Ember a chance to have one more talk with her dead Grandpa Normie. But these are kids in the final summer before they enter high school, so what do they know about conducting a séance, right?

Once they get out in the woods, though, things do get spooky. I can tell you that much without spoilers. I can also say that by the end of SHADA, a lot of things have happened and it’s a complete story. But SHADA also provides some context and background for appreciating what happens next, in EMBER, when Ember Cole reaches the end of her summer and enters high school as a freshman.

JGA: Who are the readers who would enjoy SHADA the most?

CH: SHADA is young adult, in that it focuses on characters in that age range. My plan, though, is that the novel is written at a level that older readers will also appreciate it.

The sort of reader who will enjoy SHADA the most likes a touch of the paranormal in what they read, but doesn’t want to slog through Version 315 of a lycan-vampire war. They are the type of reader who wants to read about relatable characters, and have a story where there are more normal folks than there are supernatural folks.

That’s why I compare SHADA more to Stephen King’s “The Body” than, say, TWILIGHT. Because I aspire to be that sort of storyteller, but without the prevalent rough language and adult content that one finds in a King novel.

So, if sparkly vampire boyfriends who never bite before marriage is your thing, SHADA’s not for you. If you want to read about characters who are a lot like people you may know, but where the supernatural sometimes peeks around the corner and freaks you out, then SHADA might be what you’re looking for.

At its very core, SHADA is a ghost story. It’s about a group of four girls who go camping together one summer, set up camp next to an Indian burial mound deep in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin, attempt to hold a séance, and get more than they bargained for. As the blurb on the novel says, “Sometimes the dead have their own agenda.”

JGA: There are some readers (not me!) who look down their nose at anything involving supernatural elements. Has that ever come up in your interactions with other authors or readers?

CH: Not so far. I really look at supernatural elements as a storytelling tool. They can add to a story, or subtract from it. It all depends upon the skill of the author. When Stephen King began his career, not many people were writing horror. It was considered a pulp genre and certainly something no respectable writer with any degree of talent would delve into.

But King, because of his talent, not only wrote very popular books that sold to mass audiences, but revived and helped the entire horror genre to flourish anew. If he’d been a hack, no one would have noticed, but he wasn’t a hack.

He’s arguably one of the best storytellers of his generation. And he writes horror, primarily, but at a level that elevates the genre to being about more than the “Boo!” aspect, the shock value. Instead, he used the question, “What are people afraid of and why?” as a jumping off point to explore and reveal the human condition.

It’s the same with the supernatural genre. There are some who write supernaturally-tinged romances at a fun, pulp level. But as the popularity of the genre grows, there may come along a few who use this genre as King used horror.

Whether I qualify as one of the more talented people to dip into this genre or not is not for me to say. Readers will decide if they like my particular take on it. But I do think this: I’m not writing SHADA and EMBER and the books that will follow in this series to write about some unrelatable war between two types of monsters. I’m aiming at writing about people, and the paranormal element is just one of the tools in my bag of tricks to make the story compelling.

JGA: What other items are you working on at the moment?

CH: EMBER is next, of course. And I know there will be more books in the Ember Cole series after that. I could easily see reaching four or five novels on Ember’s freshman year of high school alone. So this isn’t some limited-series trilogy. This is a series that will be around for a while, so long as I remain compelled enough to keep writing it, and readers keep embracing the character.

However, I do have other stories to tell, and even other series ideas. I have solid concepts for a couple of novellas that I may try to get to in 2012, when I need a brief break from the Ember Cole series. These ideas are for slightly older readers, and are perhaps more purely suspense novels with less of a paranormal element to them. These projects can give me a taste of something else, before going back into the next Ember Cole project.

For example, I have a couple ideas for mystery series. I love good mysteries. Early Robert B. Parker, his Spenser stuff; the FLETCH series by Gregory McDonald, pre-TRUE BLOOD Charlaine Harris, even Max Allen Collins. So I have a couple series that would be more along the lines of mystery novels. One of those series would be more light-hearted with a light supernatural element. The other would be a bit more straightforward, with a religious protagonist.

But I find that if I talk too much about projects before I write them, I lose interest, so this is all I can say about them.

JGA: If you could somehow change reality and become the author of any published book instead of the person who originally wrote it, which book would you make your own and why?

CH: That’s easy. “The Body,” by Stephen King. Sure, it’s one novella. But it’s a story I love. But since that’s make-believe, hopefully SHADA is a step toward having a book of my own that at least aspires to be something of similar accomplishment.

You can buy Craig’s two books, Shada and Most Likely, on Amazon.

Oct 11, 2011 - Interviews    Comments Off on Author Interview: Cindy Speer

Author Interview: Cindy Speer

Today I have an interview with Cindy Speer. Cindy is the author of the novel “Unbalanced”, among many other books. You can find out more about Cindy, and what she’s working on, from her blog at http://apenandfire.com/.

JGA: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?

CS: I have always been a bit of a daydreamer.  I love to tell myself stories, look at things differently.  It just became a natural thing to write them down.  I was reading a rather horrid book in particular and it occurred to me that even I could write a story better than that, so I started trying to teach myself how to write.

JGA: How do you go about the actual process of writing?

CS: I like to type right into the computer…I tend to write whenever I have the chance, so I’ve been using My Writing Spot, which allows me to write in a browser using any computer.  It’s nice, but sometimes I miss using Word…in My Writing Spot I have about twenty files, partials, bits and bobs, doodles…sometimes it gets a little unwieldy.

JGA: How do you personally like to read books you buy these days?

CS: I know eBooks really are the way to go, but I am still attached to paper.  I often buy my books used at library sales or on places like www.half.com, One of the great things about Kindle is you can download free sample chapters, and this has allowed me to explore and discover new writers a lot more cheaply and easily than in the old days.  I read mostly fantasy and murder mystery, but I also have been reading a lot of non-fiction and fairy tales, trying to fill the mind with cool stuff to pull ideas from.  As an author, one of your most important jobs is to feed that compost heap in the back of your head, to keep putting in things to break down, to sit, to stew…things that will eventually come back out as full stories.

JGA: Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?

CS: Barbara Hambly because she was the first person I truly wanted to emulate.  UI loved her mixture of facts along with engaging characters.  She’s such a smart writer, too, she really knows how to draw her world.  Neil Gaiman is the second…by reading his work I was inspired to explore fairy tales, I learned how to write short stories.

JGA: How do you go about planning your writing?

CS: I don’t really…which may be a problem sometimes.  I explore ideas, characters…what would this person do in this situation?  And I just try and write good, original stories…if I get stopped, I go write on something else.  Otherwise, I keep writing…and surprising myself…until I get to the end.

JGA: What gave you the initial idea for your novel,  “Unbalanced“?

CS: I wanted to see what I could say about werewolves and vampires that hadn’t been said before…I wanted to write a murder mystery in a different sort of world, where belief very much has its own power.

JGA: Can you tell us a bit about the main character, Andromeda Pendragon, and some of the challenges she has to face as the story progresses?

CS: Andromeda is a smart woman…independent but sometimes, like everyone else, she’d like someone to lean on.  She had someone, but because of her career, she had to put him aside.  Her challenges include solving a murder, balancing the political agendas of several races of people, and trying not to look like too much of an idiot in front of her ex-boyfriend, who she still cares about.

JGA: Who are the readers would enjoy “Unbalanced” the most?

CS: People who enjoy a dose of horror with their adventure, and people who are looking for a different kind of murder mystery.

JGA: There are some readers (not me!) who look down their nose at anything involving supernatural elements. Has that ever come up in your interactions with other authors or readers?

CS: A little, at group book signings.  I used to wonder why people felt the need to make sure you knew that this “Wasn’t their sort of thing,” so defensively instead of smiling and walking on, but it amuses me more than bothers me.  People like what they like…you can’t change it, and you don’t want to.  There are plenty of people who will enjoy what I write, and I’m grateful for them.

JGA: What other items are you working on at the moment?

CS: Well, I’m sort of working on a genuine sequel to the Chocolatier’s Wife and a first person snarky zombie murder mystery set in the Unbalanced world.

JGA: If you could somehow change reality and become the author of any published book instead of the person who originally wrote it, which book would you make your own and why?

CS: I wouldn’t, though.  It might seem like a cop-out, but there really isn’t anything beyond my reach.  Suppose I wanted to write a Buffy the Vampire Slayer like story.  I could have a woman, let’s make her a nurse.  Let’s make her Asian-American.  Already you have changed the way that the main character is going to react..you’ve changed her life, you’ve changed her expectations, you’ve changed the challenges she will naturally face.  You have to make it all original, absolutely, but that’s the fun, isn’t it?  To take an idea and see what you, personally, can do with it.  No one had the copy right on vampire killers who are also kicking women.  And, well, there’s always the idea that if you, I, Neil Gaiman and Lee Childs all sat down with the same premise and each wrote our own novel, what we came up with would be so very different.

Let me emphasize that I am not advocating plagiarism, theft, or unoriginality.  It’s actually an argument of mine that I carry out every time Hollywood decides to do a remake…there is nothing completely new under the sun, any book that, at the core, that has not been written.  But it is what you do with the combination, the alchemy that you put into it, that makes it a great story.

You can buy Unbalanced on Amazon. Find out more about Cindy’s upcoming work on her blog at http://apenandfire.com/

Sep 13, 2011 - Interviews    Comments Off on A Look At “131 Days”, by Keith C. Blackmore

A Look At “131 Days”, by Keith C. Blackmore

If you’re a regular reader (do I have any? 🙂 ), you might remember that I’m good friends with fellow author Keith C. Blackmore. Keith has recently released a new novella, 131 Days, that focuses on gladiators. Keith hopes to write many more stories in this universe, but time will tell. I didn’t get a chance to beta read this story (I was too busy trying to get Gears finished), but the blurb sound intriguing:

131 daysStrength.

Honor.

Death.

Once every year, in the city of Sunja, gladiators meet within the arena known as Sunja`s Pit.

Men such as Baylus, Goll, and Halm enter for the lure of fortune. Others enter for the fame. And some simply for the fight.

The games continue for days, until a champion is finally crowned. Or all who are involved perish.

This is blood sport at its finest. At its worst. At its longest.

131 Days.

Keith passed on a few notes about how he came to write 131 Days. Here they are.

Q: Where did you come with the idea?

A: I’m a fan of watching the UFC  (TUF) and MMA in general, as well as the recent Spartacus TV series.  I thought Spartacus was exceptionally well done. I wanted to do a gladiator story myself, but I didn’t want it based in ancient Rome, although that did serve as a template to make certain I was getting things somewhat right. I’ve always wondered about exactly why these people do what they do. Some obviously do it because they’re good at it–that’s where their talents lie.  Other do it for the money or fame. While you have their managers who are controlling them for their own ends.

The story also takes place in the world I’m building (see more details below) during the Nordun-Sunja conflict, and these particular games are a means to divert Sunjan public attention from the failing campaign in the northwest.

Q: What’s the novella about?

A: Warriors from all across the known world flock to the city-state of Sunja to take part in the months long tournament. They have their own reasons why they fight; for wealth, freedom, the rush of battle, the love for a woman, even to escape the horrors of the battlefront. The gladiators knows that death awaits on the arena sands, and that each day may be their last. They fight for days, until one alone will be declared the champion of the games. While behind the scenes, houses and schools of retired gladiators and prominent merchants seek to broaden their influence and further their own goals, realizing their schemes in and beyond Sunja’s Pit … and the men that fight for their lives.

Q: What research did you do for the story?

A: Mostly on weapons and armour, the arena ( I used Rome’s coliseum as a rough model), the gladiators themselves as it was just recently revealed that the men that fought in ancient Rome weren’t he-men with godlike physiques. They purposely fattened themselves up as their body fat protected certain vitals.  And schools of thought on fighting techniques in an arena.

Q: Why is it only a novella?

A: It was originally planned as a monthly serial, but then after getting feedback on that idea, I decided that readers probably wouldn’t want that. So, I’m really not sure they’ll like the idea of reading about gladiators either, but I decided to start off with the first story within the greater story arc, and if that sells, I’ll proceed to the next full novel. I’ve asked that if a person reads and likes the story, then he/she should drop me a line. If I get enough “votes” I’ll get to work on the next one.

Q: What do you like best about the story?

A: Characterizations have always been the most difficult part of writing for me, but I like the characters in this one. It also is the second work in the world I’m placing all of my fantasy stories in, fashioned after Robert E Howard’s “Hyborian Age” and David Gemmell’s “Drenai.” I’m a big fan of both writers, and I see a lot of potential in developing several characters within the same fantasy world, but not necessarily connected. I do have minor characters introduced in “The Troll Hunter” making appearances in the book, and I’ll probably continue doing that when I can.

As further books come out (if they sell, that is) I’ll developing and introducing different countries and fleshing them out, as well as the characters living within their borders.  As a reference, the story takes place during the Nordun-Sunja war,  in the days leading up to  “The Troll Hunter.”

Q: Where can people buy the novella?

A:  Amazon and Smashwords right now.

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: Many many many moons.

Q: Where can readers find out more about your work?

A: Go to www.keithcblackmore.com and take a look around. There are some free short stories there, some sample chapters, and some guest blogs from some very interesting authors. If I’m up to something, you’ll be able to read about it there.

Read a sample of 131 Days on Amazon here.

Jul 27, 2011 - Interviews    1 Comment

Author Interview: Kevin Wallis

Todays post finishes my current round of interviews (for now 🙂 ), and brings an interview with Kevin Wallis. Kevin is a writer of short stories, getting ready to move into the novel world. I really enjoyed his interview, and I hope you do too.

JGA: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?

KW: Sure, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to an unknown like me. I really appreciate it. Talking about myself is boring, so in a nutshell, I’m 38, my knees are 88, I live in Sugarland, TX, married my dream girl 11 years ago, have the 3 most kick-ass kids in the world, and my measurements are 38-24-36.

Oh yeah, I write too. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment I “started” writing, but I have tried to write stories since childhood. I remember trying to write stories about the Marvel comics heroes I used to read, except my X-Men always ended up in the middle of some demented horror story rather than Salem Center, New York.  In high school, I had a couple of stories published in the school “literary” journal. The stories were cheesy and ridiculous, but I remember thinking that they must have had some merit for them to be chosen above all the other cheesy and ridiculous stories submitted. But, yeah, I’ve had stories bouncing around in my skull for as long as I can remember.

JGA: I hear you with having stories bouncing around in your head all the time! How do you go about the actual process of writing?

KW: Most of my writing actually gets done at work. (Don’t tell my boss.) On slow days, I can usually get a few thousand words down. I carry my handy green notebook wherever I go (my coworkers always ask me what the notebook’s for, and it’s fun to make stuff up to mess with them. “Yeah, I use this to document any errors I see you making”), and I usually write my stories longhand first. This gives me the room to edit as I transcribe the story onto my laptop. The problem is that I can barely read my own writing, so if I let a story sit too long in my notebook, I can’t read the damn thing when it’s time to edit.

JGA: How do you personally like to read your books these days?

KW: I recently told my publisher that Kindles are the devil’s toys. I can’t stand them. I need to feel paper in my hands. Great books are called “page-turners” for a reason, not “scroll-downers.” That being said, I am not naïve enough to deny that e-books are the future of publishing, and although I will never own one, I will ride the wave and try to use it to my writing career’s advantage. Besides, the majority of my book’s sales have been in e-format.

As for me, I read nearly everything except hardcore romance novels. I switch genres often so as not to grow bored, so from day to day I may be reading horror, mystery, sci-fi, historical fiction or nonfiction, biographies, satire, short stories, a graphic novel, you name it. As long as it’s paper and Fabio’s not on the cover, I’ll probably check it out. No offense to the fantastic Fabio, of course.

JGA: After spending the last year only using an ereader, I couldn’t imagine going back to paper permanently – to each their own 🙂 Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?

KW: As primarily a horror writer, I was of course blown away by Stephen King as a kid. I read my first King book when I was 10 or 11, and from there discovered H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, both of whom completely changed my idea of what a horror story could be. However, as far a writing styles go, I am blown away by the cadence of John Steinbeck’s words, the poetic prose of Ray Bradbury, and I have recently become a huge fan of David L. Robbins’ writing style. I try not to consciously emulate any of them, but I would be lying if I said they don’t influence my work.

JGA: How do you go about planning your writing?

KW: I’m a big fan of outlining, and it’s probably because I can’t keep too many thoughts straight in my head at the same time. (My wife says it’s because I’m not a woman, but that’s for another blog.) So my handy green notebook is full of indecipherable scribbling, the blueprint for a scene of dialogue here, a list of underdeveloped plot points there, everything’s in the notebook. I have no problem straying from a master outline, and the joy of writing comes from doing just that and letting the story take you where it wants to go, but I usually have a pretty good idea where I’m headed. I even outline each chapter of a novel before I write it, listing the major points I want to cover, and this prevents me from inadvertently leaving something important out. The way I see it, outlining helps me silence the voices in my head I want to ignore and focus on the most important voices at any given moment. Or maybe I’m just loony.

I’ve also discovered that nothing gets the creative juices flowing like camping under the stars. My most popular story, “The Taking of Michael McConnolly”, was based on a camping trip with my brothers, and I have had more good story ideas while sipping brew by a campfire than anywhere else. (That story was awarded Honorable Mention by Ellen Datlow for Best Horror of the Year. And yes, I just tooted my own horn. Sue me.)

JGA: Your book, “Beneath the Surface of Things“, is a collection of horror short stories. What is it that appeals to you about the shorter form, and how did you get started writing them?

KW: I originally started writing short stories because I was terrified of starting a novel. I wanted to practice the craft first, find my voice, so to speak. Like any writer, my early short stories are God-awful pieces of trash, but they were an invaluable learning tool. Once I started getting my short fiction published, I gained confidence, and publishing my own collection through Bards and Sages Publishing was my proudest moment as a writer.

I actually look at the collection as the beginning of the end of my short story career, however. Although an occasional short story still pops into my head and demands to be written, I would like to concentrate on novels, and hopefully find some success in that arena.

JGA: What is it that drew you to writing horror?

KW: I could write thousands of words on this subject, but I’ll spare those readers who have toughed it out with me for this long. The short of it is this: I really don’t know. It’s just always been a part of me. As a kid, I would rather sneak into my mother’s room to watch The Howling instead of joining my siblings for Bugs Bunny in the living room. King and Lovecraft and Barker and McCammon just spoke to me more than any other writers. I was plagued with nightmares as a child, and maybe writing down what I dreamt was a form of therapy for me. I do write non-horrific stories, but more often than not, any story I try to write about fluffy bunnies will ultimately have those bunnies donning clown makeup and eating someone’s face off.

JGA: Who are the readers would enjoy “Beneath the Surface of Things” the most?

KW: I cover a lot of themes in the book, from theology to child abuse to the redemption of past mistakes, so I hope it appeals to a vast audience. However, I can say from listening to feedback that those who are easily offended might want to pick up the latest Danielle Steele instead. It is primarily a work of horror, and is thus quite R-rated, so yes, there is violence, yes, I use the F-word, and yes, there are more than a few corpses scattered about. There is even some good old-fashioned intercourse. But I don’t write horror for the scare alone, and I believe many, if not the majority, of the stories in the collection can appeal to even the most casual horror fan .

JGA: That sounds suitably horrific. 🙂 What other items are you working on at the moment?

KW: Like every other writer, I am currently working on a novel. My master plan is to land an agent once the book is finished and hopefully sign on with a major publishing company. Either that, or curl into a fetal ball, drooling on my pants and wailing at the stars as agent after agent laughs at my pitiful attempts to make a living in this business. Whichever.

JGA: What are your thoughts on the current growth of self-publishing that’s occurring, now that ebooks have become more commonly available. Is it something you might consider in the future, or would you prefer to stick to the “traditional” publishing route?

KW: Personally, I have no interest in ever self-publishing, and I do not buy self-published works anymore. The reason is that I have been burned too many times. While I know there is a hell of a lot of very high-quality self-publishing available, including the self-published work of several close friends, I have had the misfortune of buying too many works that were horribly written and edited and obviously self-published because no respectable publishing company would represent the work. When absolutely anyone can self-publish absolutely anything they want, then get their friends and family to blurb about how great it is, well, it lacks legitimacy to me.

So I want to go the traditional route. I want my work to be represented by an agent who will then shop it to the big boys, and hopefully one of them will bite. If not at the first offering, then I will keep writing until they do.

JGA: If you could somehow change reality and become the author of any published book instead of the person who originally wrote it, which book would you make your own and why?

KW: My favorite book of all time is Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, so I suppose I would like to one day write something that affects others the way that book affects me. I read it every year, and I never tire of it. I Cliff-noted it in high school, but I was probably too immature to appreciate it back then. Plus, it inspired my sister-in-law to call hemorrhoids the Grapes of Ass, so there’s that.

James Clavell’s Shogun is a close second. That book stands the test of time like few books can.

JGA: Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked?

KW: Good Lord, Jason, put these kind readers out of their misery already.

Seriously, thank you for the time. I am sincerely grateful. And I hope some of your readers are heavy enough drinkers to pick up a copy of Beneath the Surface of Things.

You can see all the short story collections Kevin has work in on Amazon via this link.

Jul 23, 2011 - Interviews    Comments Off on Interview with Brent Nichols

Interview with Brent Nichols

I’ve been on a bit of an interviewing kick the last couple of weeks. I have another interview today (with Brent Nichols), and there is a third interview coming up in a few more days. Brent is the author of a few books, including the rather interestingly titled “Bert the Barbarian”. You can find him at http://brentnichols.blogspot.com/

JGA: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?

BN: Thanks for having me on your fine blog, Jason.  I’m 41 and Canadian.  I grew up on the Canadian prairies, where excitement and drama are sometimes in short supply, so I’ve been a bookworm from a very early age.  Books were a hugely influential part of my life growing up, so I naturally gravitated toward writing as an ambition.  I wanted to have the same kind of power over others that so many authors have had over me.

I played around with creative writing in High School, and finally got serious and wrote my first novel when I was 18.

JGA: Not many 18 year olds can say they’ve written a novel! How do you go about the actual process of writing?

BN: I try to write somewhat early in the day, when I’m fresh.  I can’t seem to make the muse fire on all cylinders without a cup of java, though.  My hands hurt if I type too much, so I dictate my novels with Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I have one room in my house set up as an office.  I can turn my head and see the bird feeder in the back yard, and the wall behind me is lined with bookshelves.  It’s a pleasant place to work, but not so pleasant that it’s distracting.  I sit at my desk and tell myself stories and watch the words appear on the screen.

JGA: That sounds great. I’ve wanted to try Dragon for a while, so it’s nice to hear about someone using it successfully. How do you personally like to read your books these days?

BN: Last year, when I decided to get a number of manuscripts ready for publishing to Kindle and Smashwords, I went to a print shop and got them to print several coil-bound copies of my manuscript to give to beta readers.  It was ridiculously expensive.  Then I figured out that Lulu would do a print-on-demand, perfect-bound paperback for less than I paid for a crappy-looking coil-bound book.

Even though I paid to have it printed, when the demo copy arrived from Lulu, I was totally thrilled.  That’s my new favourite way to read my own work.  I usually find myself reading on a computer screen, though, in Word, so I can immediately correct any typos I might find.

JGA: Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?

BN: That’s a good question, and one without a simple answer.  I’ve read a lot of the classics, and they gave me a deep antipathy to pompous, literary writing. To some extent I’ve been influenced by the great writers I’ve hated, as I do my best to not write like them.

Treasure Island had a huge influence on me as a young lad, and I’ve been trying to recapture that sense of excitement, of exotic high adventure, ever since.  I also grew up with Heinlein’s juvenile novels.  He did something really neat with his protagonists.  They were fallible, but they were always sensible and responsible and intelligent.  They were people you would want to spend time with, and people you would want to be like.  I try to craft characters with some of those qualities.

JGA: How do you go about planning your writing?

BN: Sometimes an idea rolls around in my head for months or years, and I play with it idly in my spare time.  When it’s time to craft the actual novel, I write out a page or two of plot summary.  I make notes, generally a few paragraphs, about each major character, and I make a brief summary of the key setting elements.

Then I dive in and start writing.  I usually have two or three pages of notes for almost the entire time I spend writing.  As I write a scene I delete the corresponding lines from my notes, but I’m always adding to the notes as well, as the plot ahead becomes more clear.

JGA: What gave you the initial idea for your novel,  “Bert the Barbarian“, and how did the story progress from there?

BN: I don’t remember where I first got the idea of an alien discreetly recruiting human labour by plucking suicides from the water when they jump from bridges.  It was an odd notion that took root in my imagination and wouldn’t go away.

I’m also fascinated by the way identity is formed.  How do we become who we are?  To what extent can we choose what kind of person we become?  To what extent can we deliberately change?  I wanted to tell the story of a weak man becoming strong after being thrust into extraordinary circumstances.  That dovetailed well with the idea of a suicidal person being taken away to another planet by an exploitive alien.

JGA: Can you tell us a bit about the main character, Bert Hoover, and some of the challenges he has to face as the story progresses?

BN: Bert is a man who has been bullied and intimidated all his life.  In psychological terms, he has to overcome the conditioning of a lifetime if he is to be of any use to himself or anyone else.  In practical terms, he has to deal with kidnapping by very advanced aliens, enslavement by a different batch of much more primitive aliens, the need to escape, and the need to find and rescue a friend.

JGA: Who are the readers who would enjoy “Bert the Barbarian” the most?

BN: It’s a book that blends the tropes of fantasy and science fiction, so it should appeal to fans of both genres.  My ideal reader likes an exciting story with a bit of depth to it.  The book is also fairly funny, so the ideal reader should have a sense of humour as well.

JGA: What other items are you working on at the moment?

BN: I’m refurbishing a novel I wrote a few years ago.  I knew at the time that it wasn’t quite working, but I couldn’t figure out why.  I’ve learned a fair bit in the meantime, and now I know how to fix it.  Some parts are already quite good, and I can see now how to take the weak parts and make them shine.  It’s called Dark Kingdom.  It’s a fantasy novel, and it’s coming out in August or September.

JGA: Sounds good! If you could somehow change reality and become the author of any published book instead of the person who originally wrote it, which book would you make your own and why?

BN: I think George RR Martin did something extraordinary when he wrote A Game of Thrones.  It’s crazy good, and I’m deeply envious of him.  I’m inspired, of course, but envious.

JGA: Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked?

BN: Thanks for hosting me on your blog.

You can see all of the books Brent has on Amazon, including Bert the Barbarian, by clicking here.

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