Thanks for taking the time to spend with us today, we're definitely glad you stopped by!
Thanks for having me. Always fun getting a chance to practice my “I hope I did not sound as idiotic to the audience as I just did to myself…”-look.
Your novel, An Unproven Concept, has been received well by readers, along with your other alternative history books like Acts of War, well done. In dealing with two distinct genres, do you prefer one over the other?
I actually prefer the alternative history to the science fiction, as far as the writing goes. Mainly because of the fun involved with stacking butterfly effects on top of one another.
For you, what do you find easier to write; alternative history or science fiction?
I wouldn’t so much say prefer as find science fiction easier to write. Given that I’m a history grad student, I have a great deal of self-imposed pressure to “get the facts straight” when writing the alternative history. I’ve poked at others’ story-lines and what ifs so often that I know there’s someone out there doing the same to my book. That imaginary fact checker’s voice in my head has sometimes caused me to lose a half day’s work. Or, as Anita (my wife and fellow author) has said, “Only five people in the world are going to care about [insert issue], and one of them is writing the book.”
With the space opera, I can pretty much let anything fly as long as I remain consistent. I don’t want to pull a George Lucas and decide halfway through a series that something which is easily checked (like, say, blood microorganisms) is critical to a major plot point (e.g., the Force).
1.) Character driven plots. Technology is nice and all, but in reality I think most readers care about people rather than objects. This also extends to the villains as well. No one wants to have a story line where it’s obvious the protagonist will succeed because the “big bad” has a room temperature IQ.
2.) Consistent technology that evolves with time. For instance, one of Star Trek’s strengths has been that you see the evolution between the original series, the first set of movies, TNG, etc.. While there have been several technological incongruities, for the most part I think the producers did a great job making sure their imagined technology stayed relatively the same.
3.) Grand scale. I think good space opera has a broad brush universe that the characters are going about their lives in. It shouldn't necessarily be across five galaxies with a cast of thousands, but there should definitely be a species, civilization, and / or way of life at stake.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
In alternate history I’d have to say Harry Turtledove and Robert Conroy (who just recently passed away this month). While the former was much more prolific, I carried a copy of the latter’s 1901 with me through several moves because it was always fun to reread.
With regards to space opera, I’ll address that in the next question.
One of my reviewers was far too kind. Another gentle soul also mentioned me in the same breath as David Drake, which was very awesome as Hammer’s Slammers has always been one of my favorite universes. I’d also tip the hat to Michael Stackpole during his time with FASA’s Battletech series, as well as Robert Thurston for work in the same universe.
Stepping out of science fiction, as I alluded to on the sly in An Unproven Concept, I grew up reading men’s action adventure series from the local library. While it’s more apparent in my dystopian universe (see “After the Scythe”), Gold Eagle’s (Executioner, Deathlands, Phoenix Force, etc.) author stable as well as Victor Milan (a.k.a., “Richard Austin”) were also big influences on my writing style. Finally, and some would argue most importantly, I was an avid reader of Tom Clancy (especially Red Storm Rising) growing up.
How do you normally create your stories? Are you a discovery writer or do you tend to plot out your book?
I’m more of what my writing group calls a “pantser,” i.e. I write the plot as it comes to me. I have a long commute in the morning, and apparently my muses like to lurk somewhere around Lawrence and Tonganoxie.
First, I think my major professor hit the nail on the head once when he said, “Whenever you think something will take a certain amount of time, double that. You’ll be glad you did.” On both books I thought I was closer to being done than I actually was, and had to rush to meet deadlines.
Second would be that, in general, your best marketing is your cover. Period. People claim not to choose a book by its cover, but I’ve had more than a dozen folks openly admit they did not even consider my book until they saw my revised cover. Which is sad, as I think my first cover artist did a great job and would recommend him.
Third, understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, that’s cliché, but it truer words have never been spoken. Lord willing, you’ll wake up the next morning and the story will still be there. If not, and tomorrow is the zombocalypse, odds are it’ll be a little hard to get things up on Kindle anyway.
Finally, marketing is a time suck, and it is easy to get discouraged. At some point, as an independent author, you have to accept that you’ve done all you can and it’s time to get to writing on the next item. Not quite there yet with Acts of War, but I’m gradually easing into the “next number” phase while still trying to get the word out as much as I can.
What’s next for you in 2015?
Well hopefully a briefcase full of money falling out of the sky without a hand still attached via handcuff. No, in all seriousness, my first priority is to make headway on my dissertation now that much of my research is complete. This does not mean my fans need to fret--Acts of War was originally a 680-page behemoth that got split in half. So, at the very least, I’ll be releasing Collisions of the Damned, Acts of War’s sequel, sometime next year. As for An Unproven Concept, I’ve broken ground on Though Our Hulls Burn, it’s sequel, and if I’m lucky I might get that done as well. Time will tell on this, of course—if there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting this adventure, it’s that Murphy will ruthlessly assert his right to vote.
Thanks again, for taking the time to chat with us today. All the best wishes for you and your writing in the new year.
Thanks for having me. I hope that I’ve managed to keep this interesting for you and your readers. :D