Author Interview: Steve Statham

Steve Statham is an editor, freelance writer, and photographer who has turned a lifelong love of speculative fiction into a second writing career. Along with short stories and two standalone novels, he has authored two sci-fi series. The first, his four-book Connor Rix SF thrillers, follows the adventures of a bio-enhanced private investigator. The second is Gods and the Starways, a series that brings readers the remnant of humanity a thousand years after they flee an alien invasion of Earth under the protection of god-like beings. Steve’s most recent release is Gods and the Stars (2018), the second of his Starways space opera books. You’ll find Steve on his website at SteveStatham.com and on Facebook. For a look at his nonfiction automotive work, visit StathamCommunications.com.


What sparked the initial story idea for Gods and the City, the first book in your Gods and the Starways series? When did you realize the story was strong enough to continue on to a second book?
I’d been working steadily on my Connor Rix series of sci-fi thrillers, and had also written a contemporary fantasy, but I was really champing at the bit to write space opera. I’ve always loved reading far-flung space adventure, and Gods and The City was going to be the first of what I hoped would be many in that genre. The spark that lit the whole thing was an image I had in my brain of an actual living, breathing god walking through a city, an immensely powerful protector created through technology to guard humanity against all external threats. As I started building a story around that idea, I wanted to create my own pantheon of gods, with their own powers and personalities, and weave them into the lives of a future human society. I always envisioned it as a two-book tale. I originally thought they would be two fast-paced novellas, but, as writers discover all the time, once you start a story it takes on a life of its own, and word-counts climb.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the Starways books?
The story takes place a thousand years after an alien invasion. Humanity barely escaped extermination on Earth, and the descendants of the survivors are living hidden in a domed city on a moon around a distant gas giant. They’ve been protected this whole time by powerful and mysterious gods. So there are no common frames of reference with the reader—their culture, technology, recent history, religious practices, all had to be created from the ground up. Working with a clean sheet like that is liberating, but also a lot of work because you have to think up every last detail. And then in the second book the reader is introduced to the workings of the alien Otrid culture, which I also built from the ground up. That’s part of the fun of being a writer, but it’s also difficult to pull off.

What unique challenges did book two, Gods and the Stars, pose for you?
In the first book, the alien Otrid are a mysterious foe. What’s known about them is mostly rumor, or cloudy history written in the aftermath of their invasion of Earth. That’s fine as the story begins, but it’s unsatisfying for the reader to not get the alien experience that makes space opera so fun to read. So in Gods and the Stars I wanted to have an alien point-of-view character so the reader could understand their motivations. That alien society had to be plausible and interesting, yet wholly unique and strange at the same time. Constructing that society was a challenge, but that’s part of the reason people seek out space opera—they want to be amazed by concepts they’ve never encountered before.

Tell us a little about the main characters in the Starways series. Whose point of view did you enjoy writing the most?
The story mostly revolves around Talia and Mik, and they are basically just regular people who have to step up and do extraordinary things. Talia is an acolyte in the temple of the protector god named Tower, and Mik is a Fixer who works repairing the complex underground infrastructure of The City. Some people view Mik’s job condescendingly, as it is well known that Tower, being a god, runs and maintains all the machinery that keeps the human race alive. But Mik is so good at his job he finds things that get overlooked even by the god. I really enjoyed writing Mik. But I also found I enjoyed writing Vance. He started out as a minor character, but I expanded his role as the books developed. He’s a happily married family man who nonetheless feels constricted by the limitations of living under a dome. He forms a secret society that creates elaborate challenges for like-minded people to test themselves physically and mentally, qualities that come in handy after the Otrid discover where humanity is hiding.

After writing four novels in the Connor Rix SF Thrillers series, did your protagonist still surprise you? What did you focus on in these stories to keep readers coming back for more?
Connor Rix definitely still surprises me as the series plays out. Rix is a bio-enhanced private investigator in a near-future setting. He’s got a variety of modifications that give him superhuman strength, and he’s the guy you call when you have a problem with a violent superhuman outlaw. For a series like this, each book has to tell a complete story, but I have to plan an overall character arc where his fortunes change over time. For example, from the first book to the fourth, Rix evolves from a man who uses a variety of aliases to maintain anonymity to a guy whose identity gets exposed after he cracks a high-profile case, and will have to deal with fame from then on. As for keeping readers coming back, I know fans of the series enjoy the crazy bio-engineered enhancements I come up with, and so in each book I try to top myself. This kind of future is right around the corner, and you just know that as soon as someone comes up with functional cybernetic implants and safe steroids, people will be knocking down the doors to get to them.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
In the science-fiction field, Robert Silverberg has long been one of my favorites. He’s such a complete pro, insanely productive, makes it look easy, and each book is completely different from the last. Gene Wolf is so good it’s not even funny. Reading The Fifth Head of Cerberus just left me in awe of his skills, and The Book of the New Sun is a masterpiece. I like Peter F. Hamilton for the grand scale of his books. Dan Simmons doesn’t write much SF anymore, but when he did, I devoured them. Lots of indies are producing good work now too, and I’ve been trying a lot of new names recently. It’s a great time for discovering new voices in science-fiction.

Of all your novels, which one was the most challenging to write and which was the most enjoyable?
Fight for the Night had a difficult birth. It was supposed to be part of a shared universe series of weird post-apocalypse books, but then the publisher pulled the plug on the whole project. So I had to rewrite it to make sense as a stand-alone. It’s kind of an orphan, but I get a lot of positive feedback on that book. As for enjoyable, I really enjoyed creating the multiverse fantasy Strange Trails. I think it’s one of my best books, but it just never got traction. If you read it, you’re in an—ahem—elite group.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for?
Well, if we’re being granted wishes and a time machine, I’d want to go back and write the script for the third movie in the Alien franchise. I first saw Alien cold, had heard nothing about it, and it just blew me away. Aliens was a great sequel, building on the mysteries of the first movie. Then it all went to hell. As much as I love the first two movies, I hate Alien 3 in equal measure. And Alien Resurrection was just vile. The new ones aren’t much better. They just completely lost the plot, one of the great missed opportunities in science-fiction history. So magically swooping in and making a third movie that doesn’t suck would be my movie fantasy. If the time machine was down for maintenance that week, though, I wouldn’t mind being asked to collaborate on a Rick and Morty script over Happy Hour.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a new space opera series about a powerful ruler seeking to break the monopoly on interstellar travel held by one particular alien civilization. I have a short story completed that provides background on the protagonist and am well along in the first novel. I think I’ve also broken the logjam on getting the rights reverted on my out-of-print nonfiction automotive history books, so I’m looking at revising and updating them, and releasing them independently in 2019.

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Are You a Guardian of the Dream?

Novelists think differently from other writers. We set out to create and sustain a fictitious dream for our reader… As a novelist, you are guardian of the dream. ~ Jerry Jenkins

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2018 Wednesday on the Web #3

Here’s the next of my fifth-Wednesday posts in which I share a few finds from my magical (ever-filling) bag of online treasure. As this has been an especially busy week running into a long holiday weekend, please ignore the fact this Wednesday post is making it to your in-box on a Friday.

■ For Writers

How to Edit a Book: Your Ultimate 21-Part Checklist
Best-selling author Jerry Jenkins gives out great information and advice on his blog. One of his best posts is a 21-point editing checklist which also includes insight into why publishers reject a manuscript after reading only a few pages. Two of my favorite points from the list that I check in my own writing are: (11) Avoid hedging verbs (like smiled slightly, almost laughed, frowned a bit) and (13) Avoid too much stage direction (You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.).

When You Think Your Writing Sucks
Author Julie Glover keeps a file on her computer called “Read When You Think Your Writing Sucks” filled with quotes about the doubts and fears of famous, successful writers. She says, “Clearly, these writing giants aren’t immune to self-doubt and fear of failure. But they keep going. They keep writing. For me, it helps to have that file to open now and again to remind myself that 100% confidence isn’t necessary to be a good writer. It’s okay to doubt, as long as we don’t let doubt stop us from writing.”

■ Science

It’s Made Of SCIENCE: Lasers And Energy Weapons
In this article, Nathan Scalia explains what lasers are, how they work, and practical aspects of weaponization. He concludes the article with: “Star Wars gave you permission to do lasers any old way you feel like doing lasers. If you want them to act like slow moving bullets, fine…. If you’re looking for something plausible, then your best bet is to think, ‘laser pointer that kills people.’ If you do that, and remember to account for the large amounts of power needed by a laser weapon, then you should be good to go.”

It’s Made Of SCIENCE: The Vacuum Of Space
Here’s another article by Nathan Scalia to help us laymen understand the vacuum of space, the laws that govern it, and what would happen if someone is exposed to it. He also discusses radiation, temperature, and explosions in space.

■ For Fun

The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made
“As the official airline of Middle-earth, Air New Zealand has gone all out to celebrate the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy—The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Starring Elijah Wood and Sir Peter Jackson; we’re thrilled to unveil ‘The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made.’” It’s over four minutes long but worth watching, if you haven’t seen it yet.

Dad Replaces Son’s Lunch Box With Toolbox
A Dad is sent on an errand to find a lunch box for his toddler. Watch as he chooses a practical alternative to an over-priced lunch box and witness a Mother’s gleeful reaction.

■ If I Only Had the Money

Starship Enterprise Ring
“Inspired by the USS Enterprise from Star Trek! It took light years of travel through the galaxies to get the details right. Any captain or commander would be proud to sport this ship as it effortlessly glides through the universe of bling.” The ring is available in your choice of white gold, sterling silver, or platinum, as well as different gems. “So prepare yourself to boldly go where no jewelry has gone before…” Only $600-$10,000. (A tad overpriced but the ring does rank high on a coolness scale.)

What’s in your magical bag of online treasure?

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Summer 2018: Roswell’s UFO Festival & Galacticon

After living in New Mexico most of my life, and never doing more than pass through Roswell, I decided 2018 was the year to finally see what the alien encounter thing was all about. The UFO Festival has been celebrated annually in this small city for 23 years. Aliens, UFOs, and science fiction go hand-in-hand, so it makes sense that a sci-fi convention, Roswell Galacticon, was added to the mix in 2011.

“The City of Roswell invites UFO enthusiasts and skeptics alike to join in the celebration of one of the most debated incidents in history.” In case you haven’t heard, the referenced incident is the crash landing of an alien vessel in 1947. Read the “living history” of the July 1947 UFO crash told 50 years later by witnesses to the event now known as the Roswell Incident.

During the three-day festival, visits to the UFO Museum and Research Center are essential for a pictorial history of the Roswell Incident, to hear talks about such subjects as alien abductions, and to listen to famous ufologists discuss their work. Festival events include Pet and Human Costume Contests and an evening light parade. 

Alien autopsies were part of the fun, as well as creating tinfoil head-gear (either to enhance communications or block alien transmissions, I’m not sure which) and visiting local shops and street vendors. Alien-eye sunglasses made it into my shopping bag because, you know, the grandkids might like them…

Way Way Off-Broadway Theatre Company did a great re-enactment of the H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds radio program. Next door, the Robert H. Goddard Planetarium offered laser light shows throughout the festival.

Roswell Galacticon is “an intergalactic comic convention with over one hundred cosmic vendors” held in the Roswell Mall. The convention featured a sci-fi film festival, gaming tournaments (including live-action role-playing games), a zombie make-up tutorial/workshop, cosplay and Steampunk workshops with Jessie Arntz and Jim Trent, and the annual Steampunk Ball.

In the dealer’s room I met several local authors who inspired me to continue with my own writing. Local artist Logan Pack amazed me with his stylization of sci-fi/fantasy characters and superheroes, and again I had to buy a few posters for the pesky grandkids.

Likewise, I ordered a hand-knitted pair of cute porgs (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) from a husband-and-wife team starting up Hooked4UCreations, a handcraft business. The porgs arrived within a few days of returning home, along with a surprise—I had won a drawing for a knitted flying saucer.

If you’re looking for a fun UFO-themed event suitable for kids and adults, come on down to southeastern New Mexico and visit Roswell next summer (around the 4th of July holiday).

Next time, I might add a visit to the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales and a stop at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo.

Did you visit any museums or sci-fi/fantasy conventions this summer?

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Author Interview: Kerry Nietz

Former software engineer Kerry Nietz is an award-winning science fiction author of novels and short stories. He is best known for his Peril in Plain Space series (Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies from Space) and his DarkTrench universe with its two trilogies—the completed Saga and the ongoing Shadow series. His most recent release is Fraught (2018), the second of the DarkTrench Shadow books that follows debugger ThreadBare in a search for truth and significance in a world filled with “forgottens.” You’ll find Kerry on KerryNietz.com and his Amazon author page, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. And look for A Star Curiously Singing (the first book in the DarkTrench Saga) for FREE on Kindle/Nook/Kobo/Apple iStore.


Your DarkTrench series is known for its “dystopian/cyberpunk vibe.” What unique challenges did Fraught, the newest entry in this universe, pose for you?
The biggest challenge was staying fed. After my wife read the first book in the series, Frayed, she demanded I write another one. Frayed isn’t a cliffhanger in the conventional sense—no one is in immediate peril at the end—but there were enough questions that she (and other readers, it turns out) wanted more. So Fraught is my attempt to make everyone happy. My wife never threatened to stop making dinner, but I didn’t want to risk it. She’s a good cook.

Tell us about your main character in the Shadow series.
The main character of Fraught and Frayed is a techno-slave named ThreadBare. He and his kind are known as debuggers. They have implants in their heads that connect them to the future version of the Internet along with the machines they maintain for their slave masters. The implant also throttles their behavior via little “stops”—brain shocks—keeping them on the right path. Thread is generally okay with his lot in life, though he longs for significance. That longing takes him into some harrowing and uncomfortable experiences, and ultimately changes him.

How does the setting impact the story and the characters?
A portion of Fraught takes place in a “school” for new debuggers. That setting affects Thread in a variety of ways. He has a personal connection to the facility, because he, like all debuggers, started out there. So, in a way it feels like home. He becomes a temporary instructor there, which pushes him outside of his comfort zone—as kids often do. That discomfort propels the rest of the story.

The world of DarkTrench is a complicated place with its unique settings, language, and social structure. How did you manage the balancing of just enough information (for clarity and suspension of disbelief) with trusting readers to “get” your world?
To be honest, I don’t give the management of the DarkTrench world much thought. I only write it as I see it. I focus on the immediate setting and what is important for the protagonist and let the rest of the world remain a little shadowy until he has to go there. That’s one advantage of the story’s point of view. All five books are written in first person present tense. So, it is a little like the reader is sitting on the hero’s left shoulder and experiencing what he’s experiencing. As a writer, I’m on the other shoulder. I’m often surprised by what we find.

I think for some readers the point of view can be an unexpected adjustment. The opening chapters of the first books in the two trilogies, A Star Curiously Singing and Frayed, are a bit of a mind warp. You’re sort of dropped into this place with its own jargon and social structure and need to swim for a bit. Frayed is a little easier, I think, because the main character has a more relaxed temperament, but even in A Star Curiously Singing the hero (Sandfly) warns you with something like, “This will take some explanation, I know. But don’t worry, we’ll get to that.”

What sparked the initial story idea for the DarkTrench series? When you finished the original trilogy, did you know you would continue in this world with the Shadow novels?
A Star Curiously Singing (the first in the DarkTrench Saga trilogy) was inspired by several things. I was intrigued by the idea of writing a story in first person present tense, because I’d experimented with it in my memoir FoxTales (that details the growth of Fox Software) and readers had enjoyed it.

I’d also read a handful of memoirs by people who’d grown up under sharia law and realized there was solid potential for a dystopian world in that context. Plus, I’d seen a documentary about one of the Saudi princes. In one segment, they showed this small room where three guys spent their whole day recording TV shows the prince might want to see later. All day every day they stared at screens and swapped video tapes. So, one day I had a long layover in tech-savvy Seattle. I popped open my laptop and started freewriting. The elements came together.

To answer your second question: After I finished Freeheads (the last book in the original trilogy) that story felt complete. And it was—it still is! But the DarkTrench setting sort of drew me back. There’s something unique and compelling about it. Like Narnia or the Star Wars galaxy, there is a sense—at least for me—that somewhere that place exists. At first, I tried writing a few short stories in that world again, mostly in the hopes of creating an anthology to help sell the trilogy. Then Ben Wolf of Havok magazine challenged me to write a flash fiction story (of less than 1000 words) for his publication. The story I came up with revolved around this debugger named ThreadBare. There was enough cool about him and his situation that after the story was published I couldn’t let the scenario go. Frayed was the result.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the Dark Trench books?
Since the setting is a world under sharia (Islamic) law there was a requirement to research that belief system and culture enough to give the DarkTrench world an authentic feel. Even mundane things like what people eat and wear, or what they commonly say as a greeting. There is some room for extrapolation, of course, because my stories take place hundreds of years in the future. The tech portions of the story are more natural to me. I have a degree in Computer Science and worked in the field for many years, including at Microsoft. Still, there are slices of that—like robot surgery—that are outside my knowledge. So that requires some research too.

Of all the books you’ve published which one was the most enjoyable to write and which was the most challenging?
Every book has its own challenges and joys. They are like children in that way. Probably my most enjoyable book of late was the soon-to-be-released sequel to Rhats! (an offering in the shared Takamo Universe). It is pure space action and adventure akin to TV’s Firefly. I’d never written something like that before, so it was a fun change of pace. Plus, the main characters are human-sized rats. That screams fun, doesn’t it?

The Amish romance genre is a big business in publishing, but your Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies from Space—who would have guessed? What do you think is behind their success?
Well, a mention on the Tonight Show didn’t hurt (along with Newsweek and the Washington Post). But really, I think it is the fun factor. The titles are intriguing, and Kirk DouPonce’s covers are fantastic. Conversation starters.

Last year I attended the Salt Lake City Comic Con with the Realm Makers mobile bookstore. We had a big poster of Amish Vampires in Space right out front. It was fun to watch people mouth the title as they went by—or scream it out loud. The title Amish Vampires in Space intrigued me enough to want to write the book. I asked the same question everyone asks: How did the Amish get into space and become vampires? Then I came up with an answer.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
I don’t know if I could, but I think short-lived Firefly had some of the best series writing ever. Funny and insightful at the same time.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve been churning on a third book in the Peril in Plain Space series (The Amish Vampires series). Readers have been asking for more and there is certainly more to explore there. So here I go.

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The Only Writing Advice That Matters

The only piece of writing advice that really matters is to keep going. Getting caught up in the idea that every book you write has to be published is the surest way to make sure you don’t keep going. ~ Shaunta Grimes

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3 Fiction Writing Terms: Clichés, Point of View, Suspension of Disbelief

I start every post in this series by pointing out my early lack of knowledge of creative writing terms. As a wise writing sage once said, “Knowing is one thing, doing is another.” Or maybe that was Yoda…

Study and practice have improved my writing, but it took years for me to realize clichés aren’t limited to phrases, point of view isn’t just a matter of writing in first person or third, and there is a knack to influencing a reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief.

This is the next in my series of what-I-wish-I’d-known-then posts that includes definitions and links for further reading.

Clichés

We all know clichés are phrases that were brilliant when first spoken or penned (Shakespeare was a master at this ) but have become tired and overused with time. In everyday life, a cliché is a handy go-to that we often use without thinking. When I tell people “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “I’m busier than a fly on poop,” they know what I mean without further explanation. The ease of using clichés is exactly the reason a writer should avoid them—they’re considered a sign of lazy writing. Claire Bradshaw advises writers to change things up, to turn “clichés on their head and subvert reader expectations with original plot, theme and character elements.”

Clichés can show up in several areas of writing:
a. Characters. Prostitute with a heart of gold, spoiled rich kid, dumb jock, dashing rogue, evil dark lord.
b. Descriptions. The rain fell in sheets, tears welled up in her eyes. Polly Iver from The Blood-red Pencil writes: “Whenever I come across one of those overdone descriptions, I grit my teeth, square my shoulders, and bang my head against the wall―sorry.”
c. Dialog. Conversations between characters are a place where clichés are acceptable because they’re a normal part of speaking.
d. Phrases/metaphors/similes. Avoid like the plague, right as rain, dime a dozen, a breath of fresh air, love is like a rose.
e. Plot. An orphan discovers he’s really a prince, a prince falls in love with a woman of lowly stature, a band of lowly misfits goes on a quest for a magical something to save the world.

For more:
Now Novel: “What is cliché? Cliché examples (and how to avoid)”
Cliché Finder: Enter a word or phrase and the finder will return a corresponding cliché.
Be a Better Writer: “681 Clichés to Avoid in Your Creative Writing”

Point of View (POV)

a. Technique. (1) First person [I, we]: I like vanilla ice cream. My husband likes chocolate. We both love banana splits.; (2) Second person [you, your]: You like vanilla ice cream. Your husband likes chocolate. You both love banana splits.; (3) third person and omniscient [he, she, they]: She likes vanilla ice cream. Her husband likes chocolate. They both love banana splits.
b. Perspective. Writing from a character’s particular point of view that allows the reader to experience life from the eyes (ears, etc.) of that character—the eye or lens of a story. This perspective reveals how characters interpret the world through their senses and emotions. Janice Hardy’s excellent advice is: “Forget write what you know. Write what the character knows.”
c. POV Violation occurs when a character’s POV (perspective) reveals something that character can’t possibly see, hear, smell, know, or discern. As an example, if a villain is standing behind Tina, Tina can’t see the villain’s evil grin. (Tina can’t even see her own evil grin.) Tina also can’t know what the villain is thinking. “Tina didn’t notice […]” or “Little did Tina know […]” are also POV violations, both outside the realm of what she knows or discerns.

For more:
Janice Hardy, Fiction University: “Room With a (Point of) View: Understanding POV”
NY Book Editors: “What’s the Difference Between Perspective and Point of View?”
Rachel Starr Thomson on Live Write Thrive: “Whose Head? Point of View in Fiction”

Suspension of Disbelief

For readers to become immersed in a fictional world, they need to let go of the real world long enough to suspend their disbelief. According to OxfordDictionaries.com, to suspend disbelief is to “temporarily allow oneself to believe something that is not true, especially in order to enjoy a work of fiction.” Readers can be pulled out of a story—their suspension of disbelief broken—for many reasons such as inconsistent characters, broken story rules, and plot holes or contrivances (as well as clichés and point of view problems).

Shannon Dittemore at GoTeenWriters explains the concept this way: “Regardless of the medium, we choose to believe all sorts of things presented to us that simply aren’t true. We’re willing to believe that crime labs can return results lickity split, that our heroine’s makeup will be unaltered after a swim in the ocean, that Edward Cullen’s persistent five o’clock shadow is not a sign of aging, that a pair of glasses can hide Clark Kent’s real identity, that the only way Prince Charming could possibly identify his soulmate is by her shoe size. When the desire for a really good tale collides with compelling elements like voice and plot and world building, audiences are willing to let reality slide a bit. They are willing to suspend their disbelief.”

For more:
Shannon Dittemore’s series on Suspension of Disbelief, Part 1
Standout Books: “Are You In Danger Of Losing Your Readers’ Suspension of Disbelief?”
Read A.L.S. Vossler’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Continuity Error” for a discussion of a viewer’s (or a reader’s) willing suspension of disbelief exemplified by Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

As a writer, how do you handle weeding out clichés, fixing point of view issues, or solidifying a reader’s suspension of disbelief? From a reader’s perspective, what pulls you out of a fictional world?


For more in the 3 Fiction Writing Terms series, check out:
Active Verbs, Author Intrusion, Backstory
Arcs, Beats, Blurbs
Foreshadow, MacGuffin, Red Herring

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Author Interview: J.S. Morin

J.S. Morin, former engineer turned full-time science fiction/fantasy author, claims the title of “a creator of worlds and a destroyer of words.” He has loved exploring speculative fiction since childhood and now hopes his own stories will help influence a new generation of fantasy readers. After publishing his first book in 2013, he has gone on to complete three series on his own (sci-fi, epic fantasy, sci/fantasy) and one in collaboration with M.A. Larkin (sci-fi) for a total of 34 novels. Another collaboration with M.A. Larkin has produced four books in a new spinoff. Human Phase (April, 2018) is Jeff’s newest novel, which concludes the six-book science fiction Robot Geneticists series. You’ll find Jeff on JSMorin.com and on Facebook. Visit his Amazon author page where most of his first in series are free on Kindle.


In the post-apocalyptic world of the Robot Geneticists books, robots have been reconstructing life on Earth for 1000 years after an alien virus decimated the planet. They’re even close to successfully recreating humans… This is a unique take on the apocalyptic premise. What came first for you in developing the series: a character, a setting, the story idea?
It’s funny, because it’s nothing to do with the story I ended up telling. The original idea was a fully robotic society with an underground human-worshiping cult. They were going to successfully clone a baby but be clueless how to raise it. I’d have played the idea for comedy. But the more I tugged and fluffed the idea, it became clear that I didn’t like incompetent robots, I wanted an older human child, someone with some agency to humanize the story. The experimental escapee Eve14 was born from there. I backfilled the world to get to that point.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge was to convey humanity through robots that no longer had the normal human sensations or biological reactions. Hearts no longer quickened, sweat didn’t bead on brows. These were computerized minds with human memories, and those reactions that the reader needed to relate to had to be both completely electro-mechanical and relatable to similar human reactions. Pain became error warnings, worry a loop of worst-case simulations, etc.

Tell us a little about your main characters.
Let me start with the counter-example. Charlie7, as the 1(a) main character, was meant to be enigmatic, awe-inspiring, and aspirational. As a reader, you’re meant to step back and look at Charlie7 as something humanity might once have feared. Turned loose in a fully populated Earth, he had the power to be a bigger threat than SkyNet. Eve14, as protagonist 1(b), wasn’t quite a blank slate, but she was close. Everything outside her lab was new and both fascinating and slightly frightening. You get to see her smell her first wildflowers, taste her first fresh fruit, scan computer entries of her species’ history that had been concealed from her—our history, the legacy of extinct humans.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the series?
I needed to build a society from scratch considering the raw materials my setting provided. Dictatorship seemed trite. Monarchy inappropriate. Charlie7 wasn’t the most democratic-minded of men when he was Charles Truman. That’s when I realized that a coven of scientists would most likely devolve into an academic bureaucracy of committees, authority via reputation, and back-door favor trading combined with crony favoritism.

You published all six of the Robot Geneticists books during a 12-month period from 2017-2018. How did you accomplish such a potentially overwhelming task?
I took a bit longer in the planning phase for this series. I spent a full month on preparation and outlining. From there, though, it was downhill. I was never not writing or editing, so as a full-time writer, the number of words over that period wasn’t so daunting. In fact, I was working in parallel on Black Ocean at the time, writing the last few missions of that series. Editing, cover design, and all the background work goes on in parallel. If I’m writing book 4 of a series, book 3 is probably in my editor’s hands.

In a recent blogpost, you mention you’re hoping for an on-screen adaptation of your 16-book Black Ocean space opera/fantasy series. What is it about the series that would make for a great adaptation? When you write, does the story play out in your mind like scenes in a movie?
The concept for Black Ocean was born out of a re-watching of Firefly. I got to the end (again) and was thinking “why hasn’t anyone else filled this gap?” Small ship. Small crew. Wrong side of the law. Since I asked that question, we’ve seen Dark Matter and The Expanse, but at the time, a light went on in my head. I could write the series I wanted. I came up with my own cobbled ship and scoundrel crew and turned them loose in a brand new universe where the softer side of sci-fi (FTL, universal translators, artificial gravity) was unapologetically just magic. But as I was writing Black Ocean, I was writing it to also keep the pacing and vibe of a serialized TV drama. It was written to feel like novelized television, so adapting it back to its spiritual origins seemed like a natural progression. As for how I envision scenes when I write, it’s slapdash. Sometimes I have a great sense for the visuals going in, other times it’s snippets of conversation that I build around. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I had it nailed down to one method, but that’s just not how it works for me.

M.A. Larkin collaborated with you on the five-book Sins of Angels series. Now books three and four of another collaboration with Matt (Astral Prime, a Black Ocean spinoff) are ready for pre-order. How do you split the “duties” of putting the books together? What strengths do you each bring to the projects?
It starts with planning sessions on video chat. Kick ideas back and forth. Come up with concepts, plot, characters. Refine. Outline. Then when it’s time for the writing, we divide up the POV characters. Matt injects a lot of gravitas and epic scope into his writing, while I lean more toward the lighter, snarkier side. With my background in engineering, I do the technical editing for both of us, though. If there’s convoluted technobabble, chances are I either wrote or tweaked it.

You write in several speculative fiction genres including hard science fiction, space opera, epic fantasy, and one of the newest—sci-fantasy. Is there one genre you’re drawn to most when you write or read? Is there one you’d like to try writing but haven’t yet?
I’m one of the ones waiting (im)patiently for George R.R. Martin’s Winds of Winter and Patrick Rothfuss’s Doors of Stone. Epic fantasy was always my reading love. Big, meaty tomes that you can get into and read for weeks. I also love the sci-fi classics like Asimov and Niven. So pretty much hard sci-fi and epic fantasy. My space opera work is almost entirely inspired by TV and movie viewing as opposed to book series I’ve read. One of these days I’d like to write something purely comedic; maybe a spoof of some popular genre. I’ll get around to it, I’m sure, but I tend to pander to my fans since they pay my bills. Until I see evidence that it would sell, the comedy would just be for personal amusement.

Of the 35+ books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most, and which was the most challenging?
Throughout the first four Black Ocean missions, you hear about how great a pilot Carl is, but he only has a couple of opportunities to show it. In the fifth mission, Alien Racer, the crew essentially calls him out on his bragging and goad him into entering a reality holovid racing contest—think American Idol meets NASCAR in space. Between the racing scenes and the heist planned around the finale, I had a blast with it. As for most challenging, it has to be Firehurler (book one of the epic fantasy Twinborn Chronicles). I think everyone’s first book is going to be their biggest challenge. I set Firehurler aside (partially written) for 12 years before my wife read the early chapters and suggested I finish it. It was like uncorking a dam after that.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My current project is a Black Ocean spinoff featuring two characters from the original series, Esper and Kubu, who weren’t quite ready to ride off into the sunset. They form a mercenary duo of do-gooders trying to make the galaxy a better place. They’re the good thing that happens to bad people.

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Freedom to Create

When there is no freedom, there is no creativity. ~ Soud Qbeilat

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Author Interview: Janice Hardy

As a blogger, a speaker, and an author of fiction and nonfiction, Janice Hardy is one of the busiest writing professionals in the industry. Her how-to Foundation of Fiction series focuses on novel writing with Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure as well as Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, while her Skill Builders series addresses specific problem areas for writers. She also founded Fiction University website where she encourages writers to craft their best stories (with over 1000 writing-related articles full of examples and practical applications). On the fiction front, her award-winning teen fantasy The Healing Wars trilogy was published by Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. Janice’s most recent release is Blood Ties (2018) written as J.T. Hardy with her husband Thomas on the team. This first in an urban fantasy series follows Grace Harper as she faces ancient secrets and legendary creatures to save her father and solve the puzzle of her mother’s unnatural death. In addition to the Fiction University site, you’ll find Janice on Facebook, Twitter, and her Amazon author page.


Tell us about Grace, your main character. Did she surprise you as you wrote her story? Who did you enjoy manipulating more, Grace and the good guys (like Daniel and Libby) or the antagonist and his evil minions?
Grace spent most of her life as an outsider wanting to fit in somewhere. I think most of us have felt that way at least once in our lives, so we can sympathize with wanting to belong and having a connection with someone. She also wants to help people, even though she feels she’s on the outside looking in. She’s funny, with a quirky outlook on life. Grace actually didn’t surprise me, since I spent more time than usual developing her, but Libby was a surprise. She turned out to be the breakout character, and I didn’t expect her tough exterior to be as fun as she turned out to be. All the best lines came from her, and I had such a blast writing her. Oh, I enjoyed manipulating the good guys, totally. I love doing bad things to my characters, and the more they suffer the better. My writing pals laugh at me when I cackle in glee over something horrible I just thought of to do to my characters. My personal motto: What doesn’t kill them makes them more interesting.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
Since it’s a planned series, getting enough of the foundation right so it leads to future books correctly. We (I worked on this with my husband), wanted a world that felt rich and layered, but still the real world—just with this secret layer everyone “knew” about but attributed it to something entirely different. It’s hard to be more specific without giving things away, but each book will focus on a particular supernatural being or creature, but will take the mythology or origin in a new direction.

In a recent blog post you wrote “this novel took a weird, winding path to publication.” It involved a “what if” question from your husband, making the story wait on you for years, and participating in a 30-day writing marathon through NaNoWriMo. Was this a case of writer’s block? What did it finally take for you to grab that story idea and follow the path?
Not writer’s block, just an uncertainty of what I wanted for the idea. It started as a YA novel, but it just didn’t feel right and died after about a hundred pages. I tossed that draft and rewrote it for adults, but I couldn’t quite get into the urban fantasy groove. I always loved the idea, but it took a while to figure out the plot and how this idea could be a strong story. Once the last piece clicked, the book was pretty easy to write. In hindsight, I think I was trying too hard to write an urban fantasy and not tell a story with a supernatural aspect.

This urban fantasy is a departure from The Healing Wars trilogy (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins) that brought you so much success. Why the change in target audience and genre?
It’s what the book wanted to be. I was also in need of trying something totally different at that time, so it worked out perfectly. I’m a fan of the genre, so it’s not outside my reading scope, but it was outside my writing scope. It took some time to retrain my writer’s brain to tell a story in the real world, and mix in the fantasy elements as well. It’s much easier to spin a pure fantasy tale than mix the two (at least for me).

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Blood Ties?
I got to swear (grin). Actually, it was stretching myself as a writer. It was a new genre, market, and a much stronger mystery plot than I’d ever done before, so there was a lot to learn and work out. Every market and genre has its own set of rules and tropes, and while the writing skills are all the same, how we apply them changes. I had to adapt how I approached my characters’ problem solving, how they thought, what their world views were, etc. A woman in her 20s is a very different person from a 15-year-old girl, and how they deal with problems will be different as well. Grace sounded like an angsty teen in the first draft, which did not work at all. Another aspect was working with my husband on this. I do all the writing, but he’s a major part of the story development process and the world building. It was a lot of fun to share writing a book with him.

You use the Three Act Structure with major turning points to guide your stories, but you also point the protagonist where she needs to go and then turn her loose. How do you make this hybrid of plotting and pantsing work?
I put myself in the character’s head. I have a clear goal (the plot point), and then I decide what the character will do to get that goal. This allows me to be organic and spontaneous, but still have story direction, because there’s a point to the character’s actions—she’s not just doing what I told her to do. I’m saying, “Solve this problem,” not, “Do this thing.” It’s a subtle shift in how I think about a scene, but it makes a big difference while writing, because one creates action and the other just describes action. My background is in graphic design, so I always look at it as drawing a picture:

My outline is the bare bones that encompasses the general idea of what I’m about to develop—the coloring book page of the story, if you will. How that picture is colored will change depending on how I color it. If I use markers, it’ll be bright and bold and graphic. Colored pencils will be more realistic and shaded. Watercolor will create a softer image that suggests more without being overpowering. But it’s the same outline no matter what I put in it. So if my character is big and bold, her scenes will reflect that. If she’s soft and thoughtful, how she solves her problems changes and thus the scenes change as well. How the character solves the problem is how they “color” the outline. But if I decide a picture has to be colored with markers, and I have a character who’s more of a watercolor gal, the scene suffers because the character isn’t being herself, she’s doing what I say.

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means) are the first two books in your Skill Builders Series. Out of all the problem areas writers grapple with, how did you choose the subjects for these how-to guides?
I tried to pick topics that a) allowed me to bring something new to readers, and b) many readers struggle with. For example, I’ve had so many writers tell me they finally understood “show, don’t tell” after reading my blog or taking my workshop, that I knew I had an approach that was both helpful and different. So when deciding what to do next, I look for emails and comments from writers that say “your take on X really helped me” and turn those into larger books. I can’t decide if I want to do point of view next or pacing. I adore POV, so that one will probably win.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about what a story is supposed to do?
That it’s about interesting people solving interesting problems in interesting ways. I’ve read (and written, let’s be honest) plenty of novels that essentially describe how a character does X. There’s never a sense of them figuring things out or solving a problem. It’s “Here’s how the hero kills the evil wizard” not “Here’s how the hero learns to overcome her fears and triumphs over the evil wizard by becoming better in some way.”

How do you know when you’ve taken your story as far as it should go, that it’s done (even at a sentence or scene level)?
I trust my gut. It just feels right. I don’t see anything that needs to be added or taken away, and it makes me want to read it from start to finish. I enjoy it, even if I’ve read it a hundred times already. It’s a hard skill to master and trust, because I think as writers we tend to second-guess our work. It’s hard sometimes to trust that what we’ve done is good and finished. We keep wanting to tinker.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m finishing the final few chapters of a YA fantasy. It’s a book with a long history for me, and I’m really loving how it’s finally coming together. It has a strong romance subplot, which is new for me, and that’s been a lot of fun to write. I’m also in development for the next Grace Harper book, doing my research and getting the plot worked out. I’d really love for book two to come out by the end of the year, so fingers crossed!

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All who wander are not lost.~ JRR Tolkien

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