Speculative fiction author M. Pax is a self-professed workaholic with a dozen published novels and numerous short story collections. Her seven-book space opera series, The Backworlds, takes readers to a universe where bio-engineered humans survive on different planets and the humble become heroes. The Tracer (2018) is the newest release in The Rifters world, an urban fantasy series that follows a band of protectors who fight monsters released through rifts in a rural Oregon town. Visit Mary’s informative website at MPaxAuthor.com for a free starter library. You’ll also find her on her Amazon author page and on Facebook, Twitter (@mpax1), and Pinterest.
The Tracer (2018) is the fourth book in The Rifters series. What are the challenges of writing a series? What do you focus on to keep readers coming back for more?
The biggest challenge to writing a series is keeping the details consistent from book to book. The big concepts are easy to remember, it’s keeping track of the tiny details that can be a struggle. The other challenge is to end each book with a proper ending, yet leave questions unanswered that will springboard the next book in the series. I focus on unfolding the plot so the conflict and story grow larger in each book. The characters grow, the plot grows, and I unravel threads from earlier books. The story has to remain familiar while introducing something new.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for The Rifters books?
I spent a lot of time researching Black Bart trying to get into his head. Creating the town of Settler took some work, too. I found the perfect town as a model, but it was in the wrong place. So I moved the town to where I wanted it and renamed it. Bart, the research, and creating the world and the characters were pure fun for me and labors of love. Oregon inspired a lot of what went into The Rifters.
You’re now working on book 8 (Endpoint) in The Backworlds books. What is it about this series that keeps inspiring you to continue? How far ahead have you plotted the storyline?
My fans inspire me, and the setting inspires me. The Backworlds is rich in history, planets, and people. There’s a lot to explore. I enjoy standing on Elstwhere (in my mind) and looking out at the slice of the galaxy I created. The Backworlds is in the same arm of the Milky Way as Earth. Humans haven’t traveled too far from home yet, and I bioengineered them to survive on the different planets instead of terraforming the planets. Then I asked myself: What else is out there? I love the cast I created and planned the series to where it is now. I know how it will end. The major plot points have been set since the initial planning. How I get there is what happens when I’m writing and is a thrill. This story arc ends with book 8.
The main character in Backworlds is Craze, a likeable guy who never seems to catch a break for long. How did you create and develop his character?
I like stories about regular people who are dealt a bad hand in life and fight to find ways to cope and be happy. It’s a theme I return to again and again. Craze was created to be a reflection of the regular person. He doesn’t always make the right choices and is shoved into being the hero. His dreams and desires change over the course of the series as he encounters different worlds, people, aliens, and war. He’s definitely fun to write.
Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters? What is it about your protagonists that make readers connect with them?
I’ve never been a bartender on another planet, but I wouldn’t mind the job if it came up. My idea of happiness and success have changed over time like Craze’s. I’m tenacious like a lot of my characters, and I keep searching for ways to enjoy life as it comes. My characters are always regular people with regular challenges. Then some extraordinary challenges come up, which help them with the smaller problems. They overcome and find ways to cope. I think we’re all searching for how to carry on when facing the stresses of life.
If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to be involved with?
Sharknado. I’d love to be eaten by a shark, and I have a secret dream of writing a B science fiction movie for the Syfy channel. Maybe a rabid herd of dishwashers or something.
You’ve published almost two dozen short stories (available separately, in anthologies, and in your own collections). What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
I wrote two series (never published) and had proven to myself I could finish a novel. The short story allows me to hone skills at a faster rate. Submitting the short stories and gaining feedback from editors was crucial in my growth as a writer. Between novels, I usually read books on the craft of writing and work at applying new skills to my craft. The short story allows me to practice more quickly. The more I practice, the quicker the new skill becomes a habit.
When did you know you were a writer?
I’ve always been a writer. I spent my childhood lost in my imagination and in the stories I read. My favorite past time was daydreaming about living in a favorite story: Winnie-the-Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Pippi Longstocking. I wrote my first story in grade school. When my dad asked what I was interested in doing with my life (I think I was 10 years old), I said a writer or a horse trainer. Horses aren’t part of my life anymore, but I’m still a sap for a story about a horse. The writing never stopped. No matter what I was doing, I was also trying to figure out how I could write. I could barely afford to eat when I lived in New York City, but I found the money to buy a typewriter. Writing is part of how I’m wired. I have to do it. I love walking around in my imaginary worlds and poking at the corners to see what else I can find.
What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Three things put me on the road to writing and publishing. 1) I was very lost and unsure what to do with myself at a certain point. My mother said, “You were always good at writing, write me something.” So, I started writing every day. That’s when I wrote those two series I never published (not ready for prime time). 2) When I was writing and submitting short stories, I received a great rejection from a top science fiction magazine; a full page of what was great about what I had written and what needed fixing. That short story was “Stopover at the Backworlds Edge,” which became the opening scene in the second Backworlds book. 3) About that same time, I met author Lindsay Buroker online who encouraged me to start publishing as an indie. I’m really glad she talked me into sharing my writing with the world. I love being an author.
What writing projects are you working on now?
Besides outlining Endpoint (Backworlds #8), I’m editing Spaceberg (the first in my Squad 51 series) to release later this spring. I’m also working on the sequel to Spaceberg, called Space Trash. When that’s done, I’ll start on the third in that series. Last, but not least, I’m working on a collaborative project with a group of authors. My goal for the future is to finish The Backworlds, The Rifters, and The Hetty Locklear series.