Q: Ellison...what made you become a writer?
A: Since the age of 17, apart from papers for school—which were research papers and lab reports mainly for my biology major—I wrote only as a means of personal expression and reflection (journaling). When I started working, I wrote several application user manuals and this was the extent of my “public” writings. And yet all the while, ironically, I was an avid reader of fiction, but never considered creative writing. Much later because of this love of reading fiction, I went back to school for an English Literature degree and although studying literature isn’t nearly the same as creative writing, something sparked in me. My own writing started to include short stories and poetry (but again I kept the imaginative scribbles to myself with the exception of one or two pieces published in a college literary magazine). In my mind, I became a writer when an idea developed into something I wanted to share, at least, maybe with friends. At the very beginning when I started writing Regeneration X, I wasn’t even cognitive of it becoming a novel. The characters just took over and it evolved into a ninety-thousand-word story.
Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: I’m a web developer by day but usually squeeze in snippets and notes during lunchtime. Most of my writing occurs after “work” and lasts into the wee hours of the morning. Some days I am able to write a thousand words; on others, I ramble out a page or two. There isn’t enough time in the day. I make it happen because now it’s a passion. Before I began this adventure I looked forward to weekends to relax or have fun away from my computer. Now, I anticipate those two days for the hours I can dedicate to typing away.
Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: No. The extent of my preplanning is an incomplete bulleted list of main story elements. Typically, I jot down random ideas as I think of them and work them into the story if I can. My style is more free flow; outlining just doesn’t work for me in the same way it once did when non-fiction papers and manuals with rigid rules and structure. With creative writing, I find outlines more restricting than helpful.
Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
A: I’m constantly revising since I often go back to read what I’ve written for a reminder and transition. By the time I reach the end of the story, it’s hard to say how many times I’ve already revised it. For example, after thirty or so partial files I have saved for my novel, I have over ten more draft copies of the same book containing all thirty plus chapters. There had to have been something different among them to warrant that. Final revisions to my completed manuscript happen after readers and an editor have taken a look and that is probably three more times.
Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
A: For proofreading, I recommend reading aloud so you can hear repetitions, word choice, sentence structure, pauses, and all the jazz that is easy to miss otherwise, especially if you’ve read over your work a number of times in silence. When it comes to actual editing, my best advice is to read the entire work through and if you make a major revision to a chapter or section, start editing again from the beginning. It’s a tedious process and not my favorite part, but it’s worth it. Then have at least one person who doesn’t already know the story read it. This is important since fresh eyes won’t skip over something that catches him/her up, whereas a familiar reader will “know” what you were trying to say. A gloss-over of something that could be unclear to an unfamiliar reader is easier to fix before your manuscript reaches the final stage.
Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: It’s a little scary when you see it, but I turn on all Grammar and Spelling rules in MS Word after I’ve written the complete first draft. Of course, I do not rely on nor would I suggest that the software catches every issue or should take the place of a real person. The squiggly underlines just help draw my attention to problem areas—making me notice individual sentences and words instead of them just being lines in blocks of text.
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
A: Not yet, but I try to write at least a sentence per day. I know that sounds as though each novel would take 2-3 years to write, but usually one sentence usually leads to another. It’s not about the number of words, it’s about getting into the flow and when the words start flowing they add up fast. Also, I’m not writing in my work-in-progress for long periods every day. For one, there’s my day job and then I might journal, write teasers, a blog post, work on the blurb, cover artwork, or marketing, i.e., stepping away, so to speak, from main piece helps too, I think.
Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
A: To me the saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side”—whether that’s a place or a stance in a debate—is always relative and dependent on time. In that respect, I’m halved in the way my mind works. I tend to see the past in a vibrant shade of green and the future is the many colors of my imagination (while present reality is tinged paler by comparison). Thus, Science Fiction allows me to be a part of a world of my own making, and one that incorporates everything. My chosen genre is also Metaphysical and Visionary fiction. The transcendental aspects of my stories give me hope while keeping me mindful of the real world. I hope the same inspiration for my readers. That said, genre lines are blurry especially as nowadays readers have become a genre. For example the books that make up the Regeneration Chronicles have multi-generational characters and could be categorized in a variety of ways—Science / Medical / Visionary and Metaphysical / Contemporary / Psychological / Women’s / Young Adult Fiction. In the series, there is also a touch of urban fantasy—without the supernatural aspect—and a visionary young adult slant, for the philosophical teenager.
Q: Do you utilize beta readers?
A: For Regeneration X I did, but not because I knew what a beta-read was or what the role meant. I asked family and friends and then before publishing my official editor was my unofficial beta reader. Going forward, yes, beta readers will definitely be a part of the process. Actually, Progeny is with two beta readers now.
Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?
A: The medical criteria for the concept I introduced in Regeneration X was particularly enjoyable. It was a challenge to make the process plausible and at the same time fantastic enough that I could build from it a full-fledged novel and series. Each new invention in my slightly futuristic first book was equally fun. The second book goes deeper and farther away from our current reality on planet Earth.
Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
A: Charlotte Rhys is unique and yet an everywoman, young or not (I won’t say "old" because there’s a long span between youth and old age). Charley is a revolutionary, but she doesn’t quite know it. In a way, she also becomes a contradiction to the personal philosophy she’s practiced her whole life.
Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: I’ve recently become aware of the fact that social media does not sell books, but it is very helpful in building, understanding, and forming a relationship with your audience. In my early days as an author—and I’m still a newbie so it just goes to show how fast you learn—I wasted a lot of time on social media. Then, I discovered management platforms like Hootsuite and Buffer. The second piece of advice is for soon-to-be authors: establish an online presence before publishing. I didn’t have one and marketing is so much tougher when you’re just a dot with no extension.
Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?
A: If it’s something I can fix such as outright errors in the work itself, I will make the best effort to remedy that. Still, it would have to be a lot of errors since I don’t just throw my book into the marketplace unchecked. Otherwise, if it were a lack of interest review I’d chalk it up as a reader lost and call it a bad day, since not everyone will be a fan of my writing. I haven’t received a negative review as of yet. So, I’m sure not taking it personally is easier said than done.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: Complete control; I don’t just mean creative license. I can tell my story, my way, in my time. I’d thought a lot about going the traditional publishing route. The thing that prevented me from sending out a hundred query letters was I knew that when I was ready to publish, the book still wouldn’t be available to my readers for another 1-2 years and that would be after it was picked up. As an Indie publisher when you submit your book, it’s out there within days and that is awesome!
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: I detest the amount of time it takes for marketing and how much "trial by error" the efforts are. It keeps me from writing. Self-publishing has grown so dramatically, I imagine in the near future Indie Authors will be able to share royalties with an Indie Author Publicist. Not all or even most Indie Authors have up-front funds to pay for publicity and a cut of royalties would be a good measure of effective (or not) marketing after sales.
Q: What is your current writing project?
A: Book two of the Regeneration Chronicles, entitled Progeny.
Q: What are three of your favorite novels?
A: While you’re asking simply for “three of” my favorites, this question is still tricky. When I think of three, I think of three more, turning the question into, “What are three of your all-time favorite novels?” And what reader can answer that without second-guessing her answer? Here are three of my all-time favorite books:
North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
The Painted Veil, Somerset Maugham
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodson Burnett
Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?
A: It would depend on who answers my invitation and from how far in the beyond. As a writer, I’d want to lunch with Michael Crichton. Among discussions of time travel and general science fiction, an in-depth talk about the plausibility of fictional medical concepts would surely further my enlightenment. As a fan: William Shakespeare—although I’m not sure he’s considered a novelist. We’d discuss his personal interpretations of his own many works of creative writing. Given we analyze his words now without any first-hand experience of the environment that influenced him; lunch with the bard would be an amazing history lesson besides being surreal.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
A: There a difference between those who are supportive and those who give you validation (you will crave) as a writer. Know that each remark of praise from a stranger feels completely and wonderfully different from your best friend’s excitement when you first publish your work of art. For fiction, my advice is to take pride in your voice and tell the best story you possibly can from the beginning. In other words, don’t rush an unrefined story. Once you’re happy with it, it won’t matter if the reader is a friend, family member, stranger, or yourself. Everyone will know it’s a good story when they read it and the praise coming your way won’t just be for having completed the arduous act of writing a book. I understand different people have different reason for writing: passion, expression, income, one or more of the previous, but the writer who write for the sake of publishing disappear when their audience loses interest.
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” —Carl Sagan.
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