Q: Geronimo…what made you become a writer?
A: My earliest ambition was to become a writer. It must have been my second year at school when we were encouraged to write stories and provide illustrations, so really from being taught how to pick up a pen and write, I enjoyed creating characters and settings and running with them. By the age of ten, when given writing exercises, it was not unknown for my efforts to fill a couple of exercise books/jotters. Often these tales would be extremely gory with a high body count and characters suffering particularly gruesome deaths. Naturally, parents and teachers became concerned for my psychological well-being. But I wasn’t about to let their concern worry me. In TV, film and literature, I was always drawn to the macabre. This is a theme which has persisted with me, even through moving into writing science fiction. By eighteen, I was attempting to write my first novel. More than anything, this showed me that I was lacking the requisite life experience to draw convincing narrative arcs for my characters. Also, at this stage, I hadn’t found my voice. While continuing to write shorts and beginning another novel which I knew I’d abort, I resolved to live a little, see what life threw at me and write to completion a novel for publishing by the age of forty. It may sound trite, but the idea of working towards one day being able to call myself a writer has informed many of the decisions I’ve made in life, as well as being the ruin of more than one romantic relationship along the way.
Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: Due to a recent change in my circumstances, I’m currently in the process of working out a new and productive routine. In the last year, I started suffering from hypoglycemic migraines. This means my day is now centered around eating at regular intervals. Where I used to think nothing of settling in to write for lengthy sessions, I now have to take a break every 90 minutes or so to eat something. On top of this, I have to fit in daily exercise sessions, which means I’m healthier but less productive in terms of writing. I’m a slow writer, averaging 1000-1400 words a day. I have more productive days, though these usually occur in the home stretch of a piece. When completing my novel, Fool’s Sacrifice, a final fourteen hour stint reaped a little over 5000 words and remains, largely, what you will read in the published version.
Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: I wouldn’t dream of embarking on a novel-length work without first outlining. Even if the route I’m taking changes as I write, the destination remains the same. I find it helpful to break a novel into three acts. From there, I will sub-divide each act into roughly three parts. This provides me with signposts, or reference points, as I go. It helps keep the word count on track and cuts down on time-consuming digressions too. Having definite sub-divisions also enables me to see more clearly where the narrative requires injections of pace, action, etc. For me, outlining enables an increase of depth in plotting and allows for use of foreshadowing. It probably also sets the scene for a greater number of "happy accidents" of inspiration to occur. A writer whom I greatly admire, James Ellroy, is said to produce outlines which often exceed the length of his novels. While I wouldn’t go to these lengths, it is easy to see how this extent of groundwork and preparation enable his dense plots to zip along, unfolding at pace.
Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
A: As I write quite slowly and outline extensively, I would hope to do no more than one complete revision of the text. This would usually entail fleshing out scenes by adding additional detail. Occasionally, I might find cutting a scene altogether helps with the flow, though this would be a rarity. You should definitely be prepared, though, to cut extensively within scenes. Some of what you’ve written in the first draft is you explaining to yourself how to get from A to B; that’s got to go. It all comes down to how you feel about sections and their place in the whole; how they fit. If something keeps nagging at me, I’ll go back and work on that part a little more and sleep on it. Then I’ll see how I feel about my revisions on the next read through.
Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
A: Write slowly to begin with! It does help, but it has to be the only advantage to writing at the pace of a tortoise on Mogadon. Failing that, my other tip would be to shack up with a partner who possesses an astounding vocabulary, faultless spelling, an impeccable sense of grammar and the ability to read at inhuman speed. I’m lucky in that respect.
Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: Being largely self-taught, I tend to use my own terminology when talking writing. A technique I find useful is Zoom In/Zoom Out. This serves to slow down/speed up the pace of the narrative by taking time to focus on the minutiae of a situation or, conversely, taking a step back, once removed, for an overview. How does this work? Well, if you’ve been describing breathless action for a sustained period, find a reason to give your characters pause for thought. Similarly, if the narrative has been slowed up for extended periods with a narrow focus on developments, don’t be afraid to zoom out and hit your reader with a sequence of rapid reveals. It’s Light & Shade, essentially, providing different rhythms to your prose. If you do both well, you’ll have the reader eating out of the palm of your hand and you might even leave them feeling breathless, which is something worth striving for!
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
A: Thankfully, I only get creative block in the days following a migraine. This can last for up to 3 days, but it isn’t really writer’s block; it’s more a case of being unable to fire up that part of my brain which thinks creatively. If I medicate during the onset of a migraine this usually means a swift recovery and in most cases I’m good to write again the next day. The best way to combat instances of writer’s block is just to start writing. I’ve been amazed, at times, at the quality of work which can be produced when really not feeling in the mood. If you find yourself genuinely stumped as to how to proceed with a scene/plotline, I find it helpful to write around the situation. I’ll write backstory for the characters concerned, fleshing them out in my mind. Usually, before you know it, inspiration will strike and you’ll know exactly how to progress the story.
Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
A: I’ve always enjoyed the sense of freedom inherent to science fiction. Let’s face it: Anything can happen! And frequently does! I was fortunate enough to grow up in the UK during the heyday of comics (this probably occurred 10-20 years after the heyday for the US comic scene) and was introduced to a comic called 2000 AD when I was eight or nine years old. I continued to read this particular comic religiously for the next decade. As such, you could say that it was a formative part of my youth. Many of the stories have stayed with me to this day. In Judge Dredd, I was probably shown my first anti-hero; a fascist arbiter of dystopian authoritarianism. Jonny Alpha of Strontium Dog was a cyber punk before William Gibson ever coined the term. Rogue Trooper provided a savage critique of the armed forces. Add to the mix the genius of Alan Moore, going quietly about his business of corrupting young minds in the healthiest way possible; i.e. making them think, and it all made for quite the heady brew. Unbeknownst to me, thus began my political education. It was pretty difficult to grow up during the Cold War and be oblivious to the threat of all-out nuclear war, but 2000 AD never shied away from such subject matter. Other weighty themes of the day to be depicted or lampooned within its pages included over-population, competition for resources, automization of the workplace, genetic engineering... the list goes on. Years later, when deciding upon a genre in which to try my luck, this is one thing that appealed to me; the ability to discuss weighty themes in a heightened, or hyperreal, fictional environment. And I had years of research to fall back on! I would add though, that when embarking upon writing Fool’s Sacrifice, I had only a vague notion of what constitutes cyberpunk Sci-Fi. I simply set out to tell a tale from the viewpoint of an underdog in a dystopian society who finds himself at the mercy of the pace of technological developments. The realization that I had written a cyberpunk novel came later, when starting to think of how to market the finished product.
Q: Do you utilize beta readers?
A: I haven’t so far. I’m trying to write original and innovative Sci-Fi and I don’t feel that Decision by Committee is the best way to achieve the results I’m looking for. However, if I was trying to write for the best-seller market, then I definitely would.
Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?
A: Fool’s Sacrifice was intended as a wild, wild ride with many opportunities for me to let my imagination run free, so picking one scene out of the full-throttle craziness of it all is hard. The entire middle section is episodic and fantastical and was a lot of fun to write; at that time I would write in 8-10 hour sessions through the night and there were often occasions where I would wind up finishing at 4 a.m., buzzing from the thrill and amazement at what I’d just produced, such that I would lay in bed unable to sleep for hours because my heart was racing so fast. Many of these sessions, by their very nature, have seemed to blur into one. Because of this, if I was pushed to pick a scene, I’d have to choose writing the climax of the novel which I remember much more vividly. Why did I enjoy writing this scene so much...? It was a scene which I’d had in mind for the duration of the novel, without ever quite pinning down how it would be executed and it was just a real thrill experiencing how all of the elements of a dense and winding plot came together before my eyes. I thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew, but, when the going got tough, I was able to take it to another level. I guess you could say that I even surprised myself - which is a great feeling. That session wound up as a finish from a start. I sank a few celebratory beers afterwards and now, whenever I drink the same beer, I smack my lips at the taste of victory. Henceforth, that beer; McGrath’s No 2, is known to me as the Breakfast of Champions!
Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
A: Aside from being an underdog, my MC in Fool’s Sacrifice, Lee Lazarus, aka G-Boy, aka Brother Gnome, aka Dominion’s Most Wanted, is as stubborn as they come. Despite his perilous circumstances, he refuses help until it is thrust upon him, believing he can scope the game on his own and without putting his trust in anyone. His arrogance and naivety lead him, however, into a rash of bad judgement calls and it’s a good thing there are people looking out for him. So, he has a lot to learn, but, valuing his independence, he isn’t going to learn those lessons easily. And therein lays the fun of it all. Lee Lazarus is a cocksure kid flung into a nightmare scenario and he deals with it by employing the sort of gallows humor you’d expect from someone who’s a product of the tough Dominion underworld. Oh, and did I mention that he’s also a flying, car-stealing, graffiti artist of the future?
I have Lee teamed up with a strong female lead, another young car thief called Spider. She’s one tough cookie, even more of a closed book than Lee, but that’s the nature of the Skidz, as the auto theft trade is known; they keep it on a need-to-know basis. Spider is the tech wiz and seems as sharp as a razor, forcing Lee to question much of what he takes for granted. How does Spider know so much about the state of play...? Well, that would be telling... One thing is for sure; Spider can mix it with the best of them.
Zoot is their gangland boss; part man, part machine following the accident where he was hung out to fry on the perimeter fencing at the Yeltsin. The dude is a genius and he provides, but can he be trusted...? Could it be that he has compromising links to shadowy organizations? Might those shadowy organizations include the most clandestine of them all, the elusive group known only as the Long Hedz Inc., the Inc. being for Incommunicado...? Need I say more?
Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: I haven’t cracked it yet, so I’m still at the stage of taking advice rather than giving it. Not having a complete aversion to using Facebook (as I do) would probably help. But I’m not yet at the stage where I’m willing to dance with the devil. Consider every option available to you; some are more worthy of your time than others. Be wary of the sharks out there: there are plenty of opportunities to throw money at self-promotion with questionable returns; if in doubt about a particular avenue for promotion, join a forum for indie authors of your genre and run it by the experienced types you find there; the advice you receive might prove invaluable. Be prepared to spend many hours and for it to be a slow burn before you see any traction in sales. [If you] get discouraged – because you will - try not to stay discouraged for long. Indie authors who become an instant smash are but a tiny percentage of the many who eventually achieve some success. For most, it takes years of plugging away, growing your back catalog and building brand awareness. This is where I’m at currently and I hope that taking time to do author interviews and the like, such as this, will help. It’s a long road, but a better road for it being one you chose to travel.
Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?
A: I’m lucky, in that I haven’t received any thus far. That is simply because I haven’t received a great many reviews as yet. I’m sure I’ll receive my fair share, given time. The best thing to do with negative reviews, I imagine, is to take them on the chin. Under no circumstances should you respond and become embroiled in a slanging match. How easy it is to manage this restraint, though, remains to be seen.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s that nobody tells you what to do...
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: The marketing side doesn’t come easy, but I’m learning to have fun with it. I’ll let you know when I get there! My main bone of contention with it is that it takes up time that could be used for writing. Now you’ve heard that from me and every other writer! On the plus side, it helps your work reach a wider audience. This is obvious, but you do need to keep reminding yourself of it from time to time.
Q: What is your current writing project?
A: I’ve just started writing the first draft of the next novel in the Dominion City Blues Series. This picks up where Fool’s Sacrifice ended, but from a different character’s perspective. I’m hoping to complete that by around November and whip it into shape for publication early 2016. At the same time, I’m writing a horror short which will also be set in
, to enter into Halloweenpalooza. This event
is run by Wendy Potocki throughout
the month of October, featuring a different author for every day of the month.
Wendy just happens to be a distant relative of the author of one of my
favorite novels of all time (listed below). I can’t say I really know her,
other than that this is one of the happy accidents that occur in the Twitterverse. There are three accompanying novellas to Fool’s Sacrifice in the
Dominion City Blues series which fill out the back stories of characters found
in Fool’s Sacrifice and the horror short I intend to write will spin-off from
one of the novellas, Zoot’s
Roots. Dominion City
Q: What are three of your favorite novels?
A: In terms of Science Fiction – Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1956). I’m a fan of classic era sci-fi and this is a book which stands the test of time rather well. We join the hero/anti-hero, Gully Foyle, as he’s floating in space, clinging to the wreck of his ship and on the brink of death hoping to be rescued. The experience has sent Foyle to the brink of insanity; all he remembers is the name of the ship responsible for his predicament, Vorga, and his lust for revenge is all that keeps him alive. But the intensity of his desire for vengeance warps his character beyond all limits of decency; he really will go to any lengths to gain his satisfaction – The Count of Monte Cristo has nothing on Gully Foyle! Apart from an astonishing MC, what Bester has achieved here is to create a real page-turner with a thoroughly modern feel. The author is an expert at crafting scene and setting with impressive economy, so that many of the set-pieces will stay with you long after you’ve put the book down. Once Bester has introduced his main concept and MacGuffin, you’re off, being dragged along with Foyle on his quest for vengeance at breakneck speed and the pace after that never drags. Some of the character’s names seem a little improbable by today’s standards, but I’ve a feeling people will still be enjoying this story fifty, one hundred years from now. Aside from the opener with Foyle floating in space, a scene which sticks with me is a break-out from a fiendishly ingenious prison – the culmination of that particular chapter is a joy to behold! Give this beauty a whirl... it’s a real headspin with a satisfying and amazing conclusion.
Umberto Eco, Baudolino (2000). I’d read anything by Umberto Eco, in my eyes, the world’s greatest living novelist. He’s one of the few authors I trust to take the conceit of the Unreliable Narrator and make with it something worth reading. Many have tried and many have failed. The problem I have with unreliable narrators is that, unless the author has a definite idea where they are going with the concept, plots meticulously and sticks to the plan, things can unravel quite quickly. Then, you’re left with something that’s as worthwhile reading as a story which ends... it was all a dream. However, with Eco at the helm, you’re in for a treat. The story begins in 1204, during the sacking of
Constantinople by the Knights of the Fourth
Crusade. Our hero, Baudolino, a self-confessed teller of tall tales who seems
to have led the most incredible life, is ready to recount his life’s story and
who better to tell it to than a famed Byzantine historian? The tale he proceeds
to weave tells of many adventures in the court and retinue of the Great. These include:
seducing and falling in love with Frederick ’s wife, the Empress Beatrice;
being educated in Frederick where he gains the friendship of
a number of historical figures; embarking on a great quest to far-flung lands
known only in myth and legends. Along the way, he finds, loses, and finds again
the Holy Grail, before realizing it possesses only the power of all holy
relics, that of a symbol. With an author as erudite as Eco, you learn a fair
amount as you go and you also learn to question what you learn. This story is a
thoroughly modern takedown of religion and all forms of authority, in the guise
of the oldest form; that of the autobiographical account. Plus, it comes filled
with humor and all manner of mythological beasts! Paris
Jan Potocki, The Manuscript Found in
(1847). This novel is a mystery
locked up inside an enigma. First published over thirty years after the
author’s death in mysterious circumstances, the work was compiled from
collected manuscripts and translated into Polish from the original French
composed by Potocki. The original manuscripts having since been lost, we will
never know if we are reading the tale as intended to be told by the author. This
seems fitting given the nature of the text. The story is presented as a found
thing: a document detailing the adventures of Alphonse van Worden, an officer
of the Walloon Guards, as he journeys through the mountains of the Sierra
Morena in 18th-century Saragossa . Van Worden’s account begins
with an overnight stay in a purportedly haunted taverna where he is visited upon by two Moorish princesses, before
waking the following morning underneath a gallows some distance away and
beneath the corpses of two hanged bandits. This is just the beginning of the
strangeness. Over the course of the next sixty-six days, van Worden recounts
the tale of the people he encounters, including gypsy thieves, noblemen,
cabbalists and mathematicians, and the tales told to him by this varied bunch
of raconteurs. This multi-layered narrative blends the gothic, the romantic,
the picaresque and is a celebration of the oral tradition. It invokes the
debates over science versus religion, passion versus reason, liberty versus
social order, and marrying for love over marrying to improve one’s social
status. This book deserves more recognition as a classic of its time that was
way ahead of its time. The breadth of Potocki’s ambition is awe-inspiring. Spain
Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?
A: At the risk of sounding weird, I suppose it would have to be a naked lunch with William S. Burroughs, though how happy he’d be at being summonsed back from the dead by me is anyone’s guess. I’d ask him about his views on the relationship between art and magic; whether death had in any way altered his thinking on the predestination of our universe; and I’d also ask him how he was enjoying his immortality. And I’d hope that he was in a good mood, or I might be in trouble...
Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
A: With the writing process there are no rules. In how you go about it and what you put on the page, you have complete free reign. There are a great many people out there giving advice, much of it conflicting, and trying to make out they know the do’s and don’ts, but at the end of the day you need to trust your instincts and do what feels right for you. The clue is in the name: novels should possess an element of novelty. Read widely and pay attention to how different authors achieve their desired effects. This piece of advice is often given, but you can’t go wrong with it because the conclusions you draw are your own. On a personal note, I would also say to avoid writing courses/classes like the plague. You don’t need them and they could slow rather than speed your development. Write, write some more, persist with it and keep hold of your efforts, however embarrassing they are, so that you can refer back to them and see how much you’ve improved over the years. Enjoy the learning curve...
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A: I paraphrase: “It takes a thousand little failures to create success...”
Alternatively, here’s one of my own, an excerpt from Fool’s Sacrifice: “The best way to know the truth is not to look it in the face. You must go right round, behind the truth and look instead through its eyes; then, you will know if it is the truth it claims to be...”
No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about trying to live the Hollywood dream...
Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen by Jim Vines
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