Author Self-Interview

Okay, so I stole these questions from Pat Bertram, to answer on my own site… so it’s only partially a self-interview. I’m pretty much too shy to actually do interviews, but answering questionnaires, that I can do! Of course, I could have then sent my answers to Pat & pretended she’d interviewed me, but I’m almost too shy to actually make contact with people – I mostly keep to myself, these days. So… instead I’m just posting it here. Because so many of the questions assume I’ve only got one book to talk about (though really, I’m putting my 15th book out this month, along with paper-book re-issues for the entire Untrue Tales… series, and I just launched a Kickstarter project for yet another book), I’ve selected … the entire Untrue Tales series as “my book” for the purposes of this “interview.” Also, Pat suggests answering 10 or 15 of the questions, and I’ve answered every one. That’s 46 questions, and this post is over 4300 words. Enjoy.

  1. What is your book about? I never know how to answer this question about my books, and that failure is probably the biggest reason my book sales are consistently slow and low. If I had to answer, without going into great length, I’d say perhaps that the Untrue Tales series is about watching reality unfold around you and the uselessness of trying to control anything. Ask me again in a week/month/year and I’ll probably have a different answer.
  2. How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story? Ooh, this is a good question, for this series. I actually started “working on” what became the Untrue Trilogies over twenty years ago. All through my youth (I can’t be sure when it started, but perhaps age 10 or 12?) I was a storyteller, often with myself at the heart of the stories. Rather than writing my stories down, I practiced oral storytelling, and I told my stories as though they were true stories about my life – and believe me that trying to tell the story of how I accidentally bested Satan at age 12 and was forced to take over the day-to-day operation of Hell in a realistic and convincing way was a learning experience. All the basic threads of story which ended up in the Untrue Trilogies (and quite a few which didn’t) were part of these overlapping narratives I developed primarily during my high school years (roughly age 12-16), which I then adapted into a new story, not about me, beginning in 2004.
  3. What inspired you to write this particular story? I guess I partly answered this, but the development of these stories was in large part an attempt to gather people’s attention. Prior to high school I had been largely an outcast and picked on to the point that it got me kicked out of school (you can read a modified/compressed/fictionalized account of this, buried in my first novel, Lost and Not Found), and when I finally got back into school, a new school, I was determined to do things differently. Developing these stories, largely in collaboration with the friends I was making, seemed to help cement my role in several social circles. Years and years later, after I’d written a couple of novels, I decided to try to resurrect those stories, rather than allow them to be forgotten, and thus began the seed that led to these six books.
  4. How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book? Around the time I wrote Untrue Tales… Book One I was likely to be heard saying that all the characters in all my books are me, and that’s still true, in some ways. Without giving away the ending of the last book, I’ll say that there’s quite a lot of me in Trev.
  5. Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why? My favorite character? Is it cheating to say it was my daughter? Err… Trev’s daughter, Neyal’h… Except, she almost isn’t in these books at all. She’s practically peripheral, the entire journey, despite being central to all the action in most of the books. Why is she my favorite? Don’t you love your daughter? … If you check with me here in “reality” I don’t even have a daughter, so I suppose this answer doesn’t make sense. But if you’d read the stories I was writing, all the way back to when I began writing stories, you’ll find her there. Maybe someday I’ll re-release an updated version of The Vintage Collection (everything I wrote as a teen, which I’d made available in paperback for a few years), and you can see for yourself.
  6. Who is your most unusual/most likeable character? My most unusual/likeable character? Probably Maheu’le. I can’t even accurately describe him, and had a hard time expressing his true physicality in Books Five and Six, and I certainly didn’t get his voice right in the audio versions. (That might be a spoiler, but only if you’ve read through Book Two but not started Book Five.) He’s some sort of giant, psychic monster, but friendly, helpful, and a good teacher, too. There’s a level of relationship with Ms. Charming implied at the end of the series that I can’t even imagine the specifics of… you’d have to ask them about it yourself, I suppose.
  7. How long did it take you to write your book? This is a tricky one, but I’ll try to be brief (You can go back through the blog and find more detailed explanations for most of these): Book One: 2 weeks (NaNoWriMo 2004), Book Two: ~3 weeks (~Feb. 2005), Book Three: a weekend, an afternoon, and a day (Labor Day Weekend 2005, and a day & a half about a year later), Book Four: ~11 weeks, less than half actually writing (7/2010-10/2010), Book Five: 33 days (10/2010-11/2010), Book Six: 1/2 in one long day, the rest over a couple weeks a couple of months later (11/2010-2/2011). I write in bursts of activity, often writing 5k-25k words in a single, long sitting, usually at a coffee shop (usually my local Starbucks), so when it says “months” it means a few days here and a few days there and a lot of thinking without writing a single word in between.
  8. How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it? For this series? All of it, and almost none of it, at once. What do you mean by story? How can I put this? I know the story in much the same way you remember something that happened to you long ago, but for most of the books in the series I didn’t make any effort to plan out how they would be written; I just set down at a computer and let the words flow out in a torrent. Often I’d read the sentence I’d just written and find myself laughing, surprised, or worse, and I almost never knew what was going to come next until the words were already on the page. On the other hand, I had all the “plot points” and “twists” and “reveals” mapped out / known years before I ever tried to turn them into a series of novels.
  9. Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.) When I wrote the First Untrue Trilogy, I was decidedly against what I thought ‘research’ meant, and wrote by the seat of my pants and the ideas in my head … except that I also did a lot of research that I didn’t think of as research, just looking up information, words, facts, figures, locations, et cetera online while I raced through the writing. So when they’re discussing the physical characteristics of Hell, all that math is accurate, and correlates accurately to the description of ‘the pit’ in Book One, for example, and so is everything in the sex scene in Book Three. In the years between writing the first trilogy and the Second Untrue Trilogy, my attitude toward research had shifted a bit, and I didn’t shy away from blatantly brushing up on the math and science surrounding relativistic travel, nanotechnology, black holes, information systems, et cetera, so that while building a totally fictional and wrong world, I could do so with a basis in sound science.
  10. How do you develop and differentiate your characters? For the Untrue Trilogies, that’s difficult to answer; to me, most of these are characters who have been with me for decades, they’re like real people I recall. Come to think of it, almost all the characters in all my books feel that way; not like “characters I develop and differentiate,” but like people who are already differentiated and it’s my job to try to describe what’s already there, to show who they are through what they say and do.
  11. Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track? For the final two books of the series, I was crunching to get the story ended and a lot of ground covered -I’d originally (back in 2004) mapped the Untrue Tales… out to at least 7 books, and potentially up to 11 books, just for the part of Trev’s story I’ve squeezed into 6- so I did a fairly heavy amount of outlining from about halfway through Book Five, on, to be sure I’d hit the pacing and plot targets I needed to. Having moved from writing purely-for-paper to a serialized-audiobook mindset in the years between Book Three and Book Four also meant I was chunking the story into half-hour-long ‘episodes’ as I wrote it, and the outlines reflected that structure. The decision to try to keep all six books within about a thousands words’ length of one another also helped keep everything moving forward and toward impending conclusion. (Unlike, you may have noticed, this interview/post.)
  12. How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story? For the Untrue Tales… books, it all started with NaNoWriMo, so the 50,000-word goal was how I sized-up the first couple; I’d actually intended to write Book One and Book Two back to back during November, doubling the goal to 100,000 words, and I finished Book One on the 14th, wrote 1 more sentence, and then … failed to come up with any more words until the next year. When I wrote Book Two, the length goal stuck, and after that it was a pattern.
  13. What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story? Shit, I knew I was forgetting something. Uhh… Let’s make something up after the fact, alright? How about… Question everything? Or: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?
  14. Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp? Yes, but since, in over 6 years of people reading and listening to these books, not a single one has expressed any awareness of it, let’s just pretend it isn’t there. (Hint: The entire thing was supposed to be a subtle satire of everything I hate about popular fiction, but most people just take it at face value as pop fiction, and don’t notice the extremes I’ve taken some of the elements to.)
  15. What challenges did you face as you wrote this book? The biggest challenges I faced were that, after beginning the series I had a change of heart and decided that these aren’t the sort of books I want to be writing at all, not even to try to show what’s wrong with these sorts of books, and then (after Dragons’ Truth, my worst book ever) they became my most popular books, and the majority of contact I’ve received from readers has been “when will you write more Untrue Tales?” I didn’t want to write more. That’s the biggest part of why I never returned to the series, and it’s been a huge challenge to write Books 4-6. If/when you notice a significant change in tone and character of writing between the First and Second Untrue Trilogies, this is why: If I’d been required to write three (or more) books like the first three Untrue Tales… books, they would never have been written.
  16. What was the most difficult part about writing the book? Starting again. See above.
  17. Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so? Nah. Not yet, anyway.
  18. What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book? So much. I wrote my first “real” book in 2002. I was single, still looking for work in computers, my paternal grandparents were still alive… right after I wrote that book I moved 100 miles to live with my grandparents and help them in their declining health, and it was in that year (before my grandmother’s death) that I first had the time to work on my art and writing nearly full-time. In 2004 I moved back to Phoenix, took a day job, fell in love again, and wrote Book One. 2004 through 2007 were a rollercoaster of life experience and emotions (I’ll almost certainly write about a lot of it if/when my book about writing/publishing happens) culminating in my getting married 12/1/2007. In March, 2008 I left my day job and returned to being a nearly-full-time creative (I’m also a househusband, an equally important job), and I’ve been at it ever since. How has my life changed? Tremendously, and for the better.
  19. How has your background influenced your writing? Have you finished reading Book Six yet? No? Let me just say: Significantly.
  20. How does your environment/upbringing color your writing? Less than I’d like, more than I’d like to admit.
  21. What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day? Partially answered above, largely answered in Time, emiT, and Time Again: What schedule? I can go months or years at a time without writing any new stories, then suddenly write a book in a few days or weeks. Writing “a certain amount each day” kills me. Yech. I write what I’m interested in writing, when I’m in the mood.
  22. Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write? Not rituals, per se. I do like to have a clean work area, though I’m not beholden to the idea, so sometimes I’ll take a bit of time before trying to write to clean. When I do, I’ll clean not just the work area, but often several rooms. Somehow, knowing the toilets and sink are clean and the floors are vacuumed can make it easier for the words to flow. Alternatively: I leave the house altogether, and write where someone else is paid to keep things tidy.
  23. Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day? If by time, you mean ‘quiet,’ then yes. I like to write at the quiet times. Not just literal, physical quiet, but mental quiet. An active mind in the next room can, at times, be too noisy for me to get any creative work done. Depending on when my family members are working, that sometimes means I have all day to write and it sometimes means I have only the night to write. I’m writing this at night, for example. During the summer (my wife is a teacher), I often only have the hours she’s asleep.
  24. Do you have a favorite snack food or favorite beverage that you enjoy while you write? Several. Most of the drinks are caffeinated. Mountain Dew. Mostly Diet, since I can easily drink 2-4litres/day. At Starbucks, depending on budget (both money and calories), it ranges from a Grande Nonfat Mocha with Sugar-Free Vanilla to a Venti Breve Black&White (full pumps of both) with Vanilla & whip… or all the way down to a Venti Passion Tea sweetend with (a lot of) Splenda. Basically: sweet, sweet, sweet. And when I can, high-fat, high-sugar, highly-caffeinated, and usually hot.
  25. What are you working on right now? Several things. I’ve got a Kickstarter fundraiser running to maybe do a book of my experiences writing and publishing. I’ve been working on plans for what I’m calling a vampire duology; two books, one which sees the vampire-laden SciFi world as a Utopia and the other which sees the same world as a Dystopia, and each of which is (hopefully) fully convinced and convincing that its view is correct. Plus, I’ve been researching (off and on since NaNoWriMo ’09) for a series of books in an alternate history universe where, rather than the flu, there’s a zombie outbreak in 1918, and I’ve got at least 3 books planned for it, spanning 60+ years and at least 5 genres… but I really want to do a good job on the historical & medical aspects, plus I need more time to work out my concepts for ‘SolarPunk’ that will form a foundation for at least one of the books (and the world from that point forward). And I get new ideas all the time.
  26. Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader? Yes. Readers who like to think. Like: If you spend time sitting in silence, thinking, for hours or days at a time, and you like doing it and like that you do it, you’re who I’m thinking of. If people tell you you ‘think too much’ and your initial response (at least in your mind) is that there’s no such thing as too much thinking, you’re who I’m thinking of. If you’ve been accused of ‘overthinking,’ especially books, then please, read my books. Think about them. Overthink them. I have a feeling that someday there will be a few people who, upon overthinking my books, finally begin to see what I was thinking about in the first place.
  27. What was the first story you remember writing? When I was 5 or 6, I wrote a SciFi story about a time traveller who encountered giant, sentient food in the future which was really quite glad to be able to solve its overpopulation problem and the past’s global hunger problems by making use of his accidental time machine. No, really. There were illustrations, including at least one giant donut with arms, legs, and a face. It may not have been the first story I wrote, but it’s certainly stuck in my mind.
  28. What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process? Writing copy. More generally: marketing, promotion. I was simply not made for Marketing. Almost all marketing feels like lying to me, which I can’t stand to do. I’d rather no one ever read my books than that I put out dishonest, manipulative marketing copy.
  29. What is the easiest part of the writing process? Coming up with and writing the stories, themselves. Sitting down is hard, but once I’ve sat down, sitting there letting the words flow out can be amazing.
  30. Does writing come easy for you? Often. Not always; it depends on a lot of factors. Generally, if I can get a block of time set aside for writing and actually get myself to sit down to write, the writing comes easily.
  31. What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer? Learning (years ago, now, before I even officially started Modern Evil Press) the realities of the publishing industry. The terrible economics. The low numbers most books ever move. The insane number of books pulped every year. Most of all, probably the idea that most full-time writers don’t earn a living wage from their writing. In almost any other field, if people worked full time at a job and didn’t get paid enough to survive, wages would eventually go up. Somehow, in writing/publishing, the concept of paying writers/authors enough money to live on is actually laughable. Out of the question. Not even a consideration. This is ridiculous.
  32. Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator? Not yet, but there isn’t a whole lot of actual death in my books. (except for the zombie book, but it’s a zombie book: everyone dies)
  33. Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day? Mental lists, pocket notebooks, several pocket notebooks I carried until they were either full or falling apart & have stored and/or lost… I get ideas all the time. In the last couple of years, I’ve only written a tiny fraction of them down, and I’ve only developed a fraction of those into books/stories, so far. But I’ll always have paper/pen and/or iPhone at hand to take down ideas.
  34. How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head? More than I can count.
  35. What do you like to read? That is a good question. I’ve been taking up reading more and more in the last few years, after quite a long time with almost no reading at all, and I’ve found that I don’t like to read a lot of different kinds of books. In fact, I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that I dislike reading most kinds of books. I’ll tell you what, though: I suspect I like reading books that were intended for people who like to think. Books that require thinking.
  36. What writer influenced you the most? Douglas Adams and/or Roald Dahl.
  37. What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself? This is a silly question. I’m not even sure I understand it the way you mean it. The only way the answer can make sense is for me to wish I were that other person/author, for only they could have written that book the way they did. If I wrote that book (and were me) it would be a totally different book. Sometimes I think that if I tried to write one of my own books at a different time in my life, it would be a totally different book. We’ll find out soon, I suppose; I’m beginning to think seriously about completely rewriting Dragons’ Truth. Anyway, I don’t wish I were someone else, or some other author. I’d rather be myself. And I’d rather write my own books.
  38. What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story? No idea. I’ll try to think about this as I read the next several hundred books I read and dozen books I write, and maybe in several years I’ll have an answer. Right now I’m of the opinion that there really aren’t any essential qualities; that good stories may be wholly different from one another and still be good stories.
  39. Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it? Huh. Can’t think of any in particular. Sorry.
  40. What advice you would give to an aspiring author? Write.
  41. How have you marketed and promoted your work? Not enough, some would say. I run a handful of websites with details. I talk to people. I introduce myself as an author and hand out business cards that point to I Twitter and facebook and blog about the writing I’m doing and the books I’m putting out. I give away free copies of my books digitally, as eBook and serialized audiobooks. Probably the most successful promotion tool I’ve ever used has been podcasting audio versions of my books for free, in terms of getting my work in front of readers/listeners. Other people work hard to promote their podcasts, where I see the podcasts as promotion for my books… But promotion and marketing are an anathema to me.
  42. What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing? The only kind of promotion I can really do much of without getting sick is just talking to people about what I’m doing. Twittering status updates as I work through projects. Writing blog posts about what I’m going through, what I’m thinking about, what I’m planning, hoping, dreaming, et cetera. This means that it’s easy to make it a normal, ongoing part of my process. As far as current writing goals, my vague goal is “write 2-4 new books a year.” I already mentioned the books I’m working on; if it gets funded, I’m going to try to get the book on writing/publishing done & printed before the end of May. Otherwise, I’ve already hit my goal (Books 4 & 5, not to mention the paper release of the new Untrue Trilogies) for the year, so any other writing I accomplish is butter. I was thinking of writing a short story I got an idea for the other day, and submitting it to a local thing (plus putting it online for sale and as a podcast episode), and the submission deadline is just a couple weeks away, so maybe that, too. Really, my goal for the rest of 2011 is to get a lot of reading done. I have a whole shelf of books to read before I can even begin work on that alternate history, and I keep starting new writing projects instead of investing enough time reading…
  43. What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion? Do as much as you’re comfortable with, and expect proportional results. I don’t do a lot of promotion, and I don’t get very numerically big results. You’ll probably be lucky to get a single percent of people you reach out to even looking your way, and perhaps a single percent of them to spend any money on an unknown author, so set your expectations reasonably. If you’re one for significant promotion, you can get significant results, but I think (except for a few lucky breaks) most everyone’s results are disappointing, at least for the first several years of continuous promotion.
  44. What words would you like to leave the world when you are gone? This notion of leaving something for the world isn’t important to me. I am but a vapor on the wind. Nothing I can build will last; only God lasts, and in the end only his mercy will remain. If I can accomplish anything in this life, it will be to disappear so that when (perhaps, someday) you look my way you see only Jesus and his love.
  45. Have you written any other books? Yes. Lots.
  46. Where can people learn more about your books?

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

2 thoughts on “Author Self-Interview”

  1. I am disappointed that you didn’t send me an interview to post on my blog, but I’m glad you got some use out of it. A lot of your answers would be like mine — evasive. It’s hard to distill the essence of a book into a few questions.

    Here’s an idea. How about doing an interview for your latest book?

  2. How about for my next book? I find it especially difficult to speak about my last book, because it is the 6th book of a series, and there is almost nothing which can be said about it without giving away / spoiling two or three other books in the process, per sentence. That’s why I wrote about the whole series for this ‘interview’ rather than a single book; it allowed me to avoid spoiling things. Not to mention, it’s the full series I’m trying to push right now; I’ve just put out a paper re-release of all six books as two trilogies, in paperback.

    Or, if not my next book, we can work to choose a few of the questions I answered here to post on your blog, or something… I’m actually quite anxious about “being interviewed,” in any capacity. It’s quite difficult for me to even reply to your request here; normally, when someone contacts me asking to interview me, I just ignore them and hope they don’t ask again. It’s worked so far. I used to get someone asking to interview me a couple of times a month, for years, but it’s finally begun to taper off. There’s just something in the difference between simply having a conversation with someone about my books and in “being interviewed” that makes me sick to my stomach with anxiety, and I run & hide.

    It’s a problem. Actually, almost any form of promotion or of marketing generates a similar response in me. I’ve been fighting this uphill battle, worse than any other aspect of writing books, publishing books, or dealing with the requirements of running a business (and I abhor all things about business, almost as much as I abhor money itself), the sickening and painful need for marketing and self-promotion along with all the rest.

    By the time I’m done with another book or three, I believe I’ll have solved the problem, probably by removing most aspects of promotion, marketing, and business itself from my continued writing and publishing of books. Which will be one of many, many problems and topics I’ll be addressing in my next book, about my experiences writing and publishing 15 books in the last few years:

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