Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’ve lived lots of places. I grew up in New Mexico, spent some years in Texas, hitchhiked around the country and ended up in San Francisco. Now I live in a tiny town in rural Western Massachusetts.
Please tell us a little about your writing – for example genre, title, etc.
Over the past years, I’ve written children’s, tween, adult (fiction and nonfiction). The Adima Chronicles has been my main focus for the past several years. The first book, Adima Rising, came out in March of 2015 and the second book, Adima Returning, is in the hands of my publisher, Absolute Love Publishing. It is marketed as Young Adult, but I’ve heard from readers who have been touched by it who are as young as fifteen as well as people in their eighties. It’s speculative fiction – not high fantasy, but explores a world of energy and light that exists intertwined with the “normal” world.
Are your characters based on real people?
Not specifically. I use pieces from everywhere to grow the characters. I listen to a lot of comics (Louie C.K., Sarah Silverman, Eddie Izzard, Margaret Cho, and others). I remember particularly pithy remarks. I steal character traits from people I like and don’t like. That’s how I start. Then, as the characters takes form, they develop their own voice.
In the first novel of a series, that’s one of the most difficult, but wonderful process. It requires very close scrutiny during rewrites. What I found is that I often go into detailed subplots that grow the character. It’s crucial for my understanding. However, many of these subplots, while important for me to understand a character, do not move the story forward, so they have to go. It often really hurts. Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.” Stephen King added to this in his book on writing, when he wrote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
I keep the subplots for future reference, but don’t keep them in the book. As a reader, I like to create a vision of a character as I read. As an author, I need to respect the reader enough to offer a rich character which allows them to develop their own view of who that character is, without forcing them to share my view exactly.
Is there a message conveyed within your writing? Do you feel this is important in a book?
I have several specific messages in the Adima series. The most important is to take aware, creative action and take responsibility to making your decisions. If you action works, great. If it not, learn and share what you’ve learned. In Adima Rising, a major message is also the importance of creating one’s own connection to the sacred, not mindlessly turning such an important, personal decision over to someone else. In the new book, added to those is the idea that small groups connecting (versus we all must form one big group) is essential to face large challenges.
That being said, it is very hard to write a book with a message. If an author gives in to writing a message book, it is very difficult to be subtle. Folks don’t want/need to read Schatz’s rules for how to live. The book needs to be entertaining and stimulate both thinking and pleasure. It’s hard to write a message without getting stuck in a proclaiming what is right and wrong mode. When I start preaching, I can hear the sound of a thousand books slamming shut. Instead, I try to offer an optional view of the world. It’s part of the world building. Readers can ignore the message and still enjoy the adventure.
What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers?
Write. It’s amazing to me how difficult it is to turn what’s in my head into something on the page. There’s a big difference between thinking about writing and writing. I use Mr. Steve’s 15 minute rule. I promise myself that will write 15 minutes a day, no matter what. If I do that, I’m good. Many times, once I get going, I will write longer. However, I only commit to 15 minutes.
Let your characters grow. I write a lot of background info of my characters, knowing it will never make it into the final book. I do it so the characters come to life. At that magic moment, I get out of the way. The characters tell me what they would do and how they would say something.
Write what you want. The chances of becoming a million selling author are probably in the same neighbourhood of winning the lottery. Don’t do it for the money. Write what you want, so the book pleases you. I don’t mean to say don’t write. Even with the lottery, if you don’t play, you are certain not to win. I prefer writing, because even if I don’t “win”, I know I’ve put something into the world that is good. That is my motivation. I would hate to write garbage because I thought it would sell and go through so much effort and still not have the book sell.
Do you self-edit? If so why is that the case? Do you believe a book suffers without being professionally edited?
I edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite – rinse and repeat until I’m pleased with the result. Then I send it to my publisher. Their editor, Sarah Hackley and the publisher, Caroline Shearer, both work on the book. Their work brings out the best parts. There are some changes I fight, but overall, I know my books are better because of them. I think the problem for authors is that we get too close. We fall in love with sub plots that don’t drive the story. Then we don’t explain things that should be explained, because having lived with the story and the characters, it is obvious. However, to a casual reader, it isn’t. A friend of mine said you need a reader with some ironic distance. I agree.
Sort these into order of importance: Great characters; great world-building; technically perfect. Can you explain why you chose this order? (Yes I know they all are important…)
Great characters is the most essential. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care if they are threatened, face delights or upsets, or if they live or die. The richness of the characters and a deep understanding of them (detailed for me, but shown through actions to the reader) allow all else to follow. I often close my eyes and ask what a character would do in a situation and they tell me. I can see it. The voice of each character becomes more unique the more I write about them. I love McDonald’s Fletch. He’s a great character and I don’t really care what he’s doing. I enjoy how he handles situations. Christie knew this when she used different characters for different books. Sherlock Holmes is such a rich character that many people have written continuing cases. If we didn’t care about Frodo or Bilbo, no one would stagger through three books or would slog through seven books if we weren’t taken with Rowling’s characters.
Technical perfection. Here, I’m thinking about mistakes in spelling, grammar and fact. The importance of this is often overlooked. However, if the author and/or publisher allow mistakes to go into print, it shows to me that they don’t care. They don’t care about the product and they don’t care about the reader.
I’ve stopped reading books after a few mistakes because it got me looking for others and it became a job of editing, rather than the enjoyment of reading. Technical perfection should not be noticed, it is expected.
World Building. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing. There are two challenges in world building. The first is similar to developing characters. I go into deep explanations of how the world works, how to see the web of light, how to travel, what is Adima, what is Sodrol. Then, I must go back and cut about 90% of it out. I keep that background work, so I can look things up. I need to remember that people start digging into a world only after they enjoy their experience with the world. If Quest for Glory sucked, this blog would be about another world.
In addition, I find that once I have a solid set of characters, they help create the world. I was lucky with the Adima Chronicles. I had the connection to a group of devas, so when I would get stuck with a “how do they…” question, I’d close my eyes, call in the team and ask them. The answer usually came right away. This also helped a great deal in keep track of how things worked in the world. There have been many times in edits and rewrites when I have a flash question – did what I wrote in chapter 35 match the rules I set down in chapter 15? Every time, I would find “I” had written it correctly. If I didn’t have that unknown guidance, I would have had to make several very detailed maps to keep track.
Do you think indie/self-published authors are viewed differently to traditionally published authors? Why do you think this might be?
Yes, they are. Sometimes this is deservedly so. There are a lot of awful books out there that are self-published; books that the author/publisher hasn’t taken the time to really revise and edit (grammar, spelling). That being said, there are a lot of awful books from publishers with the same problem and there are a lot of great books that are self-published.
Frankly, the three main reasons I took the time to find a publisher instead of self-publishing are: 1) editing (as I said above), 2) distribution and 3) help with promotion.
I love opportunities like this to talk about my work. I love to do readings and discussions of my work, both online and in person, but I spend a lot of time writing and if I have a choice between writing and distribution, I would rather be writing. I had envisioned Adima Rising to be a single book, but my publisher suggested a series, which has opened up a whole new realm. If I had self-published (as I have before), I’d probably have a box of books sitting in my office with a few sold.
Do you read work by self-published authors?
Certainly. I am more likely to read self-published or small press authors than large publishers. The big ones tend to go for mass. I have obscure tastes and rarely like trendy or formulaic books. I don’t find much else from mainstream publishers.
What are your opinions about authors commenting on reviews? How important are reviews?
Oh, how I’d love to, but I don’t, won’t and shouldn’t. Arguing over a review is a waste of time. I know that my books will touch some people, change some people and bore some people. I believe that if you need it, you will read it. The Adima Chronicles needed to be in the world to offer a different perspective on life. It isn’t my business to tell them what to think. If I have time to do that, I’m avoiding writing or promoting.
What are your views on authors offering free books?
I like giving books away at the beginning and end of my career. The beginning, to build an audience. There are so many books now, it is very difficult to find an audience. I don’t make much on each book sold, so I would rather give them away and build a readership. As that readership grows and the numbers of books sold grows, it is possible to earn a living writing. I plan to always give books away, but I will let them pay me to write more. Toward the end of my writing, I will give more books away. I live a pretty simple lifestyle and beyond a point, there is no need for me to collect more stacks of money. I got into writing because I like the challenge. While I enjoy reading my books, one of the reasons I work so hard at it is to share ideas with others. If I spent the time I spend on writing doing nearly anything, I’d make more. I have a decent reputation in my first field (I’ve got a PhD in instructional and human systems design with a minor in organizational communications) and use that to support my writing habit. For authors, dreams and aspirations of making big money is fine as a fantasy. However, no one who keeps at it does it for the money. They spend all those nights reading and rereading and studying their craft because they love/hate it, but don’t want to stop.
In what formats are your books available? (E-books, print, large print audio) Are you intending to expand these and if not, what is the reason?
Absolute Love Publishing has published the Adima Chronicles in both e and print versions. I have recorded an audio version and have it available when asked (on my site www.AdimaRising.com). At this point, there have been no requests for large print.
I prefer reading from a real page. I spend most of my day in front of the computer, so to relax and read, I don’t want to stare at a screen. However, I know many people prefer e-books, so it would be stupid not to offer those. Mostly I trust the guidance of my publisher.
Book links, website/blog and author links:
My Sites: www.AdimaRising.com and www.SteveWrites.com
My publisher: www.AbsoluteLovePublishing.com andwww.absolutelovepublishing.com/adima-rising