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Interview: Lisa Jacob, author of Homecoming (A War Mage Story)

by J Dark
November 28, 2016

What inspired you to get into writing?

I was always a voracious reader. I had been surrounded by books since childhood, and my mother was always a big reader. In junior high, I started reading “adult” authors like Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon, books my mom read. I finished The Shining and I thought to myself, I can write like this. So I started writing fan fiction for a few TV shows—this was way before fan fiction was a “thing.” My first original novel was written during the summer from 8th to 9th grade, and really improved my typing skills. Then I entered a contest and won an award. I was hooked.

How did you get your idea for your book?  What in the development of the idea made you feel the need to write it as a book?

Homecoming was presented to me in a dream about a soldier who could shoot fireballs. I was playing a character named Combat Medic in a game online, and it must have blurred into the possibility of the soldier knowing magic. I woke up and wrote down the dream immediately. Then I started thinking of what ifs. What if it took place in Afghanistan? What if he comes home on leave?

Most of my ideas come from my own thirst for revenge. I see injustice, or I have had injustice done to me, so I write it out as catharsis.

I’ve found that stories never seem to flow smoothly.  There are days where it just seems to leap from thought to paper, and other days where it takes seven or eight attempts to get the scene right.   What portions or scenes were the hardest to get the way you wanted?

I’ve discovered that I am better at being a pantser than a plotter. I’ve tried both. When I plot, I feel like I’m shoehorning the round story peg into a square pre-defined hole. When I do that, everything is a problem: the dialogue, the description, the setting, because I have to get it “just right” on the first go-round. When I just let the story flow, I get to a part that the muse doesn’t care about and I say, “Worry about tha during the edit.” I flag it somehow with << more cowbell >> or INSERT MORE COWBELL HERE.

Homecoming, the War Mage prequel if that’s the correct to describe the book, takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts.  You do an amazing job of describing the opening scene.  Is that location something that comes from your own memories?

Google Maps is your friend! No, really…I live in New England, and one suburb of New England looks like many others. Google Maps helped when I needed to picture the exact streets, the placement of the buildings. I could, if necessary, drive there, since it really isn’t that far.

I prefer to write some places that I have pictures of. War Mage, the next book in the series, it takes place in Afghanistan. I’ve never been there (and have no plans to go there). So I have maps, and a few picture books, and other pictures from websites saved in a folder.

What do you see as your strongest ability as a writer?  How does that affect your writing style?

I think I have a good ear for dialogue. Because of that, I try to put the story in dialogue. Also, I was trained as a journalist, so I’m used to keeping paragraphs short and concise. Because of that, I don’t write too much in description or setting, and I suffer often from “talking head” syndrome—when characters are talking in a vacuum. That’s something I have to watch out for in editing.

It’s been said that every author has authors that they look at as inspirations. Do you have any? If so, what influence do you see in your writing?

Stephen King, especially when he uses new paragraphs and italics for thoughts. Mercedes Lackey introduced me to women who wrote male heroes. Charles Dickens in the art of the cliffhanger.

All authors have things that they have to help them concentrate on writing. Where and when do you like to write? I know that Steven Radecki says he prefers a location that’s quiet, where he can lose himself in his imaginary world. What are your favorite conditions for writing?

I have been blessed with a 10-room colonial house, so there’s plenty of places to hide. I have two computers, a Mac in my cellar that I’ve named “Hemingway”, and Windows on the main living floor named “Asterisk.” I like the option of music. I often listen to AC/DC or Two Steps From Hell, or action movie soundtracks like 300 or the SiriusXM station for soundtracks. That’s usually for action sequences. For general background music, I will produce a playlist for each novel as I go along.

One thing I absolutely need is no one else to be in the room or my immediate vicinity. I can’t write with an audience. So coffeehouses are totally out.

Characters in any book are a mix of deep background and just a passing note or two as they wave or say hello to the main character. Do you find that creating a background for these peripheral characters helps with developing the story, or can a peripheral character be over-developed for their purpose in the story, and detract from it?

For War Mage and Homecoming, I kept small, tiny notebooks of each character, major and minor. It included their background, family, thoughts about current events (in 2004-5). For the novel I just finished, Grimaulkin, I didn’t bother with that at all. I kept a general “novel notebook” instead, and as I wrote, I would take note of things said in the book that I could refer to later.

That being said, I found that the extensive background development of minor characters was a waste of time. I didn’t use half of the information that I created. I never went into Lori’s detailed sex life, though I had plotted it out in that notebook. It was tossed away with a mere mention that she was promiscuous.

I believe that if a peripheral character is overdeveloped in the story, then maybe the story needs to be about him/her.

Let’s switch to the other side of writing, and that’s appearances. What’s it like to go to a book sale, or a Convention to support your books?

There’s a sense of comfortable camaraderie. You’re all writers. Some are out to make money, others are out to display their art. But all of you have something to teach each other. If it’s not about how to sell at conventions, it could be how each writer approaches his/her craft. I’ve learned a lot by watching one particular person sell his book assertively. Luckily, I’ve been with people who are supportive and not competitive.

Sometimes during a convention, there’s a Q&A for authors. What’s it like to sit in on that? Does the Q&A help with developing the next novel?

If the next novel hasn’t already been written, it gives you good feedback as to what the readers noticed. Maybe just a throw-away line made someone remember a particular scene.

Interview: Laureen Hudson, Acquisitions Editor

by J Dark
November 16, 2016

What got you into editing as a profession, and what helps with being a good editor?

So that’s actually a funny story. Waaaaaaay back in high school, I signed up to work on the school newspaper. The teacher noticed me informally answering other people’s questions about spelling and word choice, and decided I should be the editor. That would have been where it stopped, except that the school principal made a habit of censoring editorials in the paper. It enraged me, and I embarked on an anti-censorship campaign that ultimately got me suspended a few times… but I learned the value of carefully-chosen language, and learned the lengths to which those in power will go to suppress ideas. I was hooked.

In my opinion, a good editor is someone who understands that editors have a sacred charge to help people express important ideas with the greatest degree of clarity possible. All the rest is just details of how that’s accomplished.

When you edit an article or manuscript, what are key items that you focus on, and why?

Story… because stories are the ideas I mentioned above. The story has got to be there, or there’s no reason to publish it. I could care less about grammar, punctuation, copyediting stuff; I want to read a good story, one that challenges me, makes me think, transports me.

So conversely, sloppy storytelling, reliance on tropes, and plagiarism result in instant round filing. No one’s got time for that. If you can’t be bothered to polish your storytelling craft, I can’t be bothered to polish your book. However, if the story’s there, there’s nothing I won’t do to help you make it glorious.

As an editor, do you find that you are stronger in certain areas, such as genres, than others?

Not really, no. I am a technical editor for a living, so my experience is pretty diverse. The basic fundamentals of story and polishing that story are kind of universal. I spot hackneyed tropes faster in genres I’m familiar with, but even in ones I’m not, they become pretty obvious pretty fast.

What is the most difficult part of editing for you?

Not getting cranky when I feel like someone is throwing their work at me disrespectfully. I think of my work as being like sculpture. I love the Michanegelo quote, of “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” I like to think that everyone who submits something to me did so because they love it, and want other people to love it too. It makes me nuts when people don’t spellcheck, or just assume that they’ve written timeless prose, and figure that the editor will do all the polish work. If a writer doesn’t know how to be a professional but wants to be taught, that’s golden. When they refuse to be taught, it really puts me off.

What are ways that beginning writers can make an editor’s job easier?

Be professional. Take the work seriously. Throw yourself into learning how to be a better storyteller. Take every opportunity to educate yourself about writing as a skill, as a business, as a professional activity. And then take conscious steps to level up wherever you can.

How long did it take you to establish yourself as an editor? Are there things you’d have done differently to get into editing if you had more information when you started?

Depends on what you mean by “establish myself”. An astonishing amount of my work is with repeat customers, or people that I’ve known for 20-plus years, whose stuff I edited, and they liked the experience, so told their friends.

Considering that my entry into editorial work was accidental, no, I’m pretty happy with how it’s gone so far.

Would you recommend that writers learn editing?

Not really, no. I think writers should spend their time in story. Writing and editing are entirely different professions. I would infinitely rather have a writer say to me, “I know nothing about editing, but I know everything about story.”

I worked with an author a few years ago who is in fact a professional storyteller. Brilliant guy, and has an amazing sense of pacing, of rhythm, of arc and of plot. His books are phenomenally good. His draft submission to the house I was working with at that time was nightmarish from a copyedit perspective, but the story was so good, I still find myself wandering off to inhabit that world in my head. Brilliant worldcrafting. Thing is, I can fix the commas. Anyone can. But only one person could have written that story.

In your editing, do you find yourself on occasion going back and editing your edits?

Oh, absolutely. I read through everything three times. Once just for the read, to judge the overall story arc. Again, for continuity, and then a third time for copyediting considerations. So there are often things to change (the technical term is “stet”) about what I edit.

In the different genres of books, are there different styles of editing that work best for the genres? Are there any differences in editing horror over say a science fiction manuscript?

Not really. The elements of storytelling are really similar across genre. I do more fact-checking for sci-fi than I do for romance, generally. Nailing your pacing is generally more relevant in horror than in fantasy. There are tiny adjustments, but generally, language is language. If there’s a lot of idiom in the work, that can take some researching, to make sure it’s right and consistent and believable.

What makes a good editor? What educational background would help an editor, and are there classes or experiences that might be a detriment to good editing?

Editors, good ones, are constantly learning. Grammar isn’t a done deal, it’s a living thing that changes over time. Editors discuss these things constantly. Right now, we’re all busy hashing out our relationship to things like gender-neutrality and correct pronoun choice, slang, and idiom. Staying active in editorial communities is critical to maintaining your relevance, but also your humility. Too many editors allow themselves to isolate, and then they become gatekeepers rather than enablers. In my opinion it’s important to remember that without writers, there’s no need for us at all.

Interview: Kimberley Wall, Promotions Manager

by J Dark
November 1, 2016

As a promotions manager, how would you describe your job?

Essentially, my job is to familiarize myself with the work, collaborate with the Editor and Business Manager on appropriate genre classifications, brainstorm ideas for whom to contact, where to go, what to do to make the book visible on a larger scale, and then pursue opportunities from the office and encourage authors to pursue others on their end.

Tell me about the role of Marketing & Promotions, specifically in the world of the small press.

If you didn’t want people to read your book, you wouldn’t bother to publish it, right? But simply publishing isn’t enough these days because the competition is too overwhelming. You’ve got to wave a flag to get some attention. Marketing & Promotions is a function that can make or break a small press and, potentially, its authors. Regardless of the quality and quantity of the books being published, if the public doesn’t know to look for them, they will grow dusty alongside the piles of pulp fiction. Marketing & Promotions is your little flag.

Promotions for books is a lot about appearances and book signings. Are there other ways that can help promote a book, or an author?

Promotions such as appearances and book signings are done on the author side of the equation. On the press side, you have more of the marketing track, like contacting genre periodicals to inquire about inclusion in their next issue, chatting up potential partners to arrange sharing links to each other’s web sites, and long, sometimes fruitless hours of online research into other avenues of promotion.

Do you find that when you consider how to promote a book, that demographics come into play?

Demographics — in general, “Who is your target audience?” — is a big component of activities such as partnering with local indie booksellers, and readings at local libraries and coffee houses. It also, subtly, comes into play in most other things, such as which associations to join for networking.

How do you decide where an author’s book fits best? Is it just by genre, or are there other factors that determine demographic fit?

I want to be clear that when I talk about demographics in this context, I mean to refer to groups of people who buy science fiction & fantasy novels versus historical romance novels versus nonfiction works; you know what I mean? I’m not referring to demographics in terms of age, race, religion, or ethnicity in a local community. So, where does a book fit? That’s really about subject matter, tone of voice, literary device, etc. Sometimes the easiest way to determine a basic genre fit is to ask the author!

When Paper Angel Press decides to promote a book, what are the steps that you need to go through to get ready for promotion and marketing?

First, I want to point out that it’s not really a decision to promote or not. We are your publisher, and marketing your book is just one of the services we provide. That being said, there really isn’t a manual for preparing to market a book; it’s more a matter of hashing out how, where, how much, degree of author participation, etc. Each book/author is unique.

Are there different challenges between promoting new authors and established authors with a dedicated following?

Are there differences in the way I would market your new book versus James Patterson’s new book? Sure! <laugh> But my experience is only with small, independent presses and, usually, new-ish authors. In that case, you start at ground zero and work your way up a crowded ladder waving your little flag.

Have you found that there are differences in approach with the different genres like fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, etc., when you look at marketing and promoting a book?

Yes and no. Some basics are pretty universal, but each crowd tends to respond to different stimuli. Word choice and graphics styles are as important in marketing, say, historical romance, as they are in writing it, in order to best communicate to the genre’s fans.

When you look at being in promotions, have you found any instances where what you thought you knew about promotions turned out to be the opposite of what you expected?

No, actually. <laughs> Not yet, anyway. I thought, going into it, that it was going to be an uphill battle, and nothing has yet altered that expectation.

From your perspective, what can first time novelists, and experienced writers, do to help you, as Marketing & Promotions Manager?

Work with me. I’m here to help you as much as the business of the press. Be clear  — with yourself and with me  — what your expectations are: of me and the press. What milestones define “success” for you? What are your strengths and weaknesses in promoting your own work? We all work within our own limited resources, so be realistic. If you have ideas for marketing or promoting your work, speak them! I’m open to investigating new avenues or supporting your efforts. To me, it’s all about getting the book some good exposure.

Interview: Flavia Idà, author of The Iron and The Loom and The Names of Heaven

by J Dark
October 21, 2016

Where did you get the idea for the The Iron and the Loom?

I’m an inveterate daydreamer. It doesn’t take much for me to withdraw into my inner world, to the exclusion of everything else. I also love history and I grew up in Italy, which has more history that anybody knows what to do with it, you look around and there it is. So daydreaming about a favorite period of Italian history and writing a novel set in it for me was an inevitable combination.

Every author seems to have a different way of developing a story. Did you find that the story developed itself or did you have to do research to develop it?

Amazingly enough (i.e. I have no idea how that happened), I developed the story once and never touched it again. I went back to it only to polish the language in some places of the English version, and to translate it into Italian. Plot, characters and scenes were all set in stone from the start. The research was needed because it’s a historical novel, but that was great fun, not at all a chore.

Not every book flows smoothly as an author writes it. What portions of the book were hardest for you to get the way you wanted them?

No doubt the dialogues. 80% of the story is told in dialogues, so all the characters had to be fully fleshed out thru what they say rather than thru what they do. I also needed to make sure that the characters spoke in a way consistent with their gender, personality, social status, age and so on, and that each voice was distinctive. It was very much like writing a script, and it seems to have paid off, because the sentence most often used by reviewers is that reading the book is like watching a movie.

Where and when do you like to write?

As to where, I need to have solitude and total quiet. Even listening to music will distract me. While I was in college it was the campus library, perfect for concentration; now it’s my home, when no one’s home. TV off, phone off, and if necessary, earplugs. As to when, only when I get the impulse to write, which unfortunately means I’m at the mercy of an unquantifiable factor. I have no problem writing on a theme, but I’m miserable writing on a deadline.

Now that your book has reached print and is getting great reviews, have your ideas on being a writer changed?

They haven’t. I write because I feel the need to write. I think all writers will agree that it’s a need first and foremost, and that the need starts before seeking publication and reviews. I would have written with or without seeking publication and reviews, but if others appreciate what I write, that’s a fantastic bonus. The new thing for me is that, now that my books are out in the world, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin if some reviews are not what I was hoping for. Ye olde “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time.”

Do you find a difference in style between European and American writing?

I don’t find a difference. The languages change, of course, but the principles of effective writing apply to writers from all backgrounds, and you can find corresponding literary styles in all backgrounds.

What made you decide to become a writer?

It was not a decision but a spontaneous impulse. The same way someone feels an impulse to play a sport, so they start playing and then continue because it gives them personal satisfaction to play and because they want to play better and better. I just followed the impulse to write. It popped up in full force when I was a child, an indication that I had no choice in the matter, and it kept growing from there. For me writing is simply an addiction that manifests itself thru the need to turn thoughts into words. I don’t think there is anything special about being addicted to writing or to other forms of creative expression. Thankfully it’s the sort of addiction that doesn’t kill you.

Which characters were hardest for you to develop?

The male characters. For the female characters all I had to do was draw from my own experience, whereas trying to put yourself into the mind of the opposite gender, needless to say, is a very tricky endeavor. I think I did a good job, because so far I haven’t heard any criticism from males; it’s a minor source of pride for me to have been able to pull it off credibly.

How did you research the background?

The historical and cultural background had to be as accurate as possible. I studied in European universities and I also did research on my own. There are some parts I had to fill in with credible data, only because the sources for such a distant historical period are often incomplete or contradictory. But I tried my very best to avoid being taken to task by the Italians, who can be absolutely merciless when it comes to our history and culture.

Interview: The Unruly Woman interviews Steven Radecki, author of Building Baby Brother

by Christy Diane Farr
August 25, 2016

When the guy who makes your book dreams come true publishes his first book, you read it. So I did. I read a science fiction book, my first ever science fiction book! And I shocked myself by loving it. I asked Steven Radecki to let me interview him so I could drag other people into my excitement about Building Baby Brother. He said, YES! So I did my first Unruly Books interview and it is here for your listening pleasure (http://goo.gl/92HTqM).

Interview: Steven Radecki, Father of Building Baby Brother

by J Dark
August 8, 2016

Where did you get the idea for Building Baby Brother?

To be honest, I don’t remember where the actual idea for the plot came from. The story itself started as part of an exercise that, well, kind of got out hand. My son’s charter had planned to sponsor an event to help foster reading and writing skills by asking students and willing family members to write a short story and then read it out loud at this event. Always willing to write, particularly for a good cause such as that one, I started pondering possible story ideas. I knew I wanted something kind of ‘‘Twilight Zone”-ish—something short, entertaining, but with a fun twist at the end. From there, the basic concept of the story was born.

Every author develops their stories differently. In your case, did you create an outline first, or just choose a direction, or something else?

I rarely work from an outline for a short story. They are usually based on some concept I want to explore and I kind of see where the characters involved take it. In case, since it was originally only supposed to be 2,000 words, I felt a full-fledged outline might be overkill As a result, though, the last third or so of the story went a direction that surprised even me.

No story ever flows smoothly as it’s created. What parts, or scenes were the hardest to develop?

I always have trouble with the middle. They say that maintaining the story and pace in the second book of a trilogy is often difficult, and I think the same thing is true about the middle of any story. I usually know how to start my stories and have a pretty good idea how it will end either when I start it or before I get a quarter of the way through it. In this story, probably the most difficult scene was scene with the police because I needed something that would transition the story from its setup to exploring the implications of the actions performed in its first half. I had a really tough time coming up with a scene that would work that would get me to where I wanted the story to go.

Another question I’m sure authors get asked all the time is, what made you decide to be a writer? With all the professions around, why get into writing?

Why not? I’ve always wanted to create—whether it be writing or filmmaking. There’s immensely satisfying about “putting on a show” and presenting it to an audience. With writing, perhaps even more than with filmmaking, you can have full control over your production: all the way from set design, costuming, and casting. Of course, when you sell the movie rights, you tend to lose those.

Where and when do you like to write? I know that David Weber has said that he prefers the evenings, as it allows him to relax and concentrate. What are your favorite conditions for writing?

Peace and quiet—and good luck getting that! My preferred writing environment is where were I’m unlikely to be interrupted. I prefer to be able to get mentally lost in the world that I’m writing about. I find that the characters tend to be more vivid in my mind and are more to behave as they should so that mostly all I have to do is transcribe as they take whatever action the story requires of them. I’ve written in a lot of places: home, work, coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotel rooms… I’m pretty good at tuning out external distractions. Still, a quiet environment is my preference. Also, I don’t write with music on in the background; I find it too distracting.

Do you feel that a story needs to have relevance in society?

I think that having some kind of social relevance helps to deepen a story. The trick, though, is to do it in such a way that it doesn’t feel preachy or pedantic to the reader. That can turn them off to the message (and story!) very quickly.

Comics are used at times to offer controversial subjects in stories. In Civil War, the idea of registration comes up. Do you feel Building Baby Brother has touched a subject that could become more important as robotics and Artificial Intelligence become more sophisticated?

I think it raises the point that we probably need to re-examine our preconceptions about AI, much of which is driven by popular science fiction films, television, and literature.

It’s been said that all great stories like Building Baby Brother are built on previous works the writer had read. In that vein who, influenced your vision of the story?

There are several influences to this story, some of which are even subtly referenced during the course of the story. One of the inspirations that kept coming to my mind as I wrote and edited it was David Gerrold’s When Harlie Was One. (I still prefer the original edition. Sorry, David.) Other conscious influences were the movie A.I. and, of course, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m certain that there were many, many unconscious influences as well, such as Mycroft Holmes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but none I specifically set out to emulate.

Were there any books that helped solidify your idea, or an author you enjoyed reading that might have given you ideas on style and presentation?

As I mentioned in my answer to your previous question, I think David Gerrold, with When Harlie Was One, was a major influence, both thematically and stylistically. Finding the right voice for this story was definitely a challenge-and one of the reasons that I very rarely tell a story from a first-person point-of-view. I felt that this story, though, demanded a first-person narrative perspective. Other than that, I can’t say that any specific storytelling style influenced the one used in this story. I’m not saying that it isn’t there, just like that I don’t recall using any other author’s particular style as an inspiration or template.