Welcome to the new author interview slot here on a (cloudy) Monday! While I’m sure everyone’s happy to be back at work/school/college whatever, I feel like I need something to ease me into the new week. So, what better way than a brand new interview with author Chris Stevenson?
As well as writing fiction, Chris also runs the brilliant Guerilla Warfare For Writers blog. Check it out, I promise you won’t regret it!
* * *
Hi Chris, thanks for your time today.
It’s a pleasure to be here.
Who are your favourite authors/books?
I started reading a little late in life, right around age 26, actually. I was on a stakeout when I found a SF novel in an old desk. It was Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet. The stakeout was a bust, but I did manage to read that book in about 10 hours. I was gobsmacked. My next book was Alan Dean Foster’s Icerigger. Weeks later, I’d picked up used paperbacks at a garage sale, and they all happened to be fantasy or SF titles, most of them from the masters of the golden age or classics. Joe Haldeman, Robert Heinlein, P. K. Dick, Asimov, Bradbury, Tolkien, were just a few of the authors I enjoyed. The Martian Chronicles, F. 451, The Forever War, Ring World, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Mote in God’s Eye, and then later, Peter Benchley, Crichton, Jules Verne, Wells, and some other notables. In those days my leanings were more toward SF. I wrote enough short stories, after absorbing those reads, to qualify for the SFWA, which I joined and then began letter-writing stints to all of my favorite authors. Poul Anderson became my mentor, and Alan Foster is a friend of mine to this day.
Do you favour the old fashioned pen and paper combo or are you a keyboard enthusiast?
I did start off long-hand on ruled paper, but then in 1987 I acquired my first XT computer, and from then on I wrote strictly on the screen. My first writing program was Q & A, and I’d thought I’d gone to heaven. I write to screen now, only making outline notes in pen and paper. I’m adverse to writing “twice”, so that’s why everything comes straight off the keyboard. I can also edit as I go.
Have you ever encountered “writer’s block”? What are your thoughts on it?
All writers encounter writer’s block. I find it an excuse not to write more than anything else. If I force myself to write just one paragraph, to bull my way through a scene, I find that I can write another and another. Pretty soon I’m enjoying the process and making progress. I think every writer should force themselves through the tough spots. You have permission to write crap, be as creative as you want, and be happy and relaxed while doing it. Remember: you haven’t sold this book or story for a six-figure deal. There’s no gun to your head. So what’s your problem?
Would you say characters or plot should come first and foremost?
Main characters should be brought on the stage first, of course. Characterization should begin then, but personalities, profiles and descriptions should be sprinkled in lightly and added as you begin to expose a plot or goal. The process is nearly simultaneous, since your plot can start right from the first page and you need to bring your characters on stage to experience it, discuss it, wonder about it or try and find solutions. Strike a balance between plot and characters, unless your genre dictates a literary bent involving deep characterization, or an action-adventure tone, which would highlight plot.
You run a blog, Guerrilla Warfare For Writers. Do you find that blogging about writing helps with your own writing?
Blogging about writing always helps me discover new things in the craft and industry, since I’m always on the lookout for the next “big’ thing, or some miraculous success story. I get a lot of interactive comments on my blog and this adds to my knowledge bank. It also requires me to do some research, or a lot of research, if I’m looking for facts and figures. I really listen to writer’s personal experiences and see how similar or different they are from mine. I try a fair and balanced approach when tackling a subject, giving both sides of the topic if it is controversial. I have to believe in what I’m saying if I instruct or suggest, and use my decades of experience, mostly making mistakes, to clue writers in on how to make things easier on themselves, or give them an emotional uplift.
Do you find it easy to juggle writing with other things in life? Do you follow a routine or schedule?
I write full time, renting a room at my sisters house. I’m generally free to write when and where I want. I pay some rent by crafting non-fiction content articles, and I take care of three acres of property, doing lawn and trimming chores, feeding horses and doing maintenance. I always steal away enough time to get the major writing done, especially when I’m on contract and have schedules to meet. My niece’s children can wear on me at times, and that’s when I have to shut my bedroom door and blank it out.
If you had to give a key piece of advice to newbie writers out there, what would it be?
If you’re seeking publication, be prepared for a very long haul to get there. You’ll have to put in the time to learn your craft. Seek and follow advice from peers, who’ve been there and done it. You’ll need to grow elephant hide to absorb the many negative criticisms that will come your way. You should never take anything personally to heart. Rebound when you are rejected—send your queries and samples out again after they have been rejected. Revise and resubmit when you receive sound advice from more than one source. Steal your writing time. Spend a regular stint at the keyboard every day—make progress—splash ink, no matter how little or how terrible it seems. Rejoice in the day when you do get paid for your writing and obtain a readership. You’ve earned it. Be kind to your fans. Promote and market yourself until hell won’t have it. Try to become a brand name.
Have you ever dabbled (or ever thought about dabbling) in other genres? Would you advise new writers to stick to what they know or explore uncharted waters?
I started off writing science fiction and then eventually branched out into several genres. I only did this because I wasn’t sure of where my true talent was. So I’ve written and published several types and categories: SF, urban fantasy, adult thriller, YA distopian, YA fantasy and paranormal romance. I DO NOT suggest writers go this route. When you’re all over the map, you dilute your fan base, who become confused on what you actually prefer writing. In spite of what they say, it is a good thing to be pigeon-holed and remain in one genre. Yes, write what you know, but remember to write for the masses and not just for that tiny, unique area of yourself. If you have problems with a subject, research it out and find the information.
Could you share a bit about your current projects with us?
My most successful book, so far, is Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars. Here are a few online reviews of it:
“Planet Janitor does deliver an interstellar romp that hearkens to the best of Robert Heinlein or Philip José Farmer… A rollicking plot-driven adventure… The dangers are intimidating, the wonders evocative and the thread that ties it all together is always just a little more tangled than it seems.” –The Canadian Science Fiction Review, December 13, 2010
“An intriguing and exciting cross between Aliens and 10,000 Years B.C. – Stevenson shows us a future filled with proof that we should listen to Stephen Hawking’s warnings about alien life forms and what they want to do to us.” –Gini Koch, author of `Touched by an Alien’ & `Alien Tango’, December 1, 2010
“Stevenson’s book considers the possibility of an elite industry of environmental cleanup specialists who take on all sorts of bizarre environmental jobs… Clearly, this is a timely topic that hits home in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.” –SF-Fandom, September 21, 2010
You can find Planet Janitor on Amazon for a reduced price of $2.99:
Pick up the two prequel short stories to Planet Janitor, The Moon is not Enough, and Journey Interrupted. They will appear for free on a regular basis, or can be purchased for $.99.
My latest release will be The Wolfen Strain, which should hit the market this June 26th. It’s a werewolf thriller with a very unique twist. I cross the tone of The Island of Doctor Moreau with that of Beauty and the Beast, with the gender roles reversed. Google it on Amazon.
I just won the first place, grand prize in a novel writing contest for my YA distopian, The Girl They Sold to the Moon. They offer an advance and publication. As of this writing, my agent doesn’t even know that this has happened. So, we’ll have to develop a game plan to take advantage of the accomplishment.
Thanks again, Chris.
Thanks for having me!
* * *
Check back next Monday for another interview. Want to know who it is? Tough. You’ll have to find out next week
Have a great Monday!