When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing in boarding school in England when a friend asked me point-blank why I didn’t write down some of the stories I told myself. I’d never really considered becoming a writer of any stripe up until then. Like a lot of teenagers, essay-writing wasn’t my favorite subject, and the idea of writing an entire novel seemed pretty laughable. Actually, I’m sure I did laugh. Then I actually got a little mini-notebook, about the size of my hand, and started writing some of my ideas down. That first draft was awful, but by the time I had got to the end of that notebook and begun scribbling on any other flat surface that didn’t move fast enough, I was hooked.
What have you written so far?
So far there are drafts of seven and a half books in my sci-fi series, in various stages of completion. Those are getting published as I get them to a stage to be seen in public. Currently, Through the Hostage and Fighting Shadows are available in that series. There’s also an urban fantasy novel that may get published and even possibly turn out to be a series if I ever get the chance to play with it a bit more, and I have a vampire novel set on a yacht in the Tropics. Not so sure if that last one’s ever going to see the light of day.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
I’m a pantser all the way. I joke that it’s only in real life that I’m a plotter, but honestly, I have the greatest respect for anyone who can know exactly what’s going to happen in their book – and then still have the stamina to sit down and write 100k words. If I knew what was going to happen in a story, I find it highly unlikely that I’d ever complete a book. My process involves a scene or a snippet of dialogue getting stuck in my head. It sits there for several days to several months, distracting me, annoying me, and generally giving me the attention span of a fruit fly on crack, and then I finally give in, sit down, and drop my characters into it. What happens afterwards is mostly me writing down what they do.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I almost got picked up by Transworld when I was sixteen and sent them the very-nearly-first draft of Through the Hostage to look at. Happily, it didn’t come off – I do mean that. The book I had at that point wasn’t ready to be published, and if it had been, it would either have been really bad or completely reworked by someone else. A lot later, with a lot more time spent writing, and a much wider anti-authority streak, I decided to go indie, and I don’t regret it. It gives me complete control over what I publish, when and where I publish it, and nobody can summarily take my books off shelves because they haven’t sold two, or ten, thousand copies in a fortnight. Also, I’ve read a number of indie authors’ works that equal or exceed traditionally published books, so I can’t say that the big houses’ claim that they act as the gatekeepers of good literature really holds much weight for me.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
Right now I’m getting the third in the Cortii series, Elemental Affinity, ready for publication in summer 2016, and it follows Ilan and her unit through the next twist in their story. The Cortiian rebel faction orders Ilan to take an assignment to reconnoitre a newly-discovered planet on the fringes of civilization. She’s aware that it’s likely to be a juggling act between the rebels’ demands and the mission parameters, but with her command safely off Corina, Ilan expects the greatest challenge of the assignment will be the diplomacy – not a leap of faith.
Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?
My main character is Khyria Ilan. She’s a genetically altered human, a Cortiian mercenary, and when we first meet her in Through the Hostage, she’s almost totally estranged from her command, which is still in training. Ilan’s reputation on Corina is widely rumoured, but very little is actually known about her. Part of that, as we’re going to find out, is because her commanders blocked some of her memories, and given the atrocities those commanders commit openly, the thought of why those memories may have been taken worries her. She has influential allies and enemies, and she’s lethal in her own right. Ilan trusts no-one completely, including – or perhaps especially – herself, but she’s survived the attentions of the worst her society has to offer and she’s still standing. In the Cortii, that says everything.
What role does research play in your writing?
The research is a lot of fun. My sci-fi series is set in a mercenary cult, which means I need to know a little bit about a lot of esoteric things, everything from what happens after a star goes nova to blood spatter pattern analysis and how you actually throw a throwing knife. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about writing, although it can be very embarrassing if I have to share a computer for any reason. Pretty sure I’ve come very close once or twice to a colleague calling the police after a particularly productive lunch break.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
Believe it or not, I applied to the Royal Navy right out of boarding school. They told me to come back after university, but, as they tend to, plans changed. However, if I had to point to something I’d want to do with my life if I had a do-over and couldn’t write, the armed forces, special forces if I could manage it, would probably be it. I have a lot of trouble persuading myself that my day job is essential or even necessary. I’d like to do something with my life that could actually make a difference.
Tell us something unique about you.
I was born in Gibraltar and lived on a yacht in the Caribbean and southern Europe until I was twelve.
How can you discover more about JC Steel?