William C. Tracy, author of Tuning the Symphony

When and why did you begin writing?

My first story was in third grade, where Mario, Link, and Zelda had to stop an evil wizard. Sadly, I never finished it. As a teenager, I wrote a narrative/humorous diary of a few family vacations. Then I started on a novel, which was terrible, put it down, picked it up again in college, put it down again, and started seriously writing after I had been working a couple years. After reading so much science fiction and fantasy growing up, I needed a way to process what I had read, which turned into novels of my own.

What are some day jobs you have held?

For my day job, I’m a mechanical engineer working at a large construction company doing performance engineering. I also teach karate. I studied Wado-Ryu Karate in college, and now teach a group of about 16-18 students. The elements of my other interests influence my writing. You can usually find some cool physics or martial arts in what I write! In my spare time, I play video and board games. My wife and I cosplay at a few cons each year and also force our pets to cosplay for the annual Christmas card.

What have you written so far?

I have two novellas out Tuning the Symphony and Merchants and Maji both in the same universe.

The Dissolutionverse is a society of ten planets connected by music-based magic instead of space flight. Merchants step from one planet to another to sell their goods. Alien cultures and languages spill from one world to another. Members of all ten species gather inside the Nether, the center of the society, to debate trade, law, and the economy of the Great Assembly. Only the maji can make the portals that link the planets together, and so the maji are central to keeping the economy going. Some of the stories focus on the maji, some on regular folks.

Remember that first terrible novel I wrote? After about 20 years and 4 or 5 complete rewrites, the ideas behind that original story have become “The Seeds of Dissolution.” After so many rewrites (and a lot of great alpha and beta reader feedback), I think it’s good enough to publish, and I’m running a Kickstarter from August 15th to September 16th to raise funds for adding more art, maps, and better editing. You can read the first two chapters here, and the Kickstarter is here.

I also have a couple works of flash fiction and I’ve written a couple (unpublished) YA books. One is about a boy whose father is killed, and he and his mother decide to change history to get him back, with his father’s time machine. The other I bill as “X-Men Evolution meets High School Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

I’ve completed an epic fantasy, which I’m currently subbing to agents, where magic comes from eating seasonal fruit. The story uses Babylonian names and architecture, and in it two sisters escape slavery with a box marked by the gods. They work to discover the secret of a fifth godfruit where there should only be four when each fruit is blessed by the god of the corresponding season.

Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?

The main character for Seeds of Dissolution is Sam van Oen, who comes from Earth, and is accidentally thrust into the society of the Dissolutionverse. As such, he’s unfamiliar with it, which means he can learn along with the reader.

What makes Sam unique is that he has anxiety issues with crowds and new places, so showing up in the Nether is really freaking him out. There aren’t a lot of SFF main characters I’ve found that not only have anxiety issues but have to cope with them, rather than something magicking them away. I specifically show that magic can’t just cure him, and if it’s used to help, there are side effects, just like any medication.

In addition, Sam is bisexual (or pansexual, as this book contains species with multiple gender norms). I try not to make a big point of him deciding whether he “is” or “is not” bisexual. It’s a part of his character, and it comes out in the people he meets and the friends he makes. In the rare case of a bisexual main character, I’ve read of only a few males, and their sexual orientation is usually a main point of the book. I prefer it to be just one part of the experience of reading, like when you meet someone in real life.

What is your next project?

Most likely, one or two Dissolutionverse novellas, and after that, the next full novel. I have several novella ideas, ranging from a Sherlock Holmes-type mystery to a heist story, to a romance, or a Jules Verne-like adventure story.

Non-Dissolutionverse, I have two other novels outlined, one about colonists who land on a planet completely occupied by a sentient fungus, and the other about a society based on Incan culture, where body kinesthetics (like martial arts) create magic.

What are some ways in which you promote your work? 

I’m slowly working through all the ways I can find!

I have a website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. I may have driven a couple sales from Twitter, but I’m not sure. I also belong to a few indie author groups, and when a bunch of authors put together a group event, that gets the most attention and sales by far. Paid services will promote books, but I’ve never actually made money on a promo. Generally, they’re good for attention and a few sales, but probably not worth the price. I’ve also run ads on Goodreads and Amazon. Both generate clicks, but only a couple books sales. Finally, I go to various cons, both to sell books at a booth, and to be on panels. The con booths actually make some money.

Finally, there’s Kickstarter! For my latest novel, I’m attempting to offset the printing cost, and hopefully pay for some cool additions to the book while also giving some extras to the backers, like a new short story, wallpapers, buttons, maps, and even original artwork. If this is successful, I’ll likely do the same for my future self-published works.

As an independent publisher, it’s important to try a lot of methods, however, it’s also important to realize that any work you do on marketing is taking away from time you could be writing.

Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?

When I start a new full-length story, I’ll take a few days to type out connected thoughts about the story. When I hit an interesting thread, I start a bulleted list of events. I usually end up with 9-12 pages in the overall outline.

While writing, I paste sections of my outline below to guide how I write. So far I have not written a story that followed my original outline all the way, because I end up writing something that works so much better. Somewhere in the middle, I will stop to readjust the path of the story to reflect that and keep going.

Usually, I have several major changes to the story during the first edit, and less during the 2nd and 3rd.

How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?

Self-publishing means you control everything about your book. It also means you have to do everything for your book. It takes a lot of work, and you won’t sell as many copies as a traditional publishing house, but you keep a lot more of the profit.

I’m not yet published traditionally, but I am still submitting and one day hope to be. Having books available by both methods means you can develop your brand in different ways. Your traditionally published books can boost your name further, whereas with self-publishing, you have the opportunity to write experimental stories and subject matter or genres that are not considered “marketable.” More and more traditionally published authors are using indie publishing as a way to make a little extra on the side and to give their readers something more for being loyal.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Keep writing. I’ve heard, at least for self-published authors, that you need about five books out before they start to really get noticed. When my second novella came out, I sold more of my first novella than my second, though that sounds contrary. Of course, if you land a deal with a publisher, they take care of a lot of the marketing work, but that’s why they also get a cut of the profit!

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?

I started out with Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and Moorcock, and worked through Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Robert Jordan, and David Eddings. These inspired me to start writing and to branch out in my reading.

Some of my current favorite authors are N.K.Jemisin and Brandon Sanderson, for their sheer imagination and worldbuilding. Lois McMaster Bujold and Mary Robinette Kowal have awesome characters, Jim Butcher has incredible plotting and sense of timing, and folks like Larry Niven, Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross, and James S.A. Corey obviously put a lot of research into showing how real science fiction can be.

If it’s not clear by now, I try to learn a little from each book I read, whether in style, art, or prose, and apply that to my own writing.

How can you learn more about William and his work?

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page | Kickstarter

Book Links:

Tuning the Symphony | Merchants and Maji


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