Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
Part-time. Since beginning writing over a decade ago I’ve considered myself a ‘hobby’ writer, even though I’ve quite recently been able to make some leeway into the market with my latest series. I have both a full-time job as a teacher and a part-time job as proofreader/editor, so the time I have for writing is limited, though saying that, I was able to write four books in the last six months. And as with all those who have any aspirations in writing, I would love to make it a full-time activity with all its trimmings, but at the moment I’m quite happy to write whenever I can and for whoever will read my work.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. traditional publishing?
I’ve had some work published by indie/alternative publishers, though traditional publishing seems to have its own rules. In the past, I was fortunate enough to see how a large, national publishing house works, from the initial planning stages of an idea, all the way through to publishing. Publishing houses have expectations for their future market and rather than wait for the book they need, they use those writers they already have to create them for them, to fill in the gap they believe is there. Everyone has heard the stories about how famous writers started out by being ‘discovered’ but really, they had connections in the back office somewhere. Somehow their manuscripts got into the hands of the ‘right’ people. It doesn’t just ‘happen’.
Indie/alternative publishing seems to be more open to new writers and new work, though again it’s really difficult to get in the door. The bottom line is, it’s a business, and a market must be seen to be there to sell the product. As I mentioned, I’ve had work published by indie/alternatives before, but I now prefer to self-publish new, fresh work which I can control 100%. It means I need to do both writing and marketing, and reaching an audience is extremely difficult, but that’s the downside. Freedom to do as you wish with your work is what I need.
Did you make any marketing mistakes that you would avoid in the future?
I should have created an email list of readers who were interested in my work right from the start. I’m trying to build one now, but it’s almost impossible. I used to think you could just write a book, then advertise it and it would sell and people would get to know your name. Unfortunately, once you’ve written the next book, the time between publications means you need to ‘re-invent’ yourself, try and gain back the audience you’d found. When you publish a book, you must have some way to keep connected with those readers, and I’ve found out recently that Pre-Orders seem to help with that, publishing one book while allowing pre-orders for the next at the same time. Of course, that means you need to write that book in the time set, but then, who said it was going to be easy?
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
It’s always been difficult for me to gain reviews. In the past, usually one or two friends reviewed, perhaps a writer acquaintance, but other than that, not many. I’m not connected to any ‘buddy’ system or group of writers who use the ‘I review yours, you review mine’ scheme. However, I was in a group for a few weeks, thankfully I kept myself out of their ‘endeavours’, and found those who do this to be unscrupulous, throwing 5 star reviews on books they’ve never read. It was disgusting to watch and many times I received an email asking to ‘swap’ pre-written reviews. Have you ever wondered how books you’d consider to be substandard have hundreds of reviews, 85% of them 5 stars?
Now that I’ve written this latest series, I wouldn’t say it has been easier to get reviews, but once someone reads the first book and reviews it, there’s more of a chance that they will both read and review the next, another reason to write series.
Another thing is to also write a page at the end of your books asking for honest reviews. Such a simple thing bit it works. Unfortunately, due to the psychologically-based way I write, mirroring the schemata and conditioned belief system of the reader, this can come back to haunt me, with readers giving my books poor ratings and reviews due to their own internal prejudices and triggers, rather than being a judgment on my writing skills.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
First an idea appears, it could be an image in my mind, a dialogue I imagine or experience, anything, and I think ‘that could be good written down’. Then I wonder where can that be set, who is it, why are they there, and then a small story grows around it. I work on a larger outline and, writing as fast as I can, put down everything I have and continue on. More keeps coming, changing the plot, the outline, the story, the characters… until I finish. Then comes the read-through which brings even more ideas.
What role does research play in your writing?
Research brings some realism into fiction. You could write anything you wished if the world you are creating on your pages is complete fantasy, a thing which some people consider to be way too easy. I love to incorporate facts, and I write until I find the need to do so, and then pouring myself into it. Research always enriches the writing, the story, everything. In my last series, one area I needed to research was DNA: did you know humans share about 60% of the same DNA with bananas? And that the simple apple has the most genetic material than any other living organism on Earth? This brings about the question of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. That’s where research can take you.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
When I first started, I tried to write well, and many still say my first book is a cracked masterpiece. As for myself, through my own reading and university studies, I’ve gained much knowledge about my writing and how it is seen by the reader, with one of the theories which struck me the most being the Reader-response theory. Reader-response literary criticism states that it is the reader who interprets what the language in any text means. It is the reader who has the right to decide which interpretation they would like to understand as the one which fits the text. Therefore, is it the writer who says what the text means, or is it the reader?
Adding to this, everyone knows about Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, the writing style of omission which makes much of the story hidden, and also makes the story richer. In this way, the reader needs to think, if they wish to, about those parts which are not given by the writer, using their own schemata, their view of the world and objects around them.
So, if you involve the reader into their own reading, you’re using their own schemata and knowledge to allow them to interact with the text and create their own interpretation of the text. I call this “Schematic Elicitation”. I try to make my writing allow readers the opportunity to delve into their own imagination and creativity to help embellish the story which is given. My writing has always been based on this, especially after realising the ‘strangehold’ on my own imagination and creativity while reading certain writers.
Those readers who love my books are actually realising their own creativity and openness towards the world, though those who hate them or don’t understand, show their set prejudices, judgments and expectations on the world around them, irrespective of their reading or educational level. Love or hate, the key for myself is to make the reader ‘feel’. What other reason is there to write? Of course, Shakespeare, Dickens, JK Rowling, to name but a few, all wrote to entertain and be successful, but any writer worth their salt also wishes to educate their audience.
I also created a ‘Theory of Three’ from general music theory to help with motives and actions of all characters: happy, sad or indifferent; kill, be killed or run; up, down or the same. There are basically three ways you can feel/do something. Of course there are more things you can feel/do in a situation, but if you bring it down to the basic principles, that’s all there is, the rest is detail.
To make the experience even more intimate for the reader, my last series has only one POV (point of view) as opposed to my older style of ‘multiple heads’ (4 or 5). This allows the reader only one perspective, one set of eyes to see the world through, without any other clue as to the situation they find on the page, and therefore similar to their own view of reality. We don’t have the advantage of someone else’s POV in our lives, and so the experience of reading becomes that more realistic and hopefully intense. For some, it has been too much, for others it’s been a pleasure, as can be seen from the wide range of reviews of the series.
Do you listen or talk to your characters?
When I am deep into writing a book, I would say I do both. I also wonder how they would truly react to certain situations and which path they would take next. When I’m in the writing process, they are real people with real motives, senses and thoughts. When I’ve finished a book, sometimes it’s difficult to let them go.
What is your next project?
I have a few ideas for two spin-off series from my latest, one dealing with a character called Bohatch, an army man, and his earlier antics and battles in space, while another deals with the future adventures of Marika, a survivor, flung into the unknown depths of the universe.