Monday, July 25, 2016

Tim Lees, Author of The God Hunter

Welcome back, Tim Lees, author of The God Hunter and Devil in the Wires (Harper Voyager) to It's All About Story. Tim's blog can be found here:

1) Describe your latest book.

It's called Steal the Lightning. It's the third in the Field Ops series (following the two mentioned above), and it's a sort of road trip around the US, looking at some of the consequences of having a bunch of "gods" (for want of a better term) on the loose. The previous books jumped about a bit, globally, but this takes place in a much shorter time-frame and a much smaller area. Like the other books, it's self-contained; they follow an overall development, but I try to make sure new readers can pick up any one of the series and still enjoy it.

2) What do you like about speculative fiction as a genre?

You can tackle big issues in a light, even frivolous way. I tend to mix up genres--thriller, SF, comedy, fantasy--and the Field Ops novels touch on some serious matters, including religion and politics, but do so playfully, I hope. It's not like writing an essay. You don't have to produce the final word. You can even have a situation that goes against your general beliefs, though I don't know that I've actually done that. I like messing around with big concepts, and sometimes just being surreal and silly--and wondering how relatively ordinary people would react if such things actually happened. Plus, I suppose, like anyone in this field, I'm temperamentally attracted to the weird and bizarre. Always was, even as a kid.

3) Name three of your favorite writers.

J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Alan Moore.

4) What books do you feel have influenced you as a writer?

Everything I've ever read. But the period when I really learned to write was when I lived in Scotland, and there were a few authors who influenced me strongly then. One was William Burroughs--not the cut-ups, but the little short stories in between, especially in Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. I still think "The Mayan Caper" is a great time travel piece, so unconventional. I should go back and re-read those books. I liked Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his bitchy account of '20s Paris, and Angela Carter's short stories in Fireworks (overshadowed by her later work, but to my mind much more interesting), and Christopher Isherwood, who taught me how to use autobiographical material in an "English" way, as opposed to the "American" style of Jack Kerouac. Isherwood was a perfect antidote to the other authors, with his deceptively simple, "transparent" writing. It took me a very long time to recognise the value of simple, straightforward prose.

5) What was the first book in your childhood that you loved?

The Lost World, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was the first book I read on my own. I've been asked this question before and it made me think about the book a little more deeply. On the one hand, it's an adventure story with dinosaurs--who could resist?--but on another level, there's a rather poignant frame-plot to it. The narrator, Edward Malone, joins Professor Challenger's expedition in an attempt to impress the girl he loves, who mocks him for his supposed lack of heroism. He even names the plateau's central lake after her, Lake Gladys. Then he returns to England, and she marries someone else. You can't make people love you, even when they let you think you can.

6) What is your favorite book on writing, the one that helped you the most?

Death is no Obstacle, a long interview with Michael Moorcock by Colin Greenland. In fact, Moorcock is a huge source of inspiration to me and, I think, many British writers of my generation. He's done it all--literary fiction, potboilers, fantasy, historical, contemporary--but always, you imagine, with the rent collector tapping his foot on the other side of the door. (I'm joking--I trust he's made a decent living, but his work is certainly haunted by the need to put food on the table.) He's a professional in the truest sense of the word, even a hack, and has rushed books that might well have benefited from a few more days' consideration. At the same time, he has produced work of astonishing artistic achievement, and even now, in his late seventies, remains a great innovator. He talks articulately about writing, both the tricks which get him through a book and the commercial environment in which such books are written. His approach is very nuts-and-bolts and therefore accessible to anyone. What he doesn't talk about is his talent, the mysterious miracle ingredient which makes it all actually work.

7) When you need inspiration, where do you find it?

Long ago, when I'd produce only a few short stories a year, ideas would come to me while I was out walking, or sometimes as spin-offs from my reading of other authors (a favorite trick was to take a non-genre story and then create a fantasy or SF "version" of it). Nowadays it's not like that. The germ of a story may come, often during a bout of insomnia, or while I'm doing something unrelated to writing, and I'll be hugely enthusiastic about it. But it takes more than that, say, to bring it to novel-length. Structural problems can take a lot of sorting out. Smaller problems often solve themselves in the act of writing itself. There's nothing more inspirational than having a pen in your hand!

8) Do you feel your work is plot-driven or character-driven?

I'm more interested in character than plot. Unless I come up with a really good plot.

Plots are great for a writer, because they tell you where the story's going. Than can be handy for a reader, too. But nobody's going to read a book where the characters don't engage them.

That said, I like characters who are flawed, quirky, and not always admirable. They remind me of my friends.

9) What process do you find most challenging as a published writer? Outlining? Editing? Promoting?

Promoting. It's not that the job is hard--I've really enjoyed appearances at comics conventions and bookstore readings, and it's always a pleasure to be invited to appear on somebody's blog. But does any of it actually sell books? Social media was recently touted as the great marketing tool, and it certainly has provided some enjoyable moments--through Twitter, I've been able to have conversations with a wide range of people, including a number of much-admired authors. I didn't buy their books because they talked to me on Twitter, though--and I doubt they bought my books at all!

A former bookshop manager once told me that, despite all the advertising hype, the only thing that really sells a book is word of mouth. Of course, to get word of mouth, people have to know about your book to start with. You're up against the same problem you'd have marketing any product. There are a huge number of books out there. Why should anyone pay attention to yours? (If there's a good answer to this, please let me know.)

10) What's the most surprising thing you've learned about being published?

That I am not world famous and driving around in a gold-plated Rolls Royce. Yet.

11) Are there any upcoming books, novellas, short stories?

Only if someone publishes them. "If a tree falls in a forest . . ." I have a couple of short stories doing the rounds, and a novel set in the aftermath of World War II which needs finishing, and a hundred other ideas and half-finished manuscripts. Years ago, I taught a creative writing class, and was always astonished when people told me they didn't know what to write about. To me, there's far too much to write about. I'm looking forward to getting my current jobs out of the way so I can work on something new.

Thank you, Tim!
You can find all of Tim's books here:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Awesomeness of...the Bittersweet by Bishop O'Connell

This Awesomeness of . . . post comes from Bishop O'Connell, author of  the excellent American Faerie Tale series: The Stolen, The Forgotten, Three Promises, and the recently released The Returned. (Harper Voyager)

Bishop is one of only a select number of authors picked from thousands during an open submissions call that Harper Voyager held a few years ago. His books are urban fantasy, with faery folk, reminiscent of Charles de Lint and Emma Bull. Here, he speaks about The Awesomeness of the Bittersweet.

As someone who has struggled on and off with depression since my adolescent years, it's probably not a shock--and some would argue less than healthy--that I just love the bittersweet. Not the chocolate, though that isn't bad. I'm talking about music, movies, books, and art in general. I love scenes, songs, or images that are sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. The power of the emotion, the magic and the power of it fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, movies, every kind of art, it all serves to connect us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. I can relate to the bittersweet moments. That's probably why I love the songs of Sarah McLachlan, The Cowboy Junkies, and Tom Waits. Each of them excels at wrapping sadness around a glimmer of hope that can't be extinguished.

Of course there are moments in life of pure, unbridled joy: hearing someone say they love you, the smile of your child when they look at you, or achieving a hard won success. Those moments are treasures to be sure, but rarely is bliss ever an immaculate conception. Often it's born from hard work, pain, turmoil, sadness, or grief. Life tends to be complicated and messy, but there is beauty in that mess. And I think we all see it. I believe we all know that the pain will end, and in the ending there is a happiness all its own. There are all sorts of cliches, but the one that has stayed with me the longest is: if you weep because you miss the sun, you also miss the stars. Like all cliches, there is something profound in the simplicity.

When I was really struggling with my depression, I found a book titled Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It's about his time at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He is taken there, separated from his wife and sees the utter worst humanity has to offer, and I use the word humanity in its loosest possible sense. During his time there, never knowing the fate of his wife, parents, or siblings, he struggles to find meaning, a reason to continue on. After reading this book I knew that if this man could find purpose in a nightmarish place like that, surely I could as well. So I set to find happiness in the cracks and crevices of the everyday, and that became my purpose.

But as I matured I came to see that every emotion had value. They all could be debilitating if not tempered by another. Haven't we all rolled our eyes at the sickly sweet, lovey-dovey couples of the world? We all know that past a certain age, there is no perpetual state of happiness, and those who seem to achieve it often come across as delusional. Sometimes it's okay to be sad, to be angry, to grieve, to weep. And isn't there a special kind of happiness in offering comfort to someone who needs it? The key is not to let those darker emotions overcome you, to slip from merely experiencing them into wallowing in them.

That's why I love the bittersweet. It's like an entire life experience all in one dose. I recently watched Inside Out with a friend, and we both got a little misty eyed when Bing-Bong fades away. Sorry, spoilers. It's a sad moment, one we can all probably relate to. It's a piece of childhood slipping away, losing a friend you know you'll never see again for the first time. But there's more to that scene. There is also the hope in the understanding that it's also the beginning of another journey. That the sun might be setting, but it will rise again on a new world, and they will both be beautiful, filled with possibility.

We all listen to sad songs when we're sad, at least everyone I know does. So often we chide ourselves for it, seeing it as wallowing in self-pity. But that's not really what we're doing. We're grieving for something, or someone, lost; for a future we hoped for that won't ever come to pass. More than that though, we're remembering. So often we forget that, which is ironic really. When we listen to that same song, or watch that same movie, over and over, we're reliving the joys of the past. We think we're grieving for their loss, but we don't lose them. What we're really grieving is that there won't be more like that. And we're right, there won't be, but there will be new joys.

It's that feeling that I try to capture in my books. Each ends on a hint of sadness, but with the light of hope just visible on the horizon.If you finish one of my books and you're crying, that's okay, but I also hope you're smiling as well. There is no darkness that won't eventually end at sunrise. There is always hope. That's what the bittersweet means to me. It is the happiness we find, that we hold on to, and carry with us for our entire lives. Sure, we might find some sadness and carry that for a time as well, but we have to eventually let it go. When we do, there is more room for new happiness. So listen to sad songs, watch sad movies, but always find the bliss behind that sorrow. Experience the latter because it reminds you of the former, and always be looking to the horizon for the rising sun of a new day.

What I've Learned About Being a Traditionally Published Author

It's been three years since I entered an open submissions call for Harper Voyager, an act of sheer pessimism after submitting the first three chapters to agents and editors with no luck.
   That pessimism worked out though, when an open submissions call became a three-book deal.
   I had zero internet presence. No Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or posted fan fictions. And my introduction to social media resulted in a tiny controversy after I posted a Thank You to my editor and my brand-new agent (the one I found after I entered the open submissions call.) People who didn't understand how successful literary agents work accused me of cheating. Yay! It was especially fun after some of them claimed to have read my book and wrote 'reviews.' (Hint to those geniuses: Agents don't need their clients to enter open submissions calls--publishers are open to submissions from good agents 24/7--that's how they find a hefty percentage of their writers.)
   It wasn't difficult to finish each of the three books in the yearly deadlines requested. I dropped to part-time employment and decided to try and make the advance last as long as I could, using some for promo, while I wrote as much and as well as I could, which often resulted in fourteen hour days.
   So, here are some things I've learned, although  I won't feel like a pro until I've gotten a few more books under my belt:

It's a tough job when you're the boss. You're an entrepreneur now and everything depends on you. If you want to make a living as a writer, handling your own promo and seeing yourself and your art as a brand is helpful. This takes an enormous amount of time, time which I'd rather spend imagining worlds and talking to imaginary people.

As someone who is easily distracted, much like a squirrel, I don't succeed at word count. I write by hand, very quickly, while listening to music. I take a break after every hour, to snack, skim a book or magazine, walk around, do some house work or organizing. (I know this list should include exercising or Yoga.) I take a big break in the middle of the day, then return to writing at night. 14 hour days.

I love my readers. Anytime someone tells me they've become immersed in my world and enjoyed it, it makes me want to jump up and down for joy. I try to answer every fan question or bit of mail I receive. It's why I became a writer, to help people forget the real world for a while.

It's fun to mix it up a little, especially with speculative fiction. I enjoyed adding a dash of Gothic and horror to Thorn Jack, which was inspired by an ancient Scottish ballad. Mixing genres reasonable makes it more fun for the writer and rewards a reader with more delightful surprises and less predictable stories.

I promote my Night and Nothing series as fantasy and YA. YA is easy to promote, as there are so many bloggers out there who are fans--Fantasy, not so much. There are websites, but not so many reviewing blogs. You have to be creative when promoting SF and Fantasy.  You'd think it'd be easy for someone who writes fantasy to be creatively adept at marketing. I'm not, but I've learned to be.

I am not an interesting person. Nor am I a photographer. I do have interests and I can write and I occasionally take photographs. The social media accounts I now have are Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, an author website, and a blog. With the exception of my website, which is static but for occasional announcements, I'm pretty hit and run with my social media. The blog posts take longer, with the research and rewriting. One thing I didn't expect? That social media would actually be fun.

Fantasy and SF conventions are okay for networking and meeting other authors, but fan-based cons like The Romantic Times Booklovers Convention or San Diego Comic Con are the best for promoting and being on a panel.

I had some input on the covers,but it was mainly the editors' decision and thank God they new what they were doing. I lucked out on the beautiful covers.

Signings and readings are rough. Unless you have a massive following, it's difficult to get crowds. Offering to talk about how you got published, giving away free swag (not books! I give out fairy wings and fake flower wreaths, bookmarks or pens.) A signing needs to be an event, otherwise you're just sitting at a table, smiling feebly at everyone who passes you by.  Promote signings on your social media, send out Facebook invites and invites through your newsletter. Target local writers groups and see if there are any Fantasy/SF groups in your area. Ask your library if you can leave fliers there.

I've learned so many things since being published. How to manage my time and how to promote were the most important, as I was growing as a writer. Now I feel like I can do this. I'm hoping it'll continue, because I've got a lot more stories to tell. 

Summer Giveaway #2


This second giveaway includes the last Nettle King ARC, signed.
    A Lucky Troll Doll
    A Golden Book of Fairy Tales
   An original print of one of my paintings.

This contest is only open to U.S. & Canadian residents (I'm sorry!)

All you have to do is tweet, follow, visit my author fan page, or answer the question here: What is your favorite place/setting in Thorn Jack, Briar Queen, or Nettle King?

a Rafflecopter giveaway